Leaves, libraries and liberty




Galileo on why we read:

“What sublimity of mind was his who dreamed of finding means to communicate his deepest thoughts to any other person, though distant by mighty intervals of place and time!”

Books seem precious, precious because of the information, stories and lives held within but perhaps also because of their form: made from trees, with which we have such an important relationship.

The etymology of the word ‘book’ is full of references to wood and trees: German, buch (beech), French ‘livre’, meaning inner bark of trees, in Sanskrit and Latin, words for writing are based on Ash and Birch respectively. A page is known as a ‘leaf.’

Books are not wasteful. One tree can make 2000 or more books.

Most pulp used to make paper is created from wood that would otherwise go to waste, and even the trees that are cut down specifically for the purpose of making paper are in most cases from renewable forests, using fast-growing trees.

No need, therefore, to feel guilty but every reason to enjoy the relationship with a book: its smell, the feel of the pages, the ability to move backwards and forwards through the story. To estimate how far you’ve travelled through it. To re-read the same line or paragraph, let the words sink in, feel the book change shape with love and use.

I don’t remember learning to read but can remember the excitement and smell of a new school ‘Janet and John’. I remember at one point, I had to have my eyes tested (resulting in pink National Health glasses) and I had to use a piece of card to track the words.

One Christmas, my mum’s Aunt bought me a copy of ‘Chimney Corner Stories’,  Enid Blyton. I read this over and over and over. When I was old enough to go to the library, I took myself there. No real surprise that I ended up studying ‘Library and Information Studies’ as a degree.

It was never my intention to go into further education but there were few jobs in the 80s and the interviews I had had were a disaster.

‘You love reading, why don’t you study librarianship?’… mum’s idea.

Britain’s first public library opened in 1850 in Manchester. Many people were in favour of public libraries, on the grounds that:

  • Public libraries would provide facilities for self-improvement through books and reading for all classes, not just those who were wealthy enough to afford their own private libraries and collections.
  • The greater levels of education attained by providing public libraries would result in lower crime rates.

Bill Moyers wrote: “When a library is open, no matter its size or shape,”  “democracy is open, too.”

Neil Gaiman recounts the role of the library in his life:

‘I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had…the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s library I began on the adult books.’

The true delight as a child might be in the sense of discovery and yes, the freedom to choose, the freedom to read with abandon, to go places and meet people in the imagination, to expand a world.

Gaiman again:

They were good librarians. They treated me as another reader — nothing less, nothing more — which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.’

Finally, Ursula Le Guin:

‘Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom‘.

Stop closing libraries, consider instead: How do we get children and young people into them – perhaps the last place where democracy truly exists?

Handwriting: ‘we write not with the fingers but with the whole person’.



What does the title quote tell us about handwriting and the act of writing?

The quote, from Orlando (Virginia Woolf), goes on:

‘The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver’.

The act of writing is both emotional and physical and is THE most complex skill of coordination we will learn. If children are to feel comfortable writing about their emotions, they have to feel physically comfortable writing. If not, the physical act of writing is itself a barrier.

What to do:

  • Work on pencil grip and fine motor control with programmes such as Teodorescu (Write from the Start) and simple stencilling activities (be aware that handwriting also requires core strength).
  • Reinforce and model the correct pencil grip from the start. Use pencil grips or this DIY version:


  • Work on the pincer grip and finger strength with Duplo, Lego, pipettes and tweezers, or homemade salt dough.
  • Ensure that children have automatic letter formation before you ask them to write words and sentences. Otherwise, you are simply reinforcing the wrong motor pattern which will be hard to correct later and impede fluency, sometimes causing discomfort.
  • NB Some children will take longer before letter shape becomes automatic and may need to write letters BIG, using gross motor muscles because they are not getting enough sensory feedback from writing them small. If letter shape is not automatic, working memory is overburdened.


NB From Day-to-Day Dyslexia in the Classroom, Rody Politt, Joy Pollack, Elisabeth Waller (can also be done on a piece of paper in front of the child on the desk.)

see tutorial here

  • Teach letter formation WITH an entry stroke: this leads readily to cursive writing and means that letter reversals are less common.

*cursive is from courir – to run – letters and words should literally ‘run’ across the page in a fluent fashion.

  • Keep children that need it on wider lines until they are ready.
  • There are a limited number of strokes required to form letters – work on these – e.g. perfecting ‘c’.
  • Diagonal strokes can be very challenging for some children, try using a traditional, cursive form eg a looped k.
  • Praise the small detail and ensure you praise boys. All too often, girls are praised for neat and well-presented handwriting, boys develop low self-esteem. This is self-perpetuating. It is particularly difficult for ‘unconventional’ girls who struggle to develop neat handwriting too.

