Dyslexia Friendly Storytelling

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A couple of weeks ago, the BBC launched this year’s 500 Words competition. 500 Words is a writing competition for children between 5 and 13 years old. Each entrant submits one story of up to 500 words. The three winners in each age category win either their own height in books, the Duchess of Cornwall’s height in books (5’6”), or DJ Chris Evans’ height in books (6’2”).

Entries are judged on

  • originality
  • plot
  • characterisation
  • language

Crucially, entries are not judged on spelling, punctuation or grammar. In fact, the official rules say that entries are judged “without regard” for these potential stumbling blocks for young dyslexic writers.

Entries are also submitted by copying or typing into an online text box. A helpful adult is supposed to do this bit, and to fill out the rest of the online entry form for the child. That removes another potential barrier for children with dyslexia – dodgy handwriting.

Chris Evans started the competition in 2011 while he was a DJ at Radio 2. He had a vision of inspiring a love of reading and writing in all children, regardless of their abilities and challenges. The competition has been a huge success: 800,000 stories have been submitted in the eight years it has been running.

My nieces have provided some of those stories. One of my nieces, Susannah, is dyslexic, like me, and faces the typical struggles with handwriting and spelling. (Her typing skills are very good, though.) This competition gives her a chance to express her creativity without unnecessary barriers.

Many great writers were dyslexic, or are believed to have been. (Dyslexia wasn’t well understood when W B Yeats and F Scott Fitzgerald were around.) There are also successful dyslexic writers today. I’m an author and freelance writer who’s mildly dyslexic. I would love to see more children with dyslexia enjoying writing without feeling intimidated.

If you are between 5 and 13, or you know a budding author who is, here is the link to the 500 Words competition. Entries must be in by 7pm on Friday 8th of March.

Karen Murdarasi

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Dyslexia doesn’t deserve to be devalued

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Having recently read via multiple sources (notably The Times Education Supplement and The Telegraph) that a couple of English councils view dyslexia assessments as ‘scientifically questionable’ and opt not to distinguish between those who are dyslexic and those who find it difficult to read, I was hugely disappointed.  Not least because it raises several problematic questions but it also poses difficulties for those who are affected by this policy. 

While some people may question why I would want to concern myself with a problem confined to a small number of English councils, particular ways of thinking – good and bad – are not limited to or by particular locations.  Although it might not be an issue facing the people of Scotland, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be talked about.  Don’t get me wrong, there are arguments both for and against assessments for dyslexia depending on whether an individual finds the “label” helpful, something I’ve written about previously.  But I think there’s a particular danger in calling a neurological difference questionable.  Although it does not appear to be readily apparent, could the logic that has been applied to arguments against the validity of dyslexia not be applied to other learning differences, neurological or otherwise?  If so, where is the line drawn?  And if not, why has dyslexia been singled out?  

This blog often discusses how dyslexia is much more than a difficulty with reading.  By amalgamating those who have dyslexia with those who find learning to read tricky, one would be potentially damaging the self-esteem of both groups of learners and undermining their struggles thus crushing their desire to learn and obstructing them from fulfilling their potential. By challenging the existence of dyslexia, those with this learning difference could also lose the ability to have something to attribute their need to learn differently, therefore reducing acceptance and legitimising needless stigma.  On a related note, children without access to assessments are being denied a potentially helpful identifier in that label.  The ‘label’ may help them to find others with dyslexia like Jamie Oliver and Holly Willoughby to whom they can aspire. Furthermore, by saying that dyslexia is ‘scientifically questionable’, it risks devaluing not only the needs of those learners, but also those who work to make sure those needs are met; namely, teachers, teaching assistants and additional support needs specialists.  

Ultimately though, what is being said about those who have dyslexia?  That their difficulties should cease to be acknowledged?  Why should educational provision and perhaps even access to specialist support, be dependent on which council a school is affiliated with and therefore become a postcode lottery?  All learners, irrespective of their learning differences, need support and positivity to thrive.  By denying the existence of dyslexia, some people are not being supported, and even more could be denied positive learning environments and experiences, which could only be to the detriment of the people concerned, those who care for and support them and society as a whole. 

Gemma Bryant

Volunteer Blogger

 

Getting to know your learning strategies – part II

 

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I’m currently studying towards a Masters in Psychology. Having grown up believing in the label ‘stupid’ due to my dyslexia, I have since developed a thirst, if not addiction, towards learning and gaining academic recognition.

