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!
1. CONSIDER WHOLE CLASS DIRECTED DRAWING for younger children:
2 ACT EARLY:
3 INTEGRATE handwriting with vocabulary learning: reading and spelling, link this with a word’s meaning:
4 PRACTICE: develop a regular handwriting practice. Students need to know that practising can be enjoyable and leads to success!
5 SETTING: ensure the student is seated correctly (feet flat, paper angled slightly) and using the right tool for them:
See previous post:
Taking full and purposeful breaths is a wonderful way to calm the parasympathetic nervous system. Beneficial for student and teacher!
The techniques can be practised anywhere, but if seated, feet should connect with the ground, back straight so that the lungs are not compressed.
Take time each day to practise different techniques. Here are a few ideas:
My students showed me this technique, using the hand to track the breath:
Using a hoberman sphere; as the sphere expands encourage students to place their hands on the ribs and feel the lungs expand:
Using sense of smell:
Encourage chdn to breathe deeply by placing a toy or hands on the tummy – using the diaphragm to breathe deeply. Chdn will often shallow breathe when they’re upset which makes them panic.
Teach sound awareness:
Try linking patterns together with visuals:
A thread on digraphs and trigraphs:
Link the pattern eg from hair to chair, use colour:
Use mind maps:
Reinforce with picture books:
Use phonic frames:
Teach phonics in High Frequency Words, rather than ‘look say’.
Teach/discuss consonant blends:
Making the word into a picture can improve fluency, but remember to refer to phonics as well.
Link back/generalise the orthographic patterns:
Phonics provides the foundations for reading but there are many other elements and over-emphasis on phonics, in my opinion, can lead to poor comprehenders:
The schwa is the most common (non) sound in our language.
I posted a 3 part video back in 2018 modelling ‘pure’ sounds:
The etymology of ‘schwa’:
From Michael Rosen, this is why the schwa makes it difficult to blend (reading) or spell (writing):
For children who are effortless decoders and encoders (around 10 in every class) it doesn’t really have an impact – for the rest it does!
The schwa is not just connected to phonics and the making of ‘pure’ sounds but lurks in many words, making spelling so difficult.
This is why the teaching of affixes as units is so important:there’s a schwa in ‘ment’ and many other suffixes:
See this extract from Joe Moran’s excellent ‘First You Write a Sentence’:
Dyslexia has been ringfenced by the scientific community as requiring specialist support.
This approach can make teachers feel powerless, however, teachers are experts and the classroom teacher has the most powerful influence on a student’s learning journey and outcomes.
What is dyslexia anyway?
Think beneath the behaviours and consider how dyslexia looks across the curriculum for each child. There are more similarities than differences, but it can manifest in nuanced ways depending on support at home, when and how diagnosis occurred and the teaching received.
I tried to illustrate the bigger picture here:
Dyslexia is a sensory difference, reading and writing are largely physical, procedural skills. It takes longer for dyslexics to acquire them and the current system does not allow for this. Actually, the more rote styles of instruction in these areas, now so disliked, benefit them.
There is a difference between these core skills and knowledge. They are very good at retaining facts and information, they are:
Think outside the box, excellent critical thinkers.
Very imaginative with an ability to visualise.
The important thing is to support them with language because if they haven’t processed the language, they can’t retain the knowledge.
This is linked to working memory weaknesses which I wrote about here:
There are lots of ways to explore language and spelling, phonics becomes less helpful as language becomes more complex:
When delivering a teaching point, be rigorous with your teaching and don’t assume – especially around language.
eg plan for teaching relative clauses
I had a long think, how do I approach the presentation of concepts to my students?
I came up with these principles:
Build a relationship, trust is so important. Knowing they can come to you for support means everything.
Have high expectations
Give the student opportunities to practise key skills
Praise specific progress
Be present to subtle bullying within class.
See previous posts:
2. Open and closed syllables
3. Learning a word as a picture
4. Voiced and unvoiced sounds
5. Link reading and spelling as words are deconstructed.
6. Cut words up to show the syllables.
7. Use magnetic letters, this example uses stop motion video. You can also take a word and mix up the letters so the student has to rearrange them.
8. Simultaneous Oral Spelling – using letters names aloud whilst spelling.
9. Make videos, use play doh – good for irregular High Frequency Words.
10. Teach affixes and link concepts:
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:
Use positive self-talk and mantra:
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.