*I’ve heard many children say they ‘hate’ their handwriting.

  • Take time during the school day to practice handwriting, put on relaxing music and enjoy the artistry – letters are pictures of sounds!
  • Use highlighters as a guide: for consistency in letter size, for ascenders and descenders.


This post from @RobertsNiomi caused a huge response:

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 08.43.04

  • Try apps such as Hairy Letters (Nessy) and programmes such as Letter Join.
  • Use salt trays, write on backs and hands, in the air, with a magic wand, trace sandpaper letters with the finger;
  • chalkboards create a great kinaesthetic drag!
  • Use handwriting to teach spelling and vice versa; interleaving.
  • Handwriting is a motor skills activity and one of the earliest studies into interleaving was done in 1986, involving teaching 3 badminton serves.

Pinterest link Link to my letter shape resource.

Interleaving and motor skills: sports

My piece on Handwriting on Teachwire

Read Caroline Ash’s fab post about boys’ writing here





Ten things to improve your communication.

nvc cheat sheet

I believe that good communication is one of the key components of a happy and successful school.

Nonviolent communication is based on a natural state of compassion – when there is no violence present in the heart.

“All that has been integrated into NVC has been known for centuries about consciousness, language, communication skills, and use of power that enable us to maintain a perspective of empathy for ourselves and others, even under trying conditions.”
— Marshall B. Rosenberg, Phd

I was intrigued by Nonviolent Communication, a method used at the Wood School my son attended and to find out more, went on a weekend course around 5 years ago. The weekend was hosted by Penny Vine who has worked extensively in schools around the country, promoting this method.

The essence of NVC is that most communication is born out of a need, particularly at times of conflict. When our needs are not met, we often become angry, sad or frustrated. The key is to honestly identify your need and make a request for it to be met. Then, try to listen with empathy to the other person’s needs and requests. It sounds simple but I quickly realised that most people find it very hard to do! Including me.

Passive –aggressive types tend to suppress their own needs, leading to anger and resentment (yep, that’s me). Whereas dominant, alpha-type personalities simply over-ride the needs of others and don’t really consider them. Neither style is healthy or effective when working as a team.

After the course, I used NVC every day in the classroom and on duty in the playground. I encouraged the children to find their own solutions to conflict, as these are more readily accepted. The source of conflict is often something seemingly trivial but one has to remember that children feel things very intensely and have a strong sense of injustice. I encouraged children to empathise with each other, to acknowledge each other’s needs and offer a solution that can be agreed on.

Usually, they suggest with a piece of equipment that it be given a time limit and then passed on. Sometimes they play together with it and a new friendship is born.

The story that most seems to encapsulate this approach to communication was told by Penny Vine on the training weekend: 2 nursery-age children wanted to wear the same fireman outfit, there was only one. Both desperately wanted it and felt they equally deserved to wear it.

The question was posed, what is fair, what shall we do?? In the end, the children decided to wear one half of the outfit each and played in this way, joined together, all day.

If we can teach children to communicate effectively, this will lead to better mental health later on.

Can teachers also benefit?

From the Centre for NVC website:

link to source


Ten things you can do:

(1) Spend some time each day quietly reflecting on how we would like to relate to ourselves and others.

(2) Remember that all human beings have the same needs.

(3) Check our intention to see if we are as interested in others getting their needs met as our own.

(4) When asking someone to do something, check first to see if we are making a request or a demand.

(5) Instead of saying what we DON’T want someone to do, say what we DO want the person to do.

(6) Instead of saying what we want someone to BE, say what action we’d like the person to take that we hope will help the person be that way.

(7) Before agreeing or disagreeing with anyone’s opinions, try to tune in to what the person is feeling and needing.

(8) Instead of saying “No,” say what need of ours prevents us from saying “Yes.”

(9) If we are feeling upset, think about what need of ours is not being met, and what we could do to meet it, instead of thinking about what’s wrong with others or ourselves.

(10) Instead of praising someone who did something we like, express our gratitude by telling the person what need of ours that action met.

I am, of course, still practising!

Why yoga for children?

yoga marbles

The word yoga means ‘to unite’, what are we aiming to ‘unite’?

The practice of yoga unites the mind with the body through the breath. After yoga practice, one is typically left feeling calm and balanced in mind and body.

Attention to the breath is everything.