I was never stupid, but I can see why it would appear that way to others. Dyslexia wasn’t well understood in the 90s when I did my formative years of schooling and my college degree. My lack of ability to memorise facts or understand things after a first read-through and my myriads of spelling mistakes that never seemed to improve, seemed to tell a story to teachers about stupidity and laziness. Of course, I was anything but lazy, and studied longer and harder than my peers, but to no avail, so I started believing I was stupid too.

In my previous post ‘getting to know your learning strategies – part I’, I talked about the various ways I have now learned that I retain information. I need the element of storytelling to be able to hook new information into existing points of references in my brain.

This year, I’m back learning statistics – a subject I nearly failed last time I was at university. But I’ve since learned so much more about dyslexia (off my own back and thanks to Dyslexia Scotland who have great hand-outs), and I now know how to attack a problem better.

It’s harder to remember specifics from a boring policy than it is remembering details from colours, to names, to events in a fiction book. I have so many story-based reference points in my brain, but none for policies, so I now know that I need to make policies into stories to hook them into my memory.

I love non-fiction books by John Ronson, Will Storr and Johan Hari, as they apply engaging journalistic skills to non-fiction topics and, thereby, engage learning and remembering. It’s also easier to say to a friend ‘guess what I’ve just learned…’ and share an interesting story from real life, than simply regurgitate facts. These journalists use examples that are so out there and weird that you can’t help but want to share them with others, and then by rehearsing the knowledge, by repeating it to others, it becomes easier to remember facts for yourself.

The thing that frustrates me, is that humans are story tellers. We have a unique ability to tell and relate to stories – for our survival – as it was a way of sharing facts of which berries were poisonous to eat, which areas were dangerous to venture into, and which areas were great for hunting. Simply giving these facts to children, for them to pass on to their children, to ensure survival was not a great idea, so by telling imaginative stories, these facts lived on from generation to generation.

So, knowing this, and knowing our ancestors used other ways of telling and remembering a story like art, why do modern-day schools insist on teaching children (and university students alike) via memorising facts, via fact-regurgitating exams, by strict essay formats, and often by one learning strategy for all? I’m not suggesting schools have the time or resources to tailor their teaching after someone with dyslexia, per say, but wouldn’t all students enjoy learning facts via storytelling? By being able to apply creative means, like drawing, while listening? By being allowed to write more creative essays? Teaching, geared towards dyslexia, could often enhance the learning experience for all pupils… in my opinion. What do you think?

Terese Kansted, 

Dyslexia Scotland blogger

Dyslexia and Recruitment: Square Pegs and a Round Circle

Way back in the 13th Century a selection of artists were asked to demonstrate their competence for a job as a painter for Pope Benedict XI. Each provided an elaborate, detailed sketch to prove their abilities. Except for Giotto, who simply drew a single perfect circle.

Guess what? He got the job.

Dyslexia and Job Applications

This might be the earliest example of successfully taking a creative, unconventional approach to applying for a job. Since then, employers have set all kinds of different tasks, and applicants have considered the best way to respond to make them stand out. The evolution of the CV and application form through history has had challenging consequences for dyslexic applicants, and these, combined with interview struggles, are the things people approaching Dyslexia Scotland’s Career Development Service ask for help with most.

The recent report The Value of Dyslexia by Ernst and Young says “Standardised hiring processes can inhibit dyslexic individuals. Job descriptions and application processes can … play against dyslexic abilities.” Last year, the WAC report Opening Doors to Employment also highlighted how traditional recruitment processes are “significant barriers” to dyslexic people. These findings are no surprise to Dyslexia Scotland, but what hope and inspiration is there for the dyslexic job seeker who feels applications forms are more of a square peg to their Giotto-like circle?
In response to the challenges of recruitment processes, employers signed up to the UK Government’s Disability Confident scheme at level 2 are committed to accept job applications in a variety of formats”.

The open-ness of this commitment spells hope for applicants who find the traditional application form isn’t their style, particularly those gifted with dyslexic-thinking strengths of creativity and problem solving, who take daring and dynamic approaches to a challenge. But how open are employers to receiving truly alternative formats of applications?

Alternative Applications

Some of my favourite examples of out-there approaches to applying for jobs have resulted in great success for the applicants because they’ve approached things so very differently. Cole Warner, a young person in America showed he had all the right tools for an Internship job at American DIY chain store Home Depot with this ‘out of the box’ CV.

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In his blog, employer Phillip Newman said “When I took apart the toolbox, I was reminded by how much more there is to people beyond what a [CV] tells of them. [CVs] are ripe for disruption. So are job descriptions.”

