“Sometimes my eyes go funny” – How to help dyslexics?

What do the following famous people have in common? Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, John Lennon, Jack Nicholson, Jim Carey, JFK, Kiera Knightly and Albert Einstein. They all suffer/ed from dyslexia to some degree or other, apparently. By the same token then, they may also at some point have felt the same feelings of frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, stupidity, anger, upset, and generally feeling dumber than everyone else around them. I learned about this and other dyslexia related matters on an internal CPD course on dyslexia at my college this week.

The course was delivered from a personal viewpoint by a member of staff, Caroline Fernandez, who has grown up with dyslexia, but who has also learned to overcome it, work around it, through it and over it, and who now helps others in the same boat.

So what do we mean by dyslexia? Of course there can be a plethora of symptoms. I liked one quote provided by a dyslexic learner, who said: “Sometimes my eyes go funny and I can’t see them [the words] – it looks like they are going wavy and they get mixed up and small words look like black things with white in between.” That makes me feel seasick just by reading it, never mind experiencing it. During the training session we were shown images of how may text appear to dyslexics though, and they weren’t all the same. Like all learning difficulties, if we use a label too glibly we generalise, forget the diversity in the population the label applies to, and don’t stop to observe the subtle nuances of the individuals we are relating to. Therein lays a crucial danger. If we do that and get blasé there’s no wonder learners demonstrate negative behaviours; it’s like we just aren’t seeing or hearing them. It would be tantamount to ignoring them. So what do we do?

I would have blogged about what I learned in more detail in the training session, but Caroline had already put together the following hints and tips with great finesse, and she agreed to let me share them on my blog. Enjoy…

Working with dyslexic learners: By Caroline Fernandez, Learning Facilitator

CarolineDyslexia GlassesOne thing I have learnt whilst researching is that when the learner becomes at ease with their dyslexia, the process of learning becomes much calmer and less stressful. Learning becomes more natural and even fun from time to time.

No matter the age of the learner, dyslexia is stressful, so learning to understand your own dyslexia is a vital component for allowing the learning process to take place. Knowing what works and what doesn’t is where you need to start.

Getting started

The severity of their dyslexia will influence how much support the learner will need to complete the work set. This needs to be established from the beginning of the year so the support can be put into place. Communication is the key to understanding each learner’s dyslexia. You need to sit down with each learner individually and listen to how they feel and what they experience when they are trying to do their work, either reading or writing. This will help you understand what has and hasn’t worked in the past. Involving the learner with their own education can make a real difference to what they understand. Explore their typical difficulties (many of which will be common with other learners), promoting self-confidence by giving learners the experience of success and positive feedback.

Using the multisensory lesson technique (visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) can be a useful tool when planning lessons. Yes, it is difficult for the teaching staff to work out how to fit all this in but it is the only way to produce an inclusive learning environment for their learner. Use approaches that encourage self-directed and independent learning so that learners feel in control of their learning.

A dyslexic learner must be shown ….

  • The big picture and then how the details fit into it.
  • From parts to whole.
  • From the easy to the more difficult.
  • From the simple to the complex.
  • From the concrete to the abstract.
  • From the visual to the auditory.
    • Always showing them how new information fits in with what they have learned.
    • With much review and practice at every step of the way.

If the learner can comprehend what is being asked of them then they can generally complete the task set. Ensuring they understand each word and its meaning is vital to completing each assignment.

If learners do not understand the meaning of each word in the set task then the end result may vary as to what has been asked of them. If the learner needs those words breaking down this needs to done when the task is set, and not half way through the assignment.

Get the learner to repeat the task back to you and tell you what they understand the task to be, this way you will know they are going to give you the answer you need.

This extract from the ‘Teachers Strategies for Dyslexics’ provides some great techniques to help learners get from A to B.

“1. Use a tape recorder- Many problems with materials are related to reading disabilities. The tape recorder often is an excellent aid in overcoming this problem. Directions, stories, and specific lessons can be recorded on tape. The student can replay the tape to clarify understanding of directions or concepts. Also, to improve reading skills, the student can read the printed words silently as they are presented on tape.

  1. Clarify or simplify written directions – Some directions are written in paragraph form and contain many units of information. These can be overwhelming to some students. The teacher can help by underlining or highlighting the significant parts of the directions. Rewriting the directions is often helpful.

For example: Original directions: This exercise will show how well you can locate conjunctions. Read each sentence. Look for the conjunctions. When you locate a conjunction, find it in the list of conjunctions under each sentence. Then circle the number of your answer in the answer column. Directions rewritten and simplified: Read each sentence and circle all conjunctions.