I have practised yoga for nearly 20 years and whilst I have always appreciated the mental and physical benefits it brings, in the last few years, I have become more interested in an interior life and the philosophy of yoga. A natural part of ageing I think!

The Ahimsa code of conduct – to not wish anyone harm in thought or deed, that extends to all living things…including oneself, is paramount.

If we can be kind to ourselves, we can then extend kindness to others. 

I love working with children, love their imaginations and outside the box thinking. In classrooms today, though, there isn’t much time to explore, be silly or deviate from the curriculum but it’s okay in yoga!

It made sense to me to unite my two passions and bring yoga to children in school. Through yoga, I hope to give children some tools which will help them in their daily lives. Children can learn to manage and regulate their emotions through breath awareness and taking quiet time to get in touch with their feelings.

Learning and acknowledging the limitations and abilities of your body is very empowering in yoga, referred to as ‘the edge’. Children hold a lot of emotional tension in their bodies – stiff shoulders and bunched fists. Practising yoga can really help with the release of tension and emotion. The relaxation that comes after yoga practice is the final stage in letting go of any negative thoughts and indeed thought patterns, leaving you feeling refreshed. A healthy, balanced body leads to a healthy, balanced mind.

As well as stress, the other area of concern for me is the high number of children with processing issues in schools – dyspraxia, dyslexia, Sensory Processing (SPD) and ADHD. Sometimes, all of these combined! Schools are finding that more and more children are arriving at school with co-ordination and processing issues.

I am passionate about helping such children through yoga, as I know what a painful and exhausting experience school is for them. Yoga can help with their co-ordination by helping them to practise crossing the midline, it can also help with proprioception i.e. knowing where their body is in space. By pushing against their body in postures, it will give them the input they need to calm their senses and especially for the hyper-mobile (over-flexible joints), help them to find their ‘edge’/outer limits of a pose. Such children can be highly sensitive and very anxious. Yoga offers lots of calming techniques. It can also be very creative and visual; such children often enjoy visualisation and look for outlets for their amazing imaginations and wells of creativity.

 To be creative is the purest form of communication, it comes from the subconscious but we have to be relaxed for it to happen.

Yoga can give children the opportunity to relax which will enhance their creativity, encourage expression and make them comfortable with their bodies. Through exploring our ‘edge’ in yoga – how far we can go in a posture – we seek to push ourselves a little more every time. It can feel frightening to do this, to try something new, to extend oneself. However, I think the ability to do this really helps with fostering independent learning in children and it can help them understand what a positive learning style should look like.

Namely, one in which one is only concerned with one’s own progress and endeavour and not distracted by another.

Stress is an issue for very academic children too. These children can lack resilience, they are used to being the ‘bright’ ones and when they don’t get a concept or struggle with something, they can crumble because they don’t have the tools to recover. Yoga can help with providing those tools and all children, once taught them, will have them for life.

Try some yoga with your children today!!

Some yoga games:

Use a hula hoop, hold hands in a circle, everyone has to get through the hoop without breaking the circle!

marbles: put marbles inside a hoop on the floor (to contain them). Children pick them up with their toes.

Humming Bee: one child leaves the room, another hides a bee toy, when the child comes back in, everyone hums/buzzes to indicate when the child is getting close!


Books to use in yoga:

Beautiful OOps, Barney Saltzberg: resilience and positive outcomes from mistakes.

I Want my Hat Back, Jon Klassen: Funny with links to some good animal postures.

Listening Walk, Paul Showers: for listening to sounds ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ – good for sound awareness and phonics.

Harold and the purple crayon, Crockett Johnson: good for gross motor control.

Shh We have a plan, Chris Haughton: /sh/ digraph and yoga for literacy!


Books about yoga/mindfulness:

Yoga Education For Children, Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Teaching Meditation to Children, David Fontana & Ingrid Slack

Once Upon a Pose, Donna Freeman

Contact me if you are interested in yoga for your school.

Lesson plan here:

Harold yoga


Jump for joy


Movement is so important for health and well being.

Skipping might just be the most powerful mood enhancer there is – have you tried it lately?

In pressured, time-poor classrooms, where children are required to sit (nicely) and write endlessly, what impact is this having on their health and well being?

Perhaps better results would come from the occasional movement break and opportunity to talk through ideas with a peer?

Brain Gym seems, like ‘learning styles’, to be not only out of fashion but demonised; let’s not throw baby out with the bath water!

