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Lockdown life: Dyslexia at a distance

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Dr Helen Ross is a SEND teacher and researcher. Her current project is on the impact of COVID-19 school closures on learners with SEND, their families and teachers for an evidence review for the Department for Education. She is also working with Wiltshire Council helping schools improve their dyslexia provision.

We are currently in lockdown. It is inescapable. We just have to roll with the punches and get along the best we can.

This sums up how I felt about moving all my teaching online and ‘embracing’ distance learning for all my students. I was ready to go with it.

Luckily, I’m fairly confident using most technology but if there are areas where I’m unclear or don’t know how to use a programme or device, I have a wonderful ‘study buddy’ in the form of YouTube clips. I’ve used these clips for Zoom, Slack, Teams and the myriad of other tools I’m using for digital communication.

Now, I am seeing a shift in my attitude towards remote working. Whereas online working doesn’t allow for me seeing the kids, it does have some real positives.

As a dyslexic teacher, setting and marking work online works really well as no matter how hard I try, my writing is a real source of frustration. It’s physically hard for me to write clearly enough for the kids to read and at times, I have had to read feedback to my students because they couldn’t read my handwriting. Online I can write, delete and then re-write instructions or feedback for the kids. I can upload tasks and then mark work as it comes in rather than marking a huge pile of books by hand, in one long, painful sitting. Now, I don’t have that barrier. The kids don’t have that barrier. We can just get to the work more easily.

Marking aside, filing work is also easier. Keeping clear records of who has done what and when they have done it is easier. Our school software packages also do much of this for us automatically, and where they don’t, electronic filing makes my life a lot easier with the ‘search and find’ function.

That’s not to say that there are no difficulties or problems with working remotely for some teachers.

Some schools expect ‘live’ lesson delivery and personal contact for each child in a group. This pushes workload through the roof, and assumes teachers can all access high-speed internet, suitable devices and a location suitable for remote lesson delivery. Our ability to simultaneously master online tools and to make work accessible to learners is assumed.

While my dyslexia has been mitigated through some of the tools I’ve used for remote teaching, other people’s dyslexia or other difficulties may prevent them from being able to engage with some of the new ways of working. I’ve been very lucky with how my school has set up remote learning and teaching, as well as the expectations associated with it.

My dyslexia has given me strength and creativity, having spent my life finding ways around things and building strategies for myself. If I wasn’t used to that, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to ‘have a go’ at different technologies and ways of working in this ‘new normal’. Technology and dyslexia can be a powerful force and distance-teaching and school closures have forced my hand to some extent, giving me the impetus to learn new ways to support my students.

As we move forward, I hope that I can share my experiences, strategies and tools with others, and that they can share theirs with me.