WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?
A child’s perspective.
Poem “I’m not useless” :
I can see his face ready to blow.
He shouts, so the whole class will know.
“Sir, sir I’m stuck, I need more time.”
“I told you what to do, don’t step out of line.”
I find it hard and embarrassing with him yelling about my reading, writing and spelling.
“Hurry up, get on with it, I’m not marking this mess.”
I say “I need more time, I’m doing my best.”
He tells me little kids can do better than me.
“I’ve seen better from my daughter, she only three. Where’s your full stops and capital letters?”
“Now go and sit down until you do better.”
It’s hard to do my work I find I never rest; it’s always on my mind.
Then I get frustrated, rude and angry because he doesn’t understand me.
(Mark Chivers p12 in Chivers 2004)
“Please teacher, if I can’t learn by the way you teach, please teach me the way I learn” (Chivers 2004, p9). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEpBujdee8M
“Every few weeks I would go and see his teacher and tell him how worried I was. But repeatedly and by several different teachers I was told that “boys are slower than girls and he would catch up”. Niggling at the back of my mind, I knew this was wrong” (Chivers 2004, p11).
Earey 2013 found that parents currently have to battle for their children’s difficulties to be taken seriously and this impacts traumatically on both children and parents. Where children do not have such supportive parents willing to battle to get their children help, the difficulties the child faces can be exacerbated. She identified the need for teachers to be trained in dyslexia and how to support the children’s needs in the classroom, with every school having a specialist teacher. She says this is essential, not only for the benefit of the individual and education, but in the long term for society. Snowling (2012) highlights how an understanding amongst teachers and professionals can ensure that children at risk of dyslexia can be identified early, before the risk of failure sets in. She emphasised the importance of early, effective interventions.
An adult’s perspective
“As an adult with dyslexia and dyspraxia I sometimes find certain things a bit of a challenge. I was diagnosed by an Educational Psychologist when I was 15 and was recently screened again as an adult, with processing highlighted as my main area of issue. I find my pace of reading is much the same as my peers, however my comprehension is not. It often takes me several reads of a passage to fully understand what is being conveyed, especially if the text is complex or giving new information. I also find spelling quite difficult, more so with non-frequently used words, or ones which I have not often seen written down. I find learning mnemonics helpful for memorising words I find tricky. I have found ways of compensating, especially through the use of technology and spell check etc. and therefore do not find dyslexia impacts on my life now to a high degree” (University of Brighton PGCE student 2013).
An acaedemic perspective.
Smythe (2010) believes it is important to define dyslexia as it provides a framework by which to support it. He suggests that the lack of clarity around definitions of dyslexia has prevented implementation of full support that other disabilities have enjoyed. He goes on to note that dyslexia can be difficult to define because there can be more than one underlying cause of the measurable symptom. In other words, many cognitive impairments can lead to reading and writing difficulties.
Disability, difficulty or difference?
Mackay (2012) argues that dyslexia must not be seen as a learning difficulty but a learning difference, placing the focus on how the lesson is planned, resourced and taught. Reid (2013) supports the idea that labelling a child with dyslexia, though it may be helpful, can also lead to the resignation that dyslexia can only be dealt with by experts. He goes on to suggest that dyslexia is a difference in the way some people process information.
Mackay (2012) defines dyslexia as a “specific learning difference which, for any given level of ability, may cause unexpected difficulties in the acquisition of certain skills” (p 5). He suggests that many current definitions of dyslexia are positively dyslexia unfriendly and make little sense to the practitioner in the classroom. Reid (2013) goes on to support this idea, suggesting that definitions of dyslexia can be extremely ambiguous because students with dyslexia can display so many different types of profiles. This can lead teachers and parents to become very confused and anxious. Children with dyslexia have a number of core characteristics that fall into difficulties around reading, writing and spelling and memory processing difficulties.
Smythe (2010) questions whether by defining dyslexia we are providing a framework to assess for labelling purposes rather than assess for needs. Does it really matter if someone is labelled ‘dyslexic’? Is it not more important that their needs are identified and met rather than being put in a box?
Mackay (2012) highlights the positive differences that dyslexic children have. Rather than just focusing on their difficulties in literacy and numeracy he notes that children with dyslexia are often highly creative and imaginative, enabling them to be great problem solvers with excellent ingenuity. He suggests they have abilities to be curious, electric and creative, identifying patterns and links that are unclear to others. Dyslexic learners are particularly vulnerable when there is a classroom preoccupation with the basic skills of spelling, reading and number accuracy. He argues that when the focus is on accuracy rather than on process, this can be unhelpful and harmful to the child’s perceptions of self and learning. Dyslexic children are often intelligent learners asking “what I’m doing isn’t working and I don’t really know what to do, so what I’ll try is……”.
