Back in 2012, did a dyslexia assessment on a young man who I shall call John. John was in his second year of sixth form and applying to university to study history. John’s exam grades the previous year were below his predicted ones. As a result of the assessment, John had extra time in his module exams (and subsequenctly went to university!).
John’s reading profile is interesting. He came out above average for word recognition and comprehension (using WIAT-II-UK-T) but his reading speed of 127 words per minute (wpm) is below average for his age. His scores in CTOPP were all average, as was his reading of non-words (TOWRE-2). I concluded that he did not have any significant problems with phonological processing, though he did show some signs of challenge with focus and attention (his speed of writing was also adversely affected by having to think abut what to write, rather than because of any difficulty with manual dexterity).
What was also notable was that John invariably chose to read aloud (to the annoyance of some of his classmates). I was intrigued about why he had got into this habit and volunteered a few hours of support during half term to look into this more.
Between the feedback on the assessment and our support session, John actually decided to go for reading silently and was happy with the result! Issue sorted? Maybe yes, maybe no. I carried on.
I decided to use an experimental method with a pre-test, post-test format, even with just 3 hours of intervention between. Using passages deemed to be A level standard (one from Klein 2003 and one of my own devising, measured to be of similar readability), John read at 153 wpm – already an improvement from reading silently – but his comprehension and recall was limited (I predicted this might be a spin off of not getting the auditory feedback loop to hold attention).
In the post-test, three hours later John achieved a reading speed of 182 wpm,and his recall covered a wider range of the passage… so what did I do in between? What would you have done? Press “read more” after you have had a think!
You will remember I spent an intensive half day with “John” over half term, trying to help him with strategies to make his reading more efficient.
John liked reading fiction, but prefered to re-read familiar books. I wanted to encourage him to be less pressurised when reading fiction compared with reading for study. There is absolutely no reason to develop long-term recall when reading fiction, but rather to enjoy atmosphere, character, mood and story line. I asked John to experiment with reading aloud, then silently but seeing if he heard an inner voice (not always a bad thing, especially when reading for pleasure, where you want to get inside the character). I asked him to try reading fast and then deliberately read slowly, to see if he could savour different things. There really is no right or wrong way to read fiction. With some books I like to crack on at a fast pace, with other books I want to wallow slowly, like reading poetry and weighing each word. John was a sensitive young man, and I thought he had the potential to read more challenging fiction, if he continued to experiment with how to read.
Next we explored different formats for reading.
I got him to read a William Boyd short story on my i phone. When reading on this device I deliberately have a large font, with maybe 20 words per screen. With the narrow column I can challenge myself to read a whole page in nearly a single scan and try to get a rhythm to the page turn (tracking) This really works well for pacy books. I left John to read like this for 10 minutes or so and he seemed to like it. [he had a Kindle for Christmas that year!]
This idea for rapid but efficient reading is taken from Ron Cole’s Super Reading course (run in this country by Dr Ross Cooper: http://www.neuroknowhow.com/services/courses/superreading-course/ with training in a technique called eye hop.
The other great thing about reading on electronic devices is the access to instant dictionaries for word meanings and pronunciation guides. I showed John how to do this on screen. He wasn’t aware of how useful this might be. I also gave him a demonstration of Texthelp Read and Write. He was looking forward to having assistive technology like this when at university next year, through Disabled Students’ Allowance funds.
By now we had moved on to think about reading for study. I was aware of John’s concentration issues at times, so we talked firstly about the use of music through headphones when reading or studying. John had a healthy interest in both classical and popular music and already knew about this technique. His family was liaising with school about making headphones a reasonable adjustment to concentration in the classroom during quiet study.
Finally we tackled one of John’s school history text books to see if he could read more efficiently. I introduced John to my Strategic Reading techniques (trialled extensively in my doctoral research). This involves asking key strategic questions before, during and after reading. Why am I reading this? What do I already know about the subject? What am I particularly looking out for and how will I take notes or remember the information for the future? We then did various preview activities on a section of the book, looking at headings, subheadings, diagrams and pictures (a beautifully designed and attractive text book on Tudor history, I have to say helped with this). We did a form of “ladder reading,” reading the first sentence of each paragraph, which is likely to give a key point. The time spent actively looking out for specific things meant that when John eventually read the passage he almost knew all that it said already and was able to read much more rapidly than normal.
With this technique you have to gauge whether the time spent prior to reading is worth it. Usually it is, because it saves the despondent read, re-read, yawn, ‘what is this about?’ approach that some dyslexic readers invariably face. A key stage in the process is also to spend active time reviewing what you have read for later recall. There is a lot more research needed on how to do this more effectively.
So at the end of our session, I gave John a “post test” reading an equivalent passage to the one he had read at the start. John improved significantly in reading speed (182 words per minute) and in the range of his comprehension and recall.
In my research I misguidedly wanted to follow exactly the same protocol in the post-test as the pre-test, making my experimental subject read each passage “cold.” With John, I let him put into practice his strategic reading technique – as a better measure of what he had learned.
I think John had assimilated a good variety of useful reading techniques, which will have served him well in his studies.
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