Dealing with Dyslexia at Junior levels

Dyslexia

By Maria Argyriou

Teaching students with dyslexia and learning difficulties of any type, poses particular challenges and demands on the educators who undertake the task. A task which becomes even more challenging, when dealing with students who have just started speaking and writing in English.

In this case, we need to proceed with extra caution and care, not only with regards to the way we approach our students on a personal level, but also, in the way we teach them the language, our primary focus being the practice of methods to overcome the ”disability” barriers.

A close and in-depth examination of the communication and language acquisition barriers can inspire and lead to the implementation of the right tools, specifically, practical methodology strategies, thus, allowing us to tackle and surpass these barriers in the teaching process.

That being said, it is rather significant for us to keep in mind under all circumstances, that the spectrum of learning difficulties is vast, meaning, that the types of “obstacles“vary from level to level, situation to situation, and child to child.

Katerina was a student of mine of junior a’ class with a serious dyslexia problem. Also the fact that she hadn’t taken any pre-junior classes, added to the layers of difficulty I was called upon to face in my work from the very beginning.

Primary difficulties: Dictation

One method I immediately applied was to pin a photocopy of the English Alphabet in big, coloured letters on her wall, so they could be visible throughout the entire lesson every single time.

She made use of this when writing her dictation, by looking at this constant reference of letters, as a way to distinguish between b and p,d and b ,e and i, and other difficult letter sounds. Drawing her attention to the image depicted, then the word derived from the image, for example apple, the sound it makes(aaa),and then the name of the letter (a-ei)– proved to be quite helpful.

I urged her to grab her pencil and show me letters, in particular the letter “a” on the board.A significant pattern emerged, when I noticed that she preferred to write the words of the dictation, starting with the easiest ones, then, gradually, deal with the most difficult ones, and in this process, made a number of associations. For example, she preferred to write words of names, colours, food first. She also associated one word with the other, for instance,a pink pig, (they both start with ”p”).

Another pattern became clear, the fact that she would first take a look at the board to examine the letter p, in order to distinguish it from b, and then proceed to write it down. However, the activity was still difficult for her, so I created and produced different sets of cards to match the images-words-letters of the alphabet words, a method.

I had applied before and during dictation, to draw her attention to difficult and demanding letter sounds and letter writings.

Another tool which I found to be extremely useful, was to assign a drawing from our current lesson, for her to prepare for the next time we were scheduled to meet. By drawing and saying the words that sounded the same, her attention was drawn to them more effectively.

Other difficulties: Reading

In this case, it seemed almost impossible at first to go through and read the first chapter in the course book, even though we had already completed the task of learning the alphabet and revised it two times. She could not easily match the words with the pictures in the lesson’s storyline, and she couldn’t “blend in” the letters so as to read the words, for example <>. In my opinion, the main reason behind this impediment, was that she was reluctant to, and subsequently refused to play syllable games.

To give you an example of one such activity that I had prepared, I asked her to connect the two parts of the cheese piece, like in hammer>ham+mmer. Also, I tried to use other activities that ranged in interest, like playing cards with her by choosing the word that sounded the same,(an Ace called ”rob’‘, could pick up another Ace finishing in ”-ob”). However, once again, the activities were too demanding for her competence level.

I interpreted this ”shortcoming” as a manifestation of her need to have extra alphabet practice, instead of directly moving to the practice of syllables,even though there were enough syllable practising examples in her book {-th,-ph,-ss,-ch}.

In general,comparing Katerina with other Junior level students, I would say it was rather difficult for her to move on from one learning stage to another.

One thing which I found effective, was to use only the board games that she liked, and repeat them all over again. Three such activities are:

  1. Collecting and numbering bugs and putting them in a jar.
  2. Playing ”Guess Who”,with Disney Heroes. She was very keen on using the words for the colour of their hair and eyes, size words and features, like big nose, and I slowly realised how these activities allowed her to engage in a more substantial manner in the learning process.
  3. Playing with two elves and two benches, practising the prepositions,” the elf is on the bench” etc.

Correcting her homework

The most crucial challenge emerged when it was time to correct her homework.

It became apparent that when she attempted to solve the exercises, she could only copy the answers from the corresponding pages in the student’s book, and only if she was provided with my aid. In this case I drew her attention to the answers in the story’s (lesson’s)storyline, especially stressing the image accompanying them, so that she could match the meaning of the word to the image she had formed in her mind. In addition, we highlighted the letters in the word, or repeated them orally as many times as we saw fit.

“Another technique I employed was to ask her to trace the answers in the student’s book, pronounce them aloud two or three times, and then, proceed to write down the answers for her.”

This role- shifting was definitely beneficial

An important fact to be noticed in my teaching experience with Katerina, is that she could not easily understand the purpose of each activity assigned to her, so it was my role to repeat it as many times as necessary, or, alternatively, assign her only those parts of the tasks which she found appealing.

Conclusion

Many things became evident to me when teaching Katerina. Most importantly, the key position that the Pre-junior level holds in the educational process when dealing with young students, because it is through activities such as playing, drawing, listening and repeating the letter sounds and the vocabulary, that they can strive to achieve a fundamental understanding of vital language elements, a fact that we should not disregard.

Furthermore, the repetition of the alphabet (two or three times) before switching to syllable sounds is of tremendous importance, if combined with the effort to discern what works for each child, and subsequently, personalising the learning methodology.

Only in this way, will the student find even the most demanding tasks enjoyable, and exhibit keenness to ”deal” with them in patterns their mind allows and fascilitates them to.

By exploring these methods when teaching dyslectic Juniors, improvement becomes a tangible goal.