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Teaching Dyslexics

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Note to teachers:

First, I would like to thank you for making the sacrifice and having the patience it takes to be a teacher, and especially for caring enough to come here to better understand learning differences.


If a student does what they’ve been taught and looks up the word “disability”, they may understand the word to be literal, as I did. A fourteen-year-old student once asked me, “why do they call it a disability?” I understood her question. Why do they say I have learning “disability” when I don’t feel disabled? [Worse case scenario – click] Even if my dyslexia was more severe, my thought pattern is not the same, which makes my mind different. Different is not bad, it’s different. I would rather be refereed to as a FreeThinkers. What people believe themselves to be, they are. If you tell your students that there has been a new discovery about dyslexia, that the mysterious “they” people discovered that it is a form of “free thinking”, you will have a much more motivated student on your hands. Change your language & change your mind.

Motivational & Positive Thinking Materials

I can confidently say that if you can change your perspective of how you look at others and yourself, you can change your life. Positive thinking is the key to opening the door and succeeding. That is the basis of this site and mission of this website.

By joining FreeThinkers Universitystudents sign there name to a declaration of self esteem. It helps change there language instilled in them from being “dyslexic” and “Learning disabled” to signing a declaration, committed to understanding being different is a good thing. Once they have signed the declaration a witness can sign their Degree that they can hang on there wall to remind them of their oath.

I am not an expert on dyslexia, but I do know what helps me, a “text book dyslexic”. In my personal story, I detail the many steps I took through school; you can examine the truth for yourself. I also realize through all of this that the educational system limits teachers for many reasons. I hope that I can shed new light to help & support your effort as teachers.

The HAAN Foundation For Children reported in 2001 that 98% of dyslexic students will not complete a 4-year college program. I am one of them. However, I did struggle to finally receive my 2-year degree in 9 years. (That’s only 1.5555555556 dog years, so I actually finished early.) HAAN also reported that 1 in 5 children have a “learning difference”. In a class of 30 students, 6 of them will learn differently. If you teach 5 classes a day, you’ll come in contact with 30 students a day with learning differences. For one teacher in Switzerland, one of those students was Einstein; for another, it was John F. Kennedy.

Like in the movie “Ants”, many people believe you should sacrifice the weakest link “for the good of the colony”; in all cases, this leaves people like me out of the picture. When you look out into your classroom, look at the student who is your weakest link, the least successful student academically. That was me, but I believe that, out of the approximate 6,000 students I sat next to for at least 3 months at a time, I was one of the strongest. I have more determination, compassion, vision and gumption than anyone I have come across.

In the end, remember that one student may turn out to be Einstein. As much as they might be a challenge, all students are worth it. Your compassion may be the seed of great things.

Helpful Points:

Imagine your free thinking students are old-fashioned television sets with antenna ears. Your challenge is to tune those antennas to your channel. The problem is that FreeThinkers have a lot on their minds. I’m sure you’ve witnessed them looking your way, when their minds are clearly somewhere else. Often, their minds are on a journey on which you have sent them without even knowing it. The section of this site for students offers suggestions on “grounding” to help those antennas stay focused.


Any student can be inspired by tasks that you know will build their self-esteem. Many teachers have asked students to do reports on celebrities or other well-known people with learning differences, like the FreeThinkers on my list. Knowing that others struggled & succeeded, helps ease students’ feeling that there is something wrong with them.

Academic subjects:

FreeThinkers need to visualize what they learn. Math is somewhat easy to illustrate, except when it comes to algebra. When I learned Algebra, I had a hard time accepting that a negative number multiplied by a negative number equals a positive number. I imagined a hole representing a negative number. Multiplying a hole would make it deeper, or more negative. But multiplying a negative number by another negative number does not make it more negative; it makes it a positive number. No one figured out how to illustrate that for me. I never passed algebra but I passed statistics, because I could visualize the numbers & what they represented.

