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Effective Supports and Approaches Related to Dyslexia

 I have been using two main approaches to help  learners who struggle with de-coding in my class this year 2013.

  The Davis Approach is whole word learning.  It teaches the learner how to focus attention using a visual technique.  This approach uses the strengths of the learner.

 Multi-lit,which is a phonics, sound based learning approach.  It spends time building up the weakest area of the learner teaching them to hear and identify sounds in words.

 When I asked my 9 learners which method they preferred, seven choose the Davis Method and 2 the Multi-lit.  

 Details of the Davis Approach that I used in Class

 Firstly, I taught each child to gain attention through one of two methods.  Either “Hands on Shoulders” or “Minds eye on dot”  (both these are explained in the book).   Plus Release which is like deep breathing and Dial, which is like energy levels  up or down - being in control of being more awake and energized or the opposite - calm and slowed down.  These 3 things are called “Focus Tools”.

Secondly, we learnt the alphabet both lower and upper case by making each letter out of clay and mastering it.  To master a letter the student uses their focus tools.  They say the letter’s name plus something beginning with the letter.  Time is spent on letters which appear similar making sure that the learner can identify each one.

Thirdly, we started learning Trigger Words.  These are 219 words which are similar to the Essential Spelling Words.  They are all words which do not have pictures with them. For example,  if I say “House”  you will get a picture of a house in your brain.  If I say “the”  you probably do not have a picture.  The students make out of clay, a picture of the word they are learning.  They then make the word out of clay.  They then master it.

 So far this year, we have clayed (made) 90 Trigger words.  We clay one per day.  

This approach has helped the students who are over 8 years old the most.   

It takes time (15 mins?)  and it  helps the learner remember the word. All my over 8 year olds remember over 90% of the 90 words we have mastered this year.

It does not labor on phonics but on a visual and tactile learning method, although sound is included.  “The word says....”

It is fun and uses creativity.  

It does not produce stress for the student.

It is success based. 

It is dependent on the teacher being able to explain the method so the learner can understand and this does take skill.


For more information -  http://bit.ly/18O2yGn  

“The Gift of Learning”  by Ronald D. Davis and Eldon M. Braun or 

“The Gift of Dyslexia - Why some of the Smartest People Can’t Read... and How They Can Learn”  by Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M. Braun.   

 Details of the Multi-lit Approach that I used in Class

 Each student has a 10 - 15 min lesson each day.  They work through a workbook which has ordered certain sounds to be learnt.  They achieve mastery of the sound and work towards fluency where the sound becomes automatic.  They spend time practicing the sounds to achieve this alone and in words.  At the end of each Level, the student reads through a made up story to show their mastery of the sounds.  It also has a spelling component where the students learn to spell the word.

This approach is set up so it is easy for anyone to teach this method.  It is easy for the a teacher or teacher aide to use.

 For more information - http://www.multilit.com  

   I have found benefit from both approaches, although I am convinced that the Davis Focus Tools has helped each student significantly.  It has helped the Phonics approach be more easily absorbed.   It has given each student success without stress.  

Alongside these approaches, each student has an I Pad and are being taught to read using text to speech techniques and have access to other Apps to help them express their learning.



  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 05 Nov 2013 3:18pm ()

    Kia ora Tara.

    Have those two approaches influenced how you organise your classroom and learning tasks as well? Are there things you do for the students with dyslexia that have become options to support learning for other students?

  • Tara O'Neill (View all users posts) 08 Nov 2013 7:50am ()

    This year, I have learnt with 9 students.  I had an interest in dyslexia and trialling methods to help learning to de-code, and the school had 9 students who were struggling to learn to read. There ages range from Year 2 to Year 6.   We met up this year.  We have had a fabulous year together.  

    Conclusions?   Both methods work well together but the Davis Programme needs to go first.  Most students choose the Davis Clay Learning over the phonics based programme.  

    Did they improve?  All are still on Stanine 1 but here are the results of 3 students STAR (reading) scale scores.  Student 1:  Increase of 31.5  Average Increase for their year level is 8.9.   Student 2:  Increase of 52.1  Average Increase for their year level is 11.4.   Student 3:  Increase of 41.5  Average Increase for their year level is 11.4.