(Students may be either hyperactive – over active or hypoactive – sleepy and droopy. The good news is that the right kind of movement can help the student to maintain focus and concentration for the duration of the lesson)

In denying the importance of movement to aid arousal (arousal is linked to attention and concentration); integral to the experience of learning, what do we loose?

Ask yourself this the next time you are looking out at a sea of blank, sleepy faces or working 1 to 1 with a student who’s lying across the desk!

Simple ideas:

*pair and share to walk around the room and share/discuss ideas. (Timed is best, so that equal turns are given see @KaganOnline)

*chair push ups/proprioception (Chdn push down through straight arms to lift bottom out of chair).

*pacing (good for times tables, this is an organising activity)

*hugging self

*giving each other back rubs (ask permission first!) Good for slouchy children.

*bunny hop to pencil sharpener

*round of applause

NB children with poor proprioception sense ie knowing where their body is in space – may slouch  over the desk and sit on their feet.

Children with a poor vestibular sense (balance) may benefit from pacing and other kinds of movement.

In giving options, children can learn to self-regulate.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, stamp your feet…do a jumping jack!

I guarantee you’ll feel better too.

To IEP or not to IEP. Why is that in question?


IEP stands for Individualised Education Plan.

  • Does your school use IEP’s? Is there a whole school understanding of their purpose and a rigour around setting and achieving targets?
  • How do teachers feel/think about them? That they are a paperwork exercise and take up too much time?
  • Can IEP’s be used as an effective tool in ensuring progress, particularly around dyslexia – a specific difficulty?
  • IEP’s can be very useful tools when tied into interventions, with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Realistic, Time-limit (Reid, 2005) targets set.

Gavin Reid (2016) is clear on the importance of IEP’s, based on a report, ‘Education for learners with Dyslexia’, (HMIE, 2008), published in Scotland:

‘pupils do best when parents and child are involved in setting and reviewing IEP targets in a collaborative process. There should be high expectations around student achievement’.

The review of literacy and What Works by Greg Brooks also states the importance of high expectations:

  • Good impact – sufficient to at least double the standard rate of progress – can be achieved, and it is reasonable to expect it.
  • Implication: If the scheme matches the child’s needs, teachers and children should expect to achieve rapid improvement. High expectations are realistic expectations in most cases.

Download the latest version here

Pavey (2007), suggests that IEP’s could be used in an innovative way e.g. within a 12-week term; there is room for three sets of four-week strategies. She states that targets and methods should be clear; so that children make recognisable progress.

IEPs can be linked to an intervention and can help to integrate specific targets with class work, ensuring that skills and strategies become embedded across the curriculum. Pavey (2007) Tod and Fairman (2001) claim that IEPs promote:

  • The need for formative reflection and analysis rather than merely summative reporting;
  • The provision for diverse needs embedded in a whole school practice;
  • Student and parent involvement;
  • The use of a variety of instructions;
  • Rigorous evaluation of the effectiveness of additional or otherwise extra support;
  • The sharing of responsibility for SEN support with other adults;
  • Peer involvement;
  • Collaborative multi-agency planning.

Any intervention needs to be applied and embedded across classroom practice to ensure that the above factors are involved in the process. IEPs can also facilitate:

  • A development of pupil voice around dyslexia and what works for the individual; both as part of the IEP process and within class: leading to ‘metacognition’ (the student’s learning about learning).

The SEND Code of Conduct (2014) calls for pupils to be actively engaged in targets and for pupil voice. However, Lundy (2007) identified that teachers were sceptical about children’s ability to participate in the decision-making process. Creative methodologies have proven successful (wherein pupils draw pictures) and this is especially useful for children with speech and language barriers (Leitch, 2008).

The pupils I work with are often disenfranchised and lacking in self- esteem, for some of them, their unmet learning need becomes a PSHE issue, rather than a learning one and perhaps this is easier for schools to manage. However, I strongly feel that a dyslexic’s social and emotional needs are affected by learning experiences in class and it is in class where their needs should be met.

Tomlinson (1997) defines inclusion as matching resources to learning styles and educational needs of students. Reid (2016) suggests that dyslexic students would benefit from the following:

  • Opportunities to work in groups;
  • That the group dynamics are positive for students with dyslexia (eg mixed ability);
  • The tasks are appropriately differentiated (scaffolded);
  • The presentation of materials is varied and includes the visual and kinaesthetic;
  • Learning outcomes are achievable;
  • There is acknowledgement of the social and emotional needs of the child;
  • Parent’s views are considered and they are kept informed of progress;
  • Students are given responsibility for their own learning as much as possible.

