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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What counts as knowing a word; is it enough to be able to read it? To spell it? To know what it means?
Our colleague Ros Wright, a very skilled trainer, answered this question in our seminar in a great demonstration of micro-teaching. Here are some of the notes she used:
1.Where I started with the Vocabulary issue!
- My background as ESOL teacher, where systematic teaching of vocabulary is the norm
- Anecdotal/ my children: “guitar” – baby’s first spoken word! “exhilarating” – 10 year old son describing a theme park.
- A piece of local research: “Full on English” by Philida Schellekens (2005) – based on students at City College, born in UK to ESOL parents.
- I have a growing concern about the limited vocabulary shown by many students I support.
This was the first question… does anyone have anything to add? Please leave a comment.
What is the difference between receptive vocabulary and expressive vocabulary?
Discuss this in relation to both speaking & listening and reading & writing.
by Julie Baister
In terms of definitions, Receptive language skills are the ability to understand information. This involves understanding words, sentences and the meaning of what others say or what is read.
Expressive language skills are the ability to put thoughts into words and sentences, in a way that makes sense and is grammatically accurate.
At the vocabulary level, Receptive Vocabulary refers to all the words that can be understood by a person, including spoken, written, or even manually signed words.
In contrast, Expressive Vocabulary refers to the words that a person can express or produce, for example, by speaking or writing them in a grammatically acceptable manner. Continue reading this article… »
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!
Continue reading this article… »
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!.
Back in 2011, at a meeting of Dyslexia Positive we discussed the pros and cons of assessing readers when they read silently and when they read aloud. Clearly these are two different processes. The former may be the preferred mode of reading for competent readers, but not always for readers with dyslexia who may like an auditory feedback loop. Reading aloud requires an additional skill in articulation on top of the regular reading skill.
The assessment issue comes when you want to measure reading speed and reading comprehension. Reading silently will almost certainly (though not invariably) be faster than reading aloud. Reading comprehension depends on so much else, but the extra burden on working memory when articulating words to read aloud may skew the score.
Those of us who use the WRAT 4 sentence comprehension sub-test (with all of its flaws) to get a standardised score for reading comprehension will have observed some candidates reading silently and others aloud, with some readers using a mixed strategy. What bearing does this have on the score and its validity?
In an ideal world we would want to assess the reader with equivalent texts both silently and aloud and make a close comparison between the findings for the two. Even better would be throw in a third passage to test listening comprehension and try to build up a full profile of the differences in performance. Against this is the very real threat of test fatigue.
Jocelyn from Dyslexia Positive observed that some readers think they have to read silently, because they have been taught that is the best way, even though they might not want to and it might not suit them.Yvonne liked getting the people she assessed to read silently, if they can, as it tells her about their potential for effective study. Melanie used the Adult Reading Test (ART) for assessment, trying to get a sample of reading aloud and reading silently, but is really concerned about over-testing (the ART is particularly exhaustive and exhausting!). Clearly you can’t do miscue analysis unless you hear the learner read aloud…
All of this argues for a more extended period of assessment and observation, so as to build up an extensive profile of reading ability, without the dangers of test stress. With reading, it may be important for each learner to develop different strategies depending whether they want to speed read silently, read and recite (to their children or to hear a particular effect, say when appreciating poetry) or any other purpose.
This debate on assessment practice for reading is still relevant, although in 2017 there is more pressure to cram even more assessment tests into a diagnosis, and to explore co-occurring conditions as well as dyslexia. Something has to give!Leave a comment or ask a question »
- The idea of this technique is to encourage fluency and confidence when reading.
- The idea is to stop the disruption to flow caused by a learner struggling to decode words or waiting to be corrected.
- This approach can bring back the pleasure in reading for pleasure.
- Choose a text that the learner is interested in reading (for pleasure or information).
- Although it is best if the text is at a level appropriate to the learner’s assessed needs, this method can be used to assist reading a harder text that the reader urgently needs to access.
- Make sure that you can both see the text comfortably, or have two copies.
- Start reading aloud together.
- Make sure you match your speed to what the learner can cope with so you don’t leave them behind or leave them frustrated.
- Model fluency and good expression.
