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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!
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When I was writing the concluding chapters of my Ed D thesis, attempting to answer my research questions, I pondered over what counts as a tangible improvement in word recognition skills.
My research attempted to guide the practitioner on how to measure improvement on an individual basis and in comparison to others in the adult literacy context.
The obvious starting point was a standardised test of word recognition, since any changes in performance can be compared with established norms for learners in the same age bands. Adult literacy in the UK has rightly sought to avoid the anomaly of improvements being judged against educational grade designators or reading ages with inappropriate ceiling levels.
Using the WRAT 4 word recognition subtest (Wilkinson and Robertson 2006), in practice, none of my 10 learners made an improvement in score that could be considered as being beyond test error.
A typical confidence interval spans 12 or 13 standard points (for 90% confidence). Taking the example of an adult aged 35 years using the green form subtest (see page 215 of the test manual), this change would represent an additional 11 words read for someone falling within the average range, but only 5 extra words for someone reading at above the mean 100 point score. For an adult of this age it takes a nine word improvement simply to get out of the lowest band (the 0.1st percentile), assuming they can read the alphabet (which accounts for the first 15 points). It would take a massive 35 word improvement to get this learner from this baseline to a score at the lowest point of the “average” band (standard score 84, which represents one standard deviation below the mean and the point used as the criterion for examination boards in the UK to decide whether exam concessions are applicable)
Given the random nature of the word selection in this test (a mixture of phonetically regular and irregular words), short of teaching to the test, we are no clearer in being able to quantify in reality how many extra words of vocabulary a reader has to learn to recognise to show suitable progress, let alone being able to describe what extra word attack skills they need.
Partridge, S.E. (2012) Unravelling reading: Evaluating the effectiveness of strategies used to support adults’ reading skills, (Ed D thesis), Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Wilkinson, G. & Robertson, G. J. (2006) WRAT 4 Wide Range Achievement Test, Professional Manual, Lutz, Florida, Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.
There were some really big names at the BDA conference in 2016, many of them world experts on reading (though still no one who talks specifically about adults). Here are a few highlights, one “so-what” and one lowlight for me:
- In a recent study, Susan Gathercole had been looking at underlying factors that might explain difficulties with reading, vocabulary and maths, concentrating on executive function, working memory and inattention. Perhaps surprisingly she found that poor working memory is not a good predictor of reading difficulty. However, good working memory may be a protective factor for problems with reading and maths.
- Karin Landerl, researching German speaking children was surprised to find a link between problems with reading and maths but not between reading and spelling. She was still not sure of the reason for this. Relevant to my work with adults, a longitudinal study showed that reading difficulties are persistent through childhood, despite support. Even more reason for us to find new approaches for adults!
- Tom Nicholson was speaking to the converted in urging us to combine phonics with real reading. He did however drop in a controversial point. Phonological awareness may be a consequence of reading acquisition, rather than a requirement for reading. His keynote address gave a historical overview about the impact on phonological awareness training on success in acquiring reading skills, with little input from more recent studies. He comes from the point of view of “liking phonics and enjoying giving phonics instruction.” However, in his last but one slide he cited research from Castles and Coltheart (2004), Ehri (1998), Johnston and Watson (2005) to say that this could be an issue of chicken and egg. Maybe we see good phonemic awareness in successful readers, not because they have been specifically trained in this, but because the process of learning to read itself gives a degree of phonemic awareness. He reminded us of studies denying the effect of phonemic awareness training, though these are well outweighed by the studies that show a positive effect. Finally, he made the remark (without a formal reference) that phonemic awareness training should be combined with reading of text to help improve letter-sound awareness.
- Don Compton has investigated more about comprehension and found a positive link between reading/listening comprehension and prior knowledge. Is this surprising?
- A new version of the Adult Reading Test (ART) was due out soon, with improvements. Rob Fidler pleased me by mentioning not just their extensive validation data, but also case study findings that highlight the strength of a diagnostic problem solving approach to reading support, using qualitative observations from testing.
