The Last Post (on this anyway)

I’m responding to this where @thinkreadtweet replies to a blog I wrote about dysteachia.

We’re in danger of playing ping pong at who is the most successful at teaching children to read I know. But @thinkreadtweet says children with low intelligence cannot be taught to read and I vehemently disagree.  I’ve taught lots of students with SEN to read in special schools, FE college and in mainstream. To imagine children of a lower IQ can’t learn to read would be dreadful – I’d definitely be marching to a different tune if this were the case.

The trouble is when you attempt to highlight the exception rather than the rule you can get backed into a corner with a seemingly ridiculous stance:

‘No-one can read, there is nothing we can do for the poor loves’

The other side, the ones who insist everyone (who is clever enough) can read and dyslexia does not exist, become the do gooders.
‘I am challenging the low expectations of teachers who refuse to help these poor souls, this soft bigotry is why there’s an achievement gap between rich and poor – it’s not dyslexia it’s dysteachia bla bla’

I’ve had similar discussions regarding synthetic phonics. 

Me: ‘obviously phonics is an evidenced base route to reading but it’s not so simple – reading is complex, 50% of early vocabulary is irregular, oral language is key, analytic phonics really helps many children and we need familiarity of exception words. Creating a high stakes phonics check for year 1 teachers where the success of it is linked to their pay may mean a disproportionate amount of time is spent on learning how to decode ‘jound’ rather than immersing children into a language rich environment surrounded by real books (OK I went on a bit there).

Them: “Heretic – phonic denialist – you and your soft bigotry is why this country is riddled with illiteracy – it’s teachers like you who have caused the massive gap between the rich and poor’.

And so it goes on…

Progressive = Blob

Traditionalist = Tory 

Knowledge curriculum = Rows and Rote

Discovery Learning = chucked in a swimming pool when you can’t swim

I know we are getting into a cyclical argument of doom here so, I will correct a few inaccuracies in @thinkreadtweet’s post, watch Monty Python, then go to bed.  I’ve no doubt we will have to agree to disagree after this.

Firstly, my post where this all started suggested (for an articulate boy with dyslexia) a 1:1 systematic and cumulative reading programme alongside being taught with his typically developing peers in a mainstream English class. I did not say he wouldn’t learn to read but implied that putting him in a bottom set for English with students who, although read better than him, did not understand as well as him, was not addressing his specific needs.  

Secondly, Professor Julian Elliot never said discrepancy does not exist; he argues that using this as the sole marker for dyslexia, as a model, is unscientific and discriminatory. The Rose report showed that dyslexia can affect students across the ability range and cannot be identified via a pure discrepancy model but by deficits in phonological awareness, short term memory and rapid automatic naming. This does not however mean that there are no students who will have a disparity between their cognitive ability and reading/spelling. Of course these students exist! (And I imagine these are the ones Andrew was referring to when discussing non-responders).

Thirdly – Assistive Technology is not just for the physically disabled – what nonsense. There are many students (and lecturers) with specific learning difficulties at university using equipment such as Dragon Dictate.

Fourthly – when I write a post encouraging people to go to university despite having difficulties with reading and writing, how can that be low expectations? Especially when the other student I used as an example was going to be excluded because his dyslexia was ignored. 

As I repeatedly say, reading can be taught but many with dyslexia will still suffer from a lack of fluency or poor spelling – it is a life long condition. We try our hardest nevertheless to remediate the deficits. 


My students will never hear the term Dysteachia 

I wrote this:

David Didau wrote this.

After early Twitter conversations with David Didau I don’t usually engage with him on dyslexia anymore. His version of dyslexia “I just showed him how to spell a few words” compared to mine “identical twins with the largest disparity between verbal ability/comprehension and reading and spelling I have ever seen” is so vastly different there’s no point. 

But I’m going to this time; I’m also responding to @ThinkReadTweet who has named me in her blog and questions why interventions are linked to SEN not the English department. She also uses a term I vociferously disagree with ‘dysteachia’.

It’s a shame as I admire her greatly and enjoy many of her blogs.

To ensure students with dyslexia access the curriculum and are able to record their work at a quality commensurate with their ability  I have seen the benefits of assistive technology and promote it widely. This does not replace reading instruction just enhances it. For I too would like every child to read before they leave school – in fact in my interview for a new post I start in September I said “I want to ensure every one of the 1500 students can read before they leave us”. 

Now back to this twin; he’s at university. He’s partly there because I told him he could, because I made sure he understood that his poor reading and spelling was due to his dyslexia not his intelligence. 
When I wrote his assessment for his Disability Student Allowance (it is a disability for him) I wrote how over the two years I’d known him, he had increased in confidence and that he’d told me how he uses Dragon in the library (he was far too embarrassed to do this when he arrived) how a peer came up to him and asked what he was doing. When he told her she said ‘but you sound so clever in class’ – his response was ‘dyslexia doesn’t mean you’re stupid’. This belief in himself was the most important thing – he’d come to college with a complex history, a school refuser and then statemented and he was now off to university (we’re still in contact and I’ve shown him this post).

I also teach young ones and as we know early intervention is best; I’ve created a six week booster for year 1. It’s pretty pragmatic but intensive – under a score of 85 they have a 6 week booster; if they reach 85 they go back – we’ve had some whose spelling went up 8 months, their handwriting improved, their confidence improved and some have sailed through the phonics check since. 

I am obsessed with getting children to read through picture books, oral language and phonics but I also recognise some students do have difficulties and dyslexia for those children is an empowering term and explains to them, simply, why they struggle more than their peers. 

