HOW DO WE HELP YOU
HOW DO WE HELP YOU
MULTI-SENSORY TEACHING METHODS on how to help a child with dyslexia
The dyslexic brain, when seen through an MRI scan behaves in a different way to a non-dyslexic brain. Since dyslexia is believed to be a specific learning difficulty which is largely centred in the linguistic area of the left hemisphere, in order to compensate for this deficiency other parts are used in preference. More parts of the brain therefore are activated particularly when attempting reading, spelling and writing than would normally be expected. In other words, left to its own devices a dyslexic brain seeks out a multi-sensory approach to learning. It makes sense therefore to teach in a multi-sensory way in order to achieve the best results.
With my teaching methods I use a combination of Initial Word Mnemonic Chants alongside a set of graded phonic flashcards with their accompanying structured worksheets. The mnemonic chants which are used to teach the reading and the spelling of both High Frequency words and also the Homophone are highly multi-sensory. They have the auditory element as each chant is learned by out loud repetitive chanting. There is the visual element involving the drawing of the appropriate cartoon pictures and also understanding the meanings of the words. As I was creating the chants, limited of course by the letters in the word itself, I tried hard to capture some essence of the word in the chant in the form of a story.
Brains respond well to stories because they have meaning and they can be further pictured in the imagination like a mini film show. This adds to the visual element of the learning process and makes them very memorable. They are also kinaesthetic because the action and involvement of creating the drawings and colouring them in, involves bodily movements.
The phonic flashcards are equally multi-sensory because they are seeing them, saying them out loud, adding drawings to the backs of the ones that are causing difficulties and handling them like a pack of cards, shuffling them, dealing them and timing them with a stopwatch. Follow this up with the structured worksheets, which have to be visually analysed, read back and spelled, then this really does consolidate the learning process. Pupils thrive on this multi-sensory approach to the whole course and very quickly gain confidence when they observe their improved reading and spelling levels. This method has taken non-readers and turned them into “bookworms” and as an added bonus, it is easy to administer and fun to do.
Within the classroom, other children can be cruel with their comments, and an ill-judged comment can have devastating long-term effects. If teachers are not well-trained on how to help a child with dyslexia, they can accidentally be the cause of labelling. This can often be just as a result of the sheer frustration of seeing little progress in a pupil. Words or phrases with negative connotations can easily be used in haste. These adjectives “stick”.
Living daily in an environment like this begins to take a toll and soon the dyslexic pupil adds his or her own insults to the growing list in the form of a negative inner dialogue. Life can become a nightmare and self-esteem is at an all-time low.
The benefits on how to help a child with dyslexia
It is essential is to find the pupil the correct form of teaching which will address the problem and improve their reading and spelling skills. The world of possibilities then begins to open up and the child will feel less and less controlled and imprisoned by dyslexia. The teaching has to be structured carefully however, for it to be effective. There is little point in giving more of the same, slowed down. Getting the right form of teaching on the other hand will not be effective unless the negative mind-set can be addressed.
Learning to have some self-belief is important for progress. Enlisting some form of therapy can have enormous benefits. This need not be a professional therapist. An informed and sympathetic teacher, parent or even an older child can sometimes be all that it takes for the dyslexic child to get a whole new perspective on the condition and to view it as a challenge rather than a handicap. Whoever is taking on the role of counsellor must be a good listener. Only through paying attention to what is being said will the appropriate help be given.
Different can be better
It is a great benefit to explain in simple language the way in which their brain is different. To tell them that it is not the whole of their brain but just a small area that is affected. All the other parts are working as normal and in many cases better than normal.
They need to know that they are often very gifted in other ways like art and music. They often have good spatial awareness. They have a great imagination, can be skilled in sporting activities and seem to be particularly talented at problem solving and lateral thinking. This is because they have learned to get themselves out of challenging situations by being creative and finding imaginative solutions. All of these are talents and skills of which they should be proud, and encouraged to explore and develop further.
