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Article of Interest - Dyslexia

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What if I'm Dyslexic?
Sally McKeown, The Guardian, January 3, 2006
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Some teachers favor a structured approach, building up from sounds to words to sentences. Others argue that children need a range of strategies, depending on the nature of their dyslexia. If a child is a visual dyslexic, where words dance on the page, then all the drill and practice in the world will not lead to improvement.


The (U.K.) government is now backing synthetic phonics, whereby children learn the sounds of letters and letter blends first and move on to books later. So what software is available to support young children who might be dyslexic?

Harriet Steel, a teacher at King's House school, Richmond-upon-Thames, uses Phoneme Track, from Semerc, which teaches children to "sound out" phonics in fun way. "Children can get visual help from Phoneme Track. They see the heavy type on the phoneme needing to be changed. A five-year-old who was struggling to blend and put sounds together suddenly found he could think of words that sound the same and was able to write a simple rhyming poem almost without help!"

A structured approach is also favored by Gwen Wilkinson from the Specific Learning Difficulties Centre in Loughborough. "Lexia is the best software I have found. It is multi-sensory with English voices and takes students through a developmental path for both reading and spelling, at their own pace. It actually makes a difference!"

Maggie Wagstaff, a special educational needs/ICT manager for Warwickshire LEA, takes a different approach. "Engage, encourage and support," she says. "You need to support children from the very beginning by ensuring that they can key into the text. Try the materials from the Widgit Symbols Inclusion Project. These symbols-based activities are exceedingly successful with all children. They are visual and encourage active participation. They also help the teacher plan in a communication-friendly way."

Wagstaff recommends the Widgit symbol-supported history books about the Romans and Egyptians. "With five levels of differentiated text, the children have a good chance of finding information that they can understand."

Software developers are beginning to realize that readers need to be able to change the font and colors of text and background. Dorene Watson, a family learning curriculum support worker in Derbyshire, likes the ReadIt series from Inclusive Technology. "I am really impressed with the way they provide a 'full text' or 'simplified' version," she says. "The children can have all the text read aloud or just individual words. They can also choose the colors for words, background and highlighting. We like The Creature best!"

But many children will be reading text from the web. The TechDis User Preferences Toolbar is a free download which offers both high contrast and pale color schemes, serif and non-serif fonts. The toolbar also offers a handy zoom function that magnifies the page. Although designed to support adult learners, it has been used by Debbie Sawyer with her son Ben at home. "We used it to read Sebastian Swan and it was great," she says. "I changed the pages from white to pale grey and he could see the pictures more clearly, never mind the text."

Finally, a note of caution: despite synthetic phonics and increasingly sophisticated software, some children will take their time learning to read. Some experts believe that in Britain we teach children to read and write before they are cognitively or emotionally able to cope with it. In European countries such as Finland, where children do not start school till they are six, literacy levels are much higher and very few children are found to be dyslexic.

Sally McKeown is co-author with Garry Squires of Supporting Children with Dyslexia: Practical Approaches for Teachers and Parents, published by Continuum Phoneme Track.

 
Weblinks

Lexia: www.readingsoftware.com

Symbols resources: www.widgit.com

ReadIt series from Inclusive Technology: www.inclusive.co.uk

TechDis toolbar: www.techdis.ac.uk

Sebastian Swan: www.naturegrid.org.uk/

     

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