Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Dyslexic Child in the Classroom

Proficient reading is an essential tool for learning a large part of the subject matter taught at school. With an ever increasing emphasis on education and literacy, more and more children and adults are needing help in learning to read, spell, express their thoughts on paper and acquire adequate use of grammar.

A dyslexic child who finds the acquisition of these literacy skills difficult can also suffer a lot of anguish and trauma when they may feel mentally abused by their peers within the school environment, because they have a learning difficulty. Much can be done to alleviate this by integrating the child into the class environment (which is predominantly a learning environment) where he/she can feel comfortable and develop confidence and self esteem.

Class teachers may be particularly confused by the student whose consistent underachievement seems due to what may look like carelessness or lack of effort.

These children can be made to feel very different from their peers simply because they may be unable to follow simple instructions, which for others seem easy. It is a class teacher’s responsibility to provide an atmosphere conducive to learning for all pupils within their class.

Class teachers need to have an understanding of the problems that the dyslexic child may have within the classroom situation. Hopefully, with this knowledge, a great deal of misunderstanding of a child’s behaviour can be prevented. In a positive and encouraging environment, a dyslexic child will experience the feeling of success and self-value.

Of particular importance is an understanding of the problems that poor auditory short term memory can cause, in terms of retaining input from the teacher.

Examples of poor auditory short term memory can be a difficulty in remembering the sounds in spoken words long enough to match these, in sequence, with letters for spelling. Often children with poor auditory short term memory cannot remember even a short list of instructions.

The following items should provide useful guidelines for teachers and parents to follow and support :

In the class:

  • Of value to all children in the class is an outline of what is going to be taught in the lesson, ending the lesson with a resume of what has been taught. In this way information is more likely to go from short term memory to long term memory.
  • When homework is set, it is important to check that the child correctly writes down exactly what is required. Try to ensure that the appropriate worksheets and books are with the child to take home.
  • In the front of the pupils’ homework book get them to write down the telephone numbers of a couple of friends. Then, if there is any doubt over homework, they can ring up and check, rather than worry or spend time doing the wrong work.
  • Make sure that messages and day to day classroom activities are written down, and never sent verbally. i.e. music, P. E. swimming etc.
  • Make a daily check list for the pupil to refer to each evening. Encourage a daily routine to help develop the child’s own self-reliance and responsibilities.
  • Encourage good organizational skills by the use of folders and dividers to keep work easily accessible and in an orderly fashion.
  • Break tasks down into small easily remembered pieces of information.
  • If visual memory is poor, copying must be kept to a minimum. Notes or handouts are far more useful.
  • Seat the child fairly near the class teacher so that the teacher is available to help if necessary, or he can be supported by a well-motivated and sympathetic classmate.

Copying from the blackboard:

  • Use different colour chalks for each line if there is a lot of written information on the board, or underline every second line with a different coloured chalk.
  • Ensure that the writing is well spaced.
  • Leave the writing on the blackboard long enough to ensure the child doesn’t rush, or that the work is not erased from the board before the child has finished copying.


  • A structured reading scheme that involves repetition and introduces new words slowly is extremely important. This allows the child to develop confidence and self esteem when reading.
  • Don’t ask pupils to read a book at a level beyond their current skills, this will instantly demotivate them. Motivation is far better when demands are not too high, and the child can actually enjoy the book. If he has to labour over every word he will forget the meaning of what he is reading.
  • Save the dyslexic child the ordeal of having to ‘read aloud in class’. Reserve this for a quiet time with the class teacher. Alternatively, perhaps give the child advanced time to read pre-selected reading material, to be practiced at home the day before. This will help ensure that the child is seen to be able to read out loud, along with other children
  • Real books should also be available for paired reading with an adult, which will often generate enthusiasm for books. Story tapes can be of great benefit for the enjoyment and enhancement of vocabulary. No child should be denied the pleasure of gaining access to the meaning of print even if he cannot decode it fully.
  • Remember reading should be fun.


  • Many of the normal classroom techniques used to teach spellings do not help the dyslexic child. All pupils in the class can benefit from structured and systematic exposure to rules and patterns that underpin a language.
  • Spelling rules can be given to the whole class. Words for class spelling tests are often topic based rather than grouped for structure. If there are one or two dyslexics in the class, a short list of structure-based words for their weekly spelling test, will be far more helpful than random words. Three or four irregular words can be included each week, eventually this should be seen to improve their free-writing skills.
  • All children should be encouraged to proof read, which can be useful for initial correction of spellings. Dyslexics seem to be unable to correct their spellings spontaneously as they write, but they can be trained to look out for errors that are particular to them.
  • Remember, poor spelling is not an indication of low intelligence.


  • Maths has its own language, and this can be the root of many problems. Whilst some dyslexic students are good at maths, it has been estimated that around 90% of dyslexic children have problems in at least some areas of maths. General mathematical terminology words need to be clearly understood before they can be used in calculations, e.g. add, plus, sum of, increase and total, all describe a single mathematical process. Other related difficulties could be with visual/perceptual skills, directional confusion, sequencing, word skills and memory. Dyslexic students may have special difficulties with aspects of maths that require many steps or place a heavy load on the short-term memory, e.g. long division or algebra.
  • The value of learning the skills of estimation cannot be too strongly stressed for the dyslexic child. Use and encourage the use of estimation. The child should be taught to form the habit of checking his answers against the question when he has finished the calculation, i.e. is the answer possible, sensible or ludicrous?
  • When using mental arithmetic allow the dyslexic child to jot down the key number and the appropriate mathematical sign from the question.
  • Encourage pupils to verbalize and to talk their way through each step of the problem. Many children find this very helpful.
  • Teach the pupil how to use the times table square and encourage him to say his workings out as he uses it.
  • Encourage a dyslexic child to use a calculator. Make sure he fully understand how to use it. Ensure that he has been taught to estimate to check his calculations. This is a way of ‘proof reading’ what he does.
  • Put key words on a card index system or on the inside cover of the pupils maths book so it can be used for reference and revision.
  • Rehearse mathematical vocabulary constantly, using multi sensory/kinesthetic methods.
  • Put the decimal point in red ink. It helps visual perception with the dyslexic child.


  • Reasons for poor handwriting at any age can be poor motor control, tension, badly formed letters, speed etc. A cursive joined style is most helpful to children with dyslexic problems. Encourage the children to study their writing and be self-critical. Get them to decide for themselves where faults lie and what improvements can be made, so that no resentment is built up at yet another person complaining about their written work.
  • Discuss the advantages of good handwriting and the goals to be achieved with the class. Analyze common faults in writing, by writing a few well chosen words on the board for class comment.
  • Make sure a small reference chart is available to serve as a constant reminder for the cursive script in upper and lower case.
  • If handwriting practice is needed it is essential to use words that present no problem to the dyslexic child in terms of meaning or spelling.
  • Improvement in handwriting skills can improve self confidence, which in turn reflects favorably throughout a pupil’s work.

Marking of work:

  • Credit for effort as well as achievement are both essential. This gives the pupil a better chance of getting a balanced mark. Creative writing should be marked on context.
  • Spelling mistakes pinpointed should be those appropriate to the child’s level of spelling. Marking should be done in pencil and have positive comments.
  • Try not to use red pens to mark the dyslexic child’s work. There’s nothing more disheartening for the child than to have work returned covered in red ink, when they’ve inevitably tried harder than their peers to produce the work.
  • Only ask a pupil to rewrite a piece of work that is going to be displayed. Rewriting pages for no reason at all is soul destroying as usually much effort will have already been put into the original piece of work.


  • By the end of a school day a dyslexic child is generally more tired than his peers because everything requires more thought, tasks take longer and nothing comes easily. More errors are likely to be made. Only set homework that will be of real benefit to the child.
  • In allocating homework and exercises that may be a little different or less demanding, it is important to use tact. Self-esteem is rapidly undermined if a teacher is underlining the differences between those with difficulties and their peers. However, it should also be remembered that far more effort may be needed for a dyslexic child to complete the assignment than for their peers.
  • Set a limit on time spent on homework, as often a dyslexic child will take a lot longer to produce the same work that another child with good literacy skills may produce easily.


  • A dyslexic child’s ability to write down thoughts and ideas will be quite different from the level of information the child can give verbally. For successful integration, the pupil must be able to demonstrate to the teacher that he knows the information and where he is in each subject. Be prepared to accept verbal descriptions as an alternative to written descriptions if appropriate.

    Alternative ways of recording should be looked at, such as :

    • The use of computers for word processing.
    • Audio tapes for recording lessons that can then be written up at a later stage.
    • Written record of the pupil’s verbal account, or voice activated software can be used.
  • More time should be allocated for completion of work because of the extra time a dyslexic child needs for reading, planning, rewriting and proofreading their work.
  • For a dyslexic child the feeling of being ‘different’ can be acute when faced with the obvious and very important need of ‘specialist’ help for his literacy and possibly mathematical skills. Some specialist methods can be incorporated into the classroom so all children can benefit from them, thus reducing the feeling of ‘difference’.


In order to be able to teach, as far as possible, according to each child’s educational needs, it is essential to see him or her as a whole person, complete with individual strengths and weaknesses.

An understanding of the pupil’s specific difficulties, and how they may affect the student’s classroom performance, can enable the teacher to adopt teaching methods and strategies to help the dyslexic child to be successfully integrated into the classroom environment.

