When it comes to building your dyslexic students’ self-esteem and confidence, the best gifts really are free. Here are six no-cost “gifts” you can use to help promote their success this year.

No-cost Gifts You Can Give Your Students this Year

The most precious gifts you can offer your dyslexic students won’t cost you a penny but can yield invaluable benefits in boosting their confidence and self-esteem while building a positive, productive classroom. Here are six no-cost “gift” ideas to help promote their success this year.

  1. Slow down time. Highly successful adults with dyslexia report that, although they have become readers, they continue to need additional time to read, process information, and/or communicate their thoughts, both orally and in writing. Today’s classrooms move at a rapid pace, which can be problematic for your students with dyslexia and other language-based learning disorders.
    1. Give students a heads-up about discussion questions, 24 hours in advance of possible. In situ, ask your question (“In a moment, I am going to ask you _____.”) and to allow additionally processing time by occupying yourself for a few seconds. When the student with dyslexia raises his hand, call on him first. If he has difficulty formulating his response, kindly rephrase it for him.
    2. Assign seating so that the student with dyslexia is seated where you can easily observe his work in order to adjust the pace of instruction.
  2. Be mindful when assigning group work. For many of the reasons noted above, students with dyslexia should be grouped with other students whom you know to be patient, positive, and kind. Hopefully, the activity will allow the dyslexic student to show his strengths. We know that these students tend to excel in the arts, sciences, technology, and sports, to name some. They also tend to be outside-the-box thinkers. Put them with the student who loves to takes notes—she can be the scribe. Put them with the student who has the skills to include others—he can ensure that the dyslexic student’s alternative thinking is captured.
  3. Embrace technology. Audiobooks (text-to-speech) and dictation (speech-to-text) software and apps have helped level the playing field for students with dyslexia. They are not a substitute for intervention, but “ear reading” helps our students keep pace with peers. It is essential that the student with dyslexia be exposed to the same texts as her peers in order to access the curriculum to learn vocabulary and content. Dictation allows the dyslexic student the opportunity to get her ideas down without being encumbered with getting the spelling right. Editing can come later.
  4. Collaborate with the reading specialist on spelling tests. Your dyslexic student should be held accountable for spelling the words/patterns that are being targeted in therapy/tutoring. Have the reading specialist develop his weekly spelling list for the test. Let the specialist know the words that the class is learning each week as some may be appropriate for the student with dyslexia.
  5. Display only edited work. Given the nature of the student’s disorder, written products may not best represent his knowledge or learning. Before publicly posting work, the student should meet with a teacher to improve the product. On a similar note, the work of a dyslexic student should not be edited by peers, unless he requests it.
  6. Give them “poker chips.” Richard Lavoie uses poker chips as a metaphor for a student’s self-esteem. Every day, a child has the potential to accumulate (or lose) poker chips. Good behavior (e.g., brushing teeth, getting ready for school, arriving on time) yields poker chips. A student arrives at your classroom door each morning with her basket of poker chips that she began accumulating at home. She hands in her homework and you reward her with, “Nice work,.”—poker chips drop into her basket. She raises her hand to answer a question, but misspeaks, and the whole class laughs—there go some of those poker chips. She gets her spelling test back marked with red pen—there go more of her poker chips. The class is told to move to the right, she moves to the left and gets reprimanded—more poker chips drop. Every time the poker chips are lost, her self-esteem drops. As I recently said to a parent of a middle-schooler with whom I work, “Confidence is everything.” Be the teacher who ensures that every day your students leave your classroom with more poker chips than they had when they arrived. Let the basket overflow. They can never have too many.

I hope that you are off to a great start to the school year. I believe that teaching is the 2nd toughest job on the planet (parenting being the 1st). Thank you, in advance, for particularly attending to the needs of your students who think and learn outside-the-box. See our list of Successful Dyslexics [1]—who knows who you have sitting in one of those seats right now!

As always, I am grateful to my colleague at 3LI, Dr. Lauren Katz, for her review and thoughtful comments.

Joanne Marttila Pierson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
September 2018