Three conditions for creating an inclusive setting
In order to meet UNESCO’s policy, Henneman, Kleijners and Smits say there are three conditions for creating an inclusive setting.
Condition one: The school should always have a positive attitude towards children with dyslexia
To quote Alan Sayles, Inspector, Special Education, Ireland:
‘Dyslexia should be understood and accepted throughout the school as part of the school policy.’
In some countries dyslexia is recognized officially as a disability or ‘handicap’: dyslexic learners are entitled to certain rights that include the use of a computer, extra time in exams and additional help from a learning support assistant.
Some people complain that these concessions are unfair. However, teachers need to examine the concept of fairness.
- Would you deprive a myopic child of spectacles?
- Would you deprive a child with a broken leg of crutches?
- Would you deprive a child with hearing difficulties of a hearing aid?
The concept of fairness is often misunderstood:
‘It is not the equal treatment of everybody but ensuring that every pupil gets the help they need so that their evaluation really reflects their abilities’.
(Rick Lavoie, International Expert, USA)
Dyslexia is sometimes described as a ‘hidden’ handicap. But it too requires special assistance. Bear in mind:
- written production under pressure reflects a level below the potential and actual knowledge of the child who struggles with reading and writing
- you are examining content or knowledge in most cases, not the ability to concentrate or their writing skills
Oral exams are far better than written ones. Extra time should be allowed. In more extreme cases someone else could write the child’s answers.
Condition two: Continuous and all-embracing support
This simplified scheme represents:
The school: the head, the class teacher and learning support assistants
Home: in the widest sense – mentors, including parents, other family members, friends, supportive neighbours
Specialists: the educational psychologist, the paediatrician, doctor, speech therapist or other expert mentor who helps the child outside school
It is necessary for the child and everybody involved in the well-being of the child with dyslexia to act together as a team. In this way you can put in place an effective, time-saving, harmonious plan of action.
Openness and continuity of communication with the ‘school’, the ‘home’ and the ‘specialists’ should be maintained through the organisation of short meetings at agreed intervals.
Teachers need not be on their own and at all costs should not work in isolation.
Objectives of the support should be discussed and the help given according to requirements.
More about ‘Home’
Communication with parents or ‘home’ can be a sensitive matter. As we saw in Section 2, negative feelings can arise in some children and their parents. Parents may be in denial or they may feel anxious after a diagnosis. They may feel hopeless and frustrated when confronted with the failure of their child.
Please look at the short reference to the father of W.B. Yeats and the video clips which follow, and then discuss with your course partner what you would do if you met these parents. What would you say to them at the beginning of the school year?
W.B. Yeats is an Irish poet. He is listed as one of the most famous people with dyslexia. But for all his difficulties with writing his ideas down, it is obvious he had a wonderful ear and a gift for poetic expression:
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
One day his father threw his schoolbooks at him, shouting at him that he was ‘hopeless’. His handwriting and spelling were deplorable.
Now, as mentioned, discuss with your course partner what you would do if you met these parents. What would you say to them at the beginning of the school year?
Below you can see our ideas on this. Don’t peek!
You can see that that the reactions of these parents are quite different. You cannot generalize.
Regular contacts with parents will create an atmosphere where anxieties and frustrations (including your own) can be vented, and where any progress the child has made can be celebrated.
Unnecessary conflicts can be resolved: for example where children are not able to note down what they have to do for homework; it is done badly and the parents end up blaming the teacher.
Remember Eric Woehrling in Section 1: ‘without my parents, I would never have got there’.
Wherever possible, enlist the parents as learning assistants. They can help you by encouraging out-of-school activities which draw on the child’s strengths and increase morale, by actively taking part in activities like revising reading cards, and organizing planning by coding the timetable with colours or icons. They can reinforce what their child is learning by allowing him or her more practice on computers using appropriate educational software.
Often the child with dyslexia will have one or more parents who themselves are dyslexic. They may work anti-social hours or not speak the language used in the school. Perhaps they cannot read and write in their own language or there may be other reasons why they cannot help their child.
