How to support young people with literacy difficulties

3 Oct 2018, 15:30

Less than half of teachers feel confident teaching young people with literacy difficulties, says Karen Wespieser, who offers some handy tips for teachers

To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week, literacy charity Driver Youth Trust commissioned the teacher polling app TeacherTapp to ask teachers about how confident they feel teaching young people with literacy difficulties.

The poll found that less than half (49 per cent) of respondents feel confident.

This is important, as it is probable that there will be at least one child with literacy difficulties in every classroom.

While we don’t have an accurate picture of the number of young people with dyslexia, we do know that 13 per cent of the school population have been identified as having specific learning difficulties (including dyslexia). However, we also know that literacy difficulties occur on a spectrum and whilst there are young people with clear, diagnosable disorders there will also be those that are simply quietly struggling.

As you might expect, teacher confidence increases with experience – around six in ten of those who have been qualified for over twenty years reported feeling confident. Therefore, sharing practice is crucial. Having access to a specialist teacher, or a colleague who has received specialist training in teaching children with literacy difficulties can help ensure that the necessary support is being given.

Back in 2009, one of the key recommendations from the Rose Report was to provide substantially improved access to specialist expertise in all schools and across all local authority areas. The government responded by pledging £10 million to train “at least one specialist teacher for each local group of schools.”

Last year, DYT asked the government about this pledge and discovered that they had allocated just over half of the allocated funding and only 3,000 dyslexia-specific teachers had been trained. Worryingly, the DfE also revealed that they do not hold information of where the specialist teachers now reside.

Literacy is a whole-school issue

We therefore asked the poll respondents about their access to specialist support, and found that less than a quarter (24 per cent) of teachers report having access to a teacher accredited in this area. Most worryingly though, access is lower in primary schools than secondary (18 per cent compared to 29 per cent). Early intervention can be key when it comes to literacy difficulties; young people who are struggling with literacy will be unable to access the curriculum and to flourish in other subjects.

So, what can you do if you are one of these teachers who does not feel confident teaching young people with literacy difficulties and you don’t have access to specialist support? Here are DYT’s top three tips:

1. Remember literacy is a whole-school issue. No pupil will suffer from having more literacy support! Unsurprisingly, English teachers were amongst the most confident when it came to teaching young people with literacy difficulties in the poll. However, literacy is not just an area for the English department; literacy is vital across all areas of the curriculum, so all teachers – from physics to PE – need to have bought into a shared vision on how to teach it.

2. Use evidence-based approaches. Dual coding, cognitive load theory and phonics are all ideal methods to use when teaching literacy, and best of all, they all have a rich evidence base demonstrating that they work. The EEF have produced guidance reports for improving literacy in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.

3. Support phonological awareness. At every opportunity highlight rhyme, alliteration, assonance, syllabification, and pronunciation. When teaching vocabulary, point out phonics, syllables, phonemes and get the pupils to identify them too. Be multi-sensory about it: see it, hear it, say it, feel it, write it and repeat.

For more resources, check out our top ten tips for teaching students with dyslexia.

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