Importantly, without specific intervention and support, children with dyslexia will not catch up, despite Quality First Teaching (See Greg Brooks, What Works, March 2016)

  • Ordinary teaching (‘no treatment’) does not enable children with literacy difficulties to catch up. For the evidence on this, see the third edition.


  • Implication: Although good classroom teaching is the bedrock of effective practice, most research suggests that children falling behind their peers need more help than the classroom normally provides. This help requires coordinated effort and training.


  • Differentiation (now scaffolding) within class; to ensure progress.

The act of embedding good practice and learning strategies from interventions naturally leads to differentiation within class and ways to harness a child’s individual strengths and learning preferences. This should be a natural organic process if there is cohesion across interventions and work within class. It calls for good communication between staff. Dyson (2002) argues that there needs to be a:

‘move away from the individualisation of current approaches towards the development of systematic interventions embedded in mainstream schools and classrooms’ (P.99)

To further support this process, staff would benefit from specific training in the nature of dyslexia, its causation and treatment. At least one staff member needs to be fully trained in this area; the knowledge can then be cascaded across the school.

This differentiation/scaffolding should be carried across into the setting and completion of homework.

Is it time to reconsider the role of IEPs in your school?

See here for a great alternative to an IEP, thanks to Sarah Gillie!

Alternative to IEP


HWTe (2008) Education for learners with dyslexia. Inspectorate Report. Scottish Executive, October 2008.

Leitch, R. (2008) Researching children’s narratives creatively through drawings, in P. Thomson (ed.) Doing Visual Research with Children and Young People, London: Routledge, pp.37-59.

Lundy, L. (2007) ‘Voice is not enough: Conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6): 927-42.

Pavey, B (2007) The Dyslexia-Friendly Primary School: A Practical Guide for Teachers, London: Sage.

Reid, G. (2005) Dyslexia, London: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Tod, J. and Fairman, A. (2001) Individualised learning in a group setting. In: L. Peer and G. Reids (eds), Dyslexia: Successful Inclusion in the Secondary School. London: David Fulton.

Tomlinson, J. (1997) Inclusive Learning: The report of the committee of inquiry into the post-school education of those with learning difficulties and disabilities in England, 1996. European Journal of Special Need Education (pp, 145-59) Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.




Fantastic Contractions and how to find them!

Arrrrrrgh what’s a contraction???????

  • Question: how can I give a concrete meaning to this abstract word? Is there a real life application?

Kinaesthetic/experiential (aka primary information): ask students to hold up their arm – when outstretched, the muscle is longer (antonym: expansion).

Tense the fist and bend the arm, feel the muscle; it is a ‘contraction’, it is smaller.



  • Depending on your assessment of class needs and arousal levels, other kinaesthetic options:

Walk around the room, on the command ‘expansion’, stretch up tall, on ‘contraction’, get down and scrunch up into a ball.

  • Question: Can I provide some semantic information about the word ‘contraction’?

From Latin contrahere: join together.

What physically happens in a contraction in grammar?

(Antonym: expansion) In the expanded phrase e.g. have not – the jaw creates two syllables (yes, test this! place hand under chin: ‘have’, ‘not’ – two movements of the jaw – agreed? good).

If you have mirrors for maths USE THEM, let students see how the jaw moves.

Fact: A syllable is created by a vowel, we have to open our mouth to let a vowel sound escape!

open mouth vowel

In speech, we are lazy and shorten phrases by clipping out a vowel and SOMETIMES a consonant too.

  • ‘Con’ ‘son’ ‘ant’ (meaning: ‘with sound’), consonants are said using the teeth, lips, tongue, throat.

Hence: have not, becomes havent, the missing vowel is replaced by an apostrophe – havent.

Say it now and look in the mirror, hand under jaw – we have lost a syllable – the phrase is shorter.

Fact: apostrophes were invented by printers to show where letters were missing in text (in case someone thought they couldn’t spell!).

And another thing: whilst it’s thought that no two people with dyslexia are the same, I find there are lots of common misconceptions.

One is, the comma vs apostrophe confusion. Why? BECAUSE THEY LOOK THE SAME!! Argh!

The difficulty is with perception and orientation: one goes on the ground, one goes in the air! They have different jobs too, OBVIOUSLY.

Try saying to your class: the word apostrophe has ‘trophy’ in it, reach up for the trophy in apostrophe!

  • Comma means ‘to cut into’, commas are used within sentences to cut the words into chunks and change the meaning. Commas go on the line.

