As a dyslexia teacher and mum, my aim is to support those with dyslexia. I am particularly interested in helping class teachers to get a better understanding of this rather abstract and complex difference. Sadly, dyslexic strengths often only appear after school life has ended. My dream would be for dyslexic children to thrive in school, both emotionally and academically. They can learn, if they can do it differently.
I’ve used the name ‘thinkpix’ because when my eldest son (now 10) was around 5 years old, he told me ‘I have a picture for everything’. I read ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ shortly after and everything fell into place; why he was struggling at school, had been late to talk (3 years), could never remember nursery rhymes and had never been interested in the alphabet!
My first blog is on identifying dyslexia in the classroom. I will look at how to support these children in future blogs as well as other living and learning posts!
The suffix ‘ed used in a past tense, regular verb is a year one target (together with ‘ing’ for good reason)
The ed suffix is an important entry into the world of morphology and represents an important move away from a phonics-only approach as ‘ed is never spelled as it sounds.
Previous post on morphology:
Originally fully pronounced, as still in beloved (which, with blessed, accursed, and a few others retains the full pronunciation through liturgical readings). In Old English already the first and third person singular past tense form of some “weak” verbs was -te, a variant of -de (see -ed), often accompanied by a change in vowel sound (as in modern keep/kept, sleep/slept).
A tendency to shorten final consonants has left English with many past tense forms spelled in -ed but pronounced “-t” (looked, missed, etc.). In some older words both forms exist, with different shades of meaning, as in gilded/gilt, burned/burnt.
The past tense can be seen as spelled ‘d in historic texts.
Activities which help students to differentiate include word sorts:
I made up a narrative for my students and invented the character of ‘Ed’ who makes 3 sounds:
At the time fidget spinners were all the rage so I turned spelling practice into a game:
I also make videos with students, wherein Stikbot Ed turns verbs into the past tense.
My principles are always:
Tell students what they need to know.
Make it relatable.
Engage the imagination.
Provide practice opportunities.
Encourage independence through self-checking.
This is a great time to implement yoga in your classroom. It can be done in a bubble and no equipment is needed.
Younger children respond particularly well as humans are more likely to mimic (copy) than primates!
Sound release is especially beneficial- the sound of the Om chant is thought to stimulate the Vagus nerve bringing a pleasurable sensation:
Children love to take part in Om chant at the end of the session.
I love to use picture books in a process of embodied literacy, we should not expect small children to sit still, so much more fun to move and take part in the story, helping them to experience it.
Here is a lesson plan using Harold and his Purple Crayon:
Yoga can be used at any age and in one school, I taught from Reception to year 6 in one day (a special wellbeing day).
Children can even experience the alphabet through yoga:
Here is a plan for the topic of India:
I often like to theme sessions, this one is balance:
And this one kindness, which involves heart opening postures, when we are stressed this can lead to defensive body posture – rounded shoulders and head carried forwards, this compresses the lungs and makes us feel worse:
Books can be used to incorporate movement and sound awareness in literacy:
There are so many valuable lessons to be learned from the discipline and ethos of yoga:
Namaste: the good in me sees the good in you.
Lola samastha sukhino bhavanthu: may all beings be happy and free.
A sun salute:
Find my previous post here:
Some students really struggle with times table facts. TT Tock Stars just makes them stressed.
The symbol itself can cause some confusion as it’s close to the addition sign and is taught initially as repeated addition- further confusing some chdn. An image which integrates the symbol with its meaning can be helpful, ‘lots of’:
What else do they need?
Firstly, multiplication is commutative, therefore not every single fact needs to be learned. However, chdn need to know and understand this concept eg 8×6 = 6×8
This table shows the facts that need to be learned:
In addition, a sequential order is not always the best for learners. The 12x table is easy when you consider partitioning – it’s the 10 and the 2 times table put together. Why not teach it earlier in the sequence?
This is a proposed order:
1) 10x 2) 11x 3) 2x 4) 12x 5) 5x 6) 9x 7) 3x 8) 4x 9) 6x 10) 7x 11) 8x
The 2x table is not easy for all chdn and one way to teach it is to show them doubles using hands/fingers:
Another times table which many chdn pick up with ease and others struggle with, is the 5x
This visual method works well and emphasises partitioning:
Manipulatives like cuisenaire can help students to explore number bonds and these are key to understanding number relationships and building fluency – both in TT (times tables) and all areas of maths:
The Rekenrek is a great way to look at how times tables are constructed and here the beginning of the 8 TT is demonstrated.
