Dyslexia and a flat earth



Yesterday, I made the trip to London to the IOE for the dyslexia ‘debate’. At the end of last year, there was a furore in the House of Lords after Warwickshire Council had declared that a dyslexia diagnosis was ‘scientifically questionnable’.

I was hoping for an interesting debate and that I might learn something. The debate hinged around whether the label of dyslexia should be dispensed with.

Sadly, the event was disappointing. I did not learn anything and there was no debate.

The event kicked off with Jules Daulby, who was pro-label on the grounds of needing to be equitable. Next, came Julian Elliot who clearly relished being on stage and filled it like a pantomime baddy; sneering at the BDA and poking a stick at ‘so-called’ dyslexia who hadn’t had a robust defence. The word bully comes to mind.

Several claims were made which were inaccurate, one that the word dyslexia came first and then a set of characteristics to fit.

Fact: Dyslexia was ‘discovered’ by psychologists, presented with children with ’emotional difficulties’, they found these children had shared characteristics. If you want to learn more about the history, read Tim Miles: 50 years in Dyslexia Research.

Perhaps the problem is with SCIENCE after all and not dyslexia. Taking only a positivist stance: if I can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist – what evidence are we missing before our eyes. In measuring the small parts, how are we missing the big picture? Perhaps a more relativist approach is needed.

We all know that dyslexia is present in EVERY classroom. Do I think that money should be spent on costly assessments and support? Well, no – avoid this with early identification and intervention.

After Elliot came Jonathan Solity – who I hadn’t realised was at the heart of proceedings at Warwickshire. Again, I learnt nothing as I had seen the same presentation in the summer at the UCL. He did add some new buzz words: Direct Instruction, interleaving and spaced practice most notibly. It seemed ironic to me that after damning the ‘dyslexia industry’, this and what followed was essentially a plug for Solity’s services. Daulby also referenced a commercially available service.

The essence of Solity’s approach can easily be followed by schools:

  • teach fewer phonemes
  • practise High Frequency Words
  • do not stick slavishly to book bands, use picture books.

Finally, we had the team from the council. They presented data to support their stance on dyslexia (treat all children with reading failure the same and do not acknowledge the ‘label’). Dyslexia, throughout, was framed as a ‘reading failure’ only. The message: assess children and address the needs of all under-performing readers. Again, no argument with that.

The reading intervention was based around the procedural aspects of reading: fluency and word level. It did not look at comprehension. One of the tools used was the Salford which I have been advised against as the standardisation of this is too narrow, rendering it inaccurate.

I’m afraid that what Warwickshire Council proposes is not enough to support all dyslexic learners. The word ‘spelling’ kept being tagged on to the end of statements but there was no talk of spelling support or evidence of it.

As we know, the picture of dylsexia in the classroom is much broader than reading difficulties alone and schools that teach reading and phonics effectively, with a reading for pleasure ethos, will find their dylsexic children are reading! They still can’t spell or write though and will have difficulty in aspects of maths.

Elliott distilled dylsexia research into 3 (negative) quotes, in what was overall an outrageous display of propaganda, to a receptive audience. I was surprised at the vitriol.

Science has made a mess of dyslexia, medicalising and pathologising it. And now suggesting it doesn’t exist. Perhaps time to give it back to the teaching profession and ensure that teachers are supported with the knowledge and skills they need. Key for me is the Morton and Frith framework – consider how the environment impacts on dyslexia – it is highly receptive to the right intervention and support, if addressed early.

Maybe one day we can dispense with the label, but this will be when there are no signs of dyslexia in the classroom.


We are not there yet.



Where do we go from here? dyslexia


On the 31/1/19 there will be a discussion about dyslexia at the IoE involving some eminent people in the field: ‘Dyslexia diagnosis, scientific understandings and belief in a flat earth.’

This follows a statement last year from Warwickshire and Staffordshire County Council that a dyslexia diagnosis is ‘scientifically questionable’, with other schools now saying that dyslexia ‘doesn’t exist’…some schools have been saying this for a while.

Where do we go from here?

Perhaps the answer lies with greater teacher agency and autonomy. Too long undermined, perhaps it’s time that teachers be acknowledged as the experts and given the training, status and permission to act.

This is why I so strongly support Alison Peacock and her work with the Chartered College; raising the status of the profession and giving teachers a voice allowing them to have high expectations for all pupils.

I feel there needs to be a focus on how accountability measures are impacting on teachers’ daily practice. 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 learners with dyslexia and other SEND 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, they will benefit from personalised approaches.
  • Teachers and TAs need to collaborate and build trust to ensure that children practise new or ongoing skills and transfer them into the classroom. This may involve effective learning strategies, pupils MUST become responsible for their own learning, facilitated by the teacher.
  • Parents and educators need to collaborate, supporting each other and the child, sharing knowledge and experiences. How to do this might be something that can also be addressed in teacher training.

