The Appropriate Learning Environment For Pupils With Dyslexia Education Essay

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Introduction

With this reflective essay I plan to make a systematic review of the literature to determine the diagnostic aspects of developmental dyslexia and reflect on the process of acquisition of writing by pupils. Developmental dyslexia is often defined as a language-based reading impairment not attributable to low intelligence, educational or socioeconomic limitations. (Démonet et al, 2004). My experience, gained through (both) my placement school(s), supported this statement, having found that, pupils with dyslexia were in most cases really bright and articulated students. These pupils had an eager to learn and to be seen as one of the class and not as someone that should be isolated.

As a PGCE student I agree with the authors when they state that it is at school that dyslexia, in fact, 'appears'. At school the condition come to the surface and consequentially, makes itself noticed. There are dyslexics who reveal their difficulties in other settings and situations, but none compares to the school, where reading and writing are used constantly and, above all, valued. There has always been dyslexic in schools. However, the school(s) we know and the school(s) that I have done my (first) placement(s) certainly was (were) not made for the dyslexic. Objectives, contents, methodologies, organization, operation and evaluation had nothing to do with it. It is no coincidence that many people with dyslexia do not survive while in school and are treated depreciatively. Those who managed to survive the school environment and graduate, do so bravely through devices what allow them to circumvent models and bureaucratic demands, the demands of teachers, the humiliations from pupils and specially the acquisition of grades (Voeller, 2004).

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It is, therefore, important that teachers are able to provide for these pupils, so that they are able to achieve, within the lesson, without disrupting the learning of other pupils within the class. In attempt to answer the title question, I will be also conducting research into the following questions:

What is Dyslexia and how it affects the learning and behaviour of pupils?

Is Dyslexia detrimental to successful learning?

Can pupils with Dyslexia learn the Curriculum appropriately following the school's Assessment for Learning policy?

What is Dyslexia and how it affects the learning and behaviour of pupils?

The word 'dyslexia' comes from the Greek and it means 'difficulty with words'. The British Dyslexia Association defines it as "a specific learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It is likely to be present at birth and to be lifelong in its effects. It is characterised by difficulties with phonological processing, rapid naming, working memory, processing speed, and the automatic development of skills that may not match up to an individual's other cognitive abilities. It tends to be resistant to conventional teaching methods, but its effects can be mitigated by appropriately specific intervention, including the application of information technology and supportive counselling."

According to Démonet et al (2004) dyslexia (or specific reading difficulties) is 'an unexpected failure, specific and persistent in acquiring the ability of reading, although the child had conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and socio-cultural opportunity'.

Recent studies show that the development of dyslexia has an estimated prevalence in between 5% to 10% of the population (Shastry, 2006 and Fawcett and Nicolson, 2007). Among the learning disorders, dyslexia is a common disorder and the most studied as it affects 80% of the group cited (Shaywitz, 1998). The authors confirm that dyslexia is more common in males (Habib, 2000); it is genetically transmitted and it is a disorder that persists into adulthood (Démonet et al, 2004). According to Ramus (2004), genetic, neurological and cognitive traits are associated with dyslexia. However, environmental factors also play a important role, i.e. children with a predisposition to the disorder growing up in an unfavourable environment, with impoverished language and no exposure to books, have restricted development of brain areas responsible for phonological processing and, consequently, greater difficulty in acquiring reading skills (Voeller, 2004).

Genetic evidence is an area that researchers have chosen to focus on in the last several years. There is evidence that dyslexia has a significant genetic component. This component, however, is the same one that produces a normal variation in reading, so there can be no definite conclusion made about the influence of the genes (Castles, 1997). At the moment, there is nothing that can medically be done with this biological and genetic information.

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In regards to the brain's processing of visual and auditory information, it has been determined that students with dyslexia cannot take the components of words and put them together into sentences. This inability makes it harder for comprehension of sentences or longer passages (Jiménez et al, 2003). During my time at Blatchington Mill School, I have noticed that most dyslexic students could follow along with someone else reading a passage, but they could not come up with the meaning of the passages on their own. There is strong evidence that the eye movements of dyslexic readers are different from those of normal readers, making it harder to stay on task when reading material (Castles, 1997). However, this is likely to be a result rather than the cause of aberrant reading. Studies have also shown that dyslexics have a deficit in rapid neuronal functioning. Because of this deficit they cannot keep up with the information that is flowing from their eyes to the brain and words and sentences quickly get mixed up in the brain, making no sense whatsoever. This is also called low spatial frequency visual information, which is due to an abnormality in the brain functions required for successful reading (Castles, 1997).

Is Dyslexia detrimental to successful learning?

During my first placement, my experience has shown the need to maintain the educational community constantly informed about dyslexia. I was given plenty of theoretical information in how to deal with dyslexic pupils in the shape of information about events that address the topic and its results, performance of students with dyslexia, characteristics of the syndrome, ways to help the dyslexic student in school, etc. Even though I had all this information, I felt ill-equipped as they were mostly theories and not really related to the day to day practice of my teaching within the classroom. The information given was 'static' and not really focus in the individuals that I was teaching and had almost no correlation with the local issues within school but more centrally focused in the national data, which can be too generic.

While talking to some of the dyslexic pupils' parents, at the parents' meeting I enquired them if their child may also be struggling in other ways. I advised some things for them to consider:

Was the child late in learning to speak?

Is the child reluctant to go to school?

Is homework something you all dread?

Is there a family history of learning difficulties?

