by Jen R., Deanne Nielsen, Kerry Lee, and William Greenhalgh
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Learning disabilities are a common part of education, and are becoming more prevalent in the classroom. As teachers, we must be able to adapt and become aware of these disorders for it will affect the students ability to do certain assignments (for example, a dyslexic student will have problems with reading, writing and spelling). The best way to reach the individual is to understand them better with more information and lesson ideas to create a positive learning environment not only for the students but for the teacher as well.

Section 1: Theoretical Framework

1.1 What are Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities (otherwise known as learning disorders) is a term used for many learning problems. For people with learning disabilities, they see the world differently than some people do for they may not be able to interpret somethings that a person without a learning disability can. Most common learning disabilities involve problems with reading, writing, listening, speaking and math.
Keep this in mind - a learning disability can't be cured or fixed; it is a life long issue. People who have learning disabilities require attention to help them be successful in school, their careers and for the rest of their lives.

Facts about Learning Disabilities
  • Fifteen percent of the U.S.population have some type of learning disability
  • Difficulty with basic reading and language skills are the most common of learning disabilities (80%)
  • Learning disabilities often run in families
  • Learning disabilities should not be confused with other disabilities, such as autism, mental retardation, being deaf or blind and/or behavioural disorders.

1.1.2 Types of Learning Disabilities

There are several types of learning disabilities that relate to literacy in certain subject areas. Some of the learning disabilities may overlap in the subject matter that one is teaching. Here is a table of the common disabilities, what they affect and their symptoms simplified.

Common Types of Learning Disabilities
Difficulty reading
Problems reading, writing, spelling, speaking
Difficulty with math
Problems doing math problems, understanding time, using money
Difficulty with writing
Problems with handwriting, spelling, organizing ideas
Dyspraxia (Sensory Integration Disorder)
Difficulty with fine motor skills
Problems with hand–eye coordination, balance, manual dexterity
Difficulty with language
Problems understanding spoken language, poor reading comprehension
Auditory Processing Disorder
Difficulty hearing differences between sounds
Problems with reading, comprehension, language
Visual Processing Disorder
Difficulty interpreting visual information
Problems with reading, math, maps, charts, symbols, pictures

Table 1. Common Types of Learning Disabilities from Learning Disabilities in Children

1.2 What is Dyslexia?

A dyslexic person of good or average intelligence perceives his environment in a different way, and his attention diminishes "when confronted by letters or numbers. Due to a deficiency in his partial performances, his perception of these symbols differs from that by non-dyslexic people. This results in difficulties when learning to read, write and do arithmetic.“

-Dr. Astrid Kopp-Duller 1995

1.2.1 Signs and Symptoms of Dyslexia

There are several symptoms of Dyslexia. Here is 10 reading specific symptoms, and you can look at the link Test for Dyslexia: 37 Common Characteristics of Dyslexia for more details specific to other areas, such as math, behaviour and listening/speaking.
  • Complains of dizziness, headaches or stomach aches while reading.
  • Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences, or verbal explanations.
  • Reading or writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words.
  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing, or copying.
  • Seems to have difficulty with vision, yet eye exams don't reveal a problem.
  • Extremely keen sighted and observant, or lacks depth perception and peripheral vision.
  • Reads and rereads with little comprehension.
  • Spells phonetically and inconsistently.

Section 2: Discourse of Dyslexia and Reading Disorders

Did You Know? Alberta Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol and Agatha Christie were all dyslexic!

2.1 The Environment of a Dyslexic Child:

Dyslexic children often know that they are different but not why. This can lead to isolation, depression, low-self esteem and bullying. If dyslexia goes unnoticed in youth, their resentment towards reading might result in truancy and even dropping out of school (Wajuihian, Naidoo, 2012, 31). However, dyslexia can also be viewed as a gift. Dyslexics have a different way of comprehending information and experiencing the world around them. Take Mr. Einstein for example, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics!

2.2 Current Views & Challenges:

There are many opposing views on dyslexia and reading disorders. Some people believe that they do not exist, while others devote their lives to the study of and solution for reading disorders. This can lead to problems. For example, it can be difficult for parents to accept that in one situation they are being told that their child has dyslexia while in another situation they are being told that their child does not have dyslexia (Farrell, 2005, 73).

There have been studies that have shown a connection to anomalies in the left side of the brain that are consistent with the individual having reading disorder (See Section 2.3). Understanding that there are different views towards reading disorders is important. However, what is more important is ensuring that a student with a reading disorder understands that the disorder is not a disability, that everyone is different and therefore learns in different ways. With the cost for tuition at specialized schools for reading disorders, nearly every classroom has a child with dyslexia in it. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers educate themselves to recognize reading disorders, use tools that can be taught classroom wide and be knowledgable of the assistance their school provides for individuals with reading disorders (Pollock, Waller, Politt, 2004, 2-25).

2.3 Can You Test for Dyslexia?thinkingoutsidebox.jpg

Yes! Using an MRI, doctors are able to detect differences in construction and behaviour while performing contrasting activities. In other words, MRI's for a dyslexic individual will show more activity in their right brain, while non dyslexic individuals are the opposite. The left side of the brain is linked to successive, direct and analytic thinking, which is why dyslexic's struggle in these areas. The right side of the brain is attributed with creative, visual and intuitive characteristics, therefore these attributes are greater in dyslexic individuals (Ott, 2007, ix). This preference for the right brain, helps dyslexics think outside of the box, which is a highly sought after 21st Century Skill!

2.4 What do Dyslexics See?

Many dyslexics comprehend words through the use of pictures.
Therefore, words that do not trigger an image become irrelevant and even non-existent during reading.
Such as: a, an, and, as, it, the, to.
Versus: apple, cloud, moon, mountain, stars, tree, warm.

