This weeks post was contributed by Wyn McCormack, co-author of the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level . Wyn has been involved with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland for over 20 years and has designed and presented courses on dyslexia for parents, teachers and students. She has written extensively on the topic including Lost for Words, a Practical Guide to Dyslexia at Second Level, (3rd Ed. 2006), and Dyslexia, An Irish Perspective (3nd Ed. 2011) as well as being the co-author of the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level in 2013 (updated 2014, 2015, 2016). She has been a presenter for SESS, the Special Education Support Service. She is a former Guidance Counsellor and Special Educational Needs teacher. Her three sons have dyslexia.
* * * *
In 2014 the Dyslexia Association of Ireland asked myself and Mary Ball, an educational psychologist to write the Factsheets on Dyslexia at Second Level to celebrate their 40th anniversary. The key objective of the Factsheets was to give teachers clear and concise information on dyslexia, how it affects students and how schools and teachers can help. With dyslexia affecting approximately one in ten people, there are many thousands of students with dyslexia in schools.
There are 18 Factsheets. The majority were intended for teachers and schools and cover topics such as teaching literacy, numeracy, foreign languages, Maths and Assistive Technology. Factsheet 16 is for parents on how they can help and Factsheet 17 is for students on study strategies.
I update the Factsheets annually in August and they are available for free download at www.dyslexiacourses.ie. After putting the work into writing them, I really wanted to get them widely used. In 2014 I had taken early retirement as a Guidance Counsellor and Special Education Teacher. So I set up Dyslexia Courses Ireland to offer schools, parents and students courses on dyslexia friendly strategies and AT resources. I was then joined by Deirdre McElroy, a school colleague who had worked as a NEPS educational psychologist. The courses have been really well received. Since 2014 we have had just under 3000 teachers, 540 parents and 480 students attend our courses. We run courses at central venues for teachers and also give presentations to the teaching staff within schools. At this stage we have been to schools in every county (outside of N. Ireland). In 2018 in the last week of August which is the first week of the school year, we presented courses in 14 schools.
The course for students is a study skills workshop. Students with dyslexia may experience difficulties with organisation, reading, memory and learning, note-taking, writing and spelling. They may find it hard to show what they know in exams due to misreading questions and poorly structured answers. The workshop covers strategies that help the student to achieve and which also target their specific difficulties.
A key element of the teacher courses is that while we share ideas with the teachers, we ask them to recommend websites, Apps, and strategies that they are using in the classroom. As a result we have an extensive list of recommended websites. The teachers generously have allowed us to share these. We do this by twice a year sending out a newsletter to all schools as well as to those who attended our courses. The recommendations have grown so much that while we did have one handout called Useful websites/APPS on Keynotes, subject specific resources, study skills, exam preparation, assistive technology and on-line tutorials, we have had to split it into one for teachers and one for students. Both are available under downloads on the website.
While my favourite websites vary over time, some really helpful ones are as follows;
- alison.com for on-line tutorials in Project Maths at Junior and Leaving Cert.
- sparknotes.com and, in particular, their short videos of Shakespearian plays and the No Fear guides where the Shakespearian words are on side of the page with a modern English translation on the other.
- studystack.com with flashcards and games when key facts have to be learnt.
The reason I am so involved is that my three sons are dyslexic and I realised much more needed to be done at second level. As I have travelled with them on their journey through education, I also realised there was a reason why I could never tell left from right and that I also shared some of dyslexic traits. These experiences have helped me appreciate the difficulties which many students with dyslexia face in school.
I hope the factsheets contribute to greater awareness of dyslexia at second level and all the ways that teachers and schools can support the these students.