Talking about Dyspraxia
So, Dyspraxia again. I hope you have read my previous blog on What is Dyspraxia to learn more about how it affects people. If you haven't go and read it now! It'll be very helpful for this blog, trust me.
So now that you know what it is, you will be able to understand why this causes problems for students with it. But there are ways you can help! The first thing I would say is that people need to know more about the condition, particularly teachers and learning assistants. But also, students. I wish that schools taught their students more about disabilities like Dyspraxia. I think it'd help everyone and normalise these conditions.
But from my experience at school, it is not discussed. It's hidden under the carpet, only discussed when it's needed to be. While I understand that schools do not want to make students with these conditions stand out. Not talking about it just makes the student feel like they are different in a negative way, rather than different in a more positive way.
Difficulties with Writing | Dyspraxia
Students with Dyspraxia often struggle to write with pencils and pens. I know in my own case, I hated writing with pens at school. My handwriting was messy, I often got told off for my writing, getting told that I just needed to concentrate more. Then when I did eventually concentrate enough to make my writing readable, I got pain in my hands from the effort. And this is without even mentioning the speed they expect you write at if you get told to copy text from a board. For me, some pens are much easier to write with, so I would advise that you to try a variety of pens with the student, see which works for them. Also, graph paper can be helpful as it guides the student in their letter placement and spacing.
Typing instead of writing when you have Dyspraxia
The greatest help for students with Dyspraxia is technology. It is so much easier for them to type than it is for them to write. They don't need to worry about the letter placement, the size, or the neatness of their handwriting. When I got access to a laptop at school, everything changed for me. Instead of focusing on my writing, I was able to actually focus on the learning instead. This is a gamechanger for anyone with the condition. I only got access to a laptop in my final years at high school. But I now understand that students get access much earlier to a laptop which is great news. You should encourage them to start typing as soon as possible and teach them touch typing. This is basically typing using muscle memory, instinctively knowing where each key is on the keyboard without looking. I learned this at school and can now type without looking at the keyboard, it increases productivity and confidence for the student, allowing them to take their notes much more efficiently. But while I am talking about notetaking, something you can do to help is to give the student advance access to the teachers notes. This further reduces the note-taking strain which can only be positive for them.
Whilst at University, I was allowed to record the lectures myself. This could be something to consider for students at any stage of education. I would recommend that students still try to take notes where possible, as relying on an audio recording can be dangerous. It might miss a sentence; someone might talk over the teacher, or it may get corrupted. I would advise the students to use it as a backup and refer to it when going over the lessons.
My point is that teachers need to be aware of the note taking strain with Dyspraxic students and reduce this burden as much as possible.
Think about the Classroom environment
The classroom is where students come to learn. It is essential that teachers consider every aspect of it, especially with students with Dyspraxia. When I was at school, I hated the classroom. I felt like an outsider, someone who was ignored and left to fend for myself. Teachers must consider the needs of students with this condition. Firstly, think about the seating plan. Place Dyspraxic students at the front of the classroom so that they can have an easier view of the board for a start. They'll find it easier to take notes, less likely to get distracted and will be able to ask for help much more easily. Plus, you can keep more of an eye on them and ensure they are paying attention.
Students who find it harder to learn can often become troublemakers. I know that at school, I often got bored and tended to distract the other students due to my difficulty in learning. To counteract this, you could make a list of classroom rules and expected behaviour. Some of these might include, do not distract other students, ask for help if you need it, for example. You could have a bit of fun with the students and role play situations where a student breaks the rules and explain why this was wrong and what to do differently next time. This also has the added effect of encouraging more of a community in the classroom and building social skills.
The difficulty in teaching students with Dyspraxia is that they generally take longer to finish tasks. There is obviously a limit as to how much time you can allow them to finish their work in lessons without negatively affecting other students. But this is different for homework, assignments, and exams. Here you can allow them extra time! I remember when I was at school/University I was allowed 25% extra time for exams/coursework as I discussed in my previous blog. But this was never allowed for any homework at primary/secondary school. I feel this would have helped me produce better homework and take the pressure off, instead of me rushing it. Whilst I understand that teachers may wish to mark all the work at once, why not assign the homework to the students with learning challenges a week in advance? That would allow them to fully understand the task and do it to the best of their ability.
The extra time is essential for exams, without it I would have struggled to finish the exam, let alone get a good mark. This time is not just needed for the typing/writing, it is needed because students with Dyspraxia can struggle to organise their thoughts and formulate their answers quickly. As I have mild dyspraxia this does not affect me too badly, but I have noticed that it takes me longer than my peers to fully explain a topic to the examiner. Whilst other students may finish an exam sometimes thirty minutes early, I nearly always use my extra time.
We hope you have enjoyed reading about you can help students with Dyspraxia. Keep an eye out for my next blog on How to reduce anxiety for SEN students.