I am driven by a desire to experience, to know and understand the plight faced by teachers that can result in dyslexic children being not just overlooked in classrooms, but sometimes treated in a way which undermines their human rights.

My journey is fuelled by hope, not despair.

Rebecca Solnit explains the nature of hope, which is:

‘to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety’ (2016, p.4).

Analysing spellings: metacognition


Whilst there are many creative approaches to teaching, spelling has not benefited from this in the past.

How has spelling been taught historically in your school?

Typically, spelling is not taught at all but delivered as lists, sent home to ‘look, cover, write and check’ and to be tested at the end of the week. Students who cannot spell exciting vocabulary will not use it in their writing. Difficulties with spelling will slow down the writing process and increase the cognitive load faced by struggling writers who often have amazing ideas.

Why do we need to analyse spelling errors?

Whilst a student may get 10/10 in a weekly spelling test, their free writing may tell a different story.
In starting to analyse their spelling errors, you can encourage them to monitor their own spelling mistakes.
The aim is confident spellers, with a repertoire of strategies, who use a range of ambitious vocabulary.
This can be a better approach for struggling spellers who may make little progress on phonics-based intervention programmes.

A note on High Frequency or ‘tricky’ words and why children can’t spell them:

From Reception, children are taught that certain words are tricky, almost as if there were no pattern or link to phonics at all, nonsensical even difficult. These are described as ‘look, say’ words and flash cards are used, even where these words follow phonic patterns , such as the split digraph word ‘like’.

Children tend to spell these words incorrectly from the start (beacuse they are not encouraged to analyse them) and are allowed to build a motor memory of these words until by KS2 these mispellings become deeply entrenched.


Types of spelling error:

Semantics and homophones e.g. there, their, they’re.
High Frequency Words: whent, becuse
Orthographic/morphological e.g. slipt for slipped, happyness (affixes)
Reasonable phonic alternatives e.g. teecher, sed
Transposition (mixing up letters) or articulation e.g. callde, moth for month.
Letter reversals and directionality e.g. bad for dad, was for saw.
Additions e.g. frome.
Omissions e.g. mouten – mountain (see also articulation).


In starting to analyse your students’ spellings and helping them to analyse and manage their spelling, you are both building metacognitive strategies. Without this, students feel that spelling is random and arbitrary.


Contact me for whole school spelling training.


Assess to progress



Assessment creates a lot of debate, with strong opposition to the testing of Reception children and one headline declaring: ‘Testing has become like crack cocaine to the government’. Is there a difference between an assessment and a test?

The word ‘assess’ turned up in English about 550 years ago. It came to English from Old French and before that, from Latin. The English association between ‘tax’ and the word ‘assess’ reflects the meaning that the late Latin parent word held. But this Latin word was built on earlier roots.

Believe it or not the words sizeassize, and assess all run back to a word root meaning “sit.”

A test or quiz measures what someone knows, or has learned. An assessment is the process of documenting knowledge, skills, attitudes and beliefs, usually in measurable terms. The goal of assessment is to make improvements, as opposed to simply being judged. Assessment tools or batteries have been standardised on large samples to establish an average performance, this creates a bell-shaped curve of distribution of scores, with average in the centre and less common scores at either end. Many practitioners are now exploring dynamic assessment which probes what an individual might be capable of with a little support.

I like the etymology of the word ‘assess’, my job as an assessor is ‘to sit’, I am not fond of online assessments for this reason. Sitting is not done passively. Instead, I am trying to get inside the experience of the person being assessed. For me, assessment is so much more than administering a list of test batteries. I am weaving a tapestry, what are the threads? Where is the individual performing, compared to an average, what are their underlying abilities and what are their barriers to achievement? What clues can I get by drawing them out in conversation and by close observation: how they sit, hold the pen, move and think. What errors are they making and what does it tell us? What were their thought processes.

When carrying out an assessment, it is important to consider the story, the individual’s narrative. This helps us to begin to understand their experience of learning. Without conducting assessments, one can only guess from outward behaviours. Often, behaviours are misleading and assumptions are inaccurate.

A good example might be a pupil with poor handwriting who cannot produce enough work. How might this look to a teacher? Chances are, this pupil is perceived as someone who needs to make more effort, who perhaps is inherently lazy, disorganised and underachieving as a result.

By assessing processing speed, working memory and handwriting speed, one can appreciate the actual challenges the pupil might face and begin to support them better. Crucially, the Equality Act protects such individuals, ensuring that where certain scores are below average (i.e. below Standard Score 85), access arrangements are essential. Access arrangements exist so that the exams are fair for all pupils, without changing the exam itself.

