Philip Haines is an ELT author, teacher trainer and international conference speaker, who has been living in Mexico since he moved there from the UK in 1995. Philip works as an academic consultant giving ELT training sessions all over Mexico.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I was brought up in London, but moved to Mexico City in 1995. Before then I studied art and then worked as a sculptor. In Mexico I became an English teacher and then moved into teacher training.
You have recently started leading training sessions on dealing with dyslexic students in class. How did this come about?
I was very reluctant to talk about my dyslexia for many years, but as I get older I realize that I don’t need to hide it anymore. I now take pride in my dyslexia and want teachers to learn about it. I don’t want students to suffer.
What are some risk factors to keep in mind when identifying students with dyslexia?
I am not qualified to diagnose dyslexia, but there are some things that teachers can keep in mind. Do some students avoid reading aloud and make many mistakes when they do? Do some students misspell the same word in several ways in the same text? Do some students read very slowly, even if they are very capable at other tasks?
What are some things teachers can do to help students with dyslexia?
I think one of the best things that teachers can do is to try to reduce the stress that dyslexic students face. If as a teacher you think some students might be dyslexic, avoid getting them to read aloud. Alternatively, select short passages that you would like those students to read in a following class and give them time and support to practise the extract. Then, when they read aloud in class, they will do so with confidence. Teachers should read aloud to students more. Many dyslexic students will be able to process the text better if it is read to them. Teachers can raise awareness of strategies for learning spellings of problematic words. Personally as a second language Spanish speaker I often say an English word as if it were said in Spanish and then I can spell it without any problem.
What are things that students with dyslexia might find complicated?
One thing that distinguishes dyslexic people from the non-dyslexic is the amount of effort they need to decode words. A non-dyslexic can recognize many words in a text by sight which allows then to read quickly. In contrast, a dyslexic person will have to decode far more words by assigning a sound to each letter, put these all together and then work out what the word is. This slows down the reading and requires a huge mental effort. Dyslexic students might also have problems dealing with things like phone numbers. I can’t process a phone number if you tell it to me. I need to see it written down.
Where can teachers find out more on how to help their students?
There are a number of good sources of information on the Internet about dyslexia. One I found very useful was the British Dyslexia Association.
Do you think teachers should receive special training?
Definitely. Teachers need to know more about learning difficulties in general. We sometimes fail some students because we don’t understand their needs.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I never thought I could become a language teacher because of my dyslexia. However, I now believe it has helped me. I have first-hand experience of learning difficulties and I am also very patient with slower students.