Scepticism to the deficit model of dyslexia in general, same as literacy: e.g Kerr (1999 and 2009)
‘ Dyslexia is nothing if not convenient; it blames the victim, which is such a comfort to everyone else. If only because of the highly particular political convenience of the syndrome presently sweeping us all along, dyslexia surely demands our deep, even raucous scepticism’ (p285).
Spurs the investigation into literacy teachers’ perception and response to learners with dyslexia
It surveyed a group of professional literacy practitioners on an Additional Diploma in Teaching English literacy programme (The specialist qualification for teachers of literacy in the UK)
to find out their perceptions of dyslexia,
the approaches they employ in teaching these learners,
the effectiveness of these teaching approaches,
the extent to which they felt that they had facilitated learning in this group of learners
The sample group: eighteen (18) professional literacy teachers,
all had a minimum of 5 years experience of teaching literacy and were all active teachers with limited management responsibilities. This meant that their perceptions were purely from the viewpoint of practitioner teachers
all had experience of having many learners with dyslexia in their classes.
all qualified teachers who had held a PGCE qualification for a minimum of 5 years
, the group formed a ‘convenient sample’ (Kerr 2009: 280), as they were all on the same programme which was taught by this researcher. Furthermore, the sample group was reasonably representative of literacy provision,
6 members of the group taught in mainstream further education basic skills department, 4 taught in prison education, 2 in adult community education centres, 2 taught with voluntary organisations, 2 in work-based learning settings, while the remaining 2 taught with private training providers.
Although there was a form of uneven distribution in terms of gender with only 6 members of the group being males, this was considered representative of the gender distribution pattern in the FE sector where teachers are predominantly female (Cara, Litster, Swain, and Vorhaus 2008, Ade-Ojo 2009).
data analysis employed in this research is a simple form of content analysis
First, in addition to providing the opportunity for the researcher to ‘discover, and describe the focus of individual, group, institutional, or social attention’ (Webber 1990, Stemler 2001:1), it also allowed ‘inferences to be made’ using the inherent tool of conceptual analysis (CSU 1993-2009).
Findings: Perceptions of dyslexia and learners with dyslexia
Findings from survey:
1. Learners with dyslexia are predominantly viewed with trepidation.
2. 89% (16) of respondents viewed learners with dyslexia as people with some form of ‘problem’ which they need to solve.
3. All respondents used terms that relate to the concept of illness.
4. 78% (14) of respondents expressed a feeling of apprehension bothering on helplessness when planning to teach learners with dyslexia in their literacy classes.
Findings from focus group
1 ‘problems are similar but more complex’ than those of their literacy learners without dyslexia,
perceived as ‘having something wrong with their brains’, learners with dyslexia were in their classes ‘to be helped’ rather than to learn.,
they were not confident about using approaches in teaching literacy to learners with dyslexia., specifically identified reduction in the volume of writing learners with dyslexia were expected to engage with., although they were all conversant with the theoretical discourse on alternative approaches to teaching learners with dyslexia, they were not sure how to implement these in practice.
Findings: Effectiveness of tuition provided to learners with
89% (16) of respondents felt that the tuition they provided to most of the learners with dyslexia had little long-term value
All respondents agreed that the value gained by learners with dyslexia in their classes is less academic than personal.
1. 44% (5) of respondents claimed that tuition for this category of learners is not effective as they find themselves ‘continuously repeating the same lessons’.
2. 56% (10) claimed that they found little evidence of real progression amongst their learners with dyslexia.
3. 33% (6) of participants stated that they found the celebrations of minimal achievements by their learners ‘sometimes patronising’
2. 94% (17) respondents agreed that their learners might benefit from both an alternative curriculum structure and pedagogy even though they have no idea how these might be constructed.
All respondents stated that while they would like to know about, and try other approaches towards teaching learners with dyslexia, they had no idea what these approaches might be, how they will work and how they might utilise them.
1. Dyslexia seen more as a disability than difficulty:
‘ These are people with serious problems in some part of their brains. There is little we can do about this but we can only try and help as much as we can’ (R3). Informed by governmental views: DFEE, and the legal organs of state have for sometime accepted dyslexia as a disability.
This classification, potentially, has a profound impact on both learners with dyslexia and their teachers (see e.g. Kerr 1999, 2009, Whitehouse 1995). In the case of the learner, it produces some level of disconcertment, while for the literacy teachers; it elicits a state of helplessness. : ‘That was another big shock, finding out you are disable’ (Kerr 2009:281).
Practitioners’ perceptions of dyslexia, I argue, draw from the dominant discourses and definitions they generate.: ‘Every one says it is a sickness in the brain. Even the books say so. You just don’t know what to do and you try and help them as best as you can. I am not a doctor and to be honest, I don’t know why they give us teachers the responsibility of curing… maybe helping is better, these people’ (R6).