This does not mean we give up on them, that we stop teaching them to read but it does ensure we put appropriate strategies in place. And if this means assistive technology in mainstream classes with their typically developing peers then that’s a good thing in my opinion. 

So if you don’t mind, I’m going back to my job of teaching all ages to read while letting them know there may be a reason why they find it harder than their peers to read, that they can still learn to read but may always find it hard. I will also tell them that no matter what, there is now assistive technology available to them which means they can still succeed and I will remind them that despite poor reading and spelling, they can go to University and flourish like many students I have met over the years. 

Oh, and my new role as literacy and language co-ordinator for 1500 children is not linked to SEN but nor is it part of the English department because it’s for all teachers to take seriously; across the curriculum – whole school.

You carry on using Dysteachia if you like but it will never be used for my students. 

Dear Mr Gibb

Guest post from Director of Literacy at the Aspire Education Trust, Megan Dixon @DamsonEd.

On this report:

Dear Mr Gibb,
Firstly I wish to say thanks for allowing the publication of today’s report into the Phonics Screening Assessment It makes very interesting reading as I am sure you will agree.

I am pleased that we have made improvements in our phonics teaching including “faster pace, longer time, more frequent, more systematic, and better ongoing assessment” (p7). You must be pleased that we teachers are more accepting of the check and have adapted our teaching to ensure that more children pass.  

But there seems to be a problem. It seems that despite all our hard work, making sure we do exactly what you have told us to do, the attainment and progress of children as readers and writers has not improved. Improvements have not led to impact on attainment.

I am disappointed in this. You assured us that if we spent thousands on special resources and training, stuck rigidly to prescribed schemes of work and lesson plans and drilled our children endlessly in segmenting and blending alien words, all children would read. You claimed that was what the evidence said. Well, you must have been mistaken. Maybe you were confusing reading decoding words with reading? Maybe you misunderstood the complexity of learning to read?

As someone who is often involved in helping schools improve, I know that if something doesn’t work, you should change it. Can I make a few suggestions that might have more impact?

1. The money might be better spent developing speech and language for all children. As the Bercow review (2006) noted, many teachers do not feel equipped to support SLC development in their classrooms. As up to 50% of children who start school do not have oral language skills at age related expectations (I CAN), that might be an important focus. It might help them understand the books they read.

2. Give schools money to buy more books – real ones, with proper stories, by proper authors. – this might help children understand how stories work, how books work and how to use the phonics we have always been teaching them (successfully!). Professor Usha Goswami suggests that good phonemic awareness develops as children learn to read (not before) – so maybe we might improve standards that way too?

3. Encourage teachers to focus on the metacognition and self-regulation of reading and writing. The Sutton Trust -EFF highlights metacognition as very effective and very cheap! Maybe we could show teachers how to help children use what they know, evaluate their performance and set new goals, (not just teach them more stuff)? We could help teachers understand just how complex reading is. I find Scarborough’s rope model helps to explain the challenges. I like the way it distinguishes the alphabetic principle from phonological awareness.

I’ll help if you like.

Best wishes,



We don’t call it dyslexia anymore

Teacher 1: It’s a shame about John; he will get excluded soon.

Teacher2: Why what’s up?

Teacher: I don’t know, he seems fine when you speak to him but he can barely read and write. 

Teacher 2: Does he have dyslexia?

Teacher 1: We don’t use that term anymore, it’s unscientific -dyslexia doesn’t exist. We call it dysteachia.

Teacher2: So you haven’t taught him properly?

Teacher 1: Well not me, he came to us with very poor skills now he just won’t engage in our lessons. 

Teacher 2: But his friends can read and write? So the teaching can’t have been that bad? Surely John is confused why he can’t read and write when his typically developing peers can? Do you tell him he’s got dysteachia? 

Teacher 1: No we tell him he’s got a severe reading difficulty.

Teacher 1: Like dyslexia?

Teacher 2: Well last year he would have had dyslexia but it doesn’t exist, it’s unscientific …

Teacher 1: So now you say severe reading difficulty?

Teacher 2: Yes which wouldn’t have been so severe if he’d been taught properly.

Teacher 1: Right – I thought dyslexia, sorry, severe reading difficulty or is it dysteachia? Anyway, whatever you call it, was when a reading difficulty persists despite interventions?

Teacher 2:  *Shrugs* He doesn’t get on with most of the class. The others tend to spend time in the nurture group, come here for lunchtimes and enjoy the quiet little class we have. 

Teacher 1: Where’s John at break and lunchtime?

Teacher 1: Well he’s outside with his friends – they’re all much brighter than him though – yet you wouldn’t know that to talk to them all – John’s got excellent language skills.

Teacher 2: There’s a discrepancy between his reading and verbal ability?

Teacher 1: But you can’t diagnose dyslexia using the discrepancy model – dyslexia (even though it doesn’t exist) affects all abilities.

Teacher 2: Well it’s not diagnosed purely on a discrepancy model but that can be one factor and dyslexia may well explain why he can’t read and write.

Teacher 1: Well he’s actually weaker than the rest of the group with his reading and writing despite his verbal ability -he’s the worst and needs to learn to read and write.

Teacher 2: But he’s not learning anything because of his behaviour. Do you think John would be better in mainstream English?

Teacher 1: How can he? His reading and writing is like a 6 yr old.

Teacher 2: Well you say he has good language skills, could he not use audio books? Text-to-Speech? Speech recognition?

Teacher 1: He needs to learn to read and write.

Teacher 2: Yes but that could be in a daily 1:1 session;  using a systematic and cumulative reading programme. How is he accessing text and recording his work in the meantime? 

Teacher 1: He’s not, he just plays up, gets sent out of classes and as I said, will be excluded soon. 

Teacher 2: Right.