Some creative approaches to getting a job are born of frustration at following the beaten track. Adam Pacitti from England turned the tables on employers, calling on them to approach him with a job in a stand-out way.

Dyslexia and Recruitment

And others have a more playful take on things, like Andy Morris, a designer from Wales whose Lego figure application is helping build his career.

Dyslexic Thinking Skills

Whilst dyslexic applicants can have difficulty with traditional recruitment processes, they can also be among the most creative thinkers, and like the examples above, able to see a different way to stand out to employers. With so much promotion around a need for dyslexic thinking skills in the world of business, employers could do well to apply the same principle to the way they recruit.

How alternative an approach would you be prepared to take to apply for a job?   If you thought a creative approach might catch an employer’s attention, how would you go about applying? Do you think employers should be more open to truly alternative applications?

Think differently about approaching recruitment; you might stand out for all the right reasons.  Men in Black – The Test Scene.

Katie Carmichael, Career Coach

Getting to Know Your Learning Strategies: Part I

 

I was told I was dyslexic when I was around 6 in the early 1990s, and got extra tutoring for it, but it was believed then that dyslexia was merely a shortcoming in being able to read and write in my native language. Once I was able to do that, I was ‘cured’ – no one understood that I’d have the same problems learning to read and write in a new language, as I struggle to sound out words, or that I had working memory problems – making exams very problematic – and no one picked up on my dyscalculia either.

I love learning and reading and writing, so I was lucky that I was very motivated to keep at it. I never thought I’d get a university degree as I didn’t have the grades to get into university in Denmark, where I lived. In 2009, I was helped by a friend and got accepted into Stirling University here in Scotland and I was finally on my way towards my dream degree in psychology. Another friend told me about the university’s dyslexia support and I finally gained a formal identification in 2010 at 27.

I was offered extra exam time, help with essay spell checking and various software packages, and I said to the educational psychologist who diagnosed me: ‘I feel like I’m cheating now – getting all of this, which my peers aren’t’, and he said: ‘You’ve been playing football all your life with your peers, except you’ve been playing uphill. You’re not cheating, you’re getting support to play on a level playing field’.

But I still wasn’t given any leaflets about dyslexia, or any book recommendations, or links to follow, so I wasn’t much wiser. I came to learn that I needed to read a text three times, and recap everything I read in writing myself, to get it stored in my memory – and that this didn’t make me stupid.

I realised, via the software that I needed to read things on paper, to highlight it, rather than on a screen. I learned that being read aloud to was preferential, but while also reading along myself to see the words as they were spoken to me. And I learned that via practise – writing essay after essay – I did improve simply by repeating a task.

I also learned that it was no good to just read (and re-read) and memorise – I needed to apply the knowledge in either practice or, at least, via meaningful, real-life examples. Text books are often poor at offering this, so I needed to pause and come up with real-life examples in my head, where I could apply my new knowledge, and ideally share this example with others to really get it hammered into my own memory. I also needed to go hunting for the right kind of text books for me, and not just accept whatever the tutors suggested, as some books are more dyslexia friendly that others, in layout, font and their form of explanation. I needed non-fiction and text books to apply the rules of storytelling – a passion of mine – to really relate and, thereby, remember.

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I have a whole host of self-taught learning strategies – some weirder than others. For example, I’m no good at head maths, so I tap out small figures with my fingers on my leg, or quickly add up using taps of a pen onto paper, using the number formation of a dice. Though, obviously, this doesn’t work for bigger numbers.

Of course, I wish I’d known these things earlier to help me through life, but better late than never. And of course, these strategies are personalised towards my needs. Yours might be different, but they will be there, you just need to find out what they are and apply them.

What do you love doing? What kind of information do you retain and is that because it’s linked to something you love? Now, try to apply this to things that you struggle with. Maybe you already know your learning strategies? What are they and how did they come about?

Thank you for reading my blog – check out ‘part II’ on the 25th of January 2019.

Terese Kansted

Dyslexia Scotland blogger

My rights, my say

When pupils feel listened to, respected and included in school life, they’re more likely to do well at school. That’s why we are fortunate that in Scotland all pupils have the right to have their say about what they need to get the most out of their education. And since January 2018, pupils aged 12-15 can now be even more involved, having a direct say in decisions about their support.

