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Laying out classroom resources for increased readability

Snakes and ladders illustrated by Hannah Shaw in The Snake Who Came to Stay by Julia Donaldson

Rather brilliantly, we get a second crack of the whip when it comes to Dyslexia Awareness Week each year, because Scotland’s event comes along about a month after the England and Wales equivalent. To mark this important awareness-raising week, we’ve got a series of blog posts looking at our Tints app and some top tips for teachers.

At our recent Cheltenham Festival ”˜Removing the Barriers to Reading’ event, a head teacher asked us if we’d mind sharing some tips on how Barrington Stoke’s approach to accessibility could be of use to teachers and others working with children with dyslexia and visual stress. We hope the following tips are useful.

1. If you can, use pale tinted paper instead of bright white photocopy stock when printing or photocopying. For some readers, the high contrast between black and white results in a painful glare and can exacerbate visual distortion.

2. Avoid block capitals. Block capitals have less distinctive shapes than upper or lower case letters, and words made up of block capitals have less shape than words written in sentence case. The more shape a letter or word has, the more chance an individual with poor visual perception will recognise it.

3. Increase your character spacing. Follow the guides below for Microsoft Word on Mac and PC if you’re not sure how to go about this. Additional space helps combat tendencies to perceive words as a blur, or to flip and muddle letters.

4. Increase your line spacing to 1.5. This helps keep readers on the correct line. For some children the tail of, say, a lower-case ”˜p’ acts a little like a snake in Snakes and Ladders and their eye may ”˜slip down it’ to the line below.

5. Do not justify text to the right. Select this symbol:

Align left in Word

Text justified to the right makes for uneven character spacing and creates big blocks of text many children will struggle to navigate.

6. Try to ensure that there are at least seven or eight words in each line of text and avoid
breaking sentences
into small
chunks of text
as these require
the reader to
make multiple
”˜carriage returns’
to make meaning.

This is a problem for those with poor eye muscle control and those with working memory issues.

7. Try to find a font in which each letter is distinctive. Look for a font in which upper case ”˜i’ is not identical to lower case ”˜l’, and in which ”˜b’, ”˜d’, ”˜p’ and ”˜q’ are as different as possible. For primary students, we like Ayuthaya on Mac (free), Stone Serif and Fiendstar (pay fonts). For older students, exposure to well-spaced Times New Roman may be supportive in terms of further progress, and it is by some margin the most common Roman font in use across the world, and familiarity with it is necessary to navigate the world of print.

8. Try to avoid placing text on images or other busy backgrounds such as patterns. For an individual with poor visual processing, these will cause considerable visual interference.

We hope that’s all useful; please do let us know if you have any tips of your own or questions around accessibility. You may also find our upcoming dyslexia-friendly classroom tips useful, from Bernadette McLean of the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre. Keep an eye on the blog for more information.

Guides to changing character spacing

Microsoft Word for Mac

Go to the drop-down ”˜Format’ menu

Format option in Mac

Select ”˜Font”¦’

Formatting on Word in Mac

Click on the ”˜Advanced’ tab and select ”˜Expanded’ from the drop-down ”˜Spacing’ menu. Type a value into the ”˜By’ box. We suggest the range 0.5 pt ”“ 0.8 pt.

Microsoft Word for PC

Click on ”˜Home’. Click on the Font dialogue box (ringed in yellow in the image below).

Word Doc Home

Select the Advanced tab and select expanded from the drop-down menu. Type a value into the By: box on the right. We suggest 0.5 ”“ 0.8 pt.

Formatting a Word Doc

Image: Illustrated by Hannah Shaw from The Snake Who Came to Stay by Julia Donaldson.

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