Designing your workshop for students with SLDs A focus on adaptability and accessibility
Practice Sheet for the Educator
Aim: To provide educators, teachers and animators the tools to create and design a workshop that is inclusive and accessible to the entire class.
Key Words: Specific Learning Disorders, Adaptation, SMART, Multisensory approach
Prior Knowledge: See Practical Sheet ‘How to adapt an eBook to the needs of learners with SLD’s’.
Most Specific Learning Disorders (referred to as SLD), use the affix ‘dys’ to signify the partially lacking ability, like dyslexia for instance. The “dys” family of learning disorders is defined by specialists as a neurological issue that occurs independently of intelligence. SLDs have a neurobiological cause that affects the way the brain processes information and can disturb the cognitive development of a learning ability such as reading, writing, speaking, doing mathematics, or planning and coordinating motor tasks. To be more precise, the brain of a person having a Specific Learning Disorder functions differently when it comes to receiving, integrating, retaining, and expressing information, which can result in difficulties to process certain information or stimuli. However, they are not unitary disorders and affect each person in different ways, at different ages and stages of development, and to different degrees.
What types of DYS are there?
Dyslexia is the first and most common Specific Learning Disorder. It is a cognitive disorder that translates into difficulties in reading and language-based processing skills. Concretely, the brain takes longer than usual to identify and connect letters and words with other kinds of knowledge. This disorder can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, memorization, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech.
Dysgraphia usually affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills. It can also come in the form of difficulties with spelling, spatial planning on paper, breaking the sentences down into words, composing writing, or thinking and writing at the same time, but can also show in overlapping letters, overlapping words, and inconsistent spacing.
Dysorthographia is a learning disability that causes chronic issues with spelling and/or writing. Symptoms of this Dys include problems with written spelling, grammar, and speed in writing and spelling.
Dysphasia affects a person’s ability to speak and understand spoken words. This can translate into difficulties in “sequencing” sentences down into words. Sequencing sentences means to mentally divide the sentences they hear into a logical series of separate words. Indeed, for pupils with Dysphasia, spoken speech can sometimes sound like a foreign language in which they are unable to tell when one word ends and the next begins, even though they speak the language.
Dyspraxia is characterized by difficulties with fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination for reading from one line to another or for writing for example. It translates into difficulties with movement and coordination, and consequently with language and speech. However, this last disorder is generally classified as a Developmental Coordination Disorder and not as a Specific Learning Disorder, but we will address it nevertheless, as it impacts the learning process and education as well.
There is a few additional ‘Dys’ that will not be mentioned in this practical sheet at they are less relevant to the skills necessary in these activities. However, educators should always be aware of their audience and tailor the content to their needs.
First and foremost, when designing your workshop, it is key to remember that it must be inclusive of every student, whether they are Dys or not. To do so, a good first step is using the SMART goals.
- Specific – Define what the desired outcome is,
- Measurable – Determine when the objective will be reached,
- Achievable – Ensure that students are capable of reaching the objective,
- Realistic – Will the objective help on the long term?
- Timely – Set the timeframe to reach the objective.
This will allow you to create a series of activities which will make sense to the students and ensure that the overarching goals are met. It will also allow you to structure your teaching as to what will benefit the student the most content-wise.
Taking a multisensory approach to teaching is key when working with DYS students. Do not solely focus on written exercises and production tasks, this will slow down alternative learners. Rather, think of stimulating the different senses: sight, hearing, touch, but also the senses of taste and smell and balance. DYS students respond really well to stimuli (careful however not to be overstimulating), and usually, students appreciate the variety of exercises offered to them. This approach can take the form of manipulation or auditory exercises when working on understanding content but can also take place in the production stage with activities such as acting, drawing and more.
Think of the work environment
Collaboration and cooperation are key when working with a heterogeneous classroom, this allows for each student to shine on their own strength. When designing your workshop, try to use a variety of activities, skillset, and tools. Furthermore, provide the information in various manners, not just by using the blackboard (see multisensory approach). Allow for extra time to complete various tasks, especially if they are production tasks. Another useful advice is to display the instruction or process on a clear sign on the walls of the classroom if the activity is going to be over a few days.
Reading and writing skills
Here is a series of advice and general guidance in designing activities for students with DYS.
- Play with word games. Word games are fun and allow for vocabulary and word comprehension development. Try using wordplays, bingos or crosswords.
- Put the learning into practice. Help your students to remember by asking them to explain, discuss or implement the information they just read or by letting them teach your ideas they learned by reading, playing, or acting out.
- Whenever possible, practice reading out loud in one-to-one session, or small groups.
- Present the information in various formats, not only using the eBook, but also the audio files available.
- Use a multisensory approach to gathering the information from the eBooks.
- Use visual tools to help students remember. This can take the form of visual aids on the board or wall of the classroom, but also with flashcards and memory sheets.
- Use colour to focus on the chronology of the text. Each colour can be associated to an action in a specific lapse of time.
- Create routines, if you are going to work on multiple eBooks, create a similar design, but be careful not to just repeat exercises.
- For writing practices, focus on the three key steps which are pre-writing, production, and proofreading.
- Use colour coding to help visually. Ask students to use colour markers to highlight words and information. Use colour in your presentation as well.
- Use friendly fonts and think of your printing material. Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Comic Sans or Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Trebuchet are ideal.
- Line spacing should be 1.5 and size should be between 12-14 to allow for clear reading.
- Think of the thickness of your paper when printing, thick paper will help with prevent transparency and help with concentration.
- Avoid italics and underlining but write in bold when you need to put emphasis.
- Giving clear and systematic instruction is paramount in helping students with SLDs follow properly. Do not just give oral instruction, provide your student with written support as well. Sequence the instruction in short and manageable steps (using visuals whenever possible). Stating the learning objectives and the goal of each task, dividing the skills in sections to help identify the strategy will allow for distribution of a variety of methods tailored to the learning style of each student.
- Structure the content of the workshop from the easiest to the most complicated tasks, using short steps to maximise the success.
In the framework of self-assessment, you can write for a few minutes about what you have learned from this ‘Practice Sheet’ including information such as its purpose, its usefulness.
At the end of this practice sheet, you will be able to:
- How to design your workshop to the needs of learners with SLDs,
- know what Specific Learning Disorders are in general,
- How to create an inclusive and adapted workshop for the entire group.
- MOOCDYS – An online course tailored to professionals and parents involved in Dys disorders and adaptability. https://www.thecn.com/7480567
- ‘Flashcards: A tool to facilitate learning’ https://logopsycom.com/flashcards-a-tool-to-facilitate-learning/