Technology is a gift for students with dyslexia, provided that it is used properly. This is because most dyslexic learners are visual learners and computer materials are designed to be accessed through our visual communication channel. Besides, some students find it easier to maintain higher focus when they work on a computer, as they direct their attention to one place. Nonetheless, remote learning can present challenges both to them and teachers. Dyslexic students who have got used to a certain classroom routine, will find the transition rather overwhelming and they will need guidance on how to deal with the new situation. Here is a list of what EFL teachers can do to ensure that their online classes are dyslexia friendly.
By Elisavet Spati
- Help them establish a new routine
Simply telling them that at 5.00 p.m. their teacher will call them and their lesson will start is not enough. Dyslexic learners need to be explicitly made aware of what to expect from a distance lesson, what they need to prepare, how to access materials. Give them numbered steps, e.g. 1. Do this. 2. Open that. etc. Advise their parents on how to create a quiet, distraction-free study space.
- Structure each lesson carefully
Start every lesson with a presentation of what they will be taught and what materials they will need. If possible, send them the presentation at least 30 minutes before the lesson. Do not jump from one book to the other or from one topic to another. It is very easy for a dyslexic learner to get lost and in this case, we won’t be anywhere around to redirect them or guide them.
- Use a variety of resources
From whiteboard apps that allow you to create accessible notes for dyslexic learners to interactive games, mind maps, digital flashcards and immersive reader apps the possibilities are endless and teachers can now capitalise on the benefits of technology more than ever before.
- Engage multiple senses
While this is relatively easy to achieve in the classroom, it may sound unfeasible for an online lesson. Apart from including the aforementioned visual aids, we must make sure that the coursebook we use has an ebook in order to engage the auditory channel. Encourage learners to repeat language chunks and why not use everyday objects such as toothpicks, cotton buds or flour to form and trace letters.
- Slow down the pace of the lesson
When teaching dyslexic students, the presentation of new information should come gradually and we need to teach one step at a time. Add different internet connection speeds to the equation and it becomes apparent that teaching too much too quickly should be out of the question. Take frequent pauses, do not hesitate to repeat yourself several times and use CCQ questions to ensure that they are following.
- Make sure your materials are easy to read
While sharing the screen in any digital learning platform the page becomes smaller and sometimes impossible for dyslexic students to read. Learn how to zoom the page, increase the font size and restrict the amount of visible text.
- Do not ask them to copy text from the computer
It is challenging, time-consuming and absolutely useless for dyslexic learners to copy down vocabulary, grammar rules or anything else. Use a whiteboard application to make notes for students during the lesson. Highlight key items for them. Use dyslexia friendly fonts and backgrounds, add pictures, colour-code information and send them the notes at the end of the lesson.
- Encourage them to write homework on the computer.
Dyslexic students have a tough time with handwriting. It will be liberating for them if their English teacher asked them to type their essay instead of writing it. Allow them to use the Spell Checker and let them focus on sentence structure and correct use of lexis, rather than spelling. It will make their life easier and boost their self-esteem.
- Do not call them on at random
Some students find it extremely uncomfortable being on video and they feel exposed when they are uncertain about their answer. You should also avoid asking them to write on screen, unless they are willing to. Writing is a torture for many students with dyslexia and the feeling of being on display will make their experience even more stressful.
- Provide frequent breaks
Do not forget that students with learning disabilities work extra hard struggling to read, stay focused and use their working memory. They definitely need a brain and stretch break to increase their productivity.
- Be patient
Teaching in this unprecedented times is hard and it stands to reason that teachers will feel frustrated and disappointed at times. With the loss of intimate face-to-face classroom communication it becomes even harder for students with dyslexia to show what they have learned. Don’t forget to celebrate the small victories with the students and their parents and be sure that boosting their confidence comes before the mastery of any skill.