Well trained teachers are the key to helping children with dyslexia

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
6 April, 2023

National recently announced a series of education policies that it will take to the election in October. 

One is to a develop a much more structured and knowledge-rich curriculum. Another is to require regular testing of primary students in literacy and numeracy, to identify and assist those falling behind.

National would also focus teacher training and professional development much more tightly on science-informed methods. That means adopting a structured approach to teaching – one that recognises the limitations of human memory and attention.

Guy Pope-Mayall from the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand (DFNZ) was interviewed on Newstalk ZB about the likely impact of these policies on young people with dyslexia.

I found the interview odd. Pope-Mayall criticised National’s policy platform, calling it “an old-school approach”. Curiously, though, he went on to tacitly endorse its key elements.

Pope-Mayall identified inconsistent teaching across schools as causing difficulty for some dyslexic children. National’s policy to strengthen the curriculum would bring much greater consistency. It would provide a common framework for education, to be followed by all schools.

Another issue Pope-Mayall identified, was that dyslexic children are often not diagnosed soon enough. He commented, "We certainly need early intervention and also early identification, and then we need the right interventions.”

Quite so. National’s testing policy is explicitly designed to identify children struggling with literacy learning as early as possible. Children making insufficient progress can be given further diagnostic tests to see whether they have dyslexia.

But what are the “right interventions” that Pope-Mayall mentioned, when dyslexia is diagnosed? A preponderance of research evidence shows that structured teaching of literacy provides the best assistance to dyslexic students.

Pope-Mayall recognised that. He called structured literacy “a dyslexia friendly approach”. In fact, structured literacy is not only dyslexia-friendly, but also the most effective way to teach literacy to all children. And structured literacy is just what National wants to introduce.

Pope-Mayall made a final point. Teachers usually have very little training in structured literacy. Again, he is right.

And again, National’s policy platform would help, by emphasising structured learning in teacher training and professional development. This, in my view, is the most important of National’s policy announcements.

A strong curriculum and plenty of data would provide important support for teachers. But training teachers in structured literacy is the best way to ensure that children, especially those with dyslexia, learn to read and write.

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