University of Edinburgh

Deaf Plus: Teaching Deaf Children who are Dyslexic

Thursday 3 May 2007

Handout: Dyslexia in the Classroom Six Signposts for Success

Dr Gavin Reid
Senior Lecturer, Department of Educational Studies
University of Edinburgh

Signpost: Understanding Dyslexia

There are a number of key points about dyslexia that need to be understood. These are shown below:

Dyslexia - some key points:

1. Dyslexia can be seen within a continuum from mild to severe.

2. The degree, and the impact of dyslexia on the child can vary according to the nature of the task and the nature of the learning context.

3. The difficulties relating to dyslexia are usually associated with literacy, but this may not always be the case.

4. The literacy difficulties associated with dyslexia can take the form of difficulty with reading accuracy (decoding), spelling, reading comprehension, reading fluency, reading aloud, expressive writing and copying accurately.

5. Children with dyslexia may also display other difficulties such as co-ordination, memory, directional confusion, sequencing, identification of key points and handwriting.

6. Early identification is important for effective intervention.

7. It is widely accepted that dyslexia occurs because the child has difficulty with phonological processing, that is a difficulty in recognising and remembering sounds and being able to use those sounds in words.

8. There is however some evidence that visual and motor difficulties can also be associated with dyslexia. These difficulties may affect visual clarity in reading and co-ordination and balance.

9. The effects of dyslexia can be minimised with effective teaching /intervention and adaptations to tasks, through differentiation in the curriculum.

10. The child with dyslexic may have many strengths and these strengths may be used to compensate for his/her difficulties.

There are a number of characteristics that the class teacher can observe at various stages within the classroom. The important point is that these characteristics can be noted though informed observation. These are detailed below:

Pre-school and Early years:

Concern may be raised if the child shows some or all of the following:

  • Forgetfulness,
  • speech difficulty,
  • reversal  of letters,
  • difficulty remembering letters of the alphabet,
  • difficulty remembering the sequence of letters of the alphabet,
  • if there is a history of dyslexia in the family,
  • co-ordination difficulties, eg; bumping into tables and chairs,
  • tasks which require fine motor skills such as tying shoelaces,
  • slow at reacting to some tasks,
  • reluctance to concentrate on a task for a reasonable period of time,
  • confusing words which sound similar,
  • reluctance to go to school,
  • signs of not enjoying school,
  • reluctance to read,
  • difficulty learning words  and letters,
  • difficulty with phonics (sounds),
  • poor memory,
  • co-ordination difficulties,
  • losing items,
  • difficulty forming letters,
  • difficulty copying,
  • difficulty colouring,
  • poor organisation of materials.

Primary School
After around 2 years at school

  • hesitant at reading therefore has poor reading fluency,
  • poor word attack skills – difficulty decoding new words and breaking these words down into syllables,
  • poor knowledge of the sounds of words,
  • difficulty recognising where in words particular sounds  come,
  • spelling difficulty,
  • substitution of words when reading for example 'bus' for 'car'.

Later stages in primary school

  • as above, but also,
  • behaviour difficulties,
  • frustration,
  • may show abilities in other areas of the curriculum apart from reading,
  • attention and concentration difficulties.


  • as above and also,
  • takes a long time over homework,
  • misreads words,
  • relies on others to tell him/her information,
  • poor general knowledge,
  • takes longer than others in most in the class on written tasks,
  • may not write a lot in comparison to his/her knowledge on the subject,
  • difficulty copying form books,
  • may spend a great deal of time studying with little obvious benefit,
  • may not finish class work or examinations because runs out of time,
  • there may be as degree of unhappiness because of difficulties in school that may manifest itself in other areas.

Metacognitive Awareness

It is also been suggested that children with dyslexia may have difficulty with the metacognitive aspects of learning (Tunmer and Chapman 1996). This implies that they need to be shown how to learn, for example through identifying connections and relationships between different learning tasks. This essentially means the emphasis should not necessarily be on the content nor the product of learning but the process, that is, how learning takes place. Related to this is the view that the learning process should also be consistent and conducive to the dyslexic child’s learning preferences, therefore dyslexia and learning styles need to be considered alongside the need to develop metacognitive awareness. The cognitive and metacognitive aspects involved in the learning process are important and help to understand the strategies needed to address the difficulty experienced by dyslexic children (Reid 2005 c).

Facilitating Metacognitive Awareness

When tackling a new task does the child demonstrate self-assessment by asking questions such as:

  • Have I done this before?
  • How did I tackle it?
  • What did I find easy?
  • What was difficult?
  • Why did I find it easy or difficult?
  • What did I learn?
  • What do I have to do to accomplish this task?
  • How should I tackle it?
  • Should I tackle it the same way as before?