Dyslexics have many strengths: oral skills, comprehension, good visual spatial awareness/artistic abilities. More and more dyslexic children could become talented and gifted members of our schools if we worked not only with their specific areas of difficulty, but also their specific areas of strengths from an early age. To do this we have to let go of outmoded viewpoints that a dyslexic child must first fail, in order to be identified.

These are the children of our future and they have a right to help and support before they develop the dreadful sense of failure which is so insidious.

Class teachers dealing with dyslexic children need to be flexible in their approach, so that they can, as far as possible, find a method that suits the pupil, rather than expecting that all pupils will learn in the same way.

Above all, there must be an understanding from all who teach them, that they may have many talents and skills. Their abilities must not be measured purely on the basis of their difficulties in acquiring literacy skills. Dyslexic children, like all children, thrive on challenges and success.

Read more:

Why your ADHD child should be allowed to move around at school


I’ve worked with many children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) over the years, and there’s no question that kids with ADHD need to move. They move when they’re thinking, they move when they’re talking, and they even move when they appear to be sitting still. That foot that just won’t stop shaking or that incessant tapping on the desk? It brings focus to an ADHD child.

Sadly, many children with ADHD are frequently reprimanded for constantly being in motion. Teachers worry that these kids can’t access the curriculum if they can’t sit still, so they spend time and resources finding ways to help these kids sit and focus. Notes and e-mails go home with updates about sitting still. Behavior charts appear on desks with the hope that dangling the possibility of a reward will somehow inspire increased focus. I worked in a school for many years. I understand why sitting seems so important. A child in motion can disrupt other students.

The problem is that movement comes naturally to these kids. They need to shake a foot, tap a pencil, or stand up and walk. Moving helps them focus and access the curriculum. Telling an ADHD child to just stop moving is a setup for failure. Every reprimand, every unmet behavioral goal, and every phone call home chips away at the self-esteem of the child who can’t stop moving.

A new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology sheds some much-needed light on this topic. Researchers at the Center for Advancement of Youth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson studied 52 boys ages 8 to 12; 29 of those boys had ADHD, while the other 23 had no clinical disorders. The research concluded that ADHD kids performed better on cognitive tests when they were moving around.

So, how do we let ADHD kids move in the classroom without disrupting other students? While some schools might already have resources in place, it’s important for parents to advocate for their ADHD kids. Finding the right balance of movement might be the key to helping your child perform better in the classroom; these strategies, done with the help of your child’s teacher, could help:

1. Have her sit on an exercise ball. My daughter’s second grade classroom lets students sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair during class, if the parents provide the ball. Many students brought exercise balls into the classroom and the kids do appear alert and engaged while at their desks. Some bounce more than others and some roll back and forth, but they all respect the personal space of their “neighbors” while subtly moving around. The stability ball allows kids to fidget without disrupting the class. It gives her some wiggle room.

2. Let him use a Thera-Band. This rubber stretchy band is used for resistance exercise. The teacher can wrap the band around the foot of the desk and have your child place one foot in the band. He can stretch and wiggle without much fuss! With one on each side of the desk, he can get some good stretching and moving in during classwork.

3. Have her use a wiggle cushion. Wiggly kids need to get their wiggles out, and a wiggle cushion helps kids move and wiggle in their own seats — without asking to get up every five minutes! The cushion acts as shock absorber for the movement and some come with textures.

4. Give him a squeeze ball. A stress ball, or squeeze ball as kids like to call them, is a great tool for most kids (whether they have ADHD or not). Sitting is hard work and kids are asked to sit for long periods of time when engaged in learning. Stash a few squeeze balls in your child’s desk. They are small and discreet and they give him the opportunity to work his arm muscles while sitting and listening.

5.  Ask for standing room. Standing desks boast health benefits for adults, so it makes good sense that they would help some kids as well. If these desks aren’t available, that’s okay. With the teacher’s permission, your ADHD child can find an area of the classroom where she can stand while listening and working. Sometimes standing and moving from one foot to the other helps provide focus for kids. I once worked with a child who spent a lot of time standing at a counter in the back of the classroom. When he needed to move, he did a few “wall push ups” to get his energy out.

I find that many teachers welcome movement in the classroom as long as the student has a plan in place. Moving around without permission and distracting other students is a problem, but moving to redirect energy and maintain focus is a good thing.


Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and Writer in Los Angeles, CA. Her work can be found on several popular online parenting sites, including EverydayFamily, Practical Parenting, and The Huffington Post. Her parenting book, The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World, will be published at the end of October 2015 (Tarcher/Penguin). Katie enjoys life by the beach with her husband and two children.

