Treat the Need not the Label

Every few months a newspaper report comes along to claim ‘dyslexia doesn’t exist’ or ‘ADHD is made up’. Of course, this is usually a sensationalist version of a new report showing controversial research in the field. Yesterday, Tom Bennett wrote an article on the misdiagnosis of ADHD and dyslexia.

https://www.tes.com/news/school-new…r-dyslexia-and-adhd-are-over-diagnosed-crypto

For a SENDCo this can become tricky as teachers may begin questioning your advice citing this example from a ‘behaviour tsar’ as evidence. They would be right to question you, after all Bennett influences government policy, he must know what he’s talking about, right? This is my response.

It is perfectly valid to question the validity of diagnoses such as ADHD and dyslexia. There has been an increase in children with ADHD and medication such as Ritalin is being prescribed more. There are correlations with government policy (in US) and it is sad if normal behaviour is being pathologized. In contrast, figures for diagnoses of dyslexia in state schools is going down which appears to correlate with the reduction in Local Authority SENSS services. Dorset for instance, which still has a service has more dyslexia recorded than other counties who no longer have a service. You could, I’m sure find a similar picture in the quality of NHS services when assessing for ADHD. It’s complex, and it’s not perfect. 

But none of this should matter to the day to day practice in a mainstream, classroom. What would a teacher do differently if a child was diagnosed with ADHD compared to one who wasn’t?
As teachers we have no right to question a paediatrician even if we want to. We have no right telling a parent that we believe their child doesn’t have ADHD because a ‘behaviour guru’ told us that misdiagnosis is rife. We have no right to tell another teacher that if they just set some boundaries that the ADHD is likely to disappear. We have no right, morally or, as it happens, legally. 

We have no right telling a 15 year old who can’t read that the diagnosis of dyslexia isn’t true because it doesn’t exist. The Equality Act and the teaching standards mean that as a classroom teacher we must put reasonable adjustments in place to meet the needs of all our students, not just the typically developing ones.

This may seem harsh but it’s true. What we do have control over however is the classroom, our students, and their right to learn. We have the right to expect support from the leadership team, our SENDCo and outside agencies should we need it. All our children have the right to an education and we have the right to deliver it in whatever way we wish as long as we are meeting the needs of the class.

A professional teacher must be informed, know their students well and teach responsively. Where does the label come in? Well, only as a starting point. It’s part of an holistic picture of the child. It doesn’t matter if the child has ADHD or not. If she is exhibiting behaviour traits which seem similar them treat the need not the label. A child with ADHD is impulsive, struggles to filter out irrelevant information and can become easily overwhelmed. This is really useful information.

Let me give you an example of responsive teaching based on this. A child comes bouncing in from the playground. She’s been playing a game of ‘wee and poo’ with her friends. Not under adult supervision the children have been shouting wee and poo at each other and giggling. The bell goes; her typical friends find it easy to transition back into the classroom and ‘turn off’ the game, walking quietly into class, sitting themselves down and preparing for learning. The girl with ADHD however struggles to self-regulate; she’s still mentally in the game and runs into class blurting out ‘poo’. She’s immediately in trouble and is sent to sit away from the group. Becoming upset, the pupil screams at the TA who is trying to keep her away from the group and the incident escalates until she’s sent out of the classroom to prevent disruption to the rest of the class.

As a teacher, observing behaviour traits which appear similar to those of ADHD, I can anticipate this impulsivity. Putting my hand up to the little girl as a physical reminder to self-regulate. I then tell her playtime is over and it’s time for learning. She’s given a few minutes for the transition to ‘check in’ then I ask her to enter the classroom calmly for learning. 

It doesn’t matter if this child has an official diagnosis of ADHD or not, recognising behaviour traits and responding is the same, label or no label.

 

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. 

Day 28 – logic or instinct – let tech help – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting

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Well I’ve come to the end of my 28 day series. An idea started by @tombarrett and picked up and run with by @staffrm, @mrlockyer & @pepsmccrea.

And the final push I needed was @ictevangelist’s tweet offering a free Staffrm mug for anyone who manages the full #28daysofwriting.

