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Harnessing the Strengths of Students with Dyslexia

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Recognizing Dyslexia’s Strengths in the Classroom” by Fernette Eide in Educational Leadership, April 2017 (Vol. 74, #7, online only),; Eide can be reached at
“There is a quiet revolution taking place in our understanding of dyslexia,” says Fernette Eide (Dyslexia Advantage) in this article in Educational Leadership. “No longer seen as a disease, disorder, or defect, dyslexia is being embraced as a common learning difference affecting some 15-20 percent of the population whose bearers have distinctive strengths as well as specific preferences in modes of learning.” The premier designer at Apple, Google’s first chief information officer, a top-grossing film director, and the inventor of the first compact disk are all dyslexic.
But it’s easy for students with dyslexia to become discouraged in school, especially if the classroom culture emphasizes competition, performance, getting good grades, rote learning of spelling and basic math facts, and working against the clock. “Dyslexic students can be found in every classroom,” says Eide, “although many may not be formally identified as such. Teachers have tremendous potential to affect these students at a time when they are at greatest risk for low self-esteem and underachievement.”
Eide and her husband, Brock Eide, have identified four strengths of people with dyslexia – their acronym is MIND – that teachers can consider when planning curriculum units and lessons:
• M-strengths – These spatial reasoning and navigational abilities help people reason about the physical or material world. Teachers can support the success of students with dyslexia by presenting concepts with manipulatives and incorporating hands-on projects.
• I-strengths – Interconnected reasoning helps people see how different ideas, objects, or experiences are related. Students with I-strengths can more easily see things, people, and events from different points of view. Teachers can support the success of students with I-strengths by challenging students to think from an unconventional perspective, combine ideas from different disciplines, and use creative, divergent thinking.
• N-strengths – Narrative reasoning is helpful when constructing a sequence of mental scenes to recall the past, explain the present, or simulate the future. N-strengths can come to the fore in the classroom when teachers have students translate vivid mental images and narratives into the written word or other forms of expression, and also when teachers have students use stories and mnemonics to memorize material.
• D-strengths – Dynamic reasoning is the ability to see patterns and trends to make predictions about the future. Teachers can harness D-strengths with lessons that get students dealing with complex systems that change over time – geology, paleontology, social networks, complex games, and the study of history and culture.

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