“My brain works differently than everybody else, so words can get mixed up and confused,” says Chloe Elliott, Grade 4 student at King George School of her experience learning to read and write. “My friends might understand right away, but it takes me longer to read and write, and to follow the teacher’s instructions.”
Chloe was diagnosed with dyslexia last year, and having that information has meant her family and school can work to support effective learning strategies.
“It’s not just reading, writing, and math abilities which are affected, but organizational skills in general,” says Chloe’s mom, Krystal Elliott. “She can have trouble following directions at home, and taking part in extracurricular activities can be difficult as well.”
Dyslexia affects one’s ability to read accurately and fluently. It can affect spelling and decoding processes, and the ability to retrieve words. Skills which some students might pick up quickly and easily require an immense amount of energy for an individual with dyslexia. In junior grades, where acquiring reading, writing, and comprehension skills is essential to building further skillsets, it can be a disheartening and overwhelming time for children with dyslexia.
“A student might be struggling in reading and that doesn’t mean they aren’t an amazing student,” says Rhonda Garnier, Principal at King George. “But so much of our sense of well-being is tied to whether or not we can read, and students can become discouraged and lose that love of reading.”
October was Dyslexia Awareness Month, and with statistics indicating that as many as one in five people is dealing with this learning disability, students and staff at King George made a plan to take part in a school-wide Mark it Read campaign through Dyslexia Canada. The campaign also gave the school a shot at acquiring some highly effective – but expensive – technology which can greatly assist students’ reading and decoding skills. C-Pen Readers are portable pen-like devices which students can use to scan text to decode the information. The school already has a few of these pens and has been able to see firsthand how much they can help, but at $330 each, not every student who can benefit is able to utilize them. The prize, awarded through a draw of schools which took part in the campaign through Dyslexia Canada, included a classroom set of C-Pen Readers.
“Students like Chloe have all of this motivation and are so willing to try new things, yet there are these setbacks in their learning,” explains Jaclyn Balkwill, who teaches Grades 4/5 at King George. “If there are tools and resources that can help close the learning gap, then we’re all for applying those strategies – students just need access to them.”
Upon learning of the October campaign, Balkwill, along with Teacher Shannon McLeod and Learning Resource Teacher Lindsay Cordingley, planned cross-curricular activities to raise awareness and understanding around dyslexia. Students in primary grades put together “recipes of support” for helping friends with dyslexia, and junior/intermediate grades researched and prepared presentations on famous, high-achieving people throughout history who had dyslexia. For a spirit day assembly, students wore red in recognition, with Chloe sporting a t-shirt which declared “I have dyslexia and I’m smart.”
There’s no word yet on whether King George School has the winning ticket in the cross-Canada contest, but school staff are dedicated to using the technology and resources available to assist students’ unique learning needs. Chloe completes classroom tasks and assignments using a headset and laptop to record and dictate the phrases which would normally bog her down.
Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan is committed to providing the technological infrastructure that meets the needs of classrooms, and recognizing how technology can positively impact students’ learning, and thus, their well-being, means King George staff will continue to explore every avenue in utilizing new technologies to help students succeed. They’ll also continue to increase understanding of this unique way of processing written information.
“I want people to know that you shouldn’t judge a person with dyslexia by their cover,” says Chloe. “We all have our own abilities, and we are all smart in our own way.”