I wonder what experience many EFL teachers have of working with learners with special needs.

My own experience is fairly minimal – about seven years ago I did a placement test interview with a student who was partially deaf.  It sticks in my mind because I found it difficult to understand the student and I was obviously concerned not to confuse my lack of understanding with any weaker language areas the learner displayed.

Since then – nothing.  At least nothing that I’m aware of.  Until about four or five months ago when I began to notice that one of my learners was doing an awful lot of hiding in the classroom, her written work displayed some very odd errors – a lot of letter transposition and L1 phonetic spelling of L2 items – and her assessment scores were weak, particularly her reading.  I began to wonder if she might be dyslexic.

Now at this point it gets a bit tricky.  My own view is that if I was a parent and my child’s teacher suspected dyslexia, I would want to know about it.  But this isn’t always the case.  Personally I don’t understand why not – dyslexia doesn’t suggest any lack of mental faculties – just a different way of accessing the world around you.  Nevertheless, it is not always easy to predict the reaction of parents to the implication and as my DoS pointed out, I have no training in this area and am in no way qualified to state with any degree of certainty whether dyslexia is an issue or not.

On reflection I have to wonder why not?  I don’t mean why am I not qualified – the reason there is because I trained as a teacher, not as an educational psychologist.  What I mean is why aren’t learning difficulties covered in teacher training courses?  When I did my DELTA six years ago – we were asked whether any of our schools had a policy related to learning difficulties – only four people put their hands up and we all worked for the same school.  I suspect that most schools would argue that they are generally inclusive and therefore don’t need a policy.  Fair enough.

But I think that CELTA, DELTA and MA ELT courses should include components on teaching learners with learning difficulties as standard.

As an addendum to this story, my student’s mother came into school to see us the other day.  Having had something of a battle to get things arranged and appointments made and so forth, my learner was recently diagnosed with dyslexia.  Frankly, I see this as a brilliant step forwards – because now we can help her move forwards in her learning more effectively and she can stop hiding.

Further Reading & Resources:

Naomi Epstein runs the “Visualising Ideas” blog sharing her ideas and experiences teaching deaf and hard of hearing learners (amongst other things!)

Michael Strong “Language Learning and Deafness“, Cambridge University Press

E. William Clymer & Gerald P. Brent “English for International Deaf Students: Technologies for Teacher Training and Classroom Instruction”  a downloadable pdf from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Sue Swift “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part One” from the ELT Notebook blog, and there’s the second part here: “Helping Students with Learning Disabilities: Part Two“.

Gemma Ormerod’s summary of the #ELTChat on “Teaching Dyslexic Students

Sharon Turner writes as a dyslexic English language teacher, describes what it can be like to be dyslexic and offers some very useful advice for teachers on how to help dyslexic learners in her post: I am Dyslexic and It’s now a blast!

Chris Wilson shares his resources and handouts from a seminar on Dyslexia he gave, as well as links to yet more useful resources.

Chris Wilson also created and links to the IH Young Learners group Dyslexic Learners Linoit – a sort of cork board of guidance and links for teachers of dyslexic learners.