Mackay (2012) suggests that all the time the government and some teachers see spelling, reading, writing and numerical accuracy as an absolute measure of intelligence, “what now” intelligent learning and ability is ignored. Children with dyslexia struggle to acquire and apply these basic skills; so often the dyslexic learner is one who just seems to know how it works. A rare talent that needs celebrating and placed in a proper context against weaknesses in the comparatively simple transcriptional basic skills of reading, spelling and number accuracy.
How can teachers identify dyslexia in the classroom?
According to Mackay (2012), children with dyslexic differences tend to have difficulties with auditory sequential memory, visual sequential memory, information processing and phonological awareness. Children with dyslexia may be slow to crawl or never crawl and go straight to walking. They may also be slow to acquire dressing skills. They tend to have difficulties with labels, rhymes and sequences and may read or spell a word on one line, but not another. Children with dyslexia are often quick to solve problems and make connections, but this is limited by verbal or written instructions i.e. mental maths. The most apparent indication, according to MacKay, is the lack of transfer between skills and talents and school-based tasks, such as writing.
Chivers (2004) provides a practical list of factors for teachers to look out for when compared to peers.
Reading and spelling
- Confuse d,b; u,n; m,n.
- Confuse sounds v f th.
- Reverse words was= saw, now =won.
- Transpose words left = felt.
- Reads words correctly then forget later.
- Change words position so cat sat on mat, is mat cat sat.
- Confuse small words of, form, for.
- Confuse similar words.
- Reads correctly, but does not understand what they have read. Lack of comprehension.
- Trouble spelling phonetically.
- Trouble spelling high frequency words.
- Unsure whether to use right or left hand.
- Leaves out capital letters, or puts them in the wrong place.
- Forgets to cross t and dot i.
- Forms letters and numbers badly and/ or back to front.
- Writing slopes on page.
- Punctuation and paragraphs are wrong or not used at all.
- Short term memory problems, for example, following instructions.
- Problem tying shoelaces and other complex task motor skills.
- Problem telling the time.
- Easily distracted as find school work hard.
How can teachers support children with dyslexia in the classroom?
“Part of the challenge for teachers is to discover ways of empowering dyslexic learners to feel good about themselves and their abilities” (Mackay 2012, p20).
Mackay (2012) believes the key to ensuring children with dyslexic differences thrive in the classroom and fulfill their potential, is to build on the child’s emotional strength and confidence. Mackay suggests that activities that promote motor co-ordination seem to integrate the cerebellum and promote the acquisition of basic skills in some children. This is also highlighted in activities requiring complex motor skill co-ordination, such as getting dressed.
“Success comes in the cans, not cannots, so give them more of what they are good at and catch them doing it right” (Mackay 2012 p20). To do this teachers need to minimise the fear of disapproval or lack of understanding. He suggests that 80 percent of learning difficulties could be due to stress. Teachers need to create an environment where it is truly positive to make mistakes, as this is how we learn and know that we are trying. It is important in school that there is no failure only feedback and areas of development, the main focus being on the positive.
“ Trying to learn anything without first getting the big picture is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. It can be done, but it is slow and frustrating!” ( Mackay 2012, p115 )
Steps to help children with dyslexia (Mackay 2012):
- Minimise fear in learning.
- Give choices when possible for how children present their work (i.e. mind maps, story board, model, physical theatre).
- Pair readers to read simultaneously.
- Give children opt out clause for reading aloud in class.
- Resource phonic and high frequency word support groups.
- Spelling: Give spellings without teaching when learner is in full flow: “you try and I’ll help”, “can you clap it?”, “you spell and I will write”. Give the letters to make and break, chunk the word. Give words that rhyme. Do not just give children dictionaries to find out spellings for words.
- Spelling: Mackay (2012) advocates the make and break system of spelling using physical letters, such as magnetic letters to form the word. First children clap the syllables and sound out the word. Then they make the word using the magnetic letters, break the word into syllables, remake the word saying the syllables, break the word up jumbling all the letters, then rebuild word using the letter names.
- Use scaffolding, like story boards, mind maps, group work, thought showers.
