Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dyslexia and High School

From my Seattle PI Reader Blog, Learning Connections: Insights on ADHD/LD

Seemingly "simple" tasks of everyday high school classes create a daunting minefield for a student who lives with a dyslexic learning profile.

Last week I visited a local high school to observe a freshman. Even though the end of school is near, I wanted to see first-hand how the teachers were implementing accommodations and modifications for his severe dyslexia.

Before school began in the fall, I had met with this student twice a week to build his reading, writing and study skills. He began the year rating school as a "-1" on a one-to-ten scale. By mid-winter, he had moved his self-assessment of school to a "10." Since then he had become increasingly discouraged. Finally I realized that I better get a first-hand look at what was going on in his classes.

So, his teacher kindly let me sit in the back of the class. I spent the hour noting the tasks that he was asked to complete along with the other students in his literature class.

First Task---
Copy the definition of a vocabulary word from the overhead.
This task is very difficult for him to do, especially in the time allowed.

Having severe dyslexia means that he has trouble making accurate and automatic memories for print. Spelling words requires an accurate memory. Even copying from the board is tedious, slow, and oftentimes, not very accurate. At this point, probably a real waste of time.

Alternate ideas:
Students could scan the board with their cell phones using ScanR
Or the teacher could have text available online so students could use various software, for instance CLiCk,Speak for text-to-speech support. Helpful, as students could access the vocabulary words at home or at school on their computers.

Second Task---
Note the date of the upcoming vocabulary test.
Again, this went by too fast for him to write down.

Dyslexia is a language-based disability. For many students, processing language is slow. For instance, when I was traveling in Germany, I had a moment in the train station when I heard an announcement with my ears---and, after a long pause, my brain translated the meaning. If you are sitting in class trying to listen to the teacher, but your language is being processed slower than your ears take in the sound--watch out! Students zone out just from the fatigue of trying to "translate" meaning and keep up!

Alternate ideas:
The teacher could post assignments on Google Calendar and have reminders sent to students' cell phones automatically. Also, calendars can be set up so parents can check assignments, too. At this point, many of his assignments were illegible when he brought his written notes home.

Third Task---
Read a paragraph aloud from the overhead.
The teacher good-naturedly asked him if the print was "too small" or if he could read the paragraph aloud, seeming to include him with the other students who read aloud.

I have to admit, I was pretty surprised by this one! Most students who read well below grade level will not even attempt to read a passage aloud in front of their peers. When you read to yourself, you can skip over big words, or unfamiliar names--words don't have to be pronounced correctly to get the meaning.

The student quickly agreed that the print was still "too small" to see; however, I knew this as an excuse. The teacher called on students around the room to read aloud, and meant to be inclusive.

Alternate Idea
Don't do it! Let students volunteer to read aloud.

Are you tired out yet? Already, this student has barriers to accessing the curriculum akin to walking a minefield - and this only in the first 15 minutes of class! Read Part Two