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An exploration of ‘attitudes’ to dyslexic students and approaches to dyslexia support among teaching staff within one faculty at one university in England.

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Presentation on theme: "An exploration of ‘attitudes’ to dyslexic students and approaches to dyslexia support among teaching staff within one faculty at one university in England."— Presentation transcript:

1 An exploration of ‘attitudes’ to dyslexic students and approaches to dyslexia support among teaching staff within one faculty at one university in England

2 Aim The aim of this study was to explore university teachers’ experiences with dyslexic students in order to inform the wider debate about the issues of dyslexia support at HE level. The aim of this study was to explore university teachers’ experiences with dyslexic students in order to inform the wider debate about the issues of dyslexia support at HE level.

3 Method and data analysis Data were collected and analysed using constructivist grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006). Data were collected and analysed using constructivist grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006). Interviews with 14 academic staff were transcribed; categories and themes were identified. Interviews with 14 academic staff were transcribed; categories and themes were identified.

4 Findings Findings allowed university teachers to be placed into into ‘positive’, ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’ categories of apparent ‘attitude’ towards dyslexia and dyslexic students; and ‘active’, ‘passive’ or ‘resistant’ categories of approach to support for dyslexic students. Findings allowed university teachers to be placed into into ‘positive’, ‘neutral’ or ‘negative’ categories of apparent ‘attitude’ towards dyslexia and dyslexic students; and ‘active’, ‘passive’ or ‘resistant’ categories of approach to support for dyslexic students.

5 Category correspondence 8 of the 14 participants were described as ‘positive’ 8 of the 14 participants were described as ‘positive’ 2 as ‘negative’ 2 as ‘negative’ 3 as ‘neutral’ 3 as ‘neutral’ 1 was not categorised 1 was not categorised With the exception of 1 case (negative to passive), the categories of ‘positive’, ‘neutral’, and ‘negative’ corresponded to the categories of ‘active’, ‘passive’, and ‘resistant’ for approach to support.

6 Personal experience Personal experience with others (students, family members, colleagues, friends) appeared to play a key role in developing understanding about dyslexia, interest in finding out more, and a supportive approach to students with dyslexia. Personal experience with others (students, family members, colleagues, friends) appeared to play a key role in developing understanding about dyslexia, interest in finding out more, and a supportive approach to students with dyslexia. No participants recalled having had training in dyslexia that they felt was effective or memorable. No participants recalled having had training in dyslexia that they felt was effective or memorable.

7 So what did they say? Positive Personal experience: Personal experience: I was alerted to the idea that dyslexia could affect much higher level cognitive skills, and in fact, like a colleague in the department who was dyslexic, and got a PhD in the department, and his problems weren’t just around spelling and things like that. I hadn’t made that connection before (13) I was alerted to the idea that dyslexia could affect much higher level cognitive skills, and in fact, like a colleague in the department who was dyslexic, and got a PhD in the department, and his problems weren’t just around spelling and things like that. I hadn’t made that connection before (13)

8 Personal experience Personal experience I’ve always been more sympathetic towards dyslexic students because I have seen first hand how someone I know has been very capable. (11) I’ve always been more sympathetic towards dyslexic students because I have seen first hand how someone I know has been very capable. (11)

9 Recognising dyslexia in students Recognising dyslexia in students One of the signs for me is when the student will sit there and you will give the essay back and [they] will explain how that essay should be, in their heads, and it just doesn’t relate to the way it is structured [on paper] and some of the time it may be dyslexia. (10). One of the signs for me is when the student will sit there and you will give the essay back and [they] will explain how that essay should be, in their heads, and it just doesn’t relate to the way it is structured [on paper] and some of the time it may be dyslexia. (10).

10 Recognising why students may hide their dyslexia Recognising why students may hide their dyslexia I mean, quite a lot of students don’t tell you [they are dyslexic] which is interesting...I think it could be for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s fright, sometimes it’s er, they don’t think it’s relevant; they don’t want to be taken into special consideration. (10). I mean, quite a lot of students don’t tell you [they are dyslexic] which is interesting...I think it could be for lots of reasons. Sometimes it’s fright, sometimes it’s er, they don’t think it’s relevant; they don’t want to be taken into special consideration. (10).

