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Why Copying from a Board is Ineffective for Dyslexics

Having to take notes by copying from a board or projection while a teacher is lecturing is challenging for any learner, because it requires students to multitask and constantly shift modes of learning. The process demands students to read, listen and write while making sense of the material. However, for students with dyslexia this teaching method can be disastrous.
Dyslexia and taking notes
How Has Technology Impacted Note-taking?
Before the rise of educational technology, students used to copy while the teacher wrote on the blackboard, however, with the use of devices such as the Smartboard and software like PowerPoint, the words just magically appear. As a result, many teachers lecture while the students are trying to read and write from the projected image, and what often happens is confusion, shoddy notes, gaps in knowledge, and frustrated learners. But what about students with dyslexia that are also dealing with weaknesses in language processing and memory? According to the British Dyslexia Association, taking notes is ineffective for this population of learners and "creates serious difficulties."

What are the Challenges Students with Dyslexia Face While Copying from the Board?
Many students with dyslexia find difficult to reproduce words accurately and, worst of all, many have trouble finding their place on the board after they have looked down at their notebook. In addition, when under pressure to work quickly, students with dyslexia usually have problems in copying words accurately. They may mix up words in two separate sentences, misspell words, omit words or they may patchwork words that they see on the board with the words their teacher is speaking into a nonsensical hodgepodge of disjointed sentences. Even if they do record some legible and readable notes, they probably won't learn or fully understand the content and will require another teacher or tutor to reteach the material.

What Does the Recent Research Say?
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Dr. Kirkby, with The Language and Literacy Group at Bournemouth University, researched how dyslexia affects learners when they are reading from classroom whiteboards. She discovered that copying from a board presents serious difficulties to learners with dyslexia." The process involves a series of sequential visual and cognitive processes, including visual-encoding, construction and maintenance of a mental representation in working memory, and production in written form. These are all activities that can be challenging for students with dyslexia. In their experiment, they use a head-mounted eye-tracker to record eye movements, gaze transfer, and written production of adults and children that copied from a whiteboard. The results of the study showed that adults typically encode and transcribe words as whole words, but researchers found that even children without reading difficulties used only partial-word representations that often made note-taking ineffective.

What Can Be Done to Remedy This Problem?
What is most important is for teachers to slow down. Give students the time to digest and get involved in the content. Also, be sure to use other modalities in the learning process to increase engagement such as hands-on activities, discussions, and skits. Additional note-taking suggestions include:
  • Offer your students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities reasonable accommodations such as a note-taker, use of a computer or a copy of another student’s notes. 
  • Present a copy of your own notes to the students at the beginning of class. Be sure to leave space so that they can add their own thoughts and connections. 
  • Allow students to use technology like the Smart Pen which will allow them to go back and supplement notes with the recorded lecture, organize their materials, highlight important content and transfer their written words into typed text. 
  • Post PowerPoint presentations online or make them available as downloads to your students. 
  • Teach note-taking strategies. 
  • Continually evaluate your students' note-taking abilities and help them to “fill in the gaps.” 
If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, please share them with us by commenting under this blog post.

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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