Dyslexia? What is it?


Is it even a valid scientific term?

@deevybee (Professor Dorothy Bishop) gives a good summary:


Here, Professor Bishop discusses @JulianElliot11 (Professor Julian Elliot) who has recently written The Dyslexia Debate which questions whether the term dyslexia should exist.

Professor Elliot has a point – how do we differentiate between reading difficulties?  I’m not unsympathetic to this view – please note he is not denying reading difficulties exist or that these can affect students with varying abilities –  Professor Elliot has not gone all tabloidy on us even if some of his fans have.  Poor teaching, poor parenting, middle class disease and so on.

There are also many overlapping behaviours – in America now the terms neuro-diverse and neuro-typical have become popular which seems to be a good ‘catch all’ phrase.  Also in America however, sub-groups have identified themselves such as Aspies for those with Asperger’s Syndrome (now Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and Adders for those with ADHD.  Labels eh?

For this blog I am using Sir Jim Rose’s definition of dyslexia.

Rose (2009) Definition of Dyslexia.

  • Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speeds.
  • Dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.
  • It is best thought of as a continuum, not a distinct category, and there are no clear cut-off points.
  • Co-occurring difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.
  • A good indication of the severity and persistence of dyslexic difficulties can be gained by examining how the individual responds or has responded to well founded intervention.

Rose, J. (2009). Identifying and teaching children and young people with dyslexia and literacy difficulties: an independent report.

Dyslexia is a ‘specific learning difficulty’ (SpLD), meaning that in other areas a person may appear to be performing within the expected range for their ability. This can be called a spiky profile. Other SpLDs are ADHD, Dyspraxia, SLI and ASD.   See here for acronyms: https://mainstreamsen.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/sen-acronyms/.

The term dyslexia can be empowering for students as it explains why they seem to struggle with literacy when their friends don’t. Students I meet often think they are lazy or stupid despite the best intentions of parents and teachers to persuade them otherwise.

The term dyslexia has morphed over the years: previously it was common to use a ‘discrepancy model’ – so, if there was a gap between a high IQ and reading/spelling ability, this was enough to diagnose dyslexia. We now know that dyslexia occurs across the range of intellectual abilities.

Using Rose’s definition, dyslexia is a phonological deficit not visual (think ear rather than eye). Of course we see many students who struggle with reading who have visual difficulties – reversing letters and numbers, using coloured overlays, tracking, placement on the line when writing, copying off the board, spelling errors which confuse similar letter patterns and reading errors which seem to be mixing up similar words. None of these in isolation however, without phonological deficits, are dyslexia under Rose’s definition.

According to Rose, the three main areas identifying dyslexia are:

  • Phonological Awareness

This is the capacity to reflect upon and manipulate the sound structure of words.

    • I see this as playing with language – recognising that if you change ‘s’ for ‘m’ in sat you get mat, hearing the ‘l’ in sling or the ‘r’ in string. Being able to rhyme, recognise alliteration and assonance, blending sh-ut to make shut etc.
  • Verbal memory

This is the ability to remember a sequence of verbal information for a short period of time. (Sometimes described as auditory sequential memory, short term memory, working memory – a whole other blog :-0)

    • It is often difficult for students listening to multiple instructions – they may only remember the last thing you’ve told them. Breaking down instructions into clear and concise chunks can help. This difficulty with short term memory can also affect spelling and reading acquisition.
  • Verbal processing speeds

This is the time it takes to process and recognise verbal information.

    • The pace of school can be incredibly wearing for students with speed of processing difficulties. They really do need extra time to cope. If asking a question, try counting to 10 before prompting them with more language. Or, ask the question but tell them you’ll come back to them.
    • Allow time for them to record their homework in diaries.
    • Be aware of scrolling up on the whiteboard – they may still be on the one you have just covered up. Could they have a copy with them? Or could they miss out some of the questions? Quality not quantity.

I have written some ideas to help students with reading here https://mainstreamsen.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/break-prohibition-welcome-to-my-speekeezee/ and I will write more about strategies in the next blog.  I was going to here but feared for your sanity.

In the meantime:

The ADSHE underlying principles of 1:1 teaching for students with dyslexia are:

  1. Metacognition
  2. Relevance
  3. Over learning
  4. Modelling
  5. Motivation
  6. Little and often
  7. Multi-sensory

Although designed for HE I think this is useful for all teachers to think about.

