Understanding problems with working memory

Children (and adults) with dyslexia can have trouble with their working memory. These are the short-term memories that we use when we are doing a task such as following instructions or adding two or three numbers together. This can affect performing a series of tasks such as getting dressed, making a sandwich and maths ability. It also affects reading; having figured out each sound in a word, remembering what those sounds to make the whole word can be tricky.

Here are some ways to help with working memory:

  • Explain what the end result of the task will be and why so that the child understands the outcome, eg you need to have warm clothes on to be ready for school.
  • Only give one or two instructions at a time, eg please put your socks on, then put your shoes on. In maths, this may mean giving only one part of a sum at a time.
  • Present the instructions in the order they are to be followed (so not ‘put your shoes and socks on’).
  • If necessary, repeat instructions and ask your child to tell you what they have understood.
  • If you can, and especially for a new task, show the child what you mean as well as say it.
  • Give them time to process and respond to these instructions, then carry them out, before offering further instructions, eg now get your coat from the hook and put it on.
Understanding that your child may have problems with their working memory and adjusting how you instruct them but also your expectations, will hopefully make life slightly less fraught – especially in the mornings!
By |2024-04-24T09:30:01+01:00February 26th, 2024|Latest news, Team blog|0 Comments

Research into Augmented Reality for teaching reading

Martyn is a lecturer and Ph.D. student at the University of Greenwich, working within the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with a focus on Video Games Development. He is currently researching reading and phonics and have developed an augmented reality application designed for phonics instruction. He is reaching out to schools in the hope of gaining expert opinions from teachers and additional learner support professionals regarding the application and its potential applications in teaching phonics.

Are you an education professional who can help with this study? Do you have experience using classroom-based tools and techniques for phonics instruction?

What does the research involve?

  • If you decide to participate in this research, you will be provided with a link to install an app. You will also be provided an associated booklet. You will use the app and consider how the app might function as phonics teaching tool. You can use the app as much, or as little as you like. There is no charge for the app or booklet, and you can keep booklet and app after the study.  The app does not store or collect any personal data.
  • As a participant, you will be invited to join a series of interviews and/or focus groups. Attendance at all sessions is not mandatory; you can participate in the discussions either online or in person. The in-person focus groups will be held at the University of Greenwich, and each session will last no longer than one hour.
  • At this stage, no children are involved.

You can access the Participant Information Sheet here

You can find out more about the app and the study here

You can contact Martyn and join the study by emailing him at m.p.broadhead@greenwich.ac.uk

 

By |2024-04-24T09:30:05+01:00February 2nd, 2024|Homepage featured, Latest news, Research news|0 Comments

Research request: dyslexia and reading enjoyment

Hannah and her team Royal Holloway University are studying reading enjoyment in adults with dyslexia to see whether a person will wait to read more of a book and other reading behaviours (eg comprehension, reading anxiety) in those with and without dyslexia.

Could you take part? The online task takes around 30 minutes.

Hannah is looking for:

  • Those with dyslexia
  • Between ages 18-30
  • Without any other neurodevelopmental condition that could affect learning, including autism, ADHD, epilepsy, or genetic disorders.
  • Those who are native English speakers (defined as attending school in a majority English-speaking country from age 5).
  • With normal or corrected to normal vision and hearing
  • Please use a computer, laptop or tablet to complete the study rather than a mobile device.

Scan the QR code on the poster to go to the study, or click here.

Research into reading enjoyment recruitment poster

By |2024-04-24T09:32:59+01:00July 5th, 2023|Latest news, Research news|0 Comments

Are you 11 to 13? Get a picture of your brain!

Could your 11-13-year-old help with research into engaging children in reading?

We are researchers in the N-Code Lab at Royal Holloway University, London. We are running two studies to understand why humans enjoy learning new words while reading, and whether this ‘buzz’ can be harnessed to boost learning in children with dyslexia. Our work is funded by the Academy of Medical Sciences.

In the first study, we are looking for 11-13 year olds with dyslexia (as well as neurotypical children) to complete an MRI study. We offer a £40 voucher and a picture of their brain! This requires coming to our MRI scanner at Royal Holloway, University of London, in Egham, Surrey (our postcode is TW20 0EX). We can arrange parking on campus/cover reasonable travel costs. We are recruiting 25 children with dyslexia.

Our second study is an online study. This can be done remotely via Teams and takes about 2 hours. Children complete a set of games and reading tasks. We are looking for around 25 children with dyslexia aged 11-13. We offer a £20 voucher as a token of our thanks.

We offer appointments on weekends, evenings and school holidays. To sign up, parents can email us at ncodelab@rhul.ac.uk or visit http://ncodelab.com/springboard/

By |2024-04-24T09:33:44+01:00March 17th, 2023|Latest news, Research news|0 Comments

Research study – Understanding Reading and Anxiety

Can you help with research into the links between people’s reading skills and anxiety?

The University of Surrey is conducting research into this and, whether you have reading difficulties or not, would like you to take part. It’s for those aged 18 and over who speak fluent English.

The survey takes 20 to 30 minutes and is found here.

By |2024-04-24T09:33:50+01:00February 16th, 2023|Homepage featured, Latest news, Research news|0 Comments

New book in – The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading

We have a new book in our specialist shop, recommended by Claire Harvey, our Head of Education.

Teaching children to read is one of the most important tasks in primary education and classroom practice needs to be underpinned by a secure foundation of knowledge. Teachers need to know what reading entails, how children learn to read and how it can be taught effectively.

The Art and Science of Teaching Primary Reading is an essential guide for primary teachers that explores the key technical and practical aspects of how children read with strong links to theory and how to translate this into the classroom.

You can order here or pop into the Farnham Centre.

By |2024-04-24T09:35:36+01:00November 1st, 2022|Latest news, Shop news|0 Comments

VIDEO – Supporting reading during the pandemic

During Dyslexia Awareness Week, Dr Anna Tsakalaki of University of Reading presented the findings of her research into supporting reading with children during the pandemic and how we can learn from these findings. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the video here. Go to University of Reading’s https://littleliteracylessons.org/ to watch and try out literacy activities.

Tips to get your child reading

When children are taught to read at school they all enjoy books, are always engaged, eager to read more and quickly grasp a wide vocabulary – if only!

Unfortunately, many children struggle to grasp reading and it can be challenging for parents to successfully read with their child who may be frustrated, upset and afraid to fail.

Try a few simple ways to get your family reading and loving books.

All Attempts Should Be Praised – Research has shown that when a child is praised specifically they are clearer as to what is expected of them, e.g. ‘Well done, you looked carefully at the beginning of that word and worked out what the word was.’

Encouraging Reluctant Readers – Try audiobooks, graphic novels, comics and magazines.  Read about anything they are interested in – football, recipes, superheroes, animals!  Read with your child, taking turns to make it easier and more fun.

High-Frequency Words – Work on up to 6 words at a time, reading the words before asking your child to read them.  Games such as snap and pairs can encourage your child to read high-frequency words at speed.

Discuss a book with your child – Ask open-ended questions that encourage your child to think more deeply about the content e.g:  What do you think happens next? What is the story about? What do you like most about this story?

Finding Help – You can find more tips on reading, and other ways to help your child, here.  The Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity specialises in providing expert support to dyslexic children.  We offer 1:1 personalised tuition sessions.  The sessions can include anything from reading, writing, spelling, numeracy, improving general organisation to revision techniques. To find out more email enquiries@helenarkell.org.uk

By |2024-04-24T09:36:02+01:00June 8th, 2022|Team blog|0 Comments

Why children fail to read by Sir Jim Rose

‘’We have an opportunity before us, not just in medicine but in virtually any endeavour. Even the most expert among us can gain from searching out the patterns of mistakes and failures and putting a few checks in place. But will we do it? Are we ready to grab onto the idea? It is far from clear.’’ (Atul Gawande: The Checklist Manifesto – How to get things right)

The internationally acclaimed surgeon Atul Gawande said that he was in the ‘disturbance business’. His riveting 2014 Reith Lectures, drew upon detailed case histories as he explored such disturbing issues as: ‘Why doctors fail’ despite the track record of astonishing success of the medical profession.

Much like medicine, education is a ‘person-to–person’ service subject to human fallibility and to human ingenuity for solving problems: success is won by learning from our mistakes. Both professions look to research for solutions. They also rely on knowledgeable and skilled practitioners to make sure that decisions are ‘evidence -based’, and who are capable of making sound judgements when faced with the hard question: ‘what should we do when research is inconclusive, evidence is lacking and doing nothing is not an option?’  From the standpoint of teaching primary children with dyslexia and reading difficulties, this paper explores a small corner of what these two highly valued, life-changing endeavours might learn from each other.

While the quip that ‘Dyslexia is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it,’ may be true it does not help to resolve the debate on why some children have far more serious difficulties learning to read than others. We know for sure that Marmite exists. ‘Dyslexia’, however, continues to come under fire as a myth. At its unkindest, this myth portrays dyslexia as an expensive invention to ease the pain of largely but not only middle class parents who cannot bear to have their child thought of as incapable of learning to read for reasons of low intelligence, idleness, or both. What we can be sure of is that the deep anxiety suffered by parents and children when these stubborn reading difficulties persist is most certainly real and not imagined.

Labelling children to place them into fixed categories is always risky and calls for a separate discussion. Meanwhile, this debate has at least highlighted the question of how, so-called, ‘within the child’, inherited characteristics associated with dyslexia might be disentangled from reading difficulties associated with environmental factors ‘outside the child’, such as, poor quality teaching, weaknesses in parenting, disadvantageous socio-economic circumstances, or a sticky mix of all these conditions that obstruct learning to read. The hardly surprising consensus from research seems to be that both environmental and genetic factors influence reading ability. Further, where ‘genes were strongly implicated, it was more likely that the reading problem would be accompanied by broader difficulties with oral language  …’, [1]

‘Learn to read and read to learn’ is a familiar slogan worthy of a T-shirt. It encapsulates the obvious truth that the goal of reading is not only to sound out but also to understand the meaning of the words on the page. Those children who reach the expected standard in English at the end of their primary education have attained a good level of language comprehension as well as fluent, accurate word reading. Our national tests assess both attributes. The tests also allow us to assemble a picture of how well children spell and write and thus convey meaning to others. Another useful slogan is, ‘If they can’t say it they can’t write it.’ This reminds us of the importance of developing the spoken word and attentive listening, thereby enriching children’s vocabulary so that they have a good stock of words on which to draw.

Defining and getting to grips with the reading problems we are trying to fix are not about ‘blaming’ children, teachers, parents or poverty. Rather, we should start from a picture that is more reliable than dubious headlines about falling standards of reading in England.

According to the Government’s latest statistics [2], the great majority of children in England (nearly 90%) now learn to read to the standard expected of them by the age of eleven: ‘the 2014 figure for level 4 is the highest ever.’ This was far from the case in 1997 when only 69% did so. Should we be content with that rate of progress? The answer is no. We must strive for more because the figures mask patterns of serious under-achievement by vulnerable minority groups. Moreover, some schools in the most unpromising circumstances demonstrate that more is achievable, hence a fair judgement on the state of play might be: so far so good but not yet good enough.

To what might we attribute the rising trend in reading standards? At least four elements have come together to make a positive impact on children’s progress. First, there has been a powerful political and professional drive to prioritise and strengthen literacy, especially through the systematic teaching of reading in primary schools, and in the training of teachers. Secondly, this momentum has been backed by an unprecedented growth of good commercial and government-funded resources for teaching reading, with due attention to phonic work designed to make sure that children understand how the alphabet works for reading and writing. Thirdly, there has been a spectacular growth of excellent children’s literature by our world-class authors. Finally, the last decade or so has seen advances from research, for example, in neuroscience and cognitive psychology that have given us a better understanding of dyslexia, reading disorders and how the brain learns to read. It is often said that learning to read is a complex and difficult task but it is often forgotten that the brain is a complex and highly adaptable endowment that is well-capable of coping with that task in the great majority of children by the age of seven.

Because it is teachers whose knowledge and skills harness these resources to best effect for each child, we are told repeatedly that no education system can exceed the quality of its teachers. In recent years, someone coined the term ‘instructional casualties’ to describe a broad swathe of children who struggle to read because the quality of teaching they receive is simply not good enough, for long enough, for them to become fluent readers. Attaching percentages to the incidence of dyslexia, as factors within the child, compared to instructional failure, as weaknesses in teaching, is far from a precise science. However, it is safe to say that more children fetch up in the latter than in the former category. Moreover, overcoming instructional failure is within the control of the school whereas other factors, such as parenting and background conditions, though amenable to influence by the school, are much less so.

This era of ‘self-improving’ schools has thrown into sharp relief the urgency of strengthening the quality of teaching based on robust evidence of how successful learning is achieved. It is hardly surprising therefore that self-improving teachers are at the heart of self-improving schools. Acceptance of the virtue of reflective, self-improvement is a no-brainer. It should be an ethical principle which applies to all those who provide, and those who provide for, education, including teachers, school leaders and governors, as well as the recipients of education, that is to say, the pupils themselves. Willingness to ask: ‘What do I need to do to improve?’ is a positive and courageous acknowledgement of our ‘necessary fallibility’, irrespective of whether we are leading-edge surgeons or leading-edge teachers. For pupils, too, we ought to foster a strong ‘can do’ attitude and an appetite for self-improvement through which they learn to teach themselves worthwhile things.

