Catch up and keep up: blending CVC words.

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:

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:

Modelling placement of the vowel CVC

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 (onset and rhyme) 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.

Phonics picture cards

Do not give up!!


Catch up and keep up: letter shape

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.

Letter shape comes before sentence structure.

The beauty of the writing 8 exercise is that students can practice even if their fine motor skills are a weakness.

Writing 8: part one
Writing 8: part two

The template and instructions for the alphabet writing 8 can be found for free on Teachers pay Teachers: link below.

How to teach handwriting, some pointers:

Link to demonstration on Vimeo:

Many schools use a figure 8 tracking exercise but do not integrate alphabet work in it:

Testing, testing: memory working?

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.

■Key points:

■Temporary storage

■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

Hands up!

Memory and ‘hands up’.

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.

How to conquer divide?




The word ‘divide’ comes from Latin: dividere “to force apart, cleave, distribute,”

Division as a concept is fiendishly difficult to teach. Most children can understand ‘sharing’ objects and move on to sharing on ‘plates’ but does this naturally lead to more formalised methods of division?

According to Nunes and Bryant (1996), division as an operation in not the same as sharing and a notion of ‘sharing’ does not ensure an understanding of the inverse co-variation between division terms.

Moreover, Bus Stop method LOOKS weird. The written algorithm works left to right and does anyone ever explain WHY it’s called Bus Stop?! A picture can help.


Division builds on previous understanding in mathematics, involving all of the operations. Furthermore, additional skills and knowledge are required such as:

  • estimation and times table fluency
  • division is not commutative, unlike multiplication and addition
  • it is the inverse or opposite of multiplication
  • strong working memory, as information has to be held in mind whilst attending to something else

Williams and Shuard outline 3 stages in understanding division:

  1. using grouping and sharing as different operations; solving problems using concrete apparatus.
  2. relating sharing to grouping
  3. using knowledge of multiplication to deal with both types of division by the same numerical procedure.

Vergnaud (1990, 1997) : ‘Understanding the concept of division is often confused with skill in operating algorithms’.

What students need to understand:

  1. that parts must be the same size
  2. the size of the whole is the number of parts multiplied by the size of the parts (plus remainder)
  3. the inverse co-variation between the size of parts and number of parts (e.g. more parts = smaller size)
  4. the whole must be distributed until the remaining elements are insufficient
  5. the remainder CANNOT be larger than, or equal to the size or number of the parts

Selva (1998) outlined 3 difficulties for students:

  1. Type of division problem
  2. Difficulties understanding the inverse c0-variation between the terms when the dividend remains constant
  3. Difficulties dealing with the remainder

Partitive question type:

Charles bought 15 pencils to give to each of his 3 friends, how many will they each get?

This question is easier because it involved the action schema of sharing which is understood from a young age.

Quotative question type:

Charles bought 15 pencils. He wants to give 3 pencils to each friend. How many friends will get the pencils?

This type of understanding appears to be acquired later, through teaching.

Haylock and Cockburn (2008) make some great observations about division and language in their excellent book Understanding Mathematics for Young Children.

12 divided by 3 = equal sharing structure.

In this example the language of ‘share equally between’ is appropriate.

However, just as valid in answer to the same question: how many 3’s make 12?

This is the inverse of multiplication and involves grouping into sets of 3. This reinforces the earlier points made by Williams and Shaurd. Haylock and Cockburn feel that perhaps there is an overemphasis on sharing when introducing young children to division. This results in a tendency to attach the words ‘share’, ‘shared between’ etc to the symbol. They propose that in the long term, the sharing structure of division is limited and of less significance than the inverse of multiplication structure.

What to do:

  • Take a Big Picture view of how division is taught across the school from Early Years to Year 6.
  • What are the teachers’ views and understanding of division?
  • Is the language used consistent?
  • Ensure that concrete manipulatives are used across the school: counters, cubes, cuisenaire, tape measures
  • Ensure that whilst ‘sharing’ can be a useful concept (and one easily understood) it is not overly emphasised.
  • Explain what Bus Stop is, point out explicitly the differences between it and other algorithms
  • Encourage children with low working memory to jot down times table facts, think out loud and annotate during division as this will ease the cognitive burden.
  • Practice, practice, practice…to automaticity! Division is great because it’s an opportunity to practice an array of maths skills and to build fluency.


Read the excellent blog by Laurence Holmes @LHteaching on the importance of practice in maths here:

Interrupting the forgetting

Excellent study looking at difficulties hindering division practice:

Division difficulties: Brazilian study

Useful blog:

N Rich article division difficulties


Further Reading

Williams, E. and Shuard, H. (1994) Primary Mathematics Today. Longman

Derek Haylock and Anne Cockburn (2008) Understanding Mathematics for Young Children SAGE

Dyslexia and memory: lessons to learn?

blackboard business chalkboard concept
Photo by Pixabay on


What works for dyslexics and literacy is well documented.

Increasingly, a personalised provision within a structured, multi-sensory program is viewed as a ‘critical driver’ in the teaching of literacy (Rose, 2009). Continual formative assessment is also vital. It is generally accepted that the most effective interventions for dyslexia have the following elements :

  • Multi-sensory
  • Phonics based (especially early in reading i.e. KS1)
  • Systematic (structured, cumulative and sequential)
  • Include opportunities for overlearning/’little and often’.
  • Teaching learning strategies is also considered important – this might also be considered ‘metacognition’.

(Rose, 2009, Singleton, 2009)

Many programmes are available, however Conquering Literacy (Kelly and Phillips, 2011) contains all these elements to excellent effect, addressing the weaknesses dyslexics are known to experience, whilst harnessing their strengths.

With budget cuts, schools cannot afford specialist literacy teachers, what can be learnt from specialist practice and applied to Quality First Teaching?

