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How to develop dyslexic strengths in schools.

This blog article will help you to think about your dyslexic child or pupil's strengths and how you can develop them so that they can be used to connect with learning in a wholesome and effective way.

This article will draw on a number of other articles as well as some of my own thoughts as a parent who watched his dyslexic daughter find her way through secondary through to undergraduate education.

What are dyslexic strengths?

This can be a little tricky to answer, but thanks to the British Dyslexia Association, they have produced an excellent video called 'Seeing Dyslexia Differently' which talks about some of the challenges of being dyslexic but also how people with dyslexia think differently and the positive outcomes that are experienced as a result of thinking in a different way to the norm.

Take a look at this short video and think about the strengths that you might see in your dyslexic child or pupil.

The Parent Perspective.

I have to admit that whilst I always saw a value in education, as a child I had no real sense of who I wanted to be or indeed what career path I wanted to take, so my engagement in education was really about conforming and I never really connected my education with my future until I was close to leaving school.
In more recent years I have come to the conclusion that my lack of 'vision' was really a lack of 'linking the dots' of what was important to me and how education could help me to nurture those important values in life.

As a parent, I am awestruck by the opportunities that education presented to my own children who are now undergraduates on courses that are aligned with their passions.
Jess playing Jenny Lynd in Sawston Youth Drama's production of Barnum
For my youngest daughter, Jess, who is dyslexic, secondary school was a struggle and she was fortunate to get the support that she needed to function and engage in class.  That said, alongside her education was her activity being involved in Musical Theatre (which is a popular activity in our village community for young people).
Taking part in musical theatre involves needing to use people skills, an ability to connect with an audience (Empathy), understanding choreography and visualisation skills.
For my daughter, taking part in Musical Theatre lighted the touch paper for her passions.  This meant that in school she was engaged with drama, and dance.  She took part in debates in class (verbal reasoning) and she liked the movement that came with physical education.  Whilst maths and English presented challenges because she was taught in a space that nurtured her strengths, she came away with excellent GCSEs and thus a good start for her future.  Jess did need extra help to support her studying with subjects that involved heavy amounts of text, but in being granted extra time in exams as well as the use of a laptop, she was able to thrive.  I believe that it was her dyslexic strengths that pulled her through some of the greater challenges of being dyslexic in secondary education.

The Teacher Perspective.

In a recent article in Horizons Magazine from the Institute of Outdoor Learning, outdoor education teacher, Aled Edwards talks about how he noticed how dyslexic pupils can sometimes use dyslexia as a shield to protect them from having to learn new information especially when related to language.

Aled, who teaches at St David's College in Llandudno, uses outdoor activities to set a context for learning.  For example, on certain trips, he might use a quotation or passage to generate discussion and ask the children what they think of it before and after experiencing the day's activities.  He also gets the young people to write simple poems about their activities whilst they are out and about.
Visiting places is a great stimulus for understanding cultural context, exploring stories, understanding the meanings behind the names of places etc.
All these activities can be used to generate discussion, inspire art, and literally draw the reluctant learner into an educational world which may have seemed inaccessible previously.
For me, this article is brimming with a strong belief in the potential of children and especially children with dyslexia and the tactics used to engage young people, once engaged, draws out dyslexic strengths that perhaps a child didn't realise that they had.  Again with outdoor learning, there is a need for displaying teamwork skills, empathy, storytelling and seeing things differently.  It might be that in walking around the ruins of a castle that a dyslexic child may be more readily able to put themselves in the shoes of a Norman invader or a medieval townsperson and gain a richer insight into their learning of history.

A Mini Book Review.

In writing this blog article I am reminded about how important it is that we, whether as parents or as teachers, find a way to engage the dyslexic young people in our care which draws them into learning rather than repels them.
I am currently reading the book 'Reversed' by Lois Letchford which is a memoir from Australian mum, Lois about her son, Nicholas who was described by his teacher in primary education as "The worst child I have ever taught in 20 years!"

This is a success story about a lad who teachers simply couldn't teach but who's mum looked for ways to unlock Nicholas' ability to work with his dyslexia to gain successful academic outcomes.  It was through perseverance that Lois was able to develop teaching techniques that appealed to Nicholas' imagination and sense of humour (the bottle of 'elephant pee' story is hilarious).  Her work involved taking Nicholas out of the classroom and into museums exploring history and exploring his creativity which it would appear was hidden initially.
I found this book to be a wonderful testament to the journey of finding a child's dyslexic strengths and giving them what they need to be the best version of themselves.
I won't give away any spoilers but there is a happy ending right at the start of the book!
You won't be able to not fall in love this book and I recommend it to all parents of dyslexic kids! Oh, and teachers!

Final Comments.

So the bottom line, as far as I can see, is that it is so easy to write off a child who appears to be misbehaving, chatty, daydreaming or not engaging and in that process not see their dyslexic strengths. For me, it seems that we have a challenge in education to provide the necessary 'nutrients' in the classroom for a child's strengths to be released.  This might take a bit of unconventional thinking, playing, creativity in one's teaching methods, but won't that make it fun for everyone as well as make the class really inclusive?

Need ideas?  Download St David's College's resource pack that has been developed by Cadogan Learning Centre staff to help dyslexic students grow within education. Click the banner below.

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