What works – Paula Gilbert

“What Works” for children with dyslexia.

Paula Gilbert M Ed Psych DILP (Dyslexia Institute Literacy Program)

1. Chunking  one instruction at a time
If you have a lot of information or instructions to give, break it down into shorter “chunks” of language, pausing after each one. A long “block’ of spoken language can be difficult to process in one go.

2. Re-ordering
Say things in the order you want them to be done. So, instead of “Before you write your homework down, clear away the equipment” say, “Clear away the equipment. Then write down your homework.”

3. Cut down the amount you say
Studies have shown that in some classrooms adults talk for up to 90% of the time. For a young person with dyslexia this can feel overwhelming.

Think about structuring lessons and activities so there is a mixture of activity-type.

4. Slow down
Even slowing down your talking a bit means that students will give longer responses, and will say more. This doesn’t mean that you have to start talking in a sing-song voice!

5. Give visual support: use gesture, thinking/concept maps, demonstrating, quick sketches
Visual support can take many different forms.

Young people with dyslexia find information easier to understand and process if it is supplemented by something with a strong visual impact.

This could be a:

  • natural gesture;
  • facial expression;
  • use of pictures;
  • video;
  • quick drawings on the whiteboard;
  • using the interactive whiteboard;
  • linking to the Internet;
  • using real objects;
  • demonstrating or showing instead of telling;
  • using mind maps.

6. Avoid idioms, sarcasm, double meanings
We all use phrases such as “off you go” or “get your thinking caps on”, or use tone of voice to show meaning “Oh that’s just great!, but these can be really difficult for young people with dyslexia who may easily take them literally or get the wrong end of the stick (there’s another one!).

Be aware of times when you use language that is inferential or may have a double meaning – try to make sure you use something else or explain carefully.

7. Simplify the grammar
We often use a complex sentence when a simpler one would do just as well.

Some sentences are very difficult for young people with dyslexia to understand such as passive tense, for example “Show me who was the boy who was pushed”, or embedded phrases, for example “Put the one you thought it was next to the beaker that boiled”.

Try to simplify your sentences.

8. Pausing after you have asked a question
We know that adults often pause far too briefly when they have asked a question before switching from one child to another, or jumping in with another question.

Young people with dyslexia often need more “processing time” to get their thoughts together and formulate a response.

Waiting longer for a response can greatly help these students to engage and contribute.

Sometimes this isn’t possible, but there are often times when you can wait – it doesn’t have to be empty space, be aware of strategies for making it feel more natural, for example, ask a question and say you’re coming back for the answer, turn and write something on the board.

9. Commenting
For pupils with dyslexia commenting on what they are doing, and pausing, rather than asking questions, encourages dialogue and supports their thinking and learning, for example “So, plants need light and water to grow… I wonder what would happen if …”

10. Note taking
There are a number of ways to structure note taking.
The first rule is to be prepared. Students need to:

  • make sure they have completed any background reading or preparation before the lesson and have made a note of any important questions they have to be aware of;
  • use either a linear format to note the main points as key words and phrases;
  • use abbreviations wherever possible;
  • leave out the little words such as “the”, “is”, “to”, but make sure they remember that “no” and “not” are important words;
  • record numbers, names, dates and titles;
  • write definitions carefully;
  • record the teacher’s conclusions clearly and concisely;
  • mark any points not understood;
  • copy diagrams carefully;
  • have a friend or classmate who will share their notes or use a piece of carbon paper to provide a second set.

Organizing notes

  • use wide-lined A4 paper;
  • leave wide margins on both edges of the sheets or divide the page lengthways and only write on two-thirds;
  • leave gaps for additions or corrections;
  • use coloured pens and highlighters;
  • use headings and subheadings, marking subsections with letters or numbers.
  • when using patterned notes or spidergrams use plain, coloured paper in a landscape position and make use of coloured pens.
  • write only on one side of each page so that extra pages can be inserted later, for example observations of practical work, for additional reading or own thoughts;
  • the aim should be to have one set of notes that ties together all the aspects of a particular topic;
  • use particular colours of paper, folders or dividers for
  • different subjects/topics;
  • after the session, notes may need organising or reorganising perhaps by sorting them into: Main point > Supporting points >Summary.

Useful Strategies

Children can be helped to better organise their tasks if they are taught how to:

  • skim and scan a page;
  • sort the information;
  • etermine priorities;
  • make considered judgements.

Pupils who are making notes from textbooks.

For most children putting printed information into their own words, rather than just copying it, is a highly challenging task. Therefore the more “scaffolding” that can be provided for them, the better they will respond to this type of task.

They should be encouraged to:

  • get an overview of the chapter by reading the first and last paragraphs and by taking note of any headings, subheadings,maps, charts and diagrams, etc.
  • make a note of the book, chapter and page for later reference.
  • use a spidergram or a linear format, allow space for additional information
  • Think carefully about the key point as they read each paragraph “the essence” of the paragraph and what the supporting details are, and make a note, using as few words as possible. The advantages of this approach are that pupils will process the information more deeply as they think about the key points and, therefore, have a greater understanding of the text and will be more likely to remember the information in the future;
  • if they have to stop part-way through the task, they just need to re-read their notes before starting again;
  • they will end up with a summary of the chapter, which can be kept for later reference and revision.

Examples of note-making grids:

KWL Grid.
This format allows existing knowledge to be used as a beginning for an investigation. Findings are summarised in the final column.
What I Know : What I Want to know : What I have Learnt

Self-control of learning (metacognition)

Brooks(2007) says that: “Working on children’s self-esteem and reading in parallel has definite potential”¦ Building strong and trusting relationships between teacher and child is an essential prerequisite for learning.”

Metacognition is a term used to describe the understanding of one’s own learning processes. Important goals for teachers are to help students towards this understanding and to take control of organising their learning. This is particularly important for students who have specific difficulties and are at risk of over-generalising from negative experiences believing themselves to be incapable of success. Having awareness of the processes of learning and thinking can help to show that difficulties are limited and specific and that ways of getting around them are possible – even if more laborious than for those without difficulties who seemingly achieve success without knowing how they do it.

Students should be encouraged to apply the following questions to all of their work:

Purpose – Why am I doing this? “Do I know what the objectives are for this lesson?”
Outcome – What is the required end product? Do I know what a good example of this would look like?”
Strategy  – What strategy should be used? Do I know which strategies I can use to help me achieve this”
Monitoring – Was it successful? Did I meet the learning objective for this lesson?
Development – How can it be improved? Could I have done it better?
Transfer – Can it be transferred to another skill? “What have I learned from this lesson that I could use in another subject or situation?”

Paula Gilbert – M Ed Psych


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