The Rose Report (2009:33) attempted to provide a working definition for dyslexia. The characteristic markers of dyslexia are specifically said to be difficulties in:


  • Phonological awareness
  • Verbal Memory
  • Verbal processing speed

(Snowling, 2008, Vellutino et al., 2004)


Phonological awareness is the ability to identify, process and manipulate, speech sounds. To understand how letters and sounds relate to each other, the child needs to also understand the alphabetic principle – the fact that letters represent sounds. Verbal (phonological short-term) memory, is the ability to retain an ordered sequence of verbal material e.g. list or instructions, this implicates working memory. Verbal processing speed is the time taken to process familiar verbal information. Ramus (2014) found that it was access to phonological representations i.e. retrieval, which was problematic for dyslexics, rather than the representations themselves.

Rapid automised naming tasks (RAN) are used as measure of speed of processing (Bowey, 2005). Wolf and Bowers (1999) suggest a ‘double deficit’ wherein some learners have poor phonological awareness and poor rapid naming.

A 2001 description (Peer 2001:3) mentions slow processing, short-term memory, visual and auditory difficulties and sequencing as some of the additional difficulties dyslexics experience. This definition says of these children, ‘All have strengths’. A sound intervention should build on an assessment which has highlighted both strengths and weaknesses in the individual (Andreia et. al., 2004).

Reading and phonological skills are interrelated. Phonological skills do develop with reading but struggling readers do not get the same practice. Analysing what ‘good readers’ do can be misleading, non readers will of course have poor phonemic awareness. Nevertheless, studies looking at predictors of reading success give valuable insight. Muter et al (1998) found that letter knowledge and phonemic segmentation skills work together to advance a child’s proficiency in reading. As a result, both fluency around grapheme-phoneme correspondence and letter knowledge, must be taught. A study by Torgesen et al. (1999) indicated that the most effective one-to-one intervention includes direct and focused instruction in phonemic awareness and decoding (phonics).

It is useful to look at reading models to better understand the acquisition of reading.

In Frith’s 1985 model of reading, children learn to read whole words first, perhaps by their shape and form, using first and last letter clues – the logographic stage. They learn to read certain words by sight. It is thought that as they then learn the alphabet, this takes them naturally on to the next stage which is phonetically decoding or ‘sounding ‘out’. It is believed that dyslexic learners can become arrested in the logographic stage, as the alphabetic principle needs to be explicitly taught.

Torgesen (2005), one of the most eminent researchers in the field, sums it up thus:

“We know…that it is possible to teach almost all children to accurately apply the alphabetic principle in decoding novel words, even if they have struggled to acquire this skill during the first 3–4 years of schooling”.

The Magnocellular theory (Stein, 2001) suggests that abnormal magnocells distort temporal processing – involving visual and auditory information. Difficulties might present in eye tracking, keeping place in text, transposing letters, reversing, and letter confusions e.g. b/d m/n. The latest expression of the theory suggests that as magnocells are present throughout our bodies, the cerebellum and co-ordination are implicated. This brings the theory closer to the Cerebellar theory (Nicolson and Fawcett). I have always felt the obsession with visual processing is a bit misleading as we read with our brain, not the eyes.

Stein (2008) claims that the differences in dyslexic profiles (visual, auditory, phonological, kinaesthetic, sequencing, memory and motor), are due to the particular magnocellular system they have inherited. It points to the need to tailor learning. Conquering Literacy has eye tracking exercises when a new letter or sound is introduced and this will help the learner to co-ordinate movement of the eyes. It will also help them build scanning skills for reading text.

The Conquering Literacy programme is fully multi-sensory, engaging all the senses (touch, sight, sound, kinaesthetic). Multi-sensory teaching is an important aspect of any programme and helps to ensure information goes into long term memory by using as many senses as possible simultaneously. Gillingham and Stillman were pioneers in multisensory teaching. Their technique:

“…is based upon the constant use of associations of all of the following: how a letter or word looks, how it sounds and how the speech organs or the hand in writing feels when producing it”. (Gillingham and Stillman 1956, p17)

The intervention reviews by Brooks (2007) and Singleton (2009) show the sheer number of different interventions available. They include primarily reading interventions e.g. Toe by Toe and FFT Wave 3/Reading Recovery, spelling interventions such as Individual Learning Styles in Learning to Spell (Brooks and Weeks, 1999), and programmes to build reading fluency e.g. Phono-Graphix programme (McGuinness & McGuinness, 1998). The impact is mixed and no one intervention suits all pupils. This is why personalisation is the key to success.

Working with alphabet letters, using the tactile sense, helps my pupils to build automaticity around the alphabetic principle. Regular visual and auditory memory work has helped to improve strategies for memory retention. Sometimes ability to recall letter strings as auditory input is stronger than visual. An auditory presentation indicates a basic ability to remember and use phonological information. Visual presentation assesses the strategic use of phonological coding in the short term memory (Henry, 2012) this indicates that some of my students’ difficulties are linked to visual memory of graphemes.

The Baddeley model of working memory (2000) shows short term memory (STM) as split between visual semantics (Visuospatial sketchpad) and the verbal STM (Phonological loop). These two areas are not directly connected but interact with the episodic buffer, which transfers information to the long term memory. It would appear that in dyslexia, certain information does not get readily stored in the long term memory (LTM). The phonological loop has 2 components: the phonological store and the articulatory rehearsal mechanism. Auditory information is held in the store where it rapidly decays. The articulatory mechanism rehearses the information so that the rapid decay is avoided. It also recodes, turning symbols into speech. In dyslexia, this is thought to be impaired, as tested using Nonword Repetition (Roodenrys and Stokes, 2001).

However, there is evidence to show that the visuospatial sketchpad is not impaired in dyslexia and may even be a strength (see meta-analysis by Swanson, 2006). This is important as it suggests that this can be used in interventions to boost confidence and improve outcomes, using areas of strength to support weaker areas, i.e. Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together wire together”. When taught simultaneously with the strong one, the weaker modality becomes strengthened.

Functional brain imaging studies show less activation during reading in the left hemisphere temporo-parietal regions in dyslexics, compared to controls (Price and McMcCrory, 2005). In interventions, possible dyslexic strengths, such as visual and kinaesthetic methods of learning can be used to bolster working memory, this will lead to better connections between the left and right hemispheres.

