Dyslexic students learn differently from the large group of left brain dominant learners in an average classroom. Many children can learn efficiently with an auditory teaching approach that primarily presents information orally to a class along with assignments and projects that are based on written materials about the subject. The students are expected to read these materials and then ‘regurgitate’ (to give back or repeat, especially something not fully understood or assimilated: to regurgitate the teacher’s lectures on the exam) this information in worksheets, reports, tests and projects that are primarily in a written format.
This information is usually presented sequentially, step by step, eventually ending up at a conclusion or result. The left brain students accept the information that is presented to them, follow the directions and are not necessarily concerned with the reason or meaning of the lesson. They memorize the information from the lesson and the steps necessary to get a correct result.
An example would be long division. It is not unusual for a teacher to go through the steps of long division and instruct the students to follow their directions. A teacher can further confuse this process by breaking up the discussion and practice of the steps over days rather than in one lesson. The students are told if they follow these steps exactly, their work and answers will be correct. The left brain learner accepts what the teacher says and follows their directions. They practice the steps, memorize the process and learn to do long division without necessarily understanding what they are doing.
The right brain dominant thinker or Dyslexic will have difficulty with this type of presentation of new information or new skill sets from beginning to end. The result is frustrating for the Dyslexic student; they don’t comprehend it, remember or retain it, or are able to apply this knowledge to their classroom work.
This lesson is missing a number of components that are important to a Dyslexic student. There needs to be:
- an overview or “big picture” of what the lesson is about
- a connection to something the class has already learned
- a physical demonstration, video, story, discussion of its purpose, etc to bring the subject alive for the students and give it a meaning or reason to be learned
- start to give exercises practicing the subject
- be sure to give and use completed examples of these exercises
- go over their completed work, correct it and discuss with the students what they don’t understand
- carry on the study of the lesson by creating class projects and connect this information to new concepts
So Dyslexic students need the “big picture” first, meaning or reasons, connection to real things by physical demonstrations, practice and connection to new ideas. Without this process, they are often lost in the class. Their confusion with teaching methods that do not use these elements can also cause anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear shuts them down so nothing gets through to them.
The presentation of new information needs to be applied or related to “real world” examples the student has experienced before a Dyslexic can begin to understand it. Also if the information cannot easily be imagined, tasted, smelled, seen, heard or felt these students will have a difficult time trying to comprehend it.
Dyslexics do not easily absorb information they do not know the meaning of or reason for. In other words, if a Dyslexic is being taught long division they need to know what it is – “the opposite of multiplication”.
Multiplication is “adding in groups”
Division is “subtracting in groups”
This becomes the “big picture” or overview for the beginning of the lesson. This is the meaning of division. Then a short discussion follows focused on When? Where? How? would division be used.
- at Christmas when sorting presents and dividing them up
- at a birthday when cutting up a birthday cake
- picking kids for two teams to play a game
Next division would be demonstrated by using objects such as candies, apples, etc. The objects are presented in one big group and then divided into smaller groups for some purpose such as a certain number of candies in candy bowls.
Once the students have practiced dividing, then the brackets used in long division would be introduced. The students would be shown what each number position on the division brackets represents; the complete group, the number of objects in each group or how many smaller groups there are when divided up.
*Refer to example with dogs and dog houses in “Teaching Methods for Arithmetic Basics” in our Summer School Program E-Book on our website:
The Dyslexic student and many other students will be clear about what division means, why we use it and how to use dividing brackets to figure out a division problem.
This type of physical demonstration and explanation of new information is very important for the Dyslexic student. Any information they are given to learn in a rote manner will not stay with them nor will they be able to remember a sequence of steps in a process.
This method of teaching with an overview and physical demonstrations can be used for all subjects and should be standard practice in a classroom for all new concepts. This approach can be taken forward another step by taking concepts and reinforcing them for the student by running a similar theme through all subjects. This creates connections (neural pathways) in their knowledge base that strengthens their understanding of all their school work.
Main Topic: Thanksgiving
Language – creating a project with written material, pictures, posters, a story of the first Thanksgiving, writing and performing a play
Reading – reading a story about Thanksgiving
Spelling – a spelling list pulled from the story about Thanksgiving
Social Studies – the history behind Thanksgiving – writing a report about the history or a story with the Pilgrims as characters.
Science – how did the Pilgrims cook food for Thanksgiving and how is that different from our preparation of food today
– make recipes the Pilgrims or First Nations people would have made. This involves measurements, heat, types of heat, following a recipe like an experiment, etc.
Cook – cook foods that the First Nations peoples and the Pilgrims would have brought to the feast.
– have a Thanksgiving feast with these foods
Arithmetic – measurements in recipes, worksheets using Pilgrims and First Nations people for characters in word problems.
These teaching methods are not unusual. They have been kicking around forever to be used with all students, not just Dyslexics. I first learned about them in the 1970’s by a brilliant psychology professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. His name was Chuck Galloway. I owe much to him and his teaching methods. He taught us how effective this approach was by using his students as very fortunate Guinea pigs. Consequently the whole class of 400 students received excellent grades. The knowledge I picked up from that course has always stuck with me and I am very grateful to him.
Co-founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online