Metacognitive Strategies

The use of metacognitive strategies can help to develop reading comprehension and expressive writing skills. Some specific metacognitive strategies include:

  • Visual imagery – discussing and sketching images from text
  • Summary sentences – identify the main ideas in text
  • Webbing- the use of concept maps of the ideas from a text
  • Self-interrogation - ask questions about what learners already know about a topic and what they may be expected to learn from the new passage.

The overlap

Labels and Overlap –issues and concerns

There are a number of issues relating to the use of labels to describe particular specific learning difficulties. These issues include;

  • the confusion relating to the overlap between the characteristics of individual specific difficulties;

  • the criteria used for the identification of specific conditions and

  • the most appropriate type of intervention and provision.

It might be suggested that it is more useful to focus on the actual characteristics, rather than the conditions, and particularly how these characteristics relate to the barriers to learning for that child. The overlap between many of the characteristics usually associated with different SpLD’s can be confusing for both teachers and parents. A label or ‘working definition’ may however bring a degree of understanding of the nature of the difficulty and this can be beneficial to all, including the child.

Some terms or labels, however, used to describe specific learning difficulties are not well defined and can be vague, controversial and misleading. Even labels that are commonly used such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, DCD (developmental co- ordination disorders) and Tourette syndrome as well as language and social disorders such as Autism and Aspergers syndrome can all be misleading and are not always easy to define and diagnose. Many of these are the subject of ongoing controversy and ambiguities and different theoretical positions are evident (see BPS 1999 regarding dyslexia and Lloyd and Norris 1999, Lloyd and Steed 2005 regarding ADHD).

Although labels are commonly used for the above conditions the diagnosis can still be far from precise. Often a diagnosis emerges from clinical judgement that is based on evidence from checklists or screening tests. The diagnosis can be further compounded by the overlapping characteristics and it may be difficult to identify the principal difficulty(ies) experienced by the child (Reid 2005 b).

Characteristics, as opposed to labels, can take on a more descriptive role. Characteristics for a number of specific learning difficulties can include to a greater or lesser extent aspects relating to

  • working memory deficits,

  • auditory processing,

  • fine motor difficulties,

  • phonological difficulties,

  • non-verbal difficulties and

  • literacy difficulties.

The broad range of the difficulties associated with the term specific learning difficulties can be subdivided into the following categories:

  • Language related difficulties

  • Attention difficulties

  • Motor difficulties

  • Social difficulties

It has been noted however that some children may possess characteristics that fall into each of these above categories (Weedon and Reid 2003). Weedon and Reid point out that children who present with the same range of difficulties in the classroom situation and may have the same label, can have underlying needs that are very different and therefore will need different responses from the school. This emphases the view that all specific learning difficulties should be placed within a continuum. This continuum can range from mild to severe and there will be individual variations. This means that not all children within the same category will necessarily exhibit the same specific cluster of difficulties to the same degree. At the same time it also highlights the view that intervention should be contextualised to the individual and not to the category or label (see for further guidance on this).

Signpost 2 Understanding the role of learning

To fully understand the role of learning and how this relates to dyslexia it is necessary to refer to the information processing cycle. This is important because essentially, dyslexia is a difficulty with information processing and students with dyslexia can have difficulties at a number of stages of information processing.

1. Learning is a process and this applies to literacy, as well as to other aspects, particularly since literacy usually plays a central role in learning. It is important therefore to focus on the information processing cycle and to consider these areas of potential difficulty for children with dyslexia.

2. The stages of the information processing cycle essentially relate to input, cognition and output. These are described below with reference to how any difficulties can be overcome through presentation of learning.


  • Acknowledge the students preferred learning style - visual, auditory, kinesthetic or tactile,
  • Information should be presented in small units
  • It should be ensured that overlearning is used and this should be varied using a range of materials
  • Key points should be presented at the initial stage of learning new material.


  • Organisational strategies should be encouraged. This means that the new material to be learned should be organised into meaningful chunks or categories at each of the stages of the information processing stages.
  • Information should be related to previous knowledge to ensure that concepts are clear and the information can be placed into a learning framework or schema by the learner
  • Some specific memory strategies such as mind mapping and mnemonics can be used.


  • Use headings and sub headings in written work to help provide a structure

Encourage the use of summaries in order to identify the key points.

It is important therefore to view the student as an individual learner and to assess precisely what the barriers to learning are for that particular student.

Signpost 3 Acknowledging Learning Styles

It is important that students are aware of their learning preferences. The acquisition of a successful learning style is an important determinant of successful learning - irrespective of the task, or the material to be learnt. This should be considered in curriculum and lesson planning as well as in the design of the classroom environment and within the teaching process.

Quite often in curriculum development there is usually considerable emphasis on content, outcomes and attainments, but often the range of means and methods to deliver the content and help to achieve these outcomes can be overlooked.