Within the Conquering Literacy programme, there are opportunities to use visual information to boost memory. The Reading cards (used to build fluency in letter sounds) have a clue word and picture on the back. If my learner struggles to remember the sound, I encourage them to visualise the picture. The alphabet is laid out in an arc so that the student has it all in their gaze, helping them to visualise it in their mind. The Concept Cards, which supplement Teaching points (points of spelling and grammar), have pictures on the front so that pupils can fix the concept to something concrete.

The programme can be personalised by using unifix cubes to help the student when remembering a sentence. A cube is placed down to represent a word, the student rehearses (encouraging the phonological loop), pointing to the cubes. I use an easi speak mic to record sentences for rehearsal and to record letter names in Simultaneous Oral Spelling (SOS – a multisensory spelling technique where learners use letter names).

When planning worksheets, I ensure pictures are included. I either draw my own, or print them off the internet. I enjoy being creative with learning, helping information to be retained. Gathercole and Packiam Alloway write about using LTM to boost WM (2008), they suggest chunking information gets it into LTM. I also like to use humour and harness autobiographical memory e.g. if teaching a high frequency word, I ask the pupil to make up their own mnemonic. Discussion also boosts memory (Reid, 2009). A dyslexic student’s episodic and semantic memory is thought to be good.

Another way to boost memory and self esteem is to give the pupil control over learning. When I assess my students, they often say, “I don’t know”, or “I can’t remember”. They are discouraged by memory failure and low self esteem impairs their ability to form strategies, rendering them helpless. Through the discovery learning component of the programme, where the pupil uses clues to predict or guess new learning, the pupil becomes empowered and more engaged in the learning process.

Metacognition is encouraged i.e. learning/thinking about how one likes to learn. I make the learner explicitly aware of learning modalities and we discuss how they like to learn. Recently, when trying to remember something a student said, “have we got an action for it?”. I encourage my students to actively engage their memory and have explained that trying to remember and make connections will make their memory more efficient.

Teaching the rules of grammar and spelling helps pupils to attach learning in semantic memory is important. Conquering Literacy also teaches syllable division, analogy (words in words) and morphology (smallest units of sound with meaning), it encourages students to generalise, analyse words and look for patterns. When writing letters, after being given the sound prompt, the student has to identify where the sound is found in words i.e. Beginning, Middle or End, and this further encourages word analysis.

Nunes and Bryant (2006) have found that where children have been taught grammar and morphology in spelling, this leads to better and sustained positive outcomes for all. Berninger et. al. (2009) even suggest that having a ‘deep’ orthography in English i.e. complex, could be an advantage if morphological approaches are taken, building bridges between language and comprehension. This fits with the Simple View of Reading *Hoover and Gough (1990), whereby reading and comprehension are interrelated as two axis, both with a ‘poor’ to ‘good’ continuum.

Whilst much attention has been given to reading, problems with spelling tend to persevere for longer and cause more frustration for dyslexics (Ellis, 1993). Nicolson and Fawcett’s cerebellar theory (2006) highlights the importance of automaticity around learnt (procedural) skills such as reading and writing. This points to overlearning and is a recognised characteristic of an effective programme. It is suggested that it will take a dyslexic person much longer than the average  person to learn a procedural skill like writing (Nicolson & Fawcett,2006:87).

In Conquering Literacy, reading and writing of the same letters is practiced at every session. The letters and sounds are built up gradually, in a sequential manner so that the learner does not get overwhelmed. All reading and writing is ‘in structure’. Only sounds that have already been taught are used in the programme, apart from known HFW, or any shared reading. The sequence of letters and concepts introduced has been carefully thought out. In this way, confidence and mastery can be achieved, as the pupil builds steadily on prior knowledge in a process of overlearning i.e. repeatedly going over the same knowledge in reading and writing. As this process becomes automatic, it frees the pupil up to process the rules of spelling and grammar and to generalise.

The automaticity theory (Nicolson and Fawcett, 2006) might in addition go some way to explaining the problems with sequencing/coordinating sounds in reading and writing that dyslexics experience, presenting with particular difficulties reading consonant clusters and multisyllabic words (Miles, 2006). Overlearning of this in a structured programme such as ‘Conquering Literacy’ can help to build mastery.

New letters/ sounds are practised with the Stimulous Response Routine (SRR) as they are introduced. This is excellent for building automaticity. The routine involves all of the senses ensuring full knowledge of a letter becomes embedded in memory: letter sound, name, grapheme and clueword are all practised.

Self esteem is connected to being a successful and independent learner (Burden, 2008). If my learner hasn’t understood a concept, I know I have not taught it correctly. In my planning and sessions I strive to build confidence in my learner by helping them to achieve success. The relationship between teacher and pupil is integral: 

Building strong and trusting relationships between teacher and child is an essential prerequisite for accelerated learning (Brooks, 2007: 31).

Another important consideration is clarity. As the working memory is already under strain, it’s important to keep instructions brief and to the point. Within the tight structure of the Conquering Literacy programme, I am always striving to make learning meaningful. I have tried to engage my learners in the structure of the programme so that they know what comes next and they anticipate it.

In conclusion, the key elements of teaching literacy to dyslexic learners are:

  • Multi-sensory
  • Phonics based (especially early in reading i.e. KS1)
  • Sequential
  • Include opportunities for overlearning/’little and often’.
  • Metacognition


Much can also be done to personalise learning and this is one of the great privileges of working one to one. However, there is also a move away from differentiation to personalisation in classrooms. By working closely, one can be dynamic in delivering learning so that it has maximum impact on the learner. I feel that the learner has as much to teach me, as I have to teach them.


