A story by any other structure would teach the same….

Picture by Susana Fernandez

Picture by Susana Fernandez

Having highlighted the importance of reading in my previous blog entry, I feel that I can safely argue the other side of the coin without being hounded.

Because the sad fact is, it is more than just dyslexia that can hinder someone’s reading ability and their fondness of books.  What they are forced to read, most notably in schools can also have a huge impact, which of course is even truer in the case of dyslexics given their difficulties with the act of reading.

I remember hating Shakespeare at school, something that was borne out of the archaic language and compounded by the fact that;

  1. We studied five of his plays in five years in English.
  2. The inflexible layout and structure of the textbooks, which implied that the compiler could somehow already know the words that were deemed a challenge for teenagers to understand when in fact Shakespeare was far from that easy to grasp.  Furthermore, the text of the plays were always laid out on the left hand side pages, while the dictionary definitions the author deemed necessary were on the right, breaking up the text so much that it was horrendously jarring.  And this is coming from a non-dyslexic.

I think my little anecdote demonstrates two things.  Firstly, ramming a particular author down the throat of a child only guarantees that they will hate that author forevermore.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in the context of Dyslexia Awareness Week, teaching with a one size fits all mentality is doomed to result in complete failure, particularly when no effort is made to relate the texts and themes contained therein to the lives of students.

Another anecdote:

I remember sitting watching West Side Story in a Drama class, thinking the department were scraping the barrel in terms of their film selection as the end of term was drawing near.  It turns out we were going on to study Romeo and Juliet and they wanted to show us that the themes covered within it weren’t exclusive to Shakespeare and were relevant today.

They succeeded, but I remember being less than thrilled about having to study another Shakespeare play.  It was only after I voluntarily picked up a copy of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses that I fully understood why the story of Romeo and Juliet is timeless.  Although primarily a love story centred around a class war, it could as easily apply in a variety of circumstances as is illustrated in Blackman’s book which is set in a world where white people are treated as an inferior race compared to their black counterparts.  Without giving the plot away, the comparisons between this book and Shakespeare are undeniable (without being strikingly obvious) and yet are posed in such a way that young people can relate to the story.  So significant was its effect on me that it has been my favourite book since I first read it eleven years ago (despite the fact I still hate Shakespeare).

Of course, I’m not saying that people don’t have to do things they don’t want to just because they are dyslexic, merely that if they are unnecessarily forced to read something they risk becoming alienated and further disengaged with reading and learning in general.  And it is not as if, as I have hopefully illustrated, that key themes in books for example cannot be conveyed in a variety of ways.  This Dyslexia Awareness Week one of the questions that needs to be asked is that as no two people learn something in the same way, why are countless children taught in the same way with no consideration of the adverse effects that it could possibly have on them later in life?

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A blue ribbon for Dyslexia Awareness Week

Show Your Support with a Blue Twibbon

Show Your Support with a Blue Twibbon

Everyone talks about time flying by but it really doesn’t feel like a year since we were organising last year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week at Dyslexia Scotland.  The theme this year is ‘Dyslexia: beyond words’ which we hope will help people learn that dyslexia is not just about problems with reading and writing.

The highlight of the week is a campaign led by our Young Person’s Ambassador Ellie, who is 13.  Her idea last year to have a blue ribbon to show support for greater understanding of dyslexia has been rolled out across Scotland this year with nearly 20,000 ribbons in schools, libraries, community centres and workplaces.  Demand for the ribbons has been huge, especially from schools, many of which are organising special events to highlight the skills and abilities of their dyslexic pupils.  Even if people can’t get hold of a ribbon there’s an online Twibbon that can be attached to Facebook and Twitter profiles.

We love the fact that there’s such a demand for the ribbons, especially from children and young people with dyslexia.  Our last members magazine, ‘Dyslexia Voice’, was made up entirely of contributions by and for young people with dyslexia.  We were inundated with stories, articles, drawings, poems, points of views from young people all over Scotland.  And what was their message?  Well, yes, many had really struggled with dyslexia.  They had found teachers who didn’t help them the way they wanted, feelings of being different and even friends who they were scared to tell that they were dyslexic.

But there were also stories about how these barriers had been overcome and a real desire to share these experiences with other young people to show that dyslexia isn’t all bad. So, if you see someone wearing a blue ribbon this week, you’ll know that they are showing support for the 1 in 10 people in Scotland who has dyslexia.  Like our members and branches across Scotland, like all of our supporters and ambassadors, like the partners who help us spread the word, everyone involved will be working together.  They will be working to highlight the things that need to change so that dyslexia is better identified and supported in schools; that places like colleges, workplaces, and public services are more dyslexia-friendly; and that people with dyslexia of all ages can reach their full potential with the right support.

