|An introduction to students with dyslexia in higher education|
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Table of Contents
Aims and Learning Outcomes
At the end of this module you will be able to:
During recent years, the issues of dyslexia and the support of students with dyslexia in higher education have become topics for debate. The number of dyslexic students entering higher education is increasing every year at a considerable rate and it is likely that most academic staff have had experience (if perhaps unbeknown) of teaching a dyslexic student.
The use of dyslexia as a term to describe students with literacy difficulties has become widespread amongst the academic community and the general public alike. However, there are many different perceptions and misconceptions about what it is, how it manifests itself and how to deal with it.
This module therefore begins with a chance for you to test some of these popular beliefs. You will be presented with four statements about students with dyslexia in higher education. You are asked to choose whether you think they are true or false. You will then be presented with the correct answer and a discussion about each point.to top
True or False
True or False - Question 1
The main problem for students with dyslexia in higher education is reading.
Most students with dyslexia in higher education will read more slowly than their peers on the same course of study, this is due to a problem with phonological processing. However, there is a range of difficulties associated with dyslexia in adults. Students with dyslexia will experience a number of these indicators and dyslexia might best be described using a cluster of these descriptors rather than one in isolation (such as reading).
Although, describing dyslexia simply as a problem with reading is incorrect, it is important to remember that most dyslexic students read more slowly and with more difficulty than a person of similar age and educational attainment. This can be acutely embarrassing for a dyslexic student and teaching staff should avoid putting students in a situation where this might be highlighted e.g. reading out loud directly from a text.How to help
Because stud ents with dyslexia have problems comprehending written material and cannot work through as much reading as other students ways of reducing this burden need to be utilised. For example, if a reading list is being provided, the main texts should be highlighted. Perhaps certain chapters or sections of the books, containing the main arguments, can be recommended. Dyslexic students (and all other students!) should be encouraged to develop useful coping strategies for reading. Techniques such as the SQ3R (Survey, Question, 3 (Read, Recall, Review) method of reading could be brought to students' attention.
There are many study skills books available on the market that explain the best way to approach academic texts and a considerable number of websites are now available that offer advice and help for students :Dyslexia specific resources
Miles, T.R. & Gilroy, D.E. (1986) Dyslexia at College, Methuen, London.
True or False - Question 2
Some dyslexic students are less industrious than other students.
Students with dyslexia are like any other group of students. They have the same levels of motivation as other students and therefore you will get some dyslexic students that don't work hard enough. However, most dyslexic students work just as hard if not harder than other students to obtain the same grades because of the study difficulties that they have to overcome."Dyslexic students are lazy"
Many dyslexic students have been identified or labelled as lazy from an early age. This is because they show normal or above average development in most areas of their life but struggle with reading and writing (i.e. skills that are used to assess academic performance). They show a discrepancy in these skills and it is often assumed that they are just being lazy or are not trying hard enough."Dyslexic students work harder than other students"
It is also the case that dyslexic students frequently report working harder than other students when completing assignments and revising for exams. This is hardly surprising when you consider they often have to put more effort into organising themselves than other students, they have difficulties in processing written information, they have difficulty expressing themselves in writing and sometimes have to attend additional support sessions with study skills or dyslexia tutors. They also often have to rely upon or seek out additional social support to help them with study skills such as proofreading."Excuse for lack of ability"
Many academic staff have had experience of a student having problems with their academic work and that student then stating that they think they are dyslexic. It is tempting to see this as the student's excuse for not putting enough effort into their work or not coping with the course. It should be noted that the assessment and identification of dyslexia is not a process that students enter into lightly. The student would usually go through some kind of screening with a member of staff from the support services of the university before they are referred on to an Educational Psychologist for a rigorous professional assessment. The process can also take a great deal of time, cause a good deal of stress and have financial implications.True or False - Question 3
Admitting dyslexic students to university courses lowers the standard of higher education.
Dyslexic students have to meet the same entry criteria as other students to get into higher education. They are assessed in the same way as other students; they sit examinations and hand in assignments. Although they may be given certain adaptations to the assessment situation these adaptations are there to 'level the playing field' for these students and are not intended to give an advantage.But they should be prepared for life in the workplace
Many strategies that dyslexic students use in university are available in the workplace and most employers are legally required to make 'reasonable adjustments' to working practices. For example, an employee with dyslexia writing a report in the workplace might use various methods to ensure quality of the final product - proofreading by colleagues, typing by administrative staff, use of dictation software on their computer.Graduateness
Many people question the ability of students with dyslexia and say that they cannot achieve the skills required of graduates. There is a move in higher education at the moment to bring in the idea of graduateness [?]. Dyslexic students are able to acquire such skills as taking responsibility for their own learning and development and using analytical and conceptual thinking. However, they may not be able to achieve some of the ancillary skills that are inherent in the implementation of 'graduateness', (e.g. acquisition of literacy skills, including spelling and grammar) without support mechanisms.Students with dyslexia : degree classifications
A recent report (NWP 1999)  concluded that in universities where there was an established system of support for dyslexic students, degree classifications achieved by dyslexic students were not significantly different from other students. The vast majority of dyslexic students pass their degree courses and go on to find graduate employment.
