Tips and tools for remotely teaching students with dyslexia

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In this newly minted world of home-based learning forced on parents and guardians, it may be tempting to assign rigorous packets of instruction to students. But this might not be the best idea in these anxious times, said Terrie Noland, VP of Educator Initiatives at Learning Ally.

Terrie Noland

Noland said that uncertainty and fear can trigger a flight response in people which makes it hard to concentrate. This is particularly true for students with special needs such as dyslexia, who struggle even in normal conditions.

In her edweb.net webinar, Strategies for Virtual Learning for Students with Dyslexia, Noland gave some tips and tools for teaching students remotely, and especially for students with dyslexia.

Provide small chunks of engaging activities. Small achievable goals help students have a sense of control.

Remember that not all students have technology. Most parents have smartphones though, which could accommodate a short chat session.

Help students feel less isolated by alerting them to books in which characters have dyslexia or are struggling readers. These books can be found on LearningAlly.org, which is free to use until August 1, 2020. For younger students:

  • Hank Zipzer series by actor Henry Winkler, who was himself dyslexic, and Lin Oliver
  • Dyslexia Rules by Mary Manning-Thomas
  • The Boy Who Learned Upside Down by Christy Scattarella
  • Dyslexic Renegade by Leia Schwartz
  • Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco
  • I Am Just Me: My Life With Dyslexia and Dysgraphia, by Sky Burke and Penny Weber

For older students:

  • Findle by Andrew Clements
  • The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan; the main character is a boy who struggles to read
  • How Dyslexic Benny Became a Star: A story of hope for dyslexic children and their parents, by Joe Griffin
  • Looking for Heroes by Aidan Colvin; has interviews with celebrities
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a New York Times bestseller

Take advantage of Transaction Theory, which states that every time students engage with text they have seen before, they make new connections. Going back to things the student knows helps create comfort because of familiarity. Go back to something comfortable, such as Harry Potter books.

Have the student think up a theme song for a favorite fictional character. For example, Harry Potter’s might be “Oh, Oh, Oh It’s Magic”, or “I Believe in Magic.”

Create a “choice board” for the student, to let them decide which book to read. Everyone is at a different point in adjusting to the transition of learning at home, and a choice board should allow for low- to high- engagement. To get an editable choice board, search for “choice board template” on Google, or go to https://bookunitsteacher.com/wp/?p=5807.

Choice boards

When giving instruction virtually, make use of items that families might have around the house, such as:

  • Lego bricks — use them to illustrate word construction, with consonants being one color and vowels being another color

    Using Lego bricks to illustrate vowels and consonants

  • Erasable markers, for writing on a cookie sheet or plastic sleeve with paper in it, or a picture frame with glass and a white piece of paper in it, Have students write a sentence with the erasable markers and talk about how to decode it.

WheelDecide.com

When discussing reading comprehension with students, create a “Wheel of Fortune”-type wheel and put different components such as characters, setting, event, or alternate ending, using wheeldecide.com. Share your screen with students, spin the wheel, then have students discuss whatever it lands on.

When conducting a formative assessment with multiple students virtually, put everyone on mute to reduce background noise. Then check for understanding by having students use thumbs up or thumbs down, or the fist to 5-finger sign (0 – 5 understanding).

Check out the following tools to customize text:

  • Immersive Reader: Built into Microsoft Word, OneNote, Wakelet, and the Chrome browser, it segments words into syllables, puts parts of speech into different colors, reads words aloud, and gets rid of distractions on web pages.
  • HelperBird Chrome extension

    Helperbird: A Chrome browser extension that provides dyslexia fonts, changes font and background color, and provides text to speech, a dyslexia ruler, Immersive Reader, and more.

Use Learning Ally for focused assignments. For example, you can direct students to a specific page or text and ask them to find all 2-syllable words or words with specific letters such as v-e.

Lastly, reassure parents that it’s going to be OK. John Dewey, an education reformer and American philosopher, said: “Uncertainty saves a place for novelty and genuine growth and change. When we accept uncertainty, we transform our relationship to practical problems. They become the means by which we may see beyond what we think we know.”

Terrie Noland posts 90-second vides for motivation. Find them on Twitter at @terrienoland.

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