Appendix A: Conquering Literacy Lesson Plan – one hour


Lesson Plan for 1 hour

Name ____________________________________________ Date ___________________________ New Teaching Point(s)

Time Content/Item Comments
1. Alphabet/dictionary (8 mins)
2. Memory training (4 mins)
3. Revision (5 mins)
4. Reading Pack (2 mins)
5. Spelling Pack (3 mins)
6. New Teaching Point (10 mins)

· Discovery Learning

· Tracking/relevant exercise · Listening activity

· Make new Reading Card · Cursive writing

· New Spelling Card


7. Handwriting (3 mins)
8. Reading in structure (3 mins)
9. Written exercise to practise new learning (3 mins)
10. Spelling in structure (3 mins)
11. Dictation in structure (5 mins)
12. Quick review (2 mins)
13. Supported reading (4 mins)
14. Game (5 mins)



Andreia et. al., (2014) Dyslexia heterogeneity: cognitive profiling of Portuguese children with dyslexia. Journal of Reading and Writing, Vol. 27, Iss 9, p1529 – 45.


Baddeley, A. D. (2000). The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory? Trends in cognitive sciences, 4 (11), 417-423.


Berninger, V. W., Abbot, R. D., Nagy, W., Carlisle, J. (2010) Growth in Phonological, Orthographic, and Morphological Awareness in Grades 1 to 6. Journal of Psycholinguist Research. Vol 39. Iss 2, pp. 141-163.


Bowey, J. A., (2005). Predicting individual differences in learning to read. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds). The Science of Reading: A Handbook. Oxford: Blackwell. Pp. 155-172.


Brooks, G., (2007). What works for pupils with literacy difficulties? London: DCSF


Burden, R. (2005). Dyslexia and Self-Concept seeking a dyslexic identity. London: Whurr


Byrne, B., Fielding-Barnsley, R., Ashley, L., Larsen, K. (1997) Assessing the child’s and the environment’s contribution to reading acquisition: what we know and what we don’t know. In Blachman, B. (Ed) Foundations of Dyslexia and Early Reading Acquisition. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum and Associates; pp. 265-85.


Ellis, A. W. (1993) Reading, Writing and Dyslexia: A cognitive analysis. Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Gathercole, S. and Packiam-Alloway, T. (2008): Working Memory and Learning, London: Sage.


Gillingham, A., & Stillman, B. (1956) Remedial training for children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Pensmanship, 5th ed., Bronxville, NY: Anna Gillingham.


Henry, L. (2012) The Development of Working Memory in Children. London: Sage.


Hoover, W.A. & Gough, P. B. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 2, pp. 127 – 160.


Kelly, K. & Phillips, S. (2011) Teaching Literacy to Learners with Dyslexia, London: Sage.


Miles, T. (2006) Fifty Years in Dyslexia Research. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

McGuinness, C., McGuinness, D. & McGuinness, G. (1996) Phono-GraphixTM: A new method for remediating reading difficulties. Annals of Dyslexia, 46, 73-96.

Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M. J. and Stevenson, J. (2004) Phonemes, rimes, vocabulary, and grammatical skills as foundations of early reading development: Evidence from a Longitudinal Study. Developmental Psychology, 40, pp. 663-681.


Nicolson, R. I. & Fawcett, A., J., (2008) Dyslexia, Learning and the Brain, London: MIT Press.


Nunes, T and Bryant, P. (2006) Improving Literacy by Teaching Morphemes. London: Routledge.


Peer, L. (2001) ‘What is Dyslexia’. In Smythe, I (ed) The Dyslexia Handbook. Reading: BDA.


Price, C. J., McCrory, E. J., Mechelli, A., Frith, U. (2005).

More than words: a common neural basis for reading and naming deficits in developmental dyslexia? Brain, Vol. 128, 2, pp.261 – 267.


Ramus, F. (2014) ‘Neuroimaging sheds new light on the phonological deficit in dyslexia’. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol18, iss 6 pp.274-275.


Reid, G, (2009) Dyslexia: a Practitioner’s handbook. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.


Roodenrys, S. & Stokes, J. (2001). Serial recall and nonword repetition in reading disabled children. Reading and Writing: an interdisciplinary journal, 14, 379-394.


Rose, J. (2009) Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties. London: DFCS.


Singleton, C.H. (2009) Interventions for Dyslexia. Bracknall: The Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties Trust.


Snowling M.J. (2008) Dyslexia. A paper prepared as part of the Foresight Review on Mental Capital and Wellbeing


Stein, J. F. (2001). The sensory basis of reading problems. Developmental Neuropsychology, 20(2), pp. 509-534.


Stein, J. (2008) ‘The neurobiological basis of dyslexia’. In Reid, G., Fawcett, A. J., Manis, F. and Siegel, L. (eds), The Sage Handbook of Dyslexia. London: Sage. pp.53-76.


Swanson, H. L. (2006) Working memory and reading disabilities: Both phonological and executive processing deficits are important. In T.P. Alloway & Gathercole, S. E., (Eds). Working memory and neurodevelopmental disorders pp.59-88. Hove: Psychology Press.

Torgesen, J.K. (2005) Recent discoveries from research on remedial interventions for children with dyslexia. In M. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds) The Science of Reading: A Handbook. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 521-537.

Townend, Janet & Walker, Jean (2006) Structure of Language. London: Whurr.


Vellutino, F. R., Fletcher, J.M., Snowling, M.J. & Scanlon, D. M. (2004) Specific reading disability (dyslexia): What have we learned in the past four decades? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45 pp. 2-40.


Wolf, M. & Bowers, P.G. (1999) ‘The double-deficit hypothesis for developmental dyslexia’, Journal of educational Psychology, 91: 415-438.







Cultural Capital: Can you relate?


close up of coffee cup on table
Photo by Pixabay on

I knew my son was dyslexic in Reception.

We were ‘lost’ parents and did not understand the system. We agreed to have him put on the SEND register. He finally received a specific dyslexia intervention in year 4 (by a HLTA, untrained in dyslexia, who was receiving instruction from a qualified SpLD teacher).  

We would go to progress meetings where she complained that he was slumped over the table. He disliked being ‘taken out’, especially when something fun was going on, and missed science for a whole year.

I had not been able to get his needs met by the school.


My own background: brought may have informed how I managed and responded to communications with the school. Several parents of dyslexic children took their children out of the school and home schooled them. I often wonder if this would have been a better choice for us.

But then, is this close to exclusion?

