What if I'm
Sally McKeown, The Guardian, January 3, 2006
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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
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
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
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
with Dyslexia: Practical Approaches for Teachers and Parents,
published by Continuum Phoneme Track.
ReadIt series from Inclusive Technology:
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