You ask most classroom teachers what they think of when you say dyslexia and they will generally all say the same things, can’t spell, reverses letters, slow to read and can’t get ideas on to paper, struggles to organise themselves and struggles to retain number patterns. What do Teachers actually do about in on a day to day basis though… My guess is send them out of the classroom to do specific interventions to bridge the gap with a TA… A dyslexic does need this but a dyslexic also needs good quality first teaching and adapted provision. This has to be a part of the bread and butter of a dyslexics daily educational diet if we are going to make a difference.
How do we change this… how do we challenge it?
Time and time again I hear teachers say pupils can’t make progress and nothing works… I hear teachers say children just don’t get it and that they just can’t keep up… The pupil can’t keep up not the teacher… I hear teachers say that specific children are not quite unteachable but that their behaviour, whether it’s confidence or self-defence or low level disruption, is a barrier to them learning and achieving. In my experience time and time again I see the most vulnerable children being taught, the interventions that have the ability to close the gap, outside the classroom with teaching assistants.
This post is not about me dissing teachers and saying that they are wrong to think and feel as they do because teachers generally do this with very good reason and clear purpose. This post is not about disrespecting teaching assistants because I think they shouldn’t be teaching vulnerable pupils… In fact I think the opposite, I believe teaching assistants are a valuable and precious resource with many many skills… In fact often they know more about and are more skilled on an individuals nuances and approaches needed to make a difference to a child’s attainment than the teacher. Teaching assistants are often experts on individual pupils, they know them inside out and back to front… This is back to front though isn’t it! Teaching assistants are supposed to be supporting a teacher by supporting the pupil, yet they probably have the knowledge and insight to be able to lead a pupils learning and are maybe in a better position to plan and identify for individual need…
This is what I want to explore … How do we readdress the balance so that teachers get to know the pupils as well as the teaching assistants and how do we skill teaching assistants to be able to act appropriately and effectively on what they find.
How is it that teaching assistants know pupils so well?
Teaching assistants know pupils so well because they get to spend time in a quieter environment, they get to work in a small group situation, they get to focus on teaching specific precision teaching type activities, they get to stand back and watch how a pupil approaches a task, how far a pupil can be pushed before they disengage. They often get to hear children read in a 1:1 situation, noting the recurring errors and misconceptions and noticing patterns and errors or which sounds or words are not read accurately. Teaching assistants often get to observe, without realising it, whilst a teacher is doing an input. A good teaching assistant knows exactly where to position themselves so that they can subtly support low level behaviour or pupils who lack confidence, they know this because the get to stand back and watch… They are slightly removed. This observation is so powerful and is so under-utilised in schools. Schools pay a fortune for educational psychologists or specialists like me to come in and whilst I am not underplaying our experience, knowledge and qualifications, the first thing we will do is observe a pupil to see how they interact, attend and listen. It is amazing what a quick 5 minute observation can tell you about a pupil.
Teachers find it difficult to do this because…
Juggling the needs of 30 children, being accountable for progress, ensuring that all pupils needs are met, that learning objectives are delivered and breakaway groups are achieved is largely what stops a teacher being able to do what they actually need to do. Teachers have a job which is becoming unmanageable we know this… But let’s look at how we can move forward and begin to shift the focus…
As a specialist teacher of dyslexia one of the first things we are taught is to assess a pupils needs before we begin working with them. There is a really clear reason for this, once we have established baselines, once we know where strengths are and where weaknesses are and what the learning profile looks like we can plan a way forward that is tailored to meet and improve these needs. Without taking the time to assess we are grasping at straws and walking around in the dark hoping that something might stick and hoping that the approaches we are using are going to work.
This is what is happening in schools at the moment… School are throwing interventions in, loads of great evidence based and effective interventions, but rarely are interventions successful and this is because one intervention does not fit all. For example Toe by Toe is a great intervention for dyslexic pupils, however it is not the only intervention for dyslexic pupils and works incredibly well for dyslexics who are struggling to acquire phonics, not all dyslexics benefit from this approach though, not all dyslexics struggle with phonics in this way… In order to decide whether it’s an appropriate intervention we need to do a bit of exploring … We need to do some assessment… We need to know what a learning profile looks like… Now granted lots of schools don’t have a specialist dyslexic teacher but actually they do have many assessments to hand and are able to do observations… To just do a bit of this would make a huge difference to outcomes because it would mean that interventions would match the profile.
Here is a revolutionary thought… Some of this assessment and observation could be done by the class teacher not just the TA or EP or specialist teacher. I cannot express and get across the power of a short observation and what this can tell you about a pupil. Teachers must find time to do this… The other radical thing I am going to suggest is at least once a week the teacher should deliver the intervention. A teacher has knowledge that a teaching assistant does not… By the teacher delivering the intervention they can gain some of the knowledge TAs have about the individuals and they can pass vital next step information surrounding pedagogy on to the TA. It may be that a slight tweak to the intervention would make a huge difference and a TA might not see it, or know it, or be confident enough to change it, where as a teacher can direct and reassure a TA that it is the right thing to do.
If a teacher knew as much as a TA about a pupil just imagine the difference this would make! A good teacher, should know their pupils inside out, they should know what makes a pupil tick, know exactly the strengths weaknesses and areas of difficulty for each and every pupil in the classroom. In order to know this and in order to make a difference the teacher needs to have the pupils in the classroom and the teacher needs to be able to adapt their teaching to meet all the nuances, quirks and individual needs of all the pupils in the class.
In previous posts I have discussed class size and how growing class sizes are making it increasingly difficult to juggle pupils needs however as teachers we have a duty to ensure we meet pupils needs best we can. I can say this because I have done it, I have met the needs of all the pupils in my class on a daily basis, I have seen and worked with teachers who do exactly this, they know their children like the palm of their hand. These teachers will refer to their class as their children,and these teachers will do pretty much anything to ensure that the playing field is levelled and that all children make equal progress within a school year. It is super difficult at times but actually it can be done.
I believe quite strongly that there is a lack of quality training in schools surrounding the true extent and impact of dyslexia on a day to day basis but I am going to be harsh now and I also think that there is chosen Ignorance around it. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that is widely akwknowldged but I think that more could be done to bridge the gap and more efforts could be made to integrate intervention and strategies into classroom practise… I am going to try to change this because I genuinely don’t belive it is that difficult to make the small changes that would have the largest of impacts on outcomes for dyslexic pupils … For me this starts with teachers understanding their pupils in more depth and getting to know them in a way which teaching assistants do… Teachers need to make it a priority because I belive if they did they would be able to make a huge difference to their own performance and results as well as change the daily life of a dyslexic. It’s time to start challenging and it’s time to start pushing for better understanding in the classroom of dyslexia… We have been patient but we need to start a revolution, a revolution which changes the outcomes for dyslexic learners in the future and sees more of us overcome our difficulties and fulfill our potential…
Whose with me?
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