Nobody can fully appreciate what it’s like to be a student with dyslexia as well as another student with dyslexia. Here are some strategies we compiled from conversations with the real experts — dyslexic kids with papers due, tests next week and books to read.
Use Time Wisely | Embrace Simple Tools | Make the Most of Technology | Ask for Help | Embrace the Power of Dyslexia
Use Time Wisely
If you’re dyslexic, you already know that extra time on tests is critical to demonstrating your actual knowledge of a subject. But don’t stop there. If you need extra time for tests, there’s a good chance you need extra time on homework assignments as well. These tips should help:
- Break up big projects into smaller, less intimidating pieces. Have a three-page paper due in a week? Set dates for working on little tasks related to the paper, like picking a topic, doing research and writing a first draft. Don’t be afraid to ask a teacher, parent or tutor to assist you.
- Give yourself enough time to work slowly and carefully. You don’t want to rush or end up skipping part of a task.
- Do what’s due first. If you’re faced with a long list of short assignments, it’s easy to just grab them all at once and start working in random order. But that’s not the most effective approach. Take a minute to prioritize your work according to what’s due first and what is likely to take you the most or least time to complete. Study tonight for the French test you have tomorrow, not the vocabulary test that’s coming up next week.
- Don’t fall into the “no homework tonight” trap. If your calendar is clear, look ahead to see what’s coming up: an earth-science quiz at the end of the week or a math worksheet due Thursday? Use this free time to get a head start on the work you need to turn in later.
- Outline a task before you start. For a science project on plant growth, what materials will you need to gather? How many days will you have to allow for the beans to sprout? How long will it take you to write up your results? Think it through in your head and figure out what steps you’ll have to take so you know what you’ll need — and how much time to allow — to get it done.
- Don’t do more than you have to. For instance, you don’t have to research everything on the Civil War to write a few paragraphs on the second Battle of Bull Run.
- Preview reading to identify words you can’t pronounce and talk through the material with your teacher or tutor on a one-to-one basis. Avoid multiple choice-tests; instead request tests that are based on short essays.
Make the Most of Technology
- Create a PowerPoint presentation of the material you’ll need to know for a test. (Think of it as a high-tech version of flash cards.) Some computers, like Macs, also have a computerized voice that can read your PowerPoint slides back to you.
- Compose written work on a computer, which can be more efficient and easier to read than messy handwriting. Using a computer allows you to focus on the content rather than your handwriting so you can get your thoughts out in the first draft. And when you make edits, you won’t need to write the entire essay over again.
- Consider using dictation programs like Dragon dictatation software. Alternatively, on many newer computers with a microphone, you can enable the “start dictation” feature directly in Microsoft Word. Some students find that dictation allows them to be more creative and capture the details all at once.
- After you complete a writing assignment, whether it’s a paragraph or a longer paper, read it aloud and record it on your cell phone. (You can also have a member of your family read it to you.) Several free apps make recording easy and convenient. Listening to what you wrote as you read it over several times can help you spot errors and identify edits you’d like to make. Listening as you read your notes also helps you understand and remember what you’ve learned.
- Listen to assigned books in audio form, reading along in the hard copy. As an added bonus, you’ll feel much better prepared if you know you’re going to be called on to read out loud in class the next day.
- Ask your parents or a teacher to help you sign up for access to recorded books and other written materials. Bookshare, Audible and Learning Ally are just a few companies that make tens of thousands of audio recordings from text. Each service offers different types of literature, textbooks and reference materials, so if you can’t find what you need on one site, chances are it will be available through another service. Additionally, Amazon has teamed up with Audible to link up audio recordings with Kindle books, so you can read along with the text. The program is called Whispersync.
- If you have access to a newer computer, tablet or other electronic device, set it up to read your papers, notes and a range of other materials back to you. Macs do this within their accessibility settings, but there are many other options for software and apps that read text for both Macs and PCs. One of the oldest and most popular is Read & Write Gold.
- Consider investing in a Livescribe SmartPen if you take a lot of notes in class and are stressed about not getting it all down on paper. The device can eliminate note-taking anxiety because it captures everything the student hears and writes. You can transfer notes and recordings to a computer, and easily search and organize them for homework study. The audio recording can be slowed down or speeded up as needed, and a specific section of any recording can be played back simply by tapping that part of your written notes.
Ask for Help
- If you’re a college student struggling with a paper, take advantage of your campus writing center. If you’re not in college, ask your peers, teachers or parents to help you talk through your ideas and get them on paper. If you already have a draft written, the extra pair of eyes is helpful to catch typos, spelling mistakes, or incomplete details and ideas.
- Your teachers and peers can be great resources for solidifying topics you are learning. Talk with your teachers to be sure you understood the material, and talk through the main ideas of the lectures with your peers to help form your own thoughts and understanding.
- Request extra time on tests. Extra time on examinations is a necessity. The amount of extra time cannot be determined from testing but should be based on your own experiences. The first time you request this accommodation, you might want to request double time.
Embrace the Power of Dyslexia
- Believe in yourself. Dyslexia teaches you to budget your time and work hard, and that work ethic will help you no matter what you decide to do in life.
- Talk to others who are dyslexic and listen to success stories from other dyslexic individuals. They will inspire and encourage you. If they did it, you can, too!
- Remember that just because something takes you longer to do, doesn’t mean you can’t do it well. And sometimes because it takes you longer, you remember it better.
- While it’s hard to feel different or singled out if you need extra help or tutoring, try to remember that you’re learning the skills to overcome dyslexia—and that you are smart and have abilities no one else does!
Essay Writing Tips for Dyslexics
A guide to writing essays, specifically to help students with Dyslexia.
The biggest challenge
For a dyslexic student, essay-writing presents the biggest challenge! Planning to meet a deadline is enough to bring on a panic attack!
