The dyslexia club at an Edinburgh primary school is proving so popular that even non-affected pupils want to come and join in the fun
The members of the "D Club" at Longstone Primary, Edinburgh, are not backward at coming forward. The seven upper primary school pupils bombard you with their experiences and enthusiasm.
What began in September 2004 as a pilot dyslexic group is now part of the fabric of the school, and so popular with its members that even non-dyslexic pupils want to join.
One of the aims of the D Club (as the pupils call it) is to raise confidence and esteem among dyslexic pupils, an objective which is clearly being realised.
"The best thing about it is to know that it's not just you who is dyslexic," says Robert.
"Interacting with the other pupils is great fun and we use our strengths and differences to understand each other," says Samantha.
"Dyslexics are creative. I'm good at making up stories but my weakness is writing them down," says Connor.
"Last week I didn't do too well in maths and reading," says Stuart. "But a pal (not in the D Club) said 'That's OK because you've got a problem.' I felt happy about that."
Their confidence and enthusiasm is reflected in their own chosen motto: "We're not stupid. We are dyslexic."
The D Club, the first of its kind in the City of Edinburgh, won a Standard Life Edinburgh Achievement Award 2007 last term in the creative approaches category for demonstrating flexible and innovative ways of working that foster potential, encourage a creative and enterprising spirit and strive to achieve positive goals.
The club also aims to give pupils knowledge about dyslexia, strategies to cope with difficulties they face and confidence to communicate their difficulties to staff who are teaching them.
"To begin with, we felt it was important that the pupils be given the opportunity to meet together to speak about their dyslexia and the impact it was having on their learning," says support for learning teacher Lorna Robertson.
"It's not an after-school club. We felt it was important that they meet as part of the normal school day. They meet for an hour every Friday morning in the support for learning base."
Strategies developed with the group include using coloured overlays to make reading easier, mind mapping where pupils can use pictures and single words rather than longer sentences, and cursive writing. The pupils have produced a leaflet (see extract below) with helpful hints for staff and they asked that labels on teachers' doors should have the teacher's picture as well as their name on it.
"It's not only about providing a forum to raise issues in a secure environment and gain support from other dyslexic pupils in the group.
"It's also about raising their profile in the school and making the school more dyslexia-friendly - all part of the ethos of accepting and respecting other people," says headteacher Irene Mirtle.
The pupils also make regular use of computers, a very popular aspect of the club, to help with writing and spelling. And they share with their class teachers their preferred learning styles and have brought about simple changes, such as asking staff not to use black pens on whiteboards.
"Creativity is essential to their work and over the years they have written stories, producing work at a level way beyond their normal output," says Mrs Robertson.
"They have made a film about dyslexia, a comic strip and animations, and they have produced PowerPoint presentations to show parents, staff and visiting staff from other schools.
"It lets them see there are areas they can excel in, even though they have difficulties with literacy.
"It gives pupils who were - before the club - often only supported in the bottom groups a chance to shine."
Feedback from parents has been very positive, in one case quite emotive, where a grandparent whose husband had hidden his dyslexia all his life, said "Thanks to the school, I know now that my grandson is not going to have to live with that stigma".
MEMO TO THE STAFF
Writing: We often get frustrated because we have good ideas but cannot get them down onto paper easily. From time to time it would be good for our self-esteem if someone could scribe for us.
Taping a story may also be a good way to record our thoughts.
Let us use laptops, spellcheckers and Alphasmarts from time to time.
We may find coloured paper easier to write on. At home and in school, supply us with it when we need it.
When we are writing, try to value the content and not be put off by our spelling. Comments about our ideas would be helpful. Pages of spelling corrections are not.
Sometimes give us the common words that we make errors with to take home to learn, instead of our spelling homework.