Before choosing any test battery, it’s important to consider:

  • Are the test norms relevant, does it provide a suitable benchmark for the individual being assessed?
  • Is it reliable? (age of the test comes into this).
  • Is it valid, does it measure the skill we want to investigate?

Moreover, an assessment may also reveal strengths such as comprehension, visual memory, non-verbal reasoning or receptive vocabulary. These potential strengths can be used to support the learner.

Think carefully because assessment materials are a substantial investment!

I love doing assessments, I enjoy looking for the fine detail, being a learning detective. They are not about making judgements but about empowering the individual and helping them to understand their challenges and strengths. Yes, this leads to the current Holy Grail: an understanding of how one learns, metacognition. Through recommendations, one can provide a way forward and offer new strategies.

Invest in some assessment materials today.

Think dyslexia? Thinkpix

10 ideas for using visuals with dyslexic learners:


  1. As a reminder to use oral rehearsal and to EDIT!


2.    To provide narrative which helps information to stick.

eg It is crucial that students know all the vowels and that they make 2 sounds: long and short/ weak and strong. Vowels are integral to many spelling patterns and create syllables.


3.    Try integrating pictures with phonic sounds – especially the tricky digraphs and trigraphs. A visual as well as auditory clue means the sound is better remembered.


4.  Dreaded homophones – visual clues can help!

HFW homophones

5.   Sentence types can seem very abstract, provide a visual to aide recall and make the concept more concrete!




6. Students may be able to segment syllables but not be able to sequence and recall multisyllabic words, picturing or drawing the word can help…any ideas?

Abominable of course!


7.   Try mindmapping prefixes or suffixes:


8.  Make a word itself into a picture, teach spelling patterns too eg in cried, the y cry changes to i and past tense ‘ed’ is added:


9.  To teach points of grammar: which is the object and which the subject here, is there more than one subject?


10.  Visuals are not just for literacy but work well in maths too; in explaining abstract language and aiding memory. What is the ‘operation’?


Play around with visuals and have fun. You don’t have to be great at drawing, encouraging the child to draw will help them to build supporting strategies too.

Dyslexia: KS2 support

HFW homophones

As a Key Stage Two teacher, it can feel like dyslexia is immutable i.e. unchangeable. This is especially true when the child has not been given any strategies, it is much easier to support dyslexia in EYFS or Key Stage One because their needs are more in line with  teaching.

It might feel like there is such a massive mountain to climb, that you do not know where to start. By Key Stage Two, those incorrect spelling patterns have become embedded and dyslexic children tend only to use phonics as a strategy, unless taught otherwise.

My belief is always that a class teacher can have a powerful impact. Start by focusing on something small and persist. The key is to involve the student in metacognition: thinking about thinking – why did you choose that particular spelling? What were you thinking when…

They will need to practice the same procedural skills: handwriting, spelling (see Nicolson and Fawcett) for longer than other children; give them lots of praise and see them shine.

Spelling, I feel, is the key to writing for dyslexic children. Studies show that whilst they may have a broad vocabulary and good understanding, they will limit writing to what they can spell (or what they think they can spell!).

If letter formation is very poor and productivity unusually low, it could be that letter formation is not automatic ie has not gone into long term memory. If this is the case, see the witing 8 demo:

Writing 8

Top Ten Tips:

1) Start by focusing on High Frequency Words, use the words which are active in their writing, rather than working systematically through the lists. Where there are phonics patterns, teach those. Otherwise, make up stories and draw pictures e.g. would, could and should – o, u, lucky, duck or even better ask the child to make one up (o, u, lovely, dancer).

Screen Shot 2017-11-07 at 09.32.49

Have the child engage with these target words and self-check their work during editing time.

2) Look for patterns/analyse spelling errors: do they transpose letters e.g.alos for also (I think they get scrambled in working memory, or perhaps a weakness in visual recall). Do they confuse particular sounds? /f/ and /th/ or /c/ and /g/ if so, draw attention to these sounds by showing the child in a mirror or by feeling the throat. Do they miss syllables out? Again have them feel the movement of the jaw, a vowel creates a syllable. Syllable division shown here, the division is made where the vowel is long (open):

Cut up words

3) Teach spelling ‘rules’ – whilst there are often exceptions, students are relieved to find that there are general rules which work MOST of the time! Teach the split digraph rule properly – one of the biggest mistakes I see is ‘e’ on words where there shouldn’t be one but NEVER on the split digraph words!