- If the learner stumbles over a word, keep reading and encourage them to continue without pause. If they lose their place, wait for them to catch up.
- If you sense that the learner is reading confidently and accurately, fade your voice to a quieter volume, but be prepared to fade back in if they falter.
- Warn your learner that you may fade out altogether if they continue to read well.
- With a beginner reader, be prepared to pair read the same text several times so they also gain fluency from repetition and familiarity.
This is the first of a number of discussion topics I am going to share with you, taken from the archive of my blog on Unravelling Reading (see also the Unravelling Reading section of this website for other articles.)
These topics are still relevant and I hope will attract some new comments.
I was reminded, when assessing a Dip ADDS (Adult Dyslexia Diagnosis and Support) Unit 2 module, of an interesting link between reading and punctuation. The ADDS candidate K (she knew I was writing this post) submitted a DVD where she had a really interesting conversation with her learner about how punctuation can be the key to good expression and intonation when reading (they were discussing exclamation marks and question marks). We know from Ivanic (1996) that “while reading probably doesn’t help students to learn to spell, it does seem to help some to punctuate.” Adult writers can improve their punctuation by reading their work aloud and listening for a complex mix of sound, structure and meaning in the words. However, perhaps reading with a greater awareness of punctuation also helps fluency and comprehension.
In my research I had one learner who never noticed sentence breaks when she was reading a text out loud. Though she read fluently and with reasonable accuracy, she could rarely recall more than the surface detail of what she had read. Somehow her style of reading was not giving her access to the meaning for full comprehension.
One of the interventions I tried with her was asking her to use a highlighter pen with one colour to mark up sentence breaks and another for commas. We did this a couple of times before reading the text together (we were reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as she had a passionate interest in horror stories!), as part of a series of directed activities related to texts (DARTs). It is possible she had some visual processing difficulties that meant punctuation marks did not stand out well for her. She certainly read with better expression after this activity.
In the re-assessment after 6 sessions of interventions, this learner dipped slightly in her reading accuracy and was one of the subjects who significantly slowed down her reading speed (half speeded up, half slowed down – which is an interesting finding to be discussed later). However she improved her comprehension score by 18%! Was she improving her access to the meaning of texts?
Clearly lots of other factors come into play, so it is impossible to tell if or how the work on punctuation worked; it was only one of the strategies we tried.
Ivanic, R (1996) Linguistics and non-standard punctuation, in Hall, N. and Robinson, A., eds. Learning about Punctuation, Portsmouth, NH, Heinemann.2 Comments so far: leave a comment or ask a question »
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)
There is far too much good stuff to make a purely rational choice, so today I heard:
Lindsay Peer make a passionate plea for us to take account of the emotional impact of dyslexia.
She told us about ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and how we might help clients channel these into constructive change. We should aim to help people not to think they can change the past, but change their response to it. We do not have to be Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) experts to use some of the techniques from CBT, to help people be more realistic, more flexible and attentive to their emotional levels. Above all she warned us not to be complacent about the impact a diagnosis of dyslexia can have on a person’s self esteem and emotional well being.
I like the thought of working in this therapeutic way, and certainly, Dyslexia Positive seeks to make its assessments contain good news to balance the difficulties. However, I do, somewhat, worry about maintaining our boundaries, especially when acting as non-medical helpers within the rather proscribed guidelines for DSA.
Margaret Meehan tell us how hard it is being bilingual and dyslexic in Wales, especially when moving from a Welsh medium school to an English speaking university. she also lamented the lack of Welsh language dyslexia assessment material.
Rob Fidler outline research on reading comprehension in adults, that I had not heard about, when I did my doctorate…so there is someone out there after all who has parallel research interests to mine! His is based on work carried out in the UK and New Zealand, exploring the impact of meta cognitive interventions, with some promising results.
A fabulously funny and inspiring workshop on dyslexia and music by the DBA music committee, which gives me lots of stimulation for my other passion relating to music ( see @suepersop on Twitter)
Finally Kate Cain doing her usual immaculate job explaining the subtleties of reading comprehension, and the importance of early intervention to train even preschoolers in higher order language skills, and not just phonics …
Great day. Let’s see what Day 2 brings.Leave a comment or ask a question »