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 »
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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.
Recently I was asked what a parent of a primary age child should look for in a specialist dyslexia tutor, specifically whether the specialist should have any training. This was my answer and I wondered what other people think:
Recently, I carried out some research on the effects on parents when their child is assessed as having dyslexia. As someone who works primarily with adults with dyslexia, I was interested to find out more about diagnosing dyslexia at an early stage. The research was a dissertation at the end of a masters degree, at the University of Birmingham, and like my colleague, Sue Partridge, I now find myself with new letters to add after my name.
Sadly, the results of the research did not fill me with glee: they point to a system that is failing children and their parents. The recently published report by Dyslexia Action: Dyslexia Still Matters (see the Dyslexia Action website for the report), further backs up the research.
What are we doing as a society who consistently seems to fail our children and their parents? As an adult specialist, I often find myself picking up the pieces where people have been disregarded, ignored or labelled as just thick or lazy. The research that I carried out demonstrates that the system doesn’t seem to be improving as one would expect in an age of inclusivity and equality.
If you haven’t already, please sign the petition to make it essential for teachers to have training for dyslexia. See: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20674 [now closed!]
In the meantime, let’s make sure that we fight for the rights of our children with dyslexia, who will become adults with dyslexia.
“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.
Will changing the background colour of an electronic white board enable people to read black text more easily and more comfortably? 2009/10
In 1980 Olive Meares reported how students experienced a lessening of visual perceptive difficulties if the printed word was covered with a tinted plastic sheet. In 1981 Helen Irlen’s research identified a sub-group of students who, “Had adequate decoding skills, good phonetic skills and an adequate sight vocabulary, but still found reading exceedingly difficult and avoided it wherever possible.” They described a variety of visual impressions when looking at black text on a white background eg “The white spaces form rivers which run down the page”, or “When I start to read, the words become a black line and I don’t see them anymore.”
Initially, this pioneering work was greeted with scepticism. It wasn’t until 1995 that Arnold Wilkins became intrigued by Irlen’s claims that coloured filters ease the symptoms of visual stress. In 2003 he published ‘Reading Through Colour’, where he describes the results of rigorous research that confirmed the ideas of Meares and Irlen. He describes the syndrome as MIVS, Meares Irlen Visual Stress. Wilkins also developed Intuitive Coloured Overlays, used increasingly by schools and colleges, a free downloadable screen tinter, available to all via the internet and a Colorimeter to be used as a diagnostic tool by qualified optometrists.
Studies reveal that up to 30% of children and adults find coloured overlays useful, although only 5% have a severe degree of MIVS. In 2005 B J Evans stated that, “Visual problems are not the cause of dyslexia although they contribute to reading difficulties and many dyslexics have visual difficulties such as binocular instability and accommodative insufficiency.” In the same year, Helen Irlen stated that 65% of people who are dyslexic have MIVS.
The research was undertaken at a college of further education. The teacher/researcher hoped that tinting the electronic whiteboard, so students no longer had to read black text on a white background, would prove an inclusive method of improving the learning environment for a large number of students without disadvantaging others.
252 people from 22 classes took part in the research; this included 33 members of staff. Classes ranged from Entry Level to Level 5, from craft, vocational and academic courses. People were asked to read a text, based on Arnold Wilkin’s Rate of Reading Test, displayed on an electronic whiteboard, on first a white background and then to make a visual comparison between this and the same text on yellow, green, blue, orange and red backgrounds. People then read for a second time, the same text on the group’s preferred colour background. To eliminate the influence of practice, data from control groups, who read twice on a white background were collected.
Results of the research showed that a light green background disadvantaged less people than other colours, including white, and advantaged most. Statistically, for most people there was no significant difference in reading efficiency on a white or tinted background. However, for the minority there was such a significant benefit they would be severely disadvantaged by not changing the background colour of the board from white to green. It was also interesting to note that students on lower level courses would benefit most.
This simple adjustment could provide a cost effective, inclusive learning support technique which can be replicated in all classrooms that have an electronic whiteboard.3 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »