Jul 07, 2017
What dyslexia is, what the research says, and how you can effectively tutor students with this common learning disability.
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting approximately 20% of the national population. When those who suffer from this language processing condition don’t receive specialized assistance from professionals, they can have a very difficult time overcoming the characteristic obstacles of this learning disability. Luckily, dyslexic students can benefit immensely by working with tutors due to the increased individualized attention they receive. For tutors to be successful in working with dyslexic students, it’s important to not only understand the condition, but to grasp the alternative teaching techniques that have been proven to be most effective. Read on to learn more about this condition and how to effectively tutor students who suffer from it.
The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a “language-based learning disability” comprised of “a cluster of symptoms which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.” A single definitive cause has not been identified but, through imaging research, it’s become clear that dyslexia is not an issue that can be “cured.” However, it can be greatly improved through specific exercises and learning strategies designed to redirect the way learning and information processing occurs. Experts agree it always affects reading accuracy and makes comprehension, writing, spelling, and sometimes even math more difficult. There are a handful of online tools, such as this one, that allow you to simulate dyslexia to get a pretty accurate idea about what those who have it experience.
Understood.org, an organization committed to providing resources and support for children who are affected by learning disabilities, estimates that between 15–20% of the entire population likely suffers from dyslexia to some degree. Differences can be seen in the brain’s development of those who have dyslexia and those who do not. The condition is commonly misunderstood as a visual impairment that results in the jumbling and reversal of letters. However, dyslexia is not visually-based. Instead, dyslexia is a processing issue that affects how the brain interprets information. Researchers have found that the condition is neurobiological in origin, stemming from a physical difference in the brains of those who suffer from it. MIT and Boston University neuroscientists recently identified a deficiency in a brain mechanism related to processing sensory input. In those suffering from dyslexia, the speed at which the processing occurred was halved. To further pinpoint the root issue, it’s important to understand what phonological processing is. Phonological processing refers to the ability to recognize phonemes, the individual sounds that comprise words. Those with dyslexia have phonological processing deficits and “do not map letters onto the correct sounds” (source). Research through brain imaging has shown that this occurs because people who have dyslexia show less activation of the temporal and left posterior brain areas during reading tasks than do non-dyslexic people.
Although its cause is primarily biological in nature, dyslexia can be greatly improved using the right techniques. Due to regional brain activation being one of the root issues for dyslexic people, simply increasing the frequency and quantity of standard reading exercises is not helpful and actually may be harmful to students who suffer from this learning disability. Instead, the focus should be on brain plasticity — the ability of the brain to reorganize and create neural pathways as a result of new experiences. By focusing here, dyslexic students can improve activation of the left posterior and temporal areas, and thus significantly improve their condition.
Although some schools will provide specialized instruction for students with dyslexia, this isn’t extremely prevalent. Working privately in a one-on-one setting with a tutor outside of the classroom can be immensely beneficial in assisting students who suffer from this condition.
Because dyslexia requires alternative and specific teaching methods, it’s necessary to have certification in certain teaching styles (specifically MSLE and Orton-Gillingham methods) or be well-versed in dyslexia teaching methods. A number of alternative education programs have been developed specifically for children who have dyslexia that can serve as great resources and enhance your qualifications. Here are some additional things tutors should know about working with dyslexic students:
Sessions: In-person collaboration is generally much more effective when working with dyslexic students. Due to the need for alternative teaching methods, many of the recommended programs are physical in nature and are not easily translatable to an online format.
MSLE Reading Programs: There are a few different multisensory structured language education (MSLE) programs that have been developed (these programs are also sometimes referred to as Orton-Gillingham methods or OG programs). These programs have been largely successful in helping students who suffer from dyslexia. Using an alternative approach to traditional teaching methods, these programs strengthen reading skills through combined senses, such as touch, hearing, movement, and sight. This list provides a few specific MSLE programs to consider receiving training in. Proficiency in MSLE programs is certainly attractive to prospective clients and having proper training will aid in your success as a tutor.
Certifications: Many certifications are available for tutors interested in working with dyslexic students. Some examples include:
The International Dyslexia Association offers different tiers of certification
Tutors can get certified in MSLE programs through the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators
The Dyslexia Training Institute offers certification in level one of the Orton-Gillingham approach
Tutors can also get certified in the Barton System, which shows a lot of evidence in effectiveness
Progress tracking: Because each student is different and the degree of dyslexia can vary, it’s important to never guarantee a certain time frame or learning level improvement when engaging with students. The amount of time needed by each student can vary drastically, with some engagements lasting six months and others lasting years.
Dyslexia is a widespread condition that affects a large percentage of the population. As a tutor, you have an opportunity to specialize in working with students who suffer from it and, by doing so, can make a life-changing difference. If you’re interested in taking on this challenge, make sure you familiarize yourself with the disability first and understand the most effective ways to help combat it, so that you can be an invaluable source of support for students.
Looking to learn more about how you can effectively tutor students? Join Clark today to stay up to date on tutoring techniques.