It comes from here: http://adshe.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/specialist_support.pdf

A quick warning for the Tom Bennetts among you – it does mention learning styles – run for your lives… 🙂

This is a nice diagram of reading too via @dylanwilliams – just because I’m a bit random.



Break Prohibition – Welcome to my Speekeezee


This is how Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) works:

  • Fast and Furious
  • No other method
  • Do not look at pictures for clues
  • Do not guess – must sound out
  • Consistent, persistent, insistent – not a plethora of games and random strategies – that’s called mixed methods which is illegal.
  1. If it doesn’t work you just carry on until it does.
  2. If it still doesn’t work you are not doing it properly.
  3. If you think another method may work better or complement SSP you can’t. Remember no mixed methods.

Under the current prohibition any method of teaching reading which is not SSP is banned. So, I’m going underground – come to my Speakeasy where I will list some practical tips on teaching those students who just don’t seem to be progressing.

1. Taming Tricky Words Taming_Tricky_Wo_4cf04d1b6b40c_85x120


This is great and allows pupils to learn those high frequency words which are more irregular and cannot be decoded easily.   It gives them a self-esteem boost and in half a term a good bank of words allowing them to at least access some of the text based curriculum if phonics, past learning initial letter sounds is proving a challenge.

How it works

You show student a picture – example traffic lights and then read the word in a sentence.

So ‘go’ is ‘When the lights are green the cars can go’. The student learns to read words by association. IMG_0173

2. Direct Phonics


Actually this is a synthetic phonics programme but introduces a small amount of sight words with each book. It also combines phonic instruction with oral language and ensures students have opportunity for speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Book 1 – introduces letter sounds and CVC words, they blend and segment from the start. The other books (2 & 3) move through cumulatively with consolidation activities ending with polysyllabic words.  It introduces reading and writing and activities are linked to the reading materials.  Direct Phonics is very repetitive.  It’s simple to use and designed to be done in 20 minute chunks.

I particularly like this for older students who have reading difficulties.

3. Rapid Readers (RRs)

Cleverly designed to use the language students can read, then adds in some ‘tricky words’ which you go over together before they begin reading. They also have pictures and a summary at the beginning which teacher and student can go over together for a hook in.


And they experience reading fluently which feels like magic – it is a joy to see. There’s fact and fiction in each book and little exercises at the end on spelling, comprehension, phonics and a joke which I always laugh at and the older students look at me like I’m an idiot.

The books are age appropriate too which makes them ideal for secondary age. Rapid Readers and Rapid Plus also come with a CD to work with the book online (reading, recording etc) and some worksheets.

pedal_power_b rapid reader rapid reader

5. Swap cards


Again, phonic based (see, I’m not that bad) but a game (boo).

These are a staple in my kit (I even have a couple of boxes in my handbag for random opportunities to practise) –  they are loved by all my students – all ages.

There is every phonic pattern known to woman in SWAP cards.  Each player has seven cards and the winner is the one who gets rid of their cards first.  The words are colour coded so in this picture it is the ‘oo’ sound.  ‘oo’ is brown, ‘ue’ is blue and ‘ui’ is red etc.  The idea is you lay same colour cards down until you run out.  Each time you put a card down you have to say the word (important or it’s pointless).  If you run out but have a SWAP card, you can change to a different colour.


6. Minute a Day


A simple resource and good for homework.    These are phonic and sight word photocopiable sheets which encourage the student to read words or phonic patterns quickly in a minute.


7. Stiles

A nice game where you match numbers and patterns. It’s called a self-checking tray where students’ answers match a number. If they are correct students will be able to match the geometric pattern. Books come with phonic patterns, maths, comprehension – all sorts.


8. Barrington Stoke Books
Ah, these are age appropriate loveliness for older students – written with a larger font and better spacing, they sometimes do the trick to ‘get the buggers to read’ (thank you @suecowley for this phrase)


You’ve been attending my Speakeasy. Thanks for joining.

iPad apps I’d recommend for SEND – Primary

Last week I wrote about apps for Secondary SEND. This is a list for primary – there are many overlaps so excuse any repetition. I have also left some off such as BookCreator and iMovie so you may want to look through the Secondary list for some general apps.

There are loads so I’ve chosen a selection.

Cambugs 1/2
These are great apps to use diagnostically and for learning. Cambugs 1 is for letter sounds and Cambugs 2 for common digraphs and a trigraph ‘igh’.