The 9x table has an interesting pattern:
Many chdn will not learn times table facts by simply repeating them, try different methods to help the knowledge stick. Practise often using division and word problems where students have to think flexibly about number.
How can teachers and TAs be best supported to support SEND or ‘catch up’ learners?
Effective communication (between the school and campus)• Support and supervision of the SENCO and initial training school-based tutors.
In terms of improving the experience of learners who are behind in school, perhaps the real focus should be on initial teacher training, where the most impact can be made. The challenge to train all teachers to teach children with SEND is recognised internationally (Booth, Nes and Stromstad, 2003; Sharma, Forlin and Lore, 2008). The social model of SEND based on inclusion and the human right to be part of mainstream activities can work with the individual model, wherein additional provision is linked to individual characteristics. In their study Norwich and Nash (2011) used a Personalised Learning Framework to support trainee teachers in their work with SEND students. Aspects which were identified as critical to the success were :
Effective communication is a key theme, and what this suggests is that schools need to view SEND as a priority in order to make time for communication. A survey carried out by Norwich and Nash (2011) suggested that teachers require more practically based lectures covering aspects of SEND, the aspects that they would most likely experience in the classroom. Some other specific suggestions were practical guidance on the following areas:
How to accommodate these pupils • How to work with TAs • More work on differentiation • More about hands-on teaching of children with SEND • How to write an IEP.
From this, it can be understood that teachers actively want more support to enable them to meet the needs of children with SEND, which includes dyslexia, in the classroom. Teachers should not be placed in a position where they perceive they do not have the relevant skills to carry out their job to a satisfactory level. Considering the notion of how emotion impacts on the individual, how does this impact on their stress levels, self-esteem and ability to self-regulate? Teachers may perceive they do not have the required expertise, but do specialists differ in the way they teach children with SEN? It seems there is no clear-cut pedagogy or simple answer.
Lewis and Norwich (2004) suggest 3 elements:
curriculum, teacher knowledge and pedagogy.
The implication from their study was that the difference is in intensity of general teaching approaches, which can be thought of as personalised learning: ‘to know how to make effective personalised provision’ for those with SEN (as was set out in teachers’ New Qualified Teacher Standards Q19; TDA, 2007). The requirement was already part of the Standards, but it seems that teachers didn’t feel sufficiently equipped in terms of practical, hands-on advice and experience, according to Norwich and Nash (2011). It seems then, that the answer might be to provide more practical training around SEND for teachers. Underpinning this perhaps, is also a need for an ideological shift in perception; for teachers to believe that they can impact positively and that dyslexia and other SEND is not outside of their skills set. Neoliberal and accountability policies currently mean that emphasis is on attainment for the majority, yet there is much rhetoric around inclusion, aspirations and choice, but choice for whom?
What are teachers feeling and experiencing and how can they be better supported moving forwards?
It is clear that to better support dyslexia: Teachers need more practical guidance in firstly identifying and in particular supporting such learners during teacher training. • They need greater knowledge of dyslexia and grounding in theory, offered at the training stage which can provide teacher agency.• Schools need to have explicit conversations around dyslexia and address any ideological differences amongst staff before any additional training can have a whole school impact.• They need policies which identify and support ‘at risk’children early, as suggested by research. • They need to be given permission to innovate (connected to teacher agency) and to have high expectations for every individual. Dyslexic learners may need a variety of approaches, especially visual ones.
Teachers and TAs need to collaborate and build trust to ensure that skills are transferred, both in terms of learning strategies for the pupil and to ensure that pupils become responsible for their own learning in the classroom, facilitated by the teacher.• Parents and educators also need to collaborate, supporting each other and the learner, sharing knowledge and experiences. This is potentially something that can also be addressed in teacher training.
The term morphology was taken from biology where it is used to represent the study of the form of plants and animals. Its first recorded use is in writings by Goethe (1796). It was first used in relation to linguistics by August Schleicher (1859) to refer to the study of the form of words (Salmon, 2000).
Morphology now refers to the systematic form-meaning relationship between words and the study of the internal structure of words.
