Like you, I strive to serve my students with the latest and greatest in ideas and technology, but not at the expense of wisdom. This continues a series on conquering the fear of technology and embracing it for use by students in the classroom.
Today’s post is on FaceTime and other videoconferencing platforms, and how you can use them to accommodate your dyslexic students.
Being able to see as well as be seen by the person they’re talking to, is extremely important to dyslexic students.
If you do anything with your mentees/students that requires talking to someone remotely, a phone call isn’t enough. Forcing them to read and write letters may as well be a punishment, and you know how I hate punishment. Maybe you have pen pals in other states or countries. Maybe you do video chats with professionals in different fields on career day. Maybe you do remote field trips, where a person with an iPad can take you on a tour of a park, museum, school, or even a whole country! FaceTime can also be useful for parent-teacher conference, grandparent day (maybe grandma is in a nursing home and can’t come to school, or lives out of state), job interviews, admissions interviews, whatever!
Now, your dyslexic student, who previously hated pen pal time, because he could neither read his pen pal’s letter, nor write him a letter in which he felt fully expressed and understood, can engage with his FacePal (I should totally trademark that), and get a wonderful cultural exchange (which is the whole point, by the way).
There are a few critical factors at play, in videoconferencing, for a kid with dyslexia.
One: Because of a deficit in the ability to retrieve words (spoken and written), she compensates by attending to the parts of communication she can observe without needing the faculties of language processing.
In a nutshell: because of a difference in brain wiring, a student with dyslexia may ‘lose’ a word as its on its way from a meaning in her head to a sound in her mouth. Along the way, it may even transmorgify into a completely different word that sounds similar, but has a totally different meaning.
You can imagine the frustration of having a brilliant thought, but, as its being processed into language, it gets all muddled. Magnify that by being unable to see the person she’s communicating with, and you’ve got a pretty big mess.
To compensate, she begins to attend more intensely to body language, gesture, facial expression, tone, and inflection in order to communicate and understand. Since these modes of communication exist outside of the realm of language, and more in the sphere of emotion, the dyslexic child becomes highly ‘versed’ in recognizing them. It is, therefore critical that she be able to see the person she’s talking to.
Two: The child with dyslexia needs the multisensory feedback of seeing the effect of her communication on the listener.
Since the student with dyslexia doesn’t have the tool of easy spoken and written word smithing, she must rely on her sight.
FaceTime allows her to gauge the emotional climate her words are creating in the listener in real time. She can see the furrowing of a brow, crossing of arms, leaning away, frowns of confusion, eye rolling, or squinted eyes.
These clues give her an indication of whether her point is coming across since she can never be certain if the words are coming out right. She can try to adjust her words or rephrase them until the desired emotional climate is reached in the listener: a nod of understanding, a tilting of the head and rubbing of the chin that shows interest, or a smile of enjoyment.
An analogy: Remember the physicists who ‘discovered’ dark matter? They couldnt see it or touch it. They could only observe its effects on the universe and make an informed guess as to its shape, origins, or behavior.
For dyslexics, language is kind of like dark matter. It’s accessible, but not through the usual channels.
Three: A student with dyslexia needs to be seen in order to be fully expressed and ensure maximum understanding.
I bet you know a kid who starts explaining something to you, but immediately begins to retrace the words and repeat them over and over. With each repetition, his tone and inflection become more and more expressive, he’s flailing his arms and acting out the drama of the story adding (highly realistic) sound effects and endless side stories and tangents. He’s seemingly heedless of how long he’s taking to tell the story, except you can see him wildly glancing at you out of the side of his eye to try and gauge your reaction. He knows he’s wearing on your patience, so he tries to wrap it up, but he’s not sure if he said the right thing or whether you understood what he really wanted to say. He seems a little dazed and introverted for a moment afterward trying to figure out what just happened.
Ring any bells?
I call this symptom of dyslexia the Double Dose.
Because word retrieval is an issue, students with dyslexia may compensate for loss of communication in language by exaggerating their body language, inflection, and other kinesthetic communication.
Imagine, for instance, that you’re hosting a birthday party. You realize, suddenly that you have no cake. Panic sets in. You know Julia Child said “A party without cake is just a meeting”.
Well, you know people love ice cream almost as much as they love cake, so, you make up for the lack of cake, by serving everyone a double (or triple, or quadruple) dose of ice cream. You know the double down on the ice cream isn’t quite the same as having cake, but it’s close.
This is why some students with dyslexia seem so flamboyant and exaggerated in their speech and manner. Instead of saying “It was an exciting weekend.” they have to resort to a full blow-by-blow of what happened to them, complete with a foley artist and lying on the floor to act out being dead from exhaustion. The problem was, they couldn’t pull out the words “exciting weekend”.
But you still get the point that it, indeed, was an exciting weekend.
That’s why FaceTime is so important. All of these expressive gestures and mannerisms are critical for their process of making themselves understood.
As in all things, you have to use something you do understand in order to figure out something you don’t understand. That’s probably why dyslexics are famous for their ability to problem solve and see the big picture. They’re getting lots of practice day in and day out.
It seems like a weakness, but, in many ways, it’s also a strength. When language barriers are initially a problem for the rest of us sequential thinkers, a child with dyslexia is already carrying on a beautiful, warm relationship with the natives. She’s attending to their mannerisms and facial expressions and can already tell who’s friend and foe. She can note and mimic their body language and gain acceptance.
So, FaceTime! Use it early and often.
There’s really no greater tool (okay except maybe teleportation and mind reading, but those are still a few years out:) for helping a kid with dyslexia engage with the world, short of actually going there.
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