Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dyslexic Students: A Problem and A Solution

Note: This post is the first in a three-part installment that describes a problem I faced in designing curriculum for dyslexic students and the solution I discovered. Here, I’ll explain my role, introduce my students, and describe the problem and my idea for combating it. The second post in this series will explain my rationale for that solution. Last, I’ll share my procedure and the resources I’ll use to implement this project in my classroom.

I teach a group of bright, motivated fifth graders at Hillside School, a small school in Boulder, Colorado. Hillside is an unusual place: All of our students have dyslexia, and all of them attend Hillside for half the day and spend the other half in a mainstream setting. Every day, I do my best to help them learn the literacy skills they’ll need to be successful in an academic setting. Another important skill set, however, goes beyond literacy. Self-advocacy is a skill that students with all kinds of learning differences will need throughout their academic lives, and I need to include that in my curriculum, too.


Wrightslaw, an excellent resource for information about education law as it relates to students with disabilities, tells students that self-advocacy is “learning how to speak up for yourself, making your own decisions about your own life, learning how to get information so that you can understand things that are of interest to you, finding out who will support you in your journey, knowing your rights and responsibilities, problem solving, listening and learning, reaching out to others when you need help and friendship, and learning about self-determination.” Obviously, that all sounds important. But implementation gets sticky, especially for students, like mine, who are young and struggle with language.

It’s important that my students understand what dyslexia means for their learning. It’s also important that they learn to communicate their learning needs to their mainstream teachers; everyone in my class has an IEP, but I know too well that students and families often need to be assertive to ensure that these important documents are being honored. And it’s also important that I teach literacy skills. How, I wondered toward the beginning of the school year, could I get the most bang for my buck and cover all of these things well in the course of a single school year? 
I settled on a project that would tie all of this together: writing a self-advocacy letter that students could hand to their teachers at the beginning of the school year. This letter would serve as an introduction, both of the student and of their learning style.

To learn about the reasons I settled on this idea, look for the next post in this series.

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