From a working class, single parent family I received school dinners and when I went to Manchester Polytechnic, it was on a full grant. Education was not given high status within the family though. Graft was. My grandfather was ‘self-made’ and financially secure, built his own house.

Until recently, I was the only one in the family to have gone on to study in Further Education.

As a parent, I had the static cultural capital – we visited museums, I engaged my children in interesting debates, took them on exciting holidays and I supplemented their learning at home. Whilst educated, my background was essentially working class. I did not have the skills, experience, or support from my family to negotiate successfully with the school.

Importantly, I did not have the relational cultural capital – the middle class sense of how to go about getting my child’s needs met. I’m not sure this can be learnt.

I watched other mothers achieve this with envy, trying to look for clues.

The social mobility gap is a particular focus at government level (Department of Education, 2017). There has been a specific focus on the teaching of vocabulary to close the ‘gap’ but in reality, there are far more complex issues at play which are harder to address.

There have been several studies on high vs low Socio-Economic Status (SES) families, their approaches to education, and how this might impact on outcomes (Ciabattari, 2010; Tramonte & Willms, 2090). Whilst Kimelberg (2014), suggests that middle class mothers are actively choosing urban state schools because they are aware of their own cultural capital (and ability to support their children’s education), other studies point to the neoliberalisation of education and the illusion of choice, choice for some but not for others (Reay 2006; 2008).

Schools AND parents are complicit in this, it is seductive. If we really want equity though, it’s time to be present to it.

‘Closing the Gap’ by teaching vocabulary seems like a much easier option.

I had a group of friends when my children were small, we would go to playgroups, play centres and drink coffee. All three of them managed to position themselves to get into schools which were highly regarded or ‘outstanding’ before their children started school. They rented or moved houses to achieve this. Hansen (2013) showed in her study that education-related house moves do occur in the pre-school years. Her paper used data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) and linked it to Land Registry data. Particular types of parents (more educated and advantaged) ‘gear up’ their quest for what they perceive to be better schooling for their children before they start school.

We had bought our house when I was pregnant because we loved it, and we sent our children to the nearest school. Already, I had not shown strategic competency, at this point it did not matter because we did not know about our son’s dyslexia. He was a happy, curious and robust toddler.

I didn’t know what to do or how to help him and eventually trained to be a TA and ended up working in my son’s school, trying to support him by being close to the situation. I saw him in tears every day for 2 years. The school suggested that my presence in school made him anxious.

We will not achieve equity in our education system by filling an imaginary gap with words. Instead, consider how your setting relates to and communicates with all members of their community. Does the school demonstrate favouritism, make special allowances for some?

Are these parents on the PTA, Governing Body, ‘special’ friends of the school?

An ethos of ‘everyone’ should mean everyone and demonstrate daily that every child, every parent, matters without special exceptions, regardless of class and socio economic status.

Sense and sense-ability: how to minimise cognitive load.

close up photo of assorted books
Photo by Leah Kelley on

The children I teach are often the ones who have given up on themselves (and their memories), made to feel that learning is for others, not for them.

I want to share some theories about how memory works. It’s useful to connect with these ideas and to start to be curious, how can your students be better supported to remember?

The main approach I, and other specialist teachers take, is to make learning multi-sensory, this means engaging many senses simultaneously. I feel the sense of touch is one of the MOST important, why?

The importance of touch:

Somatosensory Cortex

The fingertips…contain about 100 times more receptors per square centimetre than the skin on the back…more CNS neurons must be devoted to receiving fingertip sensations…the cortical area that receives input from the fingertips is huge compared to the area that receives input from skin on the back.

The first thing to note is that memory is clearly dependent on whether the student is focusing and attending in the first place. Are they comfortable, interested, do they feel safe?

This also involves the senses, we have seven in all which includes vestibular (balance/movement) and proprioception (knowing where the body is in space). See information about Sensory Processing here:

Sensory Processing

Working Memory has been big news in education for some time – the gateway to the Holy Grail: Long Term Memory. Working Memory is best likened to a shelf: where information is held temporarily – we all have different sized shelves. With a short shelf, information may get lost or drop too readily out of this area.

How to keep information in so that it gets transferred to Long Term Memory?

Working memory limitations may be critical only when acquiring novel information based on culturally important knowledge that we have not specifically evolved to acquire. Cultural knowledge is known as biologically secondary information. Working memory limitations may have reduced significance when acquiring novel information that the human brain specifically has evolved to process, known as *biologically primary information


NB Biologically Primary information is that which is processed by the senses.

More on that here:

Evolutionary Upgrade of Cognitive Load Theory

What happens to children who can’t remember?


Effective learning, at least at Primary School level, is really about memory. Children are required to retain information, so that they can steadily build upon those foundations. How can we ensure that ALL children remember and are successful?

Biologically primary information’ can be thought of as that which is processed through the senses: what we see, hear, touch, smell. If we want to limit the restrictions of Working Memory, we need to harness the power of primary information in learning!

The Baddeley model of working memory (2000) shows short term memory (STM) as split between visual semantics (Visuospatial sketchpad) and the verbal STM (Phonological loop). These two areas are not directly connected but interact with the episodic buffer, thought to transfer information to the long-term memory. It would appear that in dyslexia, certain information does not get readily stored in the long-term memory (LTM). The phonological loop has 2 components: the phonological store and the articulatory rehearsal mechanism.

Auditory information is held in the store where it rapidly decays. The articulatory mechanism rehearses the information so that the rapid decay is avoided. It also recodes, turning symbols into speech. In dyslexia, this is thought to be impaired, as tested using Nonword Repetition (Roodenrys and Stokes, 2001).

It is not just auditory memory which is an issue but the processing of language, is this new vocabulary, is there lots of abstract language used, how long has the speaker been talking??

Importantly, there is evidence to show that the visuospatial sketchpad is not impaired in dyslexia and may even be a strength (see meta-analysis by Swanson, 2006). This suggests that this can be used to boost confidence and improve outcomes, using areas of strength to support weaker areas, i.e. Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together wire together”. When taught simultaneously with the strong one, the weaker modality becomes strengthened.This may bring ‘dual coding’ or ‘visual learners’ to mind.

