In Finland, dyslexia (lukivaikeus) is defined as an impairment of both reading and writing. A key characteristic in dyslexia is difficulty processing and perceiving connections in phonologic (i.e. sound-related) information. For people with dyslexia, reading is a protracted process and consumes an inordinate amount of time. Affected persons may also make extensive mistakes when reading aloud.
Problems perceiving the gist of a text also slow down the reading process. Persons with dyslexia may feel unable to make sense of a text no matter how much they try. This also slows down writing, as it complicates the ability to break down text into the smaller units needed for writing. In the text itself, sounds and letters seem to get jumbled up, letters swap places or disappear entirely, and the person’s handwriting may be clumsy. The difficulty recognising sounds influences the person’s foreign language ability as well, especially in reading, writing and remembering the correct spellings of words. Remembering a long series of instructions may also be problematic
Tips for student guidance
- Provide the student with instructions and advice on techniques for studying. Tips on study skills can be found on the Aalto study psychologist pages: https://into.aalto.fi/display/enopisk/Study+skills
- Be clear and reassuring when advising the student. Give the student all the time he or she needs to get familiar with the material given.
Course study routines on the right track?
- Make the course timetables and schedules clear and legible.
- Give the students the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the study material in advance, if at all possible. Flipped classrooms, where students review materials before classroom sessions, are also a good option.
- Provide students with lecture slides well in advance of the lectures. A readymade outline of slide presentations can help students to follow the lecture, as they do not need to concentrate so much on taking notes then. Students who acquaint themselves with the lecture outline ahead of time can more clearly grasp the structure the subject to be learned.
- Do not give exercises where the student has to read great amounts of text during classtime or otherwise under time pressure.
- Help the student to reserve enough time to do the coursework, clearly telling him/her about the work in advance and, if needed, giving extra time to do written coursework.
- Encourage the student to try out different ways of preparing for exams, such as using peer support and studying in small groups.
- Respond favourably to the use of study aids. For example, modern voice recording, text-to-speech and dictation programs are available as applications for smartphone and tablets.
- Ensure well in advance that the learning material and literature is available in a format compatible with the student’s device. PDF files, for example, are suitable for many devices. Textbooks may be available in e-book format from the Aalto Learning Centre. The Learning Centre can also help with the use of Celia, the national centre for accessible literature in Finland.
- Make sure your learning materials are clear and non-ambiguous. If instructions are repeated, ensure that they are consistent with each other wherever they appear.
- For the material, use a sufficiently large font (e.g. 12 point), a clearly readable sans-serif font type (e.g. Arial) and sufficiently large line-spacing.
Learning in lectures
- Be aware that students may need a chance to make audio and/or visual recordings for their studying needs. Students have the right to make such recordings for their own use, but not to publish them without permission. A practice for making such recordings should be arranged, however, between the teacher and the student.
- Be clear in teaching situations. Writing on e.g. a whiteboard simultaneously while lecturing often interferes with diverse learners’ concentration and learning. Remember also to speak calmly and clearly.
- Break down subjects into smaller parts and organise instructions into different stages.
- Break down your presentation or lecture into clear subject divisions for study. Present the main points at the beginning and list them again at the end. In long presentations, also review the main points at other major section breaks.
- Use examples, stories and dialogue with your students when teaching. Provide graphical illustrative or practical examples of your content.
Best practices for examinations and evaluations
- Make room when planning your teaching for flexible procedures and alternative test-taking methods. Might an alternative form of testing work for all of the course students? Alternatives to traditional tests include: oral exams, student presentations, project work and multi-modal computer-based home exams that may include e.g. examples from different types of materials or the use of different programs or videos.
- Ensure that assigned exercises and instructions for answering questions are written clearly. Instructions and questions may also be given in audio form rather than as text.
- Students with dyslexia often need additional time as dyslexia can slow down both reading and writing. The need for additional time is often greater in assignments that include a great deal of reading or writing or where time is otherwise sparse. At Aalto, such students may receive one (1) hour of additional time for taking exams.
- Students may also be helped by having the chance to take their exam by computer and use a proofreading program when writing. Answering assigned questions on computer, where the answers may be modified, helps the student also to produce a more comprehensive response regarding what he or she has learned.
- Encourage the student to make use of study tools, such as colour overlays to facilitate reading, or computer utilities suitable for exams.
- Do not penalise for errors caused by dyslexia; provide a form of assessment in which spelling mistakes do not lower the grade.
For more information, see:
THE FINNISH STUDENT HEALTH SERVICE (FSHS): The Finnish Student Health Service 2016: http://www.yths.fi/en/healthsurvey2016
Guide to accommodating special reading and writing needs in higher education [in Finnish only – Lukemisen ja kirjoittamisen vaikeuden huomioon ottaminen korkeakouluopiskelussa] http://www.esok.fi/esok-hanke/julkaisut/oppaat/lukeminen/
Homepage for the Finnish diverse learners association [in Finnish only – Erilaiset oppijat ry]: https://www.eoliitto.fi/
Individual study arrangements
In Finnish higher education, 4.4% of students have been diagnosed as having dyslexia (Finnish Student Health Service 2016). Reading is slow for people with dyslexia due to difficulties in perceiving and mentally processing the sounds of words and text.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder may present in students as a difficulty concentrating, making mistakes of ‘carelessness’ , or encountering hurdles to independent study.
Of mental disorders, particularly depression is common with young adults. With mental disorders, it is important to listen to one’s own feelings and remember to reserve sufficient time for recovering from the strain of studies.
Anxiety means a state where a person is feeling restless and worried. Short-term anxiety and performance anxiety are very common and natural phenomena. Anxiety disorders refer to situations where feelings of anxiety are long-term and disproportionate to the situation.