For some parents and pupils I recommend that an individually tailor assessment could be used and it would confirm whether the child is underperforming and give the parents some suggestions on what to do, possibly including some specialist tuition. A good assessment would help everyone understand how the child's brain is working and where his or her strengths were at; as well as the difficulties (Abbott et al, 1997).

I describe this research as a 'maintenance of information', whose goals are to prevent, warn and guide myself and other teachers in their work. I acquired such information in meetings and through posters, newsletters and internal brochures on the subject. I do not think that is necessary that dyslexic students are on special class. Dyslexic students have much to offer to colleagues and much to receive from them. I believe that this exchange of knowledge and moods, emotions, skills and abilities only provides them with a growing friendship, cooperation and solidarity.

The diagnosis of dyslexia almost always brings up specific indication for one or more occupational areas (speech therapy, psychology), according to the type and level of dyslexia found. Therefore, the school should seek to ensure open channels of communication with the professionals involved in order to exchange experiences and information (Castles, 1997).

As a teacher, I had all the SEN information about my classes and I knew that such student was dyslexic. I had to deal with the 'exposure' of the issue on an individual basis, at the discretion of the student. If they want to tell their companions, they would do so. If they would like me to assist them to tell colleagues I would do so. But if they did not want to talk about it with others, no one would. Thus I had students who have gone through several years without having called the attention of colleagues and had not felt the need to prove anything, unlike others who have done it without ceremony.

Can pupils with Dyslexia learn the Curriculum appropriately following the school's Assessment for Learning policy?

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Taking the Language as a historical and social working component of education, I attempt with this study to raise awareness of some of the weaknesses of the assessments designed to diagnose dyslexia. The tests presented in manuals related with dyslexia diagnosis are detached from their objectives, as they do not consider the texts produced by the actual pupils; consequentially they do not assess the individual's writing (Tallal et al, 1985).

During my time as a teacher in my first placement I came across different cases of dyslexia with their different degrees of severity. I spoke with many pupils about their issues with the condition. One of them was J.C., who was considered a case of learning and writing disability. Departing from the view that acquisition of writing is a unique process, my present analysis indicates that, contrary to the diagnosis previously received, J.C. produced texts with referential and topical progression. In addition, his use of unembellished literacy techniques, besides different hypothesis about graphical and conventional factors of writing, was in my interpretation, indications of having a dynamic learning scope through his acquisition of general knowledge.

J.C. was a year 10 pupil and he wrote a diary about his experiences with dyslexia. When I started teaching his class, I noticed that he was going through a hard time but if the other teachers had realized, this situation could have been mitigated. He told me that upon arriving in year 10, with 14 years of age; he already was convinced that his life was nearing its end, with few chances for himself, despite his good will. Already discouraged, he went to school because it was required by law. As a teenager, he feared he would be asked to read or write.

When was the time for him to choose a qualification for year 10, he chosen to do a vocational course in an electrical workshop because he had worked with his father in the same area and knew all kinds of equipment that he would see around him. His teacher asked that before operating the machines, it would be helpful to read the manuals and guides. That was when he got lost and while reading, he 'skipped' most of the new and unknown words. His Maths teacher also asked him to do exercises in his notebook and to copy notes from the blackboard.

Only his Social Studies teacher taught her class orally. And according to his account: "I was getting everything she said and if every year the other courses were presented that way, I would have learned better academically."

The Physical Education teacher gave exercises to be copied down on paper and the Science teacher as well. According to J.C., his energy was spent on his attempts to mix with other students in the school and in his reading problems not be discovered.

J.C.'s dreaded day arrived. It was the day of the assessment. A few days later when looking at the report, he saw that he received D in all subjects, except in the gym. He was devastated and wanted to flee and disappear. Over time, he went through some tests and started to attend the school reading lab, composed by other 12 students, at the SEN Learning Support Department. Over the years, he discovered his potential in reading and he felt that he was becoming happier and more fulfilled.

This experience with dyslexic pupils has shown that there are other ways in assessing their learning and to implement this I have used different techniques:

1) Written evidence of researches and evaluations, containing objective or dissertational questions, and performed individually or in groups, with or without consultation from any source;

2) Oral examinations, via discussion or debates, conducted individually or in groups, with or without consultation from any source;

3) Practical activities with a variety of work, produced and presented through different expressions and languages, involving study, research, creativity and practical experience, made individually or in groups, intra or extra-classroom;

4) Observing behaviour, based on the values and attitudes identified in the school's ethos and goals (solidarity, participation, accountability, discipline and ethics).

Conclusion

As a teacher, however, I believe it is one of my responsibilities to make sure my pupils are familiar with the rules so that they can recognize one aspect of what they are doing wrong in their writing and why. Teachers need to be provided with training so that they are knowledgeable about the condition and can provide a flexible learning environment and differentiation techniques required to help the child achieve. The students need to be able to succeed with their writing so that they can be successful during their time in school and on future employment, the majority of which require written tasks in our technological age. Grammar is a yearlong process that needs to be done in small intervals so that the students do not get overwhelmed by the amount of information that they are being asked to process.

In my experience, dyslexic students will always struggle to be able to read at what is considered the normal reading rate. We, as teachers, cannot make the expectations for them so high that they will no longer be able to reach them. Techniques for teaching dyslexic learners are perhaps some of the hardest to learn and implement. It takes time and effort. When the trial and error process fails, we cannot give up on a child or decide that there is no point for continuing.

We must always be looking for new methods to get the point across. It just takes a little more time and effort to help the dyslexic student reach his or her goals. Dyslexic students are some of the brightest and creative children in the classroom today. We cannot afford to let them down by not working at our best capacity to help them succeed in an academic environment.