Fighting Dyslexia

This week’s guest post is from the oh-so-knowledgeable Jood Burkinshaw, a SEN and dyslexia specialist working in schools and the armed forces in the UK. Jood gives us some practical approaches to dealing with dyslexic adult learners.

Years ago I was covering an English lesson for a teacher who’d set the rather open ended task:

‘Write about your saddest day’.

Two young men sat together at the front. One produced a heart rending and articulate account of the day, ten years before, when his dad had told him and his brother that their mum had died. The other, after 40 minutes of sweat and toil, rubbing out, crossing out and general discomfort, produced the following: ‘MY sabbist bay wars wen my gerdil bieb’.

What struck me was the indignity of this chap not being able to express himself in writing: the beginning of my career long mission to understand and mitigate the effects of what we now know as Dyslexia.

The Rose Review produced in 2009 was a major turning point. The resulting report produced a definitive description of Dyslexia alongside a commitment to training a cohort of specialist teachers (of which I was one) who would be qualified to assess for Dyslexia and advise teachers in removing inherent barriers to learning.

The Rose definition is as follows:

  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed.
  • Dyslexia occurs across a range of intellectual abilities.

The BDA (British Dyslexia Association) points out that a dyslexic learner can show a combination of abilities and difficulties that affect the learning process. Some have strengths in areas, such as design, problem solving, creative skills, interactive skills and oral skills.

  • It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.

Current research indicates that children with a family history of ‘risk’ factors (e.g. a parent is dyslexic) but who are learning to read may still be on the dyslexic continuum. It is possible that difficulties will begin to manifest themselves as the student progresses through school.

  • Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor coordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

This gives us a structure for both assessment and teaching.

Fast forward to 2020 ………………

Somehow (long story), after a long career as a secondary school SENDco, then a peripatetic specialist teacher supporting schools from infant to sixth form; I’m now contracted to the RAF where I work with Dyslexic personnel.

We identify by assessment, the spikes and dips in their learning profiles and teach them, alongside their line managers, how to achieve optimum functionality through their learning, their training and their professional development.

Whilst all my teaching is individualised, there are a few core and generic principles that I come back to again and again. These are encompassed in the following, the focus here is on independent study and exam preparation, but the principles can be applied in many teaching and learning situations:

FOR THE TEACHER:

  • Clearly explain assessment/task requirements
  • Allow 25% extra time for exams and assessments where possible, including earlier access to course materials.
  • Consider visual stress and use suitable screen colours (green is best) / whiteboard pen colours (black and blue being the worst)
  • Offer printed material on buff or pale green paper
  • Offer electronic versions of study materials where possible, so that the learner can adjust the format himself.

FOR THE LEARNER:

Proof reading techniques:

On screen:

  • Choose a large font – ariel 14 is suitable
  • Double space the document
  • Highlight in grey or yellow
  • If/ when available, read aloud /Dragon Naturally Speaking to read back
  • Check one line at a time; reading one word at a time to avoid reading what you think is there, as opposed to what is actually there
  • Remove highlight colour for that line when checked
  • Remove bullet points and extra spacings to convert to prose if required.

Effective Reading Techniques:

When reading is laborious, it uses so much brain power that there isn’t always any left for remembering or understanding what’s been read.

Paradoxically, adding in some extra brain processes can make your reading more effective in terms of understanding and remembering:

  • visual mapping of material (noting the page layout and headings/ bold print etc)
  • if material isn’t chunked or broken up, look for distinguishing features such as a dash, capitalisation etc, to visually chunk for yourself
  • take prior note of number of items, where there are bullet points or sections
  • mentally categorise the information in more than one way – cross referencing reinforces what you know and helps to find bits you forgot
  • make a mental note of anything you found amusing/ confusing/ interesting
  • make a mental note of anything you want to ask a question about

Reading Techniques to try when required to read and remember bulky or densely printed material:

  • Note where the full stops are
  • Read a sentence at a time, in your head first, then aloud to confirm if it makes sense
  • Mentally note any tricky words
  • Make use of context clues – what is it likely to say, given the words around it?
  • Mentally summarise, at suitable intervals
  • Allow yourself ‘brain breaks’ when you begin to find the reading more difficult – just a minute’s break or even a few seconds will allow your brain to rest then start processing successfully again.

Avoiding Spelling Errors:

  • Use on-screen ‘sticky notes’ as reminders for commonly mis-spelt words
  • Have a look at the spelling section on www.bbc.co.uk/teach/skillwise/English
  • Use mnemonics
  • Consider the root word:
    • eg Cognitive, from the root word Cognition
  • Use colour coding (eg just highlight the tricky bit)
  • Look for words within words
  • Use visual links and reminders:
‘Electric Ian’ the electrician
  • Break down the word into memorable chunks:
    • Pharmaceutical pharm ace u tical

Memory Techniques and Study Skills:

Bear in mind the need to address all 4 quadrants of the study cycle:

STORE:

  • Make your notes as visually memorable as possible:
  • Quadrants for hand written notes or diagrams
  • Chunking and bullet points
  • Colour coding and highlighting
  • Consciously try to improve your mental storage system:
  • Anchor points in your location eg imagining the information stored on areas in the exam location
  • Store information alongside images or a scenario or story

SECURE:

Consolidate knowledge by:

  • verbal discussion
  • practical application
  • repetition – as on the Forgetting Curve

The intervals on the timescale axis can be used for review processes and practice

REVIEW:

  • Don’t just read through notes:
  • reformat:
  • mindmap layout
  • flowchart of process
  • diagram
  • list
  • chunked bullet points
  • picture transposed onto visual location
  • verbalise:
  • read aloud
  • use Dragon or other text to speech to read aloud
  • have it read to you by a human
  • verbal q and a session
  • chant a ‘mantra’ ….. (repeat a formula or sequence over and over until you can’t forget it) good one for the car!
  • Use a traffic light (RAG) system to denote the areas needing the most or least review
  • Follow up with methodical use of index cards:
    • Replace at back of box if secure (green)
    • In middle if partially secure (amber)
    • Near front if insecure (red)

Retrieve:

  • Successful retrieval relies on the previous stages having been addressed thoroughly
  • Retrieve in ‘brain dump’ style – whatever is triggered by the question or challenge, in no particular order, then put into order once salient points are recalled
  • Retrieve by recalling triggers from storage phase – eg quadrants, colours, number of boxes, number of bullets, page layout
  • Retrieve by searching mental files for appropriate storage – eg did you visually map this information, or use a story, or picture a scenario
  • Retrieve by environment – where were you when you revised it? Who gave you the information? Who gave the best answers to questions?
  • Before writing answers, allow some planning time

One thought on “Fighting Dyslexia”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *