Dyslexia – thoughts on reading

27th November 2020

It’s nearly December, the start of advent! The countdown to the big day; tree to be put up, lights to be hung, presents to be bought (locally if possible) and lists upon lists of ‘things to do’. Personally, this is my favourite time of year and I won’t let a little thing like a pandemic spoil my mood.

I love books! Theres nothing I like more than a coffee and a book. I slip into a different world once I get engrossed in the story. A good story can make me cry, laugh, take me to places I have never visited before, feel good about life or leave me in suspense……

After supporting many children over the years I am aware not everyone shares my love of books. This maybe because they haven’t found the books that interest them or they have been turned off reading from a very early age as it is just so hard! I would love to change that and let everyone enjoy the magical, emotional world of stories.

The National Literacy Trust in March 2020, produced their annual report relating to surveys of children and young persons reading habits. They found:

“Levels of reading enjoyment continues to decline and are at the lowest since 2013” – 53% said they enjoyed reading in 2019

“Only 25.8% of children said they read daily in their free time.”

In 2014 the National Curriculum for English emphasised the importance of ‘reading for pleasure’. The figures above highlight the need to try and ignite our children’s interest in books so they are motivated to want to read as a hobby not as just homework.

How do we learn to read? When sharing books with your baby/infant the process starts there! Seeing a book as enjoyment, hearing language, seeing facial expressions and funny voices (if you are prone to act out the characters?). Sharing books as early as possible is a big plus both for the child and the reader. I, as a mother, valued the time spent reading with my children. And from a Grandma’s point of view:

“Reading to my grandchildren has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Through reading to them and with them I was transported to a world of fun, adventure, mystery, suspense and so much more. Often when they fell asleep I would carry on reading to find out what happened next!”

Children use pictures as cues, then move on to phonological awareness, phonics and eventually to comprehension.

I would refer you to the above information which provides further detail on reading, helping children to become better readers, how to find the right book and how discussions over books you are sharing is important. As you will read in the above article there are many strategies children may adapt when learning to read:

Picture cues, sight reading (memory use to recall whole words), context (knowing what book is about), grammar knowledge, analogy ( using sight and memory skills recognising and manipulating rhyme or letter patterns), bibliographic knowledge (for example voice changes at punctuation).

Children often use their episodic memory (personal memories of experiences) to associate with the story to enhance knowledge and may then use inferences to ‘guess’ some of the unfamiliar words. To read the words before and after the unknown word and use their knowledge to fill in the gaps.

Have you heard of the ‘reading wars‘? This is the long raging debate on the ‘correct’ way to teach reading. Should it be through explicit phonic instruction or the whole language approach?

Phonics means the breaking down of the written word to small units, decoding of words. The matching of a letter or combination of letters to their sounds.Instruction in schools are normally systematic and multi sensory.

Whole language is simply recognising whole words as a part of language. Not just learning how to decode a word into sounds but to understand the meaning. Voters for this approach feel that just knowing sounds is not the same as knowing how to read.Teaching that emphasises learning whole words by seeing them in meaningful contexts rather than a phonic task.

Both America and Australia seem to favour the balanced way of teaching reading. A bit of both, but how much of phonics is taught can be questionable. I haven’t seen any statistics to totally confirm their overall success. But I am not here to enter the debate just to give both sides and a brief outline.

As I have said many times before I consider it best to work with the individuals and which ever way works then pursue it. One way does not fit all!

The Government in England introduced systematic phonic teaching in schools in 2006 and thereafter in 2012 the implementation of the yearly phonic screening of year 1 pupils. This is a test given to the children comprising a list of real words and non words (can be called alien or nonsense words). If the children do not pass in Year 1 they get another go in Year 2.

It is a way of assessing the child, highlighting any barriers to learning and a foundation for measuring any future progress.

However, does it help the child’s self esteem to undertake a test purely on something with which they struggle and ultimately will possibly fail? If school is the first experience of reading and immediately they are thrown into having to learn ‘just to pass a test’. Is reading for that child going to be an enjoyment or just a struggle?

Teachers are required to teach all the possible Grapheme/phoneme correspondence (letters and their sounds), spelling rules and exceptions. Thats a lot to learn and can be confusing. Even though a lot of the grapheme/phonemes combinations are very rarely come across in children books. No wonder children can find it difficult with or without the added complexity of dyslexia symptoms.

It is so important to teach the most common sounds as early as possible to help with unfamiliar words. Phonics instruction is of benefit to all, but whether the assessment could be teacher led and not a ‘high stakes’ test is a question for another day. Leave that with you.

Normally, the results of these screenings identify children who may be at risk and need further consideration. However sometimes this is not the case. Some children can slip through the net as high thinkers and problem solvers they have worked out ways to compensate for any decoding issues.

Introducing the terms ‘Stealth dyslexia’ and ‘Resilient dyslexic

Stealth dyslexia was first of all coined by Brock and Fernette Eide (authors of The Dyslexic Advantage). I heard of the Resilient dyslexic after reading studies by Hoeft (cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist) and others from the University of California.

