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All in the Mind Conference September 2014
Four members of Dyslexia Positive attended the annual conference of The Developmental Practitioners’ Association (DPA) Conference in Wolverhampton in September. The DPA is an organisation of practitioners and parents who share a common interest in developmental therapy for children and adults. More details can be found at: http://www.brainshift.co.uk/
The four speakers were; Professor Julian (Joe) Elliott of Durham University; Mark Menezes, a behavioural optometrist based at Aston University and in private practice; Pete Griffin, a retired headteacher now delivering assessment and “Open Doors Therapy” for children with “neuromotor immaturity” and Lynn Stammers, an expert in therapeutic play using Theraplay® Principles.
I guess most of us came to hear what Professor Elliott, co-author of “The Dyslexia Debate,” (a book reviewed by me on this site in May) had to say. However, in fact, the most interest and information was conveyed by the other three speakers. Professor Elliott makes it his business to stir up controversy (I think for genuine reasons and not just to sell his book or promote his TV appearances). His style was to challenge us to think, but then not really listen to people’s genuine responses. His slide show was far too long and disjointed for the time allocated. Unlike the book, which was exceptionally well referenced, I found the presentation light and far less well justified. In particular he offended practitioners in the audience who also do research, by dismissing any research that does not reach the gold standard of huge sample sizes, double-blind protocols and acceptance in the mainstream journals.
By contrast, Mark Menezes gave a much less forthright talk, but impressed me with his quiet and well-reasoned account of what behavioural optometry can offer to children and adults who have barriers to their learning. Mark advocates programmes of eye training as well as specialist prescriptions for lenses, and gave an insight into improvements this can support. You can find out more at: www.babo.co.uk and www.visiontraining.org.uk
Pete Griffin now knows that what teachers labelled in him as “late development” was probably neuromotor immaturity. This seems to me to have a lot in common with what we call dyspraxia, though no doubt his definition and symptomatology would be far broader. He has immense passion for his current career providing imaginative interventions in schools. Despite his research not meeting Prof Elliott’s gold standard for control samples, Pete enthused us with the massive improvements in literacy and well-being engendered in the children he worked with. His techniques include work on posture, balance and coordination.
Along the same theme, Lynn Stammers provided moving case study evidence of the impact of her play therapy has had on very troubled children.
For me, inspiration comes from accounts of changing the world one person at a time, rather than large scale attempts to change opinions or terminology used in a sector already fraught with controversy and public sector funding cuts. Sadly, we all know who the media and government policy makers will tend to listen to.
Thanks to Janice Graham and the team at DPA for putting together a great conference.
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Supporting parents to support their children’s learning
It is well documented that an increasing emphasis on synthetic phonics in schools will cause problems for children learning to read (Davis 2013). Reading is not only a process of identifying and blending the sounds of letters to make a word, it is about, gathering the meaning imparted by the text and learning to enjoy reading. Experienced primary school teachers have a number of teaching strategies which enable them to teach a wide range of learners to read. However, the former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has been determined that all children in England, whatever their regional accent, or learning style, should learn to read by using synthetic phonics. As yet there have been no indications that the current Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, will change this policy.
Teachers recognise that a single, synthetic phonics approach to reading may benefit learners whose learning strengths match this teaching method; children with good auditory processing and good listening skills; children with a sequential, step by step, ‘bottom up’ approach to learning. Other children may be slower to learn by a method which does not directly match their learning style, but they may learn to adapt. Children who have strong visual skills and a holistic learning style, well suited to a ‘big picture’, ‘top down’ approach to learning will struggle and may fail to learn if this method is the only one offered. Will children, who fall into the latter category, be labelled as a child with a specific learning difficulty, possibly dyslexia, rather than one with a specific learning difference? If they are then offered additional support, will it be more of the same, as if they were a slow learner or will other learning methods be offered? It is widely recognised (British Dyslexia Association) that 10% of the population is dyslexic. Will reliance on Synthetic Phonics to teach reading cause this figure to be reviewed upwards or downwards?