Learning styles incorporates cognitive, affective and physiological aspects:

  • the cognitive dimension includes modality preferences, attention, memory processes and concept development;
  • the affective dimension includes personality variables that can influence learning such as persistence and perseverance, frustration and tolerance, curiosity, locus of control, achievement motivation, risk taking, cautiousness, competition, cooperation, reaction to reinforcement and personal interests;
  • the physiological dimension includes time of day rhythms, need for mobility and environmental elements.

One of the most widely used and well researched models is the Dunn and Dunn model (Dunn, Dunn and Price 1975, 1992, 1993). Given and Reid (1999) merged several approaches to personality and learning styles into one comprehensive model for teaching and learning. The model utilises Dunn and Dunn’s (1993) five learning style domains for the structural framework.

The Dunn and Dunn model contains five learning style domains and twenty one elements of  learning style – these are shown below:

  • environmental (sound, light, temperature, design);
  • emotional (motivation, persistence, responsibility, structure);
  • sociological (learning by self, pairs, peers, team, with an adult),
  •  physiological (perceptual preference, food and drink intake, time of day, mobility), and
  • psychological (global or analytic preferences, impulsive and reflective).

Reid and Given (1999) developed an interactive/observational framework to obtain information on the students style and potential areas of difficulty.

Summary of the Interactive Observational Style Identification (IOSI) (Reid and Given, 1999)  (quoted in Reid, 2005) is shown below.

  • What topics, tasks and activities interest the student?
  • What kind of prompting and cueing is necessary to increase motivation?
  • What kind of incentives motivate the student – leadership opportunities, working with others, free time or physical activity.


  • Does the student stick to a task until completion without breaks?
  • Are frequent breaks necessary when working on difficult tasks?
  • Responsibility
  • To what extent does the student take responsibility for his/her own learning?
  • Does the student attribute success or failure to self or others?


  • Are the student’s personal effects (desk, clothing, materials well organised  or cluttered?
  • How does the student respond to someone imposing organisational structure on him/her?

Social Interaction

  • When is the student’s best work accomplished – when working alone, with one another or in a small group?
  • Does the student ask for approval or needs to have work checked frequently?


  • Does the student give the main events and gloss over the details?
  • Does the student interrupt others when they are talking?

Modality preference

  • What type of instructions does the student most easily understand- written, oral or visual?
  • Does the student respond more quickly and easily to questions about stories heard or read?

Sequential or Simultaneous learning

  • Does the student begin with one step and proceed in an orderly fashion or have difficulty following sequential information?
  • is there a logical sequence to the student’s explanations or do her/his thoughts bounce around from one idea to another?

Impulsive / reflective

  • Are the student’s responses rapid and spontaneous or delayed and reflective?
  • Does the student seem to consider past events before taking action?

Physical Mobility

  • Does the student move around the class frequently or fidget when seated?
  • Does the student like to stand or walk while learning something new?

Food intake

  • Does the student snack or chew on a pencil  when studying?

Time of day

  • During which time of day is the student most alert?
  • Is there a noticeable difference between morning work completed and afternoon work?


  • Does the student seek out places that are particularly quiet?


  • Does the student like to work in dimly lit areas or say that the light is too bright?


  • Does the student leave his/her coat on when others seem warm?

Furniture Design

  • When given a choice does the student sit on the floor, lie down, or sit in a straight chair to read?


  • Is the student aware of his/her learning style strengths?
  • Does the student demonstrate self- assessment


  • Does the student make plans and work towards goals or let things happen?


  • How does the student respond to different types of feedback?
  • How much external prompting is needed before the student can access previous knowledge?
  • There are too many manifestations of style to observe all at once. One way to begin the observation process is to select one of the learning systems and progress from there.  The insights usually become greater as observation progresses.

The important point is that all children can be taught to read initially through their learning style. This input can subsequently be reinforced by the deployment of other strategies, thus allowing other skills to be developed. Competence in decoding, therefore, may be one of the additional skills rather than the initial one, since it would be difficult for dyslexic children to acquire this skill in the beginning stages of reading. In support of this viewpoint Dunn (1992) contends that the strategy of decoding appears to be best for analytic auditory learners; linguistics is most successful with analytic visuals, and whole language is most successful with global auditory and visual learners.

The learning environment

Frederickson and Cline (2002) suggest that there is substantial literature which supports the importance of the learning environment for accounting for performances in examinations as well as other factors such as school attendance, motivation and skills in inquiry. Burden and Fraser (1993) report that student attitude as well as achievement can be enhanced through paying careful attention to the classroom environment, particularly by ensuring that the factors which can be associated with classroom environments are present. This indicates that the learning environment is crucial, particularly in relation to learners with may have difficulties in acclimatising to different teaching styles, and indeed in the case of children with dyslexia to auditory based learning.