4) As with vocabulary, teach affixes and root words, also etymology (history of words), spelling is about meaning more than sounds.

root process

5) Try and give them regular dictation so that a layer of processing is removed – this way they don’t have to compose writing, but have to remember it (the phonological loop) and then focus on spelling.

6) Give them cloze sentences where they only have to insert a word and then perhaps copy the sentence out.

7) Give them writing frames, support for writing: again this reduces the amount of processing and allows them to absorb the language and structure of sentences.

8) Give them plenty of oral rehearsal opportunities – with one counter for every word – or record the sentence and play it back; use props or draw a picture to aid memory retention.

9) Have them write less and give them more editing time.

10) Interleave spelling with vocabulary and handwriting practice.

The teaching of grammar and spelling is best done in a systematic, cumulative way, programmes like ‘Conquering Dyslexia’, (Kathleen Kelly and Sylvia Phillips) can provide an excellent framework for this.

Plus, there are fabulous resources to download from their website to accompany this.

See my previous posts on spelling:

High Frequency Words

Spelling tips


Maths: a hidden ability??



Dyscalculia is a term used to describe extreme, specific difficulties in maths. Many of these difficulties may be found in a dyslexic profile.

 ‘Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetic skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. (DfES, 2001) 

In Steve Chinn’s book, he suggests that many children ‘give up’ on maths around the age of 7 and lists the following factors:

  • Having to do maths calculations quickly.
  • Learning facts and procedures (without understanding them).
  • The extremely judgemental nature of maths. An answer is right, or it is wrong.
  • The inconsistencies in early arithmetic confuse children.
  • Being asked to do tasks that are beyond the capacity of the child’s working and short-term memories.
  • The vocabulary and language of early maths is often everyday vocabulary and language, but used in a maths setting.

(Chinn, 2012).

Haylock and Cockburn (2013) feel that much can be done in the early stages of teaching mathematics and that some difficulties are created by teachers, who themselves were taught ‘by drill’. They call for teachers to have a thorough understanding of the basic mathematical concepts and principals. This will, in turn, enable them to help children construct that understanding for themselves.

Butterworth and Yeo (2004:1 ) make the point that there are many reasons for underachievement in mathematics, including ‘inappropriate teaching, behavioural problems, anxiety and missing lessons’ which makes ‘identifying a special condition difficult’.

It is difficult for researchers to make conclusions about the cognitive processes involved (Ansari and Bugden, 2015). Just as neuroscience (Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI and Electroencephalography, EEG) is being employed to understand literacy development, so too is it being employed to further understanding of Developmental Dyscalculia: its diagnosis, intervention and treatment (Ansari and Bugden, 2014).

As with literacy and dyslexia, multiple-deficit models of dyscalculia can explain the heterogeneity of the difficulty and the range of approaches required to compensate (Landerl, 2015). Butterworth (2003) has developed a ‘Dyscalculia Screener’ (2003), identifying dyscalculic learners between 6-14+ years. It aims to assess prerequisite skills that underlie efficiency in maths and recommends intervention strategies.

The Dyscalculia screener tests elements of numerosity (subsitising), within a time constraint. Pupils are shown collections of dots and asked to quickly and accurately report how many they see. This ability, Butterworth argues, distinguishes those with dyscalculia from others.

Chinn (2012) suggests using a range of tests and informal diagnostic activities that probe the way a child is thinking; arriving at the underlying misconception. The WRAT4 can provide a comparison between literacy and maths. The MALT assessment (2009) gives useful information about answers. Kelly, Phillips and Symes (2013) provide a useful dyscalculia checklist.

If many children ‘give up’ age 7, this resonates with early work from Buswell and Judd (1925) who found that the first time you learn a new idea, it creates a dominant learning experience. Chinn (1998) lists the following areas of potential difficulty for those with dyslcalculia, all of which might apply to a dyslexic profile:

  • Short Term Memory

If instructions or information given is too demanding for the child, they will have memory overload and will not retain the information.

  • Working Memory

Working memory is especially important in maths, as numbers have to be held in memory during mental arithmetic. There are usually steps involved too and these may also overburden working memory so that information is lost.

  • Consistency

Consistency is reassuring and it makes it possible for pupils to be relaxed and deal with new experiences, assimilating them. Vocabulary and procedures need to be consistent so that teaching and learning is effective and explained carefully.

  • Speed of Processing

Dyslexic children and those with dyscalculia are usually slow to process auditory information and to work through steps as working memory is generally weak. Having to do maths calculations quickly can create anxiety, which in turn reduces working memory capacity and also affects long term memory

  • Rote facts (Long Term Memory)

Committing basic facts to long-term memory, in particular times-table facts, is extremely challenging. Time is not put aside in the curriculum for this. It is demoralising for children who cannot master them in the way their peers can.

