My blog post yesterday (and the fact I am currently one of lead organiser for a week long disability awareness campaign for students where I work) has got me thinking about students with Special Educational Needs (SENs), particularly those with Dyslexia. Partly because this is something I have had to struggle with myself, all be it at the very mildest end of the spectrum, and also because soon after starting this blog, I got a message off a friend of mine from University saying “I thought you had Dyslexia?!”
While I know the comment was made as a joke, its unfortunate that some people still don’t understand dyslexia fully, and in some cases think its a myth made by middle class families to prevent their child being labeled as stupid. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) and the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) do their best to outline what dyslexia actually is.
“Dyslexia is best described as a combination of abilities and difficulties which affect the learning process in one or more of reading, spelling and writing. Accompanying weaknesses may be identified in areas of speed of processing, short term memory, sequencing, auditory and/or visual perception, spoken language and motor skills. It is particularly related to mastering and using written language, which may include alphabetic, numeric and musical notation.” (BDA)
“Dyslexia describes a different kind of mind, often gifted and productive, that learns differently. Dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence…..Dyslexia results from differences in the structure and function of the brain.” (IDA)
Dyslexia, often referred to as ‘word blindness’, is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to read, write and spell. The name is derived from the Greek words “dys” meaning ‘poor’ and “lexis” meaning ‘words’ so it literally means ‘poor with words’. In recent years it has come to light that it can also affect a person’s concentration, short-term memory, coordination, mathematic skills as well as a person’s communication and social skills.
The very existence of dyslexia is a controversial point in educational circles. In 2005 Professor Julian Elliott of Durham University claimed that dyslexia was a myth. He claimed middle class parents with children who were poor readers continue to defend this Specific Learning Difficulty because of the widespread, but wrong, perception that dyslexics are generally intellectually bright thus removing the stigma of being illiterate. In June 2009 the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DSCF) published a report by Sir Jim Rose entitled ‘Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties’. Rose’s report gave a morale boost to those ‘middle class parents’, Julian Elliott so kindly pigeon holed, as it clearly recognises dyslexia as a special need.
“…a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling…Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia…” [Rose J. 2009]
There are widely differing calculations as to how many people are affected but in one research program carried out by GL Assessment involving 1334 pupils in mainstream secondary school classrooms. “… 6% showed ‘mild signs of dyslexia’; 4% showed signs of being ‘moderately dyslexic’ and 2% were ‘severely dyslexic’”. If this is reflected across the whole country then dyslexia is an issue that needs to be taken very seriously indeed. Obviously any child with a literacy difficulty is immediately in a disadvantaged position in our classrooms and in our society.
Rose made a number of recommendations on the identification and teaching of children with dyslexia, his report took note of modern theories on dyslexia, namely it should be viewed as a continuum rather than a clear case of a child ‘having dyslexia’ or ‘not having dyslexia’ there are degrees of difficulty on which intervention may have some impact.
If dyslexic students are to achieve their full potential then teachers have to be properly trained to cope with the dyslexic’s needs. The child has to be properly assessed and provision planned; the school has to have a robust monitoring system and progress review have to take place. Teachers have to make use of the learning environment to aid development. They have to consider alternative teaching and learning styles for the dyslexic pupil. Parents should be fully involved, although this may highlight another problem as according to BDA research the majority of dyslexic children have at least one dyslexic parent.
Outside agencies such as Speech Therapists may be involved if the child is at the School Action Plus stage of the SEN register. Emotional or social difficulties could be related to the dyslexia and the Educational Psychologist may need to be involved. In extreme cases where little progress is being made a statutory assessment should be made for a Statement of Educational Need.
CPD (Continued Professional Development) courses have to be used to ensure all teachers are aware of their responsibilities towards dyslexics and other pupils with literacy difficulties. In 2008 the government issued the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP) based on ‘Dyslexia and Speech, Language and Communication Needs’ and further web based training has been developed in response to the Rose report recommendations.
Dyslexia is an important social issue because, not surprisingly, those who suffer from dyslexia are less likely to read for learning or pleasure and I remember feeling rather humiliated when asked to read things out in class where i would read at a much slower pace than my peers. I also know other students who felt they were being ridiculed and bullied because of their reading difficulties throughout secondary school.
This sort of psychological torment in a school environment can often result in a student’s ability being hampered, pupil can be seen distancing themselves from education leading them to achieve lower grades than they should be attaining.
This can then cause problems later in life for example, when it comes to applying to university. The grades achieved in school and college are no reflection on the applicant’s ability to achieve top marks on their chosen HE course but rather a result of a poor support network and the low confidence and self-esteem that this brings. Unfortunately though the emphasis placed on the AAB results for our so called “top university” and the stress that producing a good personal statement for UCAS can be enough to stop some of our brightest children from pushing themselves. But then the topic of Personal Statements for UCAS and the AAB results is a new blog in its self.
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