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An introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice

Module overview

Welcome to this free module, An introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice. It is designed to provide an introduction for teachers, community educators and anyone with an interest in developing positive approaches to supporting dyslexia in their inclusive practice. The module supports the recommendations of the 2014 Education Scotland Review: ‘Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People with Dyslexia in Scotland’. It is the first of three linked modules written by the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit and Dyslexia Scotland with the support of the Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project. All three modules use the General Teaching Council Scotland’s focus areas identified to support professional learning:

  1. Pedagogy, learning and subject knowledge
  2. Curriculum and assessment
  3. Enquiry and research
  4. Educational contexts and current debates in policy, education and practice
  5. Sustaining and developing professional learning
  6. Learning for sustainability

Further information on the General Teaching Council Scotland’s professional learning can be accessed online.

This first module provides you with a basic introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice. It is split into seven sections, which you can access via the navigation panel on the left hand side of each page.

The module includes a reflective log, which can be used to support the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s requirement to maintain professional standards. The activities in the module can be completed on your own but you can also use them to support group work with colleagues.

During the module, you can test your knowledge by taking some practice quizzes. At the end of the module, you will be asked to complete an assessed quiz. If you gain a score of at least 60% in the assessed quiz, have attempted the practice quizzes and have clicked through all the pages of the module you will earn a digital badge.

Introduction

This introductory module aims to provide teachers and local authority staff with an awareness of what dyslexia is, its impact and how it can be supported within an inclusive school community. It may also be of interest if you work in the voluntary sector or simply have an interest in dyslexia and inclusive practice.

As a classroom teacher you do not have to know everything about dyslexia; however you do need to know where to go for information, guidance and support. Each section of the module uses the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) Professional Standards framework and provides opportunities to reflect on your own practice. This in turn will help support and direct your future professional development needs. Studying the module and logging your reflections can contribute towards your folio of evidence for the General Teaching Council for Scotland Professional update.

The Scottish Government working with partners have supported the development of free professional learning resources, some of which are highlighted below. These resources aim to provide teachers and local authority staff with an awareness of what dyslexia is, its impact and how it can be supported within an inclusive school community.

  • The Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit – An online resource developed and funded by the Scottish Government. The toolkit is managed by Dyslexia Scotland to support teachers and provide information on dyslexia and literacy difficulties.
  • Education Scotland − Route Map for Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice – To support deeper learning and understanding of dyslexia using the GTCS areas for career long professional learning (CLPL) and the four broad elements identified by Education Scotland. This route map supports teachers in reflective practice, inclusive practice and professional learning.
  • This Introductory short online module in partnership with The Open University in Scotland, which follows the same structure as the route map above.

Learning outcomes

After studying this introductory module and participating in the tasks you will have an awareness of:

  • The education context in Scotland and the national agenda
  • What dyslexia is and its impact
  • Dyslexia and inclusive practice
  • Effective communication
  • How dyslexia is identified
  • Information and practical support strategies

How you can study this module

This module can be studied sequentially, or the material can be used as a reference guide with sections explored in any order. If studied as a module the core content should take around 3 hours to work through. Section 1 is the longest section and will take about half of the total study time.

You can study at your own pace. However, as you work through the module, think about not only your role but also that of other partners and colleagues you work with. You might find it helpful to form an informal study group with colleagues and use some of the activities as a basis for group discussion.

Teachers do not have to know everything about dyslexia; however they do need to know where to go for information, guidance and support.

We have also provided downloadable alternative formats of the course. You can find these on the first page of each section.

If you work through all of the content in this module, tackle the formative quizzes and pass the end-of-module quiz you will be awarded with a digital badge to recognise your learning.

Badge information

What is a badged course?

Badges are a means of digitally recognising certain skills and achievements acquired through informal study and are entirely optional. They do not carry any formal credit as they are not subject to the same rigour as formal assessment; nor are they proof that you have studied the full unit or course. They are a useful means of demonstrating participation and recognising informal learning.

If you'd like to learn more about badges, you will find more information on the following websites:

  • Open Badges [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] – this information is provided by Mozilla, a leading provider of the open badges system.
  • Digital Badges – this information is provided by HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), a global community working to transform how we learn, and particularly making use of technology.

Gaining your badge

To gain the digital badge for An introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice , you will need to:

  1. Complete the short quizzes that you will find at the end of sections 1 and 5 of the module. These section quizzes are formative. They are really helpful in consolidating your learning but there is no pass mark.
  2. Complete the end-of-module quiz that you’ll find at the end of Section 7 and achieve at least 60%.

When you have successfully achieved the completion criteria you will receive your badge for An introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice. You will receive an email notification that your badge has been awarded and it will appear in the My Badges area in your profile. Please note it can take up to 24 hours for a badge to be issued.

Your badge demonstrates that you have achieved the learning outcomes for the module. These outcomes are listed at the start of each section.

The digital badge does not represent formal credit or award, but rather it demonstrates successful participation in informal learning activity.

Accessing your badge

From within An introduction to dyslexia and inclusive practice module:

  • Go to my profile and click on achievements. You will see the badge alongside the course title.
  • To view the details of the badge, to download it, or to add it to your Mozilla Backpack, click on the badge and you will be taken to the Badge Information page.
  • You can either download this page to your computer or add the badge to your Mozilla Backpack.

Sharing your badge

Badges awarded within OpenLearn Create can be shared via the Mozilla Backpack.

Downloading your badge to your Mozilla Backpack

You will need to create a Mozilla Backpack account.

When you have done this, click on the ‘Add To Backpack’ button, and you will be asked to login to Mozilla if you have not already done so.

Follow the instructions on the screen and your badge should be automatically added to your backpack.

Acknowledgements

The development of this module was informed and supported by:

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated in the acknowledgements section, this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

1 Pedagogy, Learning and Subject Knowledge

In this section we look at:

  • 1.1 The Scottish context for dyslexia and inclusive practice

  • 1.2 What is dyslexia?

  • 1.3 Dyslexia and inclusive practice

  • 1.4 The impact of dyslexia

  • 1.5 Breaking the myths

  • 1.6 Effective communication

  • 1.7 Appropriate support approaches

  • 1.8 Supporting literacy

Before you start on section 1.1 you should download your reflective log. How you use the log is up to you. You can save it and work with it online or print it off and keep it up to date in hard copy.

Throughout the module you will be prompted to record your responses to activities and your reflection. The log provides a record of your learning that you can use for professional update.

Activity 1

You should start by noting down what you hope to achieve in studying this module.

