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8 Classroom Accommodations for Dyslexia (That Benefit ALL Students)

Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference that manifests in a cluster of symptoms. Students with dyslexia have challenges with reading, spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia is not outgrown, but the educational impact can be greatly minimized when identified early and with appropriate remediation. Dyslexia has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, so making sure students have plenty of opportunities to learn the same materials as their peers is important.

Not every student with dyslexia looks the same. Some students may also struggle with staying organized, remembering tasks, and prioritizing assignments. Other students with dyslexia will be well-organized and able to prioritize assignments but struggle with completing reading and writing assignments. Understanding the unique needs of your students is important when providing accommodations. Students with dyslexia require a clear process to understand many concepts (especially how to read), but clear, explicit phonics instruction is beneficial for every student. 

Here are eight tips from Shantell Berrett Blake, Reading Horizons dyslexia specialist and Director of Professional Services, that you can implement to accommodate the needs of every learner in your classroom (especially the ones with dyslexia!).

Eight Accommodations for Dyslexia

1. Provide one-step directions at a time.

How it helps students with dyslexia

Because dyslexia is a processing disorder, students with dyslexia have difficulty processing, prioritizing, and remembering long lists of directions. By giving one direction at a time, students with dyslexia don’t have to juggle multiple steps at once—ensuring they can follow your instructions. Simplifying steps will decrease frustration for both you and your students.

How it helps all students

Even without dyslexia, we are all prone to distractions and forgetfulness. By only giving one direction at a time, you eliminate the possibility of students forgetting what they need to do, and you won’t have to repeat directions nearly as often.

2. Extend time for reading and writing assignments.

How it helps students with dyslexia

Students with dyslexia can read and write, but they will need extended time and support depending on the task and their ability (dyslexia is on a spectrum). If there is a reading assignment, provide audio with highlighted text to deepen understanding. A reading guide with questions that prompt comprehension is helpful. A reading guide can also become a useful study guide for future exams. If there is a writing assignment, be sure the student has the skills to complete the task. Providing extended time without knowing if the student has the skills to complete the assignment is not very helpful. If the student needs speech-to-text technology, make sure they have been tutored in how to use it. Have students make an outline of their writing assignment before beginning to write. The outline could be a web diagram that provides a clear procedure for the writing process. Provide editing through a free online program such as Grammarly. Lastly, assure the student that you will be grading on content.

How it helps all students

Even though extended time is not realistic or even necessary for every student, many of the reading and writing supports used for students with dyslexia can improve outcomes for many students. Think about how time is used with reading and writing assignments for the whole class. Are the deadlines realistic for the workload? Is there enough support for reading assignments so that students are engaging with the material? How could audio support some of the reading activities you have planned for the class? When writing, do the students make good use of outlines? Does every student know about the benefits of Grammarly?

3. Preview and review.

How it helps students with dyslexia

By previewing each concept before instruction, students with dyslexia can better organize, filter, and prioritize new information. Reviewing each concept helps dyslexic students connect, store, and categorize information that was just presented. Both help with the executive function deficits associated with dyslexia.

How it helps all students

One of the most effective ways we learn any concept is through repetition. The more we hear and practice an idea, the more natural and easy to remember it becomes.

4. Post the schedule for the day or class period.

How it helps students with dyslexia

Knowing what is coming each day or class period provides a certain amount of security for students with dyslexia. Make sure the schedule for the day is easily readable. If the schedule has blocks of time, make sure there is a digital clock available. Reading an analog clock can be challenging for some students with dyslexia. Students with dyslexia have typically spent a lot of time trying to figure out what is happening in classrooms as there is a great deal of written information that has eluded them. A posted schedule for the day that is highly readable and a digital clock are two ways to anchor a student with dyslexia.

How it helps all students

Many students appreciate knowing what is happening each day. Students with ADHD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) also appreciate a clear schedule that indicates what is expected throughout the day. This reduces stress and anxiety for many students. It also allows students to self-monitor as they check to see what they may have missed or how to prepare for the next activity.

5. Avoid habituation* by keeping instruction between 10–15 minutes and providing a variety of activities for practice.

How it helps students with dyslexia

“Due to the problems in inhibition (focus on relevant, suppress the irrelevant), switching attention, and working memory (sustaining effort for coordinating orthography and phonology over time), students with dyslexia and/or dysgraphia are likely to habituate (stop responding to instruction) sooner than children without these disorders. One way to avoid habituation is to vary activities frequently and avoid performing the same activity over and over for a long time.” (Berninger and Wolf. Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. 2009. P. 146.)

How it helps all students

Like the above quote says, habituation occurs sooner for students with dyslexia. But with enough exposure to a certain stimulus, all students habituate. By keeping instruction novel, you better keep the attention of all of your students so they stay engaged and focused on instruction.

*Habituation refers specifically to a type of non-associative learning in which repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to a decreased response.

6. Never expect students with dyslexia to take notes without a visual outline or a friend to be a note-taker.

How it helps students with dyslexia

Writing tasks are typically very difficult for students with dyslexia. On top of their difficulties with prioritizing information, note-taking can be extremely difficult for these students. By providing an outline or assigning them a friend that they can compare notes with, you can help eliminate stress during lectures.

How it helps all students

Deciding what is important to note during instruction is difficult for many students—having a partner for each student to talk over a lecture with and decide what was important or see if they missed an important point is beneficial for every student.

7. Set a good pace.

How it helps students with dyslexia

Some students with dyslexia (and other learning differences) need additional time to process information. Take your time, and be clear. Assess in small intervals if the students are understanding what you are modeling/teaching. (Ask them questions and provide opportunities to have them tell you in their own words what you just taught.)

How it helps all students

Taking time to ensure student understanding and matching pacing to the needs of your classroom is helpful for every student. Undoubtedly, you will have students at varying levels, but as you assess students in small intervals, you can use learning centers that allow students of varying levels to work at their own pace. Also, patience and empathy are arguably more valuable than lesson content.

8. Assume nothing—connect everything.

How it helps students with dyslexia

To adjust to the needs of students with dyslexia, it is helpful to teach one concept at a time while you draw connections to prior knowledge and previous instruction with ALL new material. This helps these students make new neural connections that will strengthen their brain.

How it helps all students

Some students naturally connect new information to what they already know, but many students need to be taught how to connect everything. Even some of your brightest students won’t always draw connections between new information.

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