10 Items Every Special Educator Should Have In Their Classroom


Special Educators work hard to make sure that their students with special needs develop and grow during the school year. Special Education teachers encounter different challenges in their classrooms than general education teachers and therefore they need different tools.

Here are 10 great items every Special Needs teacher should have in their classroom.

1. Fidgets, Wiggle Seats, Therapy balls, Therapy bands

Fidgets and the above items are very important in the classroom. I utilize all of these sensory items in my classroom to help my students balance their sensory system and prepare for academic work. I have often overheard my students talking to their friends and saying, “Mrs. Ferry’s room is fun. She let’s us chew gum and we’re not allowed to chew gum in school!”

2. Highlighter strips/Reader trackers

Highliter StripsOften, my students with learning disabilities in reading or with attention difficulties struggle to keep track of the words they are reading. They often skip lines which greatly affects their reading accuracy and hinders their comprehension.

These students really appreciate being allowed to use highlighter strips or reader trackers as a strategy to keep them focused on one line at a time.Some of my students have asked to take them back to their classrooms or even home with them. At Halloween, I have a container of “witch’s fingers” that they can put on their finger to point to one word at a time.

3. Shaving cream, Sand, Rice

Playing with shaving creamI use a number of sensory-based items as a way to practice word work. We practice spelling words in shaving cream, learning the formation of numbers in colored sand, or finding hidden words in a bowl of rice that we have to decode. This is a fun way to engage students through sensory integration, help develop fine motor skills, and learn academic skills all in one!

 4. Timers

I use timers for so many things! It is a great way to prepare students for transitions. Often, time is such an arbitrary concept for my students. If they can visually see how long they have to complete a task/assignment they are more at ease with the change that transitions bring.

Time Timer Visual TimerI also use timers to help me assess reading fluency with my students. We do 1 minute timed reading tests to determine how many words they are reading per minute. Timers also work as a great way to make a practiced skill a competitive game.

In my class, I have these huge foam dice. I have the students roll the dice and see how many addition/subtraction problems they can solve in 1 minute. (This is way more fun than the typical paper-and-pencil timed math tests which I hated growing up!) Visit this post to see a list of  timers for your class.

5. Visuals

Visual Supports for the Special Education ClassroomFor some students, their visuals are almost a lifeline to help them through their day Visual supports have proven to be a huge success with my students when helping to mainstream them into their general education classrooms. When implemented appropriately, visual supports will allow students with special needs access to the general education curriculum and will help with the inclusion process. Check out these five visual support tools for your classroom.

6. Manipulatives

ManipulativesHands-on manipulatives are a critical learning tool for students in all classrooms. Manipulatives help make an abstract idea a concrete concept. Students can physically investigate a math problem to reach a solution. This will change their way of thinking from a simple procedural understanding to a more conceptual understanding.

7. Posted Rules/Expectations

School RulesIt is so important for all students, but especially those with special needs, to understand what is expected of them. Children thrive off of rules and need to know that their is consistency with the rules in order to view them as fair. I have my classroom rules posted in a central location of my classroom where I can quickly refer to them as a reminder to my students.

8. Reward System

Reward StickersAt my school, we like to give just as much emphasis on recognizing good behavior. We know the importance of taking a proactive approach with behavior. I utilize sticker charts for each of my students. Once they earn 10 stickers they can choose a prize from my smaller prize box. If they are willing to save their stickers and earn up to 20, they can choose a prize from a larger, more enticing box.

One of the other special educators uses a token economy with money they can use to purchase goods from the classroom store at the end of the week. The more money they have earned – the more they get to buy! This does not have to be a major expense for teachers. I often raid my nephew’s room for old toys he doesn’t play with anymore. I frequently visit the dollar store or target’s 1-dollar section as well. And trust me, it is well worth it to avoid the negative behaviors!

9. High Interest – Low Level Reading Books

Hi Lo Reading BooksWhat a great find these books were! Many companies offer Hi-Lo books for struggling readers. It can be challenging to find a 4th grader who reads at a 1st grade level a book that is interesting to him but at his level. Often, the books at his reading level appear “babyish” to him. With Hi-Lo books he has the advantage of choosing books that “look” like chapter books and are about interesting topics but are of easy readability.

10. Technology

Ipad special educationI have found that all students love technology. You can present them with the exact same task on a computer that you would in worksheet format but all of a sudden it is 10x more engaging. I have often brought in my personal laptop from home for my students to use (with my supervision of course) and an iPad to take advantage of all the amazing apps available for special education. With the changing times, educators have to be prepared and 1 step ahead of their students.


Melissa Ferry is a special education teacher for Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University with an endorsement in learning disabilities. Melissa is continuing her education at Central Michigan University in pursuit of a Master’s Degree. Prior to her career as a teacher Melissa volunteered at Friendship Circle for seven years.