Phonics debate embracing the evidence

Phonics in context debate 2018

I thought seriously about attending the debate. But I knew it would make me angry listening to the same old ridiculous arguments trotted out by the negative team. Listening to it online they certainly didn’t disappoint. I have heard every one of the points time and time again. Seems to be a theme in any phonics debate that the negative team bring out arguments that they have no substantiated evidence for but have become accepted knowledge in the teaching universe. Teachers seem to be in a bubble of ignorance that they hand down to the new generation of teachers. I was a teacher for 10 years so don’t throw the teaching bashing thing back at me!

The negative side was actually hard to analyse because it seemed to lack substance, be emotive and verged on the fluffy side of the debate. I don’t know if this was a deliberate attempt to confuse the audience or showed a level of ignorance on the part of negative side.

Most of all listening to the debate made me so sad. Sad that parents seemed to be lumped with a lot of the blame. The primary function of school is surely to teach children to read. Not parents. Sad that the research and science that has been established over decades is dismissed with the old chestnut “We know best.” Sad that the negative didn’t even seem to listen to the affirmative and continued on their quest despite it making them look like they missed what the debate was about. Sad that so many kids are being failed. Seriously failed. I hear the horror stories of kids as young as 6 wanting to die because they can not read.

The affirmative supported their arguments with research evidence so I am addressing the negative points with research to show the flaws in their arguments. I will include a few anecdotes in there because the negative seemed to like to tell a good yarn.

We have between us been teaching and in education for 100 years.

I hear this one a lot. “I’ve been teaching for decades so I know best.” To be honest I taught with many teachers who have been teaching for decades who were terrible teachers. Never improved the day they walked into a classroom. Never moved with new techniques or learnt from their mistakes. I taught for a decade and I guarantee if I walked back in a classroom today I would be a better teacher. I have researched, experienced and learnt so much as a parent of a child with multiple learning difficulties. I do think about it a lot that I could have done a much better job as a high school teacher, even though I think I was one of the better ones. I could have taught more explicitly, gone to more professional development about learning difficulties and supported kids more who could not read and write.

I think many of the problems of this insistence that “Balanced Literacy” works is that many children look like they are reading initially. Then there is the well documented year 3 or 4 slump when text becomes complex and the picture cues disappear and the child stumbles. By then the teacher has moved on to a bright new cohort of young learners failing to see the strugglers. This was certainly our experience, though compounded by severe anxiety and poor teaching, our slump was in year 2 right after reading Recovery ended. My daughter gained 2 reading levels in the whole year and could not sound out even the alphabet let alone a word.

Reading is a natural process like learning to speak as a baby.

“Children’s life chances.”

“Baby as a meaning maker.”

“Reading is an epiphany.”

The running theme or misguided belief that seemed to be consistent in the negative debate is that the development of oral language is the be all and end all of learning to read. The negative seem to be confused between learning to speak and learning to read!

I have actually addressed this in my previous BLOG https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/phonics-check-myth-buster-2-learning-to-read-is-a-natural-process-and-advocating-just-a-phonics-approach-destroys-a-childrens-love-of-books/

I was so saddened by this that the parent blaming game seemed to be a central argument. As admin of Dyslexia Support Australia in our group we have discussed this many times. It makes parents so sad that the default position of teachers when a child struggles to learn to read seems to be “Did you read to your child enough?” This is so ingrained in teacher beliefs that they never stop to think about their own teaching. As a very involved parent it hurts. Without my intervention working on phonics with the guidance of our tutor there is no way my child would be able to read.

Yes being exposed to a rich language environment does give a good foundation of Phonemic awareness and vocabulary but excellent oral language does not ensure excellent reading. A child who struggles to learn to read because they have not been given explicit systematic phonics instruction will not love books no matter how much they are exposed to great literature.

The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

Scientists have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background.” https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498005.pdf

Not only is this supported by research I can attest to this through personal experience. My daughter adored books until she went to school. I read to her constantly. It was our main activity. I still read to her at age 13. She went to preschool for 2 1/2 years and was surrounded by rhyme, songs and books. She was read to and spoken to by Aunts, Uncles and grandparents who are Doctors, lawyers, teachers and authors. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep” as she followed me around the house toddling and carrying a book. When tested, in our search for answers, she had above average verbal comprehension.

The cover photo for this blog is me reading a book to my baby who struggled to learn to read until she got explicit and systematic phonics instruction.

Phonics is not enough!

“Not sufficient to privilege phonics”

I’m actually wondering if the negative side actually listened to the affirmative side at all or just came with a defined script. Which is poor debating. Both Jennifer Buckingham and Anne Castles started their speeches outlining this as the exact point and Jennifer runs a project FivefromFive it is most definitely not OnefromOne.Troy Verey actually outlined how phonics is taught at his school in 30 minutes sessions explicitly and sequentially. He also outlined how explicit instruction was given in phonological awareness, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. He said more than once the 5 essentials of reading. Yet Mark Diamond ludicrously followed this minutes later with “ Phonics is not enough!”

Meaning comes first

This was reiterated over and over again by the negative side of the debate. I’d like to know how you get meaning out of text if you cant actually read the individual words?

Comprehension is most certainly the ultimate goal of reading but unlike what the negative say there are many foundational skills needed for comprehension to occur. Research supports that comprehension and fluency is achieved when a solid foundation has been laid down to achieve success. The foundational skills of oral language, phonemic awareness and phonics are of paramount importance. Often children with dyslexia have a phonological deficit which will impact significantly on their ability to learn the alphabetic principle and sounds of the English language. This doesn’t not mean that they need alternative methods. It means that they need to be explicitly taught in a systematic and intensive way to decode the sounds of the English language.

The Simple View of Reading outlines that learning to read requires two abilities – correctly identifying words by decoding and understanding their meaning (comprehension).

“ Reading Comprehension = Decoding x linguistic comprehension (R=DxLC)

The Simple View of Reading differentiates between two dimensions of reading: Word recognition processes and Language comprehension processes. It makes clear that different kinds of teaching are necessary to promote word recognition skills from those needed to foster the comprehension of spoken and written language, which is the goal of reading. Though considered separately, both dimensions are essential to reading. It is of first importance for teachers of reading to be clear about which of these two dimensions their teaching aims to develop, and make sure each of them is taught explicitly.” Sir Jim Rose https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/teaching-reading-its-simple-but-not-simplistic

“Research has shown that good readers do not skim and sample the text when they scan a line in a book. They process the letters of each word in detail, although they do so very rapidly and unconsciously. Those who comprehend well accomplish letter-wise text scanning with relative ease and fluency. When word identification is fast and accurate, a reader has ample mental energy to think over the meaning of the text. Knowledge of sound-symbol mapping is crucial in developing word recognition: the ability to sound out and recognize words accounts for about 80 percent of the variance in first-grade reading comprehension and continues to be a major (albeit diminishing) factor in text comprehension as students progress through the grades” Moats, 1999 Reading is Rocket Science.

“ . . . less-skilled readers often find themselves in materials that are too difficult for them (Allington, 1977, 1983, 1984; Gambrell, Wilson, & Gantt, 1981). The combination of deficient decoding skills, lack of practice, and difficult materials results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to less involvement in reading-related activities. Lack of exposure and practice on the part of the less skilled reader delays the development of automaticity and speed at the word recognition level. Slow, capacity-draining word recognition processes require cognitive resources that should be allocated to comprehension. Thus, reading for meaning is hindered; unrewarding reading experiences multiply; and practice is avoided or merely tolerated without real cognitive involvement” (Stanovich, 1986).

Rich Meaningful text – decodables are a concern

I suspect that Robyn Ewing may have never read a decodable reader. They can certainly be fun and engaging because there is nothing more exciting for a child then to be able to be able to fluently read a story on the page. In my personal experience as a parent the PM readers were actually mostly terrible. My daughter hated them and would throw them across the room. We even had one that showed a mum in the kitchen cooking while the dad was in his study smoking a cigar. When our tutor switched us to Phonics readers both my children loved the stories and would ask for me to read them to them at bed time also. My daughter’s face would light up as finally reading made sense.

No teacher of synthetic phonics excludes rich and meaningful texts from the classroom. As Troy Verey outlined at Marsden road they start children on decodables and move them to full text as appropriate. Until then they read books to them to improve their vocabulary.

My daughter arrived at school absolutely loving books. From an early age she loved a complex story and preferred that we read things to her like Harry Potter whereas her sister (who is not Dyslexic) wanted us to read simple picture books. But being taught phonics poorly and non systematically in a “balanced classroom” made her hate reading. It took us much longer to remediate her reading than remediate her fear of books. Now after tutoring in explicit systematic phonics and the 5 keys of reading she reads for pleasure. She wants to be an author and writes books for relaxation. She went well in Year 7 English and was reading for enjoyment the text chosen by her teacher to study in class later in the year just by coincidence. English is her favourite academic subject.

Without intervention by myself, her tutor and thankfully a Learning support teacher (came to the school in year 2) who believed in explicit systematic phonics I have no doubt she would have been another child to add to the illiteracy statistics. A child behind grade level in reading at the beginning of year 4 has a 12% chance of ever catching up!

The High Stakes Phonics check is a concern

“Nonsense words are problematic if reading is about making meaning.”

“Disadvantages good readers”

“The JABBERWOCKY!”

The concern actually is that Robyn Ewing has obviously not read the research on the importance of nonsense words (psuedowords).

“the speed of naming pronounceable nonwords is one of the tasks that most clearly differentiates good from poor readers” (p. 40). Also, “the persistent differences between skilled and less skilled readers in reaction times to pseudowords seem to be due to processes…operating on subword processes” (p. 41). One of these “subword processes” is the application of phonics rules to recognize written words.”

” pseudoword naming is discovered to be a “potent predictor of reading ability at all levels” (p. 100).

Keith Stanovich (2000) http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

In sum, one of the most well replicated findings in reading disability research is that, compared to chronological-age controls, reading-disabled children have difficulty in reading pseudowords” (Stanovich, 2000, p. 129). That is to say, there is an “incredible potency of pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty” (p. 207). A notable experimental finding in this regard is that pseudowords, “such as bint that have word neighbors that are inconsistent in pronunciation (pint, mint) took longer to pronounce than nonwords without inconsistent word neighbors (e.g., tade)” (p. 215).

Studies of the reading of pseudowords also have implications regarding the performance of poor readers with high and low IQs. It is found (Stanovich, 2000, p. 329) “that these two groups of children display equivalent pseudoword reading deficits.” This kind of evidence leads some reading researchers to conclude that “unless it can be shown to have some predictive value for the nature of treatment or treatment outcome, considerations of IQ should be discarded in discussions of reading difficulties” (p. 96).”

http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

There is no evidence in the UK that the test disadvantages good readers. The nonsense words are clearly indicated. I find it quite incredulous that she says that the UK has not improved their reading. The first cohort of the phonics check has just achieved the best PIRLS results in a generation.

Yet Kathy Ruston quotes a Reading Recovery teacher who talks about Marie Clay. The home of reading Recovery and Marie Clay is New Zealand who have terrible PIRLS results.

“New Zealand continues to have the largest spread of scores from good to poor readers among developed countries. The long tail of poor literacy achievement remains, despite attempts to shrink the gap. New Zealand, now ranked 33rd, used to be in first place in 1970. New Zealand is the poorest performing country in the English-language world. Our teachers have been trained and provided with teaching resources that are out of step with contemporary research, and with literacy teaching practices in other countries. Britain, for example, has made significant improvements in literacy learning outcomes since the introduction of systematic phonics instruction towards the first decade of this century. As the UK newspaper The Telegraph noted today, “Reading standards in England are the best in a generation, new international test results show, after the push towards phonics led to a dramatic improvement in children’s attainment.”” Professor James Chapman, Distinguished Professor Bill Tunmer and Dr Alison Arrow http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=FFBE6235-9CB5-4742-97C0-E1AA4ED407B5

High stakes testing!? Teachers must be very scary indeed if they can’t sit with their students one on one and perform a 5 minute check of 40 words without stressing out the kids. The overwhelming majority of parents with children with dyslexia in our group found the suggestion that a 40 word check would cause student hardship ludicrous. Because the reality is illiteracy causes far more hardship including children who self harm, talk of suicide, have school refusal, learned helplessness, behaviour difficulties and secondary mental health issues. This has already been addressed in my blog https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/03/09/phonics-screening-check-myth-buster-1-the-phonics-tests-will-be-too-stressful/

The example of the Jabberwocky as reading for meaning really did make me chuckle as I actually used it as an example in my blog of the need for decoding to translate the many nonsense words in rich children’s literature. https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/phonics-check-myth-buster-3-nonsense-words-are-silly-and-we-should-test-reading-in-context/ . How could you possibly read the Jabberwocky from context alone is beyond me. One of the great problems with the concept of phonics for adults is that they don’t realise they are decoding, as they do it so effortlessly, and can’t remember how they learnt to read….especially the ones who need walking sticks. (Robyn Ewing mentioned walking sticks not me!)

Commercial programs off the shelf

Commercial programs certainly play a roll in the introduction of synthetic phonics within a school when teacher training proves inadequate. They are a quick way to achieve teacher training and give a good guide for the systematic approach that must be taken in the teaching of phonics. However none of the panel are selling or advocating commercial programs to be the way to go. As Louisa Moats states “A program is only as good as the teacher implementing it.” If our teachers are inadequately trained introducing systematic explicit phonics through a program will ultimately fail.

I also find this quite strange when many commercial programs with a poor evidence base are being readily embraced in schools in Australia. Brain Gym is now considered the poster child of pseudoscientific rubbish that finds its ways into our schools. Should we dare mention the $50 million dollars a year NSW was throwing at Reading Recovery until a research review showed it was little bang for a bucket load of cash. Many states are still throwing $ at Reading Recovery. Read more about Reading Recovery here. http://www.kevinwheldall.com/2013/02/small-bangs-for-big-bucks-long-term.html

We need to meet the needs of the individual

No actually we need to use a scientifically based approach that gets all children reading. Our current dominate way of teaching children to read learning phonics in context is leaving a great percentage of children illiterate.

“Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well. Recent scientific studies have allowed us to understand more than ever before how literacy develops, why some children have diffi- culty, and what constitutes best instructional practice. Scientists now estimate that fully 95 percent of all children can be taught to read.“ Louisa Moats Reading is Rocket Science 1999

“Research indicates that, although some children will learn to read in spite of incidental teaching, others never learn unless they are taught in an organized, systematic, efficient way by a knowledgeable teacher using a well-designed instructional approach. And, while many students from high-risk environments come to school less prepared for literacy than their

more advantaged peers, their risk of reading difficul- ties could still be prevented and ameliorated by liter- acy instruction that includes a range of research- based components and practices. But, as the statistics testify, this type of instruction clearly has not made its way into every classroom.” Louisa Moats teaching Reading is Rocket Science 1999

12% of English words are regular so phonics doesn’t get you far to reading

I really have no idea where this ludicrous statistic came from. “The spelling of words in English is more regular and pattern- based than commonly believed. According to Hanna, Hanna, Hodges, and Rudorf (1966), half of all English words can be spelled accurately on the basis of sound-symbol correspondences alone, meaning that the letters used to spell these words predictably represent their sound patterns (e.g., back, clay, baby). These patterns, though, are somewhat complex and must be learned (e.g., when to use “ck” as in back and when to use “k” as in book). Another 34 percent of English words would only have one error if they were spelled on the basis of sound-symbol correspondences alone.* That means that the spelling of 84 percent of words is mostly predictable. Many more words could be spelled correctly if other information was taken into account, such as word meaning and word origin. The authors estimated that only four percent of English words were truly irregular.” How Spelling Supports Reading And Why It Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think, Louisa Moats

“We Don’t leave reading to chance!” Troy Verey

“Too many kids missing out on learning to read due to the rejection of the scientific knowledge” Jennifer Buckingham

It is time as a nation that we took a scientific approach to the teaching of reading as we are leaving far too many children behind. As a parent of one of those children who still has learned helplessness, anxiety and self esteem issues as a result of early reading failure one child is too many.

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Finding your Dyslexic Tribe is priceless

Yet again I find myself in social media defending the usefulness of identification of Dyslexia. Also this week I have had to counteract a teacher saying learning difficulties don’t exist but that is another story. This has come at a time in my daughter’s life when she has finally found her tribe. As my daughter has just become a teenager and suffers from anxiety fuelled by multiple learning difficulties it has become so important that she feels like she belongs in this world. That she feels she is valued for who she is and what she can do. That there are other kids like her. Teens need to feel they belong as they navigate a difficult time in their life. As a high school teacher I have seen many times the sheer pain of the kids who don’t find their tribe.

My daughter attended a high achieving primary school where many kids are heavily tutored from preschool age and academic success was the number one priority for most of the parents. She had some lovely friends who valued her for her storytelling at lunchtime, her quirkiness and her kind heart. They would defend her endlessly when casual teachers had a go at her and make sure she understood her work. But one thing her friends could not do is understand what it is like to walk into a classroom everyday and struggle surrounded by children who seem to learn effortlessly.

Having me as a parent has given her access to a strong Dyslexic community and she has met many kids with Dyslexia which helped putty some of the holes in her self esteem battered by years of failure. She has the great privilege of having a tutor who has Dyslexia and is friends with her Dyslexic daughter. Her tutor says that her greatest qualification as a tutor is her Dyslexia and her ability to understand her student’s struggles. Not being able to read in year 5 and going on to get a Masters from Cambridge shows her students anything can be achieved if you work hard enough! Having adult and older teen Dyslexics to look up too is so important.

High school this year has brought many challenges, especially leaving friends who she has relied on for so long. But thanks to a school, who has a brilliant transition program for kids with difficulties, my daughter made some friends who get her before the start of the school year.

My daughter spent the holidays bonding with her new Dyslexic friends. She said to me E has a brilliant mind and she is even more awesome when she is not taking her ADHD meds. I said that must be lovely for her to hear that someone appreciates her for who she is. Her reply was that I know you tell me all the time how creative I am and how good my mind is but you are my Mum and you have to say that. For kids the same age to appreciate me for who I am it makes me feel good about myself. If she fumbles over her words she knows her friends will not judge her.

On the way home from an awesome time with one of her Dyslexic friends I said to her “You have found your tribe haven’t you?” Her reply was the biggest smile I have seen in a long time.

Her new friends all forget things. They all actually forgot that they had memory issues and laughed hysterically at that. They struggle through their work together in class. They go to learning support together. They complain about the teachers who don’t get it and praise the awesome ones that make school bearable by actually implementing their adjustments. They giggle when they can’t add up while playing games rather than hiding their weaknesses. While other kids in class are calling them dumb their friends are telling them the opposite and appreciating them for exactly who they are.

Through our support group my daughter also writes to another year 7 kid with Dyslexia who was feeling alone. They use snail mail. Her pen pal has lovely writing and she told her. She also told her she types because she has dysgraphia and her handwriting is not so good. They share struggles but also write about normal stuff. They both know no one is going to judge them for their spelling or grammar. My daughter actually smiles when she sees a spelling mistake in her pen pals letters.

The word Dyslexia has also as a parent allowed me to find my parent tribe. I have met some of the most brilliant Dyslexia advocates through my volunteer work. Determined mums mostly who are fighting to get the system to change after watching the horrible toll illiteracy has on our children. My daughter’s tutor has become a firm friend. She is one of the few people who get it when the days are hard and simple things go really wrong. We listen to the daily struggles of our kids without judgement and we know the other gets it!

It is quite lovely (I’m not sure how to describe it) to be around school mums who get your child’s struggles. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to sometimes be able to give advice and help to my new parent friends. Funnily enough last year I chatted online through our support group to one of the mums. Giving her advice about tutors in the local area. Then our daughter’s went to the same school and became friends and neither of us realised we had talked online and by then we had met in person. I know I’m not going to have to get embarrassed about grades. I know I can complain about my child’s resistance to getting her assignment done. I know I can talk about having to help my child structure her essays, research and edit without judgement. We were all feeling a little sick at the idea of an end to school holidays.

With these school Mum’s I don’t have to listen to what they think are their parent struggles when having just those struggles would make my week awesome. Like my sister’s endless turmoil choosing between selective high school and performing arts high school that my niece got accepted into. Oh the pure joy of a decision like that. Whilst at the same time I was meeting with learning support at the local High School grilling them with questions. Trying to find a high school that my daughter would be able to survive was my main goal. A high school where she didn’t come out with worse mental health and some of her self esteem still intact.

Other parents don’t really understand what it is like and nor do most of the relatives. Don’t get me wrong other parents have been supportive in the past but you can never understand the constant battles or the daily management needed with a child with Learning Difficulties particularly mixed in with the inevitable mental health issues. I know because I have another child who passes through life with a smile on her face and is absolutely adored by every teacher who has ever had her. She does not approach task with trepidation and the scars that constant failure bring. She approaches everything with determination and persistence.

Talking to my daughter’s new friends parents the other day I mentioned that one of her best friends dumped her and joined the “popular group”. They asked why and I said its because she is a little odd and quirky. She also couldn’t cope with the anxiety which turns her sometimes into silent and no fun. Their reply was to them she was normal and she should fit right in. They also get the anxiety thing. One friend was reluctant to sleep over as she doesn’t know me well. My daughter and I made sure she didn’t remain anxious. Because we can see it, manage it and understand it. Whereas at times I’ve felt embarrassed when my daughters anxious behaviours make her look like a brat child or an unfriendly one.

My daughter’s friends are the only reason that today on Day 1 of Term 3 going back to school is bearable. Last night and this morning the hand wringing and crankiness started with the rise of school anxiety. Better than it used to be. Doesn’t happen for a week and no longer any vomiting. So when she goes to school today she knows her Dyslexic friends are probably feeling the same. So don’t tell me we shouldn’t identify kids with Dyslexia or use the label. In my other blog “The Dirty D word” I have addressed all the issues. But this blog is from the heart. So don’t lecture me until you have walked in my shoes. You will never be able to understand the positives the Dyslexic community brings to these kids or families

Riding the Dyslexic Unicorn to the land of myths!

Sorting the Dyslexic Myths from the facts

I am a very research orientated and like to stick to the facts! So let’s address some common Dyslexia Myths. 

This was a hard blog to write. It is quite the epic blog. I needed up leaving out a few Myth so there may be a part 2. When I asked our members to give me some myths I didn’t expect to be inundated with such a huge amount of heartbreaking comments. The quotes are comments that parents have been told by friends, relatives, professionals and teachers! I do hate to say it but the majority of these comments are from teachers. 

Some are laughable. 

Some are heartbreaking. 

Some are downright unprofessional. 

  1. Myth: Children with Dyslexia can not learn phonics. It confuses them. Dyslexia needs a different kind of instruction

“Went to the library and told the librarian that I was looking for Dandelion or Fitzroy readers as my son is dyslexic and she said “whatever you do DO NOT teach him phonics. It is just too confusing for them”.”

“This was a comment from a teacher to one of my colleagues (a speechie) a few years ago who was teaching a child phonics in therapy: “Can you stop telling her to sound things out, it’s confusing her in our reading recovery sessions”… She also suggested to the child’s mother to stop doing speech and just focus on reading recovery, luckily she didn’t listen.”

Facts: 

This is a common misconception. Often children with Dyslexia have not received adequate phonics instruction and that is why phonics has failed.  Another reason why people thinks it fails is because people dont develop phonemic awareness along with it. Kilpatrick talks extensively about this and the PA must be trained to advanced level alongside phonics. Advanced PA meaning getting to the stage of phoneme substitution and deletion.This is a failure of instruction and not the child. Children with Dyslexia need intensive explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Phonics instruction is effective for children with Dyslexia, however, children with Dyslexia will generally need a more intensive approach. This is a  well established scientific fact supported by Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), AUSPELD, Australian Dyslexia Association and reputable  International Dyslexia Associations.

“LDA supports approaches to reading instruction that adopt an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading and are consistent with the scientific evidence as to how children learn to read and how best to teach them. This approach is important for all children, but is particularly important for children who have difficulty in learning to read. Programs that follow an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading include as an integral part of the teaching program specific instruction in phonology (phonological and phonemic awareness), sound-symbol associations (letter-sound correspondences), as well as syllable structures, morphology, syntax and semantics (the structure, use and meaning of words) as a basis for developing accurate and fluent reading and reading comprehension.” https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/LDA%20Position%20Statement%20with%20references.pdf

  1. Myth: Dyslexics are just not that smart. 

“In Prep, I was told I was a helicopter mum, that my son was one step above dumb and not to have such high expectations of him, he will get what ever he gets. I have 25 kids in this class and yours is just slower so stop trying to make him out to be something he is not, are you qualified to understand his education??? He can not possibly be smart when he can not read or write!!!!                                                                                  Turns out he is gifted 2E with dyslexia and dysgraphia.”

“Well, I guess he’s not very smart..?”

“what do you mean he has an above average IQ if he can’t read and write then he can’t have.”

“She is really smart, no way she can be dyslexic. She is really verbal, how can she struggle with reading. spelling, writing.”

Facts: 

I.Q. Is not related to reading ability. Dyslexia occurs across the spectrum of I.Q. Levels. “These results converge with behavioral evidence indicating that, regardless of IQ, poor readers have similar kinds of reading difficulties in relation to phonological processing.” Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov;Epub 2011 Oct 17. The brain basis of the phonological deficit in dyslexia is independent of IQ. Tanaka H

 

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is a visual issue or visual processing issue

“Do you want me to print her work on blue paper?” “maybe you should get some of those coloured glasses.”

“Oh you can get them rose coloured glasses to fix that….”

Facts:

Visual comments are the biggest headache for us in our support group. Seeing a behavioural optometrist or Irlen screener seems to be often the first place people go. Including myself I must admit. But I did my research and was smart enough to walk away when the behavioural optometrist couldn’t answer some simple questions about how she accounted for processing speed in her tracking testing! Recommending Irlen or behavioural optometry steers parents away from evidenced based remediation.

“Research has shown that vision problems do not cause dyslexia and vision 

problems are not more common in dyslexics.24 Eye and vision problems including high refractive errors, poor vision, nystagmus, abnormal pursuits or saccadic eye movements, difficulties with “crossing the midline” of the visual field, CI, AI, strabismus, amblyopia, reduced stereopsis, binocular instability, or a magnocellular deficit do not cause or increase the severity of dyslexia. No consistent relationship has been demonstrated between visual perception and academic performance or reading ability. Dyslexia is no more frequent in children with significant eye movement disorders than in the general population.25” https://www.aao.org/pediatric-center-detail/learning-disabilities

See my blog on Irlen Syndrome https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/

See my fact sheet on Vision and reading difficulties https://www.dropbox.com/s/vwobf5ljr1ais5f/Vision%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is a boy thing. He’s just a boy. 

“he’s just a boy they take longer to learn”

“His teacher said he isn’t dyslexic (principal in primary school). He is a boy! He is young! He will get it in his own time! He daydreams too much! I have no issues with him he is very well behaved (yes but he can’t read??)”

“he is a boy. They don’t start reading until they are about 8-9”

“He is so well behaved, so he doesn’t have a learning issue.”

Facts:

Research shows Dyslexia is distributed quite evenly between male and females. There may be slightly more males affected than females. More males tend to be diagnosed as they exhibit secondary behaviours which lead to referral. Girls in general tend to shrink and hide whereas boys will act out their frustration.  “A range of data now indicate that although there are somewhat more boys, significant numbers of girls struggle to read. (Flynn & Rahbar 1994, Shaywitz et al. 1990).” Shaywitz 2007

As for accepting the idea that boys learn to read slower or it is ok that they are not learning to read….We need to take a look at ourselves as a society. There is a general scientific consensus that aptitude for literacy and numeracy is not gendered but a gap exists early due to parental and societal attitudes. Children tend to meet the standard that we set for them. We need to expect all children can read because evidence shows only the most disabled can not learn to read. 

“Research shows that many teachers hold views of boys as “troublesome” and under-achieving, whereas they see girls as “compliant” and high-achieving (Jones & Myhill, 2004). These different perceptions of boys’ and girls’ behavior and abilities from a young age can affect their achievement (Alvidrez & Weinstein, 1999).” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/tell-me-story/201308/the-gender-gap-in-reading

  1. Myth: Children with dyslexia read backwards and reverse letters

“Are you sure he’s dyslexic? He hasn’t writing his letters back to front for a while now” 

“Yeah, people with dyslexia see the words printed backwards/letters all jumbled up.”

Facts: 

Letter reversals are quite developmentally normal until around age 8. They persist sometimes in children with Dyslexia as they are the mistakes of beginning readers which can also exist in children who struggle to learn to read. These errors tend to disappear with appropriate remediation. My Dyslexic child had far less problems with this than her sister. 

“This outcome speaks against the widespread view that reversals in the production of individual letters are a good predictor of future reading problems.” “Educators and clinicians, therefore, should not assume that reversal errors in writing are indicative of dyslexia.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4309997/#!po=10.2941

  1. Myth: Dyslexic children are just lazy. They just need to work harder and pay more attention.

“Sight words/magic words well everyone else can learn them this way, you just need to work harder with him.” 

“He just needs to find motivation and try harder, then he’ll do enough work to pass”

“She doesn’t have a problem – she can do it when she tries hard enough.”         

“What is dyslexia anyway? An excuse to be lazy?”

Facts: 

Children with Dyslexia are often working much harder than other students to produce less work. Dyslexia causes problems with sequencing and organising information so it is difficult for children with dyslexia to work out the purpose of the task and organise their thoughts. Dyslexia makes reading slow, tiring and inaccurate making the question or information difficult to understand and comprehend.

“The dyslexics were using 4.6 times as much area of the brain to do the same language task as the controls,” said Richards, a professor of radiology. “This means their brains were working a lot harder and using more energy than the normal children.” ‘Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area.’ Schwarz (1999) Dyslexic children use nearly five times the brain area. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2017, from http://www.washington.edu/news/1999/10/04/dyslexic-children-use-nearly-five-times-the-brain-area/

Inattention, lack of focus, poor motivation can all be the result of secondary learned helplessness and anxiety that have developed due to constant failure at tasks. “3Children and adolescents with learning disabilities have high rates of mental health problems and behavioural difficulties.” Allington-Smith 2006

  1. Myth: We don’t use the word Dyslexia anymore

Facts:

Teachers and health care practitioners are under the misinformed impression that the term dyslexia is no longer used and has been removed from the DSM-5. This is categorically incorrect. The extensive 2013 revision of the DSM has most certainly not dropped the term dyslexia but has made the term more formalised as it is specifically stated in the section on specific learning disabilities (disorders). 

“DSM-5 includes dyslexia as a Specific Reading Disorder – “Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities”.(p.67, DSM-5) (APA), 2013 

Please see my blog “The Dirty D word” for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/the-dirty-d-word-2/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia can’t be properly diagnosed

Facts:

Whilst the term dyslexia is used inappropriately by promoters of reading products it has a clearly defined diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and can be adequately identified by well trained and experienced professionals.

The following criteria is used for a diagnosis by an educational psychologist;

“A.      A persistent difficulty learning academic skills for at least 6 months despite intervention. In regard to dyslexia the areas of persistent weakness may include;

-Inaccurate and slow reading.

-Difficulty with word decoding.

-Difficulty with the comprehension of text.

-Spelling Difficulties.

-Difficulties with grammar, punctuation and other writing skills. 

B.       The areas of weakness or skill impairment are significantly below the expectation and impede academic progress. 

C.       Learning difficulties may not be apparent until the demands of school are in excess of the student’s progress.

D.       The academic and learning difficulties do not occur because of other issues such intellectual, hearing, vision, mental health or due to inadequate instruction. ”

Summarised from The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, American Psychiatriac Association (APA), 2013. 

“Science has moved forward at a rapid pace so that we now possess the data to reliably define dyslexia … For the student, the knowledge that he is dyslexic is empowering … [It provides him] with self-understanding and self-awareness of what he has and what he needs to do in order to succeed.” Sally Shaywitz (2017)

  1. Dyslexia doesn’t exist it is all “ disteachia”

Facts:

Whilst there is a percentage of children who have failed to read due to inadequate instruction dyslexia is a recognised and diagnosable condition as per the myth examined above. Dyslexia is reading difficulties that persist despite adequate evidenced based intervention. “There has been over 30 years of documented, scientific evidence and research proving the existence of dyslexia. It is one of the most common learning disabilities to affect children.” http://dyslexiahelp.umich.edu/dyslexics/learn-about-dyslexia/what-is-dyslexia/debunking-common-myths-about-dyslexia

“Experts in the field have reached a substantial degree of consensus about what is meant by the term and how it should be defined in a clinical context. Dyslexia is widely viewed as a severe reading difficulty that persists despite high-quality evidence-based instruction. This is enshrined in documents such as the Rose Report in the UK, and the Australian Dyslexia Working Party report.” Wheldall, Castles and Nayton, (2014) 

Please see my blog “The Dirty D word” for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/01/27/the-dirty-d-word-2/

  1. Myth: Your child will never learn to read. But that is OK!!! They can do a trade or sport or colour in daisy wheels.

The colouring in of daisy wheels was actually the experience of our daughter’s tutor who didn’t learn to read a word until year 5. Diagnosed at 18 after failing her A levels she went on to get a Masters from Cambridge in Psychology and Education.  

“The physiatrist who tested my son and found him to be highly gifted at 5 went on to tell me at 6 that now she had diagnosed dyslexia, Dyscalculia and dysgraphia he would never reach the full potential of his IQ and I would have to modify my expectations of him…”

“Forget about being academic just concentrate on sport.”

“Yours boys are so cute , don’t worry about the Dyslexia they will get great wives “

“Hello, he’s dyslexic! He better get used to being a failure! At least he’s not like (insert name of a child with severe cognitive issues here).”

“He is such a delight don’t worry”

“He’s never going to be a rocket scientist…ironic considering how many dyslexic people become scientists.”

“Take her home and love her… she will never succeed at school”… told by a behavioural optometrist”

“You (parent) expect too much. Your child isn’t a genius, so don’t expect him to be.”

Facts:

We must change systematic acceptance that a certain percentage of kids can not learn to read or succeed. We must have the highest expectations of all children. Placing children in the too hard basket and writing them off as unteachable is unforgivable. Telling a parent that that need to lower their expectations is absolutely unprofessional and hurtful.

The great majority of children can learn to read. The exceptions are only the most profoundly disabled. “Thanks to new scientific research—plus a long- awaited scientific and political consensus around this research—the knowledge exists to teach all but a handful of severely disabled children to read well.”  “Scientists now estimate that fully 95 percent of all children can be taught to read. Yet, in spite of all our knowledge, statistics reveal an alarming prevalence of struggling and poor readers that is not limited to any one segment of society.” 1999 https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Teaching%20Reading%20is%20Rocket%20Science%20-%20Moats.pdf

We must accept that Australia’s high rate of illiteracy is down to decades of poor literacy instruction based on ideologies rather than science. “Mr Boulton said that According to Reid Lyon and James Wendorf, 95% of the children that are struggling with reading are instructional casualties.” http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID=55&n_issueNumber=53

Whether being dyslexic comes with strengths remains a controversial issue that is under researched. There is some limited research that supports improved visual spatial processing strengths in individuals with dyslexia.  People with dyslexia are certainly overrepresented in the arts and the business world but it remains to be seen whether dyslexia confers any extra benefits. It may be that faced with difficulties at school forces the individual to develop a level of resilience to failure and other coping mechanisms that allow them to thrive as entrepreneurs. Children may also seek refuge in the arts and creativity when confronted with the stress of the classroom. 

All children have strengths. The most important thing is that your child finds their strengths and utilises those strengths to help overcome their weaknesses.

Please see my blog post for further detail Dyslexia and the journey to the magical world of reading https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/dyslexia-and-the-journey-to-the-magical-world-of-reading/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia doesn’t qualify for learning support

“dyslexia isn’t funded so we can’t help.”

Facts:

Dyslexia is not specifically funded in any State or Territory under specialist disability funding support. All schools get some funding for children with special needs. Children with dyslexia can access this general learning and support funding. This unfortunately is not specific so will depend on the extent of difficulties, the school and the priorities of the principal. Learning support funding criteria will differ in each Sate and territory. Policies will also differ in Catholic education and private sectors.

“The Australian Government provides substantial funding to education authorities to help meet the educational needs of all students, including those with disability. This funding, provided through the Australian Education Act 2013, also helps schools meet their obligations under the Disability Standards for Education 2005.” Australian Government Department of Education and Training, Students with Disability, 2005

“Students who experience difficulties in basic areas of learning and behaviour are supported through Learning and Support in their local school. Students in primary, secondary and central schools may receive additional assistance in literacy, numeracy, language and behaviour. Students do not need a formal diagnosis of disability to access support through these resources.” Disability Support, NSW Department of Education and Communities.

  1. Myth: I have not taught any dyslexics before!

This is a common response from teachers when told by a parent of a Dyslexia diagnosis. 

“When first got diagnosed we had a meeting with the school Team support teacher for special needs. We asked “we’ll this is all new to us, what have u done for other dyslexic kids in the school?” Her response was ” yeh I think we had ‘a kid’ here ONCE with dyslexia, don’t worry he eventually got it & could read, it just took him till grade 5, really u just need to stop worrying”……………really 1 kid, you’ve been here for 20years & there’s nearly 300 kids at this school, really??????. Yes” 

Facts:

Because dyslexia occurs across a continuum and varies in definition the percentage of people affected is often debatable. Some consensus is that it affects around 10 % of the population with around 3-5% experiencing a significant impact.  Based on statistics you would expect to find 2 to 3 children in every classroom with dyslexia. Many of those are not being identified.  

Please see more blog teaching Dyslexia sorting through the facts for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/02/16/teaching-dyslexia-sorting-through-the-facts/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is not recognised as a disability

Parents get told this all the time by teachers and principals. Far too often this is discussed in the support group.

Facts:

Dyslexia is a disability recognised under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 Act. These acts are federal legislation so cover every educational institution in Australia in the public and private sector. The DDA also covers discrimination of the basis of disability in all areas of Australian life including the workplace. 

Unfortunately many schools are unaware that dyslexia is a disability and therefore fail to adequately meet their legal obligations under the DDA and Disability Standards. 

“The definition of ‘disability’ in the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is sufficiently broad as to include dyslexia within the meaning of that term as outlined in recommendation 1.  Dyslexia would therefore be covered by the provisions of both the DDA and the Disability Standards for Education 2005 made under that Act.” Australian Government response to recommendations of the Dyslexia Working Party Report (2012)

Please see also the Dyslexia and the law Fact Sheet https://www.dropbox.com/s/1sci4cews929j57/Dyslexia%20and%20the%20law%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

  1. Myth: They can’t read because you didn’t read to them enough. 

“It’s such a shame when that happens. Some people just don’t realise the importance of reading & talking to their children from a young age.”

“it’s really important that your kids are exposed to language even if you have to read to them” or “kids should be exposed to language and the written word from a young age”… oh right, thanks, haven’t thought if that. Parents of dyslexics have probably had to read more out loud, do more work around language than any other parent. “

“Vice principal – “honestly you work a lot do you think maybe if you quit and just read to him more that would help ?”

“It’s because you didn’t read to them when they were little.”

“Have you tried reading to him each night?”

There were countless comments like these. Everyone shows a distinct lack of understanding how children learn to read and absolute unprofessionalism blaming a child lack of progress on the parent. The primary goal of primary school is to teach kids to read. This is the school’s responsibility. It is it’s reason for existence!

Facts: 

I can guarantee every parent in our support group has read a lot to their children. They are concerned enough to be in the group looking for answers. I read to both my children from birth. One easily learnt to read and the other didn’t. For the dyslexic child we were reading things to her like Harry Potter from kindergarten. She always loved language and complex stories. Whereas our non dyslexic child liked picture books for a long time. We still read to both our kids every night and the youngest is 11.

Certainly reading to children does impact oral language including phonemic awareness and vocabulary and it is certainly an essential foundation but it won’t teach a child to read.

“The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

Please see my blog on learning read is not a natural process for more detail https://dekkerdyslexia.wordpress.com/2018/04/10/phonics-check-myth-buster-2-learning-to-read-is-a-natural-process-and-advocating-just-a-phonics-approach-destroys-a-childrens-love-of-books/

  1. Myth: Dyslexia is rare

“I’ve never taught a dyslexic child before.”

“I’ve taught one Dyslexic child before.”

“what’s Dyslexia? I’ll go home an google tonight “

“I’ve been teaching 20 years and I’ve never had a dyslexic child before….”

Facts:

Because dyslexia occurs across a continuum and varies in definition the percentage of people affected is often debatable. Some consensus is that it affects around 10 % of the population with around 3-5% experiencing a significant impact. Based on statistics you would expect to find 2 to 3 children in every classroom with dyslexia. Many of those are not being identified. 

We get a lot of teachers joining our support group looking for ways to help a student they have in their class. Sometimes we get 20 a day. Learning support teachers, librarians, principals and some of these are teachers who are stumped because their own child just got diagnosed. 

Are we are happy they are seeking help? Most certainly!

Are we shocked that they don’t know what to do? No!

Are we sad that a volunteer support group is the place to go to find answers? A little. 

We would love to see all teachers adequately trained in

  • Identifying kids at risk of reading failure
  • Basics of Dyslexia
  • Accommodations and learning adjustments for children with Dyslexia
  • Evidenced based reading instruction 
  • Legal obligations under Disability legislation 
  1. Your child will grow out of it

“He will grow out of it. It’s a phase he’s going through 

“I had that but I grew out of it”

Facts:

Dyslexia is a neurological disability that affects the language system and the development of literacy skills. It is defined as a specific learning disorder, more specifically a reading disorder. It is characterised by problems with spelling, accurate or fluent word recognition, working memory, processing speed, rapid automatic naming, reading comprehension, phonological decoding and weak phonemic awareness.  

Dyslexia is not curable and is a lifelong disability. It can be remediated with appropriate interventions but some difficulties may still persist and need to be managed adequately.

  1. Myth: Just wait and see as some kids just take longer to learn to read.

“Comments from the gp when trying to get a referral for speech therapy – well no 6 year old can spell or read well, parents need to help them more and not waste our time.”

“There’s no need for private tutoring. He’s not in yr 11 /12 yet. Wait till then – friend.”

“The teacher aide tells me he seems to know his sight words and honestly his such and adorable little boy just give him time.“

“He will “get it” eventually, it will just “click”.”

Facts:

Early intervention is absolutely essential to ensure the reading and learning gap does not continue to widen and prevent the development of secondary mental health issues. 

Initial failure predicts future failure!

  • 90% of poor readers in first grade are poor readers in fourth grade (Juel, 1988)
  • 74% of children who are poor readers in the third grade remain poor readers in the ninth grade (Francis etal., 1996)
  • Many children with difficulty in learning to read develop a negative self concept within their first two years of schooling (Chapman, Tunmer, & Prochnow, 2000)

Importance of sticking to the facts 

Comments of a parent “How I feel when I hear these comments? Shocked, frustrated, annoyed, angry, upset to say the least.” Think about the impact on these parents and kids before you spread a myth or shatter the parent. Parents are fragile. This is their beautiful smart child that you are saying things about. The parents are fighting with all their energy to do the best for their child so you should give them the respect to do your research or say nothing! Myths also delay effective remediation and early intervention is essential.

This one may seem like a comedy sketch but unfortunately it is not….but I will leave it with you….gave a few of us a good laugh. Laughing because otherwise we would cry!

“My daughter was lying in her hospital bed the other night & overheard a phone conversation. She sent me a text & relayed one side of the conversation:

” No, he has dyslexia. It’s an eye condition. Yes, they have special eyes. They can’t see words or letters at all. …… I know…. strange isn’t it? They open a book & its pages look blank. Their eyes can see everything except words. Yes….. special eyes….. I don’t know what causes it. I actually heard that there are dyslexic authors. I don’t see how they could write….. well maybe they write but they can see the words they write on the page……. unless they just get someone else to write it for them.”

 

 

 

I’m seeing RED!

I’m a bit mad, harassed and upset. There was actually a moment or two today when I considered giving up the advocacy gig. But luckily I’m hard wired for a fight and I won’t back down.

This week I’ve been under attack for posting the RANZCO media release titled “No scientific evidence that Irlen Syndrome exists, say ophthalmologists.” RANZCO media release 2018 https://ranzco.edu/media-and-advocacy/media-centre/media-releases/media-release-articles/no-scientific-evidence-that-irlen-syndrome-exists-say-ophthalmologists.

“What is the verdict?
Due to a critical lack of scientific evidence that Irlen Syndrome exists or that treatment methods do anything to improve an individual’s performance, RANZCO cannot endorse treatment of the condition.” RANZCO POSITION STATEMENT 2018 https://ranzco.edu/ArticleDocuments/176/Irlen%20Syndrome%20RANZCO%20Position%20Statement%20260418.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y

Lack of evidence supporting Irlen or vision therapies for Dyslexia or reading difficulties is not new. But I think RANZCO has been the of first organisation in Australia to come out and say what is on everyone’s lips… “no scientific evidence that Irlen Syndrome exists!” There I’m brave enough to say it! I’m saying it out loud!

“Despite 35 years having elapsed since the initial description, neither the
International Classification of Disease (ICD-10; World Health Organisation) nor the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric
Association) list visual stress as a recognised disorder. Similarly, neither of these
widely used diagnostic manuals makes any reference to visual-perceptual
distortions as being associated with reading difficulty. The ability of coloured filters
to improve reading performance in individuals who report symptoms of visual
stress has been widely contested [6-11] and the practice has even been listed
among ‘neuromyths in education’.[12] ” The effect of coloured overlays and lenses on reading: a systematic review of the literature, Griffiths http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/opo.12316/full

I received a bit of twitter abuse and the usual “I’ve seen it work” “It worked for me”. But the most venom came from our parent members. I understand that it is hard for someone to say to you that the intervention you picked for your child was probably a waste of time and money. This is exactly while anecdotes are so unreliable. People need to believe. I understand that you need to desperately cling to the idea that you have found your solution. I understand I’m a parent of a child with multiple learning difficulties. Posting evidence is not a criticism of your parenting skills. My job as an administrator of an evidenced based group is to inform parents of the latest information so others don’t merrily skip down the wrong path.

Irlen has a moral responsibility to prove that Scoptic sensitivity exists and that their remediation works. They have had decades. Professionals have a moral responsibility to families that the best information is made available so that they can make the best used of limited intervention time and financial resources. “As doctors, ophthalmologists have a responsibility to help families make the best use of limited resources. We should steer families away from unproven interventions that consume resources and thus interfere with the implementation of proven methodologies such as educational and language based therapy.” RANZCO Eye2Eye Spring 2016

In our support groups we have certainly tried to be gentle and take the line of “not a remediation for Dyslexia”, “Dyslexia not caused by vision or visual processing issues”. But with many Irlen franchises in Australia including the word Dyslexia in their title, diagnosing “visual dyslexia” and including Dyslexia in their long list of things Irlen remediates, it was time someone drew a line in the sand.

Scientific research has shown Irlen is no better than a placebo. In fact a recent research study showed girls had preference for pink, rose and purple which certainly leans towards a placebo rather than an actual intervention. This article discusses in detail the likely placebo effect of Coloured lenses https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320468142_Coloured_filters_show_gender_differences_and_poor_repeatability

“Consistent with previous reviews and advice from several professional bodies, we
conclude that the use of coloured lenses or overlays to ameliorate reading
difficulties cannot be endorsed and that any benefits reported by individuals in
clinical settings are likely to be the result of placebo, practice or Hawthorne effects.”
The effect of coloured overlays and lenses on reading: a systematic review of the literature
Authors Philip G. Griffiths, Robert H. Taylor, Lisa M. Henderson
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/opo.12316/full

 

Unfortunately Irlen is not a harmless placebo. We get many parents who have wasted valuable time, money and dented their children’s self esteem riding the Irlen rainbow. In fact everyone of our 3 admin bunt their fingers on either behavioural optometry or Irlen before finding structured literacy and evidenced based paths. Opportunity cost is significant when the importance it early intervention in reading difficulties is well established. Often parents are sent to an Irlen centre as their first port of call by professionals and teachers. This often delays literacy remediation. Sometimes years pass before appropriate evidenced based intervention is received.

“Ineffective,controversial methods of treatment such as vision therapy may give parents and teachers a false sense of security that a child’s learning difficulties are being addressed, may waste family and/or school resources, and may delay proper instruction or remediation.” Joint Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2009 (reaffirmed 2014)

Vision and visual processing – The research and evidence

There is a large body of research that does NOT support the theory that dyslexia is caused by visual abnormalities or visual processing difficulties. Irlen Lenses, coloured glasses and overlays are NOT evidence based interventions for reading difficulties. Irlen lenses are NOT recommended by AUSPELD, Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA), Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC) or the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) or The Australian Dyslexia Association for the remediation of reading difficulties.

“Currently, there is no adequate scientific evidence to support the view that subtle eye or visual problems cause learning disabilities. Furthermore, the evidence does not support the concept that vision therapy or tinted lenses or filters are effective, directly or indirectly, in the treatment of learning disabilities.” Joint Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2009 (reaffirmed 2014)

“There is no evidence that Irlen, Wilkins, or Chromagen filters/lenses improve reading comprehension or speed.” 2017 American Academy of Opthamology, Learning Disabilities, Droste https://www.aao.org/pediatric-center-detail/learning-disabilities

 

Vision should be certainly assessed by an optometrist or if any major concerns an ophthalmologist. Reducing glare certainly helps anybody read better but that is no reason to diagnose a condition.

Don’t shoot the messenger.
Providing information to parents is what I do.
Informed decisions are good decisions.
I won’t apologise for my stance as it is firmly grounded in research evidence.

For even more research links see https://www.dropbox.com/s/nibdxvvgsohz83n/Vision%20and%20dyslexia%20the%20facts%20and%20research.pdf?dl=0

For a simple fact sheet see https://www.dropbox.com/s/vwobf5ljr1ais5f/Vision%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

“When things just don’t add up!”

Mathematics can often be an area of difficulty for people with dyslexia. Mathematics has its own distinct language and symbols. Mathematics also has a heavy reliance on processing speed and working memory. There is also a high incidence of dyscalculia as a comorbidity with dyslexia.
5. Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation (e.g. Has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and relationships.” Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM-5)
There is a high co-morbidity rate for children with developmental dyscalculia and dyslexia. Between 60% and 100% of dyslexics have difficulty with certain aspects of mathematics (Miles, 1993 & Joffe, 1990).” Dyslexia help University of Michigan

The fundamental principles of the remediation of mathematical difficulties are;
-Teach concepts and understanding in a hands on way.
-Mastery of basic facts and concepts is essential.
-Focus on students area of weakness.
-Variety and repetition until automaticity of essentials.
-Play games and make relevant to life to alleviate anxiety and increase motivation.

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“I was, on the whole, considerably discouraged by my school days. It was not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the beginning of the race.”  “a quadratic equation belonged to the world of Alice in Wonderland and the Differential Calculus was a dragon” Winston Churchill  ” Winston Churchill’s description of mathematics echoes the feelings of many people with a mathematical disability. For them, the world of numbers, equations, and mathematic problems is populated by evil creatures, designed to make their life miserable.” Understanding Dyslexia and other Learning Disabilites Linda Siegel 2013 Pacific Educational Press

Mathematics anxiety is a well researched area and can have a significant impact on kids struggling to cope with the extra demands learning difficulties place upon them everyday in school. Mathematics, as taught in the curriculum, gives children the belief that they are either right or wrong and leaves little room for creativity.

The greatest level of anxiety for my daughter currently is mathematics. She is actually doing well in English. With the help of remediation she reads slowly but at age appropriate level. With the help of the great assistive technology features of her IPAD her creative writing has blossomed and she writes for pleasure. With Math if she gets stuck on the initial problem in a set of many she has to wait for help. She will rarely take a punt a giving it a go, because to do that she risks a whole page of red pen. Getting her spelling wrong in a beautiful written piece still earns her praise.

Years of Mathematics failure have lead to a lot of anxiety. At home what she can understand and achieve in Maths is not in line with the classroom. She says that she freezes up just walking into Mathematics. What are we doing wrong? Why are we creating generations of children afraid of Mathematics? Not just kids with learning difficulties but Maths anxiety is well documented in the general population. For a comprehensive examination of Math anxiety Steve Chinn’s essay is worth examination. http://stevechinn.co.uk/child%20devel%20beliefs.pdf

 

Manipulatives and exploration of Mathematics concepts in the early years does not play enough of a role and is pushed out early by wrote learning and speed of calculation. My daughter actually spent quite a few psychologist sessions discussing her severe anxiety over weekly Maths Mentals! Children, especially those with learning difficulties, need to be given the opportunity to master basic skills and concepts before moving forward otherwise they risk missing basic essential foundations. These foundations I have had to re teach to my daughter.

We need to allow more exploration of Mathematics concepts and allow children to find other ways of solving a problem. Many times in the teaching of my daughter we threw out the way she was being taught at school and examined her own ways of doing calculations. Sometimes weeks spent doing something one way, without success, a conceptual understanding would be achieved in one lesson using a different approach. At home we have had many light bulb moments.

I think we can probably take a lot of lessons from the rise of Singapore to the top of the maths world. In Singapore maths the focus is on mastery of basic concepts and problem solving skills. There is a significant use of visual aids and manipulatives in the classroom and not just in the first year or two. Children are not shoved into the slow group but the class moves ahead when mastery is achieved for all. This avoids development of anxiety and poor maths self concept. Maths moves slower but mathematics foundations are solid. In every High School Mathematics classroom in Australia there are many children with large skill and concept gaps.

 

Singapore maths is a method of teaching mathematics which emphasises problem solving. It works with people’s ability to visualise things, recognise patterns and make decisions. It does not resort to rote learning, memorisation or other tedious tactics that put most people off mathematics at a very early age. The goal is to make sure people understand what is going on and that they are not performing procedures that don’t make any sense to them. There is very little reliance on tedious calculations, memorisation and meaningless repetition as those things don’t help anyone to become a thinker; and creating thinkers is the goal.” https://mathsnoproblem.com/singapore-math-singapore-maths/

For someone like myself who found Maths effortless it has been a big learning curve for me to turn around and teach my daughter the basic concepts when school left her behind. We are still working on Maths and I am not sure if we will ever overcome her hatred of math and the anxiety that has developed. She loves reading and writing despite having Dyslexia and Dysgraphia but the fear of Maths weighs heavily.

For more information on Dyscalculia and maths difficulties I recommend;
Steven Chinn who started out in Dyslexia remediation and realised a lot of children also struggle with Math. Dyscalculia is certainly less understood and has less resources than Dyslexia. Steve Chinn has a range of books and resources. http://www.stevechinn.co.uk

Ronit Bird has a range of books and some free resources. This is a list of 10 tips for parents. http://www.ronitbird.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/toptentips.pdf

Maths No Problem https://mathsnoproblem.com/en/blog/

Judy Hornigold. Judy Hornigold will be running a 2 day worshop this year in Sydney Brough to you by SPELD NSW https://speldnsw.org.au/event/dyscalculia-and-maths-interventions-2-day-pd-with-judy-hornigold/. I attended her one day SPELD worshop last year and it was excellent. http://www.judyhornigold.co.uk/dyscalculia.html

Maths Fact Sheet https://www.dropbox.com/s/a7cosgpdc2oto4v/Math%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf?dl=0

 

For ideas, tips and articles please follow my Facebook page Dyscalculia Awareness Australia https://www.facebook.com/SupportMath/?ref=bookmarks

 

Phonics myth buster 3 “Nonsense words are silly and we should teach reading in context.”

“Nonsense words are nonsense” is utter nonsense!

One myth that immediately shows the tigers stripes is the myth about nonsense words and context. Straight away your opponent has shown their lack of understanding of learning to read, the importance of phonics and their alliance to multi cueing.

Are nonsense words really nonsense? After all any word that is not in a child’s vocabulary is a nonsense word. Without the ability to decode nonsense words the reading of some of the best children’s literature would be impossible!

Crodsquinkled’ – The BFG by Roald Dahl

Woozles’, ‘Wizzles’ and ‘Heffalumps’ – Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Hornswogglers, snozzwangers, whangdoodles and Oompa-Loompas –Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Nonsense words or pseudowords are an essential part of the phonics check. Pseudoword decoding issues are a well established predictor of reading difficulties. Nonsense word tests such as DIBELS have been used for some time as an indicator of decoding difficulties.

Keith Stanovich (2000) …cites several experimental studies that conclude;

• “the speed of naming pronounceable nonwords is one of the tasks that most clearly differentiates good from poor readers” (p. 40).

• It thus is not surprising that pseudoword naming is discovered to be a “potent predictor of reading ability at all levels” (p. 100).

• there is an “incredible potency of pseudoword reading as a predictor of reading difficulty” (p. 207). http://www.nrrf.org/old/essay_pseudowords.html

The phonics Screening check has been examined for validity. “Our analyses show that the phonics screening check is a highly valid measure of children’s phonic skills. The check showed convergent validity by correlating strongly with other measures of phonic skills (e.g., teacher judgements of phonic ability and psychometric tests of nonword reading and spelling) and with broader measures of reading (e.g., single-word reading accuracy, prose reading accuracy and comprehension). It also demonstrated discriminant validity, by showing weaker correlations with more distal skills (e.g., vocabulary and maths).

Furthermore, the phonics screening check seemed to be sensitive with respect to identifying children at risk of reading difficulties.” (Duff 2015) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1467-9817.12029

It needs to be emphasised that this is a simple check of one essential element of reading. An element that can certainly derail a child’s road to effective reading quickly. We also now understand that the majority of children with Dyslexia have a phonological deficit and these children make up the great majority of children who fail to learn to read and require intensive intervention.

In my daughter’s case we were told time and time again she was going ok despite the fact that my parent alarm bell was ringing. It wasn’t until half way through year 2 ,when our new school learning support teacher tested her phonics, that we knew something was really wrong. My daughter could not decode even the most simple nonsense words. Yet she had given the impression she was reading for over 2 years due to her wonderful ability to “guess”. My daughter was read to from a young age and has an enormous vocabulary so she has the ability to guess in context. She would often finish sentences that were over the page. This is not reading.

I’ve heard teachers and parents claiming good readers fail the test and they get tricked by the nonsense words. Nonsense Words are clearly indicated with a monster symbol! There is only one correct pronunciation!

It’s highly Likely that these mystery children have been taught to read using context clues and guessing strategies. These children also may have had the phonics check nonsense word section poorly explained to them. They are also likely to be at risk of reading failure later due to inability to decode.

What about the teachers who in the UK are teaching nonsense words? I’ve heard this as an argument. I haven’t seen any evidence. If they are teaching nonsense words then this is the fault of the teachers and not the check. The only way to teach how to decode nonsense words is to teach decoding explicitly and systematically.

There are some situations when a very limited teaching of nonsense words is valid. It is probably appropriate to explain to children before the phonics test what a nonsense word is, give some examples and show that it is indicated by the monster. Also explain to kids these words have to be decoded. In the case of my daughter we use nonsense words as a diagnostic tool. She has such an extensive vocabulary and has poor guessing habits so we need to test whether she can actually decode. Whether she has learnt a phoneme or guessing is very evident once we throw in a few pseudowords.

Using cues in context for reading comprehension as an adult or a capable reader is a useful strategy. Reading in context for word identification using multiple cues for beginning readers is not a useful strategy and is often a fallback coping mechanism for the poor readers. Encouraging of guessing is not reading and is a very difficult bad habit to undo in struggling readers. It took a long time for us to teach our daughter to decode rather than guess. Going through every word starting with a “D” that you know when faced with an unknown word is not efficient. As a parent it is maddening when my child does this. When she is encouraged to decode she will get the word quickly.

Scientific evidence strongly demonstrates that the development of skilled reading involves increasingly accurate and automatic word identification skills, not the use of “multiple cueing systems” to read words. Skilled readers do not need to rely on pictures or sentence context in word identification, because they can read most words automatically, and they have the phonics skills to decode occasional unknown words rapidly. Rather, it is the unskilled readers who tend to be dependent on context to compensate for poor word identification.” http://www.readingrockets.org/article/use-context-cues-reading

The year 4 reading slump is well documented and is often when children with Dyslexia are diagnosed. In year 3 we switch from learning to read to reading to learn. The text becomes much more difficult at this point and the pretty pictures that children have used to help them guess have vanished. Lack of ability to decode unknown words becomes very evident at this point and affects fluency and comprehension if decoding is not automatic. Reliance on multiple cueing systems fails miserably.

“The 3-cueing approach is a microcosm of the culture of education. It didn’t develop because teachers lack integrity, commitment, motivation or intelligence. It developed because they were poorly trained and advised. They didn’t know the relevant science or had been convinced it was irrelevant. Lacking this foundation, no such group could have discovered how reading works and how children learn.” (Seidenberg, 2017, p.304) For further information on the three cueing system read https://www.nifdi.org/news-latest-2/blog-hempenstall/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away

Anyone who declares nonsense words are nonsense does not know how to teach reading or how to identify children at risk of reading. I need a big digital stamp for every time I hear this nonsense.

Let me leave you with a little nonsense.

Jabberwocky a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:

Long time the manxome foe he sought —

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

An explanation of the poem can be found here….including how he made up the words. http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/analysis/poem-origins/jabberwocky/

Cutting down phonics Screening Check myths feels a bit like slaying the Jabberwocky …

Phonics Myth Buster 2 “Learning to read is a natural process and advocating just a phonics approach destroys a children’s love of books!”

This myth makes me super mad for a number of reasons. It’s the ultimate straw man and is frequently trotted out when faced with research and logical arguments. It is also one of the most ridiculous arguments in the anti-phonics arsenal.

Surrounding children with books does not teach them to read.

Yes being exposed to a rich language environment does give a good foundation of Phonemic awareness and vocabulary but excellent oral language does not ensure excellent reading. A child who struggles to learn to read because they have not been given explicit systematic phonics instruction will not love books no matter how much they are exposed to great literature.

“The scientific evidence that refutes the idea that learning to read is a natural process is of such magnitude that Stanovich (1994) wrote:

That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science. . . . The idea that learning to read is just like learning to speak is accepted by no responsible linguist, psychologist, or cognitive scientist in the research community (pp. 285-286).” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar98/vol55/num06/Why-Reading-Is-Not-a-Natural-Process.aspx

“Scientists have established that most students will learn to read adequately (though not necessarily well) regardless of the instructional methods they’re subjected to in school. But they’ve also found that fully 40 percent of children are less fortunate. For them, explicit instruction (including phonics) is necessary if they are to ever become capable readers. These findings are true across race, socioeconomic status, and family background.” https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498005.pdf

Not only is this supported by research I can attest to this through personal experience. My daughter adored books until she went to school. I read to her constantly. It was our main activity. Her first sentence was “read dis book yep” as she followed me around the house toddling and carrying a book. She had a lovely kindy teacher who read her books and played games but she was not so good at teaching phonics. My daughter developed severe anxiety centred around school and reading and would throw her readers across the room with ferocity. I can attest to the fact they were not great literature either!

In year 3 we hired a structured literacy tutor who taught her explicitly and systematically phonics, Fluency, comprehension, phonemic awareness and vocabulary. Gradually her love of books outweighed her fear of books as she learnt to read. So she has gone from being a non reader in year 3, without the ability to even sound out “cat”, to year 7 loving books. I still read to her every night. She has dozens of books piled into her bed to read. To calm her anxiety she reads. She writes stories constantly and says “books are magic portals to other worlds.” English is one of her favourite subjects.

Can anyone please point out who the phonics only advocates are?

I’m not sure who these so called phonics only advocates are because they get mentioned so much and I’m yet to meet them. I’d really like to meet them and tell them how stupid they are…..but I fear they are but a mystical creature. They are the boogie men of the phonics world. Made up to scare all the teachers who don’t want to accept the science that conclusively shows the importance of an explicit and systematic approach to the teaching of reading, including phonics.

Let’s examine some of the phonics check expert advisory panel. Do they advocate a phonics only approach?

Jennifer Buckingham is behind the Five From Five initiative which aims to improve literacy levels by ensuring all children receive effective, evidence based reading instruction. I will give you a clue…..Five from Five….not one from one. Jennifer Buckingham advocates “The simple view of reading is that learning to read requires two abilities – correctly identifying words (decoding) and understanding their meaning (comprehension). Acquisition of these two broad abilities requires the development of more specific skills. An extensive body of research on reading instruction shows that there are five essential skills for reading and that a high quality literacy program should include all five components…..Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabluary and Comprehension.” http://www.fivefromfive.org.au/five-keys-to-reading/ Five from Five is a great website with substantial research information. It is worth taking a look.

Pamela Snow, according to her University profile, specialises in research in “the oral language skills of high-risk young people (youth offenders and those in the state care system), and the role of oral language competence as an academic and mental health protective factor in childhood and adolescence and applying evidence in the language-to-literacy transition in the early years of school.” So put simply she researches the role of oral language and effect on literacy.

What Pamela Snow says about the myth …”One of the tired and hoary old chestnuts that is regularly trotted out against those who argue for better and more systematic phonics instruction is that there’s more to reading than simply decoding text. That’s a bit like saying that there’s more to making a cup of tea than boiling the kettle. Advocates for evidence-based phonics instruction have always seen learning to decode as a necessary but not sufficient part of literacy learning. The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986) asserts the importance of both decoding and comprehension. So if you can’t get words on and off the page, what hope do you have of participating in digital, critical, multi or any other sort of literacy?”http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com.au/2016/04/reading-is-verb-literacy-is-not.html

Check out her blog the Snow report as it is excellent.

Mandy Nayton states “Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, structured synthetic phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension strategies provide all children with a clear learning advantagehttp://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

So stop trotting the myth out that phonics is promoted as the cure all to reading. Also stop throwing the love of books back at us “phonics advocates.”

The phonics check is a simple check to identify children most at risk of reading failure and ensure all children are given adequate phonics instruction. “We know that children taught to read using structured synthetic phonics will be a year ahead of controls and national norms initially and will maintain or even add to this advantage over time (Johnston and Watson, 2003; McCardle and Chhabra, 2004).” http://auspeld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Balanced-Reading-Programs-What-are-they.pdf

It is time to drop the myths and ideologies and follow the evidence. We are leaving too many kids behind. Pamela Snow could certainly give you the research on the consequences of illiteracy and as an admin of Dyslexia Support Australia I can give you the horror stories.