Dyslexia Friendly Storytelling

child-writing

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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Getting to know your learning strategies – part II

 

creative_storytelling

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

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.

creative_storytelling

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

High School Transition

pens_paper

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

              blueribbon_wordcloudExif_JPEG_420

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

Thoughts on dyslexia

Our tours across Scotland in the Dyslexia Van have resulted in quite a few funny moments, sat nav frustrations and of course a huge variety of visitors to the van. So many people came to chat to us when they saw the van because they had a ‘connection’ to dyslexia, or were just curious. Often it’s been tourists – we’ve had (dyslexic!) fishermen from England, a retired teacher from Norway and an American couple who took information for their niece who lives in Glasgow as they thought she might be dyslexic. One woman on a stop-off from her cruise ship to Stornoway even abandoned her hour long visit of the town in favour of listening to one of our talks!

On our last trip to Argyll and Bute we were waiting in the sunshine for our ferry from Tarbert to Portavadie and a gentleman approached us. “Dyslexia, eh? Do you want to hear my joke about dyslexia?”

IMG_3168 (2)

It’s at times like this, or when someone makes what they think is a witty quip, that I sometimes wonder why people think it’s appropriate, or if they really think about the possible impact of their comments. I’m not dyslexic myself and none of the people with dyslexia that I’ve ever met is po-faced or lacks a sense of humour about dyslexia. But I also know that dyslexia can be a struggle and hold people back if they don’t get the right support and that the reality can be far from a joke.

Our next magazine is all about Dyslexia and Adults and we’d love to hear your thoughts about things that people say about dyslexia and how they affect you. Is it easy enough to join in on the jokes or does it hurt at times? Or have there been things that someone said to you that have had a lasting impact, either good or bad? Please email sharon@dyslexiascotland.org.uk with your thoughts.

Now, have you heard the one about the tobogganist and the tobacconist? (I’ll bet you have.)

Lena Gillies, Dyslexia Scotland

This summer my son starts school

My son can’t write his name. He has no interest in learning which letter comes after which in the alphabet. He struggles with simple instructions and unless he is looking directly at you when you speak he has absolutely no idea what you have said. His long-term memory is astounding recalling details, names and places which have long since left my mind, although he can’t recall me asking him to get a pair of socks five minutes ago! He talks all the time; he asks questions from the moment he rises in the morning until his eyes (finally) close at night.

He has a passion for knowledge and devours documentaries and encyclopaedias on the natural world; insects, plants, sharks, bird-eating spiders in the deepest darkest jungle or colour-changing lizards native to the Sahara. He completed the library summer reading challenge in three days. He taught himself to ride a scooter before he was two and learned to ride a two-wheeler bike with confidence in less than two hours, aged four.

This summer my son starts school.

His father is dyslexic and early indications are that he is too.

Why am I worried?

I know that things have moved on dramatically since his father’s horrendous school experiences which consisted, in no particular order, of late diagnosis, ridicule, missed learning, labelling, name-calling and a whole host of damage to what should have been the best years of his life. The school we have chosen appears to be switched on, engaged, passionate and child-centred. They have a positive approach to dyslexia and a good track record of supporting pupils. So there’s nothing to worry about – right?

I just worry about him. I just do. I am not sure how he will deal with having to do things differently from his peers. I worry about how to support him, when to push and when to take a step back. I worry about how me and my husband will work together to give him a consistent approach to homework when our experiences and starting points are so different.

Having lived in a family affected by dyslexia I understand that it is complicated – for every challenge it presents it also seems to open up new possibilities. But I also know for every Richard Branson who believes that his dyslexia enabled him to build his empire and see opportunities others could not, there is a young adult male in prison whose life has gone off the rails because he was unable to get the support he needed.

How do I build his resilience and confidence so that he can overcome the inevitable challenges ahead?

How do I ensure that the happy, confident young boy entering primary school grows into the happy, confident young man entering the world of work and beyond?

I don’t have the answers yet. We are just at the start of the journey. We will go on this adventure together as a family and will be there as a safety net with open arms whenever he needs us. I know there will be tough times but I am also confident that he will continue to surprise us as he has done almost daily for the past five years. I am optimistic about his future, I think he is going to have a wonderful life, but we know that we have much to learn and this is only the beginning.

Julie McNeill

 

 

The Debauchery of Disparaging Dyslexia

I came across an article last year that concerned itself with the subject of IQ tests.  While reading the piece, I noted the author’s statement that dyslexia can disappear with disappointment, particularly as it was made without the qualification that it was their opinion.  While everyone is entitled to voice their own beliefs, it angered me further still that the claim was, it seems to me at least, made without any evidence whatsoever.