  • Language (vocabulary of maths)

Eg The English language does not offer consistency for two digit numbers, the numbers eleven and twelve do not fit the rest of the pattern. In fractions, the pattern of a quarter and a half does not fit with a fifth and an eighth;       maths vocabulary is often abstract and hard for the learner to retain.

Telling the time, using an analogue clock, can be particularly challenging for dyslexic children: the language, number knowledge and processing involved is all too much! Much of being a successful learner at Primary level is to do with memory functioning. Cognitive weaknesses associated with dyslexia, such as short term, working and long term memory; speed of processing, sequencing and difficulties with attention and concentration are all likely to impact on maths. 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). Auditory information is held in the store where it rapidly decays. In dyslexia, this is thought to be impaired, as tested using Nonword Repetition (Roodenrys and Stokes, 2001). Maths auditory input can be lengthy and dyslexic learners may struggle to retain instructions and the steps required for task completion.

Chinn, (2012) suggests that visual representations of number, which create a number sense, and the use of concrete materials (numicon, dienes, Cuisenaire) helps to engage struggling learners in maths. Visualisation is a key concept when teaching maths to pupils with a dyslexic and dyslcalculic profile. Ronit Bird (2009) also suggests activities that involve concrete manipulatives and visualisation. Dominoes and playing cards can be used to develop a number sense. Maths language can be practiced and supported through a number pack, akin to the spelling and reading packs used in literacy programmes. Sharma (2016) recommends using Cuisenaire rods to support learners, these are especially good for fractions.

Chinn (1998) adds spatial awareness as a potential problem for dyslexic learners. Importantly, spatial awareness is needed for the layout of simple work on paper, such as the column method but also in drawing and interpreting graphs, charts and other symbolic information. It may cause problems in geometry, algebra and copying from the board e.g. writing down the wrong question number. It can be helpful to plot the space out with dots before beginning the task.

As suggested by Butterworth and Yeo (2004), anxiety is a huge factor in maths. ‘Number Anxiety was first introduced as a concept by Dreger and Aiken (1957). Anxiety can also be an issue in dyslexia and the acquisition of literacy skills, (Carroll et al., 2005; Carroll and Iles, 2006). Worry and anxiety are associated with the need to be prepared; fear and panic are primitive responses to a real or perceived defined threat. This will be exacerbated by having to do calculations quickly. Overall, studies suggest that attitudes to mathematics tend to deteriorate with age during childhood and adolescence (Wigfield and Meece, 1988; Ma and Kishor, 1997).

Young, Wu, and Menon (2012), in a math anxiety study, found brain activation in 7 to 9 year olds was in the right amygdala, a site previously tied to the learned fear response in adults. They also found that math anxiety was associated with reduced activity in posterior parietal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – regions involved in mathematical reasoning. Mathematics anxiety has been defined as:

“a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in … ordinary life and academic situations” (Richardson and Suinn, 1972).

It is, of course, unclear where math’s difficulties create anxiety or vice versa, a self-perpetuating cycle. Moreover, there seems to be two aspects: affective and cognitive. Cognitive might be worry about performance and affective is the emotional response: nervousness and tension – exacerbated by exam situations (Liebert and Morris, 1967). Competence in numeracy needs to be addressed because difficulties in maths impacts negatively in life. Dyscalculia refers to severe difficulties with number and people with dyscalculia may struggle with: handling money, budgeting, time-telling (including recording times, dates and appointments), using pin numbers, remembering personal information (like date of birth) addresses and post codes, travelling and directions. Difficulties with these areas can prove incredibly stressful.

Within maths, if there is not a secure foundation, it is necessary to define the key concepts and go back, before moving forwards. There are many books available offering games and puzzles, which provide opportunities to overlearn, Bird (2011) and apps such as Doodlemaths are very successful for the same reason. Bryant, Bryant, Shin and Pfannenstiel (2015) highlight, ‘Providing a cumulative review of previous concepts’, as an example of a practice designed to deliver explicit and systematic instruction. It is important to analyse the mistakes student make in maths and look for patterns, ask questions and address misconceptions. This is all part of good practice within the ‘plan, do, review cycle’.

Whilst auditory processing is a weakness in dyslexia, there is evidence to show that the visuospatial sketchpad is not impaired and may even be a strength (see meta-analysis by Swanson, 2006). This is important information as it suggests that visuals 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.

There has been greater research into literacy difficulties, than into dyscalculia and difficulties with maths but with a recent emphasis on achievement within maths nationally, comes a new focus. The new national curriculum (2014) whilst more rigorous, does not address instructional practices. By applying what works within literacy, maths may become easier to access for many students.