While working at a FE college in the Midlands, the author of this article developed an accredited programme entitled Family Dyslexia, which ran at a local FE college, 3 times a year for over 12 years. The course was aimed at parents with children aged 7 to 10. The children did not require a diagnostic assessment to attend but many had been experiencing a pattern of strengths and weaknesses associated with dyslexia. During that time, almost 400 families attended the course, many recruited by recommendation.
When parents were asked what they gained from the Family Dyslexia course, they listed a range of benefits:
• Knowledge of their child’s learning style and strategies which enabled them to help their child to improve memory, reading, spelling, writing and mathematical skills.
• A greater knowledge of assistive technology and how it may help with tasks their child found difficult
• Many felt that this knowledge enabled them to communicate more effectively with their child’s school and teacher.
• A better understanding of different ways of learning improved relationships both with their child and the school.
• A greater sense of optimism about their child’s educational future.
• Their child was meeting other children who had similar educational experiences.
• Meeting other parents whose children had similar educational experiences.
As a result of the course, parents formed local BDA (British Dyslexia Association) groups, worked as volunteers in the classroom and on the Family Dyslexia course; some trained to be classroom assistants.
More recently, the author has been approached to provide 1:1 out of school coaching for children. This presents a dilemma. Children, who are finding it difficult to gain some skills in school, often work harder than their peers during the school day. Is one hour’s weekly support by a specialist teacher offered to a tired child the ideal solution?
Recognising the benefits of family learning, the author has developed a model built on the past success of the Family Dyslexia course.
• Initial meeting with the parent to identify the child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.
• Analysis of child’s work, provided by the parent, to gain further information.
• Discussion with parent, to help them understand why their child may be experiencing difficulties in specific areas.
• An individual programme is devised that will complement school work and allow the child to use their learning strengths to overcome previous difficulties.
• The child, parent and tutor begin with an individual spelling programme. This allows:
o The child to have fun while learning to spell
o the tutor to quickly confirm learning styles
o The child to have immediate success
o The parent to learn how to help their child at home, in short ten minute sessions, when the child is most receptive.
• E mail is used to communicate with the parent, to check on the success of the strategy and support them to help their child. If necessary, strategies can be adapted or changed to meet individual needs.
• Further meetings are arranged to introduce strategies to help with other topics, which may include:
o Finding the most appropriate method for putting words on paper
o Writing – analysing the subject, planning, writing and editing
o Reading and comprehension – approach to complement school approach and link to child’s learning strengths
o Developing an enjoyment of reading
o Mathematics – finding alternative ways of working
o Exploration of assistive technology, which may help with specific tasks
• Regular support is available for parents as they develop the skills to help their child.
• The tutor is quite happy to meet with representatives from the child’s school to discuss any methods used.
Parents from Family Dyslexia reported that being included in their child’s learning journey, improved their relationship with their child and their child’s school and reduced tensions in the household.
As a result of this feedback, the author firmly believes that this model is empowering for the family and offers a route to long term success as a learning family.
Jocelyn Gronow MA ADDS SpLD (Patoss) FIfL QTLS
Davis, A. (2013) ‘To read or not to read: decoding Synthetic Phonics’ Journal of Philosophy of Education No.20, pp 1-38.
British Dyslexia Association. not dated. An Overview of Dyslexia. bdadyslexia.org.uk (accessed 07 07 2014)
I have had the privilege of providing specialist dyslexia support to three primary school teachers this year, each completing different aspects of their qualified teacher status (QTS). This is really heartening for me, to know that there will be a new generation of teachers at this level who will have empathy and the skills to observe and notice when a child is at risk of being held back in the progress by possible dyslexia. These three young people have not let any setbacks prevent them in pursuing their chosen careers. They have all secured jobs as primary school teachers now their qualifications are (nearly!) complete.
We have also looked together at how they may seek to put across elements of literacy and numeracy (particularly spelling and grammar) in a dyslexia-friendly way in the classroom. Interestingly, none of them appears to have a problem with phonics! That is the subject of another discussion point for the future.