Hoeft published one study in which they found that it was the growth in ‘white matter’ (in early childhood) in one specific area of the brain, the left temporoparietal region, that predicted how well a child would learn to read.

Further research went onto look at how neuroscience could provide information to help the development of reading education.

Typically children follow a specific path, phonological processing, phonics then comprehension. But as we are all different, not all follow that path.

I won’t go into all the research here, but here’s the link to the study if you wish to read into it further.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6002103/

Hoeft talks about resilient dyslexics who exhibit remarkably high levels of reading comprehension despite difficulties in decoding. Hoeft found that these particular individuals displayed a unique Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex! Try saying that fast! The left frontal part of the brain which is typically associated with Executive functions. Executive functions such as Inhibition, Working Memory and Cognitive flexibility.

In these individuals this part of the brain was performing some kind of buffer/protection that aids reading comprehension despite poorer decoding skills.

When the Neuroscience comes to play it does start to get a little bit complex. I do not wish to carry on with too much technical terminology, as I do not want you start to think that washing the dishes would be more interesting that carrying on reading!

The cognitive Executive control is interesting though. It’s a part of the brain that supports flexible problem solving and thoughts about your goals and how to get there.

Hoeft (and others) do say:

“The ultimate goal of reading is to understand the text.”

Now if its your Executive Control that thinks about your goals, then it’s doing a good job problem solving to reach that goal of understanding the text.

Maybe having problems with low level decoding but do quite well with high order language skills. Such as Inference, an informed guess of meaning based on the given clues.

It’s always beneficial to ask questions of a child whilst they read a book. Gets them thinking;

What do you think will happen next? Why do you think a character said this? What were the Character feelings do you think? Have you ever experienced anything like that before?

Brock and Fernette Eide consider it is very important to identify any students who may have ‘stealth dyslexia’. They maybe hiding it well in the early stages of school but will struggle the older they get and things become more complex. They may have some or all of the following difficulties:

  1. Hard to read new/long words, difficult to read out loud, silent reading may lack fluency/speed and accuracy.
  2. Easier to read longer text than shorter text as more available context cues.
  3. They may struggle with spellings and their handwriting may be messy.

Stealth Dyslexics, once identified, may need:

  1. Instructions in phonics
  2. text to speech readers for long reads (as they maybe slow)
  3. good keyboarding programme
  4. Extra time on tests

Also for those resilient/stealth dyslexics if your executive control is heightened then maybe work with it. There has been studies on how to improve your ‘executive function’! By using computer based training to focus on working memory and reasoning (such as Cogmed which is a combination of computerised and interactive games). Doing tasks which involve switching to different tasks though out. Even physical exercise has been debated, especially traditional martial arts.

So have a think, could you or anyone you know be a ‘stealth dyslexic’? Sounds like a mysterious super power to me! Someone who is bright, loves to read with good comprehension. Maybe a good planner, thinker and problem solver? Do they struggle with spellings and/or writing? Do they have difficulty reading out loud, skipping or substituting words? Maybe reads at a slower pace?

For those who still struggle to decode and understand and therefore do not like to read. I hope, with time, you can overcome this and read for pleasure. Next week I will look at phonic tuition and how that can be made interesting and accessible.

One important thing is to motivate a child to read. Motivation often comes with an interest in the subject matter. Who wants to read something they find boring? I know I have my preferred style of book, let the children find there’s by being involved in the choosing. It maybe a comic or lego instructions, but they are reading so embrace it.

Last thing I would recommend is to look at the Barrington Stokes website. It is an independent award winning children’s publisher. It caters for children of between 8 and 12 to teens. What is good about them is that they provide books for your child’s actual age interests but based at a lower reading age level. They have dyslexia friendly font, heavier paper with a little tint to help with visual stress. They also have big author names and lots of illustration to break up the text. Have a look and see what you think.

https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/books/best-kids-books-dyslexic-dyslexia-reluctant-readers-a7345621.html

12 best kids’ books for dyslexic and reluctant readers, have a look and ask your child if there is any that interest them.

When I asked a couple of Primary school children which books they had read and enjoyed from the list, they said as follows:

“I read Tom Gates and Diary of a Wimpy Kid when I was about 9 or 10. They were really funny. The characters have lots of funny adventures that could almost happen to you”

“I liked Mr Gum because the series was funny. The characters were really funny. There was a gingerbread man called Alan Taylor, a bear and an angry fairy. It was funny because it was so random.”

A big thank you to my reviewers, I love receiving them. So if anyone else has a particular interest in a book for whatever reason please let me know.

As I said at the start, the start of advent is near. I will be writing my list to Santa and on there will be a few books, what about you?

3 thoughts on “Dyslexia – thoughts on reading

  1. Great to have this post at xmas time. Perfect moment to reflect on reading and get ideas for books! Love the Einstein quotation at the end too!

    Liked by 1 person

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