Definition of inclusion and of the different Dys
Inclusion is the process of making materials and experiences, in this case pedagogical materials in particular, accessible to everyone without distinction. Here we will focus mainly on the Specific Learning Disorders (SLD) that a teacher may encounter in their class and how to make all of their materials inclusive.
As we saw in the Pedagogical guide, there are different types of learning disorders. They all stem from a neurobiological cause that affects the way the brain processes information and can disturb the cognitive development of a learning ability such as reading, writing, speaking, doing mathematics, or planning and coordinating motor tasks. It is not rare to have them overlap with another one, which is a phenomenon called co-occurrence.
To be more precise, the brain of a person with a Specific Learning Disorder functions differently when it comes to receiving, integrating, retaining and expressing information, which can result in difficulties to process certain information or stimuli.
The different DYS
This is the most common Specific Learning Disorder, and it translates into difficulties in reading and language-based processing skills. The brain takes longer than usual to identify and connect letters and words with other kinds of knowledge.
It can affect reading fluency, decoding, reading comprehension, memorization, writing, spelling, and sometimes speech.
This usually affects a person’s handwriting ability and fine motor skills.
It can causedifficulties with spelling, spatial planning on paper, sequencing the sentences into words, composing writing, or of thinking and writing at the same time, and can also show in overlapping letters, overlapping words and inconsistent spacing as well.
This translates into difficulties in understanding numbers and learning math facts.Memorizing and organizing numbers can be a challenge and can hinder them in calculus or abstract mathematical operations. Telling and estimating time can also be difficult.
This usually affects a person’s ability to speak and understand spoken words.
It can cause a difficulty to sequence sentences into words when heard. Speech can sometimes sound as a foreign language in which they are unable to tell when one word ends and the next begins.
This is characterized by difficulties with fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination for reading from one line to another or for writing, for example.
It can cause difficulties with movement and coordination, and consequently with language and speech.
However, this last disorder is generally classified as a Developmental Coordination Disorder and not as a Specific Learning Disorder, but we will address it nevertheless, as it impacts the learning process and education as well.
Steps to make your puzzles inclusive
Materials can be adapted for pupils having these disorders, in a way that is also beneficial for all other pupils. It can be difficult to put into place, especially in the context of an escape room, as some aspects that can be problematic for Dys pupils, are actually key into the inner workings of an escape room.
Classically, playing with written materials, encryptions and codes in order to hide information is one of the classical ways of hiding clues, and can be a source of particular challenge for Dys pupils. Here, we will list general adaptations that are advised in case of a Dys pupil. Some of them will be easy to follow, while others will be more difficult. It is important to know your pupils and be able to pinpoint potential challenges while creating the escape room.
First of all, here are some general rules that are always good to follow, especially for Dys pupils but also for all pupils:
- Puzzles for small groups
Prepare your challenges and the complexity of your puzzles depending on the size of your group. Smaller groups will allow for more interactions between participants, will promote teamwork and will allow each pupil to have a specific role.
- Clear Puzzles
Pupils will be more at ease if they have a clear objective in mind. The objective of a puzzle is not for the pupil to discover that this is a puzzle, as is the case for riddles, but to try and solve the puzzle. The objective has to be clear.
For example: There is a big heart-shaped hole in the lock and pupils are finding pieces of a heart-shaped object. The objective is clear; find all the pieces to form the heart and open the lock.
While making an absolutely all-inclusive escape room is very difficult, as all pupils still have their specificities, one way to help with difficult tasks is to diversify both the groups and the tasks. Each pupil will have their strengths and weaknesses, dys or no-dys. Hence, having heterogenous groups facing heterogenous tasks will allow each pupil to have their time to shine and to use their talents when needed. They would also be able to rely on their teammates when they face challenges. Again, teamwork is key. Diversifying the puzzles will also help pupils not mixing the clues up and getting frustrated with an overflow of similarly looking clues.
It is important to stay consistent with the theme of the escape room and within each puzzle as well. The ideal is that there would be no red herrings if possible and that the different clues can be attributed to one challenge each time. While this might seem a judicious advice for any ER, being consistent is especially important for inclusion. Indeed, it helps mitigating the tendency of Dys pupils to get lost in the sea of information that is bombarded on them. Dys pupils tend to be easily distracted by unnecessary info, of by information that is inconsistent with the rest. Being consistent will both help keeping the pupils on track and make it a more immersive experience in general.
- Minimize the need for fine motor skills
Fine motor skills are a source of challenges for a lot of Dys-pupils, it is better to avoid requiring to them as much as possible or simply to favour bigger locks, or bigger puzzle pieces for example.
In puzzles and riddles, the use of encryptions, texts and written materials is not rare. Therefore, it is good to try keeping written materials as inclusive as possible in order to not impede pupils during the game. Here is some basic advice on how to make your written materials inclusive.
Written materials advice
- Text fonts are important as some of them may be illegible for Dys-pupils. Fonts such as Arial, Century Gothic or OpenDys are advised as they are easy to read for everyone. Other options could be Verdana, Tahoma, Open Sans, Century Gothic or Trebuchet.
- Spacing is important as well and should be of 1,5 in between the lines, in a font size that should range between 12 and 14 whenever possible.
- Alignment of the text to the left should be the standard procedure for all documents and do not put it in ‘justified’.
- Printing on one side of the page only is advisable. In case there needs to be some back and forth between two elements, let’s say a code and a text for example, print them on separate sheets as this helps students avoid the manipulation of having to turn pages over.
- For the Background of your printed materials or presentations, itis always better to use off-white or pastel colours whenever possible in order to help with the contrast-related challenges.
- Use colours to separate information and be consistent in the colour codes. This is difficult to put into place inside an Escape room but can maybe even get used as a way to code something. Don’t hesitate to get creative!
- In case some information needs to be highlighted, it is better to use all caps, to use bold letters or to highlight with a colour. It is advised to stay away from Italics or Bold Italics and to not underline text.
Don’t hesitate to refer to the interactive presentation on SLDs for more information.