How to Help Students With Dyslexia Become Independent Learners

by | Jan 4, 2016 | Life Skills | 8 comments

How to Help Students With Dyslexia Become Independent Learners

Nothing pushes a busy homeschool mom to the brink faster than a line of kids needing her help and needing it now!  All homeschool parents desire to teach their kids to be independent learners, but there are some different hurdles for the parent of students with dyslexia.

Helping kids to become independent learners requires two areas of focus:

  • Motivation
  • Tools

Growing Independence by Fostering a Motivation to Learn

Before we begin to teach our kids with dyslexia to be independent learners, we need to foster a sense of confidence and motivation that can be particularly difficult when learning is associated with so many difficulties.

How to foster motivation in kids with dyslexia:

  1. Provide opportunities for success.  Nothing is more motivating than success.  As our kids experience even small successes in their education, they become more confident and eager to do those things.  Remember that kids with dyslexia are holistic thinkers.  They will find more success if they can see the big picture first and then fit the details into that whole.
  2. Provide positive feedback.  One of the freedoms of homeschooling our kids with dyslexia is that our kids aren’t measured by some arbitrary standard of where they should be.  Traditional standards of achievement can be used as a general guide, but we should be more focused on progress rather than perfection with our kids with dyslexia.
  3. Building confidence.  Another benefit of  homeschooling our kids with dyslexia is that we avoid the trap of being compared to traditional learners all. day. long.  However, we still need to be aware that we are not creating any unhealthy competitions between siblings or by having unrealistic expectations.  Understand the concept of what Dr. Carol Dweck calls a ‘growth mindset’.  By praising our kids’ effort rather than their end product, we build the kind of confidence that will keep them trying, despite hardship.
  4. Acknowledge and encourage strengths.  My dyslexic husband says that he doesn’t know how he ever would have gotten through school without sports and music, in both of which he excelled.  Be sure to be on the lookout for your kids’ strengths and give them ample time to grow and enjoy these strengths.  Doing so will improve confidence and balance out the difficulties they may have with other types of learning.
  5. Help them set goals for themselves.  What do they want to be able to do?  Do they like to write stories?  Let them practice their writing skills by writing their stories.  Do they want to own a pet?  Have them do research to learn more about what that entails.  When kids are working towards their own goals, they will be much more motivated to read and write in whatever ways necessary to get there.
Independent Learners

Goals for Independent Learning

My personal goals for my dyslexic kids are that they be able to take a list of daily or weekly assignments, understand what to do, and have the confidence, responsibility and ability to complete those assignments with minimal involvement from teachers or parents (me).

Tools for Teaching Independence for the Student With Dyslexia

Helping kids with dyslexia to become independent leaners requires both motivation and the right tools.  Nothing compares to the variety of assistive technology available today to give all students with dyslexia the tools they need to become fully independent.

Assistive technology consists primarily of:

  • Text-to-Speech:  converts printed text to spoken words using synthesized voices.  One of today’s most frequently used assistive technologies and is built into computer operating systems, mobile devices, e-book readers, and websites.  Examples of tools that feature text-to-speech are NaturalReader, Read & Write Gold, and Voice Dream Reader.
  • Audio Books:  Audiobooks feature recorded human narration. They are available in different formats, including audio CDs and MP3 files. They are a good option for students who cannot tolerate the synthesized voices of text-to-speech over the course of an entire book. Read this post for the best sources for audio books.
  • Speech-to-Text:  Also referred to as dictation technology, speech-to-text converts spoken words to printed text. Since accurate dictation relies on context, this technology works well for students who are able to formulate phrases and sentences in their minds before dictating them. The leading speech-to-text programs are Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows and Dragon Dictate for OS X. Students can also dictate on their tablets and smart phones with the integrated dictation of mobile operating systems.
  • Word prediction software:  Word prediction software provides dyslexic students with spelling assistance while they type. The technology anticipates and predicts the correct words after only a few characters are typed. Word prediction is an effective tool when dictation is not an option and when students wish to write with moderate assistance. Two high-quality word prediction programs are Co:Writer and WordQ. The technology can also be found in a number of third-party keyboards available for iPads.
  • Electronic graphic organizers: Electronic graphic organizers allow students to organize information visually while completing writing assignments, taking notes on textbook chapters, and studying for tests. Because they are digital, they are accessible to dyslexic students and can be used in conjunction with other AT tools for independent learning. Examples include Inspiration, Mindomo, and Popplet.

Steps for Teaching Students With Dyslexia to be Independent Learners

Independence in Younger Years – Kindergarten thru Third Grades

The years between Kindergarten and 3rd grade have lots of one-on-one time with mom/teacher.  We are reading all assignments, teaching everything from Math to History to Science to Spelling and Reading.  One of the first baby steps we take in helping our kids become independent learners is to teach them how to listen to audio books.  Most kids with dyslexia love a good story.  Help them learn various ways to access this technology.  There are some excellent educational apps for kids with dyslexia as well.

Independence in Fourth thru Sixth Grades

Simple Speech-to-Text apps or programs (see above) can help students with dyslexia put their thoughts on paper without the burden of figuring out spelling.  We’re still teaching spelling but we use technology to help them enjoy the writing process more.

