I’ve recently started some 1-1 sessions on strategies for coping with dyslexia whilst studying. One of the sessions focused on reading techniques and strategies which may be of use. Dyslexia is now closely linked to deficiencies in short-term and working memory and it should be fairly obvious how important that can be when reading and taking notes. It can hamper an individual’s ability to process the information they just read whilst taking in the new information as they read along a sentence. I find myself drifting in and out of understanding, sometimes even reading whole passages whilst actually thinking of something entirely different. When that happens it is normally a sign that I’m not remotely engaged with the text.
When I was at university first time around I didn’t even know I had the condition until the final year of my studies by which time a lot of my habits had been set. Now I’m learning to do things a bit differently. Chances are most students do some or all of the techniques already – this is definitely not any kind of science. Whereas before I might have read a chapter from start to finish in the hope that it will all be useful or at least aid my understanding, I’m now being much more selective which aids my concentration and helps keep me interested in what I’m reading.
The first thing that I’ve noticed these last few weeks is that it really helps to have a plan in terms of what you need to read and why you’re reading it. In terms of reading for a seminar (and my goodness you should see the amount I need to read for this thing) I now start off by reading quickly through the introduction and conclusion of a piece. Then it’s a matter of reading each heading and then focusing on individual paragraphs. This really helps keep the attention on what matters and you can skip paragraphs with ease if they don’t give out what you’re putting in. Time is of the essence and wasting it on redundant sections will not help in the long run so be ruthless.
Then there are articles or chapters of work that I need to use in essays or presentations. For this I follow the same steps as above but I also make notes. I don’t just start writing though. OK, I did a few days ago but now I’m getting better at structuring my notes from the outset. I use a mind map with the author and title in the centre then I add branches and notes for the introduction, the conclusion and then each important paragraph or issue. Doing this in mind mapping software is the easiest way but pen and paper work too (we just can’t get rid of them).
This technique has the bonus of allowing me to visualise the structure of the piece and that in turn helps me to memorise the ideas and research the author was writing about. This makes it easier to take part in seminar discussions and also write essays. With the mind mapping you can easily summarise points using your own ‘voice’ and get ideas down into bite size chunks. I’m finding planning my essays this way means that the first draft is almost writing itself as the mind map contains so much information (although I will blog on writing in more details at a later date).
I think the frustrating thing with a lot of dyslexia techniques is how annoyingly obvious they are. They apply just as well to people without dyslexia in terms of good practice. But it would be wrong to get too frustrated over this. Trying new ideas out and finding what works for you as a student or a worker is surely the most important thing. My advice would be to experiment and take time out to get it right. Planning and structuring your studies or your work takes valuable time but it improves effectiveness and aids both understanding and memory.