During the PATINS Access to Education Conference 2018 in November, I entered a session where the topic of accommodations was being discussed for students with learning differences such as dyslexia. The presenters were speaking on the importance of providing text to speech software, audiobooks, and other tools that “level the playing field” for certain students.
Someone commented that in her classroom, she was reluctant to allow the use of tools that others do not have, because “it’s not fair.” The presenter quickly pointed out that what is unfair is to deny accommodations for a student who needs them, because they are not available to the whole class. Rick Lavoie has said, fairness means that everyone gets what they need, not that everyone gets the same thing. Or, as the presenter said, “Would you take away a student’s eyeglasses because others have perfect vision?”
Making accommodations so that all students have access to content and opportunities for growth is, in effect, changing individual learning environments. So, if you create each student’s work environment according to how each student learns, you are providing appropriate accommodations. Also, you are building universally designed instruction. This is a natural flow. To keep yourself from getting swamped, think of some accommodations you can beneficially provide to everyone.
For example, when you give an assignment, make it very explicit. Tell how many pages are required. Demonstrate how to extract the pros and cons of a viewpoint. If using specific vocabulary words is required, hand out a separate list of the words to everyone, so all students can check them off as they go. Show examples and visual aids of what you expect. Allow students to ask questions and clarify until everyone understands gets it. If a student returns to you to revisit the instructions, this is no time to say “I told you once.” Everyone should understand the assignment before they begin and as they move forward.
Which leads to the matter of drafts, or revisions of writing assignments. Thinking back to my school days, turning in a couple of drafts for teacher suggestions and re-writes was offered for “term papers” in high school. This would also be helpful on everyday assignments because it will help improve grades for strugglers, and it will help students get in a habit of checking over their own work. This is a learned skill, best taught early.
Allow extra time for in-class assignments. For everyone. Once you know your students, and know which ones do not need extra time, it might be appropriate to pair that student with one who needs more support. Even if your school does not implement a Peer-Buddy System, teachers can improvise one informally during specific classes. Until the teacher and students get the hang of this, the teacher will need to closely monitor the process. Expect such pairings to be advantageous for both students, for it can increase awareness of difference and sameness, tolerance and helpfulness, confidence and trust. Win/Win!
Everything suggested here will take time. Sometimes, if a task is not a standard, or not required, the time factor may seem unjustifiable. However, we are changing learning environments to accommodate students with dyslexia and we are long overdue.
Any of the PATINS Specialists can help you build a learning environment using Universal Design. Also, we post relevant information on the PATINS/ICAM Dyslexia Resources Page, and the IDOE continues to share guidance on their own Dyslexia Resources Page. Joe Risch, who is the new Reading Specialist with Training in Dyslexia for the state, gives some great answers to need-to-know questions. You are covered in a blanket of support. Happy New Year!