Reach, an online resource which helps pupils understand their rights to be supported, included, listened to and involved in decisions at school, has created 3 new animations to help pupils feel more confident about speaking up. They are called:

  • It’s not easy to talk
  • Help to make your voice heard at school
  • Your rights, your say

The films also signpost pupils to ‘My Rights, My Say’, a service which can help children aged 12-15 share their views about the support they need and have a say when decisions about their learning and support are made.

Zain a pupil involved in making the films, believes that “the messages [in the films] for young people are really important if they are struggling, so they know that help is available.”

 To view the films visit Reach at www.reach.scot

Help to Make 5

REACH_logo

High School Transition

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This year my dyslexic son started high school.  Worried about how he would cope with this new school environment, given that organisation is not his strong point, we ensured he went to as many transition events as possible before starting.  In November last year, he went to a taster day at the school, so he would become familiar with the building layout, staff and pupils.  He enjoyed the day and made some friends which helped him when thinking about changing schools.

Towards the end of primary seven, he did two full transition days, where pupils were given timetables and spent time in each subject classroom.  I discovered that there was a holiday club at the school over the summer which used the school’s sporting facilities, so my son did a week of activities to further help him get used to being in the school environment.  He enjoyed this, and I feel it did help him, if nothing else he knew how to get to the PE department!  His main concern seemed to be that he would get lost and be late for class.  I looked up Dyslexia Scotland’s advice for students moving to high school.  https://unwrapped.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/sites/default/files/useful-files/transition_from_primary_to_secondary.pdf

When he started school, I made several copies of his timetable, as he is very forgetful and often loses things.  I also made some backup copies.  I then typed out his timetable in a word document with the font Open dyslexic, using one page for each day. The font is free and can be downloaded from https://www.opendyslexic.org/.  I stuck these sheets to his wall to help him become familiar with what subject he had each day.  I ordered coloured rolls of plain paper and covered his text books and jotters with one colour for each subject.  I also bought coloured A4 files to match.  I made up a key with the subjects and their corresponding colours and stuck that up next to his timetables.  I had to check each day with him that he had what he needed for each subject against a list supplied by the school.

Initially, it was a lot of work helping my son become organised for school.  However, three months in he knows his timetable, although he always looks at it to double-check.  He still has trouble recording his homework accurately in his diary, but the school are involved in helping him, with teachers checking his diary. I get him to pack his bag for school at night-time, so that he isn’t panicking in the morning or forgetting things. I try not to do everything for my son, but early on I did have to help him sort his work into the correct files and folders and still do, although he is now better at this himself.  The colour coding has helped him tremendously and he can see at a glance which books are in his bag.  I would recommend giving yourself time to help your child make these adjustments.

Lorna Murray, guest blogger

 

Dyslexia Awareness: Moving Mountains

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Dyslexia Awareness Week in Scotland is here again. In the past 5 years or so, Ellie’s blue ribbons have gone from strength to strength. Therefore some of us might be beginning to take Dyslexia Awareness Week for granted and finding it all a bit too much work.

However, I remember the bad old days when I would tell a teacher (or employer) that I was dyslexic and get a blank look in response. And they weren’t even the worst of the dark ages, at least I knew I was dyslexic and not just thick or slow.

I have written the poem below to try to encourage myself and others to continue to raise awareness.

In “The Prince of Egypt” there is a lovely song called “When You Believe”, I find the following lyrics extremely inspirational:-

“we know there’s much to fear
We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could”

I suggest that we look back from the shoulders on which we stand at the mountains that have moved. And continue to use Dyslexia Awareness Week to make mountains move still further.  REMEMBER mountains move slowly: they are extremely big and heavy after all!!!

Brilliant
Dyslexia Scotland
My Wider World
Wear Ellie’s Blue Ribbons
Excellent

Don’t hide away!
Allow everyone to see
Win the fight!

Together
We battle
No longer hiding
Disabling society, is learning
Communication

Decide now!
Action against fear
We are shining a light

Enlightened
We stand
Together we teach
Together we learn how
To succeed

Difference is great!
Always embrace diversity
Weakness is not found in difference

Strength
Is difference
Talent is unique
Genius does not follow
It leads!!!

Doreen Kelly, 

Dyslexia Scotland Member and Volunteer

*Blue ribbon word cloud created using Shapego

Dyslexia, Reading and Visual Stress

Doreen Dyslexia Awareness Craft Maker Creative

This year as I am approaching 40, I finally have tinted specs for visual stress (sometimes people use the terms visual difficulties or Meares-Irlen). I had been tested at least twice before. Once as a kid, just after I had been identified as having dyslexia and again around 5 years ago.

