Back in 2012, I was doing a lot of dyslexia assessments and thought I would share some reflections about reading comprehension. I used WRAT 4 for word recognition and sentence level comprehension, TOWRE2 to get insight into processing visual and auditory patterns at speed and miscue analysis when I wanted something a little more in depth.
I set a “brain teaser” to stimulate discussion about problem solving reading assessment results:
“Mary” came out in the average range for word recognition and comprehension from WRAT. Her score for nonsense words was also just average on the TOWRE (see an earlier post for my views on non-word tests), though her lower score for real words at speed brought her overall word reading efficiency down below average. She read extended text at 142 words per minute and with 98% accuracy, so miscue analysis was not possible, there being so few errors.
The big surprise came when she could only recall 40% of the detail of what she had read. Even more intriguingly, this score did not improve when I read her an equivalent level passage for listening comprehension.
I might have gone along with Kate Cain and said she had a specific problem with comprehension, but on reflection I thought….
Well why don’t I let you think about it and comment back… ? I posted some discussion points and revealed my analysis, but you might want to think about this too, so only “read more” when you have had a think!
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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!.
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 »
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: