Dyslexia Awareness Month

Steen Videbeck
Insights Newsletter
15 October, 2021

School can be a difficult place for the approximately one-in-ten children affected by dyslexia.

The inability to read the teacher's instructions or questions on tests. The realisation they are falling behind their peers. Being told to just try harder, despite doing their best. Feeling angry at themselves. Worrying about being labelled as dumb. Finding school pointless.

As a teacher, it is especially heartbreaking to hear stories of children struggling. My teacher training in 2013 did not cover dyslexia. I went into the classroom without knowing what dyslexia was, how to recognise it, or the best way to teach children with dyslexia. Looking back, I worry that I was just another teacher who said, 'try harder'. A teacher who didn't understand or help.

Over the last year, I have been researching literacy. The way reading is currently taught in most New Zealand schools is yet another barrier for children with dyslexia.

But there is hope.

Last year the Ministry of Education endorsed the International Dyslexia Association's Structured Literacy approach for students with dyslexia. An expert labelled the move as a breakthrough.

Students with dyslexia have trouble matching the sounds that make up words with the letters representing them. Structured Literacy explicitly teaches children the relationships between sounds and letters. Research shows that this is how all children should learn to read. 

The Ministry is also making positive changes to support all students - increasing teacher professional development, updating funded reading interventions, and putting out structured literacy-aligned decodable books. Of course, more change is needed, but it is encouraging to see a shift in direction from the top.

People passionate about solutions at the grassroots level have done amazing work that has led the way.

For example, Sharon Scurr’s Dyslexia NZ Evidence-Based Support Group helps over 6,500 parents and educators share the latest research on dyslexia via Facebook. This is a much-needed counterbalance to the misinformation that often surrounds dyslexia.

There's also Lifting Literacy Aotearoa, who have been strong advocates for change. The group has developed a useful map of structured literacy schools in New Zealand and thorough case studies of schools that switched. Carla McNeil and Liz Kane are on their steering group. Both are literacy experts who diligently share their knowledge with parents and teachers.

And finally, SPELD NZ, a charity that offers discounted assessments, educator training, tuition, and support.

I look forward to sharing my research on literacy soon.

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