- The Dyslexia Friendly Classroom
- Coping with Dyslexia – A Positive Approach
- Dyslexia- what is it?
- If there's one book for dyslexia. . .
- Reading, writing and spelling difficulties
Dyslexia very often manifests itself in a frustrating difficulty in learning English spellings. This has the double-effect of making the student feel unintelligent and also inhibiting the free flow of words onto a page when writing; both effects generating each other in a negative feed-back loop. So, spelling fluency is an important skill acquisition for both good literacy and self-confidence as a learner, and the challenge is how to help dyslexic students accomplish this. It is especially difficult in English as is such a notorious difficult language when it comes to spelling; phonetic rules often do not stick and there are a plethora of irregularly spelled words, e.g. some, yacht.
How best then to help dyslexic children build these skills, children who have a neurocognitive character where literacy skills generally are learnt with much more arduous effort than with other children?
It is crucial that above all dyslexic children do not get the sense that they are in any way less able to learn or intelligent than other children. They simply find spelling, reading and associated tasks harder to get to grips with in the same way that many people may find learning to play concert piano. We just happen to communicate using literacy skills and not by playing Bach and Beethoven to each other. Writing orchestrates a complex array of cognitive abilities using neural connections between brain regions which are activate more or less smoothly for different people, in the way that some people are more musical than others.
When a skill is that much harder for someone to pick up, we need to help find triggers and learning-aids that support the process sensitively and imaginatively. Teachers of dyslexic children traditionally make use of structured programmes for spelling acquisition that reinforce phonological rules – when sounds and letters correspond in regular ways, e.g. cat – to different irregular spelling pattern, e.g. words ending –tion/-sion. These follow a typical learning experience of learning the rule involved, looking at examples, memorising these, and then re-writing them in the context of a real sentence. It is often surprising how motivated so many students are to plough through this quite old-fashioned approach, highlighting the relief of so many dyslexic students that someone is paying specialist attention to the specific difficulties they have. Pretty much all dyslexic children do really wish to learn to spell. But, it does not shake off the sense that they need extra help and are not clever enough to learn at the class pace.
We can also use the innate intelligence of the majority of children, dyslexic or not, to take a more dynamic interest in the shapes of words that they are learning to spell. For example, a project could be to find out why it is that why, when, which, what all peculiarly have a silent h and are question words; why it is that so many words ending in an /ul/ sound are spelled –le. Children love stories and finding out about the origins of things. They can discover that the question words with the silent h’s were originally Anglo Saxon words, beginning with h, as in the famous beginning of Beowulf; HWAET! (What!). It was the Normans, coming over with their Norman accents, who were unable to pronounce this, left out the h in the oral rendition of the word, but slipped it in silently after the sounded-w in their spelling; hence we now have the word what.
By finding out about the history of English language, patterns of spelling families are therefore absorbed. And, it does not feel such a dry lesson to the student or teacher. It will be surprising how children will identify similar patterns in the written language without prompt, and remember spellings too, gaining confidence and fluency in a positive feedback loop. The pleasure of stories can be appreciated as much by dyslexics as anyone. By tapping into this intelligent pleasure, alongside systematic spelling practice, fluency in spelling and consequentially, writing, is not an unattainable ability. Stories become another mnemonic, the stories also stimulating ideas for expressive writing.