The school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic present an opportunity to assess what we view as learning. If we look at our curriculum, we should ask, “What is the most important thing I want my students to learn?” In the end, the most valuable things we can teach are to be curious enough to ask questions that lead to learning and then able to communicate what you’ve learned.
When it comes to communicating, writing is the most cognitively demanding task we ask our students to perform. Spelling alone is an analytical activity calling on visual, processing, memory and more. Combine this with forming the content, organizing it, editing the final product and the underlying stress of COVID-19 and it’s no wonder why students feel overwhelmed.
Teaching and learning for students with dyslexia in a distance learning environment is going to look different depending on many factors: students’ age, the availability of online resources, the severity of dyslexia and attending challenges, and the amount of teacher support. With all of the variations in situations, here are consistent factors that educators should consider in online learning for students with dyslexia.
Collaborating with Parents to Help Students
It’s always good to refamiliarize yourself with the student’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s more important than ever to understand the individualized needs of your students.
First, if the student has an IEP or 504, it’s still in place. In other words, the online work or packet, depending on the situation, needs to reflect the IEP or 504 for the particular student. If you’re unsure about an assignment, check with administration then inform the parents.
If you didn’t know your student’s parents very well before, now is the time to get to know them better. Find out about their strengths and weaknesses in order to provide the right kind of support for them as at-home educators. If writing is not a strength for the parents, be prepared to support them and their students when you assign lengthy writing tasks.
Using Free Online Resources
With all of the educational resources that are available for free at the moment, now is a great time to be using these tools to support learning. Incorporate visual experiences like virtual museum trips with audiobooks in order to expand on their learning. Build on that with a class discussion, directed by the educator or held in a classroom chat. These experiences provide valuable material for writing activities that become richer from the opportunities students have to see and discuss something before being asked to write about it.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
With older students, I would find a way to include some of the news concerning COVID-19 in your curriculum, whether it’s math, science, history, or English. One of the biggest complaints from students regarding school in general is that it seems out of touch or irrelevant.
To make lessons relevant to this extraordinary moment, teachers can take a few daily headlines and compare the tone of the headlines among publications. Some online publications such as Reuters and Associated Press are known for keeping their headlines and reporting objective, while other publications such as The New York Times or CNN may have headlines with more politicized language.
Additionally, some publications like The Christian Science Monitor have news articles that offer two versions of the same story. One version, called a “deep read,” includes an estimated time frame for reading. The other version, called a “quick read,” is condensed down to highlights.
Reviewing the news is an excellent opportunity to use the short length of a headline—perfect for reluctant readers!—to teach students about the power of language and the importance of understanding what we’re reading.
Enlisting the help of your students with dyslexia to give their personal evaluation of the two articles is a great way to get them engaged. Ask for their opinion as to whether or not the “quick read” is indeed a faster way to access the information. See if they have any suggestions for improving the experience.
This type of lesson is relevant to students’ lives right now, and can provide insight into how they access information. They can use the skills they acquire in any learning situation.
Helping students become better readers enables them to pursue what makes them curious. Helping students become better writers enables them to convey what they’ve learned in a way that can enlighten others while solidifying and connecting those ideas for themselves.
The end goal is to help students become independent thinkers. Framing learning experiences with this in mind keeps everything in perspective, whether we’re in a virtual or traditional classroom.
Donell Pons is a reading and dyslexia specialist in Salt Lake City, Utah, with a master’s degree in education and teaching from Westminster College, along with a certification in special education. She started her career in education when her youngest son was diagnosed with dyslexia. She uses Reading Horizons in her one-on-one work with students. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.