Special Education

How Teachers Can Help Students With Dyslexia: What Our Readers Say

By Hayley Hardison — May 03, 2023 5 min read
Young school boy writing in a notebook while sitting in a library with an educator.
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“If you have dyslexia, you have a superpower,” says Gaby Edwards, a speech language pathologist at The Odyssey School just outside Baltimore. “Because in order to be diagnosed with dyslexia, your cognitive skills or your intelligence level is extremely high. You have incredible capabilities.”

Dyslexia is a processing disorder that hinders children’s ability to read. Children with dyslexia typically struggle to relate sounds to letters and words, interfering with how they “decode,” or lift words off the page when reading.

We asked our social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn what teachers can do to support their students with dyslexia. We broke down their responses into five main themes. Here’s what they said.

More training for teachers

Estimates suggest about 3 percent to 7 percent of the population have dyslexia. Not all teachers are well equipped to help these students, commenters said.

“[W]e need to make sure that all teachers understand the way dyslexia works; what it impacts and what it does not. After all, how can students understand their condition if their teachers and schools do not understand it?” wrote 5th grade teacher Kyle Redford in a 2016 Education Week Opinion essay.

Commenters pointed to better teacher training on working with dyslexic students as a foundation to support them.

“Implement curriculum in college to teachers to learn what dyslexia is and is not! It’s very frustrating as a parent, teaching teachers what dyslexia is and how they can help my child. As my child got older, she took over this role.”

Erin F. S.

“Have teachers understand the term dyslexia is an umbrella that could mean central auditory processing issues, visual discrimination issues, depth perception issues and then have access to diagnostic tests to identify which one student is dealing with and strategies to support students dependent on their learning disability.”

Peta N.

Employ the ‘science of reading’

Education Week reporter Sarah Schwartz has extensively covered the “science of reading” movement, which pushes for the implementation of an evidence-backed approach to teaching kids how to read.

“In brief, the science of reading embraces the systematic, explicit teaching of sounds and letters. While [students] learn how to crack the code, [they] are also introduced to rich stories and texts that build their background knowledge. Eventually, teachers help students weave these skills together like strands in a rope, allowing them to read more complex texts,” Sarah wrote last July.

More than half the states now mandate a “science of reading” approach to early literacy. The literacy movement has been bolstered by parents of children with dyslexia, who advocate for explicit instruction in phonics, noting that the practice—while crucial for dyslexic students—helps all children learn to read.

EdWeek’s social media followers echoed their support for this approach in helping dyslexic students.

“Learn about the science of reading and how instruction and practice aligned to the body of evidence can make a huge difference for those with dyslexia. Advocate for early screening and intervention. Prioritize early literacy as a school/system to ensure kids with dyslexia have access to the instruction they need to achieve literacy in the early grades.”

Megan L. P.

“Make learning to decode words as multi-sensory as possible to activate more areas of the brain. Let them use speech to text to get their ideas down without having to try to struggle how to spell words, read aloud text to them, let them use spell check & word prediction software.”

@Michellspedtchr

Advocate for universal dyslexia screening

Proponents of universal screening for dyslexia in the early grades argue that it helps curb the need for interventions for students later in school, and research supports this claim.

EdWeek reporter Elizabeth Heubeck recently wrote about researchers’ findings that “[e]arly identification of struggling readers and subsequent prevention programs can reduce by up to 70 percent the number of children placed in special education … [and] [i]nterventions for struggling readers that start in 4th grade take four times longer than those that start in late kindergarten.”

Commenters seconded the importance of universal screening for dyslexia in the early grades as a pillar of support for dyslexic students.

“Teachers need training about dyslexia and to use universal screening to identify struggling students as early as possible. Early intervention is crucial for students with dyslexia! A structured literacy approach & using evidence-based interventions & instruction is needed.”

@melbrethour

“They should advocate for universal screening and early intervention in their districts. Dyslexic students need structured literacy interventions asap! Teachers should also learn about dyslexia and how to best support their students.”

@RachelDelCarlo1

Provide accommodations

“Teachers also need to know about the powerful role that accommodations and supports can play in unleashing the capacity of dyslexic students to thrive. Simple tools and adjustments like employing audiobooks, using speech-to-text and predictive spelling apps, and allowing extra time on assessments can be game-changers for students with dyslexia,” wrote teacher Kyle Redford in his EdWeek Opinion essay.

Commenters responding to our query echoed that sentiment, highlighting how useful simple accommodations can be in supporting students with dyslexia.

“The interventions others have mentioned are key. But teachers also need to support the accommodations. There are amazing tech options that empower students. Text-to-speech, annotation, editing to mention a few. Districts need to make it easy for students to access these and teachers/schools need to set up and implement systems for students to access the content digitally (and I am not talking about telling kids to take photos of the work) so they can actually use their accommodations.”

Debbie A. C.

@athorsen16

Employ tech tools wisely

Ed tech has made its way into various facets of education. Most educators responding to an EdWeek Research Center survey reported feeling invigorated by the use of these tools in the 2023-24 school year.

The jury is still out on many uses of educational technology, including for students with dyslexia, but some commenters offered up tech-tool suggestions. Here are some examples.

“Aside from all the things we can do, not sure if everyone knows about OpenText. It’s a Google extension that, when turned on, uses enhanced font for assisting reading for dyslexics in all docs and websites. Have a student who said it does make reading a bit easier.”

Donna B. R.

“Allow them to use text-to-speech programs like Bookshare so they can keep up on their reading assignments.”

@anntirrell

Coverage of students with learning differences and issues of race, opportunity, and equity is supported in part by a grant from the Oak Foundation, at www.oakfnd.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

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