Gathercole and Packiam Alloway write about using Long Term Memory to boost Working Memory (2008). Personally, I like to use humour and harness autobiographical memory e.g. if teaching a High Frequency Word, I ask the pupil to make up their own mnemonic. For ‘said’, one child made up ‘Sally’s Allotment Is Damp! (he used to help her grow carrots!). Discussion also boosts memory (Reid, 2009).

Long-term memory is thought to comprise of the following:
1. Declarative (knowing that): semantic (facts) and episodic (autobiographical and experimental).
2. Procedural (knowing how). This is rote learning; doing something over becomes automatic.
Note: There is a PHYSICAL aspect to this e.g. driving a car, handwriting, riding a bike, reading. For some, this takes longer and for some it always requires CONSCIOUS effort.

How might you harness this knowledge about memory in learning?

Self-esteem is connected to being a successful and independent learner (Burden, 2008). Building strong and trusting relationships between teacher and child is an essential prerequisite for accelerated learning (Brooks, 2007: 31).

Give pupils thinking time! Pupils may often say, “I don’t know”, or “I can’t remember”. Sometimes, they have simply given up on their memory and stop trying. Help them to start to be successful and watch them flourish.

We might conclude from this that the best teaching to lessen cognitive load and improve memory would be:

Dynamic (involve movement)

Real life (autobiographical/concrete)

Explicit (telling) information (semantics)

Achievable – within the student’s grasp (building self-esteem)

Mind’s Eye: this may be using visuals or encouraging them to ‘picture’/visualise something.

Sensory: engage all of the Senses.



See also this blog on memory and learning:

Memory and learning




Baddeley, A. D. (2000). The episodic buffer: A new component of working memory? Trends in cognitive sciences, 4 (11), 417-423.


Brooks, G., (2007). What works for pupils with literacy difficulties? London: DCSF


Burden, R. (2005). Dyslexia and Self-Concept seeking a dyslexic identity. London: Whurr


Gathercole, S. and Packiam-Alloway, T. (2008): Working Memory and Learning, London: Sage.


Reid, G, (2009) Dyslexia: a Practitioner’s handbook. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.


Roodenrys, S. & Stokes, J. (2001). Serial recall and nonword repetition in reading disabled children. Reading and Writing: an interdisciplinary journal, 14, 379-394.


Swanson, H. L. (2006) Working memory and reading disabilities: Both phonological and executive processing deficits are important. In T.P. Alloway & Gathercole, S. E., (Eds). Working memory and neurodevelopmental disorders pp.59-88. Hove: Psychology Press.





SEND for your mother



It seems the world of SEND is full of embattled women’s voices. Whenever I attend a dyslexia CPD event or conference, I am struck by the high numbers of mothers I encounter who became dyslexia professionals to help their own children and in so doing, found their passion.

Why does this advocacy role fall mainly to mothers, is it because fathers work away more, work longer hours or is it simply that mothers are so bound to their children and their wellbeing that they have an instinct about their child’s needs, are driven to inform themselves and campaign relentlessly to get their child’s needs met?

  • Why are mothers driven to this, what happened to the concept of ‘In Loco Parentis’?

In ( the National Union of Teachers lays out guidelines. ‘In loco parentis’ originally embodied the 19th Century common law principle that a teacher’s authority was delegated by a parent, so far as it was necessary for the welfare of the child. A court held in 1893 that a schoolmaster should act as a ‘careful father’ would toward his pupils.

However, subsequent revisions moved further away from the notion of parental responsibility: care and duty, to that of a professional. The concept of what ‘in locus parenti’ means in practice has shifted dramatically, point seven declares:

‘If it can be shown that a professional acted in accordance with the views of a reputable body of opinion within their profession, the duty of care will have been satisfied, even though others may disagree’. (p.3)

  • What does this mean for outcomes?

In a recent study into high-performing schools and their support of disadvantaged pupils carried out for the Department of Education (DfE), Louise Booth, head teacher at Beeston Hill St Luke’s C of E Primary School said:

‘What does it mean to treat every child as if they were our own? What does ‘going the extra mile’ mean in day-to-day practice? See the link here:

LMKco Inside the black box

The report found that high-performing schools had high aspirations for all of their pupils, including those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)

(Baars et al, 2018).

I can imagine that every child with dyslexia IS my own, because my child is dyslexic, and this puts me in conflict with the institutions in which I have worked.

As a woman, it can be hard to find a voice, to speak with authority and to be heard. In Women and Power, Mary Beard (2017) writes that illustrations of this prejudice in literature go back as far as Homer’s Odyssey, wherein Telemachus tells his mother to go back to her own quarters: ‘…speech will be the business of men’.

Beard writes:

‘What interests me is the relationship between this classic Homeric moment of silencing a woman and some of the ways in which women’s voices are not publicly heard in our own contemporary culture’. (p.6)

In the case of dyslexia and my son, I simply had no choice. Like many mothers, I had to speak out, I had to take action.

The term ‘dyslexia mothers’ is slightly disdainful. I had not been politically motivated before, dyslexia politicised me and with that came a new awareness of issues facing women and mothers in society; an interest in feminism.

Ahmed (2017) sees that diversity and feminism go together:

‘First diversity work is the work we do when we are attempting to transform an institution; and second diversity work is the work we do when we do not quite inhabit the norms of an institution’. (Ahmed, 2017 p91)

Dyslexia and feminism to me seem naturally bound. The world of dyslexia has much to owe to its ‘dyslexia mothers’. Marion Welchman is known as the ‘needle and thread’ of the dyslexia world. In her search to help her son, Howard, she discovered the Gillingham, Stillman teaching programme and ran the first course in England for teachers in Bath in 1969. Her pioneering work lead to the establishment of the British Dyslexia Association in 1972. Daphne Hamilton-Fairley, who founded Fairley House (one of the few dyslexia schools in Britain) said:

‘It was magic from the point of view of parent power, and how they’ll fight for their children.’ (Kirby, 2018).

