Three ways to support dyslexic students during the shift to remote learning

April 27, 2020

Dr. Michael Hart

With the Covid-19 pandemic causing extensive school closings globally, many leaders are calling for the use of remote learning platforms to support students and families at home. However, there is a steep learning curve for all involved in the shift to distance learning.

Dyslexia is one of the most common and prevalent learning difficulties, so making sure that the tools and strategies used during the shift to remote learning fit within the needs of our dyslexic students is critical. The following recommendations are aimed to help educators with formal training and parents who have found themselves assisting in homeschooling their students make the most of navigating learning during this uniquely challenging time and continue to meet the needs of all students.

Patience is key

Using distance learning platforms, particularly to support kids with dyslexia or learning differences, will require patience all around. Educators and experts from across the globe who have experience with the move to remote learning suggest taking it slow and reducing workload as a first step. This will give students and their families the time and space needed to navigate any new tools, without becoming overwhelmed with a build up of uncompleted tasks and assignments. This is especially true for students with dyslexia and other learning differences, who many times struggle with the traditional workload and pace.

Remember, creating a thriving at-home learning environment requires additional patience and compassion for, and from, all involved.

Find tools that support dyslexic students

Within the past few years, advancements in education technology have positively impacted the way students with dyslexia or other learning difficulties mitigate or augment their ability to produce academic output that is more consistent with their true capabilities.

Microsoft offers tools that are being used by many schools and have built-in features to support dyslexic students. In fact, I recently completed a deep dive series with a Microsoft Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities Community Consultant to dive into three of the program’s key features that help to eliminate barriers to academic success for students with learning difficulties and make reading more accessible to all learners. The three features address some of the biggest challenges for students with learning disabilities, and include:

  • Enhanced dictation, which offers a speech-to-text tool that helps students communicate their thoughts by bypassing writing or printing words. The assistive technology transcribes a student’s audio with speed, accuracy and automated punctuation. The tool can help students, especially those who struggle with dyslexia, share a higher level of details and better articulate their message to strengthen and improve their storytelling and writing capabilities. Learn more here.
  • Immersive reader, a text-to-speech tool that offers a ‘read aloud’ function to further support students. The function includes features to personalise how content is consumed, including syllabification (the visual breakdown of individual syllables) and customised text preferences for spacing, font size, and line focus. In addition, the immersive reader offers a picture dictionary, where a user can hover over a particular word to populate a visual image, which is critical for readers who are nonverbal or struggle with communication disorders. The assistive technology is currently available in 45 languages – including English, Arabic, German, Spanish, and Chinese – with more in development. Learn more here.
  • Office Lens, an app that allows users to take a photo of a document and upload it directly into the immersive reader’s text-to-speech function, providing additional access to printed text for students with learning difficulties. The app works on virtually any device with photo-taking capabilities and can be used to translate a variety of documents, including printed text, a handwritten letter, whiteboard, and more, into audio stories.

In addition, Learning Ally and Bookshare are two digital platforms that leverage multisensory techniques to help students improve their decoding, fluency and comprehension – key aspects of reading for all students, and are targeted learning inventions for students with dyslexia. These two audiobook solutions allow students to listen to text while simultaneously reading along on a digital page, highlighting each word as the passage is being read.

By providing students with an opportunity to learn through multisensory channels (and at their own pace) we are better able to support distance learning for students with dyslexia during school closures.

The work-from-home silver lining

Working from home can be very difficult, especially as many teachers have families of their own at home, as well as managing multiple students online. Everyone is trying to make sense of this time that quickly arrived without any planning. When it comes to our dyslexic learners, though, there is a silver lining.

Learning from home acts as a break from the routine facing many students with dyslexia and learning differences. For those individuals, six or seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year, they are in an environment that oftentimes provides a substantial mismatch between how their brains are wired and what the educational demands are in the classroom. Learning from home can act as a significant sense of relief from their typical environment where they can be bombarded with messages of feeling different or stigmatized for their learning difficulty.

Moving forward

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how long social distancing will be in place. For most systems, school closures will last over the next month and perhaps continue through the rest of the academic school year. Transitioning to new learning environments and routines can be difficult for any students, so making sure we meet the needs of all learners is important to their success.

With the correct attitude, tools, and goals, we can all get the most out of distance learning at home and ensure we support all students, including those with dyslexia and other learning differences.


Dr. Michael Hart is an international literacy expert and founder of TrueLiteracy.in

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, and opinions of EducationWorld.

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