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Dyslexia: Learn More...

One of the most common questions we get from parents is related to Dyslexia. Perhaps the most heard of specific learning difficultly. But what is Dyslexia? And what do we do as a school to ensure the needs of every child are being met?

Dyslexia is a term that gets used a lot but what do we actually mean by this term?

This purpose of this article is to increase understanding and enhance awareness. By sharing this information, we are not trying to ‘fix everything’, we are just trying to make sure we are constantly moving in the right direction and improving as a school.

This article will not provide a 'to do' list: if only you just do these 10 things, the problems will be solved. It just doesn’t work like that. As as school and as parents, we are working with individuals. All different, all complex.

This article is not intended to create ‘perfect knowledge’ or intended to share everything there is to know. This is about us as a very active learning community, with parents and high-functioning professionals working together to increase our collective knowledge. This in turn has a positive impact on outcomes for the children on our care.

Ultimately, this article it is about the work we do with a child on an individual level.

The points in this article have mainly been informed by reading, research and listening to interviews with Professor Maggie Snowling.

The main ideas have then been adapted to be appropriate for our setting. I am hoping this sparks the desire to learn more and enhances our collective understanding.

If you search for her name, it will open up a world of reading, videos, interviews, conferences and talks. This article is about opening that door. Increasing the knowledge in our own long-term memory so that we can draw upon this knowledge when working with the individual students in our classrooms or at home.

Once you know one child with dyslexia, you know one child with dyslexia.

Our ultimate aim is the wellbeing of each individual child. As you will see later, dyslexic difficulties have a large part to play in this for some children.

There is no attempt here to create the profile of a ‘DYSLEXIA CHILD’. However, a better understanding of these difficulties will go a long way to ensuring the overall wellbeing for some children. But we work with individuals.

As a school, we are not in the business of diagnosing children with dyslexia. Our job is to have a fundamental understanding of each individual child. Can we identify an issue? Do we have strategies in place to help? Many of the strategies, as you will see, are JUST GOOD TEACHING. There is no secret here. Good teaching and learning and a good understanding of an individual's needs are fundamental to ensuring good progress.

Often teachers in other schools can be heard saying things like, “I am not an SEN specialist” or “it was not in my training”. At ISB, things are different. All students have access to a balanced curriculum and all teachers must set high expectations for every student, whatever their prior attainment. Teachers use assessment and set targets that are deliberately ambitious. Potential areas of difficulty are identified and addressed. Lessons are planned to address potential areas of difficulty and remove barriers to learning. We do this every day! This is what we are experts in.

With parents, we will describe and talk openly about both the issues and the strategies we use. However, we do not diagnose.

So, what is dyslexia?

A specific difficulty in learning to read and spell, specifically in learning to read fluently.

Dyslexia is a specific difficulty in learning to read and spell. Specifically in learning to read fluently. The term continues to ‘broaden out’ but essentially it is a problem with learning to read and spell.

This is not something that is ‘rare’. We are talking here about something very common (as much at 1 in 5) and so our core offer (provision available to all students) has to have provision built into its foundations. It is about getting the core offer right and increasing our understanding of the difficulties many children will have, on an individual level.

How do you separate a child who may have dyslexia from a child who just hasn’t yet had enough experience of reading?

Dyslexia is defining children who are at the bottom of the distribution of reading skills. The reason that they are there could be for all sorts of reasons:

  • They may not have been at school.

  • They may not have had suitable instruction.

  • They have English as an additional language.

  • Or that they have dyslexia.

What is difficult is differentiating between those different causes. And the reason we now don’t do that is it is simply not possible. There is no evidence to support that children who are in that low range range differ in their response to intervention.

Whether you are at the bottom of the range because you have a language problem, or because you have had limited experience of the school system, dyslexia simply means having difficulty learning to read and spell.

We can then look at responses to interventions. People used to think that Dyslexia was a clear cut syndrome, with signs and symptoms like a medical disease. That is not the case.

Is there a quick cure? No Is there a fix? No

Once we have the thought that a child might be ‘possibly dyslexic’ (remember the definition), we then have to monitor over the next couple of academic years. If a child responds well and ‘catches up’, it is not a dyslexia problem. Dyslexia will continue to impact on learning at the appropriate rate.

One of the main problems is that children are not getting intervention early enough. The first system we have in assessing the response to intervention is the Phonics Screening check. At ISB, we do this at the end of Year 1 and the end of Year 2 for all students.

Any child who is doing poorly at that point should then be receiving intervention. And that is exactly what we do at ISB. We assess and we modify our curriculum and provision to meet individual needs. We do this because it is the right thing to do and we know it works.

Dyslexia is a neurodevelopmental disorder – meaning it is a condition that affects how the brain functions. It is a heritable disorder. Dyslexia is probably genetic. It has an early onset. And persists across a lifetime.

As a school, our job is to recognise that this may be the case and make changes to our provision to ensure every student experiences success.

Let’s revisit the definition:

A specific difficulty in learning to read and spell. Specifically in learning to read fluently.

Dyslexia does range from mild to severe - it is a continuum. But the bigger question to ask is: What is the impact on everyday functioning?

Part of our job as a school is to reduce the impact of this difficulty on the child. Not fix.

Take a look at child A and child B (above). Take note of both the level of difficulty with literacy and the impact on wellbeing. Which colour face do you pick for each? What does this change in your thinking? What are we measuring here? What should we be measuring and taking note of? These are all questions we ask of ourselves as a school regularly.

Some children can deal with the fact that they are confronting failure every day, and they are resilient, and they have lots of other things that they are good at and create good strategies to compensate. But then we will have other children for whom the sense of failure builds up and impacts on their self-esteem and then that has an impact on their progress.