Further, schools like hospitals know full well that there is no escape from professional accountability. OFSTED style inspections and published performance data, for example, are now common to both services. Where schools achieve an outstanding OFSTED report and high national test results parents   beat a path to their door in pursuit of a place for their child. Fail badly on these measures and heads will most likely roll, or resign. Within the context of accountability, recent statutory requirements, such as, the introduction of Education, Health and Care Assessments and plans which focus upon how well schools meet the needs of children with learning difficulties have been thrown into sharp relief and somewhat resemble Gawande’s enlightened idea of a safe-guarding checklist.

Anyone who has spent time working on the frontline, or as a recipient, of either of these two services will quickly conclude that lack time to do the job well is often, in itself, be a serious problem that bears upon the twin concerns raised by Gawande, notably, lack of professional knowledge and ‘ineptitude’: the latter being a failure to apply knowledge effectively.

The title of the memorable ‘Rag Trade’ TV series: ‘Never mind the quality feel the width’ might well describe the curriculum prior to its recent revisions. Unwittingly expanding the curriculum, under the banner of ‘breadth and balance’, has been a besetting sin of curriculum reviews. In consequence, slimming down the curriculum to make it more manageable and resistant to overload have been unmet goals of earlier reforms. Has the new National Curriculum and its assessment succeeded in meeting these goals where earlier attempts have failed? It seems the jury is still out. But the issue should be kept under review not least because of the heightened risk of failure that lack of time presents for those pupils who often need more regular, skilled teaching to become literate. Numeracy, too, should be held up to the same light.

Whatever else they do, primary teachers know full well that it is crucial to induct pupils into the symbolic system of language in its various manifestations because: ‘Language is the core symbolic system underpinning human cognitive activity, vastly increasing the efficiency of memory, reasoning and problem-solving. Symbolic systems (language, writing, numbers, pictures, maps) enable the individual to develop a cognitive system that goes beyond the constraints of biology…’ [3]

Reading music, too, requires understanding its code, as indeed does computing where ‘coding’ is now embedded in the new primary curriculum. Making sufficient time for children to learn these various codes is a sizeable challenge for teachers and schools.

As the great edifice of inspection, assessment and testing, curriculum expansion and laudable attempts to co-ordinate services goes up, arguably, outstripping that of our allegedly more successful international counterparts, we may have forgotten that school time is finite. If so, we must find ways to prioritise the essential from the desirable and do less to achieve more. Though easier said than done, this suggests, that accountability for children’s success should extend beyond the frontline in schools.

For ‘instructional casualties’, as for ‘dyslexic casualties’, early identification through comparison with their typically developing peers, combined with good assessments, such as the recently introduced ‘phonics check’ are invaluable starting points for teaching on a regular, daily basis and from which to plan for continuity. Further, one–to–one teaching interventions for reading need to be ‘quality assured’ and mesh with the rest of the curriculum to make sure that the total experience is coherent from the standpoint of the child.

Dyslexia is not yet well enough understood as an extreme reading disorder for which we have precise solutions. Pretending it is a myth, however, risks burying our heads in the sand and giving up the search.

One of the best recent summations on dyslexia is provided by Professor Dorothy Bishop [1]:

‘A genetic aetiology does not mean a condition is untreatable.

Could genetic findings be useful in intervention? All too often it is assumed that if genetic effects are found, the child will be untreatable. Yet, high heritability does not imply immutability: it implies that the range of environmental experiences that is usually encountered in everyday life does not have much impact on a trait, but says nothing about potential impact of novel environmental experiences. When, for instance, a child has the heritable myopia, we do not treat them as passive victims of their genetic destiny. Instead, they are given spectacles: an intervention that is out-side the range of normal environmental experiences, but which is tailored to counteract the genetic effect. Similar logic can be applied in the case of dyslexia: if there are genetic variants that affect how children learn, we need to find out how they work to affect brain development and function. That will allow us to develop ways of intervening to over-come the problem—interventions that may need to be different from regular teaching experiences. We are still a long way from knowing how to do this, but genetic information points us towards the right path. It is not helpful to assume that all poor readers are the consequence of poor teaching and that additional or earlier reading instruction will fix the problem. We need studies that examine which kinds of reading instruction are most effective for children at high genetic risk, who often have disproportionate difficulties with aspects of speech sound analysis and associative learning that other children find easy. Genetic research does not lead us to write off children who are poor readers, but rather to recognize that they may need more individualized instruction tailored to their specific needs.’

Like Marmite, dyslexia exists. We must strive to make it extinct.

[1] The interface between genetics and psychology: lessons from developmental dyslexia: D.V. M. Bishop Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.  Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20143139. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2014.3139

[2] Department for Education: National curriculum assessments at key stage 2 in England, 2014 (Revised)

[3] Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008)

Jim Rose

01.05.15

 

By |2024-04-24T09:36:24+01:00May 5th, 2015|Team blog|0 Comments

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