How many ways can you scramble egs? eegs? eggs? When I looked at one catering student's work, this basic word had been spelled three different ways in one short piece of writing. The trouble was, the student was copying from a textbook and, in transferring between the printed page and his worksheet, the letters just got jumbled up.
I'd been called in to support three catering students who had been diagnosed with dyslexia, but their needs were all different. They had difficulties with organising their ideas, putting answers into words, short-term memory, handwriting and spelling. I was fascinated by their problems but, with such a range of difficulty, how could I help?
When I attended a new course last term, I found some answers. "Supporting dyslexic learners in different contexts" is commissioned by the Skills for Life strategy unit. It appealed to me because it was written for adult learners (many of the university courses are to do with children). It was focused on practical strategies, it could be done in my own time - and it was free!
More than 1,700 people have taken the course, although some are still completing assignments. My course started with a training day at a local university with delegates from colleges throughout the region, offender services, adult community learning and workplace settings. Two presenters gave us some of the background knowledge about what dyslexia is and how it affects adults, especially in language, literacy and numeracy. We looked at the Framework for understanding dyslexia (free from the Department for Education and Skills), which fills in a lot of the theoretical and research background and various remedial approaches.
The training day was that rare thing - it practised what it preached about multi-sensory approaches, using lecturing, videos, discussion, written responses - even a big floor jigsaw which we had to put together as a team.
This depicted learning difficulty as a diamond with many different facets.
Initial training was followed up by distance learning, with students working their way through a CD which was a model of interactive learning.
Students had to choose eight modules covering language, literacy, numeracy and computers within settings such as the workplace, offender institutions, FE and adult and community learning, so they could tailor it to their own teaching. Each unit explores typical difficulties and possible strategies.
We were expected to complete approximately one unit a week, but it didn't take too long to work through them. While each one involved talking to dyslexic learners or analysing their work, there were no long essays to write.
The organisers reckon the distance learning should take up to 20 hours. My tutor, Angela Boast, a dyslexia specialist at Tamworth and Lichfield college, said: "There is so much on this CD, so many resources you can access, things I hadn't come across before. I have spent a lot of time going through it and still have areas to explore."
Sheila Brawn, head of the school of essential skills at the college, was keen to give Angela the time to run the course and, for two of the lecturers to take part as delegates.
"It will enable staff to learn strategies to support dyslexic students across college but it could benefit all students in the class," she said.
But how many more lecturers will get this opportunity, now that the DfES is handing over its training responsibilities to the Quality Improvement Agency?
It is hoped that the course will fit into the QIA's professional development portfolio, but the new agency will need to agree to fund further courses, and this is still in the balance. With such a lot of work having gone into developing the materials, it would be a great loss if the course did not continue. There is certainly a great need for it.
Gill Moore is a basic skills lecturer. Information about the courses can be found on www.cfbt.comwhatwedoskillsforlifesdl_summary.html