“Persons, children or adults, are interested in what they can do successfully, in what they approach with confidence and engage in with a sense of accomplishment.”

John Dewey, educational reformer, philosopher, and psychologist, 1913.

Why should I teach to students’ interests and strengths?

Most students with dyslexia are not confident in an academic setting. This can lead to a poor self-concept and to a sense of pessimism about school and the future. This does not have to be the case. Many students with dyslexia actually have high IQs, but they have not had the chance to tap into their inherent strengths. This essay is designed to give you, the professional, a rationale for teaching to the strengths and interests of your students with dyslexia. Furthermore, you will find a step-by-step approach to help you -- from assessment to progress monitoring.

In an era when more and more is packed into a school day, cultivating a student’s strengths may seem superfluous. However, many times, by the time a student is referred for an IEP and is picked up on a special educator’s caseload, he or she is already failing. The student may report that he “does not like” the subject that is challenging for him. By taking time to get to know your student’s interests and strengths, you build rapport and convey that you believe in him. You will also have a fuller picture of the student by knowing not only areas of difficulty, but also areas where he excels. You, as the professional, can help your student to dream and to set goals for himself. It is when a student is invested in something that he likes, that he will be willing to work. Chances are he will persevere much longer and will improve in areas of weakness when his strengths and interests are included in the curriculum. In this way, a student can learn how to learn and will be able to carry over the strategies and skills he is learning into his everyday life.

The truth is we all learn differently. We all have unique experiences and affinities that help us to succeed and to share our individual voice with the world. Your students with dyslexia are simply wired a bit differently. This is, in fact, a strength! The only problem is that in many classrooms across the country instruction is tailored for auditory/verbal learners. Most of the learning is mediated through text. This may not be a good match for the learning profile of many students with dyslexia. So, how do you find out your student’s strengths and interests? Individualize your lesson to use the students’ strengths to improve his or her weaknesses? Below is a step-by-step guide to help you tailor your therapy or instruction to your students.

 

How do I assess my student’s strengths and interests?

It’s important that you begin finding the student’s strengths in the assessment. Pay attention to your student’s strongest way of taking in information (auditory, written, pictorial, kinesthetic, or a combination of these). Ask your student what he thinks is his easiest way to learn. Likewise, observe the student’s strongest way of expressing himself – written, verbal, pointing, multiple choice, etc.

Dynamic assessment is often very useful to determine what a student is capable of when a task is modified. For example, you may wish to know whether your student will do better if the choices are read aloud to him. This gives you information about his preferred type of input. On the other hand, you may want to know whether your student can produce a narrative more easily verbally than in writing. You can assess this by showing a picture and having him first tell you a story about it. Then have him write a story about another picture. A comparison of the two for sentence structure, story grammar, and fluency may help you determine recommendations for accommodations and strategies.

Here are some ways of involving your student in determining his strengths and affinities in the assessment phase:

  • “Show and Tell”: Ask your student to bring in a book that he really enjoyed reading, a paper or project that he is proud of, or a photo of something he enjoys doing. It’s helpful to send a quick email to the parent when you are doing this to help the student to locate the item and to remember to bring it in.
  • Interview your student or have him complete a questionnaire. A couple of good ones for middle school and high school students are the CELF-4 Observational Rating Scale and the STRANDS Survey of Teenage Readiness and Neurodevelopmental Status.