It is often the nature of opinion pieces that they may not be backed up with hard facts, and given that such articles are merely platforms for people to express their thoughts and feelings, that’s fine.  However, I felt the need to write something in the hope that people might pause for a second and give a thought to how such statements may make people who have dyslexia feel.

To say dyslexia disappears does damage to a great number of people.  Not only does it trivialise the struggles faced by people with dyslexia, but it also belittles the efforts made by parents, teachers and outside agencies in helping people with dyslexia realise their potential.  On a related note, how can you expect an individual with dyslexia to realise their potential when it is possible that they will see no point in trying to improve their abilities if their desire to see it disappear (I use the word “possible” because not all people with dyslexia feel this way) is reinforced by external influences, such as the media as is the case in this instance?  Additionally, saying that dyslexia can disappear risks wrecking the self-esteem of an individual with dyslexia as it undermines the legitimisation of the condition that can hamper so many.  By trying to undermine dyslexia, there is a real possibility that comments such as the one that was made will reiterate the mistaken belief that to have dyslexia makes an individual unintelligent and worthless or that it is merely an excuse to be lazy and underachieve.  Not only can such remarks have an adverse effect on those who go on to internalise them, but it is also irresponsible and mean-spirited to say such things when impressionable minds could be seeing it and believing that it to be true because the author has been published, which does nothing for the public perception of the condition.

Bearing in mind that I have made clear my belief that everyone should be able to express themselves, you may wonder what my issue with the aforementioned article is.  All the difficulties that can potentially arise from saying dyslexia can disappear could do so as result of the author choosing to present their opinion as fact.  Although this can be debated, I believe that it is wrong for the individual to not have made clear that it was merely their opinion they were voicing.  Had they done this, there would be no reason for this blog as their belief would have been clear and as a result unable to be disputed as, despite the fact that many people may disagree with them, there is no harm in stating your opinion as long as people know that that is what it is.  It is as a result of not doing this that the possible problems I mentioned previously could materialise for the words of the author could be taken to heart by many and have far-reaching consequences.

The Power of Words

glasses-143762_640I seem to be coming across lots of article about the importance of language recently.   Whether it be people expressing annoyance at the word selfie (which was voted the most annoying word of the year according to Lake Superior State University, but there are numerous similar articles that claim whatever is the most galling word), conveying their supposed irritation at the overuse of perfectly fine words such as passion, robust and iconic or demonstrating the significance of the changing meaning of the word geek, which was declared the word of the year by Collins English Dictionary due to the fact it is now used to describe anyone who is deemed to be an expert in something, people seem to have lots to say about words.

This is all subjective of course, something that is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the word selfie appears on both the overused and most annoying words of the year lists, but has been given the accolade of being the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year.

When it is merely opinion and is nothing more than a bit of harmless fun, you can be forgiven for questioning why all of this frivolity is notable enough to appear in a Dyslexia Scotland blog.  Words, whether you love or hate certain ones, have power.  Power to help or hinder, enrage or console, deflate or inspire.

It might be of little surprise, then, that scientists have recently found that reading can have a profound impact on the brain.  Although reading is not the be all and end all (and it has to be remembered that in the technological age, books can be accessed in a variety of ways, such as an audiobook or ebook,) the findings highlight some of the reasons it is important for dyslexics not to struggle with this task unnecessarily.  While I don’t personally agree with how the researchers phrased it (apparently reading a good book creates “muscle memory” in the reader which causes them to emulate the traits of fictional characters, as well as the decisions they make), it is true that a novel that gets under the skin of the reader has the potential to inspire them by giving them access to someone who they can relate to or a role model who they can look up to.

This is why it was disappointing, although not surprising, to come across an article in support of Ruth Rendall’s claims that reading is now “a minority activity.”  Although this could be seen by some as a pity for a variety of reasons – the lack of escapism that can be a great benefit to the sanity of some individuals is the main one that springs to mind – people must remember that to engage in reading as a pastime is a choice and if people do not want to read during their leisure time they should not be judged for wanting to do something else, just as the reading choices of those who do wish to read for pleasure should not be scrutinised (for more on that, see my blog entitled Reading Snobbery).

Think for a minute about people who may have chosen, particularly with it being a new year, to join a gym and get fit.  If they are judged for being a bit out of shape, it’s not going to encourage them to better their fitness levels.  In fact, they may stop attending all together and be in a worse state than they otherwise would have been.

Is the same not true of people with dyslexia who struggle to read, and may struggle further still as a result of societal attitudes towards books?  While I agree with Ruth Rendall’s assessment that people read less nowadays than previously, there are reasons for that.  Not only is there more choice in terms of entertainment (on a related note, although you don’t see as many people reading books on public transport, what about Kindles?), but advances in technology have, while increasing communication, led people to be less patient in terms of waiting for correspondence and so people have busier lives and perhaps have less time to read than they otherwise would have had.