So why not check out all the great things taking place across Scotland during Dyslexia Awareness Week and join in.

Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013: Making People Aware of the Importance of Reading

Earlier today, I stumbled across an extremely well written article regarding the importance of libraries, books and reading.  The writer was author Neil Gaiman, who gave the annual Reading Agency lecture (Reading Agency being an organisation that, according to Gaiman, exists to give equal opportunities to all by helping everyone become able readers).

In the lecture, he spoke about why books are so vital.  You may wonder why this merits repeating, but in the context of Dyslexia Awareness Week, I think it is no bad thing to remind ourselves of a couple of simple facts:

It is estimated that 1 in 10  people in the UK have dyslexia.

A significant part of this condition means that those who have it find it difficult to read.

So what is it that they are being denied as a result of this?  Or, to put it another way, why is reading essential?

One, reading introduces people to new words that arm them with new ways in which to express themselves that leads to a greater understanding of themselves and other people.  On a related note, this increased understanding lets people make sense of the world around them generally not just at work or school, but even in just having a conversation with friends.  The more words we know, the more nuances we can make, meaning that we can understand people better.  Consequently, this makes it easier to empathise with others and to be more engaged with society.

I’m not just talking about understanding what’s going on in, for example, Game of Thrones, either.

As much as people find a book easier to digest when they can relate to the character (aged eight I chose the first book that I read for pleasure on the basis that the character and I had the same name) it is not possible to identify with everyone you read about.  However, the more you read, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, the more knowledge you have about situations you may one day encounter.

For those books that have no bearing on real life whatsoever, well, that’s true escapism.  Who doesn’t deserve that?  And even if they don’t happen to have anything in common with reality at first glance, it doesn’t mean they can’t.  For example, nobody is going to meet a wizard like Harry Potter, but perhaps they will need to have the courage in the face of adversity that Harry so often displayed.

“Oh but why not watch the film?  Kids will prefer that anyway!”  I hear you cry.

Here’s the thing.  With film and TV, the colours, sights and sounds are there to be seen already, it’s someone else’s world, not yours that can be imagined and explored in your head.

When you come out of the book and back into the real world, you are better for it (provided you haven’t been forced to read it) regardless of the initial intention.  Not only that, but for so many reasons, knowledge is power.  Empowering dyslexics is even more important than it would be for others when you consider that they often feel powerless as result of the struggles they face.  If a dyslexic is encouraged to read and finds a good book then maybe being dyslexic won’t be so scary anymore, which is why an organisation like Barrington Stoke, and indeed literacy in general, is so crucial.

Neil Gaiman conveys the general importance of literacy much better than me,  check out a transcription of the lecture. 

Dyslexia: Beyond words – Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013

This years programme is launched, visit our website to find out more and get involved with some of the exciting events we have planned for Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013.

Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013 runs from 4th – 9th November the theme this year is Dyslexia Beyond Words.

An exciting programme of events will run across Scotland to raise awareness of dyslexia and provide information and advice to anyone interested in finding out more about dyslexia.

beyond-words2.jpg

Symbiotic partnerships

Dyslexia Scotland relies on the continued support of its members, ambassadors, staff, volunteers and of course many organisations to help us achieve our goals.

One such important partnership has developed with Edinburgh City Libraries.

Sarah Forteath, Business Development Manager, Library & Information Services at City of Edinburgh Council writes:

‘Edinburgh City Libraries and Dyslexia Scotland have developed a strong partnership since Dyslexia Awareness Week launched in Central Library in Edinburgh in November 2010.

The success of the partnership is based on the mutual benefit to both organisations – through our increased knowledge of dyslexia we have been able to develop our reading services to incorporate the UK’s first reading group for children with dyslexia.

We have been able to encourage many more young people with their parents and families into our libraries by using Dyslexia Scotland’s host of fabulous ambassadors to launch events –  as well as their President Sir Jackie Stewart and Kenny Logan!

In turn we host a series of creative and entertaining events for free in our libraries for Dyslexia Awareness Week every year and encourage several hundreds of people to get involved in reading for pleasure.

In the next 12 months we aim to roll out several more Dyslexia Chatterbooks reading groups across the city too!

Our partnership is of great interest to other professionals and I’ve been asked to speak about it at a Spotlight at the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP Umbrella 2013) in Manchester on 3 July.’

To find out what events are available in The Edinburgh area visit www.edinburghreads.eventbrite.co.uk.  Details of events taking place across Scotland during Dyslexia Awareness Week will be published soon.