How to spot dyslexia in the secondary EFL classroom

Thankfully nowadays the vast majority of primary teachers know what to look out for and children are usually assessed before arriving at secondary school. Without going into all the elements that make up a dyslexia assessment here are a few to think about;

  • phonological processing and decoding is difficult, so many dyslexics find it hard to identitify phonemes or letters in words, eg. Can you hear the letter “a” in bland? Or “how many sounds can you hear in “bland”? – this can be seen at a young age by difficulties in learning nursery rhymes, dyslexic children can’t always decipher the individual words, especially when rhythm makes them all run into each other.
  • Personally I have spotted students who have not yet been assessed for dyslexia but that I think may be affected. I give my students weekly vocab tests (before you all gasp in horror, it is our school’s policy to give a list of words to be learnt for a test every week, the validation of this is something we can go into later), and occasionally I’ll come across someone like Jane, who has obviously learnt her words, and probably worked really hard, not like some of my students who write or say “it’s a legume”, and hope to get away with it. However every word has at least one spelling mistake, “ushanb” is “husband”, “egli” is “ugly”.
  • Other signs include omission of words, difficulty following instructions – as short-term memory is effected, students who don’t get to work with the rest of the class, or automatically start “chatting” whenever you set a task are probably asking their neighbour what to do, frightened of being caught out.
  • Sadly other signs of a student with learning difficulties include frustration, anger, tiredness and especially, lack of self-esteem. They may also have difficulty in social situations and find it harder than others to make friends or deal with new situations.
  • An essential point to remember is that dyslexic students are often very hardworking, they have to be to keep up with the demands on their short-term memory and processing skills, often a student who seems really serious, but never seems to get the results you would expect, some people say students have to use five times as much energy and effort to produce the same work as a non-dyslexic student.
  • Keep an eye on the student who seems to have totally given up, arrives late, always gets sent out because he’s “forgotten” his books. There are plenty of ways to get around having to read out loud in class.

What should you do if you spot a student you think has a specific educational need?

Ask! – his class teacher, his previous teachers, his parents – tactfully, and him.

Talk to the student and his parents and ask how language learning was previously. Ask what the students finds challenging and what you can put into place together to help him succeed.

(Yes, I know I’ve used “he” to refer to my student throughout this article, it was to get you reacting!)

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About fabenglishteacher

I've been teaching English for a few years now and this blog is part of my never-ending quest to make learning English more fun, and easier for my students.
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