TES: Is dyslexia a middle-class badge for illiteracy?

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TES: Is dyslexia a middle-class badge for illiteracy?

Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Apr 03, 2009 10:48 am

TES: An article on dyslexia, written in advance of Jim Rose's report on the subject due to be published later this month.

Is dyslexia a middle-class badge for illiteracy?
When Graham Stringer, Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, lamented the “appalling levels of literacy” earlier this year, he argued that dyslexia was being used as a scapegoat.

Writing in his local newspaper column, he described the condition as a “cruel fiction”, and demanded that the industry that has grown up around it is killed off. He received hundreds of letters - about 20 per cent from supportive teachers and academics, but more than 70 per cent from angry or abusive parents and people with dyslexia.

“I was shocked at the level of anger,” he told TES Magazine. “They thought I was denying that these people have problems with literacy. In fact, I was recognising that they do, and saying it’s disgraceful that they’ve been so let down. When parents finally get a statement of educational needs for their child, they feel they’ve won. I feel they’ve already lost.”

Although Mr Stringer recognises some physical causes for poor literacy, he argues the majority can be countered through improved teaching methods, including a strict focus on synthetic phonics.
http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6011306

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is dyslexia a middle class

Post by Hugo » Fri Apr 03, 2009 4:12 pm

Funny how teachers and academics were supportive ...

Of course with 'dyslexia' being defined in law as a disability, a SLD, and diagnosis / remediation made a legal duty, many teachers are not keen to break cover, so the level of scepticism in the profession is probably underestimated.

We all know the joke about Lee being thick while Peregrine is dyslexic, and there's some truth in there. AA Gill described it as an alibi diagnosis. My problem with it all is that using the catch-all term 'dys---' - actually describing a symptom rather than a syndrome - we cease to think or look carefully. Researchers have much more fun assuming the syndrome than admitting there is more to it than this.
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Post by maizie » Fri Apr 03, 2009 5:41 pm

One thing I did like about this article was that it seemed to be pushing the notion that all struggling children should be given help (is this a pointer to the possible conclusions of Jim Rose's review?) and that it is important that the cause of the 'dyslexia' is identified and addressed.

Some of us have been saying this for quite a while :smile:

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Post by palisadesk » Fri Apr 03, 2009 6:09 pm

maizie wrote: it is important that the cause of the 'dyslexia' is identified and addressed.
Maizie, could you elaborate on what you mean by "cause?"

You have said something similar previously, which left me scratching my head in puzzlement and now makes me think you have a different meaning of "cause" than I do.

One of my graduate school professors -- to whom I owe a lot, especially the notion that the teacher's responsibility is to teach the child regardless of non-school factors -- frequently opined that "cause doesn't matter." She meant, doesn't matter instructionally. Whether the child's learning difficulty is the result of lack of earlier education, genetic endowment, poor home environment, brain injury or what, these are all factors we can rarely influence, let alone change. Thus what we need to focus on is identifying the child's strengths, needs and gaps in knowledgs and skills, and then setting about addressing these in an organized and effective way.

I suspect you would basically agree with this point of view, so you must be meaning something else by "cause." I have never heard you maintain that we need to solve the problems of social inequity, poor housing, chromosomal abnormalities and malnutrition, and prevent all accidents before we can teach students to read (believe it or not, there are people who DO say exactly this. We can't teach 'em until the world is a just and perfect place).

So I would appreciate your explaining what "cause" means in this context. Are you referring to instructional factors?

Susan S.

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Re: is dyslexia a middle class

Post by Rod Everson » Fri Apr 03, 2009 6:13 pm

Hugo wrote: My problem with it all is that using the catch-all term 'dys---' - actually describing a symptom rather than a syndrome - we cease to think or look carefully. Researchers have much more fun assuming the syndrome than admitting there is more to it than this.
I think the symptom/syndrome confusion explains the two sets of letters. The supportive letters feel that dyslexia is a tag used for "poor reading" (a symptom) and believe that differing curricula, teaching styles, parenting abilities, etc., explain the symptom, i.e., the poor reading that results.

The angry parents, and particularly the angry dyslexics, have experience with the syndrome, of which poor reading is just one of what can be a fairly large number of symptoms, many of which can be quite difficult to explain.

Where the legislator made his mistake was in calling it dyslexia a "cruel fiction." To those dealing with the full spectrum of symptoms of the dyslexia syndrome, applying the word "fiction" to their condition was bound to get their blood boiling.

