7 Ways to Accommodate People With Dyslexia in the Classroom
Find out easy ways to help.
Posted November 15, 2016
One of the questions parents often ask is, “What can be done at school to better accommodate my child who has dyslexia?” Whether you are a parent, principal, or teacher, here are seven easily implemented classroom accommodations for students who have dyslexia or students who may be at risk.
- People with dyslexia are known to have difficulty with expressive language. For example, they may have trouble retrieving the right words to express themselves (even though the word is on the tip of their tongue) or difficulty organizing their thoughts in conversation. It can be very frustrating for a dyslexic, especially when under stress, to be asked to explain something. He or she sometimes knows the answer, but the words just won’t come out right. A teacher who understands the child’s situation will be patient and understanding and perhaps look for other ways of expression or alternatives for demonstrating competence.
- Individuals with dyslexia can also have difficulty organizing, managing their time, and following a teacher’s directions. Additionally, some studies have shown that those with dyslexia can have difficulty filtering out background noise (Lapkin, 2016). Cutting back on classroom noise, reducing distractions, or seat placement closer to the teacher to help the student focus on instruction can be helpful (Sperling, Lu, Manis, & Seidenberg, 2005). Also, recognize that boys with dyslexia sometimes act out due to frustration.
- Dyslexic people often have difficulty with handwriting. Be an advocate for teaching handwriting in school. With beginners, handwriting experience facilitates letter learning (James, 2010), and letter learning not only sets up the neural systems that underlie reading, writing, and spelling, it predicts later reading success (James & Engelhardt, 2012; Piasta & Wagner, 2010). That being said, teaching handwriting is a reasonable dyslexic-specific intervention that should be happening in all schools. People with dyslexia tend to spell better in cursive. Even in upper elementary and middle school, research has shown that learning to write in cursive improved spelling and composing skills (Berninger, 2015).
- Use a research-based spelling curriculum as a dyslexic-specific intervention. Teachers who use a research-based, grade-by-grade spelling curriculum for explicit spelling instruction 15 minutes a day will be equipped to monitor students’ progress. In kindergarten and Grade 1 monitoring children’s invented spelling (i.e., children’s self-directed attempts to spell words) in five developmental phases is an evidence-based dyslexic-specific intervention that helps teachers identify children whose spelling, word reading, and awareness of sounds may not be developing normally (Feldgus, Cardonick, & Gentry, in press; Gentry, 2006; Ouellette & Sénéchal, 2008). Because poor spelling is often a telltale sign of dyslexia, monitoring each student’s spelling development is often the first strong indicator for early intervention or referral to a specialist for diagnosis (Gentry, 2004; 2006).
- Expect to give people with dyslexia more help with proofreading. Schoolwork gets more demanding in Grades 3 and 4 when students are expected to be responsible for correcting many of the misspelled words in their own writing. Be cognizant that a typical sign of dyslexia is life-long poor spelling. Dyslexic individuals likely can’t “see” words in their mind when they spell, and in severe cases, their spelling is erratic and idiosyncratic. Under these circumstances expect to give dyslexic writers more help with proofreading for spelling and avoid criticizing or counting off for spelling errors. Instead, offer extra support and teach them spelling consciousness—the habit of getting help to make sure that their spelling is corrected in important pieces of writing.
- English spelling with its very difficult system of drawing spelling patterns from many different languages is always a challenge for dyslexic people, but foreign languages are often a challenge, too. Many people who have dyslexia can’t “see” and retrieve visual forms of spellings stored in the word form area of the brain. This makes learning the spelling system of a foreign language and remembering and retrieving foreign words a special challenge. Many colleges and some high schools waive some of the foreign language requirements for dyslexic students. Those who wish to master foreign languages report total immersion, going to live in a foreign country, tutoring, and extended time for study as possible accommodations.
- Dyslexic readers are known to have a slower reading rate. Many likely subvocalize or “say each word in their mind,” rather than use a more direct route from seeing print to meaning. Slow reading rate leads to a number of academic disadvantages for students with dyslexia. Teachers should be cognizant of at-risk dyslexic students’ slow reading rates when making in-class or heavy homework reading assignments. One helpful strategy is to enable students with slow reading rates to use books on tape or recordings. Most importantly, due to time constraints, students with dyslexia may not represent their knowledge well on timed tests—especially standardized tests. They should get test-taking accommodations, such as extra time to take tests.
These seven guidelines for classroom accommodations for students at risk for dyslexia all have one thing in common. They treat any student who may be struggling to acquire literacy skills with compassion rather than mistaking dyslexia as a sign of inferior intelligence or laziness. These guidelines advocate for all students who struggle with dyslexia and treat them with empathy, respect, and understanding. The classroom accommodations take into account that students with dyslexia also have strengths—some experts even suggest those with dyslexia are gifted and have special talents—such as thinking outside of the box and being creative, artistic, and athletic. Let these accommodations help put to rest attitudes and experiences in school that may lead students who struggle to acquire literacy skills to frustration and low self-esteem. Let them help every child reach their born potential.
Berninger, V.W. (2015). Position paper submitted June 20, 2015 to Ohio State Legislature entitled Research report in support of OH 146.
Feldgus, E., Cardonick, I., & Gentry, J.R. (in press). Kid writing in the 21st century. Los Angeles: Hameray Education Group.
Gentry, J.R. (2004). The science of spelling: The explicit specifics that make great readers and writers (and spellers!). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gentry, J.R. (2006). Breaking the code. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
James, K.H. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science, 13, 279–288. doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2009.00883.x
James, K.H., & Englehardt, L. (2012). The effects of handwriting on functional brain development in pre-literate children. Trends in Neuroscience and Education, 1(1), 32–42.
Lapkin, E. (2014–2016). Understanding dyslexia. Retrieved from www.understood.org/en/about.
Ouellette, G., & Sénéchal, M. (2008). Pathways to literacy: A study of invented spelling and its role in learning to reading. Child Development, 79(4), 899-913. doi: 10.1111/j.14678624.2008.01166.x
Piasta, S.B., & Wagner, R.K. (2010). Developing early literacy skills: A meta-analysis of alphabet learning and instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(1), 8–38. doi:10.1598/RRQ.45.1.2
Sperling, A., Lu Z., Manis, F., & Seidenberg, M. (2005). Deficits in perceptual noise exclusion in developmental dyslexia. Nature Neuroscience 8, 862 – 863.
Published online: 29 May 2005 | doi:10.1038/nn1474
To learn more about diagnosing dyslexia, see "Are You Dyslexic? Is Your Child?" at