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