Julia ClouterSucceed With Dyslexia Ambassador and Head of Education for Scanning Pens
In this feature Julia Clouter of Scanning Pens explains the challenges dyslexic children face and elucidates on a new approach for World Book Day.
World Book Day was created in 1995 by UNESCO as a global celebration of books and reading. It is celebrated in over 100 countries all over the world and aims to foster a love of reading in every child. We hope that World Book Day will enable young learners to discover our rich cultural capital and stimulate their aspirations and their imagination. Reading is an essential skill, crucial to the progress of young learners and the passport to success in most walks of life. As young adults, fluency in reading enables engagement with work, it broadens the shoulders that will bear the challenge of being an independent adult. Reading develops our creativity, empathy, and emotional intelligence.
We would all agree that reading should be encouraged, supported, promoted, and facilitated with all the tools and ideas that we have at our disposal. In many schools the costume of our favourite literary character is donned, as we strive to achieve as many reading miles as we can. Most importantly, we are jolly well going to enjoy it – all of us!
But what if you happen to be dyslexic and know that the reading challenge ahead is going to be unavoidable?
What if you happen to be dyslexic and know that the reading challenge ahead is going to be unavoidable and difficult in the extreme? What if you happen to be an undiagnosed dyslexic learner who hasn’t yet developed the words to explain how challenging, unsatisfying, and demoralising reading is? What if you think that it is normal for typeface to wriggle around the page like bacteria reproducing on a slide? You might rather eat green eggs and ham. You might rather choose to fight, fly, hide or climb.
I’ve seen them running here and there,
And sitting on the half-way stair,
I’ve brought them out from under seats,
Cajoled and lured with threats and sweets,
They just do not like World Book Day, they do not like to read – they say!
I have had the privilege of teaching in both primary and secondary settings, in mainstream and in special schools. The anxiety, stress and worry that can accompany dyslexic children on World Book Day should not be underestimated.
On the positive side, the impact of World Book Day is enormous. Annually there are gifts of over a million £1 books to young people in the UK and Ireland. Twenty-five million minutes of shared reading is encouraged; dressing up and celebrations happen. In 2020, three in ten children in receipt of free school meals said that they bought a title using their book token. Also, that the book they chose was the first book that belonged to them. Phenomenal reading progress is possible for the majority of children on World Book Day, but how could we make it fully inclusive, really accessible and free from stigma?
The idea is simple. Every classroom in every school would have a box of reading tools in the shape of rulers, ReaderPens, audiobooks and word and picture cards that anyone can dip into and explore. It should be available all year round and placed centre stage alongside the books during World Book Day. The reading toolbox should come out every time that we make reading a focus. The earlier that we can introduce the idea the better. This is because the formative and pre-learning skills that we introduce in the early years shapes our ability to accept difference. Our acceptance, that some learners will need a wider range of tools to enable them to accomplish the same tasks must be embedded.
So, what might be in this toolbox of reading supports?
Here are my top ten tools. Some are very inexpensive and low tech; others can be found in most classrooms but are not used effectively. Others will require an allocation of budget and some teaching skills for them to be implemented well. All are tried and tested and can make a difference to reading skills for all learners.
- Coloured Overlays:
These plastic sheets can help wriggling words to stop moving. Different colours can be explored independently, and this exploration can help some young learners to identify that reading can be a comfortable experience.
- Fiddle toys:
They come in different shapes and colours and are best kept under the table for discreet fiddling. Once the minor disruption of use has been overcome, they help to soothe and focus the mind.
- Reading windows:
This is a simple slot in a card that helps with focus. It blocks the text around the words, removing information and helps to improve concentration.
- A Toobaloo Whisper Phone:
This simple little no-tech gadget that helps to provide auditory feedback, which is an important part of learning to read. It looks like a handle and is held like a traditional telephone. Simply speak into one end and listen at the other. This is a great helper in a noisy classroom or busy home when focus on speech sounds is needed.
- Transparent Post-It Markers:
By putting these stickers over tricky words we can identify much about decoding and vocabulary. As a rule of thumb, a reader needs to know 8.5 out of every 10 words that are read. If understanding falls below 8.5, too much brainpower is being spent on decoding. This support gives the teacher information about readability.
- Page Holders, Reading Slopes and Thumb Grips:
These are great little helpers where fingers and thumbs need a bit more support in the action of holding a book open or in turning a page. Dyslexia often co-exists with other learning challenges, like dyspraxia which affects concentration and fine motor control.
- The ReaderPen:
ReaderPens are text scanners that can be used anywhere. They are Wi-fi free and no other technology is needed. As the pen scans over the text on a page, the writing appears on the screen in the body of the pen. Each word is spoken aloud. As this happens, the word is highlighted in blue. This enables the learner to read and listen at the same time. Students with dyslexia find it helpful because it instantly reads and can provide a dictionary definition of the words that they were unable to decode. It is a helpful learning tool for comprehension and is a confidence booster. Often dyslexic learners know what the word means but can’t decode it. ReaderPen users can listen to the words through the internal speaker or use headphones to keep the playback private. This is particularly helpful when the student doesn’t want to be identified as somebody who requires reading support.
- Kindles, Audiobooks and E-Readers
Having the ability to switch between text and audio, or do both simultaneously, is a helpful option when getting into text-heavy books. Devices that can offer support include physical e-readers and eBooks or reader apps that can be downloaded to almost any device. The disadvantage is that it is not a distraction-free option.
- Tools in Office 365:
There are lots of tools that can be used to make reading on a screen more comfortable. They include changing background colours, reading windows, screen readers and high contrast options that can support learners with low vision. Unfortunately, you must abandon the paper-based book to secure this support.
- Motivational bookmarks:
Using stickers to motivate readers to stay on task can be a great strategy. Some bookmarks come with a set of stickers that enable keeping track of reading engagement.
A toolbox of reading supports should be universally available and in every classroom. If provided from the earliest phase, it would stop the worry of looking different, or appearing to have a reading difficulty. It normalises the use of supporting tools, de-mystifies their function and reduces stigma. Learners with literacy difficulties do not want their peers to be aware of their reading differences at any age or stage in their educational career. However, if you have instilled the motivation in every learner to independently seek out and use the support needed for learning – you have accelerated the reading outcomes of a whole generation.
Perhaps we should be not only demonstrating a love of reading but also demonstrating how to access books; showing that reading enjoyment is made possible for all by making the toolbox for reading part of our normal way of teaching.
On World Book Day, there will be readers on the periphery, looking in and feeling lost. One in five might be struggling and thinking – I would rather eat green eggs and ham!
If you like the idea of a reading toolbox, another resource that you can investigate is the Free Dyslexia Learning Festival on Friday 29th of April 2022. This is a celebration of support for reading and has dyslexia awareness at the heart of the event. It has been created by the Succeed With Dyslexia Team and has inspirational speakers and dyslexia experts.