Before going for a coloured overlay test about 5 years ago, I had not been reading in my spare time and especially not for enjoyment. I was sent away with a yellow reading ruler and told to read with it, so I did and read most of a detective novel before going back for the next appointment. I even sat in the waiting room, reading my book. Unfortunately, all that practice meant when I was tested again my reading speed was very close to normal. I was told to ‘take the overlay and use it to read: as I was reading now due to the overlay’. This was far from the truth: I was reading because I had been told to. After I left that appointment I stopped reading in my spare time and never finished that detective novel.

So, to more recent times – I was getting really embarrassed about not reading and how slowly I read, especially in the work place. So I decided that I would use my spiritual and religious life to give myself a reason to read at least a few pages every single day. Luckily there are a number of publications of daily prayers and meditations that are perfect for this.

Then when I became extremely sensitive to light and began to get a large number of headaches, I decided to get another visual stress test; I did not go back to the same optometrist. Luckily this time my visual stress was caught and I got orange coloured glasses (they are expensive and took 6 weeks to be manufactured).

It wasn’t until I first wore my orange specs that I realised what I’ve been missing. I could suddenly see (words) clearly. However, I’m fairly sure I still have tracking issues and still need to use my fingers fairly often to keep my place. Sitting down and reading a novel is still far from the top of my list of favourite things to do. I’d rather pop on an audiobook, while being creative or doing the housework.

I have realised that I need at least 15 minutes “recovery” time after pure reading. Studying (i.e. reading, taking notes and deliberately learning) is a completely different story, and for me doesn’t require as much “recovery” time before I can safely face other people.

I am an anxious person with periods of low mood; and to take this a little further I think I would say I am socially anxious. I have noticed that if I try to avoid mixing with people before an event by reading, I am quite withdrawn and socially prickly when I try to take part in the event.

This new aspect to the dyslexia monster’s attacks (perhaps a little like those of the black dog of depression) has only become obvious to me now that I have another weapon in my arsenal to fight it. However, I am extremely dismayed that as I get closer to defeating it, the monster fights dirty and tries to destroy my support networks.

Here is a poem that I wrote recently about the dyslexia monster at a Glasgow Women’s Library creative workshop:

Be afraid!!!

Do you hear me dyslexia monster?

Afraid. I said “Be Afraid!!!”

Now after living a lifetime bowing and scraping to you: I am drawing a line!

Be afraid!

Be very afraid!!!

Each day I am going to force that line closer and closer to you!

 

You have been in control for too long. No more!!!

Your sphere of influence has grown too big.

I have been afraid.

But no longer, this is the beginning of the end for you!

Be afraid!

Afraid!!

Be very afraid!!!

 

You know what they say about the shrew turning.

I am an avenging angel !!!

I am coming …

Fear awaits you dyslexia beast.

 

I will pry those big fat talons off that fairy butterfly you have entrapped.

Then I will chop them off one-by-one.

And as you scream: that beautiful, creative and colourful creature will spread her wings and fly away.

Be afraid!

Be very afraid!!!

 

Your time has come. Your time is over. Your time is ending!

Be afraid!

Be very afraid beast!

As Beauty’s time to rule has come!!!

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland member and volunteer

Attention teachers! Professional Learning opportunity

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We’re delighted to report that Dyslexia Scotland has recently been awarded the GTCS Professional Learning Award for Organisations. The Award is issued by the General Teaching Council for Scotland to recognise organisations that support and promote professional learning for teachers.

This Quality Mark means that the organisation has been assessed through GTCS’s independent quality assurance processes.

You will see this ‘Quality Mark’ on all our learning programmes (our Education Conference, Dyslexia Awareness Training, Tutors’ Seminars, Masterclasses, Dyslexia and Inclusive practice modules, Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit, Educational membership).

Our next quality marked event is our annual education conference which attracts around 250 teachers, head teachers and support for learning practitioners each year.  We use feedback from the previous year’s delegates, to ensure that you’ll always learn something new and relevant to dyslexia practice in schools. This year, our theme is ‘Dyslexia: My Wider World’.  Did you know that dyslexia is not just about reading and writing difficulties? Come along and learn more about the other aspects of dyslexia, including some of its superpowers.

Our Education Conference takes place on Saturday 27 October 2018 in Glasgow. Places are filling fast, so to get the best out of the day, register as soon as possible. The registration form and all the information you need is on our website. At the end of the day, you’ll receive a certificate with the GTCS professional learning award stamp, which you can use towards your professional update record. Hope to see you there…

Helen Fleming, Conference Co-ordinator