This page is designed to help people teaching dyslexic learners and to address some issues and strengths of working with dyslexic learners in Second Life and other similar environments.


Recognising a dyslexic learner

Although it is becoming increasingly common for dyslexic learners to know they are dyslexic, as more schools are more aware of it, you may well find you have students that you think may be dyslexic. Assessing whether a person is actually dyslexic or not is something that requires specialist training, in the UK an educational psychologist or a specialised dyslexia assessment qualification. Unless you have such a qualification you can't actually confirm the assessment, but there are some pointers.

You might expect a dyslexic learner to show some or many of these characteristics:

Remember, these are only indications, the testing to confirm dyslexia takes several hours and has to be done by a specialist. Check with your institution what the correct procedures are for taking this further. Many of them will involve long written questionnaires, and no, the irony of a multi-page written questionnaire for a potentially dyslexic learner is not lost on me!

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Supporting a dyslexic learner

The educational psychologists report should include a number of suggestions for working with the dyslexic learner. It is important to realise that although dyslexia is a single word, it represents a syndrome - different people will present with different subsets of the list of symptoms. Very few people will have all of the symptoms. Your institution may have specific duties you can undertake, or may have support staff (I have worked in this role) that will work with the learner to help them, and who will usually be willing to help you.

This may include:

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What is dyslexia?

There is lots of work being done about this. Some of it is very technical involving lesions in specific parts of the brain that, unless you've got a lot of theoretical language acquisition knowledge, or a strong background in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology you're unlikely to have heard of.

In layman's terms, dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia are similar conditions with slightly different presentations. They are all caused by problems with memory, both with laying down new memories and with recalling existing memories. Not everyone is sure dyslexia and dyscalculia are different, but they represent weakness with words and numbers primarily. Dyspraxia is weakness with movement and body memory.

The inability to lay down new memories is reflected in the need to read and reread material. The inability to spell can be both: they may not have learnt how to spell a word properly to start with, or they may forget how it goes part way through. The lack of structuring is typically a problem with recall: often they start off knowing what they want to say, just like you or I would, and forget part way through.

Moderately often people with dyslexia also have dyspraxia, the two conditions are linked, but not synonymous.

Remember, people with dyslexia are far from stupid. Despite their disadvantages they're smart enough to have reached adulthood and be in college. That's in a system where the vast bulk of assessment if written, the area that they really struggle with.

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Working online, in SL etc.

I'm writing this in April 2007. Voice into SL is a dream, or a nightmare, that is due sometime but not here yet. How this will change SL is anyone's guess, for all of us. What I'm going to write about now is how SL seems to work in its current "text" interaction world. If you use some VOiP protocol, you may have different problems.

In my experience, and from talking to people, being dyslexic in Second Life is both a blessing and curse. Suddenly your inability to spell and read fluently and easily is visible, publicly, for the first time. If you're in a wheelchair IRL everyone IRL knows. In SL no-one knows unless you tell them. With dyslexia no-one knows IRL, except teachers and the like, in SL suddenly everyone can see. That said, a LOT of people spell badly in SL, so it doesn't always leap out at people.

SL is also a blessing because of how we "talk." We tend to write in shorter sentences, with shorter words etc. because we feel like it's taking too long to "say." This often, not always, but often, makes it easier for the dyslexic person to follow. In addition, they can use history to get "notes" without worrying about if (or save a chat log directly) - so they can concentrate on what you're saying directly rather than on writing it down (this is part of where recordings or podcastings score highly too).

Finally SL allows for artistic and creative expression in other ways. Several of the dyslexic people I know are brilliant creative artists in SL. You can, for many things, address learning in SL in different ways. Teaching organelles? Make a cell with the bits you need. Want a report about lung pathology due to hypertension, let them build models of lungs to show you. There will doubtless be times when only writing is appropriate: It's hard to imagine a textual analysis of "The Pilgrim's Progress" not involving a fair amount of writing (although I guess you could do it with machanima quite successfully), but for many things other assessment routes where creating in SL could replace parts or all of the writing are possible alternatives.

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Links and resources

Dyslexia Action home page
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia Action's Links and resources page
International Dyslexia Association home page
Wikipedia on Dyslexia
Quick online test for signs of dyslexia
Dyslexia Online Journal

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