I have been encouraged daily by @digitaldaisies who preferred the free kit blogs of the first 8 days. Penny works for a seriously underfunded alternative provision with very slow broadband – she writes about it here. digitaldaisies.wordpress.com/2…

@rondelle has also followed the series with lots of encouraging comments. @hrogerson has asked pertinent questions which prompted a blog from Foldr about eportfolios.

And the wonderful @Sue_Cowley has cheered from the sidelines writing 28 Days midway after someone was critical of the idea; concerned it produced poor quality writing. suecowley.wordpress.com/2015/0…

My SEN buddies, @cherrylkd, @nancygedge, @aspiedelazouche, @rachelrossiter and @chrischivers have been great retweeters.

I have made new friends on Twitter through the growing and lovely @staffrm. I have been invited to speak at an event in London, for a coffee and chat in Bristol and learned of new assistive technologies and iPad apps.

Writing is a bit of a demon for me; I’ll never find it easy and to complete the #28daysofwriting I needed to make it chatty – discursive essays take me too long – perhaps the complainer had a point.

Two awards from me, the first goes to the funniest – @ellen_ellenboss for a late night post after being out with her department – coming home tipsy she writes about her failure musing on how students feel. Even the # has an error – I love it. staffrm.io/@ellenmerry/bH3j6qA…

Then, dear Rory, @eddiekayshun. He has written poetic, autobiographical and pedagogical blogs. You name it, he’s covered it – I have enjoyed every, single one, especially his Corsican stories.

Oh dear, this has turned into a speech. I’d like to thank my Mum, my dog….

I hope my series has been helpful to some; I know what a difference assistive technology can make. 80% of my job is teaching children how to read, write and spell but despite this, I recognise that they need help to access the curriculum and record their work right now – not once they’ve learned.

It makes sense to help these children; would we deny them glasses or hearing aids?

It’s logical to help them.

RIP Leonard Lemoy

Day 26 – #5 Simple Tips to Help With Reading from a Screen – Assistive Technology #28daysofwriting

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There is a US study which claims to show that increasing the gap between letters may make reading easier for struggling readers. VoiceDream will do this for you (Day 14) but for most students this is not possible.

Some easier steps may help however:

1. A larger font – this can be seen just from children’s books to adult books but if you are showing a lot of text on the whiteboard, it would be useful if the font were 14 or 16 rather than 12.

2. The right font – evenly spaced sans serif font such as Arial or Tahoma is recommended. There is a free font called Open Dyslexic which can be downloaded. It then just sits in the font choices along with all the others in Word. Some students, those who report moving letters particularly, seem to like this font as it is weighted. Others however hate it and prefer Arial. It is worth encouraging students to try different fonts to see if it makes a difference.

3. Changing the background colour – this is one of the easiest things a student can do. Many seem to choose electric blue or pink – no idea why. A few of my students choose a black background with white or orange text. Again, if they say it helps, why not? I like buff – it just reduces the glare of the white background and makes reading less stressful (before anyone rushes to the comments box to tell me there’s no research, I don’t care, it helps me and seems to help the occasional student). Some teachers will change the background colour on their whiteboard to an off white or light pastel colour which is a nice gesture.

4. Underlining – this can really confuse students who struggle to read – not only are they trying to decipher the letters and the word but there’s another bit of print underneath to contend with. ALSO WRITING IN CAPITALS IS DIFFICULT TO READ.

5. Preferable to underlining and italics is to use bold and bullet points. This emphasises text without changing the shape of the letters. Big blocks of text with no obvious break can be difficult to read and breaking it down into smaller sections or text boxes (even with different colours) can help students. 1.5 line spacing helps.

If you want to research this further, work is being done by E.A. Draffan at Southampton University and JISCtechdis offer good advice.

Day 18 – Who needs handwriting anyway? #28daysofwriting – Assistive Technology

Having poor handwriting in the grown up world is not taboo – not like being unable to read anyway. We tend to joke about bad handwriting; doctors and teachers are professions renowned for scruffy handwriting.

For a child with illegible writing in school however it can be utterly miserable – there’s no pride, just shame, frustration and pain as they tire more easily.

I teach handwriting and it can be improved (I find particularly around 14, instruction in cursive writing can make a difference). One idea courtesy of Neil McKay from Action Dyslexia (donhttp://www.actiondyslexia.co.u k) is shaded lined paper – either made in Word or with a ruler and highlighter – just highlight half the line. This makes a real difference for those with visual perceptual difficulties. Some schools have asked the reprographics department to print booklets for students.