11 Talking to students Talking to students [I]t was very interesting talking to her [the dyslexic student] about the kind of coping mechanisms she had developed. …she..[was]..really, as far as possible, taking advantage of her dyslexia rather than taking the disadvantages of it. (9). [I]t was very interesting talking to her [the dyslexic student] about the kind of coping mechanisms she had developed. …she..[was]..really, as far as possible, taking advantage of her dyslexia rather than taking the disadvantages of it. (9).

12 ‘Believing’ in dyslexia ‘Believing’ in dyslexia I have seen students who struggle so I knew it [dyslexia] was there even before I fully understood. (14). I have seen students who struggle so I knew it [dyslexia] was there even before I fully understood. (14).

13 Comments from the neutral and negative groups The participants in the ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ groups expressed markedly different ‘attitudes’ towards dyslexia and dyslexic students. Firstly, there was little or no known experience with dyslexic students or other people.

14 So, what did they say? Experience with dyslexia   I have not had any [experience]. Noone has ever come to me with a question that suggests they have problem with dyslexia’.(8).   I have to say, I don’t really notice it [dyslexia]. (5).   It is not something I am aware of – not in an everyday sense. (2).   I don’t see it as being a big issue, in my experience, in the department. (1).

15 Recognising dyslexia in students   I have to say that I don’t assume it is dyslexia, I just assume they haven’t checked it [their writing/ spelling]. (5).

16 ‘Believing’ in dyslexia I was never any good at ball games, and I mean, it might be partly that I am just not inherently gifted in that way, but I think mainly it was because I actually decided at quite an early age that I wasn’t interested in it, and therefore I never developed that skill. (1). Well, it may be a product of pushy parents, or some of it, you know; or that they are expected to reach a certain level and they fail to. (1).

17 More on believing in dyslexia More on believing in dyslexia   And it’s like – there are students who aren’t very good at whatever subject. We are all better at some things than others, and now I am struggling with dyslexia, thinking it is not – whatever it is. It’s not a syndrome. (5).   [I believe dyslexia is] a difference of ability that is probably culturally constructed and I think that the hardware is probably there and it’s there in all of us and we all have it, and we all have about the same amount of brain, you know, and we all manage to learn a language; so if you can’t do a-level maths, you know, in my view, it’s not because you lack the brain cells, it’s because you are not adequately programmed. (1).

18 Approach to support Whose responsibility? Comments from the ‘active’ group Comments from the ‘active’ group   Issues like…what it is like to have dyslexia….and how those things impact upon what I should be doing in class as a teacher, are things I take very seriously. (13).   I think it is our responsibility to provide a full range of support for writing, and if we get that right in the department, then students shouldn’t need to access support externally for writing skills. (10).

19 Whose responsibility? Comments from the ‘passive’ and ‘resistant’ groups: Comments from the ‘passive’ and ‘resistant’ groups:   I guess [responsibility for support lies] with some central service which can provide appropriate expertise. (2).   My general view of things like student support is that we aren’t the experts in that We are the experts in our subject; and when it comes to complex conditions like dyslexia, we shouldn’t dabble as amateurs. We should direct students towards the expert services. (12).

20 Approaching students about dyslexia Active group: Active group: I usually talk to them separately...I usually go and say “there is something wrong here”. I would usually mention in the comments that there is a problem with writing style which they should see me or their personal tutor about, and we’ll usually follow that up and suggest that they go and take the [dyslexia] test…we are now quite forceful. (10) I usually talk to them separately...I usually go and say “there is something wrong here”. I would usually mention in the comments that there is a problem with writing style which they should see me or their personal tutor about, and we’ll usually follow that up and suggest that they go and take the [dyslexia] test…we are now quite forceful. (10)

21 Approaching students Passive group: Passive group: I think I would expect a student to come to me and say, you know, I am really not following this/ found it difficult to explain/ or can you explain such and such. I think it [support] would be a case of responding to that kind of request. (8). I think I would expect a student to come to me and say, you know, I am really not following this/ found it difficult to explain/ or can you explain such and such. I think it [support] would be a case of responding to that kind of request. (8).

22 Passive group: If they [dyslexic students] thought there was an issue I needed [to know about]…they would speak to me. So I therefore assume, presume that things are working ok. If things weren’t working ok, I assume I would hear. Our students are not backward in coming forward – so they would say.(2). If they [dyslexic students] thought there was an issue I needed [to know about]…they would speak to me. So I therefore assume, presume that things are working ok. If things weren’t working ok, I assume I would hear. Our students are not backward in coming forward – so they would say.(2).

