Get it right for dyslexic students and you will get it right for all

  Neil MacKay Workshop Video Links


Equity in education means doing the right thing for each individual. It is not about treating everyone equally – one size does not fit all. And inclusion is about meeting needs, not physical location. In other words, it can be inclusive to actually take a student out of class to meet their needs. Conversely, it is very ‘un-inclusive’ to keep the student sitting in the classroom while ignoring his/her needs.

For dyslexic students, disparity between reading and intellectual abilities, and often slower processing speeds, means that putting in place accommodations at the earliest possible time is crucial to assure equity and fairness. Dyslexia is widespread and for life. Indeed many successful dyslexics acknowledge that without their dyslexia they would not be where they are now.

It is therefore an insult to talk about cures. And it is an insult to regard it as a disability per se. In fact, where there is ‘disability’ it is often the education system that is the cause, fostering difficulties by not properly accommodating these students.

Overall, dyslexic individuals tend to think in big pictures and concepts, taking longer with detail. Often, it is not that the dyslexic student doesn’t know the answer, it’s just they have trouble retrieving it. This neurobiological fact provides the science to support why extra time, for example, is a very important classroom accommodation that dyslexic students have a right to. Click here for more on this from Sally Shaywitz.

Significantly, if you get it right for dyslexics, you get it right for everyone. The classroom interventions and personalised teaching that benefit dyslexic students can also produce constructive results for all students, lifting performance across the board.

This results in ‘school improvement by stealth’, enabling self-managing schools to pursue whole school improvement goals within a dyslexia-aware agenda. This is because dyslexia provides a manageable, defined group of students to deal with as a starting point. Importantly, Maori and Pacific Island students, who historically have oral cultures, can also gain significant benefits with this approach.

UK experience shows dyslexia-appropriate strategies and accommodations deliver better exam results and improvements in attendance, punctuality and parental confidence. In the North Wales secondary school where Neil Mackay taught, even house prices in the area went up, reflecting the fact that parents wanted to move into a place where they could have confidence in a school that achieved real results. Click here to view Neil Mackay talking about the impact of dyslexia-appropriate strategies and accommodations in UK schools.


This new teaching paradigm is based on the highly effective classroom strategy of ‘notice and adjust’ – notice those children who are getting stuck and make reasonable adjustments in the way they are taught and assessed, including personalised learning and alternative evidence of achievement.

Personalised learning includes strategies based on developing comprehension through use of context, syntax and grammar, and looking at areas such as organisation of ideas, planning skills, learning to remember, raising self-esteem and valuing emotional intelligence. Multi-sensory techniques, effective use of language, chunking of tasks and instructions, assessment for learning and marking alternative evidence of achievement (work presented in forms other than writing, for example mind maps) are also valuable tools.

We can learn from our students too – they often have strong views on what will work when a linear teaching style does not. And this may be as simple as using dyslexia-friendly fonts – usually Arial, Sassoon or Comic Sans at 14 point with 1.5 line spacing! You can find out more about what students have to say in our 4D Virtual Classroom.

Overall, it is important to understand dyslexia as a learning preference and work with, and support, students from this preference perspective. Put simply, this means understanding that dyslexics think differently, and so naturally prefer to receive, process and present information in the way that makes more sense to them. Click here for more on this.

‘Notice and adjust’ fits perfectly with New Zealand’s new National Curriculum – which both challenges and gives permission to schools to do things differently and teach more creatively – and with the self-managing schools environment. It is also reflected in the Dyslexia Foundation’s revolutionary 4D | 4 Dyslexia programme for schools, which provides guidance on creating a positive learning environment. Best of all, by producing tangible results, this strategy is also immensely helpful in reducing teacher stress and making life in the classroom more manageable for all involved.

Finally, please note that some students - estimated at around 4% (compared with the conservatively estimated 10% of the population who are dyslexic) - may need additional specialist help, screening tests and small group or one-on-one interventions to help them make real progress. Additional guidance on identifying dyslexia can be found on the 4D Schools website at and in the 4D Guide for Schools. The guide also includes useful information on screening tests.


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