Rod Everson

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Post by maizie » Fri Apr 03, 2009 9:08 pm

Maizie, could you elaborate on what you mean by "cause?"
I am taking the word 'dyslexia' very literally in its meaning of 'trouble with words'. As I understand it, the term was originally used for brain damaged subjects who had lost the ability to read (though that may be an over simplification).

I first heard it used in connection with children who had difficulty with reading in the mid 1980s, when I belonged to a mother/child support group. One of the members had a child who was having difficulty learning to read (this was when WL/look & say/Real books was becoming the accepted method of teaching reading in the UK). 'Dyslexia' was becoming one of those things that middle class parents 'knew' about and were fighting to have their children recognised as such. As I moved away from that area a few months later, and, as my children had no problems learning to read, it wasn't something I gave much thought to until I started working in schools 10 years ago and encountered the term in connection with the children I was 'supporting'.

So, I had no 'training' in 'dyslexia', no indoctrination about the 'condition'; and when I read Diane McGuinnness's book a year down the line, I was fairly open to the idea that it might not actually be a discrete 'condition'. All I was really interested to know at that time was why children failed to learn to read and what I could do to help them. But, since then, I have read a great deal about the teaching of reading, a great deal of reading research, lots of message boards, and, worked with a fair number of children, some labelled 'dyslexic', some not.

Being a Teaching Assistant, rather than a teacher meant that I have been in the position of watching a 'trained' Special Needs teacher teaching 'dyslexics' with one of the recognised UK 'dyslexia' programmes. Same thing for all the children -'this is what dyslexics need'. But it didn't do much for them. I also supported many children who appeared to have the same kinds of difficulty with reading & writing, but who weren't labelled 'dyslexic'. Hmmmmm...

Since I have been working independently for the last few years I have come to realise more and more that, for many children, being labelled 'dyslexic' is the end of a process. Yup, we've found the answer now; that child is dyslexic, so we can all sit back and 'accomodate' it, give it the 'dyslexia' treatment and the job's done. Except that it isn't.

Yes, some children 'recover' very well (given that the children I work with are sometimes 4 or 5 years behind their peers and will never catch up completely) once they understand how to decode and blend words and the gaps in their phonic knowledge are filled. But a few still struggle and it is left to me to try and pinpoint just what the barrier to their learning can be. Because none of the 'professionals' ever seem to want (or know how) to get past the label. I have even discussed a child at length with the local Ed Psych, prior to her 'assessing him' and the only suggestion she could make was that he was probably 'tired of phonics'. The results of the 'assessment' only told me what I knew already (poor word identification, reasonable phonic skills and poor scores on a digit recall test) and the feedback to his mother was that 'she should read more with him'. 'Professional' advice to us was 'multisensory phonics' and 'age appropriate reading materials'. Ha, ha - he'd had 18 months of the phonics teaching and couldn't read 'age appropriate' materials.

So I don't consider that the label, in itself, is in the slightest bit helpful. All it tells you is that the child has problems with reading and writing, but not why it has problems. And it is the 'why' that I take to be the 'cause' of the dyslexia'.

All my reading tells me (e.g.Stanovich, McGuinness, Rice's excellent review of research into 'developmental dyslexia, Elliot) that there is nothing which particularly distinguishes a 'dyslexic' from a common or garden 'poor reader', but it does tell me that there are lots of reasons why children struggle to learn to read.

Yes, a child may have a neurological problem, but dyslexia is a manifestation of the problem, not the problem itself. Other children may equally well have hearing problems, short term memory deficits, emotional problems, visual problems, dietary deficiencies; any of these may be impeding their learning and dyslexia be a consequence of the impediment. But they are all different problems and I cannot see how they can all come under the same 'umbrella' term, 'dyslexia'. Is 'poor comprehension' dyslexia, or is it a function of poor language skills?

I know there are people out there who have been working with children far, far longer than I have and who have probably encountered far more 'difficult to teach' children than I have, but how many would say that all these children have the same 'condition' and how many would be looking behind the label to find out just what is causing the barrier and what would be the most effective way to teach that particular child?

Not sure that I've really answered your question, Susan :sad:

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Post by palisadesk » Sun Apr 05, 2009 6:47 pm

maizie wrote:Not sure that I've really answered your question, Susan :sad:
Well, no you didn't really;-( Maybe it's that transatlantic communication gap).

It's not often I feel like we have a better school system going here, but I think in this respect, we do. We don't identify children with "dyslexia" so most of the consequences of doing so, that you describe so eloquently, simply don't occur here. We don't have people thinking that there is a single (much less a unitary) "condition" that afflicts those who are slow to pick up on reading (or other) skills, nor the mindset that now that we have "named" the problem, we can stop worrying about it.

