A day in the life of a child with Dyslexia in an Irish classroom
Children with Dyslexia have weak short term memories and they process information at a slower rate than their classmates. Very often, despite having average or above average IQs, their reading and spelling ages are lower than their peers. To ensure information passes into the long term memory, everything must be overlearned and material should be structured and cumulative.
What does this mean for a Dyslexic child in a classroom?
Let us take an example of a ten-year-old boy with Dyslexia who is in fourth class. We will call him Sean. He has recently been assessed and was found to have Dyslexia. He has a reading age of 8.5 and a spelling age of 8. The textbooks he is using in school, naturally have reading levels suitable for children aged ten years.
Sean knows he has Dyslexia because he was told this following the assessment. But nobody has told him what Dyslexia is but he knows it is can’t be good. When they got home from the assessment his mammy cried and he heard his Daddy saying not to worry, Sean would always be able to work on the farm when he grows up. Sean didn’t want to be a farmer. He wanted to be an engineer and build bridges in other countries. But Dyslexics probably couldn’t do that. It would be useful if someone explained Dyslexia to Sean and showed him a list of famous Dyslexics and all the things they have invented and designed.
Today is Monday and the teacher is talking about the Easter Rising. Sean enjoys history but he forgets the dates and names and when he goes home after school, he often can’t even remember what history they learned in class. Then the teacher works on Irish. After the assessment Sean was told he would no longer be doing Irish. So Sean sits quietly while the rest of the class read the Irish story. Break will be soon but Sean would prefer to stay inside. Sometimes the other boys laugh at him and tell him he is stupid because he can’t learn Irish. Sometimes Sean hates Dyslexia.
After the break it is English. The teacher starts a new story and it is an exciting tale about The Salmon of Knowledge. But they have only read the first page when the Special Teacher calls Sean out for extra English. His class teacher tells him to finish reading the story at home and do all the questions for homework. This happens a lot in English and in maths. Sean then has to try to figure out the new story or the new sums at home. He tells his mammy he doesn’t understand it because he was called out for extra English.
He likes the teacher who teaches him extra English. The English reader and workbook and other sheets are easier and he does well. But it is much easier than the work in class and he is falling further and further behind in the class because he has extra English every day. When extra English is over, the teacher gives him a story about cowboys and indians to read for homework and he has to answer the questions on the story. Now he has two stories to read and answer the questions on for homework.
As the day goes on, Sean gets tired. He tries to listen to the teacher and learn new things but his head is full and he is worried because he has twice the homework everyone else has and it takes him much longer than his classmates to do the homework. He also has to do his sums and he didn’t understand how to do them. The teacher wrote one out on the board but Sean can’t copy from the board accurately and it is all mixed up in his copy. He also didn’t write down all the homework because the teacher cleaned the board before he wrote all the work down.
After school, Sean goes home and sits down to do his homework. His mother sits beside him and Sean takes out the Salmon of Knowledge. There are five pages in the story and he has to read them all before he can start the questions. But there are loads of words he doesn’t know and he keeps stopping and his mam tells them to sound them out. HE is not able to sound them all out. Then his mam gets impatient and tells him the word. Then further down the page he gets the same word wrong and his mam reminds him that she told him that word. His mind goes blank. He can’t remember the story because he is trying to remember the words she tells him. It is over an hour by the time the story is read and the questions done.
He still has loads to do but mam has to get the dinner ready. He tries to do the maths next but he still doesn’t understand them. His dad comes in from the farm. He quickly explains the maths to Sean but he spoke so fast, Sean still can’t figure out how to do the sums and his dad just writes them out and tells him to copy them in his book. After dinner, Sean does his extra English. When he has finished, it is bedtime and he hasn’t done his history and he knows he has more homework but he doesn’t know what it is. Mam writes a note for him to give to his teacher. She seems cross and he wonders what she wrote about him in the letter. He goes to bed and he is very tired. He didn’t even watch his favourite programme.
This is how school days can feel for many children with Dyslexia. Some children have not been diagnosed and they are unhappy and feel stupid that their classmates are easily learning what they can’t learn. Even those who are diagnosed may not receive appropriate help and support. As we said at the start, Dyslexics process information slowly and then they need time to overlearn the material. But in many cases the child with Dyslexia is given very little time to process information and in some cases, they miss new concepts because they are out of the room doing extra English.
Schools and teachers can make classrooms Dyslexia friendly but it needs a whole school approach. Teachers need to be trained in all aspects of Dyslexia. Useful tips and techniques can be adapted that enhance the Dyslexic child’s experience at school. A multi-sensory approach would benefit all children in a class, whether they are Dyslexic or not. If a child is exempt from Irish, extra English could be scheduled for that time. The class reader could be read again in Extra English to help the child overlearn the story.
There are other ideas and tips for both teachers and parents on this website. Practical training courses for both groups will be held in the spring. There are children like Sean in every school in Ireland. Our job as teachers is to help children learn and progress. Can schools honestly say that children with Dyslexia are receiving the specialised tuition and support they need to succeed?