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Dyslexia and Blackboard usage

Dyslexia and Blackboard usage

Demonstrating 'Reasonable Adjustments' to fulfil SENDA (Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001) Legislation

One of the main disabilities that we see in further education colleges is dyslexia; mild, moderate and severe. Often students arrive at our doors knowing only that they had some difficulties in school. Some then go on to have a dyslexia assessment as part of the college initial screening process. The difficulties they have might include some or all from the checklist below:

  • A difference between general abilities and language skills
  • Varying reading speeds and difficulty retaining information
  • Finding it hard to recall words and information
  • Poor short term memory
  • Losing track of time often
  • Organisational difficulties
  • Difficulties with listening and taking notes
  • A short concentration span
  • Difficulties putting ideas down on paper

( The full list can be found on

Although some of you will no doubt comment that this list applies to quite a few of your students, it is the ‘package’ of these difficulties that causes the biggest problem for the dyslexic learner. This is, of course, where using Blackboard consistently is helpful to all learners and specifically addresses some of the issues of accessibility to the curriculum for the dyslexic learner. Putting course information, assignments, quizzes, staff information and up-to-date course announcements in one place is obviously making a "reasonable adjustment" (SENDA legislation) to enable an individual to access the curriculum.

I use Blackboard as part of an Access to a HE Study Skills course. As the year progresses, a significant number of students find that the reason for their previous limited success in education was undiagnosed dyslexia. Embedding the use of Blackboard within the course helps them in a number of ways:

  • Removes the pressure to take notes in class
    Dyslexics are often given extra time during exam situations because they find coping under pressure prevents them from demonstrating what they know. For many dyslexic learners the pressure of listening and taking notes is difficult to deal with.

    At the beginning of each Study Skills class I remind students that all handouts, overheads and assignments will be put on Blackboard immediately after the session. This allows students to listen and participate without worrying about taking notes at the same time. Therefore the ability to listen and participate, knowing that the written handouts are available later, can enable them to relax and to get more out of the class.

  • Using blended learning to teach a new skill
    Access students find learning to do a bibliography difficult. Dyslexic students seem to feel that it is a creative exercise and over the years I've had some trouble trying to convince students otherwise.
    When we first had Blackboard, I decided to try a blended learning session where students could work through the basics in their own time, but within a lesson where they could be supported as they worked. I placed an introductory
    PowerPoint presentation about bibliographies on Blackboard and followed it by long and short handouts (depending on student need). A short quiz tied the session together.
    The real value of this session became evident when their first assignment was due. Since they are being assessed on doing a Harvard style bibliography, I was able to track those students who revisited the blended learning session on bibliography. ESOL students, as well as dyslexic students, were checking their knowledge more frequently than other students. I was then able to offer an extra session to this group before the assignment was due.
  • Organisational difficulties
    We often assume that students should take responsibility for managing their learning without giving them the right equipment to do this. A dyslexic student is likely to find Blackboard a particularly useful tool since it makes the structure of a course clear. Calendars and announcements give the backup that all students can make use of.
  • Quizzes
    Putting together a short quiz on Blackboard helped me understand one of the dyslexic problems quickly. If you use a fill in the blank type exercise, the majority of the time you will be unable to put in the range of answers that students will give. Aside from spelling difficulties, some people use two words where one would do - and of course they will be marked ‘wrong’. While quizzes are an excellent way for you and students to check knowledge, being aware of some of the drawbacks of different types of quiz forms is equally important.
  • Discussion group
    The difference between the written and language skills of the dyslexic learner can be enormous and can be what alerts us to the need for an assessment. Although I don't use discussion groups yet, I can see that it will be useful for students who are already happy to join chat rooms and use text messaging. It is an excellent way of enabling students, dyslexic or not, to discuss further what has happened within the class and check that they understood the instructions that might have been given.
    We have all been guilty of giving assignment instructions in the last 30 seconds of the class, perhaps hastily scribbling it on the board as students jostle to leave. Posting an assignment on Blackboard is useful, however, if a student hasn’t understood the instructions and they aren’t happy about emailing you for further clarification, the discussion board might provide an easy way for them to check their understanding.
  • ‘Overlearning’
    ‘ Overlearning’ is a strategy that many dyslexic learners employ. This, combined with poor concentration and memory skills, is addressed by a student knowing that what they need to learn won’t disappear or get lost. If you track your students’ access to a course, I suspect you will find the dyslexic student revisiting certain areas more frequently than most.
  • Learning styles
    Many dyslexic learners are visual thinkers. The ability to make more use of websites, video clips, and sound, easily embedded within Blackboard, help vary the styles of learning available.

I have highlighted some of the ways that dyslexic students benefit from having their course put onto a Blackboard site. You may think that all students benefit for exactly the same reasons but it is my experience that for some dyslexic students, Blackboard offers a lifeline which helps them to succeed where they previously failed. Using Blackboard for dyslexic students is an excellent example of a ‘reasonable adjustment’ that clearly supports access to the curriculum.

Ellen Lessner
Abingdon and Witney College

Author: Ellen Lessner

22 April 2004

VLE: Blackboard



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