Take the word ‘talk’, if you were to look it up in a dictionary you would not find separate entries for: talks, talked, talking – these words are derived from/ examples of, the same word. Talk is a lexeme and talks, talked and talking can be qualified as word forms.
When acquiring speech (a biological primary function) children naturally absorb and apply these patterns automatically. However, in order to write them correctly (a biological secondary function), children benefit from being taught explicitly about how words are formed – their internal structure – as part of the orthography of our language.
Moreover, an understanding and application of morphology improves reading too: both decoding ability and fluency. Together with syllabification, the ability to quickly recognise and apply affixes is crucial as readers progress.
In teaching morphology to learners with working memory and word identification weaknesses, they are enabled to chunk words rather than hold a string of sounds in mind to blend them – something which becomes impossible as words get longer.
This is also true of spelling where learners might struggle to encode a long word by breaking it up into a phoneme at a time.
In the activity above, students are invited to experiment, making words from the prefixes and root words offered.
Words consisting of more than one morpheme are polymorphic. There can be free or bound morphemes. Bound morphemes carry meaning but do not make sense on their own eg in talk: s, ed, ing can be added. In general, prefixes change meaning and suffixes change word tense or class.
Morphological rules have two functions: to specify predictable properties of complex words listed in the lexicon and to indicate how new words can be made.
Phonological properties of a word may determine which affixes are suitable and morphological structure may impact on the phonological form of a word. Consider how the stress changes from cooperate to uncooperative.
The assembly of the various affixes is known as concatenation.
The Grammar of Words (2005); Booij, Geert, OUP
Easter 2019, I took my rather large volume of Mary Oliver poems to Cornwall with the intention of committing one to memory.
I had been inspired by an article written by Nicholas Pearson, then publishing director of 4th Estate. I kept this article for years. He had memorised T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land (433 lines!!) for his 50th birthday:
‘The poem changed me…I do believe great poetry has the ability to enhance your relationship with the world…’ (Nicholas Pearson)
I have always loved poetry and wrote copious amounts of it at Primary School. In fact, there was a group of us – I would think of it, someone else would write it down and we would all perform it. At home, I wrote poems as apologies, poems to demonstrate love and to make sense of the world.
I was a quiet child, my thoughts and feelings too big for my vocabulary. I couldn’t find the words to say but poetry presented a different way to communicate.
My sister-in-law introduced me to Mary Oliver by sharing the recital of Wild Geese on WhatsApp:
Already a Ted Hughes fan, I loved the way Oliver wrote about nature and when she died, I enjoyed how others connected with her poems and the broader engagement which her death brought with her writing.
My copy of Devotions arrived and it sat around the house for a while. It seemed I was always too busy to pick it up, perhaps my mind was too busy.
It can feel intimidating to hold a large volume of poetry, where to begin? Collections of poems are not to be read cover to cover like a novel but discovered and savoured (like wild strawberries).
I took the book on holiday to Cornwall. I flicked through: back to front, front to back; eyes moving up and down the titles. I had read and enjoyed ‘Why I wake early’ and decided to focus on that section, quickly settling on Mindful.
It spoke to me, I decided to memorise it.
It is not an overly long poem but enjambement is used and there is no rhyming scheme to help fix it in memory.
I studied the poem and attempted to recite it aloud, one verse at a time. At first, the family were mildly interested. Discussing language choices: ‘like a needle in the haystack of light’, helped me to remember them but the family quickly grew bored.
Learning a poem by heart is ultimately a solitary pursuit – it inhabits your mind and body – a secret ritualistic chant. It made me unavailable at times; whilst from the outside appearing unoccupied – preoccupied.
The parts of the poem I misremembered were of the greatest interest to me. At first, ‘kills me with delight’ was remembered at ‘fills me with delight’, ‘leaving me’ instead of ‘that leaves me’, ‘a haystack’ instead of ‘the haystack. The use of the definite article is powerful. The use of ‘kills’ is devastating.
It felt disrespectful to misremember even the smallest word when the poet had chosen them so carefully- it led me to consider the importance and impact of EVERY word choice made by a writer.
