Supporting students with dyslexia during a pandemic is a challenge, but by keeping parents engaged, using the right tools, and being flexible, it’s a challenge we can meet

Distance learning for students with dyslexia

Supporting students with dyslexia during a pandemic is a challenge, but by keeping parents engaged, using the right tools, and being flexible, it’s a challenge we can meet

As the dyslexia coordinator for my district, I’m a big believer in individualized, in-person interventions. So much of the support we offer our students with dyslexia is centered around small group work during our intervention block. It certainly made the sudden switch to distance learning quite the challenge!

The keys to overcoming that challenge were the same for us as they were for educators across the country: keeping in touch with students, using the right tools, and being as flexible as possible.

Related content: 3 keys to teaching students with dyslexia to read

Staying connected

Our biggest concern has been to stay in touch with our students just to make sure they’re okay emotionally and physically throughout this time. We know it’s been rough on them. I’ve bragged more than a bit about all of my interventionists lately because they’ve done such a good job of staying in touch with each of their students personally.

We always start our lessons with our drill decks. Based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, these decks consist of cards with letters or letter combinations. As students learn the sounds associated with them, we add cards with those letters to their personal decks for ongoing practice. All of these ladies have worked very hard to make each student their own personal drill deck and gone out of their way to be sure they made it home.

We’re lucky enough to have 1:1 Chromebooks from grade 2 up and to have iPads in kindergarten and grade 1. Nevertheless, we knew we wouldn’t be able to provide devices for every student to take home. We did send out a survey at the beginning of the pandemic and found that nearly all of our students had some kind of internet-enabled device, even if it was just a smartphone with a data plan. If school starts the same way in the fall, I know our IT team is working diligently to get all of the Chromebooks set up so they can be taken home.

Some of our dyslexia interventionists joined classroom teachers in handing out lunches for students during the closure, and some even made special trips to drive by students’ homes just to say “hi.” Even if it was just being able to see their faces through a window, keeping that personal connection going is important.

Using the right tools

We were able to send home Square Panda literacy system devices to about 30 of our students to practice with. Through the use of tactile letters and learning games, they provide a multi-sensory approach to teaching literacy concepts. They’ve been most helpful to the parents we’ve been able to stay in touch with. When the kids were finding it too easy or too challenging, I sent out an email to parents explaining how to go into the settings and change the difficulty. When early teachers have their reading group time back, the instructional facilitator and I plan to use Square Panda with students who are working independently.

For students who need help now, the intervention that we use across the board in our small groups is Connections: OG in 3D. It’s designed to be used by four or fewer students, so we have eight paraprofessionals guiding the lessons of 220 students in grades K-12.

We also use Learning Ally as the audio book program for our students who have characteristics of dyslexia. Learning Ally is a support for what they need to be able to complete assignments in their classroom. Our middle school and high school both use Accelerated Reader, and the kids love to earn those AR points.

Being flexible

We were aware that overseeing online lessons was a lot to take on for working parents who knew nothing about teaching school, so our teachers worked hard to be flexible. Our elementary teachers had Zooms twice a day. For example, 10 o’clock in the morning was reading and six o’clock in the evening was math for some students whose parents were working.

Everybody’s offered us a lot of grace throughout all of this regarding IEPs. My grandson is autistic and he’s not getting his 6 hours a week with his speech therapist. She does call and try to do the telehealth thing, but it’s just not the same. We do have to figure out a better solution moving forward if this continues.

Even in a “normal” year, our students come back in all different places after the summer, and I think those gaps will be even greater than usual with the extended time that we’ve had off. But I believe that our team, given the right tools and the opportunity to interact face-to-face, will be able to get our students back on track.

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