  1. Present a small amount of work – The teacher can tear pages from workbooks and materials to present small assignments to students who are anxious about the amount of work to be done. This technique prevents students from examining an entire workbook, text, or material and becoming discouraged by the amount of work. Also, the teacher can reduce the amount of work when it appears redundant. For example, the teacher can request the student to complete only odd-numbered problems or items with stars by them, or can provide responses to several items and ask the student to complete the rest. Finally, the teacher can divide a worksheet into sections and instruct the student to do a specific section. A worksheet is divided easily by drawing lines across it and writing go and stop within each section.
  1. Block out extraneous stimuli – If a student is easily distracted by visual stimuli on a full worksheet or page, a blank sheet of paper can be used to cover sections of the page not being worked on at the time. Also, line markers can be used to aid reading, and windows can be used to display individual math problems.


  1. Highlight essential information – If an adolescent can read a regular textbook but has difficulty finding the essential information, the teacher can mark this information with a highlight pen.


  1. Locate place in consumable material – In consumable materials in which students progress sequentially (such as workbooks), the student can make a diagonal cut across the lower right-hand corner of the pages as they are completed. With all the completed pages cut, the student and teacher can readily locate the next page that needs to be corrected or completed.


  1. Provide additional practice activities – Some materials do not provide enough practice activities for students with learning problems to acquire mastery on selected skills. Teachers then must supplement the material with practice activities. Recommended practice exercises include instructional games, peer teaching activities, self-correcting materials, computer software programs, and additional worksheets.


  1. Provide a glossary in content areas – At the secondary level, the specific language of the content areas requires careful reading. Students often benefit from a glossary of content-related terms.


  1. Develop reading guides – A reading guide provides the student with a road map of what is written and features periodic questions to help him or her focus on relevant content. It helps the reader understand the main ideas and sort out the numerous details related to the main ideas. A reading guide can be developed paragraph-by-paragraph, page-by-page, or section-by-section.” (International Dyslexia Association,2000)

 There are many occasions where dyslexic learners appear to not be paying attention. In fact they are generally experiencing an auditory overload and may even get a “glazed” look on their face. They can’t help this. We can help them by using the strategies above and by giving them the gift of time. So:

Allow more time

  • Give plenty of opportunities for overlearning, practice in meaningful contexts and revision.
  • Allow time for discussion and reflection, not just todays lesson but the assignment being worked on.
  • Plan ahead and be flexible in your deadlines, some dyslexic learners will go into melt down at the first mention of a time limit.

Remember dyslexic learners are not incidental learners in your classroom. They must be directly taught (shown) everything. Lazy! They are doing their best. It takes a lot more energy for the dyslexic student to get through the day and do their work, more than it does the average student.

Chesterfield College

 Here at Chesterfield College we have many resources to aid dyslexic learners. On the computers we have a program called ‘My Study Bar’ which will enable you to overlay the screen with a tint to help with visual eye stress; this can be found on L drive. We also have Read & Wright Gold which reads the words out loud on the screen; although it is not an up to date version it will allow learners to hear what they have written back to themselves.

In our Library and Learning centres we can provide independent study support for those learners who need that little extra outside of the classroom. We can look over their work; help them understand the question asked of them. It is important that dyslexic learners feel as though they are supported especially when their lecturer is not accessible, it may be worth bringing the leaner down yourself to meet with us in the learning centre so they feel more comfortable.

In each of our centres we also have colour overlay rulers and A4 sheets for learners and staff when borrowing books or magazines; though these are only for one day use it can give you an insight as to what colours work for you, and maybe look into purchasing your own in the future.

Also at Chesterfield College we have many subscriptions to magazines and different programs, my favourite being the Primal Online Learning; this is for anatomy and physiology, it takes you through the body systems with images, words and video, the best part is that you can go at your own pace.

Another great tool we have at our disposal is ‘Click View’ we have at least the last four weeks of Freeview television on our database system, approx. 30 channels. We can edit them down to a clip, or just simply take out the ads; these videos can be a great tool to use in lessons to get information across the learners. You can search by subject/curriculum area and also see videos that other colleges have added. As staff you can access this from home and even edit the programs yourself; using the Online Click View service. You can access this on the staff intranet and put a request in (similarly students can access all of these resources from home).

A colleague of mine came across this article about the mind-set of the learner and the educator, it questions the way we think when we are preparing to teach a lesson. For example are you thinking ‘well that learner is dyslexic they won’t be able to do that’ I would say how do you know? Maybe that right now they can’t, but with help and support they could learn.


My point being, do not let the label of being dyslexic influence your opinion on their abilities now or in the future.

These are some of the websites I use personally for information and to get new ideas on how to help dyslexic learners. Though a lot of information is referring to children, the teaching tips can be crossed over to F.E and adult education”.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FARizLljRkc – Irlens Syndrome Video





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