Study Skills for Secondary School and College Students with SpLDs

To Support Reading:

General Advice if you have slow processing

Don’t rush when you are reading, even if it feels like you are too slow, as this can cause mistakes and stop you taking in information. It’s very difficult to teach yourself to read faster if you process slowly and trying could make you feel anxious.

There is nothing wrong with re-reading, if you have to. Some students need to read once for accuracy, once for meaning, and some need to read more than that to recall all key information.

Reading is not a race. Some people naturally read slower than other. Rushing leads to errors and anxiety

Reading aloud, or semi aloud, can help some students. Try it. (Although reading aloud can be extremely difficult for many dyslexic students, so ask your teachers to be sensitive about what and when they ask you to read out to the class.)

Focus on all the words – don’t guess small words based on expected meaning, as these can be all important and wrong guesses will affect your comprehension. Also looking at all words, including the small ones, will stop you rushing, so you take it in better.

Focus on all parts of words when reading, not just the beginning

Look at the middle and end of long words, as well as at the beginning. Many long words are very similar in all but one syllable, which could completely change their meaning. Curriculum topic words often have a similar core (middle) and different beginnings (prefixes) or endings (suffixes) with each type of prefix or suffix changing the meaning. Familiarise yourself with those meanings to help you when reading. For example, words ending “tion” will be nouns, words ending “ed” will often be past tense verbs, words beginning “un” will have a negative connotation and those starting “pre” will have something to do with a concept of “before” (e.g. “preparation”, “precondition”).

Notice all parts of words – ending especially can be guessed wrong, changing meaning dramatically.

When a long sentence confuses you, notice whether it doesn’t start with the main point but starts instead with less important information (this will be a sentence with reversed clause order, which can be confusing for those who process slowly). Reversed order clauses will start with a conjunction like “Although”, “Because” or “If”. Try using your finger to track along the line to the first comma and start reading there, to find the main point. You can go back to the rest later. Sometimes, there could be two or more “additional information” parts of the sentence before the main point – if so, you will be looking for the second or third comma before you get to the main point.

General advice when reading if you have weak short term memory

Take a pause after each sentence to think about what you have read and what it means, rather than rushing on.

It may help you to sound out each syllable of long words you don’t recognise. This stops you guessing inaccurately or missing out bits of Again, you may remember more, if you read aloud. Try it.

Try sounding out all syllables when reading, so you don’t miss one out or guess a wrong ending

Active reading techniques for ALL students to try:

Summarise key information mentally between paragraphs before moving on.

Write key words in the margin of a text as you go (if you are allowed).

Put what you read into your own words, word by word, in your head as you go. This makes meaning clearer and stops you forgetting things, even if you think you know all the words.

As you read, ask questions in your head: Why did that happen? What does that suggest? What clues are there in this sentence/ in the verb or adjective, to what I’m looking for? I don’t know what this word means, but is it positive or negative? An adjective, noun or verb? Do I know the broad category of meaning and is that enough to help me understand what I need? Self questioning in your head improves comprehension AND stops you getting distracted.

Visualisation strategies when reading

Highlight/ circle key words when reading exam questions, to help you see exactly what you need to do or to include in your answer.

Make mental pictures of what you are reading as you go along, as still pictures. Or imagine you are watching a video, as if on You Tube. These are visually active ways of digesting information, which can help you to remember and recall information when you need it later. If you realise you have forgotten something, imagine rewinding the mental “video” to the bit just before you forgot, and the associations could jog your memory.

Visualising words as pictures means you can retain a lot more without using verbal or auditory memory capacity. Ask yourself questions to recall details.

To Support Writing

If you have slow processing:

Always plan written answers, before diving in (eg with mind maps or spider diagrams). These help you to organise your work and not get confused. Not planning is a false economy. It never saves you time and usually means you miss out key information or confuse order of ideas. Don’t stop planning, until you have noted supporting evidence, as well as your main points. Ask yourself questions (Which are the most important points? Why is this point important? What evidence do I have? How can I describe this idea? What does it look/smell/sound like?) Also ask: Have I forgotten anything? Is there anything else I should say? Am I sure that everything here is relevant to the question?

Skipping the planning stage is a false economy

When writing your answers out in full, keep going back to your plan, so you don’t forget to include details and so you don’t get the order wrong. This way of doing it means that you can focus on spelling and grammar without also mentally working on organisation and idea generation at the same time, to reduce processing overload.

Even if you find it hard, try to use complex sentences in your writing, as they help to improve your work. Practice helps you get better at them fairly quickly. Notice complex sentences in what you read and copy the basic structure when practising, until you are confident. Tell a teacher what you are doing so they don’t criticise, but help correct errors.

