The challenge of teaching literacy when you have #dyslexia
New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standard 1.c
Graduating teachers know how to develop metacognitive strategies of diverse learners.
Primary teachers are expected to teach a very broad curriculum. Throw together some reading, dancing, writing, maths, science, music with a bit of technology thrown in for good measure and you might have a school teacher’s week. But if scratch underneath this broad curriculum and you’ll find that just about every teacher will have a problem area that they don’t feel confident in teaching in. Maths daunts so many learners that there was a component of my teaching diploma on mathsphobia.
But what about literacy?
I’m guessing that there aren’t many teachers out there who have problems with literacy because our education system can be brutal on learners who struggle with reading and writing.
Enter the dyslexic student teacher.
Having spent almost all my schooling life being labelled illiterate, the idea of teaching reading and writing was not a prospect I was looking forward to. The shame of having *THESE EXAMS WERE SAT UNDER SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS* emboldened underneath my grades on bursary certificate still burns brightly despite having since gained an Honours degree. In fact I have never sat another exam under those special considerations least that label pop up again. But this placement I finally had to come to confront this particular demon.
What my dyslexia looks like.
I frequent mix up the letters b, d, p, q and for some reason e and 3 also befuddle me. When I’m reading, especially out loud, I’ll often omit words or substitute words that look the same, for example accept/except or won’t/want but it is writing that really causes me problems.
My spelling is atrocious and the most accurate description of my handwriting is that it is like a drunken chicken making its way across the page (an actual quote from my school report). I can write neatly but only if I am concentrating on letter formation and nothing else. However if I want to write anything of any substance, the writing process for me is a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting. Bits of sentences and ideas get thrown around in no particular order and somehow a coherent argument emerges at the end of it.
Most of the time.
I’m sure at times I come across as a bit of evangelist when it comes to technology in education but the only reason I didn’t fail out of school altogether is because someone gave me access to a word processor in year 12 to write a story and I found away to get my thoughts into written form.
To say that was a game changer is an understatement.
When I am writing by hand I struggle to write a coherent sentence much less a paragraph, the words just seem to get stuck. However when I’m put in front of keyboard little snippets of ideas come out, they might not be in any order but once they are out for me to see I can start taking my garbled thoughts and putting them into a logical order.
This makes me wonder how many children there are out there educational system has previously discarded because their physical or cognitive differences didn’t fit the model of educational success which involved putting pen to paper in order pass exams. Every time I’ve seen technology used in the classroom, whether its an ipad for a student with cerebal palsey or blogging with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the result has been a child who had the potental to be marginalized in a classroom engaged in learning. That’s a hugely exciting development in education, learners our education system once deemed defective now get a chance to succeed.
But now I’m back in the classroom and sometimes I wonder if I have any business being in there, especially as I tried to adapt my Associate Teacher’s classroom processes into my own practice. Then one morning I plugged a USB into the classroom’s laptop and had a sudden moment of clarity. The processes I was using to teach were the very same ones that cause me so many problems as a learner. What was I doing copying down a learning intention in a modelling book during a guided reading lesson when I could throw the ideas up onto the classroom’s two-touch along with some pictures to help illustrate the vocabulary that needed to be pre-taught? If I use technology to learn, it make sense that I should also use it to teach.
What’s more maybe the internal conversation I have with myself when I read, ‘go back that doesn’t make sense’ or ‘I’m not sure how to pronounce that word but I know what it means,’ are thoughts that the other learners in my classroom need to hear because I’m using decoding strategies. Handwriting continues to be my bugbear, my students often comment that my letters sometimes come out a bit wonky. I really have to think hard about how each letter is formed when I’m teaching in order to model something legible for them. But perhaps the fact that I have to struggle puts me on an equal footing with my students, we are literally learning together.
Posted on September 6, 2011, in GTS, in the classroom, learning difficulties, managing emotions and tagged dyslexia, education, New Zealand Graduating Teacher Standards, student teacher, teacher. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.