    Will I continue next year?  We all move back into a mainstream situation in large modern learning spaces.  

    Yes, my first priority is using the Davis Programme Clay Word Procedure and the Focus Tools.  I will teach this procedure to other teachers.  Yes, I believe it can be used by any one who wants to learn what a word looks like, what a word means and what a word sound likes.  Very easy to integrate into the classroom.  However, like anything new, takes time to learn the method.

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 05 Nov 2013 3:25pm ()

    Here's a couple of videos that are also useful for those interested in understanding more about dyslexia.

    Please here is the first of a series of 10 BBC videos about Kara Tointon: Don't call me stupid. You can also view Kara Tointon: Don't call me stupid on YouTube with it's interactive transcripts.

  • Barbara Reid (View all users posts) 05 Nov 2013 5:52pm ()

    Kia ora Chrissie,

    I wonder how many people know about Matt, a 13 year old student with dyslexia, who runs his own website and workshops for students with dyslexia, Dyslexia Potential.  

    From Matt

    “Dyslexia is a journey I’ve been on since I was 5. I developed this site in the hope I can make that journey a little easier for other people.” 

    I’ve developed this site to inspire and inform you, not to sell you a learning system. I’ve pulled together a whole lot of ideas, shortcuts and research that I know will help you, because they’ve helped me.

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 06 Nov 2013 11:45am ()

    Cheers Barbara. It is great to see a student pull together their thinking and experiences.

    Here is one of the videos of Matt chatting about his experience of dyslexia and some tools, research and stories illustrated by his own experiences. For me Matt's story really highlights how variable people's experiences of dyslexia can be and that as educators it is worth planting our feet wide and gleaning as much info as possible so that we can offer students and each other a range of supports.

    Two pages on the site that could be a good first base might be:

    NB: You can also view the video below Dyslexia potential - join my club with its interactive transcript on YouTube.

  • Tara O'Neill (View all users posts) 08 Nov 2013 7:59am ()

    How cool is this!

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 12 Nov 2013 11:54am ()

    Thank you Tara for starting this thread and for the resources shared Barbara and Chrissie.

    It seems quite common for teachers and students to be just learning about that the signs and strategies to support Dyslexia now? I'm thinking some symptoms include disengagement, lack of confidence due to decoding issues? Some specific agencies have more information about ways to address this, but these could be based in another town.

    So, any good advice for parents? 

  • Barbara Reid (View all users posts) 12 Nov 2013 6:25pm ()

    Hi Tessa, In my experience with my own son, although not dyslexic, just disengaged, holding him back did nothing to help and support his learning. A happy, friendly child lost his self esteem and confidence. The best thing we did was to move schools to somewhere his talents, not academic,  were appreciated and he was accpeted for who he was. He was able to learn in a supportive environment with a teacher who taught the way he learnt. Are there other schools nearby who have knowledge of students with dyslexia? 

  • Tara O'Neill (View all users posts) 13 Nov 2013 3:11am ()

    I also have a son with dyslexia so the advice I give is personal.  He is now 13 years old.  I have two other children with special learning needs too.  

    1.  A love for learning must come first before reading or writing skills.  Passion for learning is everything and must be protected.

    2.  Labels are helpful in that they offer guidance to those who teach and advocacy for parents in getting the right help.   There are two paths that I know of getting diagnosed - Education or Health.  On all three occasions for my children,  I have found the Health road the most helpful and encouarging.  You can always go privately. 

    3.  Finding the right specialised help is cruicial, but finding an intervention and support that gives the child self esteem for me has been the key.   Eg.  My son did all the extra intervention that his Primary School could offer including Specialist teachers but in the end "The Davis Programme"  was the breakthrough for him and the right fit.  There are many interventions and programmes available.

    4.  I believe in inclusion because it protects the learners self esteem and encourages them to learn with passion.  No excuses of age, or ability or disability or sex.  Holding learners back a class hoping this will improve their reading is not inclusion and not logical. Timely, appropriate and targetted interventions and supports that help the child learn are helpful and can happen in the context of any age group.   