- I have to confess to having been very excited at the prospect of hearing Elena Grigorenko speak for the first time (having heard her co-author on the Dyslexia Debate, Joe Elliott previously). I was less excited at the prospect of Maggie Snowling, as I have heard her many times and been disappointed in her narrow stance on reading and dyslexia. At the BDA international conference in March 2016, however, I was proved wrong. Grigorenko was boring and uninspiring, spending far too long on the historical context and then whizzing through some rather difficult information from her latest research about mapping the phenotype of reading difficulty to specific points in the genome. We were told of exciting news coming out in a journal soon… (too hush, hush for her to share it)
- By contrast, Maggie Snowling brought well-reasoned insights into her now more balanced view of dyslexia, as broader phenotype that includes underlying language difficulties and possible co-occurring difficulties in motor and executive function (including attention and concentration). Her account of longitudinal studies (so far from age 3.5 to age 9) was fascinating. I do hope she and her group carry on to see those children into early adulthood!.
Look Cover Write Check (LCWC) is more commonly used as a routine for enabling learners to increase the number of words they can spell through regular and systematic routines to enhance memory.
In my study researching strategies to enable adults to read more effectively I developed a range of guidance sheets covering 4 broad strands: word attack skills, fluency, vocabulary development and comprehension.
- Use colour and highlight shape to make the word look more memorable.
- Exaggerate the pronunciation, if this helps, but also know how to read it in the standard way. Compare the two.
- Devise a mnemonic, if this helps.
- Emphasise the SAY at each stage of the process to make explicit the reading element.
- The routine for the learner is then as follows:
- Look at the word and say it.
- Cover the word, see it in your mind’s eye and say it.
- Keep the word covered and write it. Say it as you write.
- Check the word you wrote against the original and systematically correct any errors.
- Say the word again and visualise seeing it in a piece of reading material.
- Repeat this routine three or four times per week.
- At the end of the week the tutor checks if the learner can read this and similar sounding/looking words (e.g. if they learned ‘train’, check to see if they can read brain, drain, plain, explain, mountain, etc. – see how many extra words they can read).
- If possible read or read a text where the target words occur to check that the learner can also read these words in context.
We discovered during my study that it is wise to decide in advance if you are using LCWC exclusively for spelling or for reading rather than expecting to cover both. This was particularly important if a learner liked exaggerated pronunciation as a strategy to make a word more memorable for spelling, as this then influenced the way they read the word.
The key for me is the use of dynamic strategies to make the word more memorable in the first place, using whichever multisensory approach the reader finds most helpful. For some people this stage is sufficient to embed a word into a reasonable reading vocabulary. However other adult readers need the added routine that the LCWC protocol affords to make the transfer from short-term to long-term memory.Leave a comment or ask a question »
Back in 2011, at a meeting of Dyslexia Positive we discussed the pros and cons of assessing readers when they read silently and when they read aloud. Clearly these are two different processes. The former may be the preferred mode of reading for competent readers, but not always for readers with dyslexia who may like an auditory feedback loop. Reading aloud requires an additional skill in articulation on top of the regular reading skill.
The assessment issue comes when you want to measure reading speed and reading comprehension. Reading silently will almost certainly (though not invariably) be faster than reading aloud. Reading comprehension depends on so much else, but the extra burden on working memory when articulating words to read aloud may skew the score.
Those of us who use the WRAT 4 sentence comprehension sub-test (with all of its flaws) to get a standardised score for reading comprehension will have observed some candidates reading silently and others aloud, with some readers using a mixed strategy. What bearing does this have on the score and its validity?
In an ideal world we would want to assess the reader with equivalent texts both silently and aloud and make a close comparison between the findings for the two. Even better would be throw in a third passage to test listening comprehension and try to build up a full profile of the differences in performance. Against this is the very real threat of test fatigue.
Jocelyn from Dyslexia Positive observed that some readers think they have to read silently, because they have been taught that is the best way, even though they might not want to and it might not suit them.Yvonne liked getting the people she assessed to read silently, if they can, as it tells her about their potential for effective study. Melanie used the Adult Reading Test (ART) for assessment, trying to get a sample of reading aloud and reading silently, but is really concerned about over-testing (the ART is particularly exhaustive and exhausting!). Clearly you can’t do miscue analysis unless you hear the learner read aloud…
All of this argues for a more extended period of assessment and observation, so as to build up an extensive profile of reading ability, without the dangers of test stress. With reading, it may be important for each learner to develop different strategies depending whether they want to speed read silently, read and recite (to their children or to hear a particular effect, say when appreciating poetry) or any other purpose.