One of my trainee teachers chose to complete an essay on dyslexia assessment and support as part of his PGCE. As well as gaining a high mark from his course tutors, this essay imressed me with its thoughtful and passionate plea for improvements to practice in the classroom.
Read it for yourself here:2 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »
Elliott, J.G. and Grigorenko, E.L (2014) The Dyslexia Debate, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
I have just finished reading this book, which, it is fair to say, has caused and possibly courted some controversy in the media as well as in academic circles and among practitioners. Even before it was published, there were two excellent commentaries on it by academics who had clearly obtained advance copies:
Dorothy Bishop of St John’s College Oxford
Anne Castles, Kevin Whedall and Mandy Nayton from universities in Australia
They are both well-reasoned arguments for why we should read the book and respect its evidence base, though not necessarily agree with its ultimate conclusion that the term dyslexia should no longer be used.
Here are my thoughts.
- The first thing to say about this book is that it provides a really comprehensive review of the literature, both historical accounts and up to the minute research in this field. I haven’t ever seen such an extensive list of references in a book that is targetted at a lay audience as well as academics. It will form an excellent resource. I wish I had had such a good list of sources when I was completing my doctorate!
- It also has a useful reminder of how the notion of dyslexia as a discrepancy between high IQ and reading ability is “largely discredited.” (p 69) This cannot be said often enough, both on ethical grounds, and also for practical reasons, as “the use of the IQ test as a proxy for cognitive potential is itself highly contested. ” (p 101) Intelligence tests are such blunt instruments for coming to any diagnostic conclusions.
- The authors use this point to bolster their argument for abandoning the term dyslexia, since some individuals and their parents seek to claim dyslexia, if linked to high IQ, erroneously, as a way of showing they or their children are not just slow at learning. However, in my mind, this is stretching the logic. If people have false beliefs about the nature of dyslexia, then put them right! No need to discard the term, just because peole use it incorrectly.
- This book gives a really thorough account of the different theories of the aetiology for dyslexia. In particular, it is refreshing that the authors note that “phonological awareness appears to be rather less important for older poorer readers than it is for children… ” (p 196). This is certainly something that I have said all along from my experience and research with adults.
- There is a great discussion about the relationship of working memory to reading (pp 233 – 239), and in particular some insights into the role of phonological memory as opposed to phonological awareness. Elliott and Grigorenko draw on the research of Wagner, one of co-authors of the CTOPP and TOWRE tests we use, which actually casts doubt on the influence of phonological memory on word recognition, except when dealing with multisyllabic words. They also question ” the value of digit span tasks as the particular tasks may not generalise well to tasks such as reading” (p 234). I have always said that the three composite scores and their subtests in CTOPP measure different things and can give rise to really discrepant scores in adults.
- On a more general level, Elliott and Grigorenko make the useful point that there are vast differences in the research literature in the way dyslexia is assessed, and the cut-off points (in terms of standard deviations below the norm) that are chosen to define subjects who are dyslexic. This makes it very difficult to generalise from research findings.
- They also point out how difficult it is to compare the different intervention tools used and their effect sizes in the research literature, for a similar reason; we are not comparing like with like.
- The concluding chapter of this book is convincing in many aspects… why stop to worry about whether it is dyslexia or not if you could spend your time more efficiently as an assessor and/or practitioner in making recommendations for more effective support. The authors remind us of the need to go beyond just word reading when assessing an individual’s reading ability, yet they seem wary of profiling as a strategy for assessment of need and appear particularly resistant to the notion that dyslexia can confer strengths.
