Spellings are a key area of anxiety for dyslexic children, with many having great difficulty in overcoming this weakness. You may not be looking forward to the return of school and the return of the dreaded weekly spelling test, but do you know how to make things better for your child? Here are 5 ways you can help your dyslexic child with school spelling tests.
1. Is the spelling test fair on your child?
I have seen so many dyslexic children being asked to learn the same amount of spellings as everyone else. Should your child be asked to do this? If your child has dyslexia, then I would say no, as it is completely unfair to expect them to learn the same number of words in the same amount of time as others when teachers know ( or should know) that it will take many more repetitions of the word for your child to learn it.
The reason it takes many more repetitions is because your child has a weak working memory. Working memory is the mechanism that stores learning so when it is weak it doesn't store your learning in long term memory so easily ( a bit like having a faulty drawer).
If your child receives the same number of spellings ( usually 10!) then they are being set up to fail and will probably not end up learning any of these words. It is much better for them to learn fewer words ( 5 maybe), but actually learn how to spell them. After all, that is the point of the exercise isn't it?
You will need to see your child's teacher to get this agreed and I know you feel like it is you again going in to see the teacher, but really, this is the only way. You will need to think about how many spellings your child will be capable of learning - I would suggest around 5, but you know your child best. When your child has fewer spellings to learn, the process won't seem so daunting and you will be setting them up for success.
2. Does the spelling test cover a particular word pattern?
This is the ideal spelling word list for a dyslexic child - ones that have the same letter pattern throughout. I know many parents who have requested this but it is rare that this one is adhered to by a school. However, the benefit to your child of learning words with the same letter pattern cannot be ignored - the best dyslexia intervention spelling programmes based on the Orton-Gillingham method do this. As I am naturally optimistic, I believe it is always worth bringing this idea to the attention of your child's teacher, especially if you want to set up your child for success.
3. Chunk down the learning.
Even if you have succeeded in getting the number of words your child needs to learn down to a sensible amount, you will need to chunk down the learning further. If your child has 5 words to learn, then learn them 1 at a time. You may also want to chunk down a particular words into segments to learn, for example you could chunk down chocolate into choco and late.
You should also make sure that once a word has been learnt, that you keep on revising it.
4. Spaced Learning to learn spellings.
The most effective method for learning is called spaced learning, but this doesn't fit in very well with a weekly spelling test. However, if you want to make sure that your child has learnt the word properly, then you should continue to revise words which have come up before.
Spaced learning is when you learn a word for several days in a row, then you leave asking about it for a day, but revise it the following day. If your child still knows it, then leave it for two days before revising it again, then leave it 1 week and revise it again, then leave it 2 weeks and revise again. If your child still knows how to spell it then, you can consider it learnt. As you can see, there is not enough time to do this for a weekly spelling test.
5. Use a spelling method which works for your child.
There are many different ways to learn spellings but the important point here is use what works for your child. Many dyslexic children don't learn by using the standard ' look, cover, write, check' method.
The students that I teach have been successful in learning spellings by using a number of methods - visualisation by drawing pictures with the word written through it, air writing, modelling words in plasticine, using mnemonics or saying words in funny ways which help them remember letters which you don't realise are there ( island is a classic one - say it as 'is' and 'land').
Some parents get creative and put up letters on trampolines or chalk out letters as hopscotch. Some of these methods work because your child is relaxed and having fun while learning their spellings - being relaxed is very important to the learning process. If your child is anxious whilst learning their spellings ( or anything else for that matter) then they cannot learn effectively.
In summary, to help your dyslexic child with their school spelling tests make sure they are learning the right number of words for them, if possible grouping together letter patterns. Effective methods of learning include chunking down the amount of words and then the words themselves, spacing out the learning and then using fun ways such as visualisation.
If you would like to read more about spelling techniques then click here to read my post about this.
If you would like your child to know more about their dyslexia and the strengths that they have then you might like to find out more about my programme 'Smashing Dyslexia'. You can click here for more information.