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Twitter Space: How to support dyslexic learners

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to this Symbaloo Twitter Space. Today we’ll be discussing the subject of dyslexia in honour of Dyslexia Awareness Month. 

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month! To spread awareness we sat down with Dyslexic Learning Specialist, Mallary Lattanze & STEM Educator, Jillian Johnson to discuss how educators can be better advocates for dyslexic students.


How do you think educators can support dyslexic learners?


Mallary: Well, you definitely need to be trained on the definition of Dyslexia and its characteristics. Because it is not just the interventionists that are working one-on-one or in small groups with them, but every teacher, whether in reading, math, science, or social studies, needs to understand scientific reading and how literacy is in every subject. If you have a student who is not doing very well in math and is in upper elementary or a secondary student, then it is probably the problem that they cannot read the math problem. Because we know that once they come into those later grades, they have to read more. They might be able to compute. That is one of the things that my math teacher wrote in my paperwork when I was little: ‘When words get out of the way, Malary can do the Math!’. So those grades could be a lot higher!

So I think it starts with foundational training about Dyslexia and its characteristics. And when those reading teachers are trained in the science of reading. So they provide a structure of literacy program.

Are there different types of dyslexia?


Mallary: So I have seen that around. So here is my professional opinion. No two dyslectics are the same, such as no human beings with autism are the same. So there is some dyslexic that are very good at memorization. Think about our famous actors with Dyslexia, like Tom Cruise. He is a renowned dyslexic and does very well in his job because he memorized his script. Once they know the word, they memorize it. I cannot memorize very well at all! Give me something to memorize, whether a skid or a play at school, and I will not be horrible at it.

It will be different if you are also diagnosed when you receive help. I was able to get help when I was younger. However, I did not learn to read till I was an adult and went through the therapist program myself.

What kind of challenges do dyslexic students experience?


Mallary: I would say confidence and anxiety. Of course, it depends on the family, community, or school that provides the instruction that helps you as a learner because we know that people with Dyslexia learn differently. Then there are going to be some more challenges. But I can confidently say that confidence and anxiety are a challenge for every dyslexic student. I threw up every first week of school at the start of the year. Because for me, the school was a place for anxiety. I was not sick, but I made myself sick from anxiety. So I went to the counselor, and I even had a behavior plan on how to calm myself down. But anxiety stayed with me till adulthood, but I definitely gained more confidence.

So as a teacher, when my students have Dyslexia, I tell them that my goal for them is not to be a better reader or writer. My goal for you is to be more confident. Because if you are more confident, you will become a better reader.


Jillian: That actually goes over in everything else they do. Like my son for instance, who is strong at math in his computation, and again like you said, Mallary, when those words are in there, he kinda forgot everything there is to know about doing that math because there are words involved. And if they lack that confidence in reading skills or anything, it trickles over into everything else. So when it comes to doing a new topic in science, or even something in PE or anything within their school. All day when they get to their school and their day starts till they leave.. That anxiety that you are describing follows around the entire school day. And it is not just the work they are doing in class but also how they deal with their friends, peers, or teachers.

We have seen this anxiety grow over the last couple of years. The kids feel so much pressure. They lack that confidence. And without that confidence, it is a challenging environment to be able to learn in.


Mallary: Absolutely. And also the part when you were talking about how it transfers to their friends. So as a licensed therapist, I also do private therapy. And right now, I have got a college student, and she is brilliant. And after weeks of working with her, I asked her: “How do you feel? And how do you think we are doing?” And she says: “For the first time, I understand what my friends are talking about.” Because we have spent time building her vocabulary, and basically, she has more confidence in her conversations with her peers. I remember that I was that kid in high school when my friends were doing really well at their SAT prep, and I did not know what they were talking about, and I was just nodding my head like I knew what they were talking about. 

Will you guys ever come through to students that there are no resources or that you are not really sure how you can help them?


Mallory: Yeah, for sure! The number one thing I see is that they do not know enough and teachers do not know enough. And the teachers are going straight to the grades, making good grades, and not asking themselves: “How long did it take this child to get that grade.” Because I got my accolades from being the star student, and being the oldest child in the family that stayed up for four more hours to complete something just to get the B+.

I have heard from students that made it all the way to high school, and now they are at a point where their coping skills are not enough anymore, and they are afraid to go to college. Because them just making it is causing so much anxiety that they finally fight, advocate, and get testing, and they had Dyslexia this whole time. So it is frustrating, and it will always catch up, and if it is not in K-12, you will have your college dropouts.


Jillian: that is what I was really shocked about. Because, in my case, being a parent and a teacher, this case was way more mysterious than I ever thought it would be. For my kid, even getting the evaluation done was hard. We had to get a referral before we were able to. And I think it is just mind-boggling how we can let our kids go for this long without really knowing what is going on under the hood. And it almost restarts every year with a new teacher, a new grade level, a new class, a new group of students, and their dynamics.

So at our school, we have started a program called Early Bird. It is essentially a screener, and it is created for students who have not had an opportunity to learn to read yet. So it is Kindergarten or first-grade level. And before they actually can read, we are screening them on Dyslexia. This is a new program at our school, and they were testing it on all kindergartners. So we sat down with them one-on-one, and we asked them different kinds of questions with varying components of reading to see if we could possibly identify Dyslexia at an early stage. and we will see what kind of results it pulls up. So we can help them at an early stage. But it is time-consuming work to do.


Mallory: So I will give you some good news. So a lot of states are mandating the screeners. And there are some screeners that I definitely have loved because they are not so time-consuming. It is a process of investigating what other screeners are out there, but there definitely needs to be a team if it is not with the screener company, to know the outliers. Because if you are not setting the proper boundaries, the number of students that will be flagged for possible Dyslexia is going to be 90%. So you should have a team that really knows about Dyslexia so that the results are valid. 

Learn more about Dyslexia & Special Education

This was just a small passage in the Twitter Space about ISTE. You can listen to the whole Twitter Space on YouTube, or watch the video on this page

Or learn more about dyslexia and how our CEO coped with being dyslectic in this blog post, where Klaas descibes how you can turn dyslexia in a super power!

Next to this, Special Education teacher, Ann Lawyer sat down with us how you can encoporate Structured literacy in Symbaloo! Check out the webinar here!

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