Cambridge English Qualifications are designed to be accessible to all learners, including those with dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that mainly affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent reading and spelling. Learning difficulties are not related to a person’s intelligence but are caused by differences in the ways the brain processes information. They vary greatly from person to person. Dyslexia mainly affects the development of literacy and language-related skills, and learners with dyslexia are likely to have problems with phonological processing, working memory and processing speed.
- Phonological processing: using sounds (phonemes) to process spoken and written language.
- Working memory: the amount of information that can be held in mind and used in doing tasks.
- Processing speed: the pace at which we take in information, make sense of it and begin to respond.
Developing inclusive and supportive learning environments
The challenges for learners with dyslexia vary from person to person, so the focus of teaching should be on making the learning environment as inclusive and supportive as possible. Inclusion is, ‘A sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best work’ (Miller & Katz 2002).
Here are 10 ways to develop an inclusive learning environment. They include planning inclusive lessons, and carrying out assessment and feedback, to help learners with dyslexia prepare for their Cambridge English Qualification with confidence.
1. Create a supportive and collaborative classroom culture
Create a supportive and collaborative classroom culture by getting to know all your learners as individuals and encouraging them to get to know each other. This will help learners feel comfortable thinking about ways to do tasks and asking for support.
2. Use multisensory input and activities
Use multisensory input and activities to give learners more than one way to make connections and learn concepts. For example, use flash cards, puppets, story videos and real objects in the classroom. When learners use more than one sense at a time, their brain is stimulated in a variety of ways. Multisensory activities may involve a combination of reading, listening, viewing, touching an object, moving physically around the space, or using gesture.
3. Offer learners choices
Offer learners choices in how they engage with tasks to make learning more meaningful and inclusive. For example, learners might ‘draw’ rather than write notes during a listening task or while preparing for a speaking task.
4. Have L-shaped cards available
Have L-shaped cards available for learners to frame sections of textbook pages and help focus their attention. Encourage learners to use a plain piece of paper to cover reading texts and reveal one line at a time as they read. These are useful techniques for all learners when you are teaching reading skills.
5. Present new language in small and manageable chunks
Present new language in small and manageable chunks so that you don’t overload learners. Focus on key language from the exam wordlists and the language specifications in the teacher handbook.
6. Spend some time explicitly teaching exam strategies
Spend some time explicitly teaching exam strategies, such as how to approach particular tasks in the exam, and break these down into a series of simple steps.
7. Use concept-checking questions
Use concept-checking questions (CCQs) to check your learners’ understanding of a new word or grammatical item. CCQs are better than just asking ‘Do you understand?’. Example CCQs for the adjective quick might be: ‘What things do you know that are quick?’, ‘What’s the opposite of quick?’ or ‘Are snails quick?’. You could also use pictures of objects or gestures to check your learners’ understanding.
8. Offer lots of opportunities for learners to recap and review language
Offer lots of opportunities for learners to recap and review language, especially from the exam wordlists. Use varied techniques to help learners memorise new words, including drawing, music or rhythm, movement, gesture and visualisation techniques.
9. Try different approaches to giving feedback
Talk to your learners about what type of feedback works best for them. Remember that hearing the teacher’s voice can feel more personal and supportive than receiving written feedback in red pen, so try making a short video or voice recording with your comments.
10. Remember that assessment should be ongoing
Remember that assessment should be ongoing and isn’t the end of the learning process. If you give something back to a learner to correct, make sure you check the next version and then give them feedback on this too. The challenges that learners with dyslexia experience often lead to low levels of confidence, so remember to include positive feedback to encourage learners and build self-esteem. This is of course true for all your learners!
For more information and activities download our free teacher guides. They will help you to support learners with dyslexia as they prepare for their exam:
Supporting learners with dyslexia: Pre A1 Starters, A1 Movers and A2 Flyers
Supporting learners with dyslexia: A2 Key for Schools, B1 Preliminary for Schools and B2 First for Schools
You can also hear from our experts, who demonstrate the two guides and share activities for you to use with your learners.
Watch the webinar
Reference: Miller, F A and Katz, J H (2002) The inclusion breakthrough: Unleashing the real power of diversity. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.