    5.  My research and experience has led me to believe that some children with dyslexia may not get beyond a fluency of 9 - 9.5 years old in de-coding.  This may be a realstic expectation however, it doesn't mean their learning will stop at 9 -9.5 years.  We can provide them with rich de-coding learning opportunities, and help them to learn concepts at and above their age.  My son used to sit in with his appropriate "comprehension levelled reading group" and while he couldn't de-code at this level, he certainly could comprehend.  This site is good for schools to read www.4d.org.nz.   

    6.  There are so many technology helps out there for learners with dyslexia.  Text to speech, predictive text, voice recording.  Investigate which platform will best help your child and get them started.  I don't believe that technology every stopped someone from learning to de-code, it only supported their learning.  

    Finally, this is my experience, obviously everyone is different.  Believe the best of your learner, provide them with as much support as necessary but take heart, struggle can be helpful.  My son is not great at de-coding, actually he is terrible, but he loves to read using his kindle, he loves to learn and finds ways to learn all the time with his I Pad.  Recently, he got had his first paying job - teaching some adults how to use a website and facebook and got paid $25 an hour.  They said, they felt he was able to explain how to learn in a non-threatening and understandable way - could this be because he has had to struggle and knows what helped him to learn?

  • Anne Sturgess (View all users posts) 21 Nov 2013 1:47pm ()

    Poem from Michael (Rm 17, age 12) (shared with Michael’s permission and his Mum’s and teacher’s)

    A Year 7 student shared his writing journal with me during a visit to a school yesterday. While students were creating digital stories using Story Creator, the teacher showed me the poem below, which was recently shared in the school newsletter. His teacher whispered to me “Don’t use the D word.” Michael and his mother are well aware of the implications of dyslexia but Michael had decided (albeit intuitively) not to be defined and constrained by the label.

    In the course of a wonderful conversation, I asked Michael about the challenges and benefits his way of thinking brings. He was articulate and enthusiastic in his response (and, interestingly, he was okay with using the D word in that context). The main point he made was that he doesn’t just see the outside of things; he sees inside in a way that others can’t – he sees the whole thing (his words). This idea is repeated time and time again when I have similar conversations with students. I told Michael about the Dyslexia Potential site and its focus on strengths, not weaknesses. Michael’s face lit up, especially when we talked about how he could use Book Creator and voice-to-text to publish his story (e.g iDictation) or simply use audio-visual media. Our conversation didn’t continue much past that point because he was so keen to get started with Book Creator. Michael has a story to tell and I know he will do so.

    As Michael wrote the poem (in his writing journal)


    Why does spllig hate me

    It is like words are being mest up in a bowl in my head (it hate a lot)

    Its is a bede suop gen reod but hest

    So why does spli heat me so mach it is because my bran is not nomel

    so haw is this brel going to were a slone dot ask

    the kid who does not haw to splliy

    It is like my bean has mest out splying

    It look word are spied all over the flood but I dot pek up the right one

    look in my bran it the but there is pes mass of the plazz

    As Michael translated the poem to his wonderful teacher


    Why does Spelling Hate Me?

    It is like words are being mixed up in my head (it hurts a lot)

    It’s like bad soup gone wrong but worse

    So why does spelling hate me so much? It is because my brain is not normal

    So how is the problem going to find a solution? Don’t ask the kid who doesn’t know how to spell.

    It is like my brain has missed out spelling.

    It is like words are spilled all over the floor but I don’t pick up the right one.

    Look in my brain but there is a piece missing of the puzzle.

    Coincidentally, a colleague shared information from magnocellular theory research that discusses the role of the parvocellular system’s ability to process static, large scale, visual scenes so efficiently and then extend them into cognitive domains to enable the ‘holistic big-picture’ thinking characteristic of the great artists, entrepreneurs and politicians (Stein, J. The Magnocellular Theory of Developmental Dyslexia. University Laboratory of Physiology, Oxford, UK DYSLEXIA 7: 12–36, 2001). I’m keen to learn more.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 13 Dec 2013 10:32am ()


    Thank you so much for sharing these amazing pieces of work Anne. I must admit when I first read them I was very moved (and then forgot to reply). Such beautiful writing in response to such a frustrating reality.