Emotions of Parents and How to help a child with dyslexia
For some, having the label of dyslexia comes as a relief. Having seen their child struggle with the comments that are thrown at them and the assumption that they are lacking in intelligence (the usual adjective is “thick”) to be given a diagnosis of dyslexia at last gives a reason for the problems. For others it`s just the opposite. It`s anything but a relief. It`s a sudden weight or burden that has suddenly been placed upon them for life. It`s not knowing how to handle what they perceive as a terrible stigma for their child. Parents who fall into this category have to be educated as to what dyslexia really is. That it isn’t a negative stigma. That it is a condition which will never disappear but a condition that can greatly improve when the child has been taught the appropriate coping strategies and introduced to the right teaching methods. They need to be given the names of all those famous people who have succeeded despite having dyslexia and in some cases succeeded because of it. Some companies actively select dyslexics into their team because they know they will be employing someone with great imagination and creativity.
Often when a parent has been told that their child has dyslexia there are feelings of guilt. Since it is a genetically inherited condition they feel guilty because they have handed it down to their child. Then they start to reflect on all the things that would have been said by them to their child over the previous years, negative things born out of frustration and anger. Caring about their child and seeing them struggling so much with the basics of language would have led to constant stress in the home. Being ignorant of the fact that it was dyslexia as the root cause, would have meant that not much sympathy and understanding would have been shown to the child at that time. I have even experienced situations where a marriage was under strain because neither the mother nor the father could agree on how to treat the child when they were frequently faced with behavioural problems. Parents have ended up separating or divorcing over what seems at the time to be an insurmountable problem.
That old saying “ignorance is bliss” is certainly not the case here. The more knowledge that can be gained by the parents the more they are able to cope and understand how to help a child with dyslexia.
Having a diagnosis of dyslexia, therefore, can only be viewed as a positive thing. It is the explanation for all the behavioural patterns. Once diagnosed, the next stage is to seek out the most appropriate teaching in order to help the child gain ground and be put on the pathway to success.
Mnemonics; a powerful way on how to help a child with dyslexia.
Having used them myself at university and found them extremely effective, when faced with a dyslexic pupil struggling to spell common words, I decided to try this method. I knew that there were mnemonic chants in schools used to spell words like “because”. I knew the chant for “because”. It was;
“Big elephants can always understand small elephants.” By taking the first letter of each of the words in the chant in exactly that order, they spell “because”. I quickly realised a problem with this though. It was very useful for spelling the occasional word, but this pupil had hundreds that she couldn’t spell. Since this style of chant had no reference to the word in the chant itself, I could see confusion setting in if many had to be remembered. Then I had a “light bulb” moment! If you BEGIN the chant with the word that is to be learned, there would be no confusion. I tried it out. My very first Initial Word Mnemonic Chant, made up in the car on the way to school was;
“Because elephants can add up sums easily”
The word “because” was written on the front of a strip of card. On the back of the card I wrote the chant out. I told a brief story of elephants in a maths lesson to get the imagination going and then asked her to draw an appropriate picture. The chant was then “chanted” out loud 10 times. She used her fingers to keep count. Her eyes widened with delight when she knew she could remember this chant and more importantly could use the chant to spell the word correctly. It was a huge success. Over the next few weeks I made up over 200 different chants for High Frequency words. She learned them all. She could now spell over 200 common words that she couldn’t do at all. She was able to write sentences that were not full of spelling errors. She became energised and excited at her success. Her confidence grew. She learned other methods in my literacy lessons but nothing was as dramatic as the effects that these chants had on her. She is now an adult. At school she was considered an underachiever. Last year she completed her Ph.D. having gained a 1st at the end of her degree course. The mnemonics kick-started her off on to the path of success. I have used this method now for over 20 years. My book Spelling Success, a Mnemonic Dictionary has been sold all over the country. Presumably there will be lots of children, all strangers to me, reciting my Initial Word Mnemonic Chants. I wonder if there is anyone out there who has beaten the record of one of my other pupils who could say 545 out loud in an hour! I would love to know. This is how to help a child with dyslexia.
