An article on Dyslexia and Learning Difficulties in ELT, by Panayiotis Constantinides.
Panayiotis Constantinides is an English teacher, certified oral examiner and licensed Dyslexia evaluator. He holds a Certificate in English Methodology from the British Council, a Diploma in IT from the Open University, U.K. and a postgraduate Certificate in Inclusive Education, Support for Learning, from the University of Glasgow. He has been teaching English for 20 years and assesses students with LD since 2012. He has been a member of the IT team at the University of the Aegean, department of Product and System Design since 2000 and an oral examiner of levels B2-C2 since 2006. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
On October 18, 2014 International Publishers and P. Constantinides are organising a workshop regarding this topic. A certificate of attendance will be provided to all attendees.
DYSLEXIA AND LEARNING DIFFICULTIES IN ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING
There has been a lot of discussion regarding Dyslexia and LD, mostly during the last two decades, when the number of students facing them seems to be rising. Despite opposing voices (see Prof. Julian Elliott & Elena Grigorenko’s book “the Dyslexia Debate”), the majority of scientists agree that Dyslexia and LD are part of our everyday teaching life and as such, solutions should be sought in order to create a more inclusive educational environment.
DYSLEXIA IN FIGURES
How serious the situation is, can easily be determined by looking at some numbers. In short, and according to Driver Youth Trust, dyslexia and LD seem to affect 12 to 15% of the global population, one third of which are children. A 70 to 80 % of the above is hereditary and the ratio between boys and girls is approximately four to one. It is more common among left-handed students, though this cannot be considered a rule. Quite surprisingly, only in the U.S. 40 million people are estimated to face LD and worst, only 2 million know it, reinforcing a secret rule which wants the majority of individuals with LD to be unaware of it!
A TERM FOR DYSLEXIA
Efforts to express an accurate term for dyslexia are numerous, not many though have been generally accepted. A worth mentioning one is sir Jim Rose’s (BDA, 2009), who refers to it as “a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling”. If we wish to give a more precise view of the condition, we could add that “dyslexia can affect the way you communicate, and it is different for everyone. Unidentified dyslexia can result in low self esteem, high stress and low achievement” (Dyslexia Scotland, 2009). This term stresses a really significant part of this difference: the fact that dyslexia cannot be grouped and it is unique and different for each individual.
KNOCKING THE DOOR OF ELT
It would be unwise to believe that a student whose mother tongue is not English, will face difficulty only in this language and not in the second taught. Sometimes, we, English teachers, may happen to be the first to recognize some “difference” and therefore it would be really important to be aware of some “signs” that could trigger some more meticulous view to our student. Many teachers or even parents will think of the confusion between “p” and “q” or “b” and “d”, but there is a lot more than this. In any case, dyslexia touches a number of different areas, hence the variety of signs we may receive. Some of the points worth our attention are:
- Reading and writing speed
- Sequencing (months, numbers, etc)
- Length of attention span
- Interaction with peers
- Breaks in speech
- Problems with visual discrimination (e.g. between similar letters or words) as much as auditory discrimination of some sounds
- Difficulty comprehending information
- Signs of low confidence
The list could be much longer, but the above are typical examples of a dyslexic profile.
It is understandable that EL teachers may feel they are not the ones who should “diagnose” a dyslexic or LD profile. Indeed, we are not supposed to provide a diagnosis, mostly for a phenomenon the majority of us is not familiar. Being teachers though, we are supposed to inform parents and perhaps the school teacher, that we have noticed signs of LD. This is actually the first step: inform the family of anything different you have noticed, ask them whether they or the school teachers have discerned anything similar and if they have, encourage them to see a specialist. The sooner an assessment is performed, the better for the child. No matter, whether the family proceeds with an appointment and evaluation or not, you will have acted properly as their offspring’s teacher. If parents decide to arrange an evaluation test, state and private centers are available to do so. The main difference is that a child can be provided with some extra prerogatives at school and English exams (e.g. extra time or oral examination in specific subjects) only if they have been diagnosed by a state center. In Greece, the relevant laws are 3699 of 2008 and 4186 of 2013.
BACK TO THE LESSON
In case your student has been diagnosed to have LD or Dyslexia, you will need to adopt your teaching methods according to the results of the test and certainly come in contact with the specialist who performed the test. It is very probable that your student will attend some sessions with the specialist in order to do some intervention exercises in the areas their score was low. In some cases, you may be advised to use similar exercises in English, aiming at improving their performance and simultaneously building up their self-confidence. This will be easier if you work with the child in private lessons and more difficult, not impossible though in a mainstream class. Whatever the case, there are some basic rules you should follow:
- Do not stress them. Give clear guidelines, chunks of work, cut in pieces, do not load them with long lists
- See which parts they are “afraid of” and support them accordingly, offering advice
- Praise them, making sure you do not overdo it
- Build their self-confidence. They should not be “hurt” by a failure, they should learn from their mistakes and go on
- Keep in touch with “specialist”, Greek school teacher, parents
- Give them work related to ICT, an area they enjoy dealing with
- Do not go very fast
- Let them speak for themselves. They know better than anyone else what worries them most
Dyslexia and LD is not a disease or as some parents think the end of the world. It is simply a difference and as such it must be dealt. What we mostly need to do as teachers is raise our awareness on the matter. There are loads of books, websites and articles available to achieve this. It is more than certain, that we will meet students with LD in the future, if not already have and just avoiding it, is simply a vain cancellation of ourselves. A good start, apart from the above, is the legal framework of the country we teach, so that we are aware of the rights and regulations of the students we work with. A student with LD or Dyslexia should be a challenge for us and not a situation to avoid. We are given a chance to become a better teacher through it not only for the child with Dyslexia, but for the whole class. If our student has a “difference”, we need to show we adopt it and become “different” as well. It is a situation we should be involved if we really love teaching and certainly the smile we will get back is worth our effort.
British Dyslexia Association: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
Driver Youth Trust (DYT) The fish in the tree: Why we are failing children with Dyslexia: http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/files/DYT-FishintheTree-LR.pdf
Dyslexia Scotland: http://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk
Elliott Julian & Elena L. Grigorenko (2014) The dyslexia debate, New York, Cambridge University Press
HMIE (2008) Education for learners with Dyslexia, Livingston, HMIE
NASEN Training Project (undated) Introduction to Support for Learning, Information on a range of conditions, unit 2 – «What makes learning difficult?», conditions 1-9
Reid Gavin (2005) Dyslexia, New York, Continuum books
Republic of Greece (2008) Law nr.3699 Special treatment and education of individuals with disabilities or special learning difficulties, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 1, sheet number 199
Republic of Greece (2013) Law nr.4186 Restructuring of Secondary Education, Athens: Newspaper of the Republic of Greece, issue 1, sheet number 193