This debate on assessment practice for reading is still relevant, although in 2017 there is more pressure to cram even more assessment tests into a diagnosis, and to explore co-occurring conditions as well as dyslexia. Something has to give!Leave a comment or ask a question »
- The idea of this technique is to encourage fluency and confidence when reading.
- The idea is to stop the disruption to flow caused by a learner struggling to decode words or waiting to be corrected.
- This approach can bring back the pleasure in reading for pleasure.
- Choose a text that the learner is interested in reading (for pleasure or information).
- Although it is best if the text is at a level appropriate to the learner’s assessed needs, this method can be used to assist reading a harder text that the reader urgently needs to access.
- Make sure that you can both see the text comfortably, or have two copies.
- Start reading aloud together.
- Make sure you match your speed to what the learner can cope with so you don’t leave them behind or leave them frustrated.
- Model fluency and good expression.
- If the learner stumbles over a word, keep reading and encourage them to continue without pause. If they lose their place, wait for them to catch up.
- If you sense that the learner is reading confidently and accurately, fade your voice to a quieter volume, but be prepared to fade back in if they falter.
- Warn your learner that you may fade out altogether if they continue to read well.
- With a beginner reader, be prepared to pair read the same text several times so they also gain fluency from repetition and familiarity.
This is the first of a number of discussion topics I am going to share with you, taken from the archive of my blog on Unravelling Reading (see also the Unravelling Reading section of this website for other articles.)
These topics are still relevant and I hope will attract some new comments.
I was reminded, when assessing a Dip ADDS (Adult Dyslexia Diagnosis and Support) Unit 2 module, of an interesting link between reading and punctuation. The ADDS candidate K (she knew I was writing this post) submitted a DVD where she had a really interesting conversation with her learner about how punctuation can be the key to good expression and intonation when reading (they were discussing exclamation marks and question marks). We know from Ivanic (1996) that “while reading probably doesn’t help students to learn to spell, it does seem to help some to punctuate.” Adult writers can improve their punctuation by reading their work aloud and listening for a complex mix of sound, structure and meaning in the words. However, perhaps reading with a greater awareness of punctuation also helps fluency and comprehension.
In my research I had one learner who never noticed sentence breaks when she was reading a text out loud. Though she read fluently and with reasonable accuracy, she could rarely recall more than the surface detail of what she had read. Somehow her style of reading was not giving her access to the meaning for full comprehension.
One of the interventions I tried with her was asking her to use a highlighter pen with one colour to mark up sentence breaks and another for commas. We did this a couple of times before reading the text together (we were reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as she had a passionate interest in horror stories!), as part of a series of directed activities related to texts (DARTs). It is possible she had some visual processing difficulties that meant punctuation marks did not stand out well for her. She certainly read with better expression after this activity.
In the re-assessment after 6 sessions of interventions, this learner dipped slightly in her reading accuracy and was one of the subjects who significantly slowed down her reading speed (half speeded up, half slowed down – which is an interesting finding to be discussed later). However she improved her comprehension score by 18%! Was she improving her access to the meaning of texts?
Clearly lots of other factors come into play, so it is impossible to tell if or how the work on punctuation worked; it was only one of the strategies we tried.
Ivanic, R (1996) Linguistics and non-standard punctuation, in Hall, N. and Robinson, A., eds. Learning about Punctuation, Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.2 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »
Neil Alexander-Passe (2015) Dyslexia and mental health. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This book was launched at the BDA International Conference in March 2016, and is a really welcome addition to literature on understanding cognitive and behavioural aspects of dyslexia, from someone who is dyslexic himself and has extensive experience in a learning support role. It is pioneering in bringing these two topics together so thoroughly.