Dyslexia has a physiological basis and there is no known cure.
There are often reports in newspapers about the latest medical advance in the treatment of dyslexia.
The Guardian, 13th May 2002
Researchers at the Dyslexia Research Trust say that food supplements bring enormous benefits for those with disorders such as dyslexia.
Daily Mail, 1st February 2001
Children with dyslexia can improve their reading and writing skills by mimicking the movements of a baby in the womb, researchers believe. They found that special routines designed to imitate certain 'primary reflexes' led to significant improvements in dyslexic children.
The Independent, 11 January 2001
The crippling handicap of dyslexia in young children can be eradicated within the decade using physical exercise developed for astronauts by the US space administration Nasa, British specialists believe.
Also, Trevor McDonald's 'Tonight' programme
caused controversy early on in 2002 when it reported on an apparent
treatment for dyslexia. However, the evidence for the improvements did
not adhere to the usual experimental rigour that research in this area
Contrary to these reports there is no known cure for dyslexia.
Although it has a physiological basis and some suggest that it may be genetic in origin it is probable that most dyslexic people will live with the effects all their lives. However, they can learn certain techniques to improve their reading and writing, organisational skills and memory difficulties. Most dyslexia-specific tutoring is based on using multisensory and multimodal teaching methods to help the student learn more efficiently.to top
There are many definitions and hypotheses about the exact nature of dyslexia. Although researchers haven't agreed on a definitive definition most would accept that dyslexia is physiological in nature, is indicated by a problem with phonological processing and results in difficulties in the acquisition of literacy skills.
Below are three further definitions that reflect the current understanding and context of dyslexia in higher education.
In 1995 a National Working Party was formed using a grant from the HEFCE to examine the current issues in higher education relating to dyslexia. The subsequent report uses the following definition :
'Dyslexia is a complex neurological condition that occurs in approximately 4% of the population, and which primarily affects acquisition and use of written language, memory and organisational skills. It is a legally recognised disability, and there is strong evidence that supports a genetic causation of the condition.'
Dyslexia is estimated to exist in approximately 4% of the population. Other reports suggest up to 10%. This definition points out that dyslexia is constitutional in origin and it affects areas other than literacy ability such as short-term memory and organisational skills. It is also now legally recognised as a disability.
Bournemouth University (1998) suggest the following definition as relevant to students with dyslexia in higher education.
'Dyslexia manifests itself as an imbalance of skills whereby the dyslexic is unable to commit to paper ideas and information which are commensurate with their intellectual ability as evidenced by spoken understanding or demonstration'.
The British Psychological Society (BPS) recently published a report to consider the issues of assessment of dyslexia:
'dyslexia is evident when accurate and fluent word reading and/or spelling develops very incompletely or with great difficulty. This focuses on literacy learning at the 'word level' and implies that the problem is severe and persistent despite appropriate learning opportunities.' BPS (1999)
Here the acquisition of literacy skills is emphasised. It is important to note that the difficulty exists even though the dyslexic student may have had the appropriate schooling.
During the remainder of the module we have interspersed the information with simulations. These are not attempts to replicate the experience of dyslexia, no simulation could ever do this. However, they are intended to aid your reflection about dyslexia. You may like to ask yourself - Did I find this task frustrating? Was I confused by the information presented? Did I find the task difficult? How would this difficulty/ability affect me if I experienced it whilst carrying out my everyday duties?to top
Please try to read each of the following passages at your usual reading speed. Take a couple of minutes to comprehend what is being said then try to answer the questions.Passage 1
"The UMIST Enabling Advisor, who is not an academic member of staff of the Department of Computation will provide non-specific training sessions for a few staff to disable them to develop course materials that are not structured and multi-sensory, that will lessen the learning opportunities for few students. Neither Disability Support services provide dyslexia-specific expertise and training for secondary members of staff, but staff from the Access Summit Centre won't provide training and support."Questions
The correct answers are:
Did you get the questions correct? Are you confused now? This is because we have altered the meaning of the passage to illustrate the fact that some dyslexic students perceive the meaning of a word or phrase as its exact opposite.