Making an effort to include some of these conjunctions in your writing will mean you start using the language you need for complex ideas.

Try sometimes using a word processor at home to produce long written assignments, even if you have good handwriting. This will help you to organise your ideas and detail better, as this way, you can add in detail later in the right place, as well as using cut and paste and being able to avoid crossings out, if you do need to change something.

If you have weak short term memory, when writing:

When you are given new/ tricky adjectives or terminology for a particular topic, write them in your own personal vocabulary notebook. You can look back at these in later lessons to help you with spelling or word recognition. Use colour for the parts of words you find tricky, as this helps your memory register the right spelling.

As with slow processing, always plan writing (e.g. using mind maps or spider diagrams). Produce these by asking yourself questions about the subject, to help you to remember more interesting facts and details.

Again, as with slow processing, when you are writing out your answer go back to the plan regularly, so you do not get side-tracked or forget anything.

Refer back to your plan regularly, or you may miss chunks out

Compile a list of useful conjunctions needed in complex sentences and practice using them. This will help you to answer questions more efficiently and increase the value of your answers. If you already understand and use complex sentences verbally, just trying to use more of these conjunctions in writing will mean you automatically improve the impact of your sentences without even thinking of the grammar.

When you have finished a piece of work, check for one type of error at a time. Start by reading it to see if it makes sense, then look for punctuation errors, then look for missed words or endings and finally correct spellings. Looking separately means you spot more errors.

Don’t stick to simple words in an effort to avoid spelling errors, as you need a varied vocabulary, including a range of adjectives and more varied verb choice, to express yourself clearly and effectively.

If spelling is a significant issue for you, sound out spellings in your head first, then write something for every syllable in the word, even if you know it is not quite right. You will get marks for meaning, as the word is more likely to be readable, even if there is a small error.

Sound out the syllables in words you are unsure of. This means you will include something for every syllable and the word will be understandable.

Try sometimes using a word processor at home to produce homework, with SpellCheck, even if you don’t qualify for or need this in exams. This will help you to add in detail you may forget at first (using cut and paste for example) and increase the frequency with which you see correct spellings, leading to better future attempts.

Listening to Teacher Input in the classroom

If you process what you hear slowly

When making notes in class – if handouts are available, don’t scribble everything down but highlight key words and write your thoughts in your own words in the margin – single words when possible.

If no handouts are available, still don’t write everything down, when taking notes. Jot down occasional meaningful words, using colour or underlining, to help show what they mean to you. Then, with the teacher’s permission, borrow a peer’s notes and photocopy them or take a photo on your phone after the lesson which you can add to your own notes to later.

If you often fall behind and become confused when information is delivered too quickly for you in class by the teacher: ask teachers to repeat what they said more slowly and/ or to leave gaps between points/ statements. This will give you time to process everything you hear. If you prefer, ask the teacher before or after the lesson.

Record the topic under discussion in your planner or diary, so you can look it up online when you get home, to fill in any gaps (eg on intranet or college/school recommended websites).

If you really struggle to retain what you hear in class, a digital recorder with voice to text software can record lesson input. Some programmes have all sorts of features to label or colour code important bits, so you can find them easily. (Permission needs to be given to use a recorder in class/ lectures). You can then listen to it at home or download and “bookmark” it to your computer. (This is called Assistive Technology)

Strategies are similar, if weak short term memory or attention is what affects you when listening in class ….

Use strategies to keep actively engaging with information being delivered verbally, so you keep concentration. Passive listening means information could go in one ear and out the other. This doesn’t mean you have forgotten it. It means you did not actively download it into your memory in the first place. Active listening/ engagement will enable you to register and “file” information before it is lost. Strategies include the following …

Visualise what is being said (as still pictures in your head, or as a YouTube video). By doing so, you are actively engaging with what is being said by turning it into pictures. Your brain knows to file the information visually and you can ask yourself questions, to recall details in the picture or mental moving image.

Repeat key facts or words under your breath. Repetition is one of the simplest of memory strategies but it also counts as “actively engaging”.

Notice what something sounds like/ reminds you of/ rhymes with. Your brain might remember this association, as a way into the information you really need. This is how memory works. We remember what we do something with, however silly! Consciously notice when something you hear is connected to what you already know.

Ask yourself questions under your breath to encourage these recalled connections, as you listen, and your brain will be better able to file information where you can find it.

Again, if you really struggle to retain what you hear in class, a digital recorder with voice to text software can record lesson input and help you download it into note form and make sense of it later. (n.b.permission needs to be given to use a recorder).