    The challenge of learning with Dyslexia is huge - I've learned alot already from reading/viewing/listening to the stories so far. It has also been useful finding out the details about strategies and possible e-tools that can be used to help in this difficult journey. More please Smile.


    Other related links include:

  • Anne Sturgess (View all users posts) 22 Nov 2013 12:53pm ()

    Here's another poem that was sent to me by a parent via the TKI GATE community, in response to posting Michael's poem. Antony had support with the spelling but the thoughts and structure are entirely his own and provide an interesting insight into his thinking. This video from Dr sally Shawitz, from the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, might be of interest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxUn4ggvgKI

    What is inside my head?

    Inside my head is:

     a city with me as ruler

    Blue prints of failed inventions

    And Explosions of lots of TNT

     A town of Lego


    Never ending Libraries with

    Loads of books

     A raging storm of thoughts

    Trying to get out

     A pencil case of no ink

    Food in huge cellars

    A big ball of blue tack

    A war with my writing

     Radios with the penguin band rocking out

    Now that is what is inside my head.

                                                                                 by Antony, aged 11, Term 2 2013

  • Chrissie Butler (View all users posts) 10 Dec 2013 8:45pm ()

    Hey Anne thanks for posting this. Somehow I missed it when it came in. It would be great to keep adding student stories to this thread. Please pass on our thanks to Antony.

    If Antony has any recommendations for teachers that have students with dyslexia in their classes, we'd really love to hear them. Same invitation extended to Michael too. I'm particularly interested in things we can do differently in our classrooms that might also be really beneficial for other students as well.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 10 Dec 2013 3:53pm ()

    Famous People with the Gift of Dyslexia. What a great name for a website. I'm now wondering if people without Dylexia are 'missing out' on a different way of seeing the world?

    Wouldn't the study a famous person, become even more intriquing - if students researched what made them successful, if they were 'blessed' with the gift of Dyslexia?

  • Anne Sturgess (View all users posts) 14 Dec 2013 8:12am ()

    Tessa, you are so right about the number of highly gifted people who experience dyslexia. I have presented several workshops on the topic of Burden or Bonus?, looking at ways of teaching gifted learners who experience difficulties with some aspects of learning (especially print-related difficulties). I have included an extract below from a chapter entitled "Celebrating the Square Peg" (in Moltzen, R. (2012) Gifted and Talented: New Zealand Perspectives, 3rd ed). Although the context for this chapter was gifted & talented education, I believe that learning environments should be designed so that every child is able to continually move forward in his or her learning (UDL principles in action).

    "Historical evidence abounds of people with special talents who have had a significant impact on society who also experienced difficulty with one or more aspects of learning (Gallagher, 1997). Well-known examples are Winston Churchill, Count Tolstoy, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Vincent van Gogh, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison. For every Einstein or Tolstoy whose talents are eventually recognised there are many more whose talents remain hidden. Failure to identify and nurture giftedness amongst those with learning difficulties is detrimental to the individual and counterproductive to the development of society."

    Chrissie, I passed on your suggestion and Michael is now working on developing an e-resource for teachers. Smile

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 18 Dec 2013 10:22am ()

    Thanks for this reminder Anne. A friend told me today of a young 9 year old boy, very clever - who told his mum, he'd rather be able to read and write, than be clever. It's certainly a barrier when we're surrounded by symbols and text everyday. Undecided

  • Roxy Hickman (View all users posts) 17 Feb 2014 11:58am ()

    Wow... what a thread! Where to start...

    Anne, your poem from Michael stood out for me. It is such a wonderful example of real writing. This could be a powerful prompt for teachers to consider what is important here – The text on the page, or the thoughts that are shared? It would be a great piece to share with staff in discussing “How would you assess this student?” What criteria would you set? What supports would you provide? 

    There really is something extra awesome about people with dyslexia! 

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