This article discusses ways in which SENCOs can support children with dyslexia within mainstream education, and provides a list of warning signs that might initially lead to referral, by training principals from Dyslexia Action, Rosemary Norburn and Glenys Heap

The most effective form of support for a dyslexic person of any age is specialist multi-sensory tuition that is individualised to meet the needs of the pupil. However, there are two key golden rules that SENCOs should bear in mind when dealing with dyslexic learners:

1. Never be tempted to put dyslexic learners in groups solely on the basis of their literacy skills. Many children who struggle with literacy are intellectually very capable and have a great deal to offer. They can be valuable members of teams; they can inspire and be inspired by others. It is not appropriate always to group them with children who are of low ability when the focus of the lesson is not specifically on literacy. So group them according to ability not attainment.

2. Give them time! Dyslexic learners process information slowly. Speaking slowly and summarising information regularly will really give them the best chance of understanding.

Supporting the dyslexic child in the mainstream classroom

Listed below are some additional ideas that can be suggested to teachers to help support a dyslexic child in the mainstream classroom:

  • be aware of the individual needs of each dyslexic pupil – one dyslexic pupil’s difficulties and needs will vary from that of another – one size does not fit all!
  • try to avoid putting them in a situation that will exacerbate and bring attention to their difficulties; eg do not ask him/her to read aloud in front of the rest of the class
  • praise and encourage wherever possible
  • try to focusing on what he/she is good at and avoid too much attention towards the negatives
  • give less homework (eg shorter essays, or underline main points to learn)
  • mark written work on content, not spelling – tick what is right instead of crossing out what is wrong
  • mark on oral responses when possible
  • if reading long words, divide syllables with a pencil line
  • help him/her to pronounce words correctly
  • make sure he/she has understood and remembered instructions or provide written instructions rather than verbal ones
  • put important words on the blackboard
  • give plenty of time to copy from the blackboard – writing on alternate lines in different colours may also help or use pre-prepared handouts
  • allow extra time for assignments if he/she is struggling to meet the deadline
  • send an exercise book home with him/her, with homework assignments written in, and a note of important things to bring tomorrow, eg PE kit.

It is very hard for a teacher to be supportive of a dyslexic pupil in a class of 30 or more but the above tips are designed to give some insight into what difficulties a dyslexic pupil may present and some practical steps that might be possible to implement.

Where can I get more information and advice?

Dyslexia Action, created upon the Dyslexia Institute’s merger with the Hornsby International Dyslexia Centre, is a national educational charity and the UK’s leading provider of services and support for people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties. It specialises in assessment, teaching and training. It also develops and distributes teaching materials and undertakes research.

Dyslexia Action’s training department offers specialist courses for teachers and SENCOs right up to postgraduate level. One popular course for SENCOs, ‘Dyslexia and Literacy in the Classroom: A Course for Mainstream Teachers and SENCOs’, offers the equivalent of 18 NVQ Level 3 credits.

Dyslexia Action’s Dyslexia and Literacy in the Classroom course is quite a detailed introduction to dyslexia and literacy in the classroom and how to use school resources, including the National Literacy Strategy, to help pupils with difficulties. It is exceedingly practical and includes a huge amount of help with strategies that really work. As Linda Dyja, a SENCO from an inner London primary school, comments, ‘I got a huge amount from this course. It really is quite amazing how much it has impacted on me. It was so informative and practical – looking at things that you understood and then did. I don’t think that I have ever been so influenced and able to grow so much.’

Dyslexia Action has also just launched the Practical Course for Teachers, a Level 4 course similar to the Dyslexia and Literacy in the Classroom course but more suitable for SENCOs who wish to begin to specialise in dyslexia and learn specific skills to use within individual and small group literacy teaching. For the first time, the Dyslexia Institute Literacy Programme (DILP) is available to teachers other than those studying for a postgraduate qualification. This course will provide 18 credits equivalent to NVQ Level 4.

How to recognise dyslexia

There are many reasons why a child may be seen to struggle to learn to read but a large percentage of these children will have difficulties as the result of a specific learning difficulty, of which dyslexia is the most common. Dyslexia is a hidden disability that hinders learning, mainly affecting literacy skills. Dyslexia is relatively common; it affects approximately 10% of the population to varying degrees, 4% severely. It can affect anyone, at any age. It is inherited and is caused by differences in specific areas of the brain, predominately related to language and the processing of language based information. Dyslexia does not affect intelligence. However, due to the individual way that dyslexic people learn, traditional teaching methods do not always cater for them appropriately.

In helping colleagues through in-service training or individual advice SENCOs can remind them that difficulties may include:

  • difficulties with reading
  • difficulties with spelling
  • poor sequencing skills
  • poor short-term memory
  • lack of phonological awareness
  • confusion about left and right
  • problems with reading comprehension
  • difficulties with mathematics
  • difficulties with musical notation
  • poor handwriting
  • difficulties expressing thoughts orally
  • poor organisational skills.

The number, type and severity of the difficulties will be seen to vary amongst dyslexic individuals.

The difficulties listed above can result in further problems. Dyslexia can cause frustration and a lack of self-esteem and confidence, which can be the cause of disruptive and/or bad behaviour, particularly among children.

Referral for assessment

In helping colleagues identify a dyslexic pupil SENCOs will know that dyslexia is complex and as such requires identification through a full formal assessment, conducted by a chartered educational psychologist. However, a specially qualified teacher can give an informed opinion about educational progress.

If the answer to the majority of the following questions is ‘yes’, it would be wise to discuss referring the pupil for an assessment with his/her parents/guardians.

  • Is the standard of his/her work erratic?
  • Does the standard of his/her reading and written work fall below your expectations of his/her ability?
  • Does he/she make unexpected errors when reading aloud, miss words out, read the wrong word or lack fluency when reading?
  • Does he/she struggle to break words down into units of sound?
  • Does he/she take a long time to read something and understand it?
  • Does he/she have difficulties with spelling and/or spell the same word in a variety of ways?
  • Does he/she have slow and/or poor handwriting?
  • Is he/she unable to remember a list of instructions?
  • Does he/she have difficulty copying from the blackboard or making notes?
  • Does he/she confuse, for example, ‘b’ and ‘d’, or ‘9’ and ‘6’?
  • Does he/she confuse names or objects or use Spoonerisms, eg par cark?
  • Do you notice that he/she puts a lot of effort in with little to show for it?
  • Is he/she the classroom clown and/or exhibit bad behaviours?
  • Does he/she seem to have developed work-avoidance tactics and not hand in his/her homework on time?
  • Is his/her concentration poor?
  • Have you noticed that he/she has difficulties with rhyming?
  • Does he/she have difficulties learning times tables, days of the week or months of the year?
  • Is he/she struggling to learn to tell the time?
  • Does he/she confuse left and right?
  • Does dyslexia run in his/her family?

If you suspect that a pupil is dyslexic, or he/she has a hidden disability of any kind, it is imperative that this is recognised at the earliest possible stage.

For more information about dyslexia or the courses that Dyslexia Action runs please call 01784 222300