- Use multi-sensory learning to create interest and access. Chivers (2004) supports this concept and states that multi-sensory teaching is the best way for students to learn.
- Allow time to work alone and for introspective reflection and consolidation of ideas before sharing.
Strategies that can be used in a whole classroom (Reid 2013)
- Use a range of information sources, tapes , discussions, movies, visuals.
- Highlight key information with colour. Students with dyslexia often prefer to learn through the use of colour.
- Discussion. Discuss in order to understand.
- Overlearn. Use a variety of sources and learning approaches to learn the same information, i.e. kinaesthetic, visual, auditory.
- Presentation, clear and simple.
- Talk for reading, discuss books to aid comprehension abilities.
- Self-questioning, encourage students to ask their own questions.
- Pre-reading discussions about book, text.
- Writing frames.
- Mind maps.
- Keyboard skills.
- Scribes, laptops, speech to text software.
- Group discussion opportunities.
- Key words, word stores, banks.
- Paired writing, step 1 idea generation, step 2 draft out, step 3 look at writing together with expression, step 4 editing, step 5 writer copies out neat version.
- Visual timetables.
- Visual instructions.
- Step by step instructions or explanations of concepts.http://www.teachersmedia.co.uk/videos/classroom-layout-and-resources
Bell (2013) suggests that expert support for individual students is not cheap, but is essential to ensure inclusive practice and to meet the Teachers Standards. She believes that there needs to be developed a consistent and evolved system across education, with teachers trained in dyslexia.
Technology and dyslexia
Smythe (2010) suggests that technology within the realms of dyslexia can be 5-fold
- To capture information
- To analyse information
- To store information
- To synthesise information
- To output results
He introduces the idea of using technology to support dyslexia, including hardware such as talking calculators, talking clocks, talking text (where you can take a picture of a text and the computer will talk it back to you), scanning pens that read what you have written back to you or will read a book, sound recording devices, handheld spellcheckers and thesauri. Smythe (2010) goes on to suggest how software can be used to aid reading and writing. He primarily cites the idea of text to speech and speech to text devices. For example, reading could be facilitated through technology by scanning in a book or document. This document could then be converted from text to speech to aid comprehension. The child’s responses could then be recorded verbally, facilitating the auditory short-term memory and ultimately long-term storage.
Smythe (2010) notes though that technology is moving so fast that it is difficult to speculate even about the near future. He states the concept that software would run through the web rather than locally through the computer, as coming to life and the blurring of devices into one is inevitable. Maybe a multi-functional dyslexia assistant device will be the future for people needing help with dyslexia? He stresses that we must make sure the technology we use matches the specific needs of the individual, if we do not do this the software may prove useless and actually hinder rather than promote development.
- Use computers whenever possible to enhance specific aspects of teaching. Encourage the development of ICT skills. Speech to text software is available such as Key Stone Speech Master.
- Use the Internet. The following websites are a starting point: www.ictgames.com www.kidsmemory.com www.playkidsgames.com www.andyrunton.com
- Use other technologies such as audiobooks, to provide content at grade level which is too hard for dyslexic students to read: www.storynory.com Braille and Talking Book Library Service)
USEFUL RESOURCES AND WEBSITES:
- www.helpingdyslexia.co.uk : resources to help children with reading and spelling difficulties.
- http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dyslexia-Pocketbook-Teachers-Pocketbooks: Pocket books for teachers on dyslexia.
- Learning and Teaching for Dyslexic Children (DfES 1184/2005 CDI).
Available from DfES Publications
tel: 0845 60 222 60
• Mackay, N (2012) Removing Dyslexia as a barrier to achievement. SEN Marketing: Wakefield
• Reid, G (2013) Dyslexia and Inclusion. Classroom approaches for assessment, teaching, and learning. Routledge: New York
• Smythe, I (2010) Dyslexia in the digital age. Continuum international publishing group: London
• Chivers, M (2004) Dyslexia and other learning difficulties a parent’s guide. Need to know: Peterborough.
• Snowling, M (2012) Early identification and interventions for dyslexia: a contemporary view. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs 13(1) pp. 7 – 14
• Bell, S (2013) Professional development for specialist teachers and assessors of students with literacy difficulties/dyslexia: ‘to learn how to assess and support children with dyslexia’. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs. 13 (1) pp. 104 – 113
• Earey, A (2013) Parental experiences of support for pupils with dyslexia: ignoring the effect on parents. British journal of learning support. 28(1). pp. 35 – 40