This article deals with the day-to-day challenges of dyslexia and other similar learning problems. If you would like another source for multi-sensory techniques, I would recommend your paying a visit to Marie Carbo’s “National Reading Style Institute” website. Although her approach is similar to what I describe in these posts, it is also somewhat different — but very effective as well.
To keep this post as short as possible, I am simply going to itemize the various learning and study strategies, followed by some technical aids that can help as well.
Too often the very person who needs these strategies and aids is the last person to use them because it means they have to try something new. I would encourage those who feel that way to try just the same, because after some practice, you will find they help a lot.
- Post-it Notes & Tape-Recorder: I talked about post-it notes in Part 1 and the tape-recorder in Part 2 but they are worth mentioning again because they are so very easy to get and to use. Keep post-it notes in your purse or pocket or car. Use the various sizes, depending on the situation. Put one word or a single sentence on them. For example, let’s say children have to prepare a speech. Have them do their research while keeping track of ideas on the post-it notes. Years ago, we used to use index cards to do this but post-it notes are so much more convenient. In any event, when the research is finished, have them add further ideas on the little notes and move them around until they are in the right sequence. Then, once they are in the correct order, they can either write about them — or use a tape-recorder to “talk” about each point. If they use a tape-recorder, once they have finished “talking” about their points, they can put on earphones and transcribe what they dictated. That would be the first draft of their speech.
- Colour-Coding & Organizers: Whether for school or work, everyone needs to be organized. If students are in high school, college or university, they need binders and related materials for each course. I would recommend colour-coding everything. For example, use a blue binder for history, blue separators inside the binder and blue three-ring duo-tangs (if they are needed) for handing in assignments for that course. And, use blue markers for headings. Then, do the same for other courses — picking whatever colours you want. In terms of organizers, everyone needs something. I use a simple old fashioned pen and pencil day-timer. But, you can also get the electronic variety which some people prefer. The main thing is to use something because most of us, whether we have dyslexia or not, cannot remember more than three to five things at a time — meaning we all need strategies to make sure we don’t forget important appointments or when work needs to done.
- Graphic or Sequential Organizers: Let’s say you have to write a letter or a blog post, how do you organize what it is you want to write? I have a small steno-type notepad with the line down the middle of each page. I write the main ideas I want to write about on the left side and more detailed points opposite on the right side. I still do that when I am preparing for these posts. Sure, sometimes I wing it, but for the most part I plan what I want to say. I am sure that anyone who has dyslexia will be nodding when I say that you need to have some kind of organizer to help you plan and organize your day (as well as a way of remembering what you have to do). Some people like flowcharts and maps. Others like the post-it notes or point-form lists. We all have different learning styles. I like sequential organizers — lists of things to do or say. But, no matter what your preference, pick whatever works for you, but use something.
- Pre-writing and Writing: People with dyslexia tend to think that they should be able to write what they want first time through. Well, that is not the way writing works. You have to plan what you want to say — using the post-it notes or an organizer and then write a draft. If, as I suggested above, you prefer to talk, just dictate what you want to say into a tape-recorder and then transcribe what you said. But, remember, that is simply the first draft. Then, the real writing starts — the revisions and the editing. I probably do three to four revisions of what I am posting. That is what it means “to write.”
- Note-taking: For students at university, or people taking upgrading or other types of courses, use some kind of note-taking strategy that you feel comfortable with. There is no way you will ever be able to jot down every point an instructor is saying, so just write down the main ideas and concepts (and page numbers if there is an article or text involved). I recommend a three column format — small on the left side of the page, large in the middle and small on the right side. In the left column, jot down dates of tests and when assignments are due, as well as other reminders. In the middle, jot down the main thoughts of the lecture or seminar. Use your own “headings” and do lots of underlining. Then, use the small right column to jot down ideas that might need to be expanded. You can use your ordinary lined 3-ring binder paper and either draw in the columns or make space for them without the actual lines. In this way, if you are studying for an exam, or you have to report to your co-workers what you covered at the course, everything is available to you (in your notes or colour-coded binder).
Note: I would never recommend anyone use a “note-taker” in college or university. Why? Because no matter how good or how bad your note-taking skills are (unless you do not have use of your hands), you are having to pay attention and making your own decisions about what you think is important. In short, you are involved in your own learning, something another human being cannot do for you.
Similarly, I never recommend using tape-recorders to record lectures. A person with dyslexia is already struggling with time issues, so having to transcribe fifteen hours a week just adds a huge time constraint on an already heavy load. Just take what notes you can, borrow someone else’s notes later and learn at your own pace.
The difference between having a notetaker and borrowing notes is that you were paying attention during the class. Someone’s else’s notes can then be used to fill in the gaps of what you missed. Reading your own notes, as well as someone else’s notes, actually reinforces what you heard.
- Technical Aids: I have long recommended the Franklin series because they seem to be far more “phonetic” than other brands. Although they are available on-line, you can also find them at most electronic stores. The key is to ask for a “phonetic” type spell checker or dictionary. That is how they differ from a computer spell checker program. The person with dyslexia has to be taught, no matter how late in life, to sound out words and phrases — which will help make the reading fluency phase automatic. So, the spell checker involves three purposes: (1) to help you find the correct spelling of a word, (2) to teach you how to sound out a word, and (3) to eventually remember how the word was spelled. In other words, it’s not just an accommodation, it is a reading “fluency” tool as well. Of course, there are also laptop computers and hand-held computers. But, the Franklin Spelling Ace is battery operated, not expensive and is small — fitting in the palm of your hand and looking just like a calculator. It usually retails for between $30.00 and $50.00 — a nice birthday gift for someone with spelling difficulties.
Conclusion: So, there you have it. In Part 1, I talked about what dyslexia looks like and the general way of compensating for its negative effects. In Part 2, I explained how the tape-recorder can be used to improve and compensate for reading and writing difficulties. And, here in Part 3, I presented a number of commonsense learning strategies and technical aids that will help anyone, but particularly those who have dyslexia (whether diagnosed or not).