Whatever the case may be it is important to make those responsible for the child aware of dyslexia, and advise them to look for outside help where this is clearly beneficial.
Condition three: The child with dyslexia should be in the centre of the classroom
More often than not, children with dyslexia do not understand their difficulties. They lose heart and end up sitting at the back of the classroom, looking out of the window, lost in their dreams.
Also look out for:
- Loss of morale
With the loss of morale motivation to learn quickly disappears. Children with dyslexia are the first to know that they learn differently: they will be keenly aware of the problems they have with written language compared to their peers. They quickly come to realize that they cannot express themselves in writing. They lose self-esteem.
- Disruptive behaviour
Sometimes, children deliberately play the clown or become disruptive as a way of trying to gain the respect of others.
If this continues you should arrange a one-to-one talk for the purpose of re-assuring them that you are on their side and willing to work with them to help them succeed in class.
– discuss dyslexia in general with them and their specific difficulties
– make a contract with them about what you expect of them in stopping their disruptive behaviour, and how you will offer your support
- Good and bad days
Teachers are puzzled when faced by the changing moods and variable outputs of children with dyslexia. If they do not understand, they may be irritated to see a word spelt correctly one day and not the next, or even written differently in the same passage.
Keep in mind that verbal and written answers do not correspond to what is in the heads of children with dyslexia and that changeable behaviour is part of the condition of being dyslexic.
At all costs do not fall into the trap of external motivation, for example promising a reward if they do well or cancelling playtime when they do badly.
These methods undermine children’s belief in themselves. By all means possible try to develop their internal motivation so that they can feel they have control over their learning. In this way they regain self-confidence.
Promoting inclusion daily in the classroom
Children with dyslexia who are not performing well in the classroom begin to think that they are stupid and useless. Because of this they will prefer not to give a wrong answer, only to be ridiculed. This means they will no longer take part in the class, which only serves to further increase their isolation. They can become good targets for bullying and mockery.
Children with dyslexia often need more time to respond to oral questions. They take longer to process the question and to understand exactly what it means. Others, even if they have quickly understood the question, will need more time to recall the answer.
Most children with dyslexia will have difficulties taking in what you say if you give them multiple instructions.
Although children with dyslexia may have a good understanding of the content of the lesson, their ability to produce a verbal or written answer does not always match their understanding. This is frustrating for them.
It is essential to find ways of breaking out of this vicious circle before despondency and bad behaviour set in.
One way to promote mutual respect is to organize a classroom discussion at the beginning of the year on differences between people and on tolerance.
A fable that has become famous in the area of learning difficulties was written in the 1940’s by George Reavis, director of the Cincinnati Public Schools in the USA, called ‘The Animal School’. In the years that followed several versions of this fable have appeared but the message remains the same: we are all different and show different strengths and weaknesses, which the school system should work through rather than ignore. To download this fable and also some discussion points which could promote classroom exchanges, click here.
Start a debate about ‘external’ and ‘internal’ differences, such as dyslexia. You can use the written testimonies you have already met in this course (in Sections 1 and 2). Print them and give them out.
The message is that everybody has his/her strengths and weaknesses, and that where children with dyslexia are concerned, they may have weaknesses in written language but exceptional strengths in arts, sports, and technology.
This part asks for your own ideas about five aspects that are essential if you are to preserve the self-esteem of children with dyslexia.
With your course partner, and bearing in mind that children with dyslexia usually need more time, try to think up at least three approaches in order to:
- Encourage risk-taking in class, by persuading them to raise their hands even if they have doubts about their answers
- ‘Help’ them to give correct answers
- Avoid putting them in situations of failure in front of the others
- Reinforce self-esteem in class
- Preserve their self-esteem when marking their work
Compare your ideas with other researchers, including Susan van Alsenoy, member of Dyslexia International’s Consultancy e-Team.