I remembered well those sections in which a particular phrase resonated:
‘To lose myself inside this soft world’
or a vocabulary choice or metaphor intrigued me:
‘The untrimmable light of the world’
I connected strongly with the overall theme of the poem – pleasure, worship in the small wonders of nature, the glory of something as common as grass – and in this time of lockdown my gratitude for the beauty of nature and of poetry has grown. The poem is part of me now.
‘prayers that are made out of grass’
Mindful, Mary Oliver
Great improvements have been made in the teaching of phonics, however some children – whilst they know their sounds STILL cannot blend. WHY?
These children may have a dyslexic-type profile, they may have some dyspraxia – they are likely to have low working memory.
What to do?
Ensure that their sounds are ‘pure’ ie without an additional vowel schwa sound added at the end, see here for a demonstration of pure sounds:
These children can say the sounds in CVC words but cannot blend them to make a word. Typically, the vowel sounds falls out of working memory. There is no proprioceptive feedback from a vowel sound as they come from an open mouth.
When teaching and modelling sounds encourage exaggerated enunciation and ask students to FEEL the sounds, in this way they do not have to rely on the phonological loop which may be weak.
See here for modelling blending, stretching the vowel sound: showing the sequencing and movement of the jaw:
In addition, continue to read, enjoy and practice short words in books. Sometimes the vowel sound is first eg ‘and’, practice words which are only two letters: if, at, up and add an initial sound eg at becomes ‘cat’, up/cup – do this using wooden or plastic letters.
I read an EP report recently which said the child would never learn to blend.
Blending improves with reading and instruction, as the brain slowly rewires.
Phonemic awareness and dexterity improves in a reciprocal relationship with reading.
Lovely book for encouraging an enjoyment of sounds (children have this anyway but may not link to phonics):
Here are my phonics cards FREE on Teachers pay Teachers, they integrate digraphs and trigraphs with a picture.
Do not give up!!
The current situation presents an opportunity for consolidation and catch up for those children who may be some way off where they need to be in terms of their learning. Where to start?
Consider those essential skills which underpin all learning. For many children, the skill of writing is acquired with minimal instruction. In reality, this is a deeply complex skill and one of the most challenging acts of coordination we have to learn. The brain rewires to write, just as it rewires to read.
It’s helpful to strip any skill back to it’s foundation. The ability to write begins with memory of letter shape, of course fine motor grip and posture also come into it.
The beauty of the writing 8 exercise is that students can practice even if their fine motor skills are a weakness.
The template and instructions for the alphabet writing 8 can be found for free on Teachers pay Teachers: link below.
FREE on Teachers pay Teachers
How to teach handwriting, some pointers:
Many schools use a figure 8 tracking exercise but do not integrate alphabet work in it:
This blog will look at the impact of low working memory on behaviours across the curriculum.
See my original tweet on how auditory working memory is measured here:
Alan Baddeley (2007) describes working memory as follows:
■…a temporary storage system under attentional control that underpins our capacity for complex thought.
■Under attentional control
■Underpins capacity for complex (higher order) thought.
Understanding of working memory is a work in progress! Baddeley suggests the following components:Read More
What is it about whole class questioning?
There was controversy recently when Jo Boaler suggested using lolly sticks was like cold calling. Katherine Birlbalsingh, ever the contrarian, suggested this was simply checking understanding and part of good practice.
What my students with working memory difficulties tell me is that hands up/lolly stick methods of checking understanding are immensely frustrating for them. Demoralising.
They often have a sense of the right answer but under pressure and with time constraints are more likely to pretend they need the loo (bottle out) or say the first random thing that comes to mind.
What ‘hands up’ does do is serve children who have good memories and are considered ‘able’. It confirms their rank in class and gives them, and the teacher, a little dopamine rush.
Why is it so problematic for children with weak working memory?They have to word find, arrange syntax and then rehearse the response over and over (phonological loop) until they are picked. Exhausting.
Moreover, in a question such as ‘Give me 5 number bonds to 10’, without a visual cue eg what ‘number bonds’ are, it might be difficult for them to remember the concept as they often lack fluency around terminology. Has the term ‘number bond’ or what ‘bond’ means in this context ever been properly explained?
What is the alternative?
Before questioning, ensure all terminology is explained and understood.
Have the whole class whisper the answer, whisper to each other, write it down.
Use Kagan techniques, such as think, pair share.
Give low working memory children thinking time and scaffold them for success.