It’s during these years that we also begin using computerized, video-based school programs such as the Math program, Teaching Textbooks.  Teaching Textbooks have an excellent video lesson format followed by interactive lessons where a child can click a button for help or watch how a problem is done if they get a problem wrong.

Another lifesaver for our family has been the Reading Horizons Elevate program designed for students 10 and up.  Two of our kids have gone through this program now with fantastic results in reading fluency, spelling and comprehension.  Better yet, it is completely online and mastery based, therefore requiring little parent involvement after the program is properly set up.  Read my full review here.

Independence in Seventh thru Ninth Grades

Depending on the child and the current family dynamic, I begin to look for non-threatening classroom opportunities for my middle school aged kids.  I have found it helpful to sign them up for a class on a subject that they are naturally interested in such as science, history, art, cooking or acting.  Choose something with a fairly small class size and a teacher that is open to offering accommodations with accountability for your child.  This gives kids an idea of what a classroom environment is like as well as providing a gentle introduction into learning how to handle outside assignments and due dates.

Continue using curricula that encourage independence.  We use Teaching Textbooks  for Math throughout the middle and high school years and may add a class or two from the Switched on Schoolhouse program at this time as well.  Although a lot of the content is presented through text, Switched On Schoolhouse has a built in text reader for students who would benefit from that. The text reader requires the child to highlight the text, then press the read aloud button. This is a great tool for fostering independence, since the student can use it by himself.

Teaching Independent Learning in Tenth Grade and Up

Continue to implement assistive technologies that are appropriate for your student’s current needs.  Textbooks can be listened to, papers dictated via speech-to-text technology and notes taken using graphic organizers.

Encouraging independent learning in dyslexic learners is a balance between motivational factors and providing the tools your child needs to experience success.

Other curricula that we have used with success in the high school years are:

Lectures cover all of the traditional high school subjects. They are great courses for students in preparation for college coursework. We used their Astronomy, Geology, Calculus, Statistics, Music, World History, and other lecture series. At the high school level, these courses were some of our best homeschool curriculum for ADHD and dyslexia.

This online home school curriculum combines learning with interactive fun. It teaches language arts, math, science, and social studies. One of the best things about Time4Learning is that it gives students independence. Your child can progress at his own pace. The Time4Learning curriculum has engaging content, so it also motivates kids to learn. Time4Learning offers a free trial that is a great way to see whether the program is the best homeschool curriculum for your child.

A GREAT choice if your child prefers an audio-visual presentation. They have 3,000+ entertaining videos in a wide variety of topics. The programming is for high school level students. There is a small monthly fee for membership. However, the cost is low. It is a worthwhile fee for quality audio-visual content that will meet your child’s needs.

All families, whether homeschooling or not, have to navigate the process of helping their kids to become independent learners.  No one knows your child like you do.  Begin slowly by offering encouragement for effort and tailoring, when possible, curricula and teaching methods to the student’s learning style.  Add in some tools as needed and before you know it, your child will be mastering more and more of their education on their own.

How have you helped your student with dyslexia become a more independent learner?  Share in the comments below!



  1. Sharon

    I do not know what we would do without learning ally! It is an amazing tool for us. We are still trying to find a good reader for the internet/pdfs but that is my goal for 2016. We also use Touch Type Read and Spell for typing. I couldn’t agree more about motivation. My sons refuse to read, but if they are interested in something-they will read the whole book. Thank you for this list!

  2. Melissa

    Our 5th grade son just graduated from our local Scottish Rites Children’s Dyslexia Center. He is reading and can read, but much prefers to be read to. Most recently, I’m working on transitioning him to audio books and trying to wean him off me 😉 I also got a large print copy of the book he’s listening to from our library. He likes to follow along as he’s listening. The large print makes for less words on the page and more white space.

    This was a great post and I’m planning to link it to our blog!


  3. Lisa Smith

    Thank you Marianne for such a motivating post, I am trying to figure out high school for my 15 year old son. We use audio books extensively, I am still working on getting him to type, but he does use dragon dictate fairly successfully. For teaching writing I like IEW (Institute for Excellence in Writing). Any recommendations for science, he struggles with math, but is determined to go to college and wants to do paleontology or wildlife biology? I have looked at the Great Courses (The Teaching Company) but not sure if he is ready for that level?

    • Marianne

      Hi Lisa,
      For science we have used a variety of things. We liked Apologia for science. The texts are available on CD. We have used Time 4 Learning with success and also Kahn Academy videos.

  4. Anne

    My husband and I have made the decision to homeschool our dyslexic son next year. I have used Barton Reading and Spelling and found great improvement in his reading. He is going into seventh grade and still struggles greatly with spelling. We do use word prediction software to aid the spelling but still believe some intensive spelling instruction would be very beneficial. Would you recommend All About Spelling or the Reading Horizon program to help remediate his spelling?

    • Marianne

      Hi Anne. How exciting that you have decided to homeschool! For your son’s age, I recommend Reading Horizons. He can do it in large part on his own and it is a very rich program that can help with vocabulary, comprehension and fluency as well. 🙂

  5. Amy

    We are just starting my 6 th grade son with a Wilson tutor twice per week. Would Reading Horizons be a good thing to use the other 3 days per week?

    • Marianne

      Hi Amy,
      I would focus on what your Wilson tutor is doing for now. If you take break over the summer, that would be a god time to get some review in with Reading Horizons. 🙂


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