Headteacher Patricia Spencer of (Oak Hill, Nyon) and Dr Jennie Guise (Dysguise, UK) answer questions about reading and how to identify the signs that your child may need additional support.
What do we know?
Learning to read is often an enjoyable skill that many children develop with little inconvenience. Unlike learning to talk, learning to read and write is not a ‘natural’ or automatic process. It can be a frustrating experience for some students and gradually undermines self-confidence. Understanding the process of how children acquire good reading skills has never been more important.
What are the foundation skills of reading?
Regular exposure to a variety of literature and positive encouragement is a good introduction to reading for any child. Below are the the five pillars of reading for developing essential foundation skills:
- Phonemic Awareness (focusing on the sounds word-parts make)
- Phonic Knowledge (connecting sounds and letter combinations)
- Reading Fluency (reading/understanding at an appropriate pace)
- Vocabulary (continually building word knowledge)
- Comprehension (understanding/inferring/predicting and making connections about the text)
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia (also referred to as a specific learning disability) is a lifelong, language-based, learning difference that affects an individual’s ability to develop reading, writing, and spelling skills. In addition to these challenges, dyslexia often co-occur with other learning differences.
Does dyslexia only affect reading?
No – dyslexic type difficulties may also affect an individual’s capacity to spell, write, remember sequences, complete math problems or express themselves verbally. The issues often overlap.
Isn’t dyslexia just reversing letters?
Dyslexia is far wider than this definition but some students may reverse letters. Parents/teachers interested in finding out if a child has dyslexia will benefit from observing reading/writing work completed by the student and assessing the following:
- Oral language skills
- Writing ability
- Spelling accuracy
- Sequencing skills
- Breadth of vocabulary
- Short/long-term memory
- Ability to read familiar/unfamiliar words.
The information gathered can help determine if further testing is needed with a learning support teacher, speech therapist, psychologist, etc.
What is the testing process a psychologist might carry out?
– To determine a child’s overall abilities, psychologists often conduct a WISC-V test (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) to assess a child’s cognitive profile in these five areas:
- Verbal comprehension
- Visual-spatial ability
- Fluid reasoning
- Working memory
- Processing speed
The tests are designed to indicate a child’s reasoning abilities and processing skills.
– Alongside the WISC, the examiner may also conduct a WIAT-III (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test). This test aims to determine achievement levels in literacy and numeracy. These two tests are co-related and help establish if the child is performing at levels comparable to their cognitive ability.
– After the assessment is complete, a detailed report is written, explaining the testing. The results identify areas of strength and areas of difficulty that were not previously considered.
– Finally, a range of recommendations is provided to help guide parents with best practice and next steps.
What age should I get my child assessed if I have concerns?
Around 7 or 8 years of age is a good time to start investigating if a child is finding it difficult to develop literacy and numeracy skills.
If we leave things as they are, won’t the child just catch up with other children in the class?
Well-meaning adults may feel a child will ‘grow out’ of their difficulties. However, research shows that this is often not true, especially for those with dyslexia. Instead, the gap gets wider, gradually affecting not only their academic skills, but their self-esteem and confidence as well.
Early identification and intervention is key to unlocking the potential of individuals.
So what type of intervention specifically assists students with dyslexia?
The first thing to do as soon as a parent/teacher notices a child is having difficulties is to identify the ‘gaps’ that are present. With this information, a rigorous, research-based programme (such as the one offered at Oak Hill, Nyon) should be followed regularly to help increase their skills.
Students with dyslexia often require multiple explanations compared to their peers and benefit from ‘multi-sensory’ approaches to learning.
An important point to make is that many students with dyslexia possess originality and creativity beyond the expected or ‘regular’. It is our responsibility as parents and teachers to shine a light on these talents.
My child is struggling in reading and writing – what should I do?
Talking with the child’s teacher/learning support coordinator and working together to assess the child’s challenges is a good starting point.
How do I find out more?
There is a lot of helpful information available online; here is a selection of a range of useful resources that may help: