Thursday, 29 May 2014

Insights from the Dyslexia Debate

Elliott, J.G. and Grigorenko, E.L (2014) The Dyslexia Debate, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

I have just finished reading this book, which, it is fair to say, has caused and possibly courted some controversy in the media as well as in academic circles and among practitioners.  Even before it was published, there were two excellent commentaries on it by academics who had clearly obtained advance copies:

Dorothy Bishop of St John's College Oxford
http://deevybee.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/my-thoughts-on-dyslexia-debate.html

Anne Castles, Kevin Whedall and Mandy Nayton from universities in Australia
https://theconversation.com/should-we-do-away-with-dyslexia-24027

They are both well-reasoned arguments for why we should read the book and respect its evidence base, though not necessarily agree  with its ultimate conclusion that the term dyslexia should no longer be used.

Here are my thoughts.  You can also read some more general comments of mine on:
 http://www.dyslexiapositive.org.uk/discussion/

Elliott and Grigorenko should be commended for the thoroughness with which they review the literature on reading, touching on adults and their reading skills as well as, understandably, focussing on children.  They have refreshingly wide view of the facets of reading skill, both when considering how we assess and how we make meaningful interventions to help struggling readers.  They cover fluency, vocabulary and comprehension as well as decoding skills.  They comment that phonics is not everything, "as the use of phonics tends to be less powerful for older struggling readers" (p 957).

They have some really useful insights into the methodology for researching reading interventions, warning the researcher about large confidence intervals in standardised test scores that make it hard to judge whether an increase in test performance (which may be statistically significant) actually reflects a "real gain." They point out that teacher interventions often generate smaller effect sizes than lab-style experiments, making it hard to compare these two fields.

The book debates the tension, when designing an intervention strategy, between going for longer duration or higher intensity of instruction, rather pessimistically concluding that neither can guarantee success with older children and adolescents who are resistant to learning.  The authors seem to argue for the use of sufficiently "individualized and structured" (p 1046) programmes of support to address specific needs.  However, they conclude that there is nothing special about support that is designated dyslexia support, and are particularly down on multisensory strategies.

I applaud a book that says that the most important thing is to concentrate on developing approaches that will help a struggling reader.  However, I think their mission to discredit the term dyslexia has blinkered the authors, somewhat, to the strategies that those of us working in the field, particularly of adult dyslexia, have to offer to the reading debate!


Monday, 29 April 2013

Unravelling Reading, the book

Apologies to my regular followers that I haven't written for some time. No real excuse.  Perhaps creating new content for www.dyslexiapositive.org.uk which will be launched soon...

Anyway, I have finally made a start on Unravelling Reading, the book, designed as a guide for practitioners supporting adult readers in the AE, FE and HE sectors.  I have written 5000 words so far of a chapter on assessment of reading and have a plan for the whole book.  I need to have written 2 chapters before i can go searching for a publisher.

I am planning to put a box with "Summary for Key Points" with each chapter - a book about supporting reading should have tools to aid readability!  I would like your opinion about whether this is best:
  • at the start of the chapter
  • at the end of the chapter
  • both
  • not at all.
Please will you all post a comment back giving your view?  Thanks.

Monday, 3 December 2012

So what did I do to support "John?"

You will remember I spent an intensive half day with "John" over half term, trying to help him with strategies to make his reading more efficient.

John likes reading fiction, but prefers to re-read familiar books.  I wanted to encourage him to be less pressurised when reading fiction compared with reading for study.  There is absolutely no reason to develop long-term recall when reading fiction, but rather to enjoy atmosphere, character, mood and story line.  I asked John to experiment with reading aloud, then silently but seeing if he heard an inner voice (not always a bad thing, especially when reading for pleasure, where you want to get inside the character).  I asked him to try reading fast and then deliberately read slowly, to see if he could savour different things.  There really is no right or wrong way to read fiction.  With some books I like to crack on at a fast pace, with other books I want to wallow slowly, like reading poetry and weighing each word.  John is a sensitive young man, and I think he has the potential to read more challenging fiction, if he continues to experiment with how to read.

Next we explored different formats for reading. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

A review of WIAT

I bought the WIAT-II UK-T assessment tool in my role as an assessor of adults with dyslexia. There had been a ruling that Exam Boards preferred having a standardised score for reading speed when granting Exam Access Arrangements.  I didn't read the specification quite closely enough and actually the norms only go up to age 16.11 for a British test sample, but it is still useful to have US normative information for guidance.

The other thing that attracted me to this test is that it has a structured way of assessing reading comprehension, based on reading extended text, rather than sentences (as in  WRAT4).  Colleagues who use the Adult Reading Test (ART) for this purpose, mention several frustrations with it.  I still use miscue analysis of reading for qualitative analysis, but on a less frequent basis.

So, some reflections: 

Update on "John"

It would be lovely to have a few more predictions on what you think I did next with John....

In the meantime, I am posting a review of WIAT, as promised

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Intensive support the improve reading strategies

I recently did a dyslexia assessment on a young man who I shall call John.  John is in his second year of sixth form and applying to university to study history. John's exam grades last year were below his predicted ones. As a result of the assessment, John will have extra time in his module exams.

John's reading profile is interesting.  He came out above average for word recognition and comprehension (using WIAT-II-UK-T) but his reading speed of 127 words per minute (wpm) is below average for his age.  His scores in CTOPP were all average, as was his reading of non-words (TOWRE-2).  I concluded that he did not have any significant problems with phonological processing, though he did show some signs of challenge with focus and attention (his speed of writing was also adversely affected by having to think abut what to write, rather than because of any difficulty with manual dexterity).

What was also notable was that John invariably chose to read aloud (to the annoyance of some of his classmates).  I was intrigued about why he had got into this habit and volunteered a few hours of support during half term to look into this more.

Between the feedback on the assessment and our support session, John actually decided to go for reading silently and was happy with the result! Issue sorted? Maybe yes, maybe no.  I carried on.

I decided to use an experimental method with a pre-test, post-test format, even with just 3 hours of intervention between.  Using  passages deemed to be A level standard (one from Klein 2003 and one of my own devising, measured to be of similar readability), John  read at 153 wpm - already an improvement from reading silently - but his comprehension and recall was limited (I predicted this might be a spin off of not getting the auditory feedback loop to hold attention).

In the post-test, three hours later John achieved a reading speed of 182 wpm,and his recall covered a wider range of the passage... so what did I do in between?  What would you have done? Comments please (to make this an active piece of learning!).  I will reveal all in a few days time.  I also plan to review the usefulness of WIAT as a test of reading in the next few weeks so stay posted to this site.



Klein, C. (2003) Diagnosing dyslexia: a guide to the assessment of adults, London, The Basic Skills Agency.