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Reviews: Helping talent to shine through

Einstein

Wayne Trotman reads a book about how to help dyslexic learners overcome their challenges

Supporting Learners with Dyslexia in the ELT Classroom
Michael Daloiso, Oxford Handbooks for
Language Teachers 978-0-19-440332-0

Let me begin with a question: what did Albert Einstein and John Lennon have in common? Answer: they both had dyslexia and, in both cases, although their schools failed to support them, their talent and brilliance still shone through. As this book makes clear early on, for most other dyslexics, this is not the case.

Dyslexia mainly affects a person’s development of literacy and language-related skills, and is characterised by difficulties with, for example, phonological processing and identifying and naming items and objects. It is understood that 10 per cent of the population in Britain has dyslexia – which means that among a class of thirty students, probably three would be dyslexic. This title explains how these learning differences (as opposed to the more commonly used term ‘learning difficulties’) can be mitigated by appropriate intervention with information technology and supportive counselling.

The first chapter discusses dyslexia in general. It looks at stereotypes, such as the one that suggests dyslexics tend to be less intelligent than their peers. It then provides insights into how languages such as English, which have a larger mismatch than other languages between their written and spoken forms, appear to be much more challenging for learners with dyslexia. It also provides helpful checklists of common signs of dyslexia among learners from pre-school to adult level. Attitudinal signs in the latter include references to low self-esteem, anxiety, reluctance to interact and being easily frustrated. Most of these relate to some students I have known and recall being ‘problematic’, but until now had never considered dyslexic. Perhaps more language teachers might reflect on this.

Of more direct relevance to ELT is chapter two, which discusses the factors teachers should consider when faced with learners who may show signs of being dyslexic. Emotional factors such as motivation and foreign language anxiety may lead to frustration and ultimately failure as they are exacerbated by ‘traditional teaching methods’.

“ Dyslexic learners find reading aloud, taking dictation and copying from the board very demanding ”
Dyslexic learners find reading aloud, taking dictation and copying from the board very demanding, as they each require real-time language processing, automised skills and multi-tasking. Two helpful questionnaires in this chapter evaluate any clashes between the learning strategies of those indicating signs of dyslexia and the actual learning environment they are in. Chapter three discusses a methodological framework for supporting learners in the ELT classroom. It makes use of the Language Teaching Accessibility Theory (LTAT), which helps to identify potential barriers to learning for students with dyslexia. In light of the LTAT, it next outlines the pros and cons of the most popular methods involved in language teaching, providing suggested adaptations to materials used.

The final three chapters focus on more specific matters. Chapter four looks at two key problem areas for dyslexic learners: phonology and orthography. It suggests that carrying out a comprehensive programme on such matters might not be feasible, and tends to focus largely on younger learners. Chapter five suggests approaches for developing listening and speaking skills, while the final chapter advises modifications to formal language assessment. It then outlines certain modifications allowed by exam boards such as Cambridge English and Ielts in order to accommodate dyslexics. This book would be a valuable addition to the reading lists for courses at all levels leading to language teaching qualifications.

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Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.