Discussion

For example you may write:

I hope to develop an understanding of dyslexia

I hope this module will improve the support I provide to my pupils

1.1 The Scottish Context for Dyslexia and Inclusive Practice

Scotland’s education system is an inclusive one which is ‘needs led’. This means that the provision of support does not require a formally identified label, for example dyslexia. In Scotland ‘Additional Support Needs’ is the standard terminology used when children and young people need more – or different support – to what is normally provided in schools or pre-schools to children of the same age. Our education system is designed to make sure that every child and young person is entitled to support to enable them to gain as much as possible from the opportunities which Curriculum for Excellence can provide.

As we consider the educational provision for learners with dyslexia in Scotland, it is important to acknowledge and consider the national agenda, legislative and guidance context within which local authorities, teachers and other educators work. Figure 1 provides you with an overview of the Scottish education and equality context.

View larger image

Figure 2 Scottish educational context

Long description

The 2014 Education Scotland report ‘Making Sense: Education for Children and Young People with Dyslexia in Scotland’ was the outcome of an independent review of education for children and young people who have dyslexia, carried out on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The report identified 5 interconnecting recommendations for local authorities and schools, all of which combine to improve the outcomes for learners with dyslexia:

  1. Access to up-to-date practical advice and guidance on dyslexia
  2. Access to wide range of high quality career-long professional opportunities at school, local and national level
  3. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and postgraduate awards should give high priority to developing knowledge and skills in relation to dyslexia
  4. Action to improve the quality of educational outcomes for children and young people with dyslexia
  5. Availability and use of reliable information on children and young people’s needs, development and achievement should be improved

1.2 What is dyslexia?

Scottish Government Definition of Dyslexia, 2009

The following working definition of dyslexia has been developed and agreed by the Scottish Government, Dyslexia Scotland and the Cross-Party Group on Dyslexia in the Scottish Parliament. The aim of this particular definition is to provide a description of the range of indicators and characteristics of dyslexia as helpful guidance for educational practitioners, learners, parents/carers and others.

View larger image

Figure 3 Pictorial definition of dyslexia

Long description

Dyslexia exists in all cultures and across the range of abilities and socio-economic backgrounds. It is a hereditary, life-long, neurodevelopmental condition. Unidentified, dyslexia is likely to result in low self-esteem, high stress, atypical behaviour, and low achievement.

Learners with dyslexia will benefit from early identification, appropriate intervention and targeted effective teaching, enabling them to become successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Scottish Working Definition

Dyslexia can be described as a continuum of difficulties in learning to read, write and/or spell, which persist despite the provision of appropriate learning opportunities. These difficulties often do not reflect an individual's cognitive abilities and may not be typical of performance in other areas.

The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment, as there are often associated difficulties such as:

Motor skills and co-ordination may also be affected.

1.3 Dyslexia and inclusive practice

As highlighted in section 2.1, Scotland’s education system is an inclusive one, which is supported by legislation and educational policy. There are positive benefits to be gained from developing an inclusive approach both in terms of putting the child/young person at the centre of education and also in term of time management and resourcing.

It is increasingly appreciated that the approaches which support learners with dyslexia also support a wide range of learners and that these approaches can also help you reduce your planning and workload. Understanding this connection and including these dyslexia-friendly approaches into daily classroom management and practice helps establish and promote an inclusive approach which in turn enables school communities to better meet the needs of all their learners.

Improving inclusive practice and ensuring that barriers are removed will enable dyslexic learners to:

  • Participate fully with the school curriculum and learn to the best of their ability
  • Gain as much as possible from the opportunities which Curriculum for Excellence can provide
  • Move into a positive and sustained destination.

1.4 The Impact of Dyslexia

Dyslexia can have positive and negative impacts on children, young people, parents/carers and school staff. In both children and adults, when dyslexia is unidentified or unsupported the negative impact can be high.

Activity 2 Reflective log

Think about your own experience of working with learners with dyslexia.

This is the list of factors associated with dyslexia that we identified as having an impact on individuals.

In your reflective log note down some of the factors that have a positive impact and some which are negative.

Click 'Discussion' to see what we thought. Do note that these factors are contextual and there is no right or wrong answer.

CreativitySpatial awarenessFrustration
De-motivationSocial skillsResilience
Relationship difficultiesLower achievement and attainmentIsolation
Low self-esteemRidiculeMental health
Attention to detailProblem solvingDepression
Fewer qualificationsDeterminationStress
AngerFeeling different
Discussion

Every child is different and dyslexia will affect them in different ways. It is important to understand that there are both positive and negative aspects and that children and young people may need support to recognise and appreciate their strengths. Their strengths can often be key factors in helping them overcome the barriers they experience.

Positive aspects of dyslexia

There can be positive things about dyslexia which might include:

  • Can be very creative and enjoy practical tasks

  • Can have strong visual thinking skills e.g. seeing and thinking in 3D, visualising a structure from plans

  • Can have good verbal skills and good social interaction and like being with people

  • Can be good at problem solving, thinking outside the box, seeing the whole picture.

Negative aspects of dyslexia

The negative impact of Dyslexia can manifest in a variety of ways:

  • When dyslexia is unidentified or unsupported the negative impact can be high – children often lose motivation and become frustrated through the stress of trying to learn, not understanding what dyslexia is and knowing that they are ‘different’ to others because they find difficulty in doing what to others are simple tasks.
  • This can lead to acute behavioural problems both at school and at home including bullying and anti-social behaviour, as well as low self-esteem and severe frustration for children not reaching their potential.
  • Dyslexia can also impact on parents, families and carers who become distressed that their dependents cannot get the support they need. In both children and adults.
Positive impact           Negative impactPositive and negative impact
Creativity Frustration Social skills
Spatial awareness Anger
Verbal skills Isolation
Holistic thinkingLow self-esteem
Attention to detailRidiculed
Problem solvingMental health issues
Practical tasks Depression
DeterminationFewer qualifications
ResilienceStress
Feeling different
De-motivation
Relationship difficulties
Anxiety
Perfectionist
Lower achievement and attainment outcomes

1.5 Breaking the Myths

Dyslexia is often misunderstood and over the years a number of misconceptions have circulated.

Activity 3

Tick which of the following statements you think are true:

a. 

Dyslexia is all about reading and spelling difficulties


b. 

The incidence of dyslexia is higher amongst males


c. 

Not many people are dyslexic


d. 

Only ‘clever’ people have dyslexia


e. 

Dyslexia is a sign of low intelligence


f. 

Dyslexia cannot be a disability


g. 

Specialist support teachers are the only teachers who should provide appropriate support, planning and monitoring of dyslexic learners.


No correct answers.
Discussion

1.Myth - Dyslexia is all about reading and spelling difficulties

Fact - Dyslexia does not only impact on literacy – reading, writing and spelling. The working definition highlights the other characteristics shown below which can also impact on:

auditory processing of language-based information

oral language skills

short-term and working memory

sequencing and directionality

number skills

organisational ability

2. Myth - The incidence of dyslexia is higher amongst males?

Fact - Previously this was a widely-held belief that dyslexia affects boys more than girls. This is most likely due to the differences in coping strategies employed by each gender. Current consensus supports the belief that males and females are equally affected; although this remains an area of debate.

