Dyslexia and effective learning: supporting the learner

Dr. Gavin Reid is an international consultant and psychologist with consultancies in Canada, UK, Europe, Middle East, Asia and Australasia. He is a visiting educational psychologist to organizations and schools in Switzerland, the UK, Middle East, Asia and Egypt. He is an experienced teacher with over 10 years experience in the classroom and was heavily involved in developing and running initial teacher education program and Post Graduate Masters programs in the area of Special Education at Moray House in Edinburgh. Dr. Reid is an educational psychologist, university lecturer, researcher and author. He has written thirty two books on learning, motivation and learning disabilities and lectured to thousands of professionals and parents in 65 countries. He has also had books published in Polish, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, French, Chinese and Slovak. He wrote the first Masters course in Specific Learning Difficulties in the UK in 1992 and has held external examiner appointments at 19 universities worldwide for Ph.D and masters courses. He is the author of Dyslexia in the Early Years (2017), Dyslexia: A Practitioners Handbook (5th Edition, Wiley 2016), Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents (Wiley 2004, 2011), Dyslexia 3rd edition (2011, Continuum Publications) Dyslexia and Inclusion (David Fulton/NASEN 2005), Learning Styles and Inclusion (Paul Chapman/ Sage Publications (2005) and Motivating Learners in the Classroom (2007 Sage Publications). He has also co-authored the Listening and Literacy Index (LLI) and the Special Needs Assessment Profile –(SNAP), (Hodder and Murray). He is the co-editor of the book Special Education Needs: A Guide for Inclusive Practice (Sage Publications 2012)

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To support the learner with Dyslexia, we must develop an understanding of his/her individual needs. This includes the learning preference that makes him/her unique and allows the learner to learn more effectively. Examples are shown below.

  • Inferential learning – this cannot be assumed; teaching must be clear, direct and explicit particularly in the presentation of material. Children with Dyslexia often understand information literally and may miss the real underlying meaning
  • The need for both teacher and learner to be involved in an active and interactive learning situation
  • The need for all learning to be multisensory
  • To give thought to how a student will access the material and whether or not it can be adapted to make it more accessible for the student
  • The need to be mindful of specific goals when supporting reading and to teach spelling rules/patterns explicitly

Dyslexic students need explicit, multisensory teaching with materials that have been adapted to be dyslexia-friendly. They need to be actively involved in the learning process as this will increase the opportunities for effective learning and eventual success.

Inclusion is of course excellent for children with Dyslexia but in order for inclusion to be successful it is crucial that all teaching staff are aware of Dyslexia and aware of the changes and adaptations that can be made when teaching children with Dyslexia. These changes however small they may seem can make an enormous difference to the child and make him/her feel more comfortable and of course more successful at school.

Barriers to learning

It is useful to view identification and the assessment process in terms of overcoming barriers to learning rather than through a child-deficit focus. In reality, however, both information on the child and the curriculum are needed. Essentially the ‘overcoming barriers to learning’ approach requires that all children undertake the same curriculum, irrespective of the perceived abilities and difficulties. An example of this can be the way in which curriculum objectives are identified. It is then important to assess if the child has met these and what action may be needed to help him or her meet the objectives more fully.

This action can take the form of some assistance for the child, but equally it can be in terms of reassessing the objectives or refining them in some way to make them more accessible.

A key aspect of this is the monitoring process and this must be based on actual curriculum attainments. The process can be extended to include details of the nature of the work within the curriculum that the child is finding challenging; for example, which words does the child know or not know and how fluent is the child’s reading.

Such an approach needs to view the child’s class work in a comprehensive and detailed manner, otherwise it can become merely another type of checklist. Additionally, a degree of precision is needed to assist the teacher to see whether the child is achieving the targets. In order to do this, a sample of work is necessary and should be taken from the actual work of the class.

The importance of this type of perspective is that the emphasis is on the barriers that prevent the child from meeting these targets rather than identifying what the child cannot do. This is essentially a whole-staff and therefore a whole-school responsibility as it is important that attitudes relating to progress and curriculum access are consistent throughout the school. It is important that there is a consistent view throughout the school on the understanding of dyslexia and the role of teachers and curriculum planning in making effective learning a reality for all children, including those with dyslexia.

Going forward: whole-school involvement

It is the view of many involved in this area that the identification of dyslexia and how to teach dyslexic children are the responsibility of specialists, and such specialists should therefore be identified within schools and undertake the responsibility of identifying and meeting the needs of children with dyslexia. This, however, should not always be the case. Ideally, responsibility should be on a whole-school basis and all teachers should have some knowledge of dyslexia; in particular, the literacy and learning needs of children with dyslexia and this can complement the role of specialists.


Dr. Gavin Reid is one of the main speakers at the ACAMH event being held on September 29, 2017 in Cardiff. Follow #Dyslexia_2017 on Twitter for updates.

This blog was invited by ACAMH. The author has declared that he has no competing or potential conflicts of interest in relation to this article. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

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