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This is the seventh episode in a series recorded in London! In June 2018 we attended the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction conference (or, more simply, EARLI) for the special interest group on Neuroscience and Education (@EarliSIG22). While there, we recorded live interviews with teachers and researchers.
In this episode, we speak with Jane Emerson who started off as a speech and language therapist, did her Masters in Human Communication, and after years of experience working with dyslexic students in schools founded a center, Emerson House, with a colleague. This center helps children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia. Jane has taught children for many years, lectured widely, and written a number of books including The Dyscalculia Assessment and The Dyscalculia Solution. You can find her on Facebook at Jane Emerson - Freelance SEND Advisor.
Dyslexic children have difficulties with phonics or phonological awareness, language, vocabulary, memory (both short- and long-term). Dyslexic students tend to have problems with spelling both because of difficulties with phonics, but also because of poorer visual recall. However, dyslexia is not only about spelling, but can have more pervasive effects on academic performance due to the impacts on memory.
Dyscalculia might present itself as lack of common sense about numbers. That is, some students may have trouble transferring their understanding of a specific example (e.g., 1 + 2) to a similar but slightly different situation (e.g., 2 + 3), treating it as an entirely new problem and not applying a previously learned rule. For example, unlike others of their age, students with these difficulties may not be able to infer the answer to 13 x 2 after having memorized the 2 x tables up to 12. One way to help alleviate is to use physical manipulatives to demonstrate relationships between numbers.
Dyspraxia is described as a developmental co-ordination delay or disorder. At the extreme, this disorder can result in the inability to learn to drive and great reluctance to use any machinery. At school, the first sign is often poor handwriting, and learning to touch-type as early as possible can help with this. Students with this disorder may receive accommodations such as having a scribe.
Other accommodations such as extra time alone may not always be helpful, since often students may not know what to do with this extra time. The important thing is to learn skills to implement during that time. On the podcast, we discuss the subtle difference between learning styles and learning preferences, and how this plays out in students with learning difficulties.
The Big Takeaways
For reading, Jane says it’s very helpful to give children a lot of information about one character or set of characters so that they can really understand get into a particular genre before moving on to another one. For spelling, combining seeing and hearing words can be really important, and adding touch-typing on to that for multi-sensory learning is even better. And for math, concrete, multi-sensory materials to demonstrate the principles being learned.