View larger image

Figure 4 4−10% of the population

Long description

3. Myth - Not many people are dyslexic

Fact - There is consensus that between 4 – 10% of the population are dyslexic - although not all will have a formal identification of dyslexia and this remains an area of debate. It is estimated that one person in ten is dyslexic in Scotland (approx. 550,000), with 1 in 4 of those 10 (2.5%) classed as severely dyslexic.

4.Myth - Only ‘clever’ people have dyslexia.

Fact - Dyslexia does not only occur in ‘clever’ people. Historically it was believed dyslexia was only identifiable when the learner had a ‘jagged profile’ or a noticeable gap between what the learner knew and could speak about compared to what they could demonstrate by reading and writing. However, consensus now holds that dyslexia exists across all ability levels. The current Scottish definition of dyslexia recognises many aspects indicative of dyslexia aside from simply language processing.

5. Myth - Dyslexia is a sign of low intelligence

Fact - As with myth 4, dyslexia is not a sign of low intelligence and does not only occur in ‘clever’ people. Historically it was believed was only identifiable when the learner had a ‘jagged profile’ or a noticeable gap between what the learner knew and could speak about compared to what they could demonstrate by reading and writing. However, consensus now holds that dyslexia exists across all ability levels. The current Scottish definition of dyslexia recognisesmany aspects indicative of dyslexia aside from simply language processing

6. Myth - Dyslexia cannot be a disability

Fact – The Equality Act 2010 recognises Dyslexia as a disability when the impact on the individual is significant/severe.

7. Myth – Specialist support teachers are the only teachers who should provide appropriate support, planning and monitoring of dyslexic learners.

Fact −All teachers have the skills and abilities to recognise early signs of dyslexia in children at all stages, and take appropriate action in response, although they may benefit from some support to develop these skills. Pupil support begins with the class teacher; however this does not mean that class teachers are responsible for the formal identification of dyslexia. It means they play an important role in the initial stages and the continuing monitoring and assessment of learning – as they do for all their pupils. It is the responsibility of all who work with children to respond appropriately to their needs.

Recognising early signs of difficulties and adapting learning and teaching approaches are a regular part of the daily routine for teachers supporting all children in an education environment. For those who may have additional learning needs such as those arising from dyslexia, it is important that these needs are met in the best possible way by accurate and timely identification.

Further information to support literacy difficulties and dyslexia can be accessed on the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit and Dyslexia Scotland’s website.

If your answers were not all correct you may wish to refer back to the Scottish definition of dyslexia at the start of this section.

1.6 Effective Communication

Effective communication, respect and partnership working are key requirements between schools and families. They are essential in supporting appropriate and effective identification, planning and monitoring of literacy difficulties and dyslexia and maintaining positive relationships.

All partners need to feel they are included and that there is transparent and regular communication. This could be done via phone calls, emails and letters – please ensure that the communication method used is appropriate for the family. Dyslexia can be hereditary and there may be situations where the parents /carers also have literacy difficulties. A regular short message to a parent about progress can be extremely effective in avoiding a situation escalating negatively.

It is important that:

  • Parents and carers feel that they are being listened to and their views are valued.
  • Parents and carers are informed of all the support their child receives. This will reduce perceptions that no supports are in place, as often they are discrete and the learner may not be fully aware of the additional support they are receiving.
  • Parents and carers are provided with information on what assessment and support means within the ‘needs led’ Scottish educational context - the ‘label’ of dyslexia is not in itself required in order for resources or support to be made available for learners. Equally, the label of dyslexia can be very valuable to the learner and their family in terms of the learner’s sense of self and understanding from others.
  • Local authority staged levels of intervention are followed and information on the process is made available to the parents and carers.
  • Sources of advice and support are shared: for example Enquire and Dyslexia Scotland.
  • Effective consultation takes place with parents and the young person. If the young person is old enough to understand what is happening they can participate in their meetings.

Figure 5 Interlinking stakeholders

Long description

Activity 4 Reflective log

Think about the role of communication in supporting a person with dyslexia. Who are the partners? How do you communicate with them?

Write approximately 200 words in your reflective log on your understanding of the importance of effective communication and identify some of the challenges in discussing dyslexia.

Discussion

For example you may write about how you liaise with colleagues to gather information on the learner’s profile and what support approaches would be appropriate or how you have provided information to parents and carers on their child’s progress, highlighting your awareness of the support needs and providing opportunities for discussion.

Interactive content appears here. Please visit the website to use it.

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Transcript

My name is Sharon Hall, I am the chair of Dyslexia Scotland North East, one of 19 volunteer branches that support Dyslexia Scotland, and the parent of a young adult with dyslexia. I have been involved and interested in the field of dyslexia for over ten years.

The majority of the work we are currently involved in is supporting parents and carers on their quest to find the right support for their children in school, and more importantly to maintain levels of self-esteem, the key to lifelong learning.

I believe that by building a mutual respect and understanding between teachers, parents and carers and empowering both parties with foundational knowledge of dyslexia, that an effective working collaboration can be formed, where confident and positive communication can take place in the support of the child.

There is little doubt that dyslexia is complicated. Whilst it has many overlapping characteristics it is as individual as a fingerprint and develops and internalises with each person differently, depending on intervention, support, attitudes and knowledge.

It is these difficulties that both parents, carers and teachers face on a daily basis that create misconceptions and negative attitudes towards solving such a complex dilemma.

It is therefore important for parents and carers to understand that teachers do not have all the answers. Teachers differentiate for a number of different learning styles and additional support needs even though they may only have experience of some. Dyslexia, in particular, is often such a hidden learning difference that it may often, and sometimes understandably, remain undiscovered.

It is vital therefore that teachers equip themselves with a basic knowledge of dyslexia; one does not need to be an expert to make small adjustments to a classroom which will in the long run benefit all children.

Conversely it is important for teachers to understand that parents and carers can often have a difficult time at home with uncharacteristic behaviour that may not be apparent at school. Homework in particular is often the catalyst for family arguments and upset and this is one of the biggest causes of rapidly lowering self-esteem.

With effective communication and collaboration, issues such as homework can be swiftly resolved, broker a deal together, can timings be reduced, a different method of presentation considered, all will contribute to a happier more confident pupil. Please remember that ten minute of concentrated work is more far more advantageous than three hours of anxiety.

But it is also vital that parents and carers equip themselves with as much information as possible. Just simply knowing the strengths of their child and how they best learn can act as a powerful tool to planning the correct and effective support.

Some parents and carers feel it is still a fight; a fight to be heard, a fight to be understood, a fight to get what is legally right for their child. But parents and carers have great intuition and teachers have professional ability, I humbly ask therefore, that parent, carer and educator to listen to each other with mutual respect.

