Accommodations and Modifications to Support Dyslexic Students in the Classroom and in Homework

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

Last week, I promised to post some accommodations that parents and teachers can use to support dyslexic students (or other struggling readers) in the classroom and in homework. So that’s what we’re going to talk about…right after I get a chance to step on my soapbox!

My Soap Box
Accommodations and modifications can be a great support to students who struggle in school. And we should give students all the support we can! BUT…

It’s also important to understand that accommodations and modifications are NOT a permanent solution. They should be a temporary support while the real problem is being corrected.

Dyslexia and many other learning challenges are the result of weak underlying processing/learning skills that are not supporting the learner well enough. Brain research proves that these underlying skills can be developed – the brain can literally be retrained to process information more efficiently. So smart children and adults with dyslexia or other reading challenges can and should become good readers. It takes pinpointing the underlying weaknesses, retraining the brain, and then remediating the reading and spelling skills.

Okay, now that I’ve got that out of my system, here are the accommodations.

Accommodations, Modifications, and Coaching Techniques

1. Dyslexic students can often listen and comprehend well. If appropriate, in subjects like social studies and science, they should be expected to participate in discussions and do all homework assignments with the help of a parent or tutor.

If the assignment is to read a chapter, have the student start reading each section and then the parent can take over the reading when the student gets tired. Even if the student only reads a sentence, the expectation will be that he can read the text and will start reading after each subheading. Knowing that he can stop when he’s tired, reduces the pressure. As his reading improves, he will gradually tackle more reading on his own.

When the student comes to a word she doesn’t know, she should try to work through the sounds as best she can, not just guess, then the parent can tell her the word as needed.

If an assignment is taking far too long to complete, parents should be allowed to note the amount of time spent and sign off on it. If this happens regularly, the teacher may want to note for the parents which parts of the assignment would be the most important to focus on.

2. On worksheets, the student should be expected to write the answers to a portion of the questions (for example, 2 out of 5) and an aide or parent could write the answers to the other questions as he dictates. Again, it is important that the student be responsible for the assignment and have responsibility for part of the writing so that he knows that he is capable. He should know that the amount of writing he has to do is being reduced so that he can focus on neatness and spelling. His best is expected!

3. The student should be allowed to take content area tests orally (questions read to her and responses given orally). This way her reading and writing difficulties are not getting in the way of her showing what she knows about the subject.

4. If the student is working on vocabulary definitions, a picture or a few brief words that show he understands the meaning would be much more valuable than copying a textbook or dictionary definition.

5. When reading, the student will likely do best with fairly large print that is not too dense on the page. Dyslexic students may have just as much difficulty with a first grade level book as a higher level book, because the lower the level, the greater the number of trigger words (small, non-conceptual sight words that trigger disorientation). High interest, knowledge of the subject, and more meaningful context will help the dyslexic reader use his good comprehension skills to support his reading.

6. When the student misreads a word while doing oral reading at an appropriate grade level, have him spell the missed word orally and then attempt to read it again. This will help him focus on all of the letters and sounds in the word.

7. When the student gets stuck on spelling when writing, have her say each sound in the word as she writes. This generally helps the student be more accurate.

8. The student needs to learn how to use an assignment sheet. Since copying from the board will be very difficult for him due to his spelling challenges, expect him to copy as much as he can in the time allotted, but at least the first assignment. Gradually increase the amount expected as his skills increase. Also, provide a filled out assignment sheet for him as long as he has copied down at least one assignment. He has to know that things are expected of him, but at the same time needs to be supported while his dyslexia is remediated.

9. When frustrated or shutdown, the student can be cued to take a deep breath to help her refocus. It may be appropriate to have her get up and move (get a drink, sharpen a pencil, do something quick and physical) and then resume the task. This will help her get “unstuck.”

10. Provide the student with a copy of class notes from the teacher or another student the teacher assigns. The student should still take his own notes, but having a complete and accurate set of notes as well will facilitate his studying and understanding.

11. Offer the student alternative ways to present what she knows. For example, instead of a lengthy written report, allow the student to do an oral presentation or a creative presentation that better fits her thinking style and still allows her to show knowledge of the content.

These are accommodations that may make school and homework more successful and comfortable for dyslexic learners, but should not be mistaken for the remediation that they also need.

If your child is struggling in school and you are looking for real solutions, we would love to speak with you.

VISIT to find out the date and time of our next parent information meeting.

Come by Stowell Learning Center Chino or Irvine and mention the blog and we would love to give you a copy of At Wit’s End, A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities (also available at

Stowell Learning Center, Chino
15192 Central Ave, Chino, CA 91710
Stowell Learning Center, Irvine
1150 Main St. Suite C, Irvine, CA 92614

The Gift, Challenge, and Classic Symptoms of Dyslexia

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

Q: This week HBO aired a special on dyslexia that noted that more than one third of entrepreneurs in the U.S. may be dyslexic. What is it about dyslexia that would cause this to be true?

A: This statistic doesn’t surprise me a bit. Having worked with dyslexic children and adults for the past 27 years, I know that people with a dyslexic thinking style are generally very bright and creative and often very talented.

The entrepreneurs on featured on the HBO special are successful and even grateful for their dyslexia, but it wasn’t always that way for them. Each of them also shared a story a story of deep pain.

Q: What is a dyslexic thinking style?

A: Every person with dyslexia is different, but we do see some very common characteristics among dyslexic learners. Typically, they are bright and creative – often talented in art, mechanics, acting, or sports.