23 Making adjustments to materials or assessments Active group: I would try to sort through with them what ways I could help, or what support systems in the university could help. (14). I would try to sort through with them what ways I could help, or what support systems in the university could help. (14). She [the dyslexia support tutor] said that this [reading dense text] is one of the things [dyslexic students find difficult], so it seemed like the obvious thing to do [to break the text down into simpler sections]. (3). She [the dyslexia support tutor] said that this [reading dense text] is one of the things [dyslexic students find difficult], so it seemed like the obvious thing to do [to break the text down into simpler sections]. (3). They [dyslexic students] pass their essays to me and I proof read them – give support to them…I am not allowed to do it [proof-reading]…but I will do. (10). They [dyslexic students] pass their essays to me and I proof read them – give support to them…I am not allowed to do it [proof-reading]…but I will do. (10).

24 Active group: [The student was allowed] to do the project as an encyclopaedia…we had to change all the rules because [the student had produced] too much work…..it was good teaching to understand that this is what the student is good at and this is what she was bad at – which was editing, and let’s change that into a positive by changing the terms of the project. (3). [The student was allowed] to do the project as an encyclopaedia…we had to change all the rules because [the student had produced] too much work…..it was good teaching to understand that this is what the student is good at and this is what she was bad at – which was editing, and let’s change that into a positive by changing the terms of the project. (3).

25 Adjustments Passive and resistant groups: Participants in the ‘passive’ group tended to follow generic minimum guidelines for supporting students with dyslexia, but this rarely meant a change in practice. For example, in response to the adjustment of prioritised reading lists, P8 explained.. Participants in the ‘passive’ group tended to follow generic minimum guidelines for supporting students with dyslexia, but this rarely meant a change in practice. For example, in response to the adjustment of prioritised reading lists, P8 explained.. It seemed to me problematic because the way I organised reading was already guided...I didn’t really feel I could go beyond that. (8). It seemed to me problematic because the way I organised reading was already guided...I didn’t really feel I could go beyond that. (8).

26 Providing lecture notes before the lecture Active group: happy to provide electronic notes before the lecture. Active group: happy to provide electronic notes before the lecture. Passive group: less happy – concerns about attendance, but generally complied. Passive group: less happy – concerns about attendance, but generally complied. Resistant participant: this practice restricts academic freedom: Resistant participant: this practice restricts academic freedom: Those of us who dare to do it [lecture] in a freer way are in a much better position to make it interesting and engage the audience. (1). Those of us who dare to do it [lecture] in a freer way are in a much better position to make it interesting and engage the audience. (1).

27 Conclusions ‘Attitude’ appeared to inform ‘approach’ to support, and vice versa. A tentative model representing a possible cycle of influence was put forward in which personal and meaningful experience seemed to play a key role in lecturers’ attitudes to dyslexia and approach to support. ‘Attitude’ appeared to inform ‘approach’ to support, and vice versa. A tentative model representing a possible cycle of influence was put forward in which personal and meaningful experience seemed to play a key role in lecturers’ attitudes to dyslexia and approach to support.

28 Meaningful & engaging experience with other(s) with dyslexia Better understanding of strengths & difficulties assoc’ with dyslexia More sympathy and interest More likely to approach students/ provide individualised support/ be proactive Students come to see staff member as more approachable? More awareness and recognition of dyslexia in students & seeking info 3 2 1

29 So? We can’t expect the university staff will understand [dyslexia] unless they have a particular interest, which is likely to be from personal experience.(14). We can’t expect the university staff will understand [dyslexia] unless they have a particular interest, which is likely to be from personal experience.(14).

30 SO? What can be done? Make staff training student led – dyslexic students could be play a much greater role in staff development, and this would allow staff to gain experience with dyslexic people directly. Make staff training student led – dyslexic students could be play a much greater role in staff development, and this would allow staff to gain experience with dyslexic people directly. Improve the dissemination of information about dyslexia and dyslexic students more efficiently to teaching staff. Improve the dissemination of information about dyslexia and dyslexic students more efficiently to teaching staff. Move more of the responsibility for support provision onto academic departments. Move more of the responsibility for support provision onto academic departments.


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