The Orton-Gillingham Flashcard method
This is a particularly effective approach which has taken non-readers and made them into enthusiastic readers. It includes the use of Flashcards, structured worksheets and Initial Word mnemonic chants. The Flashcards are loosely based on the Orton-Gillingham method. These flash cards are the building blocks of words and when they are learned fluently they give the child what is known as word attack skills. Five packs of cards are used to demonstrate these various structural elements of the written word. They consist of: alphabet, consonant blends, long vowels, prefixes and suffixes. As each pack is introduced, the cards are immediately sorted into two piles. One pile consists of all of the cards which the student already knows, and the other consists of the ones which are not known. This is called the “X” pack, and it is worked through, with the help of the keywords on the back of each card, until all the cards are known. When a student is fluent and fast in one particular pack they are given words to analyse and read. From words this method is extended to sentences. It is a logical approach which is quick and easy to follow on how to help a child with dyslexia.
Initial word mnemonic chants
The initial word mnemonic chants are an extremely effective creation on how to help a child with dyslexia. Since each chant begins with the word to be studied, once the chant has been learned, it becomes easy to read the word. As the chants are held in the memory very easily, it is possible, quite quickly, to build up a memory bank of words that can be read. This method is used for high frequency words and homophones. In a matter of weeks it is usual to see the improvements.
When a child who hasn’t been able to read is taught how to, it is wonderful to see the changes in that person. Immediately, a boost in confidence becomes obvious. To be a non-reader in a class full of readers has a very bad effect on self-esteem. It is quite possible that when they catch up with their peer group this will be very encouraging to them, and if, as does happen, they overtake their peer group this results in an even larger boost to self-confidence. The improvements aren’t just isolated to their reading skills, it spreads further than that. All school subjects require reading skills so improvements can be seen across the entire school curriculum.
Do not underestimate the importance of being able to read. It opens up the whole world on how to help a child with dyslexia.
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Handwriting or not Handwriting – that is the question.
The argument in favour of teaching handwriting implies that although we all use our computers now to do just about everything, there are still times, obviously, when computers are not available. On those occasions we clearly have to be able to write. For example: filling in forms, writing out cards, taking down notes in meetings or in lessons, sitting exams etc. However, there is a much more significant advantage to people who are dyslexic. Research shows that handwriting is an important stage in the multi-sensory process of learning to read and particularly to spell. It is kinaesthetic. Cursive, or joined up, writing is especially relevant in helping to create a stored memory of the appearance of a word. The fact that the pen starts writing at the beginning of a word and is not lifted off until the end of the word is reached is important. This creates a muscle memory of the shape of that word and therefore helps in remembering its spelling. Printing is not as effective. The pen is lifted after every letter and this has the effect of breaking the image of the word up in the brain and therefore making it more likely that the spelling will be forgotten. Handwriting is also a very natural and instinctive way of expressing our thoughts. It organises and clarifies them and it also involves energy and time. It concentrates and focuses the mind. A bit like a mental workout. This is probably why there is often so much resistance among my pupils when handwriting is mentioned. It takes effort, much more effort than sitting at a keyboard stabbing away at keys. I have observed a calming effect on many hyperactive pupils though when they have carried out the handwriting programme and have developed a style that is pleasing to the eye. It is almost as though they have matured a little overnight.
The argument for not teaching handwriting however is compelling too. If dyslexics have so much stress associated with writing that it causes resistance, tantrums and negative emotions then obviously this is going to shut down their activity. There will be no enthusiasm for their work and this will have a knock-on effect on their grades. Being at the keyboard means that they don’t have to consider the appearance of their work, they can express themselves more freely and all their spelling errors are corrected. Other people can read it, there are no red pen marks across their work and basically it would appear to be a win-win situation for everyone. My feelings on this are quite clear. Do both! Take advantage of all the benefits from cursive handwriting and being on the computer. Unless a pupil has distinct physical difficulties that makes handwriting almost impossible I believe it is worth pushing through the barriers of resistance. I have seen the most ghastly illegible handwriting transform into something that could be entered into a competition. More importantly I have seen the transformation in the character of the child that looks at a piece of written work with pride and satisfaction and the feeling that “I can do it”. The pleasure in realising that what is written from now on can be read and appreciated for its content rather than be critical of its presentation.
