Test yourself by answering the following questions. Examples on answers can be found under each question.
1. Who are the four people or groups of people involved with teaching the child with dyslexia?
The pupil, the school (head, class teacher and supporting staff), parents or more largely ‘home’ (brothers, sisters, friends and neighbours) and ‘specialists’ (the trained teacher in dyslexia, psychologist, paediatrician, local support groups etc).
2. Why does the ‘letter’-‘sound’ correspondence have to be taught systematically, cumulatively and progressively?
To learn the alphabetic principle. If the pupil has not discovered the principle he or she will have enormous problems in establishing the decoding system and as a result all the mechanisms for the identification of words.
3. Why is it important to teach suffixes and prefixes?
Suffixes and prefixes are morphemes which can be generalized to other words and increase vocabulary considerably; pupils should be able to recognize them automatically, and understand and segment them easily.
4. Why is it important to teach ‘pure sounds’ or ‘pure phonemes’ when teaching reading?
Because ‘sounds’ are abstract units which must be taught explicitly through the decoding system and because pupils must learn isolated ‘sounds’ in order to join them together correctly to read words and so progressively improve direct access.
5. If you had to go and teach somewhere with few resources which one aid would you take, apart from some books?
We suggest an alphabet in wood or plastic.
6. And if you could take two tools, what would you add?
We suggest packets of reading and spelling cards which will help reinforce the learning of ‘letter’-‘sound’ correspondences.
7. Suppose that one day you have forgotten your alphabet in wood and other aids but have to teach the alphabet, what could you do?
Make the shapes of the letters with your body and encourage your pupils to do the same.
8. Draw up a series of activities for teaching the links between the ‘sound’, the ‘letter’, the written letter in cursive style, and its name for the ‘sound’ [ f ].
In multisensory methods you start with the simplest and most frequent concepts and then go on to the less frequent and more difficult. In general, one only works on a single ‘letter’-‘sound’ correspondence in one lesson.
What is the most frequent grapheme for [ f ]? It is < f >, but you can also have < ff > or < ph > and these should be taught in later lessons.
So now we are going to teach the first correspondence by multisensory methods:
- Auditory modality. First you orally present the pupils five words or show five pictures the words for which include [ f ]. For example: foot, floor, comfort, reef, relief. Then make a phonological analysis by asking what is the sound found in all these words, repeating them slowly if necessary. You also ask where the sound is in the word and you could also talk about a positional constraint in that it is quite rare at the end of words.
- Visual modality. Using the same words you now show them visually asking them to find the ‘letter’ corresponding to this ‘sound’.
- Manual-kinaesthetic. You ask the child to write < f > either on a piece of carpet or in the air, then several times in written cursive style following a model, then write it 2-3 times with eyes closed concentrating on the movement of the hand, all the while telling them to repeat < f > is [ f ].
- Oral-kinaesthetic. You ask the pupils to concentrate on their throat and mouth and to describe the position of their mouth, teeth and lips when the say [ f ]. If you have already taught the ‘sound’ [ v ], they can compare these two ‘sounds’ by putting one hand on their throat and noting that the mouth and tongue do not change position but that the throat vibrates for [ v ] and not for [ f ].
After that you give the reading card which includes < f > in printed style, both upper case and lower, and you ask the children to make a little drawing corresponding to the key-word on the other side of the card. This card then can be used later either in the class or at home during ‘revision of the reading pack’.
You reinforce the associations made by asking them to circle (to ‘hunt for’) the grapheme in a series of written words. This is tracking. All the time they must say the sound and then the name of the letter as they circle each target grapheme. Then, ask them if they can hear [ f ] in a series of words you are going to give them and, if they can hear the ‘sound’, where it is in the word. This is auditory discrimination and phonological analysis.
Finally, you give them the writing card which has the ‘sound’ (in brackets), the written grapheme in cursive style and the corresponding key-word. This card will be used later in class or at home during ‘revision of the writing pack’.
9. What is ‘Matthew effect’, and how is it shown in relation to reading and writing?
The poor are made poorer and the rich richer. The child who can read well will read more and more, getting better and better, which will strengthen direct automatic access of words whilst the child with dyslexia who has difficulties in reading will read less and less.
The process of identification will become slower and more laborious as longer and more complex words are encountered.
This is why it is imperative to help children with dyslexia as quickly as possible.
10. Why is cursive script recommended for children with dyslexia but also in fact for all children?
It means the pencil has to be lifted less often, which allows rapid writing with the minimum waste of time considering the distance travelled across the page and the joining up of letters.
11. What does ‘structured teaching’ mean?
It means not asking the child to read or write words for which the grapheme-phoneme correspondences have not been taught.
It also implies a tacit contract inviting confidence and avoiding being put in a failure mode.
This does not mean it has to be completely rigid. For example, if the elements of < tap > have been properly taught, you can ask the child to spell [ pat ].
12. If children with dyslexia, on being asked how they are going to revise reply, ‘by reading my notes’, why is this not enough?
His or her problems mean they have first to formulate their notions in their own words in order to remember them and recall them. Children with dyslexia have to develop strategies for anticipating the questions that could be asked.
13. Apart from a computer what other technology aids are especially useful for children with dyslexia?
We suggest first a reading pen, which is an electronic dictionary that will help the child find the correct spelling of words he or she cannot spell by text anticipation. This tool offers complete words corresponding most closely to the sequence of letters tapped.
A personal organizer with timetables and alarms is also very useful.
‘It wasn’t I who couldn’t learn, it was the teachers who couldn’t teach me’
Young millionaire from South Africa.
Quoted in Helen Arkell’s story