It is the future of our young people in question and each deserves equitable support in their pursuit to achieve their full potential.

Finally, if you as a parent, carer or teacher requires any support please do not hesitate to contact Dyslexia Scotland, we aim to help and empower everyone with dyslexia to reach their full potential.

End transcript

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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

  1. Watch the film clip and within your Reflective Log note the key themes and recommendations the presenter highlights.
  2. Consider this information in relation to your own practice and note areas for improvement.

1.7 Appropriate Support approaches

Under ‘Curriculum for Excellence', all teachers have responsibility for literacy, numeracy and wellbeing and it is helpful for you to understand that dyslexia can have an impact on all three of these areas.

Approaches which support the development of early literacy skills can be very suitable for learners with literacy difficulties, dyslexia, language delay and English as an additional language. Using resources such as the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit and information from the Education Scotland National Improvement Hub can help you support the language development needs of children and young people in your classes in nursery, primary and secondary settings.

Activity 5 Reflective log

Dyslexia learners may experience difficulty in relation to literacy, numeracy and wellbeing. In your reflective log make a list of some of these difficulties, then think about how they connect with each other and how they relate to the curricular areas or subjects you teach.

The table below highlights some common areas of difficulty which individuals with dyslexia can experience and which will impact on their language and numeracy development and consequently their wellbeing. You will notice these areas are all included within the Scottish working definition of dyslexia.

Common areas of difficulty
LiteracyNumeracyWellbeing
Phonological awarenessShort-term memoryShort-term memory
Short-term memoryWorking memoryWorking memory
Working memoryNaming and labellingNaming and labelling
Naming and labellingProcessing speedOrganisation
Processing speedOrganisation
OrganisationAutomaticity
Automaticity
Discussion

Literacy, alongside numeracy and health and wellbeing, sits at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence, as a key element of the knowledge, skills and attributes which equip children and young people for learning, life and work. For more information read the 3-18 Literacy and English Review.

Please remember that:

  • Not all of the areas highlighted will be the experience of every individual and the severity of the difficulty will also vary.
  • There will be areas of strength the learner has - these should be encouraged and can support areas of difficulty.

Activity 6 Reflective log

The table below provides some helpful approaches used by teachers in a wide range of schools.

Consider which approaches you think you do or could use to support pupils in your class who experience literacy difficulties and dyslexia?

Use the copy of this table in your reflective log to explore which approaches you currently use or could include, and which you cannot use and why?

Support Classroom Practice
Currently used or could include Cannot useReason
Seating and grouping – ensure everyone can see the white board and you can see them
Explain and present information many times in various ways (pictures, flow charts, diagrams)
Ensure thinking/processing time is allowed
Provide information, desk-top mats/jotter inserts - word banks, prompts and personal targets
Use of information technology (IT) – for reading and writing
Encourage the use of books in audio/digital format to support access to texts
Match reading resources to reading ability, ensuring that it is age appropriate
Highlight the main points in text to support comprehension, prediction and recall
Use and encourage multi-sensory approaches
Limit the amount of reading/copying from the board. Give copies of notes - electronic versions and examples
Accept alternatives to writing
Limit writing demands
Ensure extra time is provided
Provide writing frames/story skeletons
Use and help pupils understand how to use mind maps, spider webs, bullet points
Specify what will be marked
Minimise the number of errors you highlight – perhaps only one of each type. Suggest how to avoid these in the future
Use directed praise

1.8 Supporting literacy

Understanding how to support literacy skills is as important in a secondary school setting as it is in nursery and primary settings. There are a range of resources available to support the development of literacy and local authorities may have their own approaches and resources which they have developed or can be purchased for schools to use.

The Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit Working Group have developed the Literacy Circles which help teachers’ gain an understanding of how the literacy skills have developed for child or young person who they are working with. The circles can be used in primary and secondary sectors and may also be beneficial for children and young people for whom English is not their first language, as well as for adults.

The circles provide:

  • Descriptions of the key areas involved in the acquisition of reading skills
  • A tool to identify areas of difficulty
  • Approaches and strategies for each key area

The circles include a practical planning/evaluation tool to record discussions with colleagues, staff and where appropriate the learner. It can highlight strengths, difficulties and offer guidance to plan the next steps appropriately, bearing in mind that some aspects will be areas of strength for the individual which could support areas of difficulty.

The full interactive versions of the literacy circles can be found on the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit in the resources section.

Downloads of the summary circles with the planning page at the end of each file are available for you to see.

PDF Reading Circle

PDF Writing Circle

Now try the formative quiz 1 to consolidate your knowledge and understanding from this section. Completing the quizzes is part of gaining the digital badge, as explained in the module overview.

Formative quiz 1

2 Curriculum and Assessment

In this section we look at:

2.1 What is an inclusive curriculum?

2.2 How is dyslexia identified?

2.3 Who is involved in assessing dyslexia?

2.1 What is an inclusive curriculum?

Figure 1 in Section 1.2 highlights that the Scottish Education system is designed to be inclusive and this is supported by equality and educational legislation, and policies which include Curriculum for Excellence.

Curriculum for Excellence is an inclusive curriculum from 3 to 18 wherever learning is taking place”.

https://www.education.gov.scot/scottish-education-system/Support%20for%20all

Inclusion is about putting the learner at the centre of the curriculum and ensuring that barriers are removed to enable them to:

• Participate and learn to the best of their ability.

• Gain as much as possible from the opportunities which Curriculum for Excellence can provide

• Move into a positive and sustained destination.

The Route map for dyslexia and inclusive practice provides further reading in this area.

Activity 7

Click on the answer below that provides a definition of an inclusive curriculum.

a. 

Subjects within a school’s curriculum are available to all learners - if they can meet the criteria, age and cognitive ability.


b. 

The curriculum is defined by the subjects taught.


c. 

The curriculum includes all of the experiences which are planned for children and young people through their education. It is not specific to subject areas but applies to activities that take place across the school.


d. 

Pupils do not have an entitlement to engage with all aspects of the curriculum.


The correct answer is c.

Discussion

If your choice of answer was not correct go back and consider section 1.

To be an inclusive curriculum the communication within the school community and the learning and teaching resources need to be accessible for all learners. This includes the format choice e.g. use of IT and also how the resources are differentiated to enable all learners to access them as independently as possible.

Differentiation and the curriculum

The impact of dyslexia as a barrier to learning varies in degree according to the learning and teaching environment.

Differentiation is defined by the Training and Development agency for Schools as:

the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning.

Differentiation has become a key skill and requirement for all teachers to ensure the needs of all their learners are met. Creating resources, which are accessible for dyslexic learners, will also support a wide range of learners. There are several areas to consider when planning effective and meaningful differentiation as highlighted in Figure 8.

