Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

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Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by Susan Godsland » Wed Apr 28, 2010 6:47 pm

The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust: ‘No to Failure’ Project final report. 2009

http://www.thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk ... report.pdf

This final report is a glossy document reminiscent of the type that Reading Recovery produces; lots of large ‘filler’ photographs of smiling children and plenty of space dedicated to opinions and anecdotes. Reading through, it became clear that there were other similarities with Reading Recovery reports.

One of the main aims of the project was to demonstrate that, ‘‘Dyslexia-Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) training is essential’’ (p3).

Dyslexia-Specific training?

Many distinguished people involved in reading research would take issue with the assertion that dyslexia is a specific and identifiable learning difficulty, or that it needs a special sort of training, different from that undertaken by SENCos/teachers and tutors working with ‘ordinary’ struggling readers:

'The underlying difficulty appears to be the same, the way these children respond to treatment appears to be the same, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for going in and trying to carve out a special group of poor readers. This is what 15 years of research, all over the world has shown can’t be justified on a scientific or empirical basis (Prof. Stanovich) 'Attempts to distinguish between categories of ‘dyslexia’ and ‘poor reader’ or ‘reading disabled’ are scientifically unsupportable, arbitrary and thus potentially discriminatory' (Prof. Elliott/Dr. Gibbs). ‘Dyslexia means "poor reader" in Greek. That is all it means. Bona fide scientific research over the past three decades shows that no reading test can distinguish a "garden variety poor reader" from someone "diagnosed dyslexic." A poor reader is a poor reader is a poor reader, and this is true at any age’ (Prof. D. McGuinness) In other words, since no operational (infallible) definition of dyslexia exists, there is, presently, no scientifically valid way of separating out the ‘dyslexics’ from a group of struggling readers in order to give them a ‘special’ type of teaching that apparently only ‘specialist dyslexia teachers’ can do.

This major obstacle proved no handicap for those carrying out the project. They went ahead and selected out groups of children they had diagnosed as being ‘at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD' (the label is hedged about since there is no legal definition of ’dyslexia’ in the UK), and gave them so-called ‘specialist dyslexic teaching’ anyway.

The ‘dyslexic’ children were selected out partly by the use of a miscue analysis test (p29). This particular testing device has no place in modern assessment since it is derived from the infamous and discredited whole language philosophy of reading instruction; ‘Reading Miscue analysis is a major whole language test designed to assess the strategies that children use in their reading. Goodman and his colleagues in the 1960's were interested in the processes occurring during reading, and believed that miscues (any departure from the text by the reader) could provide a picture of the underlying cognitive processes.’ (Dr. Kerry Hempenstall http://www.ednews.org/articles/miscue-a ... tque-.html)

The children weren’t tested on their knowledge of the common grapheme-phoneme correspondences of the alphabet code, which seems extremely remiss, though it was acknowledged that, ‘A particular deficiency of this study was the absence of any ‘pure’ measures of word reading accuracy and phonic skills uncontaminated by context, comprehension, continuous text reading and speed’ (p85).

The deficits tested for in the children to determine whether they were ‘at risk for Dyslexia-SpLD’ were working (short-term) memory, phonic decoding skills and phonological processing. We are informed that, ’Deficits in these cognitive abilities are the hallmarks of Dyslexia’ and ‘hence pupils exhibiting these problems can be regarded as probably having Dyslexia’ (italics added.p53)

Let’s examine these ‘hallmarks of dyslexia’.
‘Working memory is the cognitive process that enables us to hold a limited amount of information in a short-term temporary store while carrying out other tasks, such as speaking, listening, reading, writing or doing mathematics’(p53)

'In a highly regarded study conducted by Joseph Torgesen, a psychologist at the University of Florida, out of 60 children with severe reading difficulties, only eight had poor short-term memories, while almost as many – seven – had very good short-term memories' (Mills. The Dyslexia Myth). So, having a short-term memory problem is poorly correlated with having severe reading difficulties.

‘Phonic decoding is a learned skill that involves systematically relating graphemes (letters or combinations of letters) to phonemes (distinctive speech sounds), enabling us to read words that we cannot recognise by sight alone’ (p53)

Yes, it’s a learned skill, which indicates that if a child has difficulties in this area then it’s highly likely that they haven’t been given effective teaching of the necessary information and skills. That reading difficulties could be a result of poor teaching is weakly acknowledged late in the report; ‘It certainly cannot be assumed that all the at-risk pupils will have had appropriate learning opportunities at all stages of their education’ (p93)

‘Phonological processing refers to a range of cognitive skills associated with manipulating the sounds of language, including awareness of rhyme and alliteration, and transposition of letters and syllables in words’ (p53)

In order to use a phonetic alphabet competently for reading and spelling, children need to be made aware of the smallest discernable units of sound in their speech, phonemes, not larger units of sound such as syllables, onset and rhymes. The ability to discern and manipulate the 40+ phonemes for decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) is a learned skill, not something that develops naturally and progressively, and has to be taught. People who read and write using non-phonetic writing systems lack phoneme awareness and processing ability; studies 'show the strong impact of the type of writing system and type of instruction on the development of phonemic awareness -an environmental effect, and restates the point that you do not acquire this aptitude unless you need it' (D. McGuinness. Why Children Can’t Read p135). Importantly, '(T)he research conclusively proves there is no benefit to phoneme-only training programmes as opposed to instruction using a good synthetic phonics programme from the outset, one which teaches segmenting and blending using letter symbols and lots of writing practice. Phoneme analysis sufficient to be able to decode is acquired much more rapidly in the context of print than in isolation' (D. McGuinness. Response to Hulme) Difficulty in the area of phonological processing is most likely to indicate poor teaching rather than ‘inherent learning difficulties’ (p93).

Let’s look more closely at the ‘toolkit of skills’ (p4) that apparently make a ‘specialist dyslexia teacher’ so special and different from an experienced teacher/SENCo or reading tutor who simply uses a modern, synthetic phonics programme. The principles that ‘underlie teaching by a Specialist Dyslexia-SpLD teacher’ are set out on p27-8.

‘Multisensory teaching. example: To spell ‘separate’- draw a parachute around ‘para’, close eyes, finger write saying letters ‘s.e.p.a.r.a.t.e’ visualising the letters’.

An experienced teacher, who uses a genuine, synthetic phonics programme, would not consider this to be a superior form of ‘multisensory’ teaching. On the contrary, finding ‘little words in big words’ and closing one’s eyes (thereby sidelining one of the major senses!) whilst sounding out words using alphabet letter names and visualising individual letters, rather than the grapheme-phoneme correspondences, are unhelpful and damaging practices.

‘Synthetic phonics the essential base moving to higher level and analytic phonics where appropriate’.

It’s gratifying to learn that, ‘specialist teaching employs synthetic phonics as the essential base’, but then we are told that synthetic phonics is, ‘followed by carefully structured higher level phonics’. No description of this ‘higher level phonics’ is given. I can’t think of anything ‘higher level’ than teaching the multiple spelling alternatives of the advanced alphabet code as happens in good synthetic phonics teaching. Perhaps it means larger units of sound such as syllables, but learning how to read and spell multi-syllable words also takes place in regular, synthetic phonics teaching. Analytic phonics ‘e.g. rhyming for analogies’, is not appropriate or helpful for struggling readers; recent studies 'have shown conclusively that children do not use rhyming endings to decode words; hardly ever decode by analogy to other words; and that ability to dissect words into onsets and rimes has no impact whatsoever on learning to read and spell’ (D. McGuinness. Why children can’t read p148 / (B. Macmillan Why schoolchildren can’t read. p82).

‘Deliberate targeting of the pupil’s learning strengths, intelligences and learning styles to use in learning’.

It’s very surprising that this educational fad should still form part of a ‘specialist dyslexia teacher’s repertoire since there is no research base for the idea that matching teaching to learning styles or perceived ‘intelligences’ produces any noticeable benefits. Jim Rose, himself, wrote, 'The multi-sensory work showed that children generally bring to bear on the learning task as many of their senses as they can, rather than limit themselves to only one sensory pathway. This calls in to question the notion that children can be categorised by a single learning style, be it auditory, visual or kinaesthetic.' (Rose Report 2006 para58) Furthermore, research shows that children are predominantly reliant on auditory skills to learn to read successfully (Macmillan. Why schoolchildren can’t read p126-132), writing being a coded transcription of the sounds in our speech. As Mona McNee says, 'We read with our ears. We spell with our ears'. Children who have acquired a dominant visual (whole-word) learning habit as a result of poor teaching need more practice in the auditory aspects of reading and will not be helped by any method that reinforces their strong visual tendencies.

Apparently, the project ‘was not originally proposed as an empirical research study’ but only ‘to demonstrate the benefits of screening for Dyslexia-SpLD and specialist dyslexic tuition on the basis of evidence that was largely qualitative in nature’(italics added. p86). No explanation is given as to why, originally, the project designers thought that it was acceptable or possible for a non-quantitative research project to provide convincing evidence of their aims. We are told that, ‘after the project was already under way it became clear that a more conventional empirical research design would be necessary in order to provide convincing evidence to support the aims of the project’ (p45)

Because of the lack of a legitimate, scientific experimental design from the very beginning, the whole methodological integrity of the project was ruined. This ‘resulted in an outcome that was far from ideal on scientific grounds’ (p56) and certainly no convincing evidence of the ‘benefits of screening for Dyslexia-SpLD and specialist dyslexic tuition’. Statistical analysis of the corrupted project data was pointless but, because it was ‘largely a publically funded enterprise’ (p59), a brave attempt was made to rescue the project’s figures, to give the appearance of a successful outcome with the project aims substantiated and no public money wasted. Anyone who might want to criticise the futility of producing such meaningless figures is to be labeled pejoratively as a ‘statistical purist’ (p59) Reading Recovery déjà-vu.

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Re: The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ Project final report

Post by g.carter » Wed Apr 28, 2010 7:30 pm

Huge thanks for this impressive critique. I hope that it will be widely distributed.

The Lib Dem shadow education Minister worries me - he seems a civilized man but along with Vince Cable and Nick Clegg seems to have brought into the personalised learning one-to-one regime. As the S & T All-Party Committee on Early Reading Instruction was chaired by a Lib Dem (ex Head) it's a pity that conclusions haven't been drawn from that Report.

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Re: The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ Project final report

Post by Derrie Clark » Wed Apr 28, 2010 8:20 pm

Yes, excellent critique.

Do you think this will be their 'final report'. No . . . just dreaming . . .

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Re: Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by Susan Godsland » Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:08 pm

Do you think this will be their 'final report'. No . . . just dreaming . . .
How right you were, Derrie. My recently received Dyslexia Action (DA) catalogue informs me that the 'Partnership for Literacy -government sponsored [tax-payers] projects use Units of Sound'

The DA website has this:
Partnership for Literacy is a unique whole school initiative that uses the specialist knowledge of Dyslexia Action’s teachers to develop a sustainable model of support for children who have literacy difficulties.
This DA initiative is being 'launched' at the House of Commons in January 2011.
Ian Liddell-Granger MP, Chair of the All Party Group on Dyslexia and SpLD’s, and Shirley Cramer CBE, Dyslexia Action Chief Executive invite you to an exclusive briefing on the results of the successful whole-school literacy intervention research programme: Partnership for Literacy
Here's the glossy, photo-strewn report: DyslexiaAction P4L Report 2009
http://www.dyslexiaaction.org.uk/Handle ... 673fd9dca1
p17. Summary: The pupil data shows that the lowest 20% of children,
which is the group of children that we expected to benefit most from the
intervention, made more progress in reading than would normally be
expected for this group of children. However, the results must be treated with
caution as the schools were not randomly selected and there was no
comparison group of children.
Did Sounds–Write get invited to the House of Commons to present the comprehensive data from the S~W research report following 1607 pupils through Key Stage 1, Derrie, or any government sponsorship? No? Then I suggest you take a tip from the dyslexia folk and alter the style and substance of your reports. That might do the trick ;-)

For comparison with the dyslexia reports:
http://www.sounds-write.co.uk/documents ... t_2009.pdf

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Re: Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by Derrie Clark » Mon Dec 06, 2010 7:41 pm

And I had such high hopes . . . :-[

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Re: Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by Derrie Clark » Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:48 am

Unfortunately Susan, although I am not a part of the Sounds-Write Company (rather an Educational Psychologist who promotes and trains in the approach because it is evidence based and clearly works for young people and teachers - why reinvent the wheel?), I understand they do not have the money or time for such glossy publications, big advertising machinery or lobbying MPs.

I am surprised that another Government has agreed to fund an approach without looking at the evidence and comparisons across available approaches. The Engineering and Science Committee made some point about Government decision making not being based on the interests of lobby groups?


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Re: Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by Elizabeth » Tue Dec 07, 2010 11:12 pm

I've looked at your link, Derrie. It's from Liddell Grainger, MP for Somerset and Sedgemoor. He has provided this list of “worthy organisations”:

• Action4SEN
• Dyslexia Action
• British Dyslexia Association
• dyslexics.org.uk
• Being Dyslexic
• xtraordinarypeople
• bibic

Look what's included in the middle, after the British Dyslexia Association! :grin:

I hope more people who are concerned about children who can’t read will look at Susan’s website as a result.
Elizabeth

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Re: Critique: Dyslexia-SpLD Trust ‘No to Failure’ final report

Post by kenm » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:42 am

I looked at the Dyslexia Action website and found:
All of the above rely on a cumulative, multisensory and structured approach.

Cummulative means to identify a starting point and build on firm foundations
I decided that it was an unreliable source of information concerning spelling.
"... the innovator has as enemies all those who have done well under the old regime, and only lukewarm allies among those who may do well under the new." Niccolo Macchiavelli, "The Prince", Chapter 6

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