Dyslexia in the classroom

As most secondary school or high school children are in the early stages of formal operational development, this stage of school education includes huge amounts of auditory (verbal) instruction, supplemented with handouts, text books and written material.

Consequently, secondary school can be a challenging environment for dyslexics who often learn better from other teaching strategies, such as visual and kinaesthetic methods. This is why dyslexic children often shine at art, drama, music, design and technology, sports and other physical activities, because their natural learning skills are more geared for kinaesthetic learning than for auditory learning.

How do children with learning difficulties feel in the classroom and what is the impact on their learning?

To avoid undue stress on children with learning difficulties, teachers should give regular positive praise and helpful feedback. Children feel very overloaded by the sheer volume of work and their lack of organisational skills and sequencing problems can make them feel very overwhelmed. By breaking tasks into manageable chunks with numbered written lists/instructions, children feel less daunted. Teachers should avoid highlighting too many errors in a piece of work – concentrating only on the most important ones – one by one. The table below outlines some of the feelings and causes that contribute to feelings of not coping in the classroom and their impact on low self-esteem and behaviour:


 Self-esteem Issues: Feelings and Causes   Social and Emotional Impact on Behaviour 
Can’t explain feelings Immature behaviour
Feelings of inadequacy Peer pressure
Stressed out: overanxious Class joker
Wants to be as good as his friends Exhausted: often can’t sleep well
Suffer hurtful remarks or bullying Disruptive
Difficulty coping Avoids working
Overwhelmed by volume of tasks Aggressive
Low grades  – seen as less clever Tearful; may feel depressed
Being withdrawn from lessons for support Anti-social behaviour
Can’t understand concepts Withdraws to avoid feeling bad
Over sensitive to criticism Absenteeism due to stress
Frustrated: revises, but can’t remember facts More absenteeism: cannot catch up on missed work 

It is important to first identify if there is a learning difficulty through professional assessment. Teachers can identify each pupil’s learning preference to help differentiate learning within the classroom.  Explore various learning styles and how you can use them with your dyslexic pupil to make learning easier, more effective and more memorable. Teachers should use a variety of teaching techniques for every subject for all children.

Here are some VARK/T teaching strategies you can use, according to your pupils’ learning preferences:

VARK/T – Visual

  • Picture and image associations
  • Colour-coding on the board and handouts
  • Font: comic sans, size; Paper – cream coloured
  • Hand outs with pictures and colour-coded
  • Interim Mind Maps
  • Mind Map to summarise end of a topic
  • NLP: Look, say, write, cover, spell with eyes shut
  • Go to the movies or theatre or watch a documentary


VARK/T – Auditory

  • Class, group discussions
  • Tell/explain your partner 3 things you have learned today
  • Make up rhymes and songs
  • Mnemonics
  • Record on to MP3s; listen to CDs, films, audio books
  • Explain what they are doing out loud (or to themselves)
  • Provide handouts, as notes are often incomplete because they prefer to listen


VARK/T – Read and Write

  • Lists; headings; notes (often verbatim)
  • Dictionaries; glossaries; definitions
  • Handouts; textbooks
  • Library
  • Essays
  • Write out vocabulary again and again.
  • Read notes (silently) again and again.
  • Rewrite the ideas and principles into other words.
  • Organise any grammar rules, diagrams … into statements
  • Turn reactions, actions, diagrams, charts and flows into words


VARK/T – Kinaesthetic / Tactile

  • Use all 5 senses
  • Tours, trips, realia, pictures, photographs
  • Make food, design/draw
  • Role play
  • Enact a topic
  • NLP spelling
  • Mini whiteboards
  • Interactive computer games/activities
  • Computer summary – PowerPoint or Mind Map
  • Interactive websites
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