What I like about this is that it has a sound hint so students, TAs, teachers and parents can all hear the correct sound. Many adults don’t know the pure phonic sounds and may include a schwa; ‘mer’ instead of a clipped ‘mm’ for instance. It means we are all sounding out from the same phonic song sheet so to speak.
The children love this app too as they collect a bug for every sound they learn.


Clicker Connect
This is a writing app with word banks and pictures for each word. You can even colour code sentence parts (I love a bit of colour me).


It has Text-to-Speech so students can hear single words or sentences being read in a synthetic voice.

There are so many other features, good support and free resources from Crick, the makers
of Clicker.http://www.cricksoft.com/uk/

My favourite Maths app by far and it’s free. The visuals are superb and the idea great. Students journey through countries and when they have completed scenes they gain the country’s flag.


Dexteria apps
Designed by Occupational Therapists, these apps are a great addition to a writing programme. They concentrate on fine motor skills through squishing squashes and pinching peppers then crabs.


Twinkl Phonic Suite
Activities and games from Phase 1 to Phase 5 of Letters and Sounds. Includes DFE guidance and videos (handy to show volunteers and TAs)


I love this but a colleague of mine called it an abomination. For some kids though making blending, chunky, visual and noisy can make them just get it – maybe they could use headphones!


http://www.modmaths.com – a brilliant app recommended to me by @fiona_peters1. It allows those with poor handwriting to record workings out without having to worry about reading their writing.


Hairy Letters
A good letter writing app appealing to young children. I have to admit to preferring to write my own using Paper53 and Explain Everything but for those really struggling with direction and formation this is quite cute.


Spellosaur and Spellosaur 400
Superb app where students can add spellings, record them and then do five, increasingly difficult games.




This is a good app to create visual timetables. You can create your own, include a timer and photographs from school or student’s teaching staff etc. If a student with autism has use of an iPad then I think this should be part of the toolkit.


Gah, there are so many but I’m going to finish with a recommendation from @SimonKnight100 for this bonkers app which I used for the first time today. Simon says his school use it for phonics, MFL, articulation skills, “the list is endless”. I tried using it with two students chunking com/pu/ter and com/pli/ca/ted etc following some work on suffixes. The results were very funny and the students were engaged and learning (I think).



Happy apping 🙂

Let’s get vis-u-al


Drawing an incident for a student with social communication difficulties is a revealing way to find out how the situation had been interpreted by them, and what might have triggered an unwanted behaviour.

Before the iPad I just used paper but now my app of choice is Paper53; designed for architects so I imagine my match stick people are virtual heresy.

It comes from Carol Gray’s Comic Strip conversations (author of Social Stories). Rather than using them to explain social situations before an event however I often use them to unpick an incident.

The more forensic the investigation, the more successful the analysis becomes and the more the student begins to link behaviours to triggers (making the connection is often difficult for a child on the Autistic Spectrum).

*I have changed parts of these stories to protect individuals but I hope they still reflect the usefulness of this approach*



This student had a melt down during registration and began running round then hiding under a table, refusing to come out.

The picture was interesting as we used colour to show feelings. The student was still red under the table – not feeling calm (blue) until we were chatting in another area. I had assumed under the table was a safe haven but anxiety levels were still high.

The main benefit of these pictures for the student was linking his anxiety and subsequent behaviour with the disappointment of not receiving the prize.


This student was in trouble for hitting another student.

She told me this had happened:


During our comic strip conversation it transpired that while she was going to her lesson some older students had thrown something at her.  She had not told anyone about this incident – to her they were unrelated.


During our session she asked me ‘do you think I might have hit him because my neck was still hurting?’.  Of course there is still no excuse for what she did but it is a significant piece of the social jigsaw which needed to be made explicit.

We talked about what choice she could have made:


The student thought that as her neck was still hurting (red dot), she could have gone to a member of staff to tell them what had happened.

Further Education


This student found drawing comic strips really useful and we would do one every time I saw him.  I probably learned as much as he did during these tutorials.

Here he explained how he’d got upset as he hadn’t understood the instructions during a practical work based session.  Many thought bubbles were linked to too much information, too much happening around him and the perception that everyone else knew what they were doing except for him.

We came up with targets such as asking staff to give instructions one at a time or asking a peer for help.

Comic Strips are not useful to reprimand a student but are great to explore triggers for a behaviour.

And you don’t need to be good at drawing as I demonstrate perfectly.