Accommodations are key to the success of dyslexics in school.
However, they are frequently misunderstood as “crutches.” As Johnson and Myklebust pointed out in their seminal text on learning disabilities in 1967, we find it acceptable in our society to allow golfers to have handicaps to level the playing field, but somehow we find it unacceptable to give accommodations to students with learning disabilities.
A dyslexic student in the general classroom may encounter various obstacles that hinder his/her academic potential. It is important for teachers, families, and dyslexics to have open communication about what specific accommodations students will need to ensure learning success.
We often hear that giving accommodations for a student with a learning disability is not fair to the other students. We like what Rick Lavoie, special education administrator of 30 years and inspirational speaker, has to say on this topic. To paraphrase him, fairness does not mean that everyone gets the same thing. Fairness means that everyone gets what he or she needs to be successful. In the case of the dyslexic student in the classroom, accommodations are required in order for her to succeed. It levels the playing field between her and her peers.
The following is a list of possible accommodations and suggestions that may be beneficial in order to decrease a student’s frustration and increase her academic success.
- Know which of your students have 504 plans and IEP. Touch base with the teacher consultant, parent, or student (depending on grade level) to determine how the plans will be implemented in your class. For example, a student may need additional time or directions read aloud to take a test and will be permitted to go to the resource room during testing.
- Provide a course syllabus ahead of time and announce projects and/or tests a week or two in advance. Students with dyslexia generally take much longer to prepare for tests and produce written work.
- Make the assignments explicit. Provide ample examples of what you are expecting, and use visual aids to allow them to follow and comprehend classroom instructions.
- Provide hands-on learning experiences whenever possible.
- Encourage students with dyslexia to turn in a draft early for feedback. Alternatively, give them an opportunity to revise their work (after receiving feedback) for a higher grade.
- Provide a peer buddy that can sit near your student with dyslexia.
- Do not ask your student with dyslexia to read aloud in front of peers. This can be quite embarrassing and being put “on-the-spot” will only exacerbate his difficulty with the text. But, should he volunteer, by all means, let him read!
- Give the student time to process a question before answering. State your questions, pause, and then call on the dyslexic student first. He or she may only have one answer in mind, whereas the other students may have two or three. The more students with dyslexia can “save face” in front of peers, the more energy they will have left for the learning process. If a student is always “on-guard,” he may not be able to devote many mental resources and attention to learning.
- Remember to cultivate the student’s strengths and interests within your discipline whenever possible.
- Use Universal Design in your classroom instruction.
Know the accommodations a student will need beforehand for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. The College Board has been improving its stance toward accommodations for students with disabilities, so your student should receive all the help he or she requires.