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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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 »
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 »
At our last meeting, Dyslexia Positive members discussed what helped and hindered us in our role as specialist dyslexia support tutors in colleges and universities. We agreed that the role course tutors play is vital to the success and well-being of our students. Here are a few of our favourite positives and negatives. Please comment with more things to add to the list:
Positive – we like it when:
- Tutors allow the use of a dictaphone in lectures and seminars. This is getting more and more common, but there are still a few reluctant teachers. Students need to be aware of issues of confidentiality.
- Tutors make good use of video clips to demonstrate a point. One of the most common frustrations is when in a practical session a student’s notes do not capture a practical skill demonstrated. We suggest tutors should also allow students to use their phone to video-record those demonstrations (with permission).
- Tutors build in stages towards the submission of an assignment or project, with interim feedback (including peer feedback) to help a student get started.
- Tutors provie a “writing frame” particularly in the early stages of a course module, to assist students to know how to structure their work and get the right balance between sections.
- Tutors provide models of what a finished product might look like, without at all spoon-feeding a standard response.
- Tutors provide constructive developmental feedback on what a student needs to do to improve.
Negative – we get frustrated on behalf of our students when:
- A tutor issuing problem papers says in advance that s/he will only mark some of the questions, but the student still has to put an effort into working on all of them. This encourages an illogical attempt to try and second guess which ones will be marked, and can lessen motivation.
- when the same tutor does not provide feedback or sample solutions to the ones s/he did not mark, as this can leave a gap in knowledge and confusion.
- when project supervisors limit the amount of contact with students (we have seen guidance saying, e.g. maximum of 3 emails or 2 meetings). We send our students straight to student support to request extra contact as a reasonable adjustment, but why should they have to do this?
- there is still patchy practice on providing assessment criteria or marking guidelines for assignments.
For students with dyslexia, who are not entitled to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and the wealth of software, there are free software applications available. Some have been put together by JISC Advance into a tool to help you to use them more effectively. Go to: http://mystudybar.blogspot.co.uk/
My Study Bar is only available to users of Windows Vista, XP or 7.Leave a comment or ask a question »
“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.
If you want to take information down verbally instead of writing it and are away from your computer, you can use a voice recorder.
You need to have a voice recorder with you and Dragon Naturally Speaking software on your computer, which you are proficient at using.
Record onto your voice recorder (some of the new ones have a special file allocated for Dragon).
To transfer it:
- Open Dragon on computer. Microphone should be off.
- Open a new blank Word document.
- Put your voice recording onto your computer (should auto transfer), save it in a new named folder e.g. ‘transcriptions’, so that you can find it. On desktop is easiest. Drag from voice recording file to transcription file.
- Go to Word document. Make sure cursor is over document, not anywhere else on page.
- On the Dragon toolbar it says: ‘transcribe’. Click that. You then have to select the file to take it from.
- Press ‘transcribe’.
- Click into document and it should then magically turn your voice recording into text.Transcribing
You will need to try out your voice recorder to see where the best place in relation to your mouth is in order for Dragon to recognise your words.
Also, you will already need to be proficient with Dragon and have correctly trained it to recognise your voice.Leave a comment or ask a question »
For many years Pat had been employed by a large public body, working at a small local site. She was conscientious, enjoyed her work and felt valued by her line-manager.
During reorganisation, she was moved to a large open plan office at the main site. Her role and the tasks to be undertaken remained the same but Pat felt unable to work effectively in this new environment. There was continuous background noise she found it impossible to cut out; telephones and mobiles ringing and pinging; people talking to colleagues, sometimes calling across the office; people talking on the telephone; scraping of chairs; closing of doors. Additionally, the bright light made it difficult for her to see a clear image of text, both on the screen and on paper.
Pat made errors, fell behind with her work and found the whole situation extremely stressful, which only exacerbated the problem. A once happy, experienced and competent worker, she became anxious and miserable and was unable to cope. Prior to reorganisation, her attendance record had been excellent. Now, she was having time off work; the stressful situation was affecting her health. Her new line-manager was unhappy with her performance. Pressure was applied, more stress was created and the situation worsened.
For some months, Pat had been attending her local college to improve her literacy and numeracy skills. There, she was assessed as dyslexic and with appropriate support she gained Level 2 qualifications in both subjects. Pat showed her Dyslexia Assessment Report and Recommendations to her line manager, together with her new qualifications. She hoped that this would improve their relationship and that recommended reasonable adjustments would be made, to enable her to work efficiently, but there was a complete lack of understanding.
Sadly, the situation was not resolved satisfactorily. The case went to tribunal. The tribunal found that the employers were at fault and awarded Pat compensation. After months of ill health, she left her job; a sad end to a formerly happy and successful career.