This article will explore the transition for dyslexic students studying science when they move from KS3 to KS4 and what teachers could do to help them with that transition.
Science is such an important subject that is taught in school today. Science is everywhere and affects all of us on a daily basis, so it is important that our students in school or college are able to get a good understanding of the subject as it could well inform how they live in the future. Dyslexic thinkers are creative problem solvers, who are ideal for the science environment, but teaching practises can often cause their engagement to falter.
As someone who (you are not going to believe this) has a first degree in Chemistry, I know what it is like to be taught a subject that I loved, in a way that often made me hate it. At times, I simply didn’t feel prepared for the next level up in my studies. When I was in the equivalent of Key Stage Three, I remember the anxiety I experienced around how I would do in a subject that I struggled with (at the time) knowing that the workload was only going to increase when I moved into the equivalent of Key Stage Four.
So what could my science teachers have done to help me with that transition? Indeed, what could science teachers be doing now that will help with that transition for the dyslexic KS3 students of today?
Ask your pupils about what works for them.
It may seem slightly unconventional but asking a dyslexic pupil about their educational experience and challenges empowers them to communicate what they need, so rather than assuming the best practices for teaching and then managing a pupil’s struggles afterwards, you have a better chance of delivering a stronger strategy for differentiated learning which will be welcomed by your pupils and is encouraged by Ofsted.
You can use the comments from your pupils to inform you as you seek to help them with their transition from KS3 to KS4 but also share those insights with your teaching colleagues who may be teaching them once the pupils have transitioned into KS4.
Oaka Books have a really useful download which shares comments from dyslexic students about what would help them in the classroom. As a teacher you would gain an insight into how your current lesson plan may work for your dyslexic pupils as well as having a starting point from which to talk to your pupils about what works for them in class.
Demonstrate Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of the dyslexic student.
Teachers and other academic professionals need to understand what it is like to be dyslexic in a classroom. I believe that this is half the battle in supporting a dyslexic child in a classroom. Equally science teachers need to understand the potential additional challenges that occur when a dyslexic student studies science.
Dyslexia Scotland have an excellent download entitled “Supporting Dyslexic Pupils in the Secondary Curriculum: Dyslexia and Science Subjects” written by Moira Thomson. The following was taken from that publication:
“Additional barriers to learning science subjects, dyslexic pupils may:
• Fail to identify a diagram, table, chart or graph as an integral part of text
• Be unable to process information presented as tables, charts or graphs
• Spend so long drawing diagrams, tables, charts or graphs, that they fail to label accurately or enter any data.
• Struggle to record information in a table, or transfer data to a chart or graph accurately
• Be unable to recall scientific vocabulary and terminology
• Struggle with scientific formulae that require a combination of upper and lower case letters, which are not interchangeable
• Have difficulty writing formulae where superscript or subscript numbers must be correctly positioned in order for it to make sense e.g. powers and indices
• Confuse the scientific meaning of terminology with other uses of this in the curriculum or in everyday life – e.g. ‘conductor’
• Have difficulty understanding and remembering scientific symbols;
• Be unable to follow/remember a sequence of instructions
• Have difficulty assimilating abstract concepts
• Confuse similar words, resulting in misinterpretation of content and context “
By understanding these challenges a teacher can put strategies in place that can help in the classroom. Moira Thomson goes on to suggest the following strategies:
Suggested support strategies:
• Pair up a dyslexic pupil with a good reader as peer support
• Explain the role of diagrams, etc. in the text and teach how to create good diagrams with minimal written explanation
• Provide a full explanation of how to interpret each diagram, table, chart or graph in context
• Provide blanks tables, charts etc that are already labelled
• Always show and name lab equipment when giving instructions for its use
• Label all lab equipment cupboards with pictures as well as words - and do not move things around
• Put up posters and wall charts of lab equipment – use a picture/drawing + name
• Issue pupils with illustrations to help them remember scientific vocabulary and terminology
• Highlight key information/vocabulary and issue word lists of ‘new’ vocabulary for a new topic – in advance if possible
• Do not penalise spelling errors but explain and give examples to stress its importance e.g. word endings in Chemistry Dyslexia and Science Subjects 10
• Revise and remind pupils of the need to use upper and lower case, sub and superscript in formulae – ICT use helps with this • Help pupils to devise individual ways to ensure that they do not confuse upper and lower case, sub- and superscript in formulae
• Use a Maths or Science reference booklets to help with mathematical aspects of the science subject
• Issue a formula prompt sheet with colour coding or highlighting to stress upper and lower case, sub- and superscript in formulae
• Use ICT with word prompts to support word finding
• Do not ask dyslexic pupils to copy notes/diagrams – issue copies of these
• Do not ask dyslexic pupils to make notes while watching a demonstration or listening to instructions
• Allow pupils to record dictated notes so that they can store them as voice files for revision – or issue legible copies of these .”
By establishing dyslexia friendly strategies within KS3 and ensuring that these continue into KS4 a student is less likely to experience high levels of anxiety and disengagement with the science subjects. The feeling of overwhelm will be lowered giving the student more energy to engage.
Dyslexic strengths and why they are great for science?
We already know that there are some very famous scientists out there who turned out to be dyslexic. Einstein is the classic example.
Brock and Fernette Eide explore the strengths of being dyslexic in their book ‘The Dyslexic Advantage’ and in an article on Wired they talk about strengths associated with linking ideas and trends, spatial reasoning (seeing molecules in 3D in their minds). In Moira Thomson’s article, she talks about dyslexic thinkers being creative with ideas, asking insightful questions and having a unique approach to problem solving. These are all great strengths for when studying science and should be nurtured.
What teachers should look out for when dyslexic students are transitioning between KS3 and KS4.
Feelings of poor self worth and overwhelm often get expressed as being dis-engaged, chatty, day-dreaming. So often it is the behaviour that is dealt with but not the route cause.
Moira Thomson goes on to talk about how students can lack self-confidence or have a poor self-image. They may fear new situations. They can confuse written and verbal instructions, be disorganised and generally avoid work.
If a teacher observe these behavioural presentations then there is a good chance that an underlying reason for this is due to problems with learning associated with dyslexia and other special educational needs.