Figure 8 Differentiation

Long description

Activity 8 Reflective log

Think about the curriculum that you teach. What do you see as your main challenges in differentiating the curriculum? Consider the needs of your pupils and make a note in your log of how well you meet their needs at present and where you would like to make improvements.

Discussion

For example you may have noted that the text books you are using be not be accessible for pupils who have difficulty accessing the text such as pupils who have dyslexia or a visual impairment. Your next step should be to look at the ‘Books for All’ website to see if they are available in a digital format for free.

2.2 How is Dyslexia identified?

Dyslexia and Assessment

Within the inclusive ‘needs led’ Scottish educational context - the ‘label’ of dyslexia is not in itself required in order for resources or support to be made available for learners. However it is equally important to understand that the label of dyslexia can be very valuable to the learner and their family in terms of the learner’s sense of self and gaining understanding from others.

The identification of dyslexia in local authority schools across Scotland takes place within individual authorities’ staged levels of intervention processes. Information on this process in each local authority should be publicly available on their website.

The assessment of dyslexia in children and young people should be:

  • A process rather than an end-product. The information provided during the assessment process should support the learner’s next steps for learning.
  • A holistic and collaborative process which takes place over a period of time, drawing on a range of observational and assessment methods. This approach reflects the ‘identification pathway’ within the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit shown below.

The identification process for dyslexia can include the following:

  • Observations –nursery/school and information from home
  • Consultation with the pupil, staff and family
  • Examples of free writing
  • Reading comprehension levels
  • Chronological reading and spelling – (if appropriate)
  • Assessment of phonological awareness and processing skills
  • Use of appropriate assessments – motor skills, organisation, visual perceptions.

A single standardised assessment or a screener is not considered to be an appropriate process to identify dyslexia. While the information can be helpful it must be recognised that it reflects a snapshot in time and that it cannot provide the in-depth analysis and quality of a holistic assessment which involves school staff, partners, the family and the learner.

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Figure 9 Pathway Overview for the Identification and Support Of Literacy Difficulties and Dyslexia

Long description

Download the PDF files:

Identification Pathway for Dyslexia

What to look for check list

Establishing Needs Form 1

Establishing Needs Form 2

Activity 9 Reflective Log

Do you know where to locate your local authority's information on identifying dyslexia?

If not find the policy through searching online or by talking to colleagues.

Record your findings in the reflective log.

2.3 Who is involved in identifying dyslexia?

Everyone has the skills and abilities to recognise early signs of dyslexia in children at all stages, and take appropriate action in response. In Scotland pupil support begins with the class teacher. However this does not mean that class teachers are responsible for the formal identification of dyslexia. It means they play an important role in the initial stages and the continuing monitoring and assessment of learning – as they do for all their pupils.

It is the responsibility of all who work with children to respond appropriately to their needs. Recognising early signs of difficulties and adapting learning and teaching approaches are a regular part of the daily routine for teachers supporting all children in an educational environment. For those who may have additional learning needs such as those arising from dyslexia, it is important that these needs are met in the best possible way by accurate and timely identification.

The identification of dyslexia is a collaborative process. A range of professionals may be involved in the identification process over a period of time and working together collaboratively will support the identification and the needs of the child/young person. The role and views of the parents, carers, child or young person are very important. Parents, carers or someone else involved with the family (e.g. social worker, health visitor) may have brought concerns to the teacher's notice in the first instance.

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Figure 10 Collaborative assessment

3 Enquiry and research

In this section we look at:

3.1 How do we know dyslexia exists?

3.2 The co–occurrence of dyslexia with other areas of additional support.

This section provides an overview of these topics, but module 2 will cover them in more detail.

3.1 How do we know dyslexia exists?

Over the past 100 years there has been a great deal of debate regarding dyslexia and questions have been raised querying whether it is ‘real’ and whether it can be scientifically proven to exist?

Scientific advances such as the development of specialised scanning equipment, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (MRI) which can produce detailed images of the inside of the brain, helped confirm that dyslexia does indeed exist.

This specialised scanning has enabled researchers to study dyslexic children and adults undertaking tasks such as reading and compare them with individuals who are not dyslexic. The results clearly show differences between how the brains processes information. As highlighted earlier, dyslexia is not linked to cognitive ability and we need to ensure that learners with dyslexia and other additional support needs have equitable opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and ability. This is why adjustments such as extra time, digital exams /course work and use of text recognition software are required provide a level playing field.

3.2 The co-occurrence of dyslexia with other areas of additional support

The Scottish working definition of dyslexia is broad. As highlighted in section 1.1 of this module, dyslexia does not only impact on the acquisition of literacy skills. The different characteristics involved with dyslexia are also found in a wide range of learner profiles and areas of additional support.

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Figure 11 ASN correlation

Developmental dyslexia and how it relates to brain function are complicated topics that researchers have been studying since dyslexia was first described over a hundred years ago.

W. Pringle Morgan (cited in Shaywitz, 1996), a doctor in Sussex, England, described the puzzling case of a boy in the British Medical Journal: "Percy … aged 14 … has always been a bright and intelligent boy, quick at games, and in no way inferior to others of his age. His great difficulty has been – and is now – his inability to read" (p. 98).

Almost every teacher in the United States has at least one student who could fit the same description written so many years ago. This situation leads many school personnel to wonder why their articulate, clearly bright student has so many problems with what appears to be a simple task – reading a text that everyone else seems to easily comprehend.

Having information about the likely explanation for and potential cause of the student's difficulties often relieves teachers' fears and uncertainties about how to teach the student and how to think about providing instruction that is relevant and effective. Current research on dyslexia and the brain provide the most up-to-date information available about the problems faced by over 2.8 million school-aged children.

When talking with teachers about their students who struggle with reading, we have encountered similar types of questions from teachers. They often wonder, What is dyslexia? What does brain research tell us about reading problems and what does this information mean for classroom instruction?

The purpose of this article is to explain the answers to these questions and provide foundational knowledge that will lead to a firmer understanding of the underlying characteristics of students with dyslexia. A greater understanding of the current brain research and how it relates to students with dyslexia is important in education and will help teachers understand and evaluate possible instructional interventions to help their students succeed in the classroom.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an often-misunderstood, confusing term for reading problems. The word dyslexia is made up of two different parts: dys meaning not or difficult, and lexia meaning words, reading, or language. So quite literally, dyslexia means difficulty with words (Catts & Kamhi, 2005).

Despite the many confusions and misunderstandings, the term dyslexia is commonly used by medical personnel, researchers, and clinicians. One of the most common misunderstandings about this condition is that dyslexia is a problem of letter or word reversals (b/d, was/saw) or of letters, words, or sentences "dancing around" on the page (Rayner, Foorman, Perfetti, Pesetsky, & Seidenberg, 2001).

