I have just completed ‘Understanding Difficulties in Literacy Development’, an Open University masters module. The aim of the module was to give the Learning Support Centre Study Skills tutors greater understanding of the difficulties that can be experienced by some people when learning how to read and write. A significant part of the course focussed on the definition of dyslexia and approaches to support those diagnosed as dyslexic.
When we were asked to complete a piece of research for the final assignment, I was keen to explore why so many students are not identified as dyslexic until they enter higher education, as I know that for some, this late diagnosis can be upsetting or confusing. My experience as a learner and teacher made me wonder if student’s prior education is under-preparing them for academic writing, or if other factors are involved.
Whilst carrying out the literature review it became clear that there is a lack of research surrounding this issue. However there are some recent studies regarding the experiences of dyslexic students at university, which raise some interesting points. There is the possibility that previous teaching has not prepared students fully with an understanding of the use of phonics in reading and writing (an indicator often related to a diagnosis of dyslexia). This becomes more of an issue when studying at a higher level as more complex language is being used. There is also the suggestion that previous education does not prepare students for the rigour of academic literacy. Many students have not been required to research, reference and be critical before embarking on their degree and can struggle to understand the process of producing an academic assignment. Research has shown that this can cause problems for many students, but especially for those who are dyslexic. Students also report that differing expectations of modules, departments and tutors can be confusing and difficult to get to grips with. Other research suggests that students are reluctant to admit to having dyslexia or experiencing problems with academic literacy skills, which can exacerbate their difficulties (usually due to anxiety issues regarding how their intelligence is perceived). There is also the suggestion that tutors are not ‘dyslexia aware’, and are failing to use teaching methods which are more conducive to those with literacy difficulties.
My subsequent small-scale research project, which involved interviewing six university students about their own personal experiences, reflected some of the findings from the literacy review and offered me an insight into the struggle some students face whilst pursuing their goal to study at university level. However with support there are many ways of overcoming difficulties, getting the most out of a university course and achieving the final degree – Jannene Ceeney-Bird, LSC Study Skills tutor
Study Skills support our students and clients through a regular meeting, usually once a week where all elements of academic work can be discussed. Tutors work with their students to build a framework of strategies to support them with producing their written work, exam preparation and group work exercises. Such strategies may include drawing out a mind map of key themes before writing commences, identifying the main point for each paragraph first, then explain with examples or changing size/colour/style of text before printing a hard copy to review.