When I was younger I was not diagnosed with dyslexia. I went to a grammar school, my mum was a teacher and at every parents evening my teachers would tell my mum something that she had discovered many years before… her daughter was dyslexic. What was done? Not much at the time. It was way before all the interventions that were available or researched, and so little, that I recall, was different.
My mum gave me strategies to help me, but in the end that most likely hindered me in the short term, I was coping too well to need real interventions. I eventually had an educational psychologist appointment at around Year 9, but by now had too many strategies to pass the test with anything more than borderline diagnosis. I had made it to grammar on appeal, but was lost in the system somewhat.
At A Level I remember completing a project for Psychology and choosing to focus on dyslexia… a very humbling time to realise how much of an issue I had that I had skirted around. That’s the problem… dyslexics make changes that can hide the bigger issues and struggles they have.
So now, as a teacher, I try and make sure that I address at least some of the issues I faced. So these seem to work for myself as a sufferer and as a teacher trying to aid others.
Firstly, tell pupils! I think it’s very important to share this with suffering pupils to let them know it is not something that will define them. You can succeed in an academic subject (mine being a joint degree in Religious Studies and Psychology).
Secondly, it is not an excuse. It does not mean pupils cannot do certain tasks. It means that they need to find a way easier for them. Maybe they need sentence starters or visual cues. Maybe they need strategies to aid organisation. I think it is important to let them know things might be harder at times but this is ok. Life is hard for everyone at certain times. This can help them overcome and feel proud of themselves.
Thirdly, be understanding of the fear and conflict. It is likely a dyslexic learner has fear and conflict all the time when writing. Even now I have to re-write a Facebook status because I can’t spell a word and not even spell check can help me. Also, already in this article most times I have spelt dyslexic a red line has appeared underneath and writing is always double ‘t’ no matter how many times I come across it. It just doesn’t stick in my head. In the staffroom colleagues ask me a subject specific answer for crosswords and I am back in the GCSE classroom. My memory just can’t retain unless I have support (e.g. PPTs in lesson). Be caring, be understanding, encourage them to use extra time – they are unlikely to want it but will most likely need it.
Lastly, the fear of nothing is a big factor. For a dyslexic learner starting off is so hard. This is why sentence starters are really helpful. I was so scared of a blank page at school, but once I had the right idea life was much better. It was confidence that had been knocked and never recovered. If you are a brave teacher take away the paper altogether! I often write on the tables with my classes and also use picture work. It’s amazing how much taking away those lines for the “perfect” piece of written work can liberate someone with dyslexia.
The next step that we as teachers should be making is not just to stand up and make considerations for our pupils, but now standing up for ourselves. When going for an interview once I was asked by the head teacher if I was dyslexic, I said yes, but had not declared it on my form. When asked why (apparently, though very good, my covering letter was a clear giveaway) I said that I didn’t feel, having any formal diagnosis past being borderline in year 9, it was fair for me to put this down on an application. The head, who I am very grateful for (even though I did not get the job), reassured me how proud I should be for getting to this place in my life with being clearly dyslexic and I was fully in my right to point this out as a strength on my application.
But what about how we are judged beyond this one positive example? Do you ever remember an SLT member asking about your needs to aid you with workload or getting things done? Maybe? Perhaps you are lucky. I have, since stating my dyslexia on applications where I did get the job, had a job where very little was done to accommodate this. But surely the people who are officially judging us care! Surely school inspectors, who are so keen that we know our classes, want to know if schools can accommodate our needs in an interview? Sadly, not in my experience.
So what can we learn from this? Our learners need to get strategies in place to cope with their learning in the ‘real world’. Very little will be done to support them when they are there. Also, they need to be aware that this is not anything but a different way to view things. It will be harder at times. They will get annoyed and frustrated, but that is OK and they can get through it.
These are just a few things I do and an insight into the way I feel and deal with dyslexia. There are many more issues and problems. Each individual will have different issues and teaching the individual pupil, not the specific need, is most likely the best way forward.
Laura George @Mrs_Educate is a teacher of 7 years who has worked in both the state comprehensive and grammar school sector. Now working at an independent Prep. school she has seen many different AEN pupils come and go and feels for them… after all, she was AEN herself.