The Mentor Education team are SEN specialists, and we’ve experienced – first hand – the individual journeys of students with dyslexia. We know how painful it can be for children who are trying to learn to read: the concentration it requires can be exhausting, which can often breed reluctance to keep going. The key is to try to make the process as supportive and enjoyable as possible, and increase engagement in order to enhance the quality of their learning. Here are our top tips for encouraging and inspiring dyslexic readers.
Paired reading is a great way to show your child just how fun reading can be. First, let them choose the book they want to read, and tell them to start by reading aloud. Follow along with them. If they make a mistake with a word, give them a few seconds to try to figure it out, but then help them by saying the word yourself. It’s important to get into a rhythm. Let your child read at their own pace, but if the book contains complex vocabulary, you can read the words together – until your child indicates that they’d like to try reading alone. Try switching between reading together and your child reading alone, and aim to do this for 10 minutes every day.
Immerse yourselves in the story and share the journey together. At the end of each section or chapter, discuss what has just happened, what you’ve found interesting (or even boring!) about the story so far, and what you think might happen next.
It’s been proved that dyslexic readers respond better to certain formats; fewer words per page, larger fonts, and lots of visuals tend to assist engagement. There are publishers that specialise in books for children with language-based difficulties – we highly recommended Barrington Stoke, who offer a fantastic range of materials for inspiring dyslexic readers.
Barrington Stoke have created a design schema for their books that really makes reading easier: including unique, dyslexia-friendly fonts, accessible layouts and spacing, and even heavier, tinted paper to help ‘reduce visual stresses’. They also enlist best-selling authors to make the stories as exciting and compelling as possible, all of which are expertly edited to ensure the language – whilst challenging – isn’t jarring or incomprehensible, and that the content is unpatronising yet appropriate for the reader.
Some parents worry that a reliance on technology is lazy, or simply a superficial shortcut, but, in fact, the right tech can be really useful for inspiring dyslexic readers.
E-readers and reading apps for tablets or mobile phones can be incredibly helpful, for example – largely because it enables the reader to customise layout according to their preference. The size, type and spacing of the font can be adjusted, for example, as well as the brightness of the screen.
Tools that convert text to speech can also make a big difference to dyslexic readers. You can find screen reader apps, which can be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet (some e-readers also include these); alternatively, look for audiobooks. If children are reluctant to read, an audiobook can stimulate their imagination and interest, encouraging a love of storytelling that will then translate to picking up a book and giving reading another chance. They’re also a great way to improve vocabulary and introduce new concepts and dialects. Some audiobooks even highlight text on a screen as its being spoken, allowing your child to follow along and understand the relationship between the visual appearance of a word and how it sounds.
These methods might sound a little more unusual, but they can be extremely effective.
Tapping out sounds. Pioneered by The Wilson Reading Technique, this method gives students a way to feel – and hear – how sounds work together to create words. Students break down words into component parts and learn to tap in different combinations (thumb to index finger, thumb to middle finger, and so on) depending on the speech sound (consonants get a single tap, for example).
This kinaesthetic tool has been shown to have great efficacy in helping children with language-based disabilities: targeting sound blending, which helps with reading, as well as sound segmentation, which is helpful for spelling.
Word building. A simple idea, but an effective one for younger readers. All that is needed is a set of colour-coded letter tiles (sometimes it’s helpful to have vowels designated by one colour and consonants by another). Students are instructed to lay each letter of a word down in front of them, saying the sound of each letter as they do. Then, once the word is built, they say the whole word aloud.
Story Sticks. It’s not only the words that can present a hurdle for dyslexic readers, but how they fit together, and how linguistic form creates meaning. Visualisation can be hugely helpful in combating this; indeed, the writer Tom McLaughlin stated that dyslexic readers should ‘never be afraid to think visually’.
Story sticks are a straightforward visual aid that can help dyslexic readers unpick elements of the story. A different coloured stick should be used to represent each element (setting; character; etc.). Once you’ve finished reading a passage together, take the appropriate stick and ask ‘when is this story set?’ (for example). You can then go through the story and highlight any ‘clues’ in the story according to the corresponding colour. These visual signposts will help the reader draw together themes and begin to read ‘between the lines’ (and it will be useful for revision purposes in future, too).
We truly believe that every child can develop a love of learning, and tackle text with confidence and enthusiasm. Mentor Education are here to help our clients every step of the way. With a full range of academic and psychometric assessments, a broad portfolio of support tools, and a roster of incredible teachers at our fingertips, we excel at providing support to SEN students. Please get in touch today to learn more about our unique ethos.