In fact, writing and reading letters and words backwards are common in the early stages of learning to read and write among average and dyslexic children alike, and the presence of reversals may or may not indicate an underlying reading problem. See Table 1 for explanations of this and other common misunderstandings.

One of the most complete definitions of dyslexia comes from over 20 years of research:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2)

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading that often affects spelling as well. In fact, reading disability is the most widely known and most carefully studied of the learning disabilities, affecting 80% of all those designated as learning disabled. Because of this, we will use the terms dyslexia and reading disabilities (RD) interchangeably in this article to describe the students of interest.

It is neurobiological in origin, meaning that the problem is located physically in the brain. Dyslexia is not caused by poverty, developmental delay, speech or hearing impairments, or learning a second language, although those conditions may put a child more at risk for developing a reading disability (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).

Children with dyslexia will often show two obvious difficulties when asked to read text at their grade level. First, they will not be able to read as many of the words in a text by sight as average readers. There will be many words on which they stumble, guess at, or attempt to "sound out." This is the problem with "fluent word recognition" identified in the previous definition.

Second, they will often show decoding difficulties, meaning that their attempts to identify words they do not know will produce many errors. They will not be very accurate in using letter-sound relationships in combination with context to identify unknown words.

These problems in word recognition are due to an underlying deficit in the sound component of language that makes it very difficult for readers to connect letters and sounds in order to decode. People with dyslexia often have trouble comprehending what they read because of the great difficulty they experience in accessing the printed words.

TABLE 1: Common misunderstandings about students with reading disabilities

Writing letters and words backwards are symptoms of dyslexia.

Writing letters and words backwards are common in the early stages of learning to read and write among average and dyslexic children alike. It is a sign that orthographic representations (i.e., letter forms and spellings of words) have not been firmly established, not that a child necessarily has a reading disability (Adams, 1990).

Reading disabilities are caused by visual perception problems.

The current consensus based on a large body of research (e.g., Lyon et al., 2003; Morris et al., 1998; Rayner et al., 2001; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987) is that dyslexia is best characterized as a problem with language processing at the phoneme level, not a problem with visual processing.

If you just give them enough time, children will outgrow dyslexia.

There is no evidence that dyslexia is a problem that can be outgrown. There is, however, strong evidence that children with reading problems show a continuing persistent deficit in their reading rather than just developing later than average children (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996). More strong evidence shows that children with dyslexia continue to experience reading problems into adolescence and adulthood (Shaywitz et al., 1999, 2003).

More boys than girls have dyslexia.

Longitudinal research shows that as many girls as boys are affected by dyslexia (Shaywitz, Shaywitz, Fletcher, & Escobar, 1990). There are many possible reasons for the overidentification of males by schools, including greater behavioral acting out and a smaller ability to compensate among boys. More research is needed to determine why.

Dyslexia only affects people who speak English.

Dyslexia appears in all cultures and languages in the world with written language, including those that do not use an alphabetic script such as Korean and Hebrew. In English, the primary difficulty is accurate decoding of unknown words. In consistent orthographies such as German or Italian, dyslexia appears more often as a problem with fluent reading – readers may be accurate, but very slow (Ziegler & Goswami, 2005).

People with dyslexia will benefit from colored text overlays or lenses.

There is no strong research evidence that intervention using colored overlays or special lenses has any effect on the word reading or comprehension of children with dyslexia (American Optometric Association, 2004; Iovino, Fletcher, Breitmeyer, & Foorman, 1998).

A person with dyslexia can never learn to read.

This is simply not true. The earlier children who struggle are identified and provided systematic, intense instruction, the less severe their problems are likely to be (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Torgesen, 2002). With adequately intensive instruction, however, even older children with dyslexia can become accurate, albeit slow readers (Torgesen et al., 2001).

What areas of the brain relate to language and reading?

The human brain is a complex organ that has many different functions. It controls the body and receives, analyzes, and stores information.

The brain can be divided down the middle lengthwise into a right and a left hemisphere. Most of the areas responsible for speech, language processing, and reading are in the left hemisphere, and for this reason we will focus all of our descriptions and figures on the left side of the brain. Within each hemisphere, we find the following four brain lobes (see Figure 1).

  • The frontal lobe is the largest and responsible for controlling speech, reasoning, planning, regulating emotions, and consciousness.

    In the 19th century, Paul Broca was exploring areas of the brain used for language and noticed a particular part of the brain that was impaired in a man whose speech became limited after a stroke. This area received more and more attention, and today we know that Broca's area, located here in the frontal lobe, is important for the organization, production, and manipulation of language and speech (Joseph, Noble, & Eden, 2001). Areas of the frontal lobe are also important for silent reading proficiency (Shaywitz et al., 2002).

  • The parietal lobe is located farther back in the brain and controls sensory perceptions as well as linking spoken and written language to memory to give it meaning so we can understand what we hear and read.
  • The occipital lobe, found at the back of the head, is where the primary visual cortex is located. Among other types of visual perception, the visual cortex is important in the identification of letters.
  • The temporal lobe is located in the lower part of the brain, parallel with the ears, and is involved in verbal memory.

    Wernicke's area, long known to be important in understanding language (Joseph et al., 2001), is located here. This region, identified by Carl Wernicke at about the same time and using the same methods as Broca, is critical in language processing and reading.

In addition, converging evidence suggests that two other systems, which process language within and between lobes, are important for reading (see Figure 2).

The first is the left parietotemporal system (Area A in Figure 2) that appears to be involved in word analysis – the conscious, effortful decoding of words (Shaywitz et al., 2002). This region is critical in the process of mapping letters and written words onto their sound correspondences – letter sounds and spoken words (Heim & Keil, 2004). This area is also important for comprehending written and spoken language (Joseph et al., 2001).

The second system that is important for reading is the left occipitotemporal area (Area B in Figure 2). This system seems to be involved in automatic, rapid access to whole words and is a critical area for skilled, fluent reading (Shaywitz et al., 2002, 2004).

What does brain imaging research tell us about dyslexia?

Structural brain differences

Studies of structural differences in the brains of people of all ages show differences between people with and without reading disabilities.

The brain is chiefly made up of two types of material: gray matter and white matter. Gray matter is what we see when we look at a brain and is mostly composed of nerve cells. Its primary function is processing information.

White matter is found within the deeper parts of the brain, and is composed of connective fibers covered in myelin, the coating designed to facilitate communication between nerves. White matter is primarily responsible for information transfer around the brain.

Booth and Burman (2001) found that people with dyslexia have less gray matter in the left parietotemporal area (Area A in Figure 2) than nondyslexic individuals. Having less gray matter in this region of the brain could lead to problems processing the sound structure of language (phonological awareness).

