Step into their shoes - early and evidence based intervention for Dyslexia

Written by Sarah Asome, Acting Assistant Principal, Bentleigh West Primary School, Felicity Harpley, Personal Best Performance

In our session at the National Education Summit Brisbane we will look at answering the following questions:

 1. Language v literacy, what is the difference and how can deficit in one affect the other? 

2. What is evidence-based practice and how it can be achieved in a regular school setting?

3. Early intervention and why it is so important?

4. Can the teaching of phonics, morphology and grammar be FUN?

5. The role of Speech Pathologists in the classroom?

To be literate is to understand the components required to be able to participate effectively in a certain activity.  To be literate in numeracy, an understanding of the basic components; estimating, using measurement, interpreting statistics, calculating with whole numbers etc.  The language of numeracy is the ability to converse about the components in a meaningful way.

The same is true for Literacy.  What are the components of literacy and how does the language of literacy impact on our ability to communicate by written or oral means.

An understanding of “The Reading Wars” and the history of teaching literacy, can help us gain an insight into where we currently are, have a common understanding of what is working for our children, where the misconceptions are and what can be done to improve our students’ educational outcomes.

A brief look at where we are at and what we can achieve with structured, systematic and multisensory phonics instruction.

It is not just Dyslexic children that can benefit from this way of teaching.

TYPICALLY, Dyslexic children are bright, articulate and eager to learn when they arrive in Prep. Yet within a couple of years, these seemingly model children have become withdrawn or disruptive. They perplex and exasperate their teachers. Why can’t they learn to read and write?

Sarah Asome, winner of the 2015 Victorian Outstanding Teacher Award, knows the likely answer: Dyslexia.  As Assistant Principal at Melbourne’s Bentleigh West Primary School leading the way for all students, she is also keenly aware that early screening for the frequently misunderstood learning disorder is vital.

“Why wait? Eight is too late!”  (Tanya Forbes, Outside the Square video series) should be the rallying cry of all dynamic educators.  Felicity and Sarah combine to discuss this issue and why it so important to minimise the gap that dyslexic children can find themselves trying to narrow.

“At Bentleigh West Primary we start screening incoming Prep children for phonemic awareness and indicators of dyslexia in October before the school year starts,” she says. ”Along with early identification, evidence-based teaching is critical for successful intervention. “

Easier said than done.  As Sarah observes, extensive research has shown that the 5 keys for reading; phonemic awareness, systematic synthetic phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency are essential, delivered through explicit instruction is the most effective way to teach reading, writing and spelling, but many teachers lack those skills because they were taught the whole language approach.

“High quality teacher training should be the top priority in Australian education,” says Sarah, who trained and taught in Britain, and held a senior post at an international school in Singapore for eight years before returning to Melbourne where she joined Bentleigh West Primary in 2010.

The school’s dyslexia intervention program has proved a resounding success and not just with dyslexic children. “Structured, systematic phonics instruction benefits all our students, especially with spelling,” notes Sarah. “Our top kids score significantly above the national average. They’re up to four years ahead of their age group.”

Many dyslexic children are also potential high-flyers – the long roll call of famous dyslexics includes Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Kiera Knightley and Jamie Oliver – though without intervention,  self-esteem is soon shattered  and the repercussions can be grim.

The erroneous perception that dyslexic children are “slow” is especially galling to Sarah. “There is no link between intelligence and dyslexia,” she stresses.

That was abundantly clear to thousands when Sarah appeared on SBS TV’s current affairs show Insight early last year with Grade 4 student, Meredith Buffa, who couldn’t even write her own name when she moved to Bentleigh West Primary two years earlier. 

Sarah, who has retrained the school’s teaching staff so instruction is consistent across the board, changed all that. “She helped me so much,” said the engaging little girl who could now read, write and do maths. “I’m so happy to have her in my life.”

To finish the session lets look briefly at dyscalculia and how this can also be helped with multisensory instruction.

Throughout the session participants will be involved in activities that can be used in the classroom immediately, while gaining a greater understanding of systematic phonics and strategies for all children, not just dyslexics.  These activities will reflect the importance of phonics and support the FUN aspect of learning grammar, morphology, phonology etc.

 
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