Students with dyslexia often struggle with the amount of reading required for their degree; a common complaint is that they sit for hours reading, yet failing to internalise the information they have read. Dyslexics also struggle with their reading speed: they take longer to read and often “regress” to previously-read words because they haven’t absorbed the meaning.
Fortunately, there are a number of strategies writing mentors can deploy to help dyslexic writers:
Reading to understand text
One of the most widely-used reading strategies is “SQ3R”, which stands for “Survey, Question, Read, Recall, and Review”.
In this method, the reader is first required to skim-read their text. This will enable them to quickly get the gist of the content, get a sense of how long it is, and find subheadings or topic markers with which to organise their notes.
Next, the reader should write questions to encourage a deeper encoding of the ideas within the text. Turn any subheadings into questions, or scan the first sentence of each paragraph to determine whether it signals the content to be expounded in the rest of the paragraph.
Equipped with these questions, the reader can now read the text with a purpose: this strategy helps the information to be more deeply encoded and, therefore, more easily recalled.
This stage tests whether the text has been understood: ask the reader to recite or briefly note down the key information they have just read. It’s fine to re-skim the piece to obtain names and dates.
Finally, the reader should reflect on what they have read. Did they understand it? Does anything need to be expanded? Did they agree with the author’s interpretation or methodology?
This stage helps to develop the ability to critically analyse work, as well as providing another layer of cognitive encoding that will help the material to be internalised and recalled at a later stage.
People with dyslexia tend to read more slowly than other people. This is caused or exacerbated by a number of issues. For instance, distractions tend to cause disproportional problems for people with dyslexia. Even slight distractions can cause a train of thought to be lost, meaning the reader has to start from the beginning. People with dyslexia also tend to make more eye movements as they follow a text, reading each word individually. Though this might appear to be a good strategy to ensure that words and meaning are not missed, good readers make fewer eye movements and read small chunks of words together (though they may not realise they are doing it).
There are a couple of ways to circumvent these issues (and are also helpful for people who simply have difficulty concentrating on large texts).
This is an easy one! Advise the writer to go somewhere quiet to read, silence their phone, and close down social media pages. There are also slow, lyric- and advert-free pieces of music on YouTube that are designed to help people to study; I am highly sceptical of their claims to “induce alpha states for learning” and so on, but what they DO provide is an easy-to-ignore background noise that will help to block out more distracting noises.
Create a schedule
You should also advise students to create a reading schedule, with reading sessions lasting no more than 45 minutes. If they lose concentration more quickly than this, shorten the sessions. There is no point in sitting down for 8 hours, poring over a book and despairing at knowing no more than when it was picked up. Short, focused sessions will help readers to stay on track and make the most of their reading time.
Use a pencil to guide the eyes
An interesting fact to note, for dyslexic students and anyone hoping to learn to speed-read, is that the eyes move more smoothly if they’re guided by a pencil (though any pointy implement will work!) – more so than if the eyes are guided by a finger. When using a finger, many people tend to point at words individually: this is what we’re trying to avoid. Moving a pencil along the lines in a smooth motion allows the reader to peripherally perceive the surrounding text. For a dyslexic student, this more closely mimics the action of reading experienced by non-dyslexic readers.
I hope these tips come in handy the next time you have a dyslexic mentee, or anyone who needs a bit of help with focussed reading. I’ve used them with a couple of writers now, and it seems to be helpful – though, like any new skill, it can take some practice for it to become fluid and natural.
(Source and further reading: Study Skills for Students with Dyslexia, Sage Publications).