Once again, no mention is made of the significant proportion of the UK population – one in ten to be exact – who have dyslexia and consequently have problems with reading.  If anyone was to imply that it is disappointing that Britons are no longer ashamed to admit they do not voluntarily read fiction, as has been suggested by another author, to someone who has dyslexia, how do you think that would make them feel?

There is no need for people with dyslexia to feel ashamed of having the condition, and I see no reason why anyone should feel ashamed for not having a particular hobby, in the same way it is unusual, although perfectly acceptable, to be female and be a football enthusiast.  The difference is, however, that issues with reading are synonymous with dyslexia, a learning difficulty that occurs through no fault of the individual who has it, and by making reading out to be of paramount importance you risk alienating and discriminating against people who have dyslexia.

As I have stated previously, words have power: I ask you to be conscious of the ones you use.  It might make a world of difference to an individual who has dyslexia.

Facebook and Literacy

Photo by mkhmarketing

Photo by mkhmarketing

According to recent research conducted by Booked, a magazine for UK schools, 70% of headteachers believe that Facebook and Twitter has adversely affected the literacy of young people.  To be fair to them, the examples that are used to back up this claim are not without merit:

“I wont to work wiv you’re  company.”

Another example the research cites is applicants deeming it appropriate to put xs (as in kisses) at the end of their applications when applying for jobs.

While the last example is something that is blatantly inappropriate, the first one throws up several interesting points.  Firstly “wont,” though outdated now, is an example of a word that is in itself correct, but lacking the right context, which would be something like the following:

It was Harry’s wont to go for a run before breakfast.

This is the case as wont is another word for habit, practice or custom.  Similarly, although “you’re” is correct when used as a contraction of you are, the company to which the person in the above sentence is referring will belong to someone and so your would be the correct word to use here.  Crucially, these are examples of two errors that would not be picked up by a spellchecker.

While some young people (actually people in general) may just use text speak to be lazy (something that “wiv” is but one example of), this research makes no mention of either the benefits literacy can attribute to social media or those who have genuine difficulties with spelling, reading and writing.

Given that literacy problems are such a big part of what it means to have dyslexia, it does the pupil/teacher relationship no favours when accusations of idleness are thrown about with no consideration for those that may have a significant and undeniable problem in this area through no fault of their own.  By not acknowledging people with dyslexia (or those that may be struggling on undiagnosed), such research risks stigmatising faultless young people.

Another error that was singled out was the difference between to, too, and two.  But there is also the difference between affect and effect, practice and practise, of and off, elicit and illicit, there, their and they’re…I could go on.  The point is, so much of the English language has two (or sometimes more!) words that sound the same and yet mean completely different things.  Therefore, not only can people with dyslexia have great difficulty learning to read, write and spell words, but they also sometimes encounter problems learning the correct context in which to use them.

The research made no allowances for simply being human either.  Yes, people should proof-read what they write and not rely on spellcheckers or other people to point inaccuracies out to them, but we all make mistakes, no-one can ever be perfect.  While I can understand the importance of presenting yourself in the best light when it comes to applying for jobs, why does an individual’s Facebook account have to be word perfect and grammatically sound 100% of the time?

As I have stated previously, nothing is mentioned with regards to technology advancing literacy.  Facebook now has a built-in spellchecker that will alert you to an error in the same way Microsoft Word does.  I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but being made aware of a mistake encourages me to correct it – to ensure I am easily understood by those with whom I am conversing if nothing else.  If Facebook does this, is it not a good thing?

What’s happening while that’s going on?  It could be anything at all; recommending great reads, finding an informative link, helping someone out with an academic quandary, offering a frustrated individual the chance to vent when things go wrong and a platform to shout from the rooftops when something great has happened.  I’ve seen all these things occur as a Facebook user, probably because it is the most accessible platform to use in order to say something to people we know en masse.  When this can be so much more problematic for individuals who have dyslexia, the last thing they need is for social media to be vilified.

It also seems a tad convenient to blame social media – a faceless entity that can’t answer back – for falling literacy standards when it is also considered that England is the only developed nation where children are deemed to be worse at mathematics and reading than their grandparents.  When such a bold and distressing claim is made, it is too simplistic to besmirch social media and not make other correlations.  What about the constantly changing curriculum?  A possible over-reliance on certain authors and texts?  Class sizes?  Teacher education and standards of teaching?

In short, while social media may have its faults, it is not fair to blame it for falling literacy standards without also acknowledging all the good it does.  Social media has its place in teaching literacy just as books do and there is no reason why they can’t harmoniously co-exist.

The article about the research in question can be found here:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2507642/Facebook-Twitter-harm-pupils-literacy-claim-headmasters.html