The methods for improving literacy for pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties are well established:

  • 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)


Apart from ‘phonics based’ all of the above criteria can be applied to mathematics. There are fewer specialist teachers for dyscalculia and fewer specialist programmes. Chinn (2017) suggests that adjustments to lessons be based on the following four principles:


  1. Empathetic classroom management, which is aware of the needs of pupils and the adjustments required to support learning strengths and weaknesses, such as working memory.
  2. Flexibility and a responsive, open approach, allowing for the use of a repertoire of resources and strategies. These change according to the needs of the pupil over time.
  3. Developmental methods, addressing the underlying need, while developing mathematical skills and concepts.
  4. Effective communication, which takes into account working memory weaknesses, slow processing, and different thinking and learning styles. The layout and presentation of work must have clarity.


Reid (2016) makes the point that the reading aspect of maths can be a real challenge for children, as dyslexia often overlaps with dyscalculia and maths difficulties. The text should be simplified and children with dyscalculia will need the vocabulary explaining more often and rephrasing. Often, it is the simple, abstract words such as ‘more’ or ‘less’, ‘before’ and ‘after’, which create ambiguity. Where there is more language, and complicated syntax e.g. in a word problem; dyscalculic children may benefit from using highlighters and drawing pictures.

Professor Mahesh Sharma (2015), suggests the following procedure:

  1. Explain the linguistic aspects of the concept.
  2. Introduce the general principle.
  3. Let students use investigations with concrete materials to discover these principles.
  4. Give many specific examples using concrete materials.
  5. Allow students to talk about their discoveries about how concepts work.

Hattie (2009) points out in his meta-analysis search, that the most successful mathematics programmes are strategy-based, involving working out an answer. He recommends a formula, encompassing all learning, to D.I.E for: Diagnose what they do/don’t know, Intervene, Evaluate (reflect). Maths is developmental; it relies on there being solid foundations in earlier stages upon which to build. Areas such as number bonds may not be secure and will prevent entry into more advanced maths. One cannot assume knowledge, it is important to personalise learning and get to know how the student is thinking.

In his 2012 book, Chinn has a chapter on ‘Cognition and Meta-cognition in Maths. Meta-cognition is becoming increasingly important as a concept in all areas of learning and is taught in many literacy programmes ‘thinking about how you are thinking’. There seems to be a worldwide consensus that flexible thinking and meta-cognition are more important than the use of formulas in maths. The use of formulas (or algorithms) is successful for many students who can remember and apply them without understanding what they are doing e.g. for dividing by a fraction: ‘turn upside down and multiply’. For students who don’t remember (dyslexic/dyscalculic), and who need the meaning to help them, this is not successful. They need to fully understand the process in order to apply it successfully the next time. The positive here is that they cannot ‘ape’ understanding. Sometimes, a small misconception is hindering them, when addressed, they take flight! Singapore, with their Singapore method that is creating an impact in the UK, overtly encourages meta-cognition.

From an American study into cognitive style (Bath, Chinn and Knox, 1986), Chinn formed a hypothesis that there are 2 distinct learning styles in maths. The team labelled them ‘grasshopper’ and ‘inchworms’. Grasshoppers are flexible and intuitive, Inchworms are formulaic; slow and steady. Chinn makes the point that often mathematics requires both approaches in the solving of one maths question. He suggests that if there is a non-judgemental approach to maths in the classroom; with emphasis on the method rather than the outcome, it will lead to a positive learning environment, where flexibility is allowed to grow.

Self-esteem is connected to being a successful and independent learner (Burden, 2005). If a learner hasn’t understood a concept, it is important to try and understand how they are thinking. Just as in literacy, 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).

In summary, dyscalculia is a relatively new area of learning difficulty. Following a new focus on Maths, with initiatives like Numbers Count, the DfE recently revealed that Maths is now the most popular A Level, which suggests that there have been improvements. However, work to ensure that all pupils leave school with the necessary skills in Maths to be successful in managing their finances and daily activities, is continuing. This can only be done by finding out how pupils are thinking, offering them visuals, concrete materials and alternative methods i.e. flexibility. In this way, it is hoped that anxiety within Maths can also be properly addressed.



Ansari, D. and Bugden, S. (2016) Probing the nature of deficits in the ‘Approximate Number System’ in Children with Developmental Dyslexia). Developmental Science, vol 19, issue 5.

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

Bath, J. B. Chinn, S. J. and Knox, D. E. (1986) The Test of Cognitive Style in Mathematics. East Aurora, NY, Slosson.

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

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Movin on up: transition


marketing school business idea
Photo by Gerd Altmann on Pexels.com

It’s the time of year when thoughts turn to transition and if you have an effective transition in your school, you’ve probably been thinking about it for a while.