At the Bangor Dyslexia Unit, part time workers, mostly women ‘were all paid on pinkies’ – claim forms submitted every month or half term. Together with others, this helped to build an evidence base for the existence and diagnosis of dyslexia.

When I visited the Dyslexia Archive at Oxford last year, it was heartbreaking to read the letters written by mothers of all classes, desperately looking for help for their children. It’s even more heartbreaking to think that nothing has changed.

I have often heard SEND mothers (myself included) referred to as over-anxious and over-protective by teachers. The implication is of course that anxious parents are creating anxious children and schools seem unable to reflect on their own role in this; where mothers perceive their child is not safe in a setting, this will create anxiety.

Researchers proposed the following provisions as conceptual ideas for psychological safety (Baeva, 2002; Baeva et al., 2011; Bordovskaia, 2012), points 4 and 5 are as follows:

The main source of psychotrauma in participants in the educational environment is psychological violence in pedagogical and interpersonal interactions.

Pedagogical and interpersonal interactions in the educational environment are psychologically safe if they promote a sense of belonging, convince participants that they are out of danger (the absence of the above-named threats), and strengthen mental health. (p.90)

If a child’s psychological safety is compromised, it is likely that this will impact on the psychological safety of parents and teachers. This issue is referred to by @itmustbemum: parents are sometimes blamed as having poor mental health, as causing the child’s difficulties, and this can become ‘a self-fulfilling prophecy’.

Cost to parents Blog

Studies into teacher attitudes are revealing, perhaps an ideological shift is required in order to harness ‘parent power’ as a resource. A YouGov poll from February 2017 of 810 teachers gives an interesting insight into teachers’ attitudes. 57 percent said there was misdiagnosis and 54 percent thought that pressure from parents led to some children being categorised as SEND unnecessarily. 64 percent said they thought parents pushed for a SEN diagnosis because they preferred a medical or psychological explanation for their children’s behaviour, rather than believing that the problem could be resolved by the class teacher. The poll was sponsored by GL Assessment who clearly have an interest in promoting assessment, however, the responses are worrying.

The following studies are not recent but still relevant; included because they illustrate important issues within areas of research and discourse that are often neglected; the parent view. Atkin, Bastiani and Goode (1988) studied relationships between parents and teachers and began to consider that teachers’ claims about ‘what parents were like’ might be rooted in teacher lore and staffroom mythology. There is no evidence that parents of children with dyslexia are any different to other parents. What might differ is the level of knowledge held by schools and how they choose to offer both support and communication.

Insight: how do I look?

Watching rough edits of our dyslexia documentary last year, I saw myself working with my son – using a ‘teacher’ voice, not a ‘mummy’ voice. In one scene, where I am showing him the concept of mixed fractions (using carrots), he tries to tell me something and I talk over him, perhaps wanting to demonstrate for the camera what a good teacher I am. He gets upset and says he wanted to show me he is good at it and has remembered. I comfort him. I am appalled.

When speaking of dyslexia, I might seem desperately trying to assume the role, the ‘mastery’ (Butler, 1997). It is easy to see that this would be irritating for my son’s school: a parent turned ‘expert’. I would infinitely prefer teachers to be the ‘experts’, but seemingly not one had read about dyslexia, or had knowledge to offer.

On reading Holt (1982) I was struck by a particular sentence about a mother he encountered:

‘The only triumphs of his that she savours are those for which she can give herself most of the credit’. (p.268)

I asked myself honestly if this was me, I felt not, but perhaps the teachers would interpret it otherwise. I had been forced into becoming the dyslexia ‘expert’ in the absence of one in school.

The documentary we made last year called ‘Farther and Sun’ was my idea, we wanted it to present a different face of dyslexia, the one we could see in our son. As such, we didn’t cover the extremely negative experiences I had had with my son’s school (most of them whilst my husband was working away), the concern I had for my son’s well being and the sly suggestions from the school that I was a bad mother. Moreover, we did not allude to the fact the SENCO refused to deal with me because she said I was ‘aggressive’ and causing her sleepless nights.

In the documentary, was a scene where I was crying on the bed. In a review, Rachel Cooke refers to this scene and points out:

‘But if all this made Macer’s film seem self-indulgent at times – many parents will watch Arthur’s mother weeping, and think: I’ll take your kid’s problems over mine any day.’

See the review here:

Farther and Sun review

At the end of the film, we show that my son passed his SATs, we don’t detail all the support he has had at home, how hard he has worked and the cost of this to me. My belief is that dyslexic children deserve to succeed and feel smart just like any other kid. A ‘kid’s problems’ are all relative and I would not wish my experience on anybody.

Sadly, I know that my experience is not unique and that other mothers are being bullied, ignored and demonised all over the country.

I am grateful for our challenges, my son is an inspirational young man, I have found my passion.



Dyslexia background: part two

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on


For Part One see here:

Part OneAre

Theories of causation tell us much about how to assess dyslexic students. There are three main schools of thought, yet the theories can sit side by side as in the Kelly and Phillips Integrated Causal Model (2011). The theories deal with different parts of the brain but all seek to explain the phonological difficulty experienced by dyslexics. One of them, the cerebellar theory, also explains the additional difficulties related to sequencing, organisation and memory.


There is an undeniable genetic link, as dyslexia runs in families. Pennington and Gilger (1996) have claimed that where there is dyslexia in the family, there is an increased probability that the child will have it. Snowling (2008) points out that different environmental experiences will influence the genetic impact, both the severity and the outcome of the difficulty. We can also see this in the Morton and Frith Basic Causal Framework (1995).By talking with parents, the genetic link can be investigated. Sometimes, parents are diagnosed after their children.


The Phonological Deficit theory, the fact that dyslexic children struggle to link speech sounds to their written representation, has been popular. However, Nicolson and Fawcett suggest it is a symptom rather than a cause (2008). The theory does not explain the other difficulties shown by dyslexics: problems sequencing, forming handwriting and following instructions.