- So finally their overall message…they seem to say that the term dyslexia is not useful because no one can agree what it is. They want it to be somthing to do with a reading disorder and are resistent to the idea that it could encompass anything else. They are wary of all of the divergent theories of aetiology. They want practioners to concentrate their efforts on effective intervention…
- In addition to the counter arguments raised by the blogs mentioned above, I have one further point.: How do you account for the experience of adults assessed as dyslexic, where we often discover it is more than a reading disorder? Adults with dyslexia (whether diagnosed as children or newly as adults) usually have a history of idiosyncratic acquisition of literacy skills including reading. They may no longer manifest any problems with word recognition, but there are residual effects, which it useful to profile. So I would commend Elliot and Gregorenko to ponder more on the field of adult dyslexia and also look at specialist teacher assessment reports for adults are really rich in unique profiling and detailed recommendations for support. High quality asessment and individualised interventions, which impact on success in FE, HE and employment, might convince them that the term dyslexia is a useful one.
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The programme, Horizon: Living with Autism (broadcast in 2014), which was hosted by Uta Frith had some interesting insights and thought provoking ideas which not only relate to autism but could also relate to dyslexic type difficulties (Specific Learning Difficulties – SpLD).
In the programme she talks to Professor Simon Baron-Cohen who has found a normal distribution curve for the difficulties associated with autism. He points out that researchers need to establish whether there is a point at which someone can be defined as autistic. In the same way, this is an important question for dyslexia: is there a line where assessors can distinguish between someone having a SpLD or not? Professor Cohen says that in a normal curve distribution of people having autistic traits, where 0 equals no traits, and 50 equals all of the traits, 32 is the point at which people can be defined as having autism. Does the same apply for dyslexia, and if so, which traits would we use for the definition?
Uta Frith talks about her autistic traits, although she knows that she doesn’t have autism. This is an interesting insight for those of us who work with people with SpLD; many of us recognise some traits in ourselves. Are we therefore on the spectrum, even when we know that we do not have a SpLD?
I would be interested to hear from anyone who has further insights into this area of research.
I had an exceptionally stimulating afternoon learning about the latest in assistive technology. You can read all the slide shows at:
The link to the presentations is right at the top of the page.
I was particularly interested in the implications for exam access arrangements with computer readers for exams, the potential for using electronic media (PDF files) for learning resources, and iPhone and iPad apps that will transform students’ lives and help them become more independent.
I plan to add some core pages to this website to give more concrete details and advice, so watch this space.Leave a comment or ask a question »
I packed a lot into the second day of the conference and also met up with some old friends – Clare Trott the dyscalculia expert from Loughborough and Desi Madelin, an ADDS graduate from Leicester, who is doing a great job managing learning support at the college there, as well as taking an interest in the research side at this conference. I also encountered people who are really interested in what we do at Dyslexia Positive…
Usha Goswami got us off to an excellent start with a really clear presentation of the latest direction her research is taking. For me it made an obvious link with my interest in dyslexia and music. She is reinforcing the importance of seeing that pre school children are exposed to rhyme and rhythm as a precursor to the ability to perceive and distinguish features of speech sounds. The ability to distinguish features of sounds, particularly at low frequencies is a good predictor of future ability in word recognition and also shows up as impaired in dyslexic children.
I then went into a very exciting workshop on collaboration, curiosity and creativity in Maths teaching, given by the Edghill University team. Their delivery style in the workshop illustrated their point brilliantly as we all got immersed in the activities. A real buzz!
Less exciting was the after lunch keynote speech by Michele Mazzocco from the University of Minesota. She badly lost track of time in explaining her thoughts about the difference between dyscalculia and low ability in Maths, so we didn’t really get onto the salient points. She did, however, remind us to recognise the individual differences in learners who take different paths towards competence in Maths.
I spent the afternoon in a double workshop on IT applications for dyslexia. it was a delivered at a cracking pace, with me struggling to capture all of the great ideas on my new iPad… so many great ideas that I will write more fully about this later…and give you the link to the BDAtech web side where you can get the workshop notes yourself…
Sadly I had to miss Day 3 in favour of singing with Birmingham Bach Choir tonight!
Leave a comment or ask a question »
There is far too much good stuff to make a purely rational choice, so today I heard:
Lindsay Peer make a passionate plea for us to take account of the emotional impact of dyslexia.
