Integrating dyslexia support into mainstream teaching

Author: Dr Helen Ross
Published: 07/02/2023
Reading rulers with coloured filters

Dyslexia often goes under the radar, and educators may not realise its substantial impact. It can look like behavioural wobbles, anxiety, talking too much in class and many other things. However, one thing that dyslexia is not, is laziness. I speak from experience: I am dyslexic!

Things that help dyslexic learners help most learners, so you will be supporting all your students by making tweaks here and there in your lessons.

The quick wins

Really small tweaks to presentation and practice can make a huge difference to how students engage with lessons. Initially, it may seem like some things will add more to your workload, but in the medium-to-long term, they will make thing smoother for you and your students. Crucially, these tweaks don’t cost a substantial amount of money and do not implicate other adult support. They do prompt independence and are discreet, so attention is not drawn to students’ challenges.

  • Pastel backgrounds: these can help reduce glare for students with visual stress (not dyslexia but sometimes co-occurring) and also those with dyslexia. Passages are easier to read both on the board and on paper.

  • Clutter-free resources: make sure that resources are not too busy and dense with words. Make sure there is lots of space, and use a sans-serif font so that students know where to focus.

  • Printouts / electronic copies of resources: whether students use technology or prefer paper, copying from the board or books should be minimised. The cognitive load that copying places on students means that they focus on the copying, not on the content, so they miss out on important learning. Having access to notes means that students can concentrate on the content, not on the mechanics of copying!

  • Prompts for instructions: working memory is often an area of challenge for dyslexic individuals, so giving multisensory instructions, with written and/or picture prompts, means that students don’t have to remember everything. They can then focus on the task at hand and show their knowledge and ideas fully.

  • Reading rulers: as with coloured backgrounds, these can support students with visual stress, but they are also helpful for students with dyslexia. Reading rulers help learners keep their place, and having a different coloured background can make it easier to follow passages.

  • Time: extra time and forewarning are the key ‘resources’ that anyone can make available to support learners with dyslexia. Processing information, making sense of tasks and formulating answers all take extra time for dyslexic learners, which can make the classroom incredibly stressful. A dyslexic student’s entire learning paradigm can be shifted through extra thinking and processing time.

Social impacts – the importance of an inclusive classroom

Supporting students subtly, through small tweaks in lesson delivery, can have a substantial impact on their overall sense of belonging and self-esteem. With inclusive, dyslexia-friendly lessons, learners will be able to do what everyone else does – and do it independently. Their ‘need’ for TAs will decrease, and they will gain the skills necessary for accessing the curriculum and preparing them for life beyond school.

For more advice from Dr Helen Ross on how class teachers can provide the right support for young people with dyslexia in mainstream secondary schools, download her Dyslexia toolkit. It also contains a PowerPoint that can be used as part of teacher training, and dyslexia-friendly templates to support learners’ organisational skills.

Dr Helen Ross

Dr Helen Ross is a qualified special needs teacher and former SENCo working as an independent educational research consultant, specialist assessor and SEND expert. Helen is a trustee of the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) and chair of the Wiltshire Dyslexia Association. She has consulted for the BDA, the Committee for Science and Technology, and Wiltshire Local Authority, as well as internationally.

Helen’s research explores stakeholder experiences of SEND provision within the mainstream education sector, focusing on the empowerment of those supporting young people to take ownership of their own learning. Her research uses methods grounded in Bourdieu’s sociological project to explore barriers to participation in learning and engagement with institutions.

Helen tweets as @drhelenross and regularly speaks on dyslexia and special educational needs.