The new GCSE, which will be taught from September 2016, requires students to remember a number of poems and analyse at least one. Mary Meredith, a teacher and blogger who works with pupils with special learning needs, argued in an open letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan that those with dyslexia may be disadvantaged unfairly because they typically experience problems with verbal memory. She has asked for the exam to be adjusted for dyslexic pupils.
There are a number of problems with this argument. The usage of the term “dyslexia” has expanded to the point that it has now lost much of its explanatory value. Initially it was used to describe very rare cases in which people could make little or no sense of the written word. Now it has become the diagnosis of choice to describe individuals exhibiting one or more of a wide range of cognitive difficulties involving areas such as memory, speed of processing, attention, concentration, analysis and synthesis, organisation and self-regulation – controlling oneself and one’s actions.
While not all those with reading difficulties experience memory problems, and not all those with memory problems struggle with literacy difficulties, there is clear evidence that a greater proportion of pupils with reading difficulties encounter problems with short-term or working memory. However, working memory appears not to be a particularly powerful predictor of reading difficulties. Short-term memory essentially involves holding information in your mind for short periods of time, for example trying not to forget a phone number while you struggle to find a pencil. If this information slips away, it is typically gone forever – what is called “catastrophic loss”.
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A friends child who had a statement for her dyslexia and was at university failed a multiple choice paper three times even though she was doing very well and had scored above average in all her other written papers.It seems that multiple choice type examinations put a strain on working memory and may disadvantage dyslexic students.
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