From my professional observations, the main links between dyslexia and mental health are three-fold:
• People who experience mental ill health as a consequence of the frustrating aspects of dyslexia, sometimes following a late diagnosis of dyslexia in adulthood;
• People who have a pre-existing diagnosis of mental ill health, apparently separate from dyslexia, but possibly exacerbated by finding out about dyslexia;
• Dyslexia and mental ill health as co-occurring cognitive experiences (the unfortunately named ‘co-morbidity’ factor), which may or may not have a similar aetiology.
Alexander-Passe definitely covers the first of these aspects and tangentially the second; the third possibility is largely unexplored at present. Researchers are finally exploring dyslexia in its wider manifestation (not just a reading difficulty), but mental health is so complex, it is hard to imagine a study that could establish a causal link between this and dyslexia.
Dyslexia and mental health begins by seeking to define dyslexia; a thankless task, such is the range of views from research. It is necessary, however, in order to brief the reader who comes from a background of knowledge about mental illness, wanting to find out about dyslexia. Alexander-Passe redeems a rather negative coverage of dyslexic difficulties in the body of chapters 1 and 2 in his key messages at the end of each, highlighting his own more positive views of dyslexia as a difference not a disability. He takes this further in chapter 4 when discussing the need for the “transformation” of negative perceptions (p.95), through working on difficulties and celebrating strengths.
As his swansong, Paul Gerber presented the findings of his 2014 study into particularly successful adults with dyslexia. These were defined as leaders in their field and included some top names in American society. These were his findings:
- There were no particular dfferences between successful and very successsful people in the sample
- reading difficulties persisted, often because the people were not accessing technology aids
- reframing to accept dyslexia can be positive
- adulthood gives more chance to take control
- finding the right niche is crucial
- positive critical incentives help
- problem solving abilities were notable; staying cool in dffiicult circumsatances; not being restricted to conventional linear thinking.
He urged us not to generalise about dyslexia, to look for individuality and not to “tell to tidy a tale”. Inspiring stuff!
When in due course the BDA posts all the conference papers online, I will put up a link. I didn’t go to anything about dysgraphia, but that is not to say it was not discussed. There were up to 6 speakers/workshops at any one time!Leave a comment or ask a question »
Some themes coming through for dyslexia:
- several of the keynote speakers and some workshops I have attended have tried to help us understand co-occurring conditions and whether there are any underlying causes to explain dyslexia.
- there has been a definite buzz around being positive about dyslexia and finding ways to help people see their strengths. This is great, and following a trend we at Dyslexia Positve have been advocating since 2010 and before.
- I have heard a lot about the emotional impact of dyslexia and harnessing inner resilience in the people we work with.
- my two protégés from the days of DipADDS both presented eloquently about their interests; Karisa Krcmar about mindfulness and using a profile to capture aspects of executive function, to help students have greater self-knowledge as they learn; Ian Abbott about visual stress and the possible impact of shifting attention plus speed of processing information as a factor in dyslexia. Ian, as at previous BDA conferences, is a great person to sit next to in presentations, to quietly share thoughts and scepticisms after the experts have spoken.
- In general the keynote speakers have been somewhat disappointing. The best ones got quickly onto the latest findings from their research; others spent far too long on historical studies. When I think how the undergraduates I support beat themselves up if they cannot find sources to cite which are less than 10 years old, I cannot believe the experts think we don’t know about studies from last century. Some speakers still don’t seem to link academic research with real life skills e.g. research on reading that only covers word reading not text. Others present particular recommendations for practice, as if it was something new, when we old hands at teaching and support have been doing it for ever!
- the workshops and short talks have produced some gems: Sally Agoniani presenting some neat findings about the link between ADHD and dyslexia from her masters research; Paul Gerber speaking for the very last time before he retires about what characterises highly successful adults with dyslexia; Bruce Evans, optometrist, telling us succinctly which aspects of poor eyesight may and may not be linked with dyslexia; Chathurika Kannagara giving a brilliant talk about a positive psychology approach in supporting dyslexic university students, so that they move from ‘languishing’ to ‘thriving’.
One more day, or possibly half day tomorrow. It is hard work staying tuned in to this wealth of knowledge. And, thank you for asking, my poster presentation went really well. Lots of good conversations and links made. I will put up a copy of my poster on my unravelling reading website in due course.
2 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »