What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a specific learning difference that is characterised by difficulties with spelling, vocabulary, decoding, poor word recognition/fluency and/or comprehension challenges. It is often related to deficits in phonological and/or orthographic processing and it is estimated (Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity) that it affects approximately 1 in 5 of the population – including many of the young people in our classrooms. As a result, the reading demands of the secondary curriculum often require a greater amount of concentration and focus for individuals with dyslexia.

What’s different about reading in the middle years?

In secondary school, all students are introduced to greater volumes of text (as well as more complex content/vocabulary/concepts). As a result, the student with dyslexia may wonder (or despair!) why reading a play, poetry or a novel is much easier for their friends. They may also feel it is unfair that they have to work so much harder to make the same amount of progress. Perhaps parents or teachers reading this blog have heard these sorts of complaints or comments?

Whatever the situation, teenagers with reading challenges will need just as much support, encouragement, praise and understanding as they did in their primary years! Parents really do have a valued role helping their teenager engage with a text.

What can parents try at home?

To assist your teenager with a reading assignment (i.e., when they are prescribed a text they haven’t chosen themselves) why not consider the following tips to help them access novels/plays or poetry more easily:

  • Talk about the possible challenges ahead: if your teenager is feeling negative about a task, see if you can find out what’s stopping them from attempting the activity (e.g., avoidance, fatigue, distraction?). Involve them in the conversation and see if they can come up with some solutions to get past the stumbling block (e.g., have a short break, put their phone away for 5 minutes, eat a snack etc.). Helping them take ownership of the issue can make them feel more aware and in control, teaching them important lessons about resilience and study skills.

  • Try an audiobook: listening to someone else read aloud relieves the cognitive demands on a student, helping them to access content/vocabulary without the burden of having to read every word themselves. Despite what some people may think, listening to audiobooks is not ‘cheating’ and when given the opportunity to access text this way, students may find that find they can embrace and enjoy what they hear!

  • Take turns reading: ask your teenager to read one sentence/paragraph while you read the next. Alternatively, encourage your teenager to read one paragraph aloud, followed by reading one in ‘their head’. Vary the approach to reading aloud.

  • Vocabulary: discuss any ‘tricky’ or new vocabulary before reading a passage. Knowing what the ‘hard’ words mean before encountering them in text may assist understanding.  Why not create a vocabulary list of ‘new words’ and refer to it as they read along – regular revision will help them develop an ‘automatic’ recall of definitions and also increase their synonym/antonym knowledge?

  • Read together: why not read a play as a family? Dress up and make it an enjoyable occasion using expressive voices for different characters! Your teenager may enjoy seeing how enjoyable performing can be.

  • Location: let your teenager choose a comfortable place to read in the house. For some homework tasks, let them sit on a bean bag, bed, or let them cover themselves in a duvet on the couch! Ensuring your teenager feels comfortable may help them relax into an activity they find demanding.

  • How about a poetry night at home? Ask family members to read rhyming poems, rap, slam, or free verse – give it a go!

  • Graphic novel adaptations: Why not try introducing Shakespeare through cartoons as a starting point before tackling an actual play.

  • Watch the movie! Use the film version as a way in/introduction to a story before moving to the text. Watch it as a family and discuss the plot, themes, and characters together.

  • Read the text of the passage/novel in short chunks: set a timer and read for 10-15 minutes at a time. Discuss what happened when the alarm goes off and see what your teenager can remember.

  • Make notes on chapters/poems or plays: highlighting key vocab/ideas, using bullet points, or drawing mind maps can really help some students recall what they have read.

  • Use summaries of set text from the library: it’s often useful to read someone else’s notes first to become more aware of stylistic devices/characterisation, language type etc.

  • Make sure your teenager understands that reading a book takes time: help them plan how to break their reading of the text into small, achievable (and enjoyable) tasks. Build in regular times to recap the main events/action and help them summarise key ideas.

  • Review exam questions/language together: discuss what the question is asking and ensure that your teenager understands key words (e.g., discuss, infer, compare etc.).

If you have any other suggestions to help teenagers access and engage in prescribed reading tasks at home – why not get in touch and let us know what’s worked for you! We’d love to hear your tips!

If your teenager is experiencing reading challenges (or has dyslexia), why not attend one of Oak Hill’s open days or seminars to find out more about how we can help. We pride ourselves on teaching students’ the reading skills they need to help them access material covered in the mainstream classroom. Our evidence-based programme really works, helping students increase their skills step by step, ensuring they feel more knowledgeable, confident, and prepared when working with their peers.