Dyslexia in the classroom

People with dyslexia have trouble reading and spelling words and symbols. Photo: Daniel Patterson.

According to the Australia Dyslexia Association, dyslexia is estimated to affect up to ten per cent of the Australian population. This means that teachers are likely to have one to three children with dyslexia in each of their classes. It’s a condition which is extremely prevalent across the country; however, the question has been raised: are schools doing enough to support dyslexic students in the classroom?

There was a taskforce into students with learning difficulties commissioned by the ACT Government which was launched in 2013. It recommended greater teacher awareness, a more consistent approach across schools and better relationships between schools and families.

In an interview with ABC News, ACT Minister for Education Yvette Berry said the ACT Government was committed to improving support for students and subsequently had adopted the recommendations of the 2013 taskforce.

Australian Dyslexia Association President Jodi Clements says the research that has been gathered surrounding dyslexia should inform universities on how to train teachers better, and believes there’s still a fair way to go.

“[Yes, absolutely] universities need to improve teacher training. We now have 40 years of scientific research on how to best teach all children to read and spell.

“We also have well founded research that all students can benefit from the same instruction in reading and spelling that students with dyslexia need,” she says.

Dyslexia is recognised in Australia under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 as well as the Human Rights Commission.

Clements says the scientific approach needs to be applied to reading when taught in schools.

“Dyslexia is concerned primarily with literacy so it should be included in the core literacy subject at all universities.

“The research base needs to reflect the science of reading and content should be aimed at taking the scientific research to an educational, practical teaching setting.”

Curtin University School of Education senior lecturer Von Sawers says the literacy units take people with dyslexia into account.

“We do [at Curtin] deal substantially in the literacy units with diverse students and practices which would take into account children who have dyslexia.”

Clements believes it’s essential for dyslexic children to be assisted as early as possible within the school system.

“Children identified and assisted early have less chances of developing negative coping strategies and low self-efficacy. The best results come from a whole school approach adapting best practices.”

She also believes it’s essential that dyslexia is a core element of Education-based university courses.

“Dyslexia and related differences should be covered in the core literacy unit in all Bachelor of Education courses.

“When a teacher understands the challenges dyslexia presents in a school setting they can better assist students in understanding their challenges and ways to navigate the schooling system.”

There is more complexity to dyslexia than many believe. Infographic: Daniel Patterson.

Sawers believes it’s essential to bring expert analysis and learning into the classroom.

“You would use the support of experts in a field such as people who diagnose and support children with differences and bring that learning into the classroom.”

Clements says dyslexic students need to be assisted so that external factors don’t inhibit their learning further.

“Students with dyslexia are at a much higher risk of developing negative secondary effects when the primary reason (dyslexia) has not been identified nor assisted successfully.

“It therefore becomes vital that all teachers are trained about dyslexia, what is it and importantly what it is not. This would undoubtedly reduce any negative stigmas that may potentially surround students with dyslexia.”

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