Teacher’s hi-tech tools give hope to dyslexic children

AN INNOVATIVE project set up by a teacher at a Scottish primary school has made a significant breakthrough in helping children with dyslexia.

A five-year study of pupils in P3-7 using computer programmes tailored to the needs of individuals has found children’s spelling ages improved by an average of 14 months and, in some cases, by up to 30 months in a school year.

It is now hoped the scheme, which was outlined at the annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association last week, can be extended to other schools across Scotland.

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A hereditary, life-long condition, dyslexia is a spectrum of difficulties in learning to read, write and spell. One in ten people are thought to be dyslexic, with up to one in four of these thought to be severely dyslexic. According to Dyslexia Scotland, if the condition remains unidentified, it is likely to result in stress and low achievement and self-esteem.

Fiona Lyon, head of additional support needs at Our Lady of the Missions in Thornliebank, East Renfrewshire, used existing computer programmes, modifying them to the individual needs of her students. After collating results over a five-year period she found it had led to a marked improvement in spelling.

There are around 80 dyslexic children at Our Lady of the Missions, a school of 750 pupils. Using the Wordshark 3s and Education City programmes, Lyon set out to establish whether there was any advantage in using intervention based on IT, rather than traditional methods such as worksheets and a spelling book.

Lyon said gains using traditional methods had been “marginal”, while success using the computer programmes had been “astounding”.

She said: “Information technology offers a flexible way for pupils to communicate, learn and be creative and can be a highly motivating method of providing opportunities to learn and have fun.

“Most classrooms are equipped with computers and an interactive whiteboard, so IT should be part of the pupils’ daily learning. Lots of schools use Education City, but we use a facility which allows you to tailor-make activities for the children. I created a bank of activities for the children, but it was pupil-led and they had to save their scores, so there was an element of independent learning.

“These programmes make children listen, sit up and learn. We have seen huge gains which are quite significant”.

Lyon said some children with mild forms of dyslexia were still going undetected.

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“Mild dyslexia could probably go undiagnosed, but other more severe forms will definitely not go missed. Normally, you can pick up these children in P1.”

Lyon said her results showed huge improvements in the pupils’ spelling ages, with some increasing by 24 to 30 months in the space of a school year. But the gain was inversely related to the age of a child, showing that the method was most effective with younger children.

Dr Margaret Crombie, of Dyslexia Scotland, said the East Renfrewshire project had been a “great success”, which pointed to how computers could be better used to tackle dyslexia.

She said: “Technology can often break down barriers to learning and be a motivational tool, especially for those children who have found learning difficult and off-putting. Technology has infinite patience and a child can gain the learning needed to master tasks such as spelling that can otherwise appear boring to present-day children.

“Dr Lyon has systematically evaluated the benefits of such technology for learners and has achieved great success. Any projects where children can achieve the success needed to become successful learners are to be welcomed.

“Once again, early intervention has been shown to be vital for effective outcomes. To gain the best results, every teacher needs to have an armoury of tools to help with early identification and intervention”. Earlier this month the Scottish Government announced funding of £40,000 to help bolster an online teaching resource supporting pupils with dyslexia. Launched in June 2010, the dyslexia toolkit is a comprehensive web-based teachers’ resource for the assessment of literacy difficulties and dyslexia.

Education Secretary Mike Russell said: “The Scottish Government is working to improve the life chances of all Scotland’s children and young people.

“If we are going to realise that ambition, learners need to receive support to overcome any barriers they may have to realising their potential.”