Dyslexia, just like ADD, is no longer a dirty word in the English-language classroom. Educational professionals and ESL teachers are beginning to realize that there are more students with reading and spelling problems than we think.


We as teachers should not see dyslexia as a deficit. We should not be making students feel bad because they have this disorder.

We need to show empathy, understanding, and good classroom technique. In this post, I am going to show that good teaching and learning techniques for dyslexic students are good practices for all students.

Dyslexia and the multi-sensory approach

I will share background information on dyslexia and define briefly dyslexia. Then, I will look at some facts about the disorder.

I will also explain why English-language learners find English so difficult.

I will describe some of the best teaching strategies to employ with learners who have dyslexia.

Finally, I will show how my online writing course, Introduction to Academic Writing, employs many of effective teaching strategies in its multi-sensory approach.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a neurological disorder. Language learners have a hard time consciously isolating and manipulating the sounds of the language and relating them to the written symbols.

In simple terms, dyslexic students read and write slower in English. They spell words as they sound. They reverse letters and symbols. And they don’t like reading—far from being helpful for academic success.

Dyslexia can also be related to poor motor coordination, mental calculation, and personal organization.



Up 20% of the US population may have dyslexia. At my own college—Cegep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal—10% of the students have been diagnosed with this disorder.

Dyslexia quiz


  1. Gorillas have dyslexia too.
  2. There are more boys than girls with dyslexia.
  3. A lot of reading practice can cure dyslexia.
  4. The main problem in dyslexia is reading.
  5. Students with dyslexia have lower IQs.
  6. Students with dyslexia should sit in front of the class.
  7. Dyslexia is not inherited.
  8. All experts agree on the definition of dyslexia.
  9. Asking dyslexic students surprise literacy tasks keeps them on their toes.
  10. It’s best to place dyslexic learners in low achieving groups.

You might have guessed it. All these statements are false, including the tongue-in-cheek first statement.

Why is English so difficult for non-native speakers

English has multiple mappings between letters and sounds. In other words, spelling patterns are not regular. Spanish has a much closer relationship between spelling and sounds.


Words don’t necessarily follow the sounds of the language. My wife is a native Spanish speaker and this aspect of English drives her crazy.

For example the letter c in cup /k/ and in pencil /s/ are pronounced differently.

In English, the past tense morpheme is indicated by the suffix –ed added to regular verbs. In reality, this past tense morpheme has three phonetically conditioned variants or allomorphs [t], [d], and [id].

It means that the morpheme {-ed} can be pronounced [t], [d] or [id] depending on the final phone of the base attached by this morpheme. The following are the examples of the irregular verbs which contain the suffix –ed.

Verb

{-ed}

Inflection Result

Phone

Cook

-ed

cooked

[ t ]

Stop

-ed

stopped

[ t ]

Wash

-ed

washed

[ d ]

watch

-ed

watched

[ d ]

wait

-ed

waited

[ id ]

want

-ed

wanted

[ id ]

divide

-ed

divided

[ id ]

Dyslexia-friendly classroom tips

This excellent graphic created by Professor Martha Youman shows different teaching strategies for English-language learners with and without dyslexia.

The best strategies for students with dyslexia include:

  • word processing technology
  • books having tape-recorded text
  • one-on-one instruction in a help centre
  • multisensory activities
  • graphics and visual representations combined with text
  • different colours for different points made

It is helpful for students to:

  • see the “big picture” - giving students the end-point, where they are going, having them take small steps
  • have plenty of reinforcement, recapitulation, positive feedback
  • tie old learning to new learning.

In other words, the dyslexia-friendly classroom should:

  • use a highly structured approach with a linear pattern, if possible,
  • use individualized measures & methods
  • be sequential and cumulative
  • combine visual and auditory channels to allow students to hear and see how words are pronounced.

ESL learners thus benefit in three ways. It motivates them to want to learn. It stimulates learning. It Increases their chances for success

Features of Introduction to Academic Writing (AWC)

My writing course, the AWC, incorporates many of the features and benefits of the dyslexia-friendly online classroom.

Here are some of main features of the AWC:

  • High quality design
  • Clear presentation
  • User friendliness
  • Consistency to lectures

Nick Walker of Ahuntsic College loved the design of the course.

“It’s well designed, interactive, multimedia rich. . .”

The graphic shows how the multimedia experience addresses different learning styles.

We learn what the lecture is about—in this case an introduction to literary analysis.

There is a talking head giving the presentation—adding some life to the page.

There is the actual text of the lecture at the bottom of the graphic. The left menu bar shows students exactly where they are in the course.

In one testimonial, one of my students commented how useful it is to have both video and text.

Other features of the AWC include:

  • Frequent formative feedback
  • Quizzes for reinforcement and review
  • Self-assessments to check their knowledge

In another testimonial, a student loved having access to it all the time “perfect for my exams and homework.”


Main benefits of the AWC multi-sensory approach

  • Makes it easier for student to follow a lecture with its combination of visual and auditory
  • Lets students work at their own pace
  • Builds writing skills with lots of examples
  • Gives students security with its highly structured approach
  • Improves learning with frequent repetition and reinforcement

There are three different ways to use the AWC. Teachers can use it in class. Students can use it at home. An institution can make it available in the library or help centre.

Further reading

Nijakowska, Joanna. Dyslexia in the foreign language classroom. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2010. Web.

Pavey, Margaret et al. The Dyslexia-Friendly Teacher's Toolkit: Strategies for Teaching Students 3-18 1st Edition. 1st ed. London: Sage, 2013. Web.