Why Do Schools Struggle to Provide Effective Help for Literacy Difficulties?


Guest post submitted by Ros Hynes, CENTRA Dyslexia Manager (UK)

Here is an issue that we constantly encounter at our Dyslexia Centre.  Parents tell us that their children are not getting effective reading and spelling support in schools. This situation applies equally in elementary, middle and high schools.

spell treckkingOur Dyslexia Centre families describe examples of situations they are coping with:

•    Situation 1 – The school doesn’t acknowledge that the child needs more help or specialist intervention. Teachers believe the child is "coping."

•    Situation 2 – The school does acknowledge that the child is not progressing as expected, but does not have specialist staff or resources to offer.

•    Situation 3 – School acknowledges concern and promises to offer appropriate support but, in practice, this can be one or more of the following:

o    Delivered by non-specialists
o    Not appropriate to the child’s needs
o    Not sustained
o    Ineffective

All of these situations can lead to similar outcomes, such as:

o    students become aware that they are falling behind their peers
o    students lose confidence
o    students begin to find reading & writing stressful
o    students become disengaged & try to avoid literacy tasks
o    the whole family is under stress

Why Can’t Schools Provide the Right Kind of Help?

The reasons for the lack of effective literacy remediation are often pretty straightforward. Though mainstream schools widely include students with special educational needs, many teachers tell us that their teacher training does not include enough specialist training. This applies to special educational needs in general and, in particular, for dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties.

The teachers attending our Dyslexia Awareness courses tell us that they do not know enough about dyslexia and therefore do not feel able to:

o    Identify children who may have dyslexic difficulties
o    Undertake diagnostic assessments for dyslexia
o    Select appropriate intervention methods
o    Access the appropriate resources
o    Provide sufficiently effective support

These teachers also express frustration and disappointment themselves. On both a professional and personal level, it’s a difficult position for them to be in; they are at a disadvantage when parents naturally assume schools will know how to provide the help that their child needs. Teachers are aware that they cannot meet some of their students’ learning needs and experience stress in being unable to help their students.

Some Other Contributory Factors to Poor Dyslexia Support

There are other factors which contribute to ineffective intervention, in addition to the lack of special needs expertise. 

For example:

•    Some local education authorities do not use the term dyslexia, preferring to use alternatives, such as ‘Specific Learning Difficulties’. Gaining funding for assessment and support can be affected by this.
•    In many schools, screening and assessment processes, for Specific Learning Difficulties in general and dyslexia in particular, can be inefficient and unwieldy. The waiting time for a full Educational Psychologist diagnostic assessment may be many months, or even years.
•    Schools may have limited funds for special educational needs and may be forced to prioritise. Teachers describe having to allocate funds for support to students with ‘more severe’ difficulties, leaving insufficient funds for the many children with dyslexic difficulties.
•    There are too few specialist teachers available. Even where schools can afford them, they cannot support sufficient numbers of children with dyslexic difficulties: which could be between 10-20% of the school population.
•    It is common for dyslexia to be under-diagnosed. With so many aspects of this complex condition misunderstood, many children will not be identified and will therefore not be prioritised for remediation.

Why Multi-Sensory Literacy Programs Are the Answer

A dyslexia-specialist teacher will use multi-sensory, structured programs for effective remediation. In a home or school setting, specialist software - which incorporates multi-sensory learning techniques in a structured, sequenced program - can provide the effective intervention required. The new Spell Trekking iPad app delivers specialist, highly effective literacy remediation without the need for specialist staff. It has been designed so that effective support can be provided by any adult, whether a parent, teacher or teaching assistant.  

All that’s needed is encouragement and a little support as the children work through the lessons. Regular use will deliver rises in reading and spelling and in confidence as well. We recommend using the app for about an hour a week, perhaps 10-15 minutes a day, to allow learning to transfer to long-term memory.


The new iPad education app Spell Trekking provides a fun, easy-feel and stress-free way to learn, with an engaging, appealing Space Travel theme.
Launch of the SS Spell Trek: Children in grades K-7 can see, hear, type and read words aloud as they work through the structured, sequenced lessons.
Spell Trekking Venus: We found that using our multisensory program – on which the Spell Trekking App is based - for 26 hours over a period of 3 months gave an average rise of 10 months in reading and spelling. 

We believe that using Spell Trekking regularly will make a big difference to literacy levels and self-confidence for children in grades K-7. Spell Trekking is available as a free download with trial lessons.

A Special Introductory price for Spell Trekking at the time of writing – September 2012 – is $1.99 for one planet with 59-100 lessons, or $9.99 for the full literacy program with over 750 lessons.

ABOUT the Author:

Ros Hynes is the CENTRA Dyslexia Manager. BA (Hons), PGCE (Early Years), AEP (Dyslexia), BDA ATS. Visit centra.org.uk



#2 Ros Hynes 2012-11-07 17:34
Many thanks for your comment here, Richard! I'll check out your books, thank you. We've found the Spell Trekking program so helpful with the many struggling students we see every year at our Dyslexia Centre www.spelltrekking.com Ros
#1 Dr. Richard Selznick 2012-11-07 07:23
Just saw this article from twitter...great stuff. You may want to check out my two books that deals with a lot of this. Feel free to contact me to discuss further.

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