As we go through life, we experience a vast array of new concepts, learn an entire set of new skills and acquire knowledge along the way. How we get there though is almost entirely down to individual preference; we all have our own unique way of learning best.
However, from a young age we are arranged into classes full of different mind-sets and personalities and, more often than not, teachers don’t have the time or resource to adapt their teaching style to address the individual needs of every student. All too often, this means certain children – especially those with dyslexia or visual learners – can switch off and become disengaged with their learning, which inevitably has an impact on behaviour and attainment outside of the classroom too.
For these children, information needs to come to life. They need to be able to see concepts in action and actively partake in the learning process. With the right techniques and tools available to them in schools, children are able to learn effectively. So, how can we continue this outside of the classroom and how can parents reinforce these practices at home to ensure their children continue to flourish and develop?
Here, Bambi Gardiner, founder of Oaka Books, provides tips that parents can use at home to engage visual learners or children with dyslexia and help them unlock their full potential.
I myself have a child with dyslexia and, from a young age, we noticed that there was very limited progress with my daughter’s reading. Despite this, she was given the same textbooks as her fluent reading peers and set the same homework. In spite of our efforts, it wasn’t long before she would refuse to even open her books when we sat with her in the evenings, which ultimately meant that she fell even further behind in class.
Because she struggled to keep up with the work, she feared failure and thought she wasn’t capable of learning like her peers. So instead, she simply switched off and wouldn’t even try. It was very much a ‘if you don’t put yourself out there, then you cannot fail’ mentality – a coping mechanism that is prevalent amongst children who struggle with learning.
However, someone with dyslexia needs to be given encouragement and confidence in order to learn. This way, they develop the perseverance and persistence to overcome tasks, even when the first or second attempts may not be entirely correct.
Every school year we made sure that all our daughter’s teachers were aware of her issues, and requested that she wasn’t asked to read aloud in class. However, this request wasn’t always heard. Somehow I doubt if anyone would ask a child with one leg to run in front of the rest of the class but, for some reason, it is deemed acceptable to ask a child who can’t read, to read out loud in front of all their peers.
While the learning support (LS) department in the school was offering my daughter various interventions, she refused to participate; she didn’t want to be different. I knew my daughter had the capabilities and the intelligence, it was just a case of understanding how she works best and coming up with alternative ways for her to read and retain information.
Rather than page after page of text, she needed something more visual; something bright and colourful that would come alive on the page. Her learning needed to become more hands-on and kinaesthetic. Therefore, we created our own resources at home to suit her learning style and we soon began to notice a difference, both in her academic ability and in her confidence.
Despite the challenges that students with dyslexia face they have many other strengths, including oral skills, visual awareness and often artistic or sporting abilities. Therefore, providing them with a range of options for learning is the most effective route. Having these aids in the classroom is a good start, but this also needs to be reinforced at home in order to continue supporting their specific learning style. After all, teaching a child is only effective when teachers and parents work in unison to bring out the best in a child and help them achieve their potential.
Here are just some of the things we as parents can do at home in order to help our children…
Helping with homework:
Homework can be a real sticking point for children with dyslexia, so firstly, ensure your child isn’t struggling with their homework. If a pattern emerges whereby they are taking too long or disengaging from it because it’s ‘too hard’ then talk to their teacher.
Reading aloud can also be a challenge and can conjure feelings of stress or embarrassment if words are misread or pronounced incorrectly. Therefore, take it in turns or join in with their reading to reinforce what they’re learning, and help them better understand what is being discussed. If they are really reluctant, then try audio books and encourage them to join in with the narrator. The more familiar they become with the subject, the more confident they will become.
Try a multi-sensory approach:
Giving your children different ways to learn allows them to realise that if one method doesn’t quite work for them, then there are alternative solutions that may be more effective. It helps them realise that the problem lies not with them, but with their learning – and this can be easily changed!
Visual aids are really effective in engaging students with dyslexia or those who struggle to process large passages of text. Therefore, sit with them and encourage them to make notes on coloured cards, highlight key words or draw pictures. Pictures are a good trigger and are more easily remembered, acting as a visual clue.
Also consider creating video clips, animations, as well as graphs and mind-maps or flow charts; these will all be a lot more appealing and easier for students to memorise.
Most students will prefer working on the computer as, unlike the pages of a book where text can appear to ‘jump around’, there are a range of fonts, colours and templates that can be used to improve their ability to read and focus. Therefore, ensure their teacher is happy to accept typed homework.
There are plenty of benefits of using computers and online software, with one being spellchecker. It’s a discreet and unobtrusive way of highlighting any errors, meaning they won’t be singled out in front of the class for misspelling or mispronunciation.
These days the internet has the answer to most things. Use it to research digital study guides and resources available for students to use at home to reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom. Investing in those that specifically follow the curriculum – in a more visual way – will give you the reassurance that they’re learning the right topics for general study as well as in preparation for their exams.
Implementing strategies around the house:
Quite often, students with dyslexia fail to remember or recall spoken or written instructions. Therefore, try to use visual aids to help them become more organised, although be mindful of where you place them. While these strategies are important, it’s vital to put them somewhere they will be seen. For example, pin a picture to the back of the front door so that, as they leave the house, they are reminded to bring their PE kit to school.
Suggest colour coding their timetable so that it’s easy for them to determine at a glance which lessons they have the following day, and encourage them to get into the routine of packing their bags the night before and leaving them by the front door so that nothing is left behind.
Reinforce learning through teaching:
When your child comes home from school, set aside some time to ask them what they learnt that day. When teaching others, it is believed that we fully absorb around 90 per cent of information, therefore, getting them to explain what they have learnt will help them better retain and recall information.
Allow them to become the teacher by asking them questions and offer to help them research topics further if they show an interest. It helps give them a sense of ownership, which will in turn increase their confidence and self-esteem.
Again, if they aren’t big talkers, then get them to draw representations, storyboards and animations of what they have learnt. As I mentioned earlier, providing children with alternative avenues will help them decide how they learn best and will give you a clearer indication of the way they learn.
Ultimately, the barriers our children face need to be broken down; we need to show them that there are always a number of pathways to reach the right answer and no one solution is correct. As parents, we have a responsibility to help and support students in their learning and show them that they have the capabilities to soar, rather than sink.
For more information on supporting visual learners and students with dyslexia, visit: www.oakabooks.co.uk or to access the Oaka Books digital resources for a free trial, visit: digital.oakabooks.co.uk.