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During my time as a tutor, I’ve taught reading to several students.  I LOVED it, but there was some that I just didn’t know what was up until I read Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Shawitz.  From that moment on, I cannot unsee dyslexia.  It caused a complete shift inside of me and also forced me to get real with my abilities as a tutor.  I quit tutoring reading and decided to focus on math only, but then I realized that the language issues that plague dyslexia students–also affect math.  I decided to get multisensory math training to meet the needs of my students.  

In my efforts to tap into the dyslexia community, I found a parent group with mountains of helpful experts inside of it.  One of them is Sara Dorken of Aardvark Tutoring.  She is a gem and I am so excited to be sharing her awesomeness with you today!  -Adrianne

Thanks Adrianne.  Before we dive into our topic today, I wanted to point out something very important:

Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder. There are no two dyslexic students who present in the same way. This list is for informational, not diagnostic purposes and is in no way exhaustive. If you suspect a student has dyslexia you should discuss your concerns with their parent or guardian and encourage them to seek a diagnosis from a professional.

Being a tutor is an incredibly special job. We have the chance to get to know our students, in a one-on-one environment with the opportunity to have a profoundly positive impact on their lives. There is (usually) only one student at a time, which means that we are able to focus on their needs alone, without the distraction of other students.

 

This opens up the opportunity for us to see how they work, see the areas in which they struggle, and to tailor our approaches to meet their needs. But – what if you have a student who, despite all of your time and effort, and his/her time and effort, simply struggles to make progress with their reading and spelling?
According to The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, dyslexia is a disorder which affects one in every five people, of all backgrounds. Seeing those numbers, it becomes obvious that you are likely working with at least a few students who are dyslexic.

Adrianne’s Notes:  1 in 5 ya’ll!  That’s more prevalent than autism.

Here are 10 signs of dyslexia to look out for:

  1. They read a word fine in one spot – but can’t read the same word in a different spot.
  2. They have weak phonemic and phonological awareness – they can’t match or have difficulty matching letters to their sounds, and they can’t recognize rhyming words.
  3. They have trouble reading words in isolation – for example, from a word list.
  4. Their difficulties with reading and spelling are surprising given their intelligence, strengths and previous learning opportunities.
  5. They lose their place while reading, skipping over words or entire lines of text.
  6. They do not comprehend what they have read.
  7. They confuse the order or direction of letters (not necessarily reversals but a disorientation of letters).
  8. They easily confuse words that sound similar or have similar meanings à The tornado erupted. The windy day produced a volcano.
  9. They tend to try to spell all words phonetically.
  10. They have a family history of reading difficulties

Visit: http://www.dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_signs.html for a comprehensive list of the signs of dyslexia.

Adrianne’s Notes:  When I do my diagnostic testing with Let’s Go Learning, I look closely at the phonemic awareness and spelling results.  If they rate it as poor, this is a red flag for me to watch for other signs and make notes of them anytime I see them so I can present the parents with my findings.

Now that you suspect you might be working with one or more dyslexic students, here are some tips for how you can best work with them to facilitate their learning.

Tailoring your approach to meet their needs:

  • Know that your student’s struggles are not the result of a lack of effort. In fact, those with learning disabilities are often putting in a greater effort than those without.
  • Just because your student isn’t looking at you, doesn’t mean that they aren’t listening to you. Encourage the use of fidget toys and allow them to keep their hands busy.
  • Ask your student how they learn best and try to include their preferences in your teaching style.
  • Give your student processing time. This is extremely important! Those with dyslexia have the ability to give you the correct answer but they will often need more time to think about your question. It’s ok for there to be silence in the room while they are thinking. Resist the urge to ask follow-up questions while they are thinking.
  • Clip the /uh/ sound off when saying phonemes to your student. For example, the letter <b> makes the sound /b/ not /buh/.
  • Avoid saying the word ‘no’ when the student is incorrect. Instead, try to lead them to the answer by having them reference previous work to get to the answer.
  • Ask them if it makes sense the way you have taught it. If they say that it doesn’t make sense, try to say it in a different way.
  • Lead students to the answers rather than giving them the answers.
  • Outline exactly what you will be doing with them in your lesson. Break it down into smaller chunks.
  • Ask them to listen actively. Have them repeat back what you have said in their own words.
  • Identify their strengths! Ask them what they are great at and use their strengths to help with their learning.
  • Above all: make it evident that you are there to work WITH them to make reading and spelling easier for them. You two are a TEAM.

Use the list above to make yourself aware of some of the characteristics of dyslexia. If you suspect one of your students has dyslexia, discuss your concerns with their parent or guardian and encourage them to seek testing through the child’s school or privately through a psychologist. If you’re already working with dyslexic students, the tips above will help you to create the best possible working relationship with your student.

Tutoring really is one of the best jobs in the world! Fostering an environment where our students will thrive and giving them the necessary tools for success makes for happy clients. Keep up the great work!
Sara DorkenSara is a passionate tutor and online trainer who specializes in using the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach while working with students with dyslexia and any other learning differences. She has trained in many OG-based programs and has been certified to teach the OG approach from the Dyslexia Training Institute based out of the University of San Diego. Sara has helped develop the Aardvark Program and has made it unique by using her extensive background in sport and physical activity (M.A. Human Kinetics) to integrate movement in order to build physical literacy and traditional literacy in struggling students.

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