History is a tough subject to teach FreeThinkers, who can be easily distracted by a story or idea of particular interest to them. I was frustrated by trying to remember dates and names. But during my last year in college, I had a teacher who kept my antenna tuned for the entire semester. He made the information relevant by relating the past to the present, like comparing Cleopatra going down the Nile to Elizabeth Taylor going down Hollywood Blvd. He added human elements when teaching about historical figures. For example, he taught us what was in General Grant’s pocket when he died. (A lemon; he liked to suck on lemons.) He kept my attention by passing around a bullet from the civil war or holding up a dollar bill and announcing that he would give it to whoever knew the answer to his question. Most importantly, he taught that history is only changed by one or more of five elements (communication, transportation, the need for power, religion, and sex). This offered a standard by which I could analyze events, and made every lesson in history interesting. I bought an 18-foot-long poster with a historical timeline from the beginning of time to the present. Using the skills that teacher taught me, and the poster for visualization, I could see history in perspective for the first time. Here is one similar on line.I think this would help any student. They also have a likable time line.

Reading is hard for those who learn differently. Some students are color sensitive. I get frustrated and tired when I cannot pronounce a word. My frustration becomes a bullet hole in the meaning of what is to be read, and it progresses to the point of being overwhelming. I also found that I am self-conscious and can just scream on the inside when I think people are watching me read. This may also be true for some of your students. Charles Schwab puts out a free book “25 Fun Ways to Encourage Reading”.

Spelling is important when spelling is the task, but a student’s self-esteem and motivation are affected when spelling is an issue on everything. Nearly every assignment given to students requires writing. Focusing on spelling errors in a FreeThinkers’s work devalues the effort itself. As adults, we have many tools to ensure that our work is presented with few errors, and we generally laugh at our mistakes. As children, this type of constant recognition of a flaw breaks down any confidence there may have been in the work and teaches that spelling is more important than ideas.

Science is an awesome and fun thing to learn for all students. It is visual and three-dimensional. FreeThinkers may struggle with the long & complicated words. It can help to emphasize the meaning of the word by breaking them down (for example, “bi” meaning “two” and “ology” meaning “the study of”).

Physical Education is often a much-needed respite for FreeThinkers in an academic situation. When I was a child, PE allowed me to let out my frustrations. It also provided me an opportunity to be good at something and feel that there was something people liked about me. It can be a valuable investment to foster this type of feeling in FreeThinkers and all students. Once a person feels they can accomplish something or do something well, they will strive for that in other areas.

In every lesson, ensure that one thing is learned well.

Even if it’s is simple, students are motivated to keep learning when they feel they can learn successfully. When I taught how to make a commercial for summer school, I wanted the students to gain the ability to hold a camera still and focus it, but I also wanted them to learn to identify the appeal of an advertisement. Parents reported that their children pointed out the emotional or functional advertising technique for every commercial they saw at home. All of the students left the class with that knowledge, and by that, many were inspired to continue learning. They learned that they can learn something well, and that gave them confidence.


A friend once told me that she got a “B” on a test, but since the teacher graded on a curve, she got bumped up to an “A”! If I was in her class, I would most likely have been the one to bump up everyone’s grade. In a casino, I would be like an ace up the sleeve for everyone else! To me, it makes more sense to apply the rules of bowling or golf & give those with lower skill levels an advantage over the others. Then to use the disadvantaged students to make the already advantaged students look better, makes no sense to me.

Change your language:

It would be rude for me to say that a teacher had a “teaching disability” or that the Board of Education has an “educating disability”, but children are often referred to as having “learning disabilities”. No one likes to be referred to as being disabled. I am dyslexic, but I am certainly not learning disabled. I do not have an inability to learn. I am very capable of learning and I have learned many things; I just learn differently. Labels are more disabling than “disabilities” themselves. Explaining to a child they are a FreeThinkers who learns differently is much better than telling them they have a learning disability.  

Below is an email from a news group. Here a teacher makes some suggestions. You can also learn more about the group here.