This perception of dyslexia suggests what Kerr (2009:285) describes as a ‘maladaptive attribution ‘that emerges from ‘a diagnosis of an innate irreversible, neurological handicap’. It implies a kind of inevitability and echoes the metaphor of disease that is often attributed to literacy problems (Barton 1994)
This echoes the notions of ‘disempowerment’ on the part of the teachers (Kerr 2009), and ‘learned helplessness’ (Kerr 1999 and 2009, Chan 1994 and Fang 1996) on the part of both teachers and learners: ‘To be honest, you just don’t know where to start and you constantly get the feeling that those suggestions are simply not going to work’ (R.14).
Many participants indicated their main approach centred on trying
‘ to help learners with dyslexia to do things they are naturally unable to do’ (R8) - a classic response to the notion of disability. As the literature is often focused on several things that learners with dyslexia are ‘unable to do’ teaching approaches around helping learners with dyslexia ‘to do what they are unable to do naturally’
approaches of many literacy teachers to teaching learners with dyslexia is better understood in the context of a deficit-focused definition of dyslexia which is often induced by a metaphor of disease:
‘ After all, what do we do when people are ill and we cannot change the cause of their illnesses? We simply try and help them as much as we can in order to reduce the pains caused by their illness’ (R11).
approaches have tended towards catering for the perceived deficits rather than providing what Barton (2003:10) refers to as ‘accommodation’. ‘ The way a teacher presents information, the way a student practises new skills, or the way a teacher tests students to ensure they have mastered the material’. In effect, an accommodation is something the teacher does differently’ (p.10)
Yet, there is an acknowledgement of the fact that people with dyslexia have immense attributes, which though may be different from others, adequately equip them to engage with learning:
‘ The genius of these famous people didn’t occur in spite of their dyslexia, but because of . (Girard Sagmilla,, Dyslexia My Life 1999).
The challenge, as indicated by the participants in this study is how to draw on the attributes of learners with dyslexia in their teaching approaches, in order to enable them fulfil their potentials.
view that the tuition they provide has little long-term value. The learning that sometimes takes place in their classes is usually not sustained over a long period of time.
Learners are often retained at the same level of the Skills for Life curriculum year after year: ‘You have these learners in your class returning year after year and sometimes you feel so guilty and ask yourself if you are really doing anything to help them’ (R15).
Celebration of minimal ‘achievements’ of learners which bothers on patronising them which derives from the pervading metaphors of disability and disease: ‘The way we celebrate the smallest achievement by these learners is comparable to seeing a terminally ill uncle take a spoonful of soup’ (R10).
a relationship between teachers’ perceptions of dyslexia , their approaches to teaching
extent to which learners with dyslexia in literacy classes are able to learn is informed significantly by the way in which they are taught.
Given the predominance of a deficit perception of dyslexia, it is logical to suggest that many teachers of literacy have little or no understanding of the needs of dyslexic learners. As Barton (2003: 11) notes:
‘ Dyslexic students need a teacher who understands the frustration of being smart, yet unable to do what other students do so easily: read, write, spell, and memorize’.
14 –year- old student on his teacher who is dyslexic. In respect of writing on the board, the student noted about his teacher: ‘ he can’t do it properly,… but he’s got his own brilliant system. It’s cool’. More insightful is the explanation of the teacher himself:
‘ It makes me think differently... it forces me to think outside the box; … to include everyone in the way that didn’t happen to me’ (Education Guardian 27/10/2009).
The key message here is that it is always going to be difficult for learners with dyslexia to sustain learning if the learning process does not include them while taking into account their differences.
There is still a lot for us to be concerned about where the learning of learners with dyslexia in literacy classes is concerned.
perceptions of literacy teachers have been predominantly negative. In my view, this calls for a consideration of alternatives
The discourse of dyslexia as a disability and the attendant inference that it is a disease has been promoted and enshrined for a long time by policy makers in the field of education. Rose (2009) exemplify the dominance of the metaphor of disease with the language used in the report: ‘It is important to develop high quality interventions for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties’ (p1), dyslexia is considered as ‘ a reading disorder’ (p.2), there are ‘serious and long-term effects of dyslexia’ and some children with dyslexia will require ‘skilled, intensive, one-to-one interventions’ (p14).
echoes the argument of Adkins (2003) a medical condition through which ‘even in the absence of health problems, the disabled person is defined as a patient’ (p11). In a situation where the policy makers in the field of education hold on to this one-dimensional perception of dyslexia, it is not surprising that practitioners’ perceptions are coloured by the metaphor of disease.
‘ helplessness’ on the part of these teachers In, this calls for a policy-informed review of teaching learners with dyslexia. There are two possibilities in terms of alternatives. Norwich and Lewis (2009) explored the possibility of introducing alternative curriculum and/or pedagogy. These offer an avenue for reviewing the way in which we teach learners with dyslexia in literacy classes.
Limited retention of knowledge by learners with dyslexia --- practitioners need to review their own practice. Teachers need to explore the extent to which they have been creative in their teaching. Consider how to promote what is referred to in the literature as ‘process creativity’ (Ogunleye 2008:76) which is seen as ‘the ability to approach unknown knowledge—to make a break through’ (Morita 1992:13 and Ogunleye 2008:76).