Reinforcement activity: write a list of items, and ask children to cut with scissors where comma should go, (scaffold according to age, stage).

We can see that memory is not the issue but how information is processed is. If the information is abstract, can I give it other meaning?:

  • Kinaesthetic (using primary information – the senses); muscle for contraction, feeling the jaw for syllable
  • Semantic memory: some history, narrative or additional meaning.
  • Can I make it funny??
  • Can I help to differentiate between commonly confused items. WHY are they causing confusion? e.g. apostrophe and comma.

If these confusions aren’t addressed, they will persist into High School. It doesn’t mean a student CAN’T learn them, they haven’t been taught in the right way…until now!


How to fold away a vowel




Dyslexia; mental health matters!


Dyslexia impacts on the mental health of a child and its carers. The wellbeing of the dyslexic and their family is in the hands of the school, other educational setting, or work. Wield your power mindfully and with compassion.

I returned to education a couple of years ago. Whilst being a slow processor, with some learning challenges: memory, written expression, organisation, I’ve always loved school and learning. I loved my journey through education and have always held my teachers in high esteem.

In the course of my MA studies: a practical session, I was sitting next to a ‘fast’ processor. We were sharing the activity and it was something she was familiar with. She confidently dominated, taking charge and my brain went into shut down. As an adult learner, I was able to make a joke of it and ask her to slow down. I had to look through the work at my own pace, so that I could confidently process it.

What stayed with me was the sense of panic and also a feeling, only just suppressed, of inadequacy creeping in. As a confident adult, I had the inner voice to quash this negative voice, but many children aren’t robust enough, and have not learnt to develop a positive inner voice, they come to believe they are stupid, as implied and, that learning is not for them; they disengage.

The experience was in sharp contrast to some Kagan training I attended a year or two previously. Here, we were put into groups according to experience (i.e. mixed ‘ability’), this is how the Kagan structures are played out. I felt vulnerable as a learner when a page of maths (not my strong point) was given out without instruction. I sought the eyes of my friend in the room, we giggled at each other, felt reassured. What I really enjoyed was working with the person next to me who showed me what to do. The Kagan structures are just that – structures devoid of content which hinge around mixed ability groupings. The goal? Attainment for all. This kind of cooperative approach requires committment and skill. Then, it works.

Incidentally, this was some of the most enjoyable and influential training I have had.

Most schools now have ‘ability’ settings and dyslexic children are usually to be found on the lowest table.

Why is that?

They are often bright, articulate and love to learn. They do notice the ‘ability’ settings and these now start as early as Reception. Incidentally, I think these are as unhelpful for the ‘highers’, who start to feel entitled and lack resilience, as they are for the ‘lowers’, who often stop trying and are made to feel a failure.

How are the needs of this invisible disability being met? How is that impacting on the self-esteem of the individual: their behaviour, anxiety levels? How are they treated by other children in the class and what small slights must they suffer daily?

Self-esteem can be thought of as the gap between where an individual would like to be and where they are. Consider this: a reasonably bright, interested individual (sometimes VERY bright), who is struggling every day to do the simple things (reading and writing) that peers seem able to do without much effort i.e. automatically. Effort is key here.

In maths, dyslexics might struggle to remember symbols and language, plot layout, learn to tell the time and times tables.

Ask them to do something quickly and they may not be able to do it at all.

Given the fact that children naturally compare themselves and that this is being implicitly reinforced through ‘ability’ groups, it surely has to take its toll?

In a school or setting where dyslexia is not recognised, dyslexics are undermined: every day, every minute, every second.

The difficulties may not end with academia. In sport, where several instructions are given at once, involving an ability to orientate oneself, dyslexics may also struggle. In performances, they may find it almost impossible to remember lines or lyrics and will struggle to sit through hours of rehearsals.

Personal organisation may be poor; the coat may be left outside, the PE kit on the floor, the glue stick all over the table. At lunchtime, they may forget the sequences around queuing up and getting served, exacerbated by a pressured and noisy environment.

Please be patient.

Please don’t suggest your dyslexic learners need to ‘learn resilience’, ‘work harder’, develop a ‘growth mindset’, these are skills a dyslexic person generally has in abundance.

Bullying of dyslexic learners by peers may be subtle and ‘below the radar’; be aware and work to stamp out attempts to undermine these children, often amongst the most vulnerable in the classroom.

Talk with your class about dyslexia and what it means for the individual, give your dyslexic children a voice and help others to understand and not to judge.

