(Adam Tate, 19th January 2016)
Hello from Melbourne Australia. I would like to share my journey into working with children that have Dyslexia. I am in transition from engineering to middle school teaching, aiming to specialise in Dyslexia. I hope you enjoy reading of my “mid-life crisis” career change!
I became interested in Dyslexia in 2010. I was a parent-helper in my daughter’s junior class, and before lunchtime, I was working with a six year old girl, “Emma”. Emma was social and bright. The teacher had asked every student to write a sentence about what they learned today. I was about to help this young girl, but she just sat there and froze, then broke down and cried.
At first I thought did I upset her?, but the teacher came over and said don’t worry, that’s just Emma being Emma. Somehow, this did not make sense. I continued to help in that class, and did not yet pick up that Emma did very little reading or writing. Her talking expressed her intelligence. In 2011, I lost contact with her when I changed my daughters’ school. In 2012, that girl’s family also moved to the same school and class, and I got to do some more support work with Emma.
In 2013 I decided to start a Teacher’s Aide course to support students with a disability. Early in the course we learned about Dyslexia, and one of the women in the class revealed she was Dyslexic, with a five year old daughter, also with Dyslexia. Slowly I was building an understanding about Dyslexia.
Back at my daughter’s school, I spoke with Emma’s mother, confirming in fact her daughter was recently diagnosed as 2e (twice exceptional), Gifted, and with Dyslexia.
My interest in Dyslexia was now official! The experiences I had seen observing this girl (and others) started to make sense.
Across 2013, I spent time working in supporting students in one junior school, and also one senior school up to 16 year olds. I observed many mild disabilities and the complex impacts they have on students, both academically and emotionally. I also noted that fewer teachers openly understood these disabilities in how best to change the classroom to suit them. Funding in the Government schools also made it difficult for schools to provide higher levels of expertise and support.
I also realised by now, that our schools barely teach children how to read!
I saw Autism Spectrum Disorder had more presence in Aide training, but not Dyslexia. Aides lacked the explicit skills to teach reading and writing, and were legally not able to supervise children for some targeted explicit instruction anyway without a teacher. The teachers also lacked training on explicit intervention strategies. The Dyslexic student’s developmental needs were being missed.
I decided that I would train as a teacher specialising in Dyslexia. I could then work in and out of the class to fill the gap, and help other teachers with professional development. The right practices were needed in the classrooms.
From late 2013 to current times, I have seen many undiagnosed students with Dyslexia, even at 12 years old. Some had been diagnosed, but the teachers didn’t respond to change their teaching. I have witnessed the negative social and emotional effects. I have witnessed the let’s pretend I can read and do Math’s. In one case with a bright 11 year old girl who was a school captain, I offered to help with her story writing, but she panicked and became very anxious, avoiding showing me her paper at all costs. Later in different lesson, I stood back so I could discreetly read what was on her paper. In the class share time, she “read out” her answer to the class. It was a lot like previous answers spoken by other students, but not like what was written on her paper…
Late in 2014, I socially spoke with a mother and her 14 year old daughter at my daughters’ dance school. I think she saw me reading Why Can’t My Daughter Read. She explained that her daughter entered High School (Year 7) in 2013 – undiagnosed, with Dyslexia. Her daughter hit the academic environment, and was teased and bullied by her classmates because she couldn’t read. It nearly ended badly for that girl until the mother decided to home school her daughter instead.
Also in 2014, I did an additional course for teachers focusing specifically on working with 2e students. I could see the emotional sides, the learned silent helplessness feeling, the anxieties, and the internal confusion of being above average intelligence and yet not being able to read. School was a psychological prison to some of these children. You might have heard of the term “Dysteachia”. I realised this was “Dyschoolia”.
In 2015, I did two teacher training placements in primary schools (age 8-12). My teacher course had nothing on Dyslexia in it, and nothing on teaching us how to teach reading. It vaguely theorised about the whole word top down type approach with some reference to bottom up theory, leaving us students to debate on our own what was best. I knew top down techniques weren’t effective, and I mentioned on the course discussion board that explicit aural teaching of phonemic awareness should precede teaching reading. Some other pre-service teachers on the course loved me raising this, but the tutors on my course were not enthused.
Students with Dyslexia in schools need explicit daily intervention with their reading and writing skills, and also with being taught differently in the class to meet their strengths. They often thrive in collaborative roles where their strengths can work together with other students’ different strengths, and so keep up with their learning without the strain of reading. We need to reduce the industrial “everyone must learn to prove they can do the same things as independent learners” approach.
I have found in class, teachers usually don’t model good speech or correct students’ mistakes either. This lowers language and communication skills acquisition, let alone if you have Dyslexia. I have copies of old English, American and Australian dictionaries to help stop the drift in language skills.
Teachers let Reading to Learn take over Learning to Read too early, and some students just can’t read…yet.
In one school I was in, the teacher thought they don’t have any students with Dyslexia. I had news for them. In another school, the teacher was aware of an issue with a 10 year old, and I gently suggested Dyslexia as a possibility. I showed the teacher a phonics training resources I had, and phonics training was introduced for that student with a reading specialist aide. This is how it should be. I don’t have the training to diagnose Dyslexia, but at least I can promote an awareness and interventions.
I have almost finished my training. Hopefully, I am helping to push that positive wave of change along. Keep persisting!
(Adam Tate has given permission for Ellen Burns Hurst to post this).