Dyslexia simulation exercises prepare future teachers
Contact: Rene Abadie
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Southeastern instructor Paul Simoneaux plays the role of a demanding teacher as he oversees the writing work of students Kelly Michon, left, and Tara Richardson. The exercises are designed for the future teachers to feel the frustrations children with dyslexia experience when they are in the classroom.
HAMMOND – If trying to teach students with the learning disorder of dyslexia is frustrating for most teachers, consider what it must be like from the student’s point of view.
That’s exactly the point of dyslexia simulation exercises that every teacher candidate must experience before graduating with a degree in early childhood, elementary or secondary education at Southeastern Louisiana University.
“The role of an insightful teacher in working with a child with dyslexia is critical, and their perceptions play an important role in learning,” explained Elizabeth Wadlington, professor of teaching and learning in the College of Education and Human Development. She coordinates dyslexia simulation exercises for students at Southeastern every semester.
Dyslexia, the most common language-based learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to read, write and spell, affects between 17 and 20 percent of the U.S. population. It is not related to intelligence, Wadlington said.
“Dyslexia causes difficulty in language processing,” she added. “The kids may be bright and intelligent and can see and hear just as well as everyone else, but they have a problem processing the information in their brains.”
The simulation exercises she and her colleagues present are designed for the future teachers to feel the frustrations these children feel when they are in the classroom.
After attending lectures on dyslexia to gain a basic understanding of the issue, the students participate in the simulation exercise, rotating through a variety of stations that focus on simulating reading difficulties, writing and visual-motor difficulties, and visual perception and visual processing difficulties while trying to read. Meanwhile, faculty facilitators play the role of teachers, demonstrating the impatience, exasperation and lack of understanding that Wadlington says are all too common in many classrooms. After each station, the students go through a debriefing session, reflecting on their experiences.
“I felt like I was in second grade again,” one student said after struggling with a reading exercise. “I felt like I was holding everyone up.”
Wadlington and her Southeastern colleagues Cynthia Elliot and James Kirylo have explored the impact the exercises have on both undergraduate teacher candidates and experienced teachers taking graduate courses. Through surveys, they concluded that the participants’ awareness of dyslexia was greatly heightened as a result of the simulation. In over three years of surveys, nearly all the respondents indicated the simulation increased their awareness of possible limitations, abilities and feelings of a learner with dyslexia, while also indicating the simulation had influenced their dispositions to work with children with dyslexia. Respondents said after the exercises they would be likely to more easily recognize learners with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” said Christian Fengley, a senior education major who has dyslexia herself. “The exercises were dead-on in showing the difficulties a student with dyslexia experiences. It’s really important for teachers to understand what these kids are experiencing.”
Graduate student Dawn Rawlins, who teaches kindergarten in Livingston Parish, concurred. “It made me realize the importance of patience,” she said. “You can really learn from an experience like this.”
“Teachers need more than book knowledge about dyslexia,” Wadlington explained. “They need to have some level of empathetic understanding of how it feels to experience the frustrations and learning difficulties that a person with dyslexia faces every day.”