Nevertheless, speech is the foundation for written language and Snowling, (2000b) suggests that dyslexia is a speech-processing difficulty. To support this, abnormalities in the Perysylvian region of the brain, involved in phonological processing, result in impairments in phonological awareness. There are also studies, which show poor language skills predict poor reading, well before any reading instruction (Puolakanaho et al, 2007). It is important that we assess phonological ability as one of the main indicators of dyslexia. It is useful to look at how children acquire the skill of reading to inform how and what we assess. Phonological awareness is an important skill in learning to read, whether this is a pre-requisite or is brought about through the process of learning to read is debated in the field (Muter et. al., 2004).


Frith (1985) identified several stages of reading : logograohic (whole word), alphabetic (phoneme/grapheme correspondance) and orthographic (spelling patterns). This links with assessment of reading and spelling as these are the stages a successful reader goes through acquiring reading skills automatically. It helps to identify where the gaps are with dyslexic readers and gives a focus for intervention.


Wagner and Torgensen (1987) state the importance of several phonological skills in reading, including awareness, rapid automatised naming and verbal short-term memory. Therefore, knowledge of high frequency words, testing short-term memory e.g using a digit span test and knowledge of the alphabetic principle should also be part of any assessment. In addition, a learner’s ability to manipulate sounds, using phoneme and syllable deletion needs to be tested.


Coltheart’s dual route model of reading (2001) shows how some words are processed by a lexicon but non words cannot because they have no meaning, non words test the ability to link graphemes to their sound rather than relying on a memory of the word shape and/or it’s meaning. This further explains why non-words should feature in an assessment semantics and meaning come into this model, a learner’s comprehension should be assessed as well as their decoding ability.


A relatively recent study (Ramus, 2014), showed that it was a difficulty in retrieval i.e. access to phonological representations rather than the representations themselves, that dyslexics experience. Rapid automatised naming tests should expose this, an important indicator of dyslexia and one which differentiates it from a Specific Language Impairment (Bishop and Snowling, 2004).


Difficulties in phonology are explained by visual disturbances, or temporal processing difficulties in some studies. In the Magnocellular Theory, Evans (2001), Stein (2003, 2008), it is suggested that abnormalities in the Magnocellular (large) and Parvocellular (small) pathways in the brain are responsible for a visual disturbance resulting in reading difficulties. This has echoes of the original theory of ‘word-blindness’ (Hinshelwood, 1917). As well as problems with visual stimuli, the theory suggests that phonological difficulties are caused by an inability to detect rapidly changing auditory stimuli (Tallal 1993, 2007). As with the phonological theory, it doesn’t explain all of the difficulties which are associated with dyslexia.


A study by Galaburda et al (2006) suggested that early auditory problems (affecting phonological processing) can resolve themselves in some individuals. In terms of how the Magnocellular theory impacts on assessment and behaviours, what we can look for are tracking difficulties when reading eg losing place on the page, also sequencing sounds and syllables. Phonemes may get missed out of spelling and reading, because they can’t be distinguished and poor visual perception may cause letters to be transposed or swapped around (Kelly & Phillips, 2011). How competently a child copies work would also be telling (this will also test working memory). Deficits in auditory perception and memory storage might explain why certain letters are hard to distinguisheg. /b/,/t/,/k/,/d/ (Kelly and Phillips, 2011)


A study on visual motion processing deficits (Wilmer et al, 2004), revealed two types: a deficit in detecting coherent motion, resulting in low accuracy and a deficit in discriminating velocities, resulting in a slow performance. It is the first time these two deficits have been proven and they link to tracking difficulties, keeping the place on the page and accuracy. In the DST, reading is given a time limit as dyslexic readers have been found to be slow and effortful. These problems are linked by Nicolson & Fawcett (2008) to the cerebellar.


Sperling et al., (2005) found that noise levels affected the functioning of the pathways i.e. dyslexic children are less able to filter out background noise. By speaking to the child’s teacher, TA’s and parents, we can investigate whether they have auditory needs. Pammer and Vidyasagar (2005) suggest that both auditory and visual systems are compromised in dyslexics, arising from general impairment in the dorsal route for sensory impairment.


Whilst many dyslexics have difficulty with eye tracking, it could also be seen as a motor co-ordination or cerebellar difficulty. Since the discovery that the cerebellum has a function in reading, Nicholson and Fawcett have pursued their theory with renewed vigour (2008). In the 1990’s they challenged the phonological deficit theory by showing that dyslexics had other weaknesses which were unexplained: sequencing, handwriting, memory. Using balance, they showed that dyslexics couldn’t do two things at once: eg count and balance. The cerebellum’s role in motor skills is well established (ref?), this impacts on reading and especially writing, as dyslexics never reach the level of automaticity of their peers. Most dyslexics struggle with spelling in particular. It used to be argued that the cerebellum was not linked to the brain’s frontal lobes, which activate during reading, but new studies show it does indeed have the right connectivity (Fulbright et al 1999). Some would argue that problems with sequencing, multi-tasking and motor planning are indicators of dyspraxia. However, in support of the cerebellar theory, patients with cerebellar damage show dyslexic-type symptoms (Moretti et al, 2002).


The main argument hinges around automaticity, dyslexic children fail to acquire the automatic skills of reading and writing enjoyed by their peers. Postural/core stability will be affected if the cerebellum is implicated, therefore an assessment should test this, as poor postural stability would be a useful indicator. Within the DST was a balance tester, which tested stability by pushing into the child’s back. A discussion with the parents and/or teacher would also be useful on this area. Handwriting speed and accuracy is another aspect of the cerebellar theory, as is processing speed. Are letters well formed, legible with appropriate spacing? Has the learner always struggled with fine and gross motor control? eg fastening clothes and skipping. The cerebellar theory is attractive because it does account for several weaknesses that many dyslexics are known to possess. The cerebellum also controls eye movements so relates to the Magnocellular theory.


Theories abound and whilst there is much new research, there is still no consensus. Assessment should be made for the weaknesses we know dyslexics to display and timely intervention provided. The environment impacts massively on how the condition is manifested and may account for the different sub-types of dyslexia that are reported. It is crucial that intervention is tailored, based on a thorough assessment of the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. This will ultimately lead to a more effective outcome (Vellutino et. al 2004:31).

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