While I advocate the teaching of reading and handwriting I still maintain that barriers should be removed as much as possible to level the playing field.

Most schools allow students to word process these days, in fact if the student is to type for exams, they must, as it needs to be their normal way of working.

Typing on a laptop however does not allow (without considerable effort anyway) the student to fill in worksheets, exam papers or forms.

If only there was a way to take a picture of a form and then type into it……there is and it’s free.

Snaptype has been designed by Occupational Therapists and it’s fab (Thank you to @fiona_peters1 for telling me about this app).

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There is also ClaroPDF which does cost but is a bit fancier – you can upload a PDF, type in it and then use Daniel to read it out to you in text-to-speech.

I’m wondering how long it will be before this can be used in exams – would be perfect for many students.

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So please look out for those students with illegible handwriting – are they reaching their full potential? Or are they in a lower set due to being judged on handwriting rather than ability? Can we take the handwriting out of the equation to see how well they do without it?

Would love to hear any good news stories about these apps and how they’re used in schools.

Day 17 – the Exam Pen in an upside down video #28daysofwriting

So far I have concentrated on students who have poor skills – in exam arrangement speak this means those eligible for readers and scribes (standardised score of 85 or a range of scores between 85-90).

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But what about those students who are ‘a little bit weak’ reading? They can read quite well and relatively fluently but comprehension is blighted by the odd multisyllabic word they don’t recognise. In class, they can ask but they are on their own in exams. The few words the student cannot read may mean a misreading of the content or misinterpretation of the question.

For these students, an exam pen could be the answer. The pen scans a word and reads it – the student can stay in the hall because the pen can be used with a set of earphones. This exam pen is allowed in exams as there is no dictionary in the pen – and the JCQ has agreed anyone can use one.

These pens are ridiculousy expensive (£190) which is a shame (and possibly unneccesary for what they are) but it may be worth considering for certain students.

Here is a video showing how the exam pen works – I did it very quickly for @aspiedelazouch a few months ago and it’s upside down – sorry. I would have done it again for you but my exam pen is at home and I am at my lovely Mum’s being spoiled – half term woes.

I’d be interested to hear any feedback on these pens – one secondary school I visited recently told me one girl used one in all her classes and it has transformed her attitude and improved her reading.

Day 16 – Do we really need to read and write? #28daysofwriting Assistive Technology

I was recently introduced at a training session as ‘the woman who will persuade you that reading and writing are not required to succeed in school’ – I laughed nervously saying ‘well, not quite but……’.

Reading and writing are vital, of course, (and talking) but Assistive Technology has come on so much that if you cannot do these things it is still possible to achieve in education. I work in mainstream (although I’m constantly bugging nearby Special Schools for advice) so advanced technology isn’t as widely used and my first few blogs in this Assistive Technology series concentrate on free technology which, if there’s an old laptop going dusty in the corner, will suffice for many students.

I do however meet students who do not read very well; ask your SENCO how many candidates require readers for exams – it may surprise you. These young people are not accessing the curriculum in the same way as their typically developing peers. Some students hide this well, some rely on friends or the class TA, some appear truculent and some are skilled at listening and will attempt to remember enough salient information to get by. Imagine if all these students required glasses however, would we be happy to let them cope without them?

Using technology is not without its difficulties – it may require teachers to send electronic copies of text and, being (cough) slighty disorganised myself, I know this isn’t always the first thing on a teacher’s mind; it may be that the work is no longer available in an electronic format or it’s from a text book which hasn’t been downloaded from Load2Learn yet.

Imagine if there was a simple app which took a picture of any (typed) text and then read it back to you?

Well there is now.

It’s done with OCR or something….

Capturatalk and Clarospeak are two apps which do this – it’s not cheap (£55-75) but I’m sure this cost will come down in the next few years. For the type of student who likes to be independent but has to rely on others in class, this could revolutionise how they cope in the classroom.

As I have said previously, I don’t think this technology replaces reading and writing, more so enhances it. Until students catch up with their peers, we need to find some solutions and this, although pricey, could be the answer for a few of them. I’m certainly going to give it a try.