Many people with dyslexia also have less white matter in this same area than average readers, which is important because more white matter is correlated with increased reading skill (Deutsch, Dougherty, Bammer, Siok, Gabrieli, & Wandell, 2005). Having less white matter could lessen the ability or efficiency of the regions of the brain to communicate with one another.

Other structural analyses of the brains of people with and without RD have found differences in hemispherical asymmetry. Specifically, most brains of right-handed, nondyslexic people are asymmetrical with the left hemisphere being larger than the same area on the right.

In contrast, Heim and Keil (2004) found that right-handed people with dyslexia show a pattern of symmetry (right equals left) or asymmetry in the other direction (right larger than left). The exact cause of these size differences is the subject of ongoing research, but they seem to be implicated in the reading and spelling problems of people with dyslexia.

Functional brain differences

We lack space here for a detailed explanation of imaging techniques. For excellent descriptions of several techniques, readers are directed to Papanicolaou, Pugh, Simos, and Mencl (2004) and Richards (2001).

One commonly used method for imaging brain function is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a noninvasive, relatively new method that measures physiological signs of neural activation using a strong magnet to pinpoint blood flow. This technique is called "functional" because participants perform tasks while in (or under) the magnet, allowing measurement of the functioning brain rather than the activity of the brain at rest.

Several studies using functional imaging techniques that compared the brain activation patterns of readers with and without dyslexia show potentially important patterns of differences. We might expect that readers with RD would show underactivation in areas where they are weaker and overactivation in other areas in order to compensate, and that is exactly what many researchers have found (e.g., Shaywitz et al., 1998).

This type of functional imaging research has just begun to be used with children. This is in part because of the challenges involved in imaging children, including the absolute need for the participant's head to remain motionless during the scanning.

We will present the largest, best-specified study as an example of these new findings with children. Shaywitz et al. (2002) studied 144 righthanded children with and without RD on a variety of in- and out-of-magnet tasks. They compared brain activation between the two groups of children on tasks designed to tap several component processes of reading:

  • identifying the names or sounds of letters
  • sounding out nonsense words
  • sounding out and comparing meanings of real words

The nonimpaired readers had more activation in all of the areas known to be important for reading than the children with dyslexia.

Shaywitz et al. (2002) also found that the children who were good decoders had more activation in the areas important for reading in the left hemisphere and less in the right hemisphere than the children with RD.

They suggested that for children with RD, disruption in the rear reading systems in the left hemisphere that are critical for skilled, fluent reading (Area B in Figure 2) leads the children to try and compensate by using other, less efficient systems (Area A in Figure 2 and systems in the right hemisphere).

This finding could explain the common experience in school that even as children with dyslexia develop into accurate readers, their reading in grade-level text is often still slow and labored without any fluency (e.g., Torgesen, Rashotte, & Alexander, 2001).

In summary, the brain of a person with dyslexia has a different distribution of metabolic activation than the brain of a person without reading problems when accomplishing the same language task. There is a failure of the left hemisphere rear brain systems to function properly during reading.

Furthermore, many people with dyslexia often show greater activation in the lower frontal areas of the brain. This leads to the conclusion that neural systems in frontal regions may compensate for the disruption in the posterior area (Shaywitz et al., 2003). This information often leads educators to wonder whether brain imaging can be used as a diagnostic tool to identify children with reading disabilities in school.

Can we screen everyone who has reading difficulties?

Not yet. It is an appealing vision of putting a child we are concerned about in an fMRI machine to quickly and accurately identify his or her problem, but research has not taken us that far.

There are several reasons why a clinical or school-based use of imaging techniques to identify children with dyslexia is not currently feasible. One is the enormous cost of fMRI machines, the computers, and the software needed to run them. Another part of the cost is the staff that is needed to run and interpret the results.

Also, in order for this technology to be used for diagnosis, it needs to be accurate for individuals. Currently, results are reliable and reported for groups of participants, but not necessarily for individuals within each group (Richards, 2001; Shaywitz et al., 2002).

The number of children who would be identified as being average when they really have a problem (false negatives) or as having a problem when they are average (false positives) would need to be significantly lower for imaging techniques to be used for diagnosis of individual children.

Can dyslexia be cured?

In a word, no. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition that affects people into old age. However, that does not mean that instruction cannot remediate some of the difficulties people with dyslexia have with written language. A large body of evidence shows what types of instruction struggling readers need to be successful (e.g., National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000; Snow et al., 1998; Torgesen, 2000).

Now researchers can also "look" inside the brains of children before and after an intensive intervention and see for the first time the effects of the intervention on the brain activity of children with RD. The following are two such studies.

Aylward et al. (2003) imaged 10 children with dyslexia and 11 average readers before and after a 28-hour intervention that only the students with dyslexia received. They compared the two groups of students on out-of-magnet reading tests as well as the level of activation during tasks of identifying letter sounds.

They found that while the control children showed no differences between the two imagings, the students who received the treatment showed a significant increase in activation in the areas important for reading and language during the phonological task. Before the intervention, the children with RD showed significant underactivation in these areas as compared to the control children, and after the treatment their profiles were very similar.

These results must be viewed with caution because of several limitations. One limitation is the lack of specificity about the intervention that was provided, another is the small sample size, and the last is the lack of an experimental control group (i.e., a group of children with RD who did not receive the treatment). Without an experimental control group, we cannot be certain that the intervention caused the changes found in the brain activation because of so many other possible explanations.

Shaywitz et al. (2004) addressed these limitations in their investigation of brain activation changes before and after an intervention. They studied 78 second and third graders with reading disabilities who were randomly assigned to three groups:

  • the experimental intervention
  • school-based remedial programs
  • control

A summary of the instructional intervention is provided in Table 2 and a full and detailed description of the intervention and out-of-magnet reading assessments can be found in Blachman et al. (2004).

TABLE 2: Summary of intervention used in brain imaging study of students with RD

Duration
The individual tutoring intervention occurred daily for 50 minutes from September to June, which yielded an average of 126 sessions or 105 tutoring hours per student.

Instruction
Each session consisted of a framework of five steps that the tutors followed with each student. This framework was not scripted, but was individualized based on the student's progress.

  • Step 1: Brief and quick-paced review of sound-symbol relationships from previous lessons and introduction of new correspondences.
  • Step 2: Word work practice of phonemic segmentation and blending with letter cards or tiles, which occurred in a very systematic and explicit fashion.
  • Step 3: Fluency building with sight words and phonetically regular words made up of previously taught sound-symbol correspondences.
  • Step 4: Oral reading practice in phonetically controlled text, uncontrolled trade books, and nonfiction texts.
  • Step 5: Writing words with previously taught patterns from dictation.

Content
The intervention consisted of six levels that began with simple closed syllable words (e.g., cat) and ended with multisyllabic words consisting of all six syllable types.

For a complete description of the instructional intervention, see Blachman et al. (2004).

