Reading Formats that Work for All: Supporting Dyslexic Readers by Ben Waldram
Reading is an integral skill to life and one which we need to unlock in order to open many other doors to learning. We know that not all children learn in the same way and that many of them face barriers, especially in reading.
On average, three children in every primary classroom are diagnosed with dyslexia – a decoding issue linked to how the brain processes language; and while the scale ranges from mild to severe, difficulties tend to include problems learning new sounds and recognising letters, saying sounds differently to how they are heard and difficulty writing or forming letters. Dyslexia is difficult to accurately diagnose, but what is really important to note is that it is not linked to intelligence or auditory capability, it is the processing of sounds and their relation to the written word. Not surprisingly, it makes learning to read very challenging – and having resources that support the range of difficulties identified, absolutely critical.
For children to learn to read and master the English language, synthetic phonics (the breakdown of words into their smallest unit of sound – phonemes) has been proven to be the best way to unlocking the alphabetic code. Without a firm grasp of phonics, children won’t be able to unlock reading fully. As a school, we use Pearson’s Bug Club as the main vehicle for our reading, and it’s used from the first day the children come into school, so as to provide them with the keys to reading from the very start. The material is tailored to all children beginning their learning journey: to those who may have spent time looking at words and listening to sounds and nursery rhymes, to those who haven’t, and to those who may have dyslexic tendencies or a combination of all of these. No two children are the same. Children with dyslexia learn best through repetition, consistency and a chance to practise and practise again the knowledge learned. Every child’s needs are different and some benefit from seeing text in specific fonts, on coloured paper (mostly pastel colours), larger text or even highlighted words. Of course, identifying if a child has any reading difficulties is not diagnosed this early on, but the impact or effect that these resource features have, does give the teacher some initial clues as to whether a child in the early stages of reading might exhibit potential dyslexia later on. Valuable insight indeed.
Within the library of online books which Bug Club offers, there is a wealth of content and characters to suit all reading preferences, including a growing collection of Disney titles, which make even the most reluctant reader want to pick up a book. In recognition of the specific challenges that dyslexic readers face, some changes have been applied to the format of those Disney titles to support a more inclusive reading experience. A specially designed font is used, which ensures that commonly confused letters are not too alike - for example, the lowercase b is not a reflected image of the lowercase d. The text has also been set on a pale-coloured background – not on white, to reduce the visual stress that can make text appear to move, making the reading experience not only more accessible, but more comfortable and consequently more appealing and more enjoyable.
All KS1 eBooks include Read-to-Me audio to model fluent reading and ensure no child gets 'stuck' – a really valuable tool for dyslexic learners. The text is always supported by clear and engaging pictures to support comprehension, and some Bug Club Phonics titles feature Alphablocks characters breaking down words into the separate phonemes – v-a-n, van. Different reading challenges require different tools, and the scope of support within Bug Club enables real, evidenced and practical solutions.
It is crucial for publishers and software designers to produce books and digital programmes that show they have an understanding of the challenges these children face. In order for us to teach reading effectively, we have to have access to the right tools for the job. All children need to feel that they are being catered for, and all children need access to the keys to unlock reading – this most important of skills.
This blog is from the perspective of Ben Waldram. Ben is Headteacher at Lowdham CofE Primary School.
The Pearson Primary team want all children to be able to develop a lifelong love of reading, and to feel that our books are for them, whatever their ability, background or identity. That's why we've made Bug Club even better by adding books with exciting new characters, created by a diverse range of authors and illustrators, bringing reading to life and engaging even the most reluctant readers!