Suits dyslexic pupils to the letter

8th June 2007 at 01:00
SECONDARY TEACHERS, particularly modern language specialists, are letting dyslexic pupils down by not knowing how to teach them.

The shortcoming is most commonly found in modern language teachers because they are too focused on reading and writing, a conference on the learning difficulty heard last week.

Pamela Deponio, an Edinburgh University education lecturer, launched an interactive CD-Rom, Dyslexia in Transition, which has been developed by the university team as part of a two-year research project funded by the Scottish Executive. She hopes its interactive nature will improve learning for thousands of children with letter recognition difficulties.

As part of the project, the researchers studied the way dyslexic children are taught in secondary schools.

In modern languages, common criticism was found in many schools, Ms Deponio said: "A lot of emphasis was put on reading and writing at the expense of listening and talking. You need to motivate the children early on. When children told us they didn't like languages, they said: 'We go in and open our books'. There needs to be more interactive learning and talking and movement."

Dyslexic pupils should not be seen as those to be sent away for extra help, but treated as part of any secondary class, she said. "Dyslexia is not an issue for additional support, it is an issue for every subject teacher."

The university team interviewed 24 children, their teachers and parents before the pupils started secondary. They then revisited the children and parents halfway through S1 and at the end of S1 to mark their progress.

They found many pupils did not know whether their subject teachers were aware they were dyslexic, and doubted their ability to help.

"We found a lack of understanding of appropriate teaching approaches, particularly in modern languages," Ms Deponio said.

"The secondary schools are excellent in a reactive way. What we need to do now is be more proactive, so that by training secondary teachers we give them more information about dyslexia and they don't need to call in specialist support as often.

"There is a duty on the teacher to ask for this information but there is a duty on schools to make sure it is as easy to access as possible."

She urged secondary teachers to teach reading in their schools, saying: "It is very easy for teachers in secondary school to fold their arms and say 'it is a primary teacher's job to teach them to read, it is not our job'.

But it is their job."

She also called for dyslexia to be embedded within initial teacher training rather than confined to a separate session.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority was exploring options for electronically-delivered exams, but Ms Deponio feared many pupils did not want to be the only ones in class using a laptop. It would, however, free them from the need to use a scribe and a reader in the exam hall and encourage them to work independently.

The CD-Rom will be sent to Scottish secondary schools over the summer, and nine roadshows will run across the country between September and March next year.

* www.dyslexiatransition.org

A LOW BLOW

Sir Jackie Stewart, former world champion Formula One driver and president of Dyslexia Scot-land, joined the chorus of criticism that greeted Julian Elliott of Durham University when he claimed on television last week that the term "dyslexia" was becoming meaningless.

Sir Jackie said: "According to him, these children are just stupid or lazy.

That's exactly what I was told by my teachers and I absolutely believed them because of the poor teaching I had. I had never been given the opportunity to learn that there were learning difficulties.

"Miss Shaw almost ruined my life and I have little sympathy for her, remembering the pain, the humiliation and the lack of self-esteem that was drilled into me by being told I was stupid.

"There are teachers out there today behaving in the same way, not because they are bad people but because they have never been taught or convinced that they need to do more."

Professor Elliott has been attacked by organisations such as the British Dyslexia Association and Dyslexia Action for his view that dyslexia is a label used by middle-class parents who do not want their children to be seen as low achievers.

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