We do have the category of "learning disabilities," and I'm not partial to the use of the word "disability" because in many cases the student's problems are time-limited and go away, so to create the impression that the student has a "disability" is in many cases a counterproductive thing to do. However, even when a student is classified as "learning disabled," the parents can go back later and get the label removed, if the child's academic works improves. One benefit to the "LD" designation, however, is that it does not imply any particular cause or any particular set of "symptoms." Reading is often, but not always, a factor. Some of our "LD" kids are outstanding readers, but can't write, or do math, or they have severe organizational difficulties or social skills deficits. Thus the mindset of "oh s/he's dyslexic" doesn't come up.

One thing that is definitely different here is this:

maizie wrote:is left to me to try and pinpoint just what the barrier to their learning can be. Because none of the 'professionals' ever seem to want (or know how) to get past the label. I have even discussed a child at length with the local Ed Psych, prior to her 'assessing him' and the only suggestion she could make was that he was probably 'tired of phonics'. The results of the 'assessment' only told me what I knew already (poor word identification, reasonable phonic skills and poor scores on a digit recall test) and the feedback to his mother was that 'she should read more with him'. 'Professional' advice to us was 'multisensory phonics' and 'age appropriate reading materials'

I can thankfully say I have *never* encountered this level of professional non-helpfulness here. Since the label of "learning disability" is not very specific, the reports always detail in very specific terms what the child's areas of difficulty are (and also where s/he is adequate, average or outstanding), then translates these findings into very specific suggestions as to instructional strategies in the classroom, curriculum modifications or adaptations, technological support if appropriate, community resources to access, ways for parents to help the child at home (again, very specific suggestions), and so on.The detailed recommendations and suggestions may go to 10-20 typewritten pages, with examples and explanations. They go well beyond suggestions that the parents read with the child at home (or that staff use "age appropriate materials").

They are very thorough!! These are people who *do* know how to help children who are struggling to learn. They can't recommend specific commercial materials in their reports, but they are often familiar with them and when you ask what to try with Student X, they will (in person) suggest you look into Program X or Y, or use techniques A or B.

I agree there are lots of reasons children find learning difficult (I have certainly made this point before, so I won't elaborate), and the causes, whatever they are, are often beyond the reach of school personnel to address. That's why I found your statement that we need to identify and address the "causes" to be a puzzling statement -- since you seem to think along the same lines.

If part of the presenting problem is instructional --as it usually is -- then I think that part of the "cause" (going back to Aristotle's four causes, the instructional factors would likely be the "efficient cause") is something we CAN identify, and CAN address, and that is what we try to do.

But I always bear in mind something one of the smartest people I've ever met said:
"The problem that present itself is not necessarily the problem to solve."

Catherine Johnson looked into this and posted about it on KTM about a year ago:
http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/20 ... culus.html
I recommend the article she cited. Slightly OT but worthwhile.

But, Maizie, I think I get your point. You are referring , are you not, to immediate causes, not to genetic or environmental factors that we can do nothing about, correct?

I think it a sad state of affairs that a TA (or a teacher, for that matter) is left on her own to try to find ways to help students learn. Unfortunately it is probably not an isolated phenomenon. And here, while the assessment reports are very valuable, they aren't available for the 98% of children who are never assessed, and who may still be desperately in need of informed instructional support.
Susan S

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Post by mtyler » Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:25 pm

Susan S,

Out of curiosity, what kind of people are doing these 10-20 page reports?

Melissa
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Post by palisadesk » Sun Apr 05, 2009 7:54 pm

mtyler wrote:Susan S,

Out of curiosity, what kind of people are doing these 10-20 page reports?


Psychologists (educational assessments)
Speech/Language Pathologists (Speech-Language assesments)

The reports are usually in two or three parts.

The first part will be background information on the student: relevant medical and educational history, information from family and caregivers, observations in the clasroom and so on.

The second part will be a description of the specific tests used, what their purpose and scope is, and their results. Following this will be an analysis of the results and what they mean in plain English, and how they go together to give a picture of the student as a learner.

This section will also typically include relevant professional recommendations, such as recommending the child have a hearing assessment, an evaluation by an occupational therapist, a thorough medical checkup, or whatever might be appropriate. This section may also include recommended community support services (agencies that assist children with ADHD, provide family counseling, social skills support groups for teens, family support for parents of children with autism, and so on).