Here is the original passage :
"The UMIST Disability Adviser, who is also an academic member of staff in the Department of Computation at UMIST will provide specific training sessions for staff to enable them to develop course materials that are well structured and multi-sensory, that will enhance the learning opportunities for all students. Both Disability Support services will provide dyslexia-specific expertise and training for seconded members of staff, and staff from the Access Summit Centre will provide training and support."Passage 2
"current micltae het in of diwennig praticularly pratcipiatino, in tohse stintiutions that not do bratitiollnay offer unit a 'leanirng-ruppost', it will vepro to invaluadle staff to medcrae new mehtosb to pruboce crouse matrelias and teaching and, or to gain an stannbigunder of the ffiberent pytes of bifficulties roganisational that dsylexic tsuednts have."Questions
This passage illustrates lateral disorientation. Some dyslexic students find that words appear in the wrong place and letters get switched around along a line. It also demonstrates lateral inversion where bs and ds are confused and switched around.Answers
The answers to the questions are:
Here is the original passage:
"In the current climate of widening participation, particularly in those institutions that do not traditionally offer a 'learning-support' unit, it will prove invaluable to staff to embrace new methods to produce course materials and/or teaching, and to gain an understanding of the different types of organisational difficulties that dyslexic students have."Passage 3
This passage illustrates fading. Some dyslexic students experience this effect when reading.Answers
The answers to the questions are:
Here is the original passage:
"Widening participation initiatives are bringing in many non-dyslexic students who would benefit from similar study skills tuition, but would not have funding to receive it. If the knowledge of mind mapping and other study skills techniques can be dispersed across academic departments it could benefit such students."Reflection
Did you find the reading tasks difficult? Were you frustrated by being unable to understand what was being expressed in the passages? Can you imagine what it would be like to experience two or more of the problems at the same time? How much more time did it take you to answer the questions? If you had to read a considerable amount of text written in this way how would you feel?What can you do to assist students with reading?
Below is a list of recommendations from the Access Summit handbook - Dyslexia, Guidance for Staff :
Other examples similar to these are available in
Deficit or difference
Dyslexia is often described with particular emphasis on the skills that the student has problems with or is unable to acquire or master. However, recently people have begun to propose and recognise that dyslexic people may actually have talents in other areas not usually tested in traditional academia. We refer to these contrasting opinions as the deficit and difference models.
Psychologists do not agree on a single definition of dyslexia and therefore it is difficult to come up with a single diagnostic tool for assessment. However, in general Educational Psychologists do follow a similar method when deciding whether or not a student is dyslexic. At the present time this method is based on an hypothesis that there is a deficit between the student's overall intelligence level and their literacy abilities (i.e. literacy ability is lower than expected). Also, students often show a number of difficulties which would suggest that dyslexia is best described as a syndrome. In this syndrome students show deficits in a range of skills such as memory, reading, spelling, writing and organisation.
However, the problems they experience in these areas are usually out of balance with their cognitive skills in certain other areas : lateral thinking, verbal reasoning, ability to make reasoned arguments, creativity. This is why many students with dyslexia have experienced frustration in their schooling. They are identified by teachers as being bright but are then labelled as lazy because they have difficulty with traditional academic tasks.
In fact it has been suggested that people with dyslexia may possess a different way of thinking and a different set of skills that aren't evident in other people.
West * has identified skills that are often mentioned as being positive aspects of dyslexia :
These skills might be an advantage in certain topic areas such as the visual arts, design, computer studies, high-level science subjects (theoretical physics etc.), business, performance arts, marketing, geography. Many employers may be actively searching for these skills when recruiting graduates and a dyslexic student will have an advantage over other students provided he/she is given an opportunity to achieve in these areas.
These two models contrast with one another and are known as the 'deficit' and 'difference' models of dyslexia.
We would now like you to test your ability at thinking in one of the ways that dyslexic students excel. Please try a couple of the lateral thinking puzzles at the following resource :
Paul Sloane's list of Classic Lateral Thinking Puzzles (http://einstein.et.tudelft.nl/~arlet/puzzles/lateral.html)
Next, please try our creativity test :
Imagine you are on a desert island and one of the only things you rescued from your ship was a large paper clip. How many uses for it can you think of? Give yourself a couple of minutes to come up with suggestions and make a written record of your efforts.
Compare your answers with our list below.
For a discussion of the origins of the paper-clip test please see www.dmu.ac.uk/~jamesa/learning/converge.htm
Answers to creativity test :
How many did you think of?
Did you find this task difficult? Do you consider yourself to be a creative thinker? Are you used to thinking in divergent ways?
Were you able to work out the lateral thinking puzzles? Dyslexic students are often able to come up with solutions but find it difficult to explain the steps that are required to get to the solution.
If you were tested on these problems in an exam situation how well would you do?How can you make the most of these abilities in your teaching?
Identifying dyslexic students
Many students will know that they are dyslexic before they come to university. They will have already been assessed during school or college and you may be aware of their dyslexia because they have disclosed the information to the university/ department/ yourself.