I’m talking here about the move to…BIG SCHOOL.

Pupils with dyslexia often find this even more daunting than your average student.

How to ease transition for them so that they have the best possible chance of success?

The Dyslexia SpLD Trust Year 7 project

Evidence suggests that performance of year 7 pupils can remain static or even decline. What might be the factors involved?

  • Learners lose the consistent pastoral and academic overview of their progress by a class teacher.
  • Learners must shoulder the additional stresses of new social groups, new physical environments and organisational demands.
  • Learners must deal with a broader curriculum and range of teaching styles.
  • Basic literacy skills are no longer a focus of teaching, unless pupils have VERY  weak literacy skills and receive additional support.
  •  It is suggested that pupils with below average to low average literacy skills, who do not qualify for support, are likely to be particularly vulnerable to a drop in attainment and self-confidence.
  • It’s hard to improve children’s standard scores in literacy through intervention (Fawcett 2002).
  • Improvements in phonological skills do not always generalise into more accurate or fluent reading and spelling is particulalrly difficult to remediate (The US National Reading Panel, 2001).              I attended a conference in 2017:Dyscalculia and other D’s’ and one of my workshops was with Beccie Hawes from Rushall Inclusion Advisory Team. The message?
  •  It’s important to recognise that for some children and families, High School is a welcome change, a fresh start and negative experiences can be left behind.
  • It’s essential though that these children arrive at High School with basic skills in literacy and maths, more importantly the FLUENCY so that they can keep up.
  • Apart from this, what else can be done to ensure the best possible start?

The following might make it difficult for  students with SpLD and each profile will be unique but with difficulties in:

  • Tme: managing time, sequencing, organisation,
  • Basic skills: impacted by memory, processing speed, self-regulation, attention, fatigue.
  • Spatial Awareness (simply getting around school).
  • Sensory needs (which impact on attention, therefore memory and basic skills). Sensory needs also come into play at play and lunch time, is the child sensitive to noise, doesn’t like crowds?

Relationships are key to a smooth transition and the ideal situation is where the pupil, parent/carer, original school and receiving school are all working together to support the child.

A detailed One Page Profile ensures that everyone knows key information about the child, provides a positive framework, focuses on moving forward and puts the child at the centre, drawing upon the experise of the young person and their family.

It may help the child to have additional vists with the school, meeting staff and other children who are attending, Hawes even suggests  arranging pen pals with other dyslexic children which I think is a nice idea.

Beccie Hawes suggests a ‘buffet’ approach rather than ‘set menu’. The child is changing, the environment is new – emphasis is on flexibilty. Things that worked for the child before may not now. Review and amend provision constantly.

Secondary School and FE – what works?

BDA Tips Secondary


To my teachers: from an adult dyslexic




Here are some thoughts from @creativeartJan on helping her school age self:

  1. Give me the information/learning in advance, so I can plan ahead and be prepared.
  2. Provide a list of key vocabulary.
  3. Give worksheets and books with clear, large font.
  4. Give examples where support for homework can be found and include alternatives to books e.g. youtube.
  5. Give me models, charts and diagrams e.g. historical figures on a timeline.
  6. Give me opportunities to touch and do, not just to read.
  7. Give me opportunities to type instead of write.
  8. 3D models in Physics and Chemistry help, not just lists of letters and numbers.
  9. Be alert to my other difficulties: catching a ball, doing sport, and how they impact.
  10. Look out for me, are other students being kind, tell them what dyslexia is and that it does not mean you are stupid.


Janet’s suggestions

Useful Youtube links:

The writing experience for a dyslexic

Dyslexic experiences in the Scottish education system

Book recommendation:

Carol Vorderman Study Skills

Article on metacognition:


Advert for mindmapping, piece on visual thinking.

Visual thinking


If you are dyskexic and want to help teachers to help their dyslexic learners, please add to these suggestions, either leave a comment or get in touch!



Play, move, learn



Back in March I attended the #playmovelearn conference organised by @GMUnder5s @GreaterSport and @Quality4EY. I was working with Reception children at the time and have always been interested in Early Years’ experiences and how they impact on a child’s journey through school. It’s only by understanding child development that we can help children who are far behind to catch up.

I was especially interested in the idea of moving to learn because this is something I am very aware of with the children I support, regardless of age. They generally need to move to attend and to learn; if the movement is connected to learning e.g. walking around a letter ‘b’, then it’s even better!

Dr Lala Manners

In her key note, Dr Manners had us all up and moving! She then spoke eloquently about the worrying issue of childhood obesity and questioned the current framework for EYFS, including the definitions of ‘exceeding’.

