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!.
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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.
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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 »
For learners, parents and educational professionals
Improving Working Memory
Tracy Packiam Alloway www.tracyalloway.com
Working Memory- Our brain’s Post-it note: this, the title for Chapter 1, so clearly encapsulates the meaning of working memory. From this, ‘light bulb’ moment, the structure of the book continues to illuminate the reader’s way through the chapters. Each chapter has subtitles throughout, a summary of numbered points and a list of further reading at the end. Writing is visually punctuated with ‘Try It’ boxes, an opportunity to have hands-on understanding of the material; ‘Science Flash’ boxes, giving a snapshot of related current research; ‘Current debate’ boxes, which discuss relevant controversial issues; diagrams and data presented in visual form. Additionally, stories shared by teachers and parents with the author have been added to describe the challenges that learners face and inspire readers.
It is hard to put down this fascinating book which begins by exploring what working memory is, why it is important and how it relates to academic success. We are reminded of the many studies that demonstrate that working memory is a more reliable predictor of academic achievement than IQ, as a working memory test measures our potential to learn.
Chapter 2- Diagnosing working memory: looks at ways to test working memory; detailing the benefits and drawbacks of available tests and signposting the way forward.
The following chapters then describe a range of learning differences that impact on the way that people learn; the relationship between each one and working memory. In short, how poor working memory affects people with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, ADHD and those on the Autistic Spectrum. It is disappointing that this range of differences is described as disorders but that should not deter the reader from becoming engaged with the findings.
The final chapter outlines a range of strategies to encourage students of all ages to become more independent in their learning. It also discusses whether it is possible to train the brain, improve working memory and improve learning outcomes.
The book is the culmination of many years of research undertaken by Tracy Packham Alloway, in conjunction with others, regarding working memory and related issues. Professionals will find much that they recognise as well as new information; it is always reassuring to see ones hunches proved and ideas progressed.
A copy can be purchased on the internet for a little over £15.00, which makes this book easy to obtain by parents, learners and educational professionals.Leave a comment or ask a question »