2.5 Is There A Cure?

There is treatment and that treatment is EDUCATION. It is just as important to teach the teachers as it is to
teach the individuals that have dyslexia and reading disorders (Berninger, Wolf, 2009,11). The following quote is from an amazing resource:
"In Native American Culture the lowest person on the totem pole is the one who is most important because that person is closest to the ground, where the action is. We dedicated this book to classroom teachers who, because they are the closest to the ground - that is, the day-to-day instructional learning environment of children with learning disabilities- are the most important for bringing about change to improve the instructional environments and learning outcomes for these students. The world is not changed only from the top down but also from the bottom up."
- Teaching Students With Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: Lessons from Teaching and Science (Berninger,Wolf, xvi)

What Do You Think: is dyslexia a disability or a gift?

Section 3: Teaching and Assessment Ideas

3.1 Teaching and Assessment for Dyslexia

The suggestions below mostly cater to the learning challenge of Dyslexia, but they could be modified for teaching and assessing for any reading disability.

As educators, the challenge is having effective teaching strategies for those students who have Dyslexia. A few teaching techniques would be as follows:
  • for spelling words; separate the word into sections and add a relateable image to the word
  • use playdough so that they can create the word as a 3-dimensional object so they can understand the word in a physical way
  • tracing letters and sounding out the parts of the word

Below are a few examples of the strategies to use for teaching and assessing at home or in the classroom.

~ This video was made by a mother who has a dyslexic son as she presents her ideas for teaching her son spelling words. ~

~ This video introduces a software to help dyslexic children called the Language Tune-Up Kit~

~ Introduces another spelling program called All About Spelling! - It takes the struggle out of spelling ~

~ A UK program called The Learning People that helps children and adults with dyslexia. ~

3.2 What Can Teachers Do?

The following is an abbreviated list of items that can be used for students with dyslexia and reading disorders, taken from Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom:
  1. Listen carefully to the child's speech - and believe your ears!
  2. Speak more slowly and face the child.
  3. Children need to develop good listening habits, including eye contact. Circle Time: Students gather in a circle and share something. Children can pass, must listen when another is speaking, not interrupt or ridicule another's comment, not use names.
  4. Tapping or clapping rhythms for syllables.
  5. Nursery rhymes, poetry and times tables are more easily learnt if a child is aware of the rhythm of the language.
  6. Communicating through rhythm alone.
  7. Ensure that the child understands the meanings of key words when being spoken to and when reading. Visual cues with words.
  8. Many children are reluctant to admit that they have not understood the teacher
  9. When a new concept has been introduced to the class it is helpful if, on occasions, the child with comprehension difficulties can 'be teacher' and explain the new information to someone else or on to a tape.
  10. A string of requests should be given separately, if possible going on to the second after the first has been accomplished, and so on.
  11. Try to alternate language activities with practical activities in class.
  12. It often helps children to demonstrate their understanding in practical ways.
  13. Requests need to be constructed for such children to ensure that the meaning is really understood.
  14. Over a period of time the number in a string of requests can be gradually increased.
  15. Sensitively correct wrong use of words on the spot, otherwise incorrect spoken language becomes incorrect written language, as in 'I could of done it'.
  16. It is often difficult to sift information from the crossfire of a discussion. Involve child in at least one direct remark.
  17. For those who tend to become aggressive because tehy are unable to express their anger and resentment at certain times, a Social Language Group may be a very effective way of dealing with this situation.
  18. As it is quite possible that there are a number of children in the school with speech and language processing problems which are similar, it could be both economic and advantageous to have on child assessed by a speech and language therapist who could then talk to the staff on the basis of that child's assessment.

A detailed list including explanations for each step are located in Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom (Pollock, 2004, 25-28).

3.3 Teaching Resources

Resources for teachers include phonics programs, writing aids such as traceable letters and other multisensory approachs. A key resource must be the child, each one is different and will struggle in different ways, a keen understanding and focused attention on the part of the teacher are thus vital.

Teaching Methods
Tips for Teachers

Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom, Second Edition. Authors: J. Pollock, E. Waller & R. Politt.
Teaching Children with Dyslexia: A Practical Guide. Author: P. Ott.
Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: Lessons from Teaching and Science. Authors: V.W. Berninger & B.J. Wolf.
The Effective Teacher's Guide to Dyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties: Practical Strategies. Author: M. Farrell.
*all titles are available at the University of Lethbridge Library

Also, please see Reference list below for additional Resources.


Teaching dyslexic and other children with reading challenges is a rewarding and challenging exercise. The methods are diverse, as are the children, but understanding and appropriate interventions can be successful. Literacy training is a key component of todays classroom and the methods and infomation needed for the diversity we as teachers face is a key piece of our professional knowledge base. We hope this page has enabled some understanding and provided useful tips for dealing with these challenges.


Section 1

Section 2
  • Berninger, V.W., & Wolf, B.J. (2009). Teaching Students with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia: Lessons from Teaching and Science. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  • Canadian Dyslexia Association
  • Dyslexic Like Me
  • Farrell, M. (2005). The Effective Teacher's Guide to Dyslexia and Other Specific Learning Difficulties: Practical Strategies. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Knowledge Network: Dyslexia
  • Levinson Medical Center for Learning Disabilities
  • Ott, P. (2007). Teaching Children with Dyslexia: A Practical Guide. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Pollock, J., Waller, E. & Politt, R. (2004). Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom, Second Edition. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Wajuihian, S. O., & Naidoo, K. S. (2012). Dyslexia: An overview. Optometry & Vision Development, 43(1), 24-33.

Section 3