Dyslexia & Drama: Leveraging Strengths to Find Success


At Sterne, we pride ourselves on our innovative program, evidence-based teaching methods, close-knit community, culture of empowerment, and a high-support, high-expectations, strengths-based model. We have always sought to teach students according to their learning preferences and prepare them for their growth in the larger world as strong self-advocates and responsible global citizens.This approach is at the heart of everything we do at Sterne. 

As the Drama and Music Teacher at Sterne, I witness some truly profound transformations and successes, many of which are the direct result of teaching students in accordance to their learning style and needs. One particular story I love to tell involves a talented student in our middle school.

This student had demonstrated tremendous affinity for musical patterns and rhythm in my music class. She’s an incredibly creative, warm, and positive student and because of this, I felt she’d be a natural fit for my drama class. When I approached her about joining the class, she doubted her ability to perform because she didn’t believe she could memorize lines due to her dyslexia. She had spoken at length with her mother about it, and they both were dubious that this was an achievable goal for her. 

I fully understand how intimidating memorization can be, and I have a worksheet of tips and tricks I share with my students to ease the process. Additionally, I work with my class on an outline of each scene, so they can at least be familiar with the action onstage which hopefully helps them find the lines. Having these supports, I still wanted to know more about her learning style in order to feel confident in assuring her that she could do this. One of her teachers mentioned that she had no problem memorizing Beyonce lyrics, so there was evidence of a prior success in line memorization! I also discovered that this student is a visual learner and a gifted artist. Knowing these things were in her toolbox, I felt certain we could find a creative way for her to memorize her lines by leveraging her strengths.  

We eventually drafted a memorization strategy for her using her talent for visual art. Rather than using a word based approach, she instead drew a succession of images for both the scene and her lines. This helped her find a through-line in the work, and imprinted both the idea and the line in her mind. This method worked wonders for her, and she quickly learned her lines with aplomb.

Ultimately, this was a mental block that was overcome with a good strategy using her strengths and creativity to achieve a new goal. As a result, this student was able to go from “I can’t” to nailing her performance in front of 100+ people!

Submitted by: Elise Cumberland, Sterne Arts Coordinator, and Music & Drama Teacher