The third part will include the detailed suggestions to assist parents and teachers. They may be very extensive and cover several areas, including (for instance) expressive language skills, organizational and time management skills, oral language comprehension and vocabulary, decoding skills, reading comprehension for various types of text, quantitative thinking and fundamental math skills, practical math for everyday (money, telling time, measurement), computational skills, social skills (initiating conversation, taking turns, asking for help in appropriate ways), written language, and so on.

The first two parts of the report taken together typically run to 6-8 pages. The third part is the longest, and can be 5-15 pages.

We also have students assessed in their first language when there are concerns about a student's learning and we don't know if it is simply a lack of English. These reports are shorter and recommend a referral to the relevant specialist if the assessor finds difficulties in the native language as well.

Susan S.

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Post by g.carter » Sun Apr 05, 2009 9:24 pm

Susan - it staggers me that so much attention is paid to every aspect of a child's well-being and yet synthetic phonics - a very straightforward way of helping to address some of the problems and help children to a solid start in school - is out of bounds.g

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Dyslexia

Post by MonaMMcNee » Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:51 pm

It seems appropriate to repeat, at this point, what Jean Augur wrote in her 1981 book “This book doesn’t make cens sns scns sense’: “I firmly believe that if all children in the reception class were taught in this way the children who would normally read easily would not suffer but the child at risk would stand a much better chance of reading earlier.”
And my definition:
“Dyslexia is an inborn, LATENT potential to muddlement. It is ACTIVATED by whole-word teaching, sight words, guessing and other non-phonics teaching. “ If you have hay fever, you will have no problems on a visit to the South Pole – no pollen. If you are dyslexic and have just logical phonics, you will learn to read. You may well have the benefits of some dyslexics – extra skill in art (Churchill was a painter; my nephew could draw a dog that almost barked!

The word came into common use after decades of whole-word, Ladybird and so on.
Saying there is no such think does not help. Sadly, the British Dyslexia Association has focused almost exclusively on INTERvention, instead of fighting also for PREvention.

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Post by Susan Godsland » Sat Apr 11, 2009 3:58 pm

I prefer maizie's definition, Mona:


The incapacity of an individual's brain to learn to read when taught with inappropriate methods.

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Post by chew8 » Sat Apr 11, 2009 4:40 pm

I had all my schooling in South Africa, starting in 1945, and I taught there for much of the 1960s. Throughout that time, primary schools there taught good phonics - i.e. taught the way that Jean Augur thought would be good for all children. Sure enough, all children learnt to read well and to spell very acceptably.

I started to teach in England in April 1978 and first heard the term 'dyslexic' early in 1980. The concept was completely new to me - I had never encountered word-jumblers before.

Jenny C.

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Post by yvonne meyer » Sun Apr 12, 2009 6:22 am

the following was passed on to me by Molly de Lemos and while I haven't read it yet, it seems like it might be of interest'

Yvonne

Does Dyslexia Exist?
JULIAN G. ELLIOTT 1 and SIMON GIBBS 1

Journal of Philosophy of Education
Volume 42 Issue 3-4, Pages 475 - 491
Special Issue: New Philosophies of Learning: Edited by Ruth Cigman and Andrew Davis
Published Online: 22 Jan 2009
Journal compilation © 2009 The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain

ABSTRACT

In this paper we argue that attempts to distinguish between categories of 'dyslexia' and 'poor reader' or 'reading disabled' are scientifically unsupportable, arbitrary and thus potentially discriminatory. We do not seek to veto scientific curiosity in examining underlying factors in reading disability, for seeking greater understanding of the relationship between visual symbols and spoken language is crucial.

However, while stressing the potential of genetics and neuroscience for guiding assessment and educational practice at some stage in the future, we argue that there is a mistaken belief that current knowledge in these fields is sufficient to justify a category of dyslexia as a subset of those who encounter reading difficulties. The implications of this debate for large-scale intervention are outlined.

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/jour ... 1&SRETRY=0

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Post by Susan Godsland » Sun Apr 12, 2009 12:43 pm

Sadly, it appears one has to pay to view the complete article :cry:
Does anyone have a copy they could send me? I'd REALLY like to read it.

If you're near Durham University, then you might like to go to this on the 11th May:

http://www.dur.ac.uk/whatson/event/?eventno=5359

4.15pm – 5.15pm 'Does Dyslexia Exist?' Joe Elliott, Professor of Education and Director of Research, Durham University School of Education, and Dr. Simon Gibbs, Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology, Newcastle University

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