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Live Blog: The BDA International Conference, Day One

It has finally arrived!  The British Dyslexia Association's International Conference.

I am really looking forward to learning more about dyslexia from so many experts in their field and talk to assistive technology companies about how they help students who experience the challenges of learning through their experience of having dyslexia.

There feels like a real buzz of expectation here in Telford at the Telford International Centre and if you can't make it I hope that you will find this article useful as I jot down some of my experiences through the day.

So please do keep checking back and I will keep adding to this 'Day One' article as I go through the day.


Feeling very welcome at the BDA International Conference.  The coffee is good! A wonderful start!

I get to meet some great friends.  Good to see Tim from St David's College.

Opening Keynote Lecture

Introducing the new CEO of the BDA, Helen Boden, who opened the conference.

Helen Boden - CEO BDA.
Check out the most up to date programme for the conference by clicking here

Opening words from Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer at Microsoft.

Jenny Lay-Flurrie- Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft
"Imagine a world...."

Dyslexia has been a huge area for Microsoft.  'Taking a crazy idea and see what we can do with it".
Dyslexia was that crazy idea and out of this came the 'Immersive Reader' in the Microsoft Learning Tools suite of software.  10 million are now using this, "living with the power of technology."

It is vital for Microsoft to have employees who experience disability as this gives them an edge in their investment into disability.
Jenny is profoundly death and is clearly passionate about what she leads.

Jenny was followed by...

Understanding Educational Under-Achievement Symposium.

I particularly wanted to listen in on the Understanding Educational Under-Achievement Symposium that was being run by Professor Susan Gathercole from the University of Cambridge.

First up was Mandy Nayton from the Dyslexia SPELD Foundation in Australia.

Mandy talked about her work in helping to address the growing problems of educational inequality in Australia and how the gap between the educated and not is growing especially as children are getting older.  It is estimated that the cost of poor literacy skills in Australia is as much as $118m but this is not really being address country wide.

An area of difficulty is with remote Aboriginal communities who do not use English as their first language and for some children, it is hard to even learn English and literacy as their own language is a spoken language with sounds that are not related to English.  Mandy talked about how they have developed strategies to help these communities to be able to learn how to be more literate in English.
She also highlighted how for those in mainstream schools with dyslexia, their support is minimal because they are somehow lost in the educational system, their needs are simply not being met.  It is thought that 25% of the population of students in Australia are experiencing barriers to learning which includes those with dyslexia.

Growing Up In Bradford

Next up was Amanda Waterman from the University of Leeds who has a particular interest in working memory difficulties.
As a psychologist, she has been working on the Born In Bradford study which has been studying the lives of children who were born in Bradford and understanding health and educational challenges that seem to be rife in Bradford.
By Key Stage 2 it is thought that 52% of children are below the expected ability for literacy.
With a specific focus on learning difficulties, the team, have been exploring how difficulties with vision and motor movement have been found to have effect educational outcomes as well as working memory, language (EAL) and many other factors.
Using technology (tablets) they have been able to collect data in an innovative way.
As a parent of neurodiverse daughters, I was amazed to find that with free opthalmic support being made available to the children in the study, only 8% of the families involved have taken advantage of that.  What struck me was that whilst we may well have children that we know need support for dyslexia and other co-morbid conditions, as parents we need to ensure that we give our kids every opportunity to be their best at school as this helps them and doesn't hinder getting to the bottom of what their learning difficulties are.
Mark Mon-Williams, also involved in this project went on to talk about how they have been able to measure the data required for this project.
With Mark's talk, we found over the years there has been an emphasis on visual and motor impairment being over represented in terms of a cause for dyslexia and it would seem that the scientific evidence now doesn't support that, however, they are seen as barriers to literacy.

Again as a parent, it struck me how complicated the whole issue of having dyslexia can be for a child and how much as a parent I personally don't know about dyslexia (although I do try to keep up to date) and that it is easy to jump to conclusions about dyslexia when the reality is that it is important to get your child fully diagnosed, regardless of whether your school is providing that service or not so that you can really know what is happening for your child (cheeky note, why don't you come to the SEN Jigsaw Conference as this will help you too!)

Assessments For Children Learning English as an Additional Language.

Claudine Bowyer-Crane from the University of York, talked about assessing children who are learning English as an additional language.
For me this is really interesting because in schools in Cambridge, about 30% of the student population will be young people who has English as a second language.

Claudine's research showed how most assessments for dyslexia have been developed with children who only speak English and so when these tests are applied to children who are second language English the results from assessments are often not accurate or biased.
There are lots of examples as to why this is the case including cultural appropriateness e.g if a child is asked to work with a language test in English and the words used are not known in their own language or culture then it is hard to get an accurate picture of ability for literacy and vocabulary skills.

Supporting Learners With Dyslexia In The Secondary Curriculum.

This talk by Moira Thomson MBE was brilliant.  It was brilliant because despite the fact that her time was cut short, she managed to spell out what was important to know about supporting learners with dyslexia in secondary education.

She discussed what dyslexia was and how it affects learning and how it affects working memory, processing speed, verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning and audio and visual processing.  This condition makes it so difficult to function as a student in a classroom.  It isn't just about spelling or reading issues.

"A learners with low self-esteem is not going to be a learner." Moira Thomson MBE

This the the quote from today that I will take with me. Whilst life isn't quite as black and white as this, I totally believe that having low self-esteem reduces one's capacity to learn in school.  It just gets in the way and whilst we probably all know this, it is one of the most taken for granted aspects of school life for a student that is perhaps overlooked in the rush to manage multiple pupils through education.

Moira went on to talk about reasonable adjustments being used to support students.

One of the other key comments that really made me think was about how dyslexia doesn't affect the learning in all subjects in the same way and that a student will have different experiences of dyslexia according to what they are doing.  They will have different strengths and weaknesses and whilst all teachers should be aware of who is dyslexic in their classes, they need to ask the further question of how does dyslexia affect this child in my class or with my topic and what can I do to support them.

Over all this was a great talk and Moira shared lots of great information.  Find out more about Moira by clicking here.

Closing Comments.

Today was great!  Lots of really useful information being presented by expert specialists on dyslexia. For me, I found some of the talks a little too scientific and perhaps not so practically useful  but after all this is a conference for sharing research.  That said there is literally such a range and wealth of information and I look forward to learning more on day two.

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