If you want to improve understanding about dyslexia in your school, read here:

Start a conversation

Dyslexia: start a discussion


Dyslexic strengths

The first academic paper on dyslexia was published in 1896 in the British Medical Journal by William Pringle Morgan. Dyslexia was ‘discovered’ by psychologists, who, when presented with children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, found that despite average or above IQ’s, they had an inability to read and write. These children had shared characteristics.

Read about dyslexia indicators here: BDA indicators

Read about the history of dyslexia here: Dyslexia Archive

Astoundingly, the existence of dyslexia is still debated and unlike other abstract social constructs, there seems to be a great resistance to even accepting its existence; let alone that there may be strengths attached to it. Why?

  • Is it because dyslexia is medical in origin but educational in treatment?
  • Is it because dyslexia is abstract and there is still no Universally accepted definition of it?
  • Perhaps it’s because dyslexia is so strongly associated with reading failure, yet dyslexics can be taught to read. (Yes, they can!)

Presentation of dyslexia is thought to be 50% down to genetics and 50% the result of the environment (see Morton and Frith Framework below, 1993).

Morton and Frith

Outside of school, dyslexics can be brilliant, bold, creative; when free of the expectations of reading and writing.

The modern concept of disability is that it is created by the environment. Early identification and support is key, if children ‘at risk’ are to succeed.

  • What is dyslexia anyway?

Like most abstract things, it’s only once you start to engage with dyslexia, and you have direct experience of it, that it becomes tangible and real.

When my son started to experience failure at school, I quickly engaged with dyslexia, with that came the realisation that in this current pressure-cooker education system of accelerated progress and ability groups, more children are failing and more children are displaying dyslexic-type difficulties.

I was, and still am, a slow processor. I couldn’t catch a ball, tie my laces, ride a bike. My mum re-taught me handwriting just before I started Secondary School, it was illegible before then.

This was the pre-curriculum days; all I remember doing in Primary school was writing poetry and reciting times tables. I have always been an avid reader and don’t remember being taught to read, only that I used to have a small card to move under the words as I read. Perhaps in the current system, I would be identified as being dyslexic?

Can you start to engage with dyslexia as a construct or concept?

  • Can you start to look at those children experiencing failure and appreciate that some of them may be dyslexic?

For signs of dyslexia in the classroom, read previous post: Dyslexia in class

‘All men, by nature, desire to know’, Aristotle.

In my experience, dyslexic children love to learn and to feel smart. Start to align yourself with their unique perspective and watch them shine with a megawatt intensity. Small adjustments: seating, pencil grip, use of a notebook, movement breaks; can have a huge impact.

Talk to the child, what works for them?

  • Simple activities such as the Alphabet Arc, can cement that illusive understanding that letters have names and sounds (the Alphabetic Principle).

see tips on the Alphabet Arc: Practical tips alphabet names.

  • Use those spelling strategies that help dyslexic learners to tap into the way they need to learn, leading to self awareness (metacognition). see here spelling and memory
  • Make learning as experiential as possible, let them talk, and when writing, give them the words to help them: less is more! (a few openers or conjunctions with a supporting visual, some tricky spellings with syllables written in different colours).
  • If reading is a difficulty, don’t crowd them but support reading instruction with paired and shared reading, as well as explicit instruction, to build engagement and enjoyment of reading.
  • Most importantly, give them a sense of ‘can do’, know that they will be more tired than their classmates and that they DO have to work harder to achieve less – how demoralising!

For more thoughts on reading, see previous post: reading and the PSC

It is likely that dyslexia will look different in every school; take the opportunity to have a discussion around this. What is the demographic of your community; jobs, beliefs, the nature of your relationship with them. What is the attitude of your Senior Leadership Team to dyslexia, your TA’s, Teachers,  Board of Governors, external professionals, any additional service providers, including sport and after school clubs?

Start to be aware of dyslexia and you won’t have to work to notice dyslexic strengths; they come naturally with an awareness of dyslexia.

Find Resources from the BDA here:

Dyslexia Awareness Week

Information from the BDA for educators here:

Practical Information

If you would like to have a discussion about dyslexia this year, here are some ideas:

Dyslexia discussion


a,b,c…easy as??



Michael Jackson sang that it was easy but for some of us, learning our ‘a,b,c’s’ feels impossible. Moreover, as everyone else is ‘getting it’; how does that feel for a young learner?

One of the key components of any SpLD intervention is the ‘alphabet arc’. Why?



Something that dyslexics typically do not grasp, without instruction, is that letters have a name and sound – of course they do!