We have to think about 2 dimensions here:

  • The severity of the problem.

  • And the other variables that can affect every day functioning.

We can have a mild dyslexic but with a very high impact, or (the opposite).

The label of dyslexia is not going to be a root to supporting the child. It must be an individualised approach to support. It is about us unpicking what we are going to do for children on different trajectories. This is where our expertise is as a school.

Let’s take English as an Additional Language (EAL) as an example. Students might be slow at learning to read, but actually they soon pick up and then they don’t have any decoding problems, unlike children with dyslexia - but at one point in time, they could be exactly the same.

As a school, we ask; how is the child learning to read? How is the child responding to the reading curriculum? And then, if they are not responding, could we consider that it is a dyslexic condition? Then what?

In this case, we would expect a poor response to the universal offer we are delivering (measured and monitored). We might expect increasing difficulties with spelling and writing as time goes on. And a difficulty in keeping up at the normal rate.

So we work on these problems as soon as they arise, to minimise the long- term impact, not least self-esteem and academic self-confidence. We, have the time and space to do this, with our Mastery approach. What we want to avoid is generalised low self esteem and low motivation.

We need to be looking at not just what we need to do to remediate the problem, but also what should we be doing to make sure we keep in sight the child’s strengths, their interests, because doing well in those other areas can also support their difficulties in the reading domain.

If a child has had high-quality, evidence based support over two academic years, and they are not really progressing and are struggling, we really at this point need to be thinking about ‘compensation’ that is we have to start bringing in the use of technology, there is no reason why children can’t use voice to text for example or the Seesaw tools. This, again, is where accurate data is essential. We track how interventions have been effective over time. This is not about working in isolation, it is about the bigger picture, how a child responding over time.

We also ask, are there alternative ways for the student to demonstrate their knowledge?

It is often said that teachers need to motivate in order to ensure achievement. I would like to challenge this. I think it is more accurate to say that children need to experience success, then they will be motivated.

Wellbeing is ultimately what we have to work towards. For most people that means being literate, being able to read and write fluently. So how do we foster welling in students who find literacy problematic? How do we ensure achievements are recognised?

At ISB, this is what we do well....

Delivery of reading across the mainstream curriculum. We first do it well for mainstream students, then we identify children who are learning a bit more slowly, with targeted group work, and then moving to more individualised work. But the components of the intervention are the same, no matter which stage a student is at:

  • Training in letter knowledge and letter sounds.

  • Phonological awareness - particularly phonemes that link to the letters.

  • Phonics decoding strategies.

For children with these difficulties, the best intervention combines the training in letter knowledge and phoneme awareness with reading from books. So as the skills emerge, they need to be practicing them in a range of books which are rich in language. The use of language can facilitate and support their learning. 

The nature of dyslexia does change over time, initially it could be a reading problem, then it could be a problem with spelling, and then it could be a problem with reading fluency, and then it could be a problem with writing composition - because the child will always be ‘trailing behind’ and not at the point to receive in the classroom what the rest of the class are getting.

We can support children through the school system, but it could be said that the school system is trying to hurry the child along faster than they are capable of. So, when it comes to the end of primary, it comes too late for them to make up the difference. We need to ensure each child has what they need before the transition to secondary.

At ISB, we plan learning within a class to enable children to learn at a rate that is optimal for them. The support of the Learning Assistants and the targeted groups we have is a good way to support children with these difficulties.

We have a lot of exceptional practice in place. We accurately track over time the progress of each student. We want to ensure we record what has worked, what has not, what difficulties they have. This needs to be consistent over multiple years and can’t stall with each teacher.

Do these difficulties always show up early?

Sometimes these difficulties can show up much later. These could be students who have compensated very well, because maybe they have had a good home and school early literacy environment, maybe they are relying on their good vocabulary, and these problems emerge a bit later when the amount they have to read increases.

So, for example, where you suddenly have to do a lot of reading for homework, and it takes you twice as long, that is going to be a problem that might not have been a problem before.

Myth 1. Dyslexia is identified by a low score on an intelligence test.

This is a myth. You can still have dyslexia no matter how intelligent you are.

Myth 2. If you have dyslexia, you can’t read.

This is a myth. A person with dyslexia can learn to read and spell, but sometimes their reading and writing may not reflect their true ability.

Myth 3. Dyslexics read and write backwards.

This is a myth. Mirror writing is very rare. However, sometimes people with dyslexia confuse the direction of similar looking letters.

Myth 4. Dyslexia is caused by bad teaching.

This is a myth. Studies into dyslexia have shown that it is both hereditary and neurological.

Myth 5. There is no evidence that dyslexia exists.

This is not true. There is an overwhelming weight of research that proves dyslexia is a real physiological condition, yet because it is a hidden disability, some people still insist it does not exist.

Myth 6. A child will catch up later.

When a child starts to fall behind one of the most likely causes is dyslexia and it needs to be addressed immediately. The worst thing you can do is delay in the hope that things will change. As they get older the gap will widen, affecting confidence and self-esteem.

Myth 7. Vision therapy and coloured overlays help dyslexia.

Dyslexia is not a problem with the eyes, it is language based. Coloured overlays do not teach a child to read.

Myth 8. A child cannot read because they are lazy.

This is a myth. Every child starts school wanting to learn. Children lose heart when the learning process fails. Never blame a child for their dyslexia. Dyslexia is a hidden disability that makes reading and spelling very difficult. Dyslexics have to work much harder to read and the process makes them exhausted.


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