Before the intervention, all groups looked similar in their brain activity, but immediately after the intervention the experimental and control groups had increased activation in the left hemispheric regions important for reading.

One year after intervention, the experimental group showed increased activity in the occipito-temporal region important for automatic, fluent reading (Area B in Figure 2), while at both time points the level of compensatory activation in the right hemisphere decreased.

Shaywitz et al. (2002) concluded, "These findings indicate that … the use of an evidence-based phonologic reading intervention facilitates the development of those fast-paced neural systems that underlie skilled reading" (p. 931).

Important considerations to keep in mind about the brain research

While research advances have allowed us to look more closely within the brain for the first time and revealed important information about how and where we think during reading, there are important considerations that must be remembered.

One is that with the exception of the research by B.E. Shaywitz, S. Shaywitz, and their colleagues, the sample sizes in each study are very small. The evidence from these small studies is converging into results that are reliable, but the results may change as more and more participants are included in the research base. This is especially true with children where both the number of studies and the sample sizes are quite small.

Second, we must consider the type of task being used in the magnet. Because of the requirement that the person's head not move during the imaging, researchers are not able to study people actually reading aloud. Instead, they give tasks that require the person to read silently and then make a decision that he or she indicates with a push button (e.g., Do the letters t and v rhyme? Do leat and jete rhyme?).

Because the researchers have worked carefully on these tasks and have specified the particular process that is being measured, we can trust their conclusions about what the activation levels mean; however, the tasks are quite removed from natural classroom reading and should not be interpreted as if they were the same. The area of brain research is developing rapidly; technological advances are being made that will address these issues as time goes on.

Recommendations for teachers

What does all of this information mean for school personnel and their students? Once teachers understand the underlying processes and causes of reading disabilities, they can use this information as they work with students and their families. The following are specific recommendations based on the neurological research:

  • Adequate assessment of language processing is important in determining why students struggle to learn to read.

    Dyslexia, or reading disability, is a disorder of the language processing systems in the brain. Specific information about exactly what sorts of weaknesses are present is needed in order to determine the appropriate instruction to meet each student's needs.

  • Imaging research confirms that simple tasks can more reliably be interpreted as "red flags" suggesting that a young child may be at risk for dyslexia.

    It is vital to begin using screening and progress monitoring procedures early on to measure children's understanding of sounds in speech, letter sounds in words, and fluent word recognition. Using such assessment in an ongoing way throughout a child's school career can help teachers know what skills to teach and whether a child is developing these skills.

  • Explicit, intense, systematic instruction in the sound structure of language (phonemic awareness) and in how sounds relate to letters (phonics) is needed for readers with dyslexia.

    Imaging research confirmed that instruction in the alphabetic principle caused distinct differences in brain activation patterns in the students with RD (Shaywitz et al., 2004). Keep in mind that the intervention was explicit, intense, long term, and specifically focused on phonological processing, phonics, and fluency.

  • The roles of motivation and fear of failing are important when discussing reading problems.

    Students do not struggle simply because they are not trying hard enough. They may have a brain difference that requires them to be taught in a more intense fashion than their peers. Without intense intervention, low motivation may develop as students try to avoid a difficult and painful task.

  • School personnel can use their knowledge of the neurological characteristics and basis of dyslexia to help their students understand their strengths and weaknesses around reading and language.

    Understanding a possible reason why they find something difficult that no one else seems to struggle with may help relieve some of the mystery and negative feelings that many people with a disability feel. Sharing our knowledge of brain research may demystify dyslexia and help students and their parents realize that language processing is only one of many talents that they have and that they are not "stupid," they simply process language differently than their peers.

Recommendations for parents

The identification of a child with dyslexia is a difficult time for parents and teachers. We suggest that teachers can help parents learn more about their child's difficulty in the following ways:

  • Teachers can share information about the student's specific areas of weakness and strength and help parents realize the underlying causes of their child's difficulty.

    This conversation can also include information about how to help their child use areas of strength to support areas of weakness.

  • It is critical to help parents get clear about what dyslexia is and is not.

    Sharing the common misconceptions and the correct information found in Table 1 with parents may help clear up any confusion that may exist.

  • Early intervention with intense, explicit instruction is critical for helping students avoid the lifelong consequences of poor reading.

    Engaging parents early in the process of identifying what programs and services are best for their child will ensure greater levels of success and cooperation between home and school.

  • There are many organizations devoted to supporting individuals with RD and their families.

    Accessing the knowledge, support, and advocacy of these organizations is critical for many families. A list of several large organizations to share with parents can be found in Table 3.

  • Finally, teachers can often best help families by simply listening to the parents and their concerns for their children.

    Understanding a disability label and what that means for the future of their child is a very emotional process for parents and many times teachers can help by providing a sympathetic ear as well as information.

TABLE 3: Informational resources about dyslexia for parents and teachers

The Council for Exceptional Children, Division for Learning Disabilities
1110 North Glebe Rd., Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201-5704, USA Phone: 1-888-CEC-SPED URL: www.teachingld.org
The Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) is a division of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), an international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities and students with disabilities. DLD works on behalf of students with learning disabilities and the professionals who serve them.

The International Dyslexia Association
Chester Building, Suite 382, 8600 LaSalle Road, Baltimore, MD 21286-2044, USA Phone: 1-410-296-0232 URL: www.interdys.org
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) is a scientific and educational organization dedicated to the study and treatment of dyslexia. IDA focuses its resources in four major areas: information and referral services, research, advocacy, and direct services to professionals in the field of learning disabilities.

Learning Disabilities Association of America
4156 Library Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15234-1349, USA Phone: 1-412-341-1515 URL: www.ldaamerica.org
The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) is an organization founded by parents of children with learning disabilities. The LDA works to provide education, encourage research into learning disabilities, create a climate of public awareness, and provide advocacy information and training.

LD OnLine
WETA Public Television, 2775 Quincy Street, Arlington, VA 22206, USA URL: www.ldonline.org
LD OnLine is an educational service of public television station WETA in association with the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities. It features thousands of articles on learning and reading disabilities, monthly columns by experts, a free question-and-answer service, and a directory of professionals and services.

National Center for Learning Disabilities
381 Park Avenue S., Suite 1401, New York, NY 10016, USA Phone: 1-888-575-7373 URL: www.ncld.org
The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is an organization devoted to working with individuals with LD, their families, educators, and researchers. NCLD provides essential information, promotes research and programs to foster effective learning, and advocates for policies to protect and strengthen educational rights and opportunities.

Imaging research has demonstrated that the brains of people with dyslexia show different, less efficient, patterns of processing (including under and over activation) during tasks involving sounds in speech and letter sounds in words. Understanding this has the potential to increase the confidence teachers feel when designing and carrying out instruction for their students with dyslexia.