Dyslexia – A bridge to creativity

Welcome to Dyslexia Awareness Week 2012!

The last few months have been quite extraordinary for us here at HKB towers. We have not only published our first ever ‘turn-the-pages-paper-books’, but have also branched out into enhanced iBookstiny books and more recently ghost books! At the heart of all of this is a determination to innovate with originality and confidence, to think outside of the box and really push the boundaries of creativity and literary excellence. At the heart of this drive lives a very special book: Sally Gardner’s MAGGOT MOON. At the heart of this book lives Standish Treadwell, a boy with imagination, courage, intelligence and dyslexia.

Historically, dyslexia and reading have been two concepts that have been difficult to marry. Many dyslexic children find word deciphering difficult, and spelling and letter formation just as bad. Standish proves however, that having dyslexia is not a barrier to the world of creativity, but is in fact a bridge to it.

I have seen the relationship between dyslexia and reading from two sides of the coin – not only am I a dyslexic with a voracious appetite for reading, but have also trained as a primary school teacher and spent many worried evenings considering how best to help children struggling with reading and writing gain access to the curriculum, and to the joys of books. These considerations have featured before in my blogs (apologies if you’ve heard it all before!) but I feel that they are fundamentally important in how we understand the journey from hesitantly sounding out ‘LOOK’ when we are 5, to taking wing as fully fledged readers later in life.

File:The-Winged-Horse.jpg

When I was at primary school, I was last in the class to get to my pen license (believe me – this hurt). At secondary I was taken for hearing tests because my teachers couldn’t understand my inability to process their instructions, and even at university my supervisor made me miserable for an entire term because she refused to consider the value of my historical arguments before my apparent grammatical deficit. I know the frustration at having your creativity overlooked in favour of traditional word construction (who cares if the i goes before the e if your story about Hercules and his bejewelled winged horses is clearly a work of utter genius?).

But I also know that as a teacher there is a real difficulty, not only in identifying dyslexia in children, but also in catering whole class teaching to ensure that every need is met. Unfortunately this is a problem inherent in the teaching and education system as a whole – but I won’t get into that now, there isn’t enough room!  It is worth considering nevertheless that perhaps if, as a nation, we were able to alter our expectations about how information is delivered and about what the outcomes of learning should be, we might see enjoyment increasing, and with it achievement (the two are surely essentially connected). If the goal that we set a child is to tell a story, it seems contradictory that this should be intrinsically tied to the ability to hold a pencil. Valuing stories imagined with pictures, recorded on film, or told at the back of the playground is perhaps one way to demonstrate how dyslexia can be the catalyst of creativity and not the obstructing to its eventual physical manifestation.

Agree? Disagree? Bored already? What do you think?

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8 responses to “Dyslexia – A bridge to creativity

  1. Interesting Becca, not bored at all.
    It is very hard to dissociate story telling from physically writing down the words but worth remembering that stories were traditionally spread by troubadours singing them to an illiterate population then collecting up their royalties in a hat.
    Point two. Too many lazy teachers and ditto kids hide their sloth behind the tag of dyslexia. (Standing by for tirade of abuse).
    Point three. When I spell-checked this entry, it changed troubadours to tornadoes! Dyslexia is not restricted to people.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      I think it comes with experience _ And as I find that my brain works a lot quicker than my hand my best stories are spoken aloud and recorded for later. And for many years our only experience of receiving stories are through hearing them, so in many ways associating story telling with writing is a dangerous path to tread, it can be very restrictive, and surely should be up to personal preference! Regarding your ‘lazy’ comment, personally I find that point of view particularly frustrating! Dyslexia is not just about reading fluency, I find aural processing incredibly challenging, and organising things like instructions, directions and numbers virtually impossible – but I’m very quick at reading and always had the longest essay’s in exams. Often when I tell people that I’m dyslexic I’m told that I’m cheating the system by getting extra help and that I’m being in some way dishonest. How unfair! Dyslexia is a very complicated beast and is definitely not a get out of jail free card. If anything I think this proves my point, if a kid is finding literacy hard, they shouldn’t be blamed for finding it inaccessible, there should be better, more diverse ways of finding joy through reading. At the moment we value children who fit to pre-defined concepts of clever and were it not for a handful of incredible teachers and a couple of really lucky breaks I would definitely have been thrown on to the ‘not-bright’ pile. Ultimately teachers are working to the book and until they are given more freedom to inspire and less direction to instruct surely we’ll be stuck with this really prescriptive, and very restricted academic dogma?