Addressing the problem on how to help a child with dyslexia
It is more important to be able to read because without the skill of reading the whole world becomes closed off. It is also good for someone to be able to quickly express themselves in words without being inhibited by the fear of spelling words incorrectly.
It is easy now for a dyslexic person to hide their problems when so much is now done with computers and other digital devices which have spell checkers. There are times, of course, when computers etc. cannot be used and information has to be put in writing. Unfortunately however, whenever an idea is put into writing we are revealing a lot about ourselves to others, and it is the reaction of others which often causes a problem.
What does poor spelling reveal about a person?
In the first instance unless it is known that a person is dyslexic, they will be judged on many levels. It will indicate that they may not have read much in their life because the more someone reads the more words are seen and stored in the memory. If someone is deemed as not being ‘well read’ this can suggest that they may not have had a very good education. A piece of work poorly spelled may imply that this person doesn’t care much about how they present themselves to the world in their written work. All of these observations are negative judgements which are being made about a person.
What effect does poor spelling have on the reader?
Remember that this is a situation where a dyslexic person is being judged in ignorance of this fact. Quite typically dyslexic spellings can be very bizarre. The errors may not bear any resemblance to the actual words in question. Also, as well as having spelling weaknesses, their handwriting skills are often poor as well. So anyone reading their written work is very quickly going to lose patience and become frustrated. If this person is going to be assessing what they are reading then these negative emotions are going to result in a downgraded assessment.
Poor spelling means lower exam marks
Poor exam results are likely to have a knock on effect with regards to securing a job. Similarly if an employer is inundated with applicants when advertising a post, it is unlikely that a poorly spelled, badly written application would get very far. So once more the dyslexic person would lose out.
It does sometimes happen that spelling errors are ignored, and the person known to be dyslexic is then judged on their strengths and not their weaknesses. Sadly this doesn’t happen as often as it should.
how to help a child with dyslexia
How to help a child with dyslexia?
Even though reading may be an issue, the process of reading with their child should be made a special time. This is a time when parent and child can bond and share experiences based around the book that is being read. To begin with it may well be that the parent has to do all the reading, with the child looking on.
This is still a very valuable experience because the story can be talked about. The child can be encouraged to give his or her interpretation of what has just been read. Words can be focused on and their meaning discussed.
Even though the child has not been contributing to the actual reading, the words will have been looked at and that will have made some impression on the brain. The fact that their meanings have been discussed will help build up a basic vocabulary.
Reading should become a time of enjoyment, a time of excitement, wanting to hear the next chapter or find out how the story ends. It is an opportunity to join a library and maybe find specific authors that appeal, especially those authors who have written great series of books.
If a dyslexic child is getting some appropriate tuition and their literacy skills are improving, there will come a time when the reading experience can be in the form of ‘paired’ reading. This is where both parent and child contribute, maybe alternating the pages, or maybe the parent just filling in for every word that the child can’t yet read. It is still important to converse about the story and to encourage the child to talk about their feelings surrounding what has just been read.
Eventually when the child is competent enough to read out loud independently the parent may just sit and listen or may oversee the whole reading just to check the accuracy. Parents that can carry all this out may be rewarded with their child eventually associating reading with so much pleasure that they develop a lifelong love affair with books and the written word.
One parent has told me of walking past her daughter’s bedroom door late at night and seeing the light coming from her room. She would call out “It’s time you were asleep now”, and the reply would come back “Not ’til I get to the end of this chapter. If I don’t, I’ll lie awake wondering about it, so I may as well just read it”. She was a great success story, barely able to read anything at the age of 7 years old. Now she reads great volumes one after the other and never goes away anywhere without filling her kindle.