From: <mailto:l.lavallee@NF.SYMPATICO.CA>Larry LaValleeTo: DYSLEXIA@JISCMAIL.AC.UKSent: Sunday, March 04, 2001 2:16 PMSubject: Re: Dyslexia does exist . . .>Chris Gill wrote:>I am preparing a list of tips for High School NQTs re pupils with Dyslexia,
particularly regarding homework. I would be grateful of any ideas ASAP for
a talk next Thursday. These can be shared later if requested.>Glenys Gill______________________
Some suggestion for you. You may already be familiar with them.
1.    Have the teacher reduce the amount of reading and homework as it can take the dyslexic child 3 to 4 times longer to complete it. Additionally, many such children take school work home, in addition to assigned home work because of difficulty getting it completed at school. Excessive homework can be very tough on a child, parents and the family unit. As a parent (the parent is a teacher) told me a few days ago, ‘something has got to give my child is tired and discouraged, I cannot keep this up, and it is taking a terrible toll on the marriage.
2.    Take frequent breaks when doing literacy activities as the dyslexic child uses 4 to 5 times more cognitive energy and after may 15 to 20 minutes can be overtired, oppositional because of the tiredness and seem unmotivated, “lazy,” and not working hard enough.
3.   Accept parents help with homework as valid work of the child and do not have negative comments regarding how much the parents are helping their child with homework. The child’s linguistic and literacy difficulties requires it if we are not going to penalize the child for something that is not their fault. 
4.    DO NOT mark for spelling and grammar (that is, how a child is writing)  as he/she will certainly stop writing when we do not reward him/her for the meaning they have created (what they are saying). An example is, if someone criticize the how we talk, not listening for what the meaning we are creating, we will, sooner or later, stop talking to that person. We will also likely no like that person. When a child is apprehensive about what he/she is thinking because of the requirements for spelling and exactness of the written language he as likely stifled the what/meaning development of his/her language. Over the long haul, this can dramatically affect the child language development, the ability to improve spelling and the ability to express him/her self more exactly in written language. 
5.    Ensure that there is a ‘extra” good channel for communication between the teacher and the parents, and the child. When there is dyslexic child in a class, it it most helpful when the teacher establishes a more frequent than usual and a “better” than usual meaningful interaction with the parents.       
Hope these thoughts are helpful,
Welcome To the ADHD Owner’s Manual© Copyright Neil Alex 1996 All Rights ReservedHaving ADHD is like being put into a dark room with things scattered around to trip you. You don’t get a flashlight…..but everyone else does. You trip around the room, bumping into things, until you finally learn the layout of the room. Then someone moves you to a new room, and the process starts again.It’s like having a whirlwind in your mind. Everything seems to be blowing around and nothing stays put. Some people have compared the feeling to watching someone change the channels on the TV every few seconds. You can get a general idea of what is going on, but you miss most of the content.People with ADHD tend to be socially blind. They may miss rules and structures which other people see much more readily. 
Tips for the Teacher Consistency is the key to helping ADHD children. They are really poor at dealing with change, even if it is positive change. They need to have a sense of external structure, as they tend to lack a sense of internal structure.2. ADHD kids have two kinds of time…plenty and none. They are usually poor at organizing their time and need you to help them break tasks down into small components.3. Placing ADHD kids at the front of the room (nearest the blackboard or where the teacher gives instruction ) is often helpful. If the child is right handed, placing them at the right front of the class minimizes the number of children they watch wiggle when they write.4. Try to avoid placing ADHD children in loft classrooms or in situations with multiple children at a single desk. This maximizes their distractibility.5. Use colors and shapes to help them organize.6. Try to provide a quiet study area, free from distraction, when seat work is required.7. Try to work within the child’s attention span. Keep changing the type of work frequently and the child can continue to work productively. Medication is NOT the only solution.8.Remember, these children have a tendency to get people around them fighting. Try to avoid getting into “blaming mode”, either as a parent or a teacher.– children with ADHD are often phonetic ( i.e. “poor”) spellers. They have difficulty using an ordinary dictionary, because they can not look up the word the way it sounds. Small paperback dictionaries , such as the ” Poor Speller’s Dictionary” exist, and are often very useful. They contain words spelled phonetically along with their correct spellings. Just remember to lose the cover before the child takes it to school. Who wants to carry a book that says ” I can’t spell” on the cover?Computers– Word processors and spelling checkers can help, but they only decrease the work on rewrites. Simple solutions include the use of macros in word processor (common phrases are typed with a single key stroke) and having someone type from a taped dictation.A high tech solution is to use one of the newer voice typing programs. VoiceDirect by IMSI is very inexpensive and quite good in voice recognition.
Another site: Helpful Hints and Tips for Dyslexia, LD and Learning Disabilities 
Grammar:And one section on grammar. Since I’m not and expert on these subjects, you’ll have to make sense of it yourself. Angry Child