‘we know DfE have recently asked for a thorough review – at least let us give teachers/practitioners criteria that are purposeful and relevant – that support the physical skills linked to ‘school-readiness’ – balance, strength, co ordination, agility – that properly informs children’s overall health and wellbeing and that gives professionals some incentive to engage more proactively with this ‘prime area.’

Physical Prowess is exceedingly important to children:

‘If you really want to know what physical skills mean to young children ask them the following three questions – what are you good at – what are your friends good at – what are you not so good at? (Running/jumping/hiding – sitting still/concentrating/doing my work/tidying up).’

You don’t have to be a wood school, beach school or have the best environment – make the most of what you have and observe your children closely:

‘Spend as much time as possible observing them as they move around your setting – inside and outside. Where do they gravitate to – and why? Who do they choose to be with – and why? What materials do they like to play with – and why? How much adult engagement do they like or allow?’

She closed in talking about how schools might harness both performance and inclusivity; at present, the two seem to be in conflict. She suggested that this be achieved through:

 ‘a leadership team committed to a shared vision of inclusion to which they get staff, parents and pupils to buy in.’

Furhermore, a committment to mixed-ability groupings and extra planning time for teachers, access to performance data and research to inform decisions are all essential in providing an inclusive setting with achievement for all. Inclusion and achievement are both possible, not one at the expense of the other.

Trish Maude

Trish Maude spoke at the event to raise the profile of the IPLS:

The International Physical Literacy Association (IPLA) is constituted as a registered charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) with the Charity Commission UK that aims to promote the profile, and preserve the integrity of physical literacy, engaging with and sharing research worldwide.

The current definition is as follows:

“Physical literacy can be described as the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life,”

It is imperative that we acknowledge the importance of physical wellbeing and links to mental health and learning. Children typically experience the world through their bodies/senses and not their minds. How do we integrate the two?




Dr Lala Manners – Bag of ideas.

This workshop centred around a paper bag and its multitude of uses! The bag was he kind you might find in a sweetshop. We did so many activities that I can’t remember them all.

  • I know there was interaction – we worked as groups to organise the bags.
  • There was movement – we moved around the room sliding the bag away with one foot.
  • There was maths – we had to make a circle out of the bag!
  • There was much more – how many things can you think of??

The workshop showed that you don’t have to be limited by resources, only your imagination. The more open-ended a resource, the more uses it can have!


Sheron Kantor – Journey to Mark Making.

Sheron talked about the vestibular (balance) and proproceptive senses (where the body is in space), both so important in the classroom – especially for handwriting. What I was particularly excited about, was the idea of active phonics, as I’ve so often seen children sitting passively on the carpet whilst phonics is being delivered.

  • We were split into 2 teams and given the task of representing a /b/ ‘b’ shape through the use of different props. How could you do this?


Sheron’s impressions of the day


Motor Pathway (Tameside Children’s Centre)

The focus was a move and play project which is delivered to four areas in Tameside in a bid to improve fine and gross motor skills in pre-school children. I did not attend this session but was very interested in it as I believe earlt intervention and support leads to the most positive outcomes!

Why did the project come about?

  • The delivery model was piloted in Ridge Hill and Hattersley in 2014/15
  • An evaluation was completed after 2 years.
  • The findings highlighted that across the pilot areas Fine and Gross Motor skills ASQ results were very low.
  • This was then looked at in other areas within Tameside the same results were found.

Who is chosen?

  • Health teams complete development checks at 2 months, 9 months and 24 months with an age appropriate ASQ
  • If it is highlighted there is a need, they will make a referral into the children’s centre for Move and Play
  • Children’s centre staff send relative information to Parents and carers about the upcoming sessions.


Elaine Wyllie – Daily Mile.

I loved the way the “Daily Mile’ began: by looking at the issue – lack of fitness and using the resources the school had – a field. This echoed Dr Lala Manners’ earlier message, that schools should be looking to the environments they have and utlising them.

As a family, we started a weekly run a few months ago. I have one very active child and a sleepy one! The active child has learnt how to better pace himself, the younger one has learnt to be resilient, not to focus on the discomfort and not to give up. He has noticed his improvements as the weeks have passed.

The Daily Mile is fully inclusive, children all across school access it and do so at their own pace and level. It has led to improvements in health, well being and behaviour. Research on the benefits is due out soon, watch this space!



Stacy Copeland

Stacy Copeland raised awareness around gender equality duing her talk, which began by referencing Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run in a marathon (illegally).

What overt and implicit messages do we give boys and girls about what is possible and how might we limit their horizons? An inspiring and moving talk about gender, ambition and achieving your goals.

What an amazing end to the day!







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