As schools turn to distance learning, how will students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences fare? Learning remotely can exacerbate the challenges that students with learning differences face, leaving them frustrated and at risk of falling behind.
What follows is a first-hand account of a day of distance learning from an eighth-grader with dyslexia. While her day was less than stellar, I hope we as educators can learn from her and make sure our teaching reflects the strengths and challenges faced by all of our students.
I started the day off by watching a video in English class and then “discussing” it with the class. The discussion was just hard because instead of FaceTiming, we had to use the comments below a post on Google Classroom. This meant the only option to communicate in the conversation was to type your answer as a comment. Since everyone was typing comments all at the same time, it felt like there was no real flow of conversation or ideas.
It was hard to follow the conversation AND type really fast AND keep my comments relevant. I use voice dictation, which is not enabled in Google Classroom comments, so there’s a lag while I bring up the microphone with several extra clicks. By the time I was finished typing my comments, the conversation had moved on to a different topic.
To make this experience even more stressful, the teacher made a passive aggressive comment saying that we need to make sure our comments were in full sentences, had no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
The second half of our English class, we broke into groups and started working on a new group project. My group was able to use Google Hangouts so we could talk face to face. This part of the class went relatively smoothly except for the beginning because there was a lot of uncertainty about what we were supposed to be doing. The instructions were written unclearly and there was a lot of debate within my group about what we were supposed to do. And, we weren’t able to clarify with a teacher since they weren’t online.
Clearly, this experience was frustrating, and not just for a student with dyslexia. After all, having a discussion is about speaking and listening. By having all the students contribute willy-nilly, it sounds like no one was being listened to. By choosing a format that discourages the use of assistive technology and is biased in favor of students who can spell quickly, the essence of the discussion is quickly lost.
As teachers learn how to adapt their lessons for remote learning, it will be important to reimagine routines like discussion or explaining directions to take into account the perspective and experience of all students in the class. Try to incorporate essentials for distance learning and help all students access the material and strategies they need to be successful. Stay tuned for more from our student correspondent!
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director