They have difficulty with the auditory processing skill that allows them to make sense out of phonics for reading and spelling, and they experience confusion associated with certain letters, sounds, and small common sight words. (the, of, if)

They may be extremely good communicators, or may have difficulty getting the words out in the order and way they want to say them.

They tend to have good comprehension abilities and a strong ability to see things from different angles or points of view.

Q: It seems like people are being more open now about their dyslexia. How has the view of dyslexia changed?

A: The public is getting slightly more educated about dyslexia – we’ve pretty much gotten away from thinking that dyslexia is that same as mental retardation – but here’s what it still looks like everyday for kids and families who are dealing with it:

Kids are sitting in class in feeling stupid and embarrassed because they are smart enough to know that everyone can do the work and they can’t. They feel like they’re always wrong, even when they’ve tried hard, and nobody really gets it.

They’re told that they’re lazy or unmotivated. They work five time harder than their peers, but they get poor grades or have to miss recess anyway to finish class work when all they want to do is bolt out of the room to get away from print.

Parents are dying with guilt and worry frustration. They feel like their child is smart, but homework takes hours, often with tears and battles.

Q: How is the education system dealing with dyslexia?

A: The common belief in education and otherwise is that if you have dyslexia, or any other learning disability, you have to learn to cope with it, so kids struggling through school with accommodations.

Accommodating a learning problem is like trying to ride a bike with a flat tire. You can do it, but it takes so much effort and so much more time.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Brain studies have shown that dyslexic readers are using less efficient nueropathways, or thinking processes in the brain than typical readers. Brain research in the last 20 years has shown that the brain can be retrained to make more efficient pathways for reading and spelling.

Children and adults with dyslexia do not have to continue to suffer the pain and frustration of not being able to read or read well.

Q: Many successful dyslexic entrepreneurs, artists, and athletes say that having to learn to get around their dyslexia has helped them to be successful – that they wouldn’t change being dyslexic because it gave them an edge by teaching them how to handle hardship and failure? Can the brain be repatterned for reading without losing the giftedness of dyslexia?

A: There are two really important ideas here. First, it wasn’t the reading disability and failure that gave these successful individuals their edge. It was their innate, out-of-the-box thinking style that allowed then to see things differently; to problem solve and come up with new ideas. This is not exclusive to dyslexic thinkers.

Retraining the brain to process information for reading and spelling is not going to take away that marvelous thinking style. It’s simply going to remove the barrier to reading easily.

The other really critical thing is to realize that the famous dyslexic inventors, artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs are the exception. And they all have painful memories of frustration and failure in school.

Just because dyslexic individuals have successfully worked around their challenges, doesn’t mean that all will.

The famous basketball player, Mugsy Bogues, was only 5’3” but what are the odds that players who are 5’3’ will make it to the NBA?

Statistics tell us that the prison population has 50% more individuals with dyslexia than the general population.

And the worst thing is that children and families are suffering everyday because of reading struggles in school. The research and the techniques are available now to change this.

Q: You’re indicating that dyslexia can really be corrected. How is that done?

A: If you think about learning as a continuum, reading and other academic skills are up at the top. They are supported by many underlying learning or thinking skills that need to be in place to learn efficiently.

We have to identify what underlying skills are inefficient or not supporting the learner well enough and strengthen or retrain those thinking processes. Then the brain is ready to learn to read.

I recently ran into the mom of a former client of ours who had been severely dyslexic as a 9 year old. He was a completely shutdown learner, unable to recognize letters or words at all. By retraining the reading pathways in the brain and then teaching him to read, he was able to move out of special education by middle school and into honors classes in high school. His mom shared that he was now going back to school for his second masters degree because he can’t get enough of reading and education.

Reading Like a Dyslexic Reader

Jill Stowell Dyslexia, General Information, Learning Disability

I recently took a trip to Paris. I don’t speak French and I don’t read French, but when French is all there is to read and you want to know where you are, what’s on the menu, and what you’re looking at, you have to try to read French.

I am completely mystified by the spelling of many French sounds, but what I found was that while I could never have read anything out loud in French, if I knew the context, I could recognize enough words or word parts that looked like something I knew (English or Spanish) that I could kind of figure it out.

I realized that I was reading like a dyslexic reader.

Often students with dyslexia have very good comprehension, so while they can’t read accurately or fluently while reading aloud, they may be able to read silently by looking for words and word parts they understand and connect-the-dots through their own knowledge of the context and their strong deductive reasoning.

Several things about this experience made me empathize with our dyslexic students.

First, it is so tempting just to ignore print because it’s too hard to make sense of.

Second, it takes much more energy and attention to try to make sense of the written word than it does when reading comes naturally for you.

And third, if I could read silently and had enough time, I could often get the gist of what I was reading.

Dyslexic students are often misunderstood by parents and teachers and even themselves because they can get just enough to look like they read better than they really do. This makes their performance very inconsistent and their avoidance of reading related tasks look like laziness or lack of motivation.

We’ll explore the real issues underlying dyslexia in another post, but here’s the important thing to understand about dyslexia: It doesn’t have to be permanent. By addressing the underlying auditory and visual processing challenges that cause reading to be confusing, the roadblocks to learning to read and spell can be dramatically changed or completely eliminated.

The Dyslexia Challenge:

If you are interested in really understanding what it feels like to have a reading or spelling challenge, join us for our upcoming simulation.

Dyslexia Simulation – April 20, 2013 – Chino, CA

Go to for info and RSVP