  2. Absolutely agree if the purpose is telling stories then we should give all children ways of telling that work for them. Today my daughter is again despondent as her story does not make it to the display … She is still labouring to write it in best. Time for a quiet word at school I think.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      Oh the injustice! The hours I spent smearing ink across sugar paper in a useless attempt to get my work laminated and up on display! I’ve found that increasingly teachers are really working hard to make displays interactive for the children rather than shiny displays for parents and visitors, but I suppose that old habits die hard! One trick that worked really well for me last year (with a Y1/2 class) was creating a ‘story book’. It was a completely average brown paper book with lines and plain paper inside. Completely unremarkable but the children could write in it at pretty much any time. It wasn’t marked or corrected, but they could write down stories as often as they liked, illustrated or not, work together or alone. And then at the end of the day or the week we would read a few out. It was AMAZING how it was almost entirely the lower achieving children who wanted to write in it, they would take it outside at playtime and stay after school trying to scribble down these gems of inspiration – no pressure of the red pen, and some of them could barely form their own letters. But they were so proud! It proved to me that children are desperate to write and be heard and to communicate their ideas, and it can be very frustrating for them to have us try and squeeze their stories into the neatly written ‘once upon a time’ frameworks that are so commonplace. It sounds like your daughter has a real fire for writing – why not encourage her to keep her own story diary? She can write her ideas down, play with different ideas and characters work with one page poems or epic fantasies and there will be no pressure of the dreaded display – it can be a huge confidence boost! And yes, a quiet word never goes amiss!

  3. I’ve never understood why humans can write and speak in so many different ways, but we all have to read the same way.

    I trained to be a teacher too and one of the lasting reasons I decided not to keep going with it was my memory of a class I taught who, when I told them ‘I don’t care about spelling, or handwriting, just put whatever’s in your head down! I want to read some stories!’, were too preoccupied with spelling to write, they were so used to having to go through the motions of ‘proper’ writing. Wish I’d told them how I start writing sometimes – I have to get the words out verbally first, because if I wait to write it down, my head trots ahead so much faster than my hand that I lose half of what I want to say and any eloquence because I’m trying to get it down legibly. I’ve got part of a review on my phone at the moment for just that reason – my handwriting is pants (big, bloomer-style pants), but when I spoke into my phone it was so much easier to get my point across, even with the garbled and stuttery bits!

    I sort of see Richard Masson’s point and your own about being tagged as dyslexic – I wonder how many people have been labelled dyslexic, when what would be more helpful would be if they were specified as having particular types of dyslexia? Maybe then you wouldn’t get people assuming it’s just to do with reading, or people being called dyslexic, being ‘tagged’ with the term, and not getting the very specific help they need with the one aspect of dyslexia they have trouble with. Or maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree 🙂 Never made sense to me anyway to have one little word for something so varied.

    You’re absolutely right about teachers having no time to inspire – when you have to plan storytime three days in advance, you know you’re in trouble.

    Never boring, thanks for letting me chat!

  4. Beccs, once more well done on delivering such an enlightening blog. I have a daughter, who is twenty seven years old and is dyslexic. How she suffered, and so did my wife and I. My daughter had huge problems with self-confidence, refusing to attend school for an entire year. We had her at counselling, then a specialist school. Which thankfully helped turned her dyslexia demons into something positive. She overcome her worries and her doubts. She went on to Sheffield university, read physical geography and graduated. She is widely travelled and has visited a lot of european capital cities. London,Tallin, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Edinbourgh, (Florence not a capital) and has visited death valley in California as part of a field trip from uni. She has worked in medical insurance and completed a pgce in high school geography. She now is a trainer for the environment agency. She lives with a fine young man who is a newly qualified inner city primary school teacher (they are devoted to each other). So dyslexia can be managed.
    Me? I have shocking spelling skills, my maths is abysmal, but I can dream up children’s stories all day. Thank god for calculators and spell-checkers.
    Stan Mills

  5. Great reading all the comments still deciding if my 13 year old son is dyslexic he has struggled throughout his school life and I spend a long time trying to think of ways to solve his problems. Primary school teacher suggested let him be who he will be but I cannot give up wanting him to achieve more!I do not feel testing him would help with his confidence and he would then get labelled at school I have lost faith in the school system and see him as one if the children that is slipping through the net.He loves reading and as I work for Bookstart books have been a huge part of our lives. Writing is a struggle at present I can afford to pay for a fantastic tutor which is our life line as we now clash magnificently over homework!

  6. Pingback: Maggot Moon | Bookwitch

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