She told us about ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and how we might help clients channel these into constructive change. We should aim to help people not to think they can change the past, but change their response to it. We do not have to be Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) experts to use some of the techniques from CBT, to help people be more realistic, more flexible and attentive to their emotional levels. Above all she warned us not to be complacent about the impact a diagnosis of dyslexia can have on a person’s self esteem and emotional well being.
I like the thought of working in this therapeutic way, and certainly, Dyslexia Positive seeks to make its assessments contain good news to balance the difficulties. However, I do, somewhat, worry about maintaining our boundaries, especially when acting as non-medical helpers within the rather proscribed guidelines for DSA.
Margaret Meehan tell us how hard it is being bilingual and dyslexic in Wales, especially when moving from a Welsh medium school to an English speaking university. she also lamented the lack of Welsh language dyslexia assessment material.
Rob Fidler outline research on reading comprehension in adults, that I had not heard about, when I did my doctorate…so there is someone out there after all who has parallel research interests to mine! His is based on work carried out in the UK and New Zealand, exploring the impact of meta cognitive interventions, with some promising results.
A fabulously funny and inspiring workshop on dyslexia and music by the DBA music committee, which gives me lots of stimulation for my other passion relating to music ( see @suepersop on Twitter)
Finally Kate Cain doing her usual immaculate job explaining the subtleties of reading comprehension, and the importance of early intervention to train even preschoolers in higher order language skills, and not just phonics …
Great day. Let’s see what Day 2 brings.Leave a comment or ask a question »
Day I at the conference in Guildford UK.
After some wise words from Sir Jim Rose, Joell Talcott from Aston University advised us to cultivate the “virtuous circle” of linking research from neurosciemce to good practice in education and vice versa. He wants us only to believe plausible theories, which can be cross validated and in particular, beware of falling for pure phenotypes for dyslexia. As practitioners and assessors we should also not just settle for statistical cut off points below which people have to fall to say they are dyslexic. Rather we should see whether a good intervention might actually remedy the difficulty, or, in the case of a child, there might just be developmental delay. Working, as I do, wiith adults, I think this gives us permission to problem solve directly from the detailed profile our client presents. Coming down on the early train, I read a draft assessment report written by Yvonne Gateley, for one of her high-flying medical professionals. Her profile certainly wouldn’t meet a purely statistical cut-off model for dyslexia, yet is was as clear as daylight that she is…2 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »
Below is the outline of a document that I adapted from Stella Cottrell’s wonderful book, The Study Skills Handbook (2008). It outlines the stages for planning an assignment.
1. Clarify the task
- Examine title
- Do you know what it is asking for?
- Write down any initial ideas/ brainstorm/ draw ideas
- What do you need to know?
- How much time do you need? Work back from hand in date.
2. Collect and record information
- What questions are you asking that you need answers to?
- What are people saying about the subject from different angles?
- How are you going to keep records?
- Notes on computer/ in ring-binder/ on voice recorder.
- How are you going to label the records so that you can find them again?
- Where do you need to look for the information?
3. Organise and plan
- How will you plan from your records?
- Post-its on wall with key themes/ re-arrange notes on a table/ write an outline plan/ colour code notes.
4. Engage, reflect, evaluate
- Where are you?
- Are you missing any information?
- Do you know what you need to?
- Have you got information from all sides of the argument?
- Are you clear about why you are being asked to do this assignment?
5. Write an outline plan
- What order do things need to be written in?
- How many words do you need for each section?
- Write some headings
- Write a draft
6. Develop first draft
- Re-write draft
- Alter headings, if appropriate
- Is your argument clear?
- Is all the necessary evidence included?
- Are your references all included?
7. Final draft
- Does the text answer the question?
- Is your main argument clear?
- Are there enough examples to back up your points?
- Do the ideas from one paragraph flow into the next?
- Have you set it out according to the correct standards? See Academic Handbook.
- Have you completed the front cover sheet?
- Have you read it through aloud to make sure that it makes sense?
- Have you proofread for spelling, punctuation and grammar?
- Is the reference section laid out correctly? See Academic Handbook
- Have you checked it against the marking criteria? Is it going to make the grade that you want?