However, many students enter higher education unaware that they are dyslexic. They may have used coping strategies to get them this far or they may have come to university through non-traditional pathways. Mature students, for instance, may have dropped out of education because of undiagnosed dyslexia and returned without any knowledge of the difficulty. The level of ability required of students in higher education may highlight the student's specific difficulties and they then begin to struggle.
Tutors may recognise some of the following indicators of dyslexia when working with students :General
For this next exercise you will need a pen, a piece of paper and a watch. Please copy down the following text using the opposite hand to which you usually write with. You should complete the task within two minutes.
Mae gwaith yr Uned Dyslecsia yn ymestyn dros ardal eang Gogledd-Orllewin Cymru, a'r rhan helaethaf ohoni'n wledig. O ganlyniad, nid yw'r Uned yn cynnal canolfan addysgu. Mae ganddi swyddfeydd ac ystafelloedd at ddefnydd athrawon, ond addysgir yn bennaf mewn ysgolion neu leoedd eraill.
Did you find that difficult? If you are a native Welsh speaker probably not!
There are many elements to that exercise that make it difficult. Reading from a screen, letter for letter transcription, knowing that you had a limited amount of time to get a complete set of notes, difficulties with writing because you were using the wrong hand, difficulties with spelling because of the unfamiliar language.
Students with dyslexia find taking notes in lectures difficult because of a similar list of problems. Many have handwriting difficulties, have problems listening and writing at the same time and have difficulties spelling (especially unfamiliar words that often crop up in academic lectures).
Here are some suggestions of how you might ease this burden :
Dyslexia and the library
Libraries are places that can present considerable barriers to students with dyslexia. Dyslexic students have difficulties with a number of areas that are required for successful use of the library and these can be exacerbated by design of the library environment that doesn't consider the needs of dyslexic students. Below are some potential areas of difficulty and suggested strategies for reducing these barriers.Potential difficulties
• Information leaflets etc. should use pictorial information where possible (but remember that you may need to replicate diagrams etc. in text alternatives for visually impaired people). Also consider using a font that is more easily readable such as Arial and using coloured paper (pastel shades are helpful). Which may match the colours used to delineate subject areas etc. (see below).
• Building design needs to be considered carefully and will require negotiation with planners and architects from the Estates department of your institution. Use colour to delineate, floors, subject area, different media types. You should consider use of floor diagrams to help with location.
• Extended loan periods are often useful because a student with dyslexia will require longer to extract information from text. They may also make use of extensive photocopying and this is usually paid for by their local education authority (LEA) through the Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs). You should consider setting up a system in collaboration with the specialist support service of your university so that receipts or photocopying cards are more easily obtainable.
• Consider developing a fetching service or maybe an allocated member of staff who will at least go with the student to locate books on their reading lists. Any such services should be clearly advertised but remember not to inadvertently break confidentiality.
• Provide copies of books on dyslexia aimed at the dyslexic student. Try to provide them on all sites as dyslexic students will be dispersed across the university:
It would be a good idea to liaise with the service within your university that provides support to dyslexic students for a list of similar books.
• Consider obtaining books on tape where possible. This not only helps dyslexic students but blind students as well. Some universities actually have an alternative media production unit based within library services. A team of readers can be employed.
• Many libraries now offer assistive technology solutions. For example a package called Inspiration, which is software that dyslexic students use to mind map. (Perhaps - subject librarians could provide mind maps of their subject area with location information for each subgroup).to top
Successful people with dyslexia
Dyslexic students can achieve academically like other students and go on to lead successful careers provided they are given an opportunity. This module ends with a few examples of people who are dyslexic who have overcome their difficulties to become high achievers.
Dr Simon Clemmet - Scientist.
Richard Branson - Entrepreneur.
Sophy Fisher - Journalist, former
BBC correspondent to Geneva.
A.A. Gill - Journalist.
Hamish Grant - Chief Executive of
Axeon, a Technology company.
Guy Hands - Nomura Bank.
Nicholas Negroponte - founder of
the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This list of famous people with dyslexia is from the website of the British Dyslexia Association (http://www.bda-dyslexia.org.uk/d07xtra/x07fame.htm).
There are also dyslexic people amongst the staff of higher education institutions!!!!!to top
Dyslexia and the library
There is very little information currently available on dyslexia and library access. However, below are some sources of further information.
Miles, T.R. & Gilroy, D.E. (1986) Dyslexia at College, Methuen, London.
National Working Party on Dyslexia in Higher Education (1999). Dyslexia in Higher Education: policy, provision and practice. The University of Hull. (A summary of this report is available at: www.hull.ac.uk/psychology/NWP_Report.htm)
Ryden, M. (1997) Dyslexia. How would I cope? 3rd Edition. London: Jessica Kingsley.
West, T.G. (1997) In the Mind's Eye. New York: Prometheus Books.Other
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Last updated: 18 July 2002
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