In order for learning styles to be effectively implemented it should be seen not at the individual teacher level but at a whole school level, including the learning environment.  Classrooms therefore need to be designed with learning styles in mind. For example it may be necessary to re-design desks or to provide students with a choice of desk or study styles. Music can also be used to generate a relaxed and creative learning environment (see Learn with the Classics – using music to study smart at any age by Anderson, Marsh and Harvey (1999, Lind Institute). Other environmental factors include: furniture, design, light, sound, colour, space and the general ambience within the classroom (Reid 2005).

Signpost 4 Understanding the role of the curriculum and the task

One of the most crucial factors in relation to curriculum planning is the need to present information in a range of modalities - visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile - within a multisensory framework. It important that the child can be assessed, and present his/her work also in a range of modalities. Therefore activities involving drama, art and poetry can be utilised in assessment. This is particularly important as it is well established that a great number of dyslexic children have skills in these areas, but are often de-motivated by constant failure in the more traditional subjects assessed through traditional assessment.

At the curriculum planning stage it is important therefore that teachers have an awareness of the student’s learning preferences. Although some indication of this may be identified through observation, it is often as good idea to ask the student her/him self. Children are often able to say whether they prefer music, low light, make lists or start a task with drawing. Obtaining this information can help the teacher present new information initially in the child’s preferred style of learning. This can help to develop and maintain motivation.

It is important that the task is made accessible to the learner and it is essential to ask 'what are the demands of this task' and 'how might these be challenging to children with dyslexia'. By ensuring a variety of different types of resources can be accessed to complete the task and that the learning outcomes can be assessed in a variety of means can pay dividends. Differentiation in relation to the mode of presentation is as important as content differentiation. It is important to ensure that the task is attainable for the child with dyslexia.

Signpost 5 Self–esteem and emotional development.

There is considerable evidence to support the key role of self-esteem in developing the larnnig skills of studetns with dyslexia. It is important to ensure that the holistic needs of the child are acknowledged. Appreciating the learning style of the child can help in the developmen t of self-esteem as the learner will feel more comfotable and more realxed when learning. It is important to minimise the potential for stress as learners with dyslexia can be very sensitve to stress within  the learning envirionment and the learning experience. 

Circle time activities can help to reduce some of the anxieties and can help in the development of a postive self-esteem. At the same time it is important to ensure that the task is achievable and through such achievement the child will experience sucess. This success will provide the strongest possible springboard to the development of a positive self-concept.

Signpost 6 Understanding the role of resources

It is important to recognise that no strategy, programme or approach can stand in isolation – each has to be part of a bigger package, preferably a whole school package, that involves, not only the child, but the family, other professionals and the cultural aspects of the community. Indeed it may be more useful to focus on the ‘barriers to learning’ rather than to highlight any specific approach. Examining the barriers to literacy and learning will take into account the task and the curriculum, as well as the cognitive difficulties experienced by the child (Reid 2005d).

Multisensory strategies are used widely in the teaching of children. The evidence suggests that the effectiveness of these strategies is largely based on the provision of at least one mode of learning with which the learner feels comfortable. Thus, if the learner has a difficulty dealing with information by way of the auditory channel, this could perhaps be compensated for through the use of the visual channel.
There is however a significant number of resources and ‘off the shelf’ teaching packages specifically aimed at children with dyslexia can make a difference. It is important however that these should not replace the factors outlined in this paper – of understanding the characteristics of the child with dyslexia, the task, the curriculum, learning styles and the interaction involved in teaching and learning.
It is important to appreciate that there is no ‘ready made’ resource that can be suitable for all children with dyslexia – it is necessary to utilise and adapt resources through knowledge of the child and an understanding of the learning process and learning styles within a positive and carefully planned learning environment.


Reid, G (2003) Dyslexia: A Practitioners Handbook (3rd Edition) Wiley.

Reid, G (2005a) Learning Styles.  Sage Publications.

Reid, G (2005b) Specific Learning Difficulties  - The Spectrum in N Jones (ed) Developing School Provision for Children with Dyspraxia. Sage Publications

Reid, G (2005c) Dyslexia and Inclusion David Fulton/NASEN publications

Reid, G (2005d) Dyslexia in Ann Lewis and Brahm Norwich (editors) Special Teaching for Special Children. OUP (pgs 138-150)

Wearmouth, J and Reid, G (2002 Issues for Assessment and Planning of Teaching and learning in G Reid and J Wearmouth (eds) Dyslexia and Literacy, Theory and Practice, Wiley

Weedon, C and Reid, G (Styles 2003, 2005) Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP)
Hodder Murray