In order to acquire this understanding, dyslexic children need to experience the alphabet, so that it becomes less abstract. This is essentially how dyslexics can thrive in all areas of learning. Their minds are apt to rotate abstract concepts, to take 360 views and see all possibilities. Simply saying this is ‘a’ because this is ‘a’ does not cut it!! They have to experience something; using their senses, which is where the multi-sensory learning comes in.

Cognitive Load Theory and Working Memory limitations are big topics in education. By taking in information via Primary biological information i.e. our senses; this decreases the load on Working Memory. It is more of an evolutionary approach to learning, information that just couldn’t be processed before, gets transferred to Long Term Memory!

Read more here: Evolutionary Upgrade of Cognitive Load Theory.

The alphabet arc is simply, as it says on the tin, alphabet letters arranged in order of the alphabet, in the shape of an arc.

So often, when I’m teaching the alphabet arc, students will say .

‘..but this looks like a…and if you do this, it becomes a…’

Encourage them to close that 3D, spatial thinking down – it is not going to help them in this task!

Look out for:

  • Children spelling by saying letter sounds, instead of using the letter names – well into KS2 and KS3 (because they don’t have automatic recall, or understand the difference).
  • Confusion between letter names and sounds. (see signs of dyslexia)
  • Confusion over orientation of letters, with many reversals.
  • Inability to sequence, or recite the alphabet.
  • Over reliance on phonics for spelling, producing some unusual attempts.
  • No knowledge of the 5 vowels.

Some insight.

A few months ago, my eight year old was sitting on the bed (between there and the bath we have our BEST chats).

He: ‘How do you spell ‘p’?’.

Me: ‘What do you mean?’, …unsure whether he needed the loo. (I always answer a question with a question, as it’s usually just ‘wondering out loud’ and he has the answer).

‘He: The letter: ‘p’, how do you spell it?’

Aaaaah, he didn’t understand the ‘Alphabetic Principle’, the fact that letters have names and sounds.

  • I told him that when you write ‘p’, it is a picture of the sound /p/!  OoooooH!

So, what is the Alphabet Arc anyway?

Using wooden, or plastic letters, the pupil is asked to arrange the alphabet in an arc on the desk or table in front of them, with ‘m,n’ in the middle.

There are many versions of letters available: magnetic, coloured, tactile, plain. It might be easier to start with coloured letters and progress to plain wood. With the plain ones, pupils find it harder to remember letter orientation, therefore there is greater challenge.

How can you help your students acquire this knowledge?

  • Get some solid alphabet letters.
  • Pupil to practice setting them out in an arc, with adult support, or with a classmate (who is very secure with the alphabet).
  • Start with markers: a, ‘m,n’ in the middle and z at the end, in an approximation of where the full arc will go. The idea is that the full alphabet will be within the student’s gaze.
  • Pupil to practice laying them out in sequence, first of all forwards and… when this is easily accomplished…backwards!
  • The children can make games up: close eyes and point to where a letter should be, mix sections up and re-arrange, close eyes and take one away… they will think of their own challenges!
  • The alphabet song is useful to help children remember.
  • Touch each letter and give its name and sound! This will take time and will not happen straight away as the brain is creating new pathways.


In this way, pupils are using their sense of touch, they are saying the names and sounds and hearing them. Have a mirror handy so that they can see the sounds being made from the lips and teeth and encourage them to feel them too: air, vibrations, movements of the tongue.

Things to look out for and address:

  • Confusion over letter names and sounds e.g. g/j, letter orientation e.g. backwards ‘j’, confusion over letter order.
  • The dreaded SCHWA dun, dun, duuuun. This is when students add vowel sounds onto the end e.g. puh, fuh, luh. Encourage ‘pure’ sounds, tell them to snip the additional sounds off the end! Get some imaginary scissors!! The schwa will affect their ability to blend sounds in decoding (reading) and to separate sounds in words when encoding (spelling).

Look here for my video for Nexus Education:

Alphabet Arc video

Look here for a lesson plan (whole class) on letter names : Whole class alphabet arc

Understanding the power of the dyslexic mind and the alphabet.

In a brilliant exhibition at the Smithsonian, dyslexic graphic designer, Madalyn Hymas, showed how 6 letters can make 48 words. You start to appreciate how confusing the alphabet is for a mind that sees endless possibilities!

Madalyn Hymas


*seek specialist advice where possible, however, this relatively simple ‘alphabet arc’ exercise can really help – DON’T DELAY!

  • Get in touch if you have any questions!

See also:

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