OmpansA quick survey of a number of universities shows what I suspected, that there is little explicit guidance on how best to support students with dyslexia once they have progressed to a postgraduate or research degree. For that reason, I worked with a current student to develop something that would help university staff understand what is involved, particularly when it comes to giving feedback on written work at this level. The document contains two generic sections and two which the student can personalise. You can find a version to download at the end of this discussion piece. Try it and let me know what you think. Continue reading this article… »
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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… »
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.
“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.
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.
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) provides help for higher education students who have to meet extra costs while studying because of their disability or ‘specific learning difficulty’. Many of the students who claim DSA funding have been identified as dyslexic. A significant number of these students appear to be assessed for dyslexia for the first time after they start their higher education studies. I am interested in why this occurs and therefore decided to undertake a small-scale piece of ‘action research.’
I felt it would be interesting to examine in more detail approximately how many students were identified for dyslexia after starting their Higher Education studies. From the DSA ‘needs assessments’ completed at one assessment centre, I selected all of those that were related to dyslexia in one academic year. I then selected a random 100 students and noted when they had first been assessed for dyslexia.
• 24 had been assessed at primary school
• 10 at secondary school (between age 11-16)
• 10 during their level 3 studies (A levels or BTEC courses) – of these 8 had changed their place of study at age 16.
• 52 were assessed for the first time at University during their undergraduate studies
• 4 were assessed after completing their undergraduate studies and had just started postgraduate courses or a PHD programme. Continue reading this article… »
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 »