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Photograph of Ros Wright

Posted 16th April, 2012 by Ros Wright

“Creative, imaginative teaching works for all learners, not just dyslexic ones.”

With these words at the start of his presentation to the PATOSS conference, Alistair McNaught had me hooked! And then it got better.

“If you get it right for dyslexic learners, you get it right for everyone.”

“Dyslexic learners are motivators for positive change.”

So what were some of his suggestions for teachers which can benefit everyone? I do not intend to try to summarise all of his presentation, but here are a few of his ideas which I hope will inspire and interest you.

1.    Better use of everyday tools.

For many teachers (particularly those of us of a certain age!) learning to use Word and other packages has been a slow process of acquisition of the necessary skills to perform the basics we need day to day. No frills! But there are tricks and tools that can really improve the quality of our written texts. Alistair demonstrated using the boxes at the top of a Word document, Heading 1, Heading 2 etc, then clicking on View then Document map to produce an instant summary / map of the text. Judging by the number of people at the conference asking him to show them again, slowly, I was not the only one in ignorance of this simple, but effective tool. Give it a try now –I’ve created this document using the Heading boxes. Great, isn’t it? If you knew all along, well done! Please share some other Word tips by responding to this article.

Other ideas for improving the quality of texts included:

  • Changing colours/ text size
  • Using the Review / Comments feature to improve essay writing. How?
    • Place an exemplar Grade C essay into Word.
    • Add comments indicating what is missing / what is required to improve the grade.
    • Insert a box for the students to add their additional information in the appropriate places.

Bonus: every student ends up with a model essay at least at C grade. Tutor only has to look at the bits in boxes, not mark a whole essay for each student. A brilliant scaffolding tool, made easier with the use of technology.

2.    Better use of VLE (e.g. Moodle)

If you are reading this and work for an institution where you effectively use the VLE to support your learners, please share some of your tips and ideas by responding to this article. Alistair pointed out that there are still some teachers out there who don’t put presentations/handouts/notes on VLE, for a variety of negative reasons, e.g. I don’t want to give away my resources; I don’t want other tutors to critique my notes etc!

In the days of pencils and paper, of course teachers had to allow their students time to write down the pearls of wisdom they wished to impart.   But in the days of computers and VLEs , surely it is more effective to let students have the basics written down by the tutor and then to use class time to clarify, discuss, experiment, explore, compare, analyse etc. Bonus: everyone has a decent set of notes to revise from and lessons can be devoted to higher skills, practical tasks and be more fun. (A cross reference to the keynote speech of the conference by Fintan O’Regan on Dyslexia and ADHD is perhaps appropriate here; he suggested that a key to achieving in most secondary schools is the skill to “do boredom”. A thought provoking idea for all teachers!)

3.    Use of video and audio for information transmission and assessment

Linked to the above, how about putting pictures, videos, audio files on the VLE?  A five minute podcast can transmit key information for students to listen to on their MP3s/ phones. Much more likely to be effective than a boring 2 page handout!

4.    Promote free software

There is free software out there that can be helpful for all students. Alistair works for www.jisctechdis.ac.uk and their site is a good starting point. Accessibility options that run from a memory stick can help students who want to change screen colours, use text-to-speech software, magnify the screen or use an alternative mouse/keyboard. They can carry their software around in their pocket for use wherever they happen to be, and are not limited by the restricted access often in place in their institution. Sometimes there will be better commercial options, but for some students, free is the only thing they can afford.

5.    Make use of free online staff training

Alistair promoted the following:

  • Techdis Tuesdays at jisctech
  • XerteFridays at jisctech
  • Dyslexia Action Lecture Programme

Would anyone like to suggest any more?

6.    Conclusion

According to Alistair, learning support staff work with enthusiasm and skill to provide ladders for students to overcome barriers to learning. However, as teachers/ tutors, we owe it to our students to avoid erecting some of those barriers by the way we teach in the first place. We also need to be ambassadors for change, encouraging and cajoling our more reluctant colleagues to embrace change.  Let’s share more ideas!

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