“Where did the week go?” This is a common question in our household.
As the parent of a dyslexic eighth grader, our weeks are busy and pass quickly. Staying organized, keeping track of assignments and upcoming projects or tests, and studying effectively are challenges many middle schoolers face — but these issues can often be more acute if you have dyslexia.
Recently, while speaking with my son’s guidance counselor, she mentioned that we needed to think about preparing him for high school. I knew, in the blink of an eye, I would be having this same discussion with his high school counselor when he prepares for college.
Learning how to Manage Dyslexia
My son is learning how to study and effectively manage his dyslexia. To help him — and because I too have dyslexia — I share strategies and organizational habits that I developed back when I was in high school. With my sights set on the future, I know he needs to develop study strategies and strong organizational habits to help him succeed in college.
In high school, I worked to improve the techniques I had begun to develop in elementary school and junior high. Learning how my dyslexic brain functioned and absorbed new information was half the battle, and these strategies and skills became the toolkit I relied on throughout my education.
Here are five effective strategies and organizational habits to add to a dyslexic high schooler’s repertoire.
1. Be the Teacher
I am a visual and verbal learner, and one of the approaches I developed was to pretend to be both teacher and student. I would stand in my bedroom and verbally review the homework or test material — actually speak it aloud — as if I was both teaching and taking the class. I posed questions to my imaginary students and would then respond as one of my classmates.
I used this strategy throughout high school, college, and graduate school. Today, my son teaches his classwork to me, and I, in turn, direct questions to him. Instructing me in the material he’s learning helps my son study for exams and gain a deeper understanding of the subject. A whiteboard is a great tool to use with this strategy since it enables your high schooler to work out math equations, science problems, and take notes.
2. Listen to Understand
In college, I recorded all of my classes and listened to the lectures over and over, often gaining new understanding that had eluded me the first or second time I played the material. The benefit of listening to a recording of a classroom discussion or a teacher’s lecture is that you can pause it, take notes, return to it for further clarification, and create a list of follow-up questions to ask the instructor. My mother, who taught high school advanced placement courses, used to tell me that if an instructor repeated a statement multiple times, you could bet that it would be on the test. Very often, dyslexic students attend to spoken repetition that they may overlook in written form.
Your high schooler can record her class notes on a mobile device and then play them back as often as she needs to prepare for quizzes and tests. And for reading assignments, check out Learning Ally’s audiobook library, which has a selection of more than 80,000 titles. The special education coordinator can also help locate these supports through the school or public library system.
3. Create Stories to Remember
Because my dyslexia prevents me from hearing the phonemes in words — that is, distinguishing a ‘p’ sound from a ‘b’ sound, for example — learning new spelling or vocabulary words has always been difficult, especially in advanced science and English classes. One of my solutions was to develop mnemonic techniques that helped me retain definitions, phrases, and formulas. These strategies might include silly songs, rhymes, or stories, such as one I created to recall the definition of “flagellum.”
This appendage is a long, whiplike structure that helps unicellular organisms move. I memorized this science vocabulary word by imagining flags whipping in the wind, bringing to mind air movement. I would, in turn, visualize flagella as tiny flags helping an organism move around. When I was taking the test, I would remember this visual aid and its association with movement to enable me to identify the correct definition of the word.
4. Organize the Workspace
Help your teen learn how to prepare her physical environment as well. Having a distinct space with few distractions and little background noise helps many dyslexic teens remain focused. For visual learners in particular, clutter may make it difficult to concentrate and stay on task, but having a specific place to post reminders, such as a whiteboard calendar installed next to a desk, can ensure that valuable information and appointments are not mixed up.
Encourage your high schooler to test different organizational systems, including digital, erasable, and paper calendars. For instance, large whiteboard schedules can help her see the big picture and allow her to plan effectively for future projects and tests. By using different colored markers for tests, quizzes, and extracurricular activities, she’ll be able to keep these responsibilities distinct from one another.
Paper clips and sticky notepads are essential in our house. Before using these supports, my son often forgot to turn in school work or ask his teacher a question. Now, though, he is learning how to keep his homework together and write reminders to himself on the sticky notes; he simply places the reminder beside a question or writes in big letters “Turn In!” on sticky notes that he affixes to his assignments.
5. Study with Buddies
Encourage your high schooler to find a study partner or form a group to prepare for tests, midterms, and finals. Throughout my education, I had classmates I could call for help or ask questions if my notes did not make sense. Most dyslexics distill verbal or visual information quickly, and indeed, I sought out classmates who could summarize class notes in a similar manner. I learned early that finding peers whose study habits were in sync with mine was more effective than trying to adapt my approach in ways that were at odds with my dyslexia.
Learning new information in school and preparing for tests requires more than studying the subject matter. Creating an organizational system that helps your high schooler keep her work together and completed on time is important. And, of course, being able to manage time effectively and submit assignments when required are essential skills for succeeding in college.
Preparing your student for college? Be sure to check out the college search feature to find schools that your families' needs, as well as other expert-written articles, such as, 3 Questions to Ask About College Disability Services.