Your difficulties with organization will also make it extra hard to sort out the shape of an essay. You will also find it hard to arrange all that you know - quite apart from the spelling and grammar. However, with your computer ready, these methods will help:
Draw a 'Mind Map'
Begin your diagram with a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Inside the shape or on the line, write the name of your topic. From your circle, draw three or four lines out into the page. Be sure to spread them out.
At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle. Write the main ideas that you have about your topic in each circle, or the main points that you want to make. If you are trying to argue a point, you want to write your main arguments. If you are trying to explain a process, you want to write the steps that should be followed.
From each of your main ideas, draw three or four more lines out into the page. At the end of each of these lines, draw another circle. In each circle, write the facts or information that support that main idea. When you have finished, you have the basic structure for your essay and are ready to continue.
The introductory paragraph tells the reader what the essay will be about.
You must now look at your diagram and decide what is the main point you will be making. Your initial statement will have two parts. The first part states the topic, e.g. Concern about global warming. The second part states the point of the essay, for example that global warming is caused mainly by pollution of the atmosphere by vehicle exhaust fumes:
The introduction should be designed to attract the reader's attention and give them an idea of the essay's main argument.
Many people find the introduction very hard to write, but you could begin with:
an attention grabber, like interesting or information (People are dying each week from malnutrition brought about by drought in north African coutries. This is caused by our automobiles.),
a pertinent fact that illustrates the point you wish to make (The Polar ice cap is melting.),
an anecdote - a little story that illustrates your point (I have noticed in recent years that winters seem to be getting shorter.),
a dialogue between two (perhaps imaginary) people (Peter was arguing with his friend Jacob that polar bears are in real fanger because the polar ice cap is melting. Jacob simply replied that the bears will have to find somewhere else to live.), or
summary Information (The average temperature of our globe has risen 0.6 degrees in the last century, and is continuing to rise. This change has been attributed partly to the use of aerosols which have destryed parts of the protective ozone layer.).
Finish the introductory paragraph with a statement of your main argument.
'The subject of global warming is causing us all concern as we hear about the Polar ice cap melting and the shortage of rainfall in some countries. In parts of northern Africa people people have been unable to grow their crops because of the lack of rainfall. Children are dying and the ground is turning into desert. In this essay I will argue that global warming is not a natural process, but is being brought about by the high level of air pollution caused by human beings, especially through vehicle exhaust fumes from automobiles.'
Use the ideas in the outer circles to write each paragraph. A paragraph is about five sentences (more or less) separated by spaces before and after.
The first word may be indented (pushed further over) by about six spaces, and there is a key on the keyboard with two arrows on which will do this automatically to the text.
Develop each point as if you were explaining it to a person you are talking to. Discuss each point as well, pointing out the opposite viewpoint as well as your own:
'In recent years, more and more people have easy access to an automobile, and many families have two or three. Our lifestyle often revolves around our personal transport, and, when we buy a house, we do not think of being near shops or leisure facilities. We know that we can just drive there, so we choose an attractive house in ana attractive area, if we can afford it. Some people might argue that this is our choice and it gives us greater personal freedom, but we are not sufficiently aware of the impact our driving is having on the environment.'
Signpost words, such as "However", '"Nevertheless", "Therefore", and "Although" will help you pursue your argument. They tell the reader about the direction in which you are arguing, or when there is a change of direction.
"Some people take the view that we should wait an dsee what happens. All this anxiety may be unnecessar. However, if we do wait much longer, it may be too late to start to correct matters."
"Although we are still waiting for the results of many scientific experiments which are measuring climate change, I feel that we should take action now to reduce air pollution."
"The world's climate is slow to change. Nevertheless, once it has begun to change, it is hard to reverse ."
"The effect of automobile pollution on our cities is visible today. We must try, therefore, to find serious alternatives to gas-guzzzling automobiles if we are going to be able to breathe in our cities."
The conclusion sums up your points, providing a final perspective on your essay. All the conclusion needs is three or four strong sentences which do not need to follow any set formula. Simply review the main points (being careful not to restate them exactly) or briefly describe your feelings about the topic.
'Although some people are skeptical about the causes of global warmong, there can be no doubt that our world is warming up. The rate of change is alarming, and this is no time for a 'wait and see' approach. We need to commit resources to the scientific investigation of the causes of the rising temperature if we are to be able to take action to control it before its effects devastate our planet. The first and obvious action is to change the way in which the greatest polluter is fuelled - the automobile.'
Before you can consider your essay a finished product, you must read and check through your paper. Does your argument follow? Does it make sense to a reader? Perhaps you can ask another person to read it and give you their opinion.
Check the order of your paragraphs. Which one is the strongest? You might want to start with the strongest paragraph, end with the second strongest, and put the weakest in the middle.
Check the instructions for the assignment. Make sure that you have spell-checked it and typed your name on the sheet!
Are your margins correct?
Have you titled it as directed?
What other information (name, date, etc.) must you include? Did you double-space your lines?
Spell-check your work.
Run a grammar checker.
Leave it for a few hours and then read it again.
As a dyslexic person, you may suffer from a below average short-term memory, which makes tasks involving planning quite difficult. Whilst you are able to write competently, the combined acts of thinking and writing together become quite difficult - a bit like trying to eat a boiled egg while running round the block!
Try to separate thinking from writing correctly: use your word-processor. This will allow you to type away happily - using two fingers is quite satisfactory - not worrying about any spelling mistakes you make, and come back later (e.g. the next day or in the evening) to sort out the spellings and punctuation. Use the built-in spelling checker and the right-hand button on the mouse to find the correct spelling when a word is underlined in red as being incorrectly spelt. In this way the two operations will become separated.
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