If we want to help students with dyslexia at the tertiary level, we need to understand what dyslexia is. According to the Singapore’s Ministry of Education in their publication “Professional Practice Guidelines for the Psycho-educational Assessment and Placement of Students with Special Educational Needs” (MOE, 2018), dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty which mainly affects language learning and cognition. It might affect the following areas such as word reading and spelling, phonological awareness, verbal memory and processing speed. Students with dyslexia might also experience co-occurring difficulties such as aspects of language, mental calculation, motor-coordination, planning and organisation as well (Rose, 2009).
In Singapore, with appropriate instruction and support, students with dyslexia might do well enough to be promoted to Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) such as Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs), Polytechnics, or Universities. However, people do not grow out of dyslexia (Bogdanowicz, 2006). The issues students face in their primary and secondary education may persist into higher education. In some cases, the challenges may be compounded by needing to access more demanding tasks and activities such as comprehending journal or academic articles, tertiary writing (i.e. research articles and reports, and presentations. In addition to literacy difficulties, as mentioned above, students might also experience difficulties in planning and organising what they need to do first because they might be overwhelmed with all the readings, assignments, examinations and projects that they would have to do.
Therefore, it is essential that tertiary students with dyslexia know what they can do to cope better in IHLs. Additionally, having an inclusive learning environment to support them during their educational journey is just as important.
1. Suggested coping techniques for tertiary students.
These are some coping techniques as well as study skills that tertiary students may want to employ
- Having good time management – As there are multiple tasks that students may need to remember such as assignment and project deadlines, readings, instructions. It would be helpful to record all of them down in a diary or calendar application so that they can prioritise what needs to be done. Students would also be able to space out readings and break up projects into smaller bite-sized tasks so that it would not be overwhelming. For instructions, students can also use their phones and type it down into a Notes application.
- Planning ahead – Reading the course outline in advance and knowing the expectations for the module is crucial so that students can keep abreast of all the requirements. One tip is to put them all in the calendar and colour code each module so students will be able to handle multiple modules at once. Planning ahead also means understanding what the expectations are for their assignments and projects. That way, the students will be able to seek clarification and/or surface their queries before they start working on them.
- Reading ahead – As comprehension of the reading material might be difficult and strenuous especially if the module uses very specific terminology due to the subject matter, completing the assigned readings or textbook before the lectures would help. Students can also use an online dictionary to check up the meanings or google search before annotating them on the side of the lecture notes.
- Asking for help – When students do not understand something, they should make appointments with their lecturers and tutors so that they can make the most out of their learning. Students may also approach their schools’ Student and Alumni Services Office to seek Academic Support, Counselling Services, etc. Students should always be encouraged to take ownership, which includes seeking help when they are struggling.
- Requesting for access accommodations – Retrieval of information might be difficult, so asking for extra time to copy down something off the board would help. Students can also ask for extra time during their examinations or assignment submission by approaching their schools’ Student and Alumni Services Office. Students who study at IHLs such as ITEs and Polytechnics may also have access to the MOE Special Educational Needs (SEN) Fund where students with SEN can seek funding to purchase assistive technology which includes scanning pens, iPads, text-to-speech software (MOE, 2021, August 13). Other tertiary institutes like autonomous universities and art institutes may also provide similar services and support. Students can check in with the Student and Alumni Services Office for guidance and information.
2. How teachers and friends will be able to help students with dyslexia
Having self-advocacy skills and knowing what kind of learning support is available for them is vital for tertiary students with dyslexia to do better in school (Rowan, 2014). Here are some strategies and techniques for lecturers and tutors which will be useful for supporting older learners in classrooms or lecture halls so that they can be more inclusive.
- Knowing which students require help and what may enable them to demonstrate their learning accurately is useful. Lecturers and tutors may consider an online screener or checklist to enable students to better understand their own learning profile while allowing lecturers and tutors to better understand their students.
For the adult dyslexia checklist, they can access it here: https://das.org.sg/about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/adult-dyslexia-checklist.html
- Having different forms of questions in tests – MCQs might be more overwhelming because of the amount of information which includes reading both the questions and options. Therefore, lecturers and tutors might want to provide different types of questions to vary the level of difficulty. These would include short answer questions, fill-in-the-blank, or even essay questions.
- Scaffolding assignments and instructions – Lecturers and tutors may want to break down tasks and give instructions clearly so that students will have a better understanding of what they need to do. Lecturers and tutors can also reiterate instructions by posting them up in the Student’s Learning Portal so that the students can go and retrieve it on their own just in case they missed out anything.
- Being available for queries and clarifications – Asking questions in front of the entire class may be uncomfortable for the students, so lecturers and tutors can reiterate that they are available for consultations after lecture or tutorial hours to answer their questions.
- Writing important information and terminology on the board – Students with dyslexia have trouble copying things when they are just listening to you. Trying to figure out the spelling at the same time would slow them down even further. Therefore, lecturers and tutors might want to write down specific keywords on the board so that students will take note of them.
In summary, tertiary students with dyslexia need to know that they are not alone. There is support available at IHLs if they need help. Additionally, lecturers and tutors may also want to be more aware of what they can do to make the learning environment more inclusive for the students to learn.
For more information and advice, students, lecturers and tutors may want to check in with the Student and Alumni Services Office. They can also visit the following links:
Lead Educational Therapist
Curriculum Specialist (English Language and Literacy Division)
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Bogdanowicz, K. (2006). A short introduction to dyslexia. The teacher, 2(36), 22-28.
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2018, November). Professional Practice Guidelines: Psycho-social assessment and placement of students with special educational needs. https://www.moe.gov.sg/-/media/files/special-education/professional-practice-guidelines.pdf.
Ministry of Education, Singapore (2021, August 13). Special educational needs support at Institutes of Higher Learning. https://www.moe.gov.sg/special-educational-needs/school-support/ihl
Rowan, L. (2014) University transition experiences of four students with dyslexia in New Zealand, Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19:2, 129-136, DOI: 10.1080/19404158.2014.923478