Teaching assistant > Dyslexic

Working one to one with dyslexic learners

Child writing

Alison McLauchlin is Senior Lecturer in SEN and inclusion at The University of Hertfordshire. Here she gives her advice on how to work one to one with dyslexic pupils.

Establish a positive working relationship

Show an interest in the learner; get to know what interests them, their strengths, and the areas in which they need support. Use their strengths to support areas for development. Every learner is different, what works for one may not work for another.

Be consistent

Give a clear structure to the way you work, this can help to provide security and enhance their confidence.

Have a sense of humour

Use humour to deflect tension and help to make activities fun. It can sometimes be stress that is limiting progress.

Seek advice

You do not need to reinvent the wheel, have the confidence to consult experts such as parents, dyslexia websites, local special schools or units, advisory teachers and colleagues. See recommended books and website at the bottom of this article.

Remember learners read your facial expressions and body language

Ensure that you are clear and appropriately positive. Make sure you face the learner, lean slightly towards them, use open-handed gestures, smile, and nod.

Be a safe place for the child

Show sensitivity to the needs of the learner, give them time to talk and show that you are genuinely listening to them.

Be an advocate for the learner

Find out the strategies that work for your learner and share those with other colleagues that will be working with them.

Try to be predictable

Let the learner know what you expect in terms of their learning and behaviour.

Stay calm and philosophical

If something does not work, it may not be anybody’s fault, tomorrow is another day. Start each day afresh; know when to change your approach. Remember to give new strategies time to work.

Give the learner time to respond

Give them the opportunity to process, or question, the information they are being given. This helps learners with dyslexia, as they find it difficult to process auditory information, to avoid frustration and increase the opportunities for success.

Model for the learner what is expected

Work through examples for the learner demonstrating the task and how you would like the work recorded.

Break the tasks into small achievable tasks

If the tasks are given in bite-sized portions this encourages the learner to feel they can complete the task, and will enhance their self-esteem. This may also involve writing down instructions for homework in small easy steps.

Regularly evaluate the potential for increasing the learner’s independence

The most successful teaching assistants work towards enabling their learners to be independent in their learning.

Find ways to include peer support

The learner may be able to take advice from a well chosen peer more readily than a supporting adult. Peers also may be able to act as a scribe for dyslexic learners.

Anticipate what may go wrong and plan for prevention

Recognise known characteristics of dyslexia, such as the difficulty to discriminate letters or words of similar shapes e.g. confusion of b/d, p/q or on/no.

Use multisensory activities to teach these skills to prevent misconceptions. Only try to learn one sound or letter string at a time.

Explain, explain and explain again

Be prepared to repeat instructions a number of times, find different ways of giving the information if the learner does not understand after the first couple of times. Give clear and concise instructions; get the child to repeat them back to you to ensure they are understood. Modify your language to suit the child’s needs.

Adjust the pace

Try to sense how an activity is going and adjust accordingly; learners with dyslexia will need longer to record information.

Be prepared that sometimes you need to change the activity if it is not going well and come back to it another day.

Plan activities with high intellectual stimulation but adjust the written expectation of the activity to a reasonable level.

Watch out for signs of fatigue, learners with dyslexia have to work harder to keep up with their peers, consider short breaks from activities to give them time to rest or de-stress.

Be well prepared with appropriate resources

The use of well chosen ICT can assist learners who require a structured approach to the learning of spellings, or can benefit from being able to dictate their work.

Teach dyslexic learners to use spelling and grammar check on the computer, this allows for redrafting and for the final piece of work to have the same presentation quality as their peers.

Encourage learners to develop their skills in estimation and combine this with teaching them how to use a calculator as about 60 per cent of dyslexics have additional difficulties with maths.

Give instant feedback

Give praise and encouragement for effort and not just achievement, and give one suggestion to improve their work.

When marking work, mark according to the content and only identify spellings if they are current key spellings for the learner.

Develop systematic skills

Children with dyslexia may find it difficult to organise things. You can teach them a systematic approach and provide support to help organise equipment needed for each session or homework through a visual timetable.

Related videos:

15 mins KS1/2 English - Teaching the Dyslexic Child
The use of multi-sensory teaching to benefit dyslexic children
15 mins Dyslexia Support
Part of the series Primary TAs
Exploring ways to get dyslexic students excited about reading
15 mins Secondary Special Needs - Dyslexia Friendly Classroom
Teachers gain a deeper insight into dyslexia in the classroom