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!
I’ve always loved words and never ‘dumb down’ my language for children.
I had an early spat with one of the edu Queens of Twitter, who blocked me and called me ‘nasty’ because I said challenging vocabulary should be used and she… er disagreed:
The author of Wonder understands that children respond well to adults who don’t adapt their language:
There has been much interest in the ‘vocabulary gap’ which suggests that social disadvantage can be bridged with words. It was found that the number of words a child knows can be measured and children who know more words (usually middle class) do better. Social disadvantage and inequality within society is clearly a lot more complex than a vocabulary deficit within the student though.
Schools have primarily middle class mores and values.
The way they communicate these, and interact with parents and children, typically benefits the middle classes who know how to get the most out of the system. In my experience, this is even more pronounced during the Primary phase where competition is intense, a student’s trajectory is set by year 6.
SATs (when they occur) are used to predict GCSE grades.
The acquisition of language is a biologically primary function (we do it naturally). However, verbal ability is dependent to some extent on external factors i.e. an individual’s exposure to language, education and reading.
There are two verbal subtests in IQ related assessments: one explores the ability to define words, the other looks at analogies or relationships between words. These are primarily measures of receptive language – there are also measures of expressive language which require the participant to retrieve a word following a stimulus.
Performance here is affected by the ability to find a word quickly and can be related to difficulties with rapid naming (linked to reading difficulties).
The ability to retain speech sounds, and make semantic links ensuring vocabulary goes into long term memory is affected by working memory and the phonological loop (auditory rehearsal). Working memory in turn can be diminished due to poor sleeping patterns and diet. Low working memory affects a student’s ability to attend to lengthy auditory teaching input.
The ability to retain speech sounds is affected by the ability to feel the sounds in the first instance and for some children, proprioceptive feedback is low.
Studies suggest ways to facilitate language processing and acquisition: a pause after new vocabulary is introduced is beneficial, the orthographic representation of the word helps processing.
The visual aspect of working memory (Visuospatial sketchpad) can be strong and may be utilised to support low auditory memory – using a visual cue with the sound of the word. Actions also help with the processing of language and this is used to great effect in the early years – why not throughout the Primary phase?
The language of instruction, particularly in grammar, maths and science (in Primary) has Latin roots, and can be especially problematic- these words are frequently used but are also subject specific so confined to a particular lesson. They are often never explained so the students that need semantic knowledge struggle to master them. It’s not unusual for a KS3 student not to know what a noun is, let alone a subordinate clause (noun means ‘name’ in Latin. These students test teacher knowledge.
In maths, where new schema is often introduced, confusion can be caused e.g. in division, moving from ‘sharing’ on plates and repeated subtraction, to bus stop can leave students confused about what ‘division’ *is* (from Latin – to force apart, remove.)
Retention of vocabulary can be affected by syntax, clarity of speech and even tone:
Students with good memories do not need to be given semantic information- they retain the word – understand and use it, but may not be able to define it.
Students with dyslexia are assumed to have sequencing difficulties- in truth- they cannot learn without meaning attached. Simply chanting the seasons will not make them stick, same with days of the week, months and times tables. They need meaning.
1) Use actions and context, this example is based on the seasons:
In this example, actions are used to learn a quote from Shakespeare:
2) Use etymology:
3) link all aspects of a word: spelling and meaning (etymology here):
3) Use images:
5) A repertoire of strategies is required, different methods suit different words:
Vocabulary is best taught in context where it carries meaning and will be retained:
Students may struggle to process language for many reasons: they may be learning English, have lower SES, have low working memory or an ASD-type profile which impacts on the nuance of language.
Dyslexics process language differently- the full extent of this is not yet understood but the processing of language impacts on reading too:
A thread with some ideas:
Ultimately of course vocabulary knowledge impacts on reading comprehension. However, reading and vocabulary knowledge have a reciprocal relationship.
Encourage curiosity and stimulate enjoyment of our rich, varied and nuanced language- this is the best possible intervention.
I’ve never liked the word ‘intervention’. I first heard it with regard to my son; it seemed so clinical and impersonal.
There is the sense is it is being ‘done to’ the child, not with them. It is any wonder learners become passive?
In schools, the word is used to describe 1-1 or small group sessions wherein students receive support outside of the classroom to help them progress (usually ‘evidence’ based).
Do children even know what the word means?
A closer look at the history of the word does not reassure:
Inter = between, and venire = to come (to come between).
It doesn’t feel like a collaborative process does it?
Children will often refer to it as being ‘taken out’. They can’t miss a core subject so it is often during a lesson which is low in the hierarchisation of subjects, one which they enjoy or a have a talent in: art, drama, PE.
There was one particular child who did not like being ‘taken out’ and I realised that this active process wherein an adult was seen to extract him from the classroom and walk with him to our destination led to embarrassment for him. I considered a process which was less passive for him: an appointment card; supported by the teacher to be timely, he would come and find me at the allotted time.
Research into the efficacy of interventions suggests they are not effective, read more here:
The language comes from the medical model:
Intervention: The act of intervening, interfering or interceding with the intent of modifying the outcome. In medicine, an intervention is usually undertaken to help treat or cure a condition.
Of course, there are a great many talented practitioners who make interventions engaging and enjoyable for students. However, the knowledge is not always transferred to the classroom. Why?
Is it because the lessons are discrete and students see them as ‘other’?
Is it because there is not enough time for teachers to communicate with those intervening: to learn about strategies that work, or new learning targets, and embed them?
Teachers have the biggest impact on learning. Sensitive to the staff hierarchy, children often do not afford the same focus, effort and respect to support staff.
Clearly some children get behind in learning and need help. Focus should be on early identification: the Early Years phase. Practitioners are still reluctant to identify students in the EYFS phase. Why?
It is perhaps a phase which sees itself as separate (it has unique training and may be physically located separately); embattled by changes to its ways of working, entrenched. The phase is concerned with protecting the right to play and with a linear model of development, soandso is …’not THERE yet’.
Focus has been on Reception for good reason. It is here that learners start to fail and they don’t catch up. Research shows that quality teaching has a significant impact here:
We know a lot more about learning and cognition since Piaget. I am a huge advocate of leaning through play by the way.
Perhaps if children were identified and supported early: with working memory difficulties, dyslexia, speech difficulties there would be no need to ‘intervene’ later on.
There are many ways to encourage students to be active participants, facilitating metacognition (thinking about thinking and learning) :
Engage them in targets:
Embed teaching points within the classroom:
Ask for their feedback:
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, when given the semantics (they need meaning, they need to know ‘why’) 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: