The end of dyslexia?

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chew8
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Re: The end of dyslexia?

Post by chew8 » Mon Sep 08, 2014 3:13 pm

Susan's post about screening has reminded me that I meant to post something more in this thread after being away for a few days.

Debbie mentioned ‘two teachers from a SIXTH FORM COLLEGE who described extremely low levels of reading and writing in their students - so much so that they had great difficulty accessing the texts.’

Presumably these teachers were talking about SOME students rather than about ALL students. Did they say what percentage of students were as weak as this? My own experience of teaching at a sixth form college from 1978 to 2000 was that some students were indeed too weak at reading and writing to cope with the curriculum and that general standards of literacy were lower than they should have been, but that didn’t mean that ALL students were very weak.

In 1984, I started screening all new entrants to the college by means of the Schonell Graded Word Spelling Test B, and I continued this until my last year (1999-2000), testing over 6,000 students altogether. I still have all the scripts: these show that most students had grasped the alphabetic principle – they were able to represent sounds plausibly by graphemes even if they sometimes chose wrong alternatives, and this was despite the fact that they had been through primary school at a time when first look-and-say and then whole-language had been the norm.

Before finalising this post I thought I would check some details. The test includes the words ‘sight’, ‘might’, ‘while’, ‘island’, ‘final’ and ‘style’, which incorporate 5 different spellings of the ‘long’ /i/ sound, so I went through all 418 of the 1999 scripts to see how students coped with these spellings. In fact 390 of the students (93%) got all 6 of those words completely right – they were clearly aware of the ‘long’ /i/ sound, knew several different spellings for it and used the right one in each of the 6 words. Of the 28 students who didn’t get all 6 words right, 24 made just one error each and the remaining four students made 2 to 4 errors each, so no one got all 6 words wrong. Among the errors, some were phonically plausible (e.g. ‘site’, ‘finell’, ‘stile’, ‘stial’) but some were not (e.g. ‘sait’ for ‘sight’, ‘well’ and ‘wistle’ for ‘while’, ‘irland’ and ‘ilsand’ for ‘island’, ‘finnal’ for ‘final’ and ‘still’ for ‘style’).

I can see that the few students who made illogical errors on these and other words would have benefited from teaching which emphasised the segmenting of words into sounds and the different spellings of those sounds, but I think that most of the rest would have felt very much talked down to if teachers had used this approach. They were not perfect spellers, but they didn’t need to be taken right back to square one when their errors were corrected or new spellings were taught.

Literacy standards in 6th form colleges are probably a bit higher now than they were when I retired if the 2005-6 re-standardisation of the Vernon spelling test is anything to go by: this showed an improvement in the spelling of children from the National Literacy Strategy era but not of pre-NLS children, and students now aged 16 are NLS products whereas my students were not. There was plenty wrong with the NLS, but it did put more emphasis on phonics than there had previously been and an improvement in spelling might be expected to follow. The authors of the Vernon manual say that ‘the NLS is now well embedded and teaching of phonics will have provided young children with the tools and opportunities to build words’ (p. 32). It would be surprising if the 2005-6 primary-school children who were better spellers than their predecessors didn’t go on to become better spellers at sixth-form level than my pre-NLS students.

Would 'your' 6th form college teachers be prepared to run the Schonell test, Debbie, so that we could compare notes?

Jenny C.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: The end of dyslexia?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Mon Sep 08, 2014 8:36 pm

Jenny - I think that is a good idea and I'll contact them and ask them.

I asked them to keep in touch with me and to let me know about developments in their context and they were clearly keen to do this.

chew8
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Re: The end of dyslexia?

Post by chew8 » Mon Sep 08, 2014 9:04 pm

It would be ideal if they could use it with all students who are new at the college this year, but if they can't, ask them to say what sort of group is involved.

There are 100 words on the full test, but I used to skip the first 30, as they were supposed to be for children up to the age of 8 - i.e. I started at No. 31, which was 'sight'.

Jenny C.

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Debbie Hepplewhite
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Re: The end of dyslexia?

Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Mon Sep 08, 2014 10:43 pm

Please can you confirm that this is the correct spelling test, Jenny:


http://www.rrf.org.uk/pdf/Schonell%20Sp ... ctions.pdf

chew8
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Re: The end of dyslexia?

Post by chew8 » Tue Sep 09, 2014 7:31 am

Yes, that's it, starting at 'sight' if they do it as I did. I didn't set much store by the spelling ages given by the Schonell norms - apart from anything else, they don't go above 15.0, so 16-year-olds can't score at an age-appropriate level however good they are. If one wants to use the norms, however, and has skipped the first 30 words, one has to give each student automatic credit for getting them right - i.e. one has to add 30 to each score out of 70.

Each word should be dictated, then used in a sentence, then repeated on its own. For words such as 'sight', where there are homophones (site), the sentence should make it clear which word is required.

Jenny C.

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