Assignment marking should be treated as the direct and individual way in which teachers communicate with their students. For students with dyslexia this contact should be more personalized. It is important that teachers familiarise themselves with the general guidelines on marking the work of students with dyslexia provided by their institution. Specific guidelines for languages teachers are outlined below.
First contact and motivation
Teachers are advised to:
- Find out about any personal reasons or motivation to study a foreign language that their students may have, and bear this in mind to encourage them to do their best and remain motivated and focused (this applies to all learners).
- Point out that the distance and blended learning context works well for learners who are dyslexic, because a) it uses multi-sensory learning materials, b) there is no need for handwriting, c) it encourages independent learning, so there is no pressure to keep up with other students.
- Invite the student to explain how they approach assignments, how they prepare for them, put them together and submit them. Students may be able to send their notes to teachers together with their assignment. This could help to identify any problems regarding academic and foreign language learning skills. These are examples of the kind of problems you might notice are that they may have been attempting literal translation; they may have written too much text in one single sheet of paper and attempted then to deliver their messages using that, which would be quite difficult; or they may have written a line in English, and a line in the target foreign language directly underneath.
Once students’ writing strategies are clear, tutors can point them in the right direction if necessary.
- Advise students with dyslexia to submit a special circumstances form with their assignments, so the Assessment Board is fully informed.
Explaining the teacher’s role
It is important that tutors let dyslexic students know that they can count on their support. However, it is also important to let them know how far the teacher’s role allows to help students, particularly in terms of assignment preparation. If the student tends to request and need a great deal of support, teachers should discuss a special one-to-one session with their academic managers.
- If teachers have contact with their dyslexic student’s mentor, they should welcome and discuss any suggestions given and ensure the student is given consistent advice. Students also need to understand the different role that their teacher and their dyslexia Tutor or mentor play and the different type of support they offer. In particular, the student needs to understand that their teacher is the expert regarding the module, the assignments and the way in which these should be prepared.
- Teachers need to discuss with their learners with dyslexia which way of highlighting and correcting errors in written work might be the most effective and useful one for them. Teachers could prepare a sample page, which shows three different approaches, i.e. track changes, colour-coded highlighting of particular errors and correction of individual errors in brackets, using comment boxes.
- Students with dyslexia are likely to repeat some mistakes even after being corrected many times. Teachers should continue to correct them, but it is important not to lose patience and provide constructive feedback which will help the student to make progress but will not discourage them.
- If there are too many mistakes to correct, it is possible to correct each type of mistake in a fresh copy of the document. The student would receive several files, each covering a specific kind of mistake, e.g. incorrect use of linguistic structures and vocabulary. Teachers could consider recording a mini lesson using “Jing” to deal with specific structures. Another possibility is to mark one sentence at a time, separately. This is more feasible in shorter TMAs, as those in beginner’s courses.
- In English for Academic Purposes (EAP), if the grammatical errors are many, it is advisable to focus on just two or three areas, provide feedback and useful links and possibly set up a special session to deal with these error types.
When writing their feedback teachers need to make sure that the text is subdivided into meaningful and easily recognizable chunks or paragraphs. They can use bullet points when listing specific items to break up the text.
- To motivate the student, it is important to include praise as well as constructive feedback.
- If a feedback form is used, teachers can provide feedback as well in a Word document added to the form if they want to use more formatting features to make the text more easily accessible for students with dyslexia (e.g. using colour coding, normal, bold font and numbering).
- If a student is going to fail an assignment, tutors may want to speak to him/her before returning the assignment, in order to soften the blow.