Remaining controversies

6th July 2001 at 01:00
DYSLEXIA IN PRACTICE: a Guide for Teachers. Edited by Janet Townend and Martin Turner. Kluwer Academic Publishers pound;20. TES Direct pound;19

DYSLEXIA - A PSYCHOSOCIAL PERSPECTIVE. Edited by Morag Hunter-Carsch. Whurr pound;19.50. TES Direct pound;19

Dyslexia in Practice: A Guide for Teachers, edited and largely written by members of The Dyslexia Institute, considers dyslexia as a difficulty in managing verbal codes in memory and there is good evidence to support this view. Children who have difficulties with literacy (and maths and music) can show poor performance on memory tasks.

However, it also raises some controversial issues, for example, that a student with dyslexia is someone who "fails to read and spell at the level of his intellectual and social group". The book's stance assumes the existence of an immutable inherent ability that can be measured by IQ tests. These issues are not fully addressed other than to say: "Dyslexia may still be considered controversial among educational psychologists, but that is not the same thing as to say that it is controversial."

As a guide for teachers, the chapters by Wendy Goldup are excellent. Teaching activities that develop writing and communication skills are well illustrated and clearly explained. Furthermore, she applies her knowledge to the child in the classroom. This counters the emphasis elsewhere in the book that implies the child will only learn in one-to-one or small group settings and with the "special education teacher". She demonstrates how good practice can benefit all learners.

Goldup (in a chapter with Christine Ostler) also addresses such important issues as the effective use of classroom support and helping the child at home.

The book includes lists of resources, among them the Units of Sound multimedia teaching programme on CD-Rom. It is worth noting that the text of this programme is dated and contains sexist and racist material.

(For example, The terms "East, Africa, South America" are associated with the phrase "masses of miserable half-starved people".) Overall, the book gives good examples of structured, multisensory teaching activities that take account of the learning styles of children and adults.

Dyslexia - A Psychosocial Perspective also contains chapters on ICT, multi-lingualism, mathematical development and adult learners, but it focuses on "thinking about practice", developing conceptual frameworks through which to consider influences on teaching and student learning.

Morag Hunter-Carsch writes thoughtfully about the affective aspects of this situation, for example, the ways in which cognitive and affective components influence motivation. Her framework includes teachers being aware of their own conceptual maps of the learning process, and learning styles, and how this affects their empathy with students in different curriculum areas. She tends to adopt an information-processing view of cognition and it would be interesting to read her views on a social constructivist model.

She counsels against making "assumed connections between biological bases, processing factors and observed literacy outcomes". She is one of the few writers in this area to consider the interaction of values and practices with regard to literacy and disability. She writes: "... we consider that it is not helpful to view dyslexia through a narrow lens of 'in-person' weakness. We prefer a broader framework."

Kieron Sheehy is a lecturer in Inclusive and Special Education at the Centre for Curriculum and Teaching Studies at the The Open University

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