- Discuss how we can learn from our mistakes and set up a classroom discussion around the theme: ‘What can be done in class so that people are not afraid of making mistakes?’
- You can thank those who made a ‘good’ mistake such as a logical error. ‘Thank you for that interesting idea. What I was really trying to ask was…’ Avoid the word ‘No’ and never use sarcasm.
- Explain that you prefer pupils to try to give an answer rather than not dare to speak up. Look out for the silent pupils who may not be taking in what you are saying.
- Do not hide your mistakes and lack of information, and encourage your pupils to do the same. For example, if you no longer remember whether there are one or two ‘b’s in ‘habit’ and ‘rabbit’, ask a child to look them up, adding that ‘English spelling is very complicated’.
- Encourage the pupils to make up questions about what you have just taught them. Then they ask you the questions.
- Be responsive to the child with dyslexia who wants to answer your questions.
‘Help’ children with dyslexia to give the right answers
- One technique which Rick Lavoie uses is to warn them in advance that they will get a question. This is because, in contrast to the other children, they have to process the question, which will take longer, before they can work out and provide the answer. So you could say, ‘John, I am going to ask you to say the names of the continents, but first, James, I want you to give me five capitals of Europe … now, John it is your turn.’ (From Rick’s film, How difficult can this be?)
- Always give children with dyslexia extra time without embarrassing them. Some children may need twice the time to reply.
- If you notice that a child with dyslexia has got the right answer, be sure to ask him or her for that answer in front of the class.
- When you set a task for solo work, check that the children with dyslexia are doing what was asked and signal discreetly to them non-verbally that they are on the wrong track if this is the case.
Avoid letting children with dyslexia fail in front of everybody
- Never ask a child with dyslexia to read aloud in front of the whole class unless he or she asks to.
- Never ask a child with dyslexia to go and write on the blackboard.
- Never ask a child with dyslexia to spell a word aloud unless he or she asks to.
Reinforce self-esteem in class
- Children with dyslexia should not be encouraged to compete with others but learn how to raise their own standards. ‘Have I done better this week than last week?’
- Demonstrate progress with charts.
- Use positive reinforcement. Be aware that they will work much better when encouraged and when their good work is noted and mentioned.
- Avoid sarcasm and drawing attention to their needs in front of everybody.
- Ask everybody, working in pairs, to list the things they are good at.
- Be aware of the efforts children with dyslexia have to make in order to achieve their aims.
- Encourage success by setting sensible goals: state clearly exactly what you expect from them, how much time they must give to silent reading, how many questions to answer, how many words or paragraphs in the time given.
- Discreetly give shorter tasks to children with dyslexia, reading less of a passage or writing fewer words, so that they feel they can do what is expected and feel of equal value to the others.
- Take note of their good moments and congratulate them openly.
- Be aware of their frustrations.
Preserve self-esteem when marking
- Banish the red pen!
- Don’t mark down for spelling, lay-out and composition, unless the test is specifically about these. Focus on content, not form.
- When you correct use two colours: one for content and one for spelling and presentation.
- When you mark spelling exercises, ask children with dyslexia only to spell the words they think they know. Then, calculate the number of words correctly spelt out of the words attempted rather than out of the total number of words you have given the whole class.
- Wherever possible, mark the work of children with dyslexia sitting beside them. Mark positively. Highlight the correct answers.
- Point out the skills mastered rather than simply ‘scoring’ the mistakes.
- Encourage them to ask for help when they are stuck, from their classmates, parents, or other mentors.
- Keep in mind that children with dyslexia have to make more effort and need more time than the others for the same amount of homework. Reduce their amount of homework. For example, ask them to do every other question. Or ask them to use a clock and allow them to draw a line under homework after 15 minutes of concentration. This will involve the support of the mentors from ‘home’.
- When you come to the final assessment always explain that their value as a person is not linked to their results or performance on a particular task.
Ask the children or parents to note how long each task takes in their homework book so that time management at home can be improved and ‘reasonable’ limits can be set.