Barbara Taylor, Academic Support: I think one thing that is happening is more and more students are coming and directly asking the question “Am I dyslexic?”, whereas in the past we’ve had students come and say “I’m struggling with this” or “my essay’s not getting quite the good marks” and you work with them for a few weeks and you begin to think “ah, there’s dyslexia here”, and so the suggestion of dyslexia would come from us to the student, and that could be quite a delicate thing to raise, but now it’s more often the student coming and saying “I think I might be dyslexic, I’ve got a dyslexic friend along the corridor and we do everything exactly the same, can you tell me about it?” and so you start from there.
Kate: I’d like to ask you about what happens once a student has come to speak to you, and what kind of process of screening would you carry through with that student?
Christine Carter, Academic Support: We have an interview process, I think you’d call it, which explores what is going on in the student’s history, in their learning in the earlier years, what happens when they read, what happens when they write, and that is looking at giving us indicators that there might be a pattern of dyslexia, and we also do some quite detailed task analysis, so they’re not standardised tests, but we would be asking them to read, to write and to spell, and we’d be discussing that with them in terms of our observations and their approaches to it, so that we’re gradually building up a picture of what might be going on for that student in terms of their learning. So it’s a useful process for them but it’s also giving us indicators of whether there is a pattern of dyslexia there as well.
Kate: And what are the range of student’s responses to that process? How do you find that they approach this? Do they feel like they are being tested?
Barbara: Well, we are always, at least I am, I’m very careful to make sure that they know it’s not a test. It’s a carefully structured conversation and we’re working on it together, we’re trying to find out where the difficulties are and also what kind of difficulties they are. So if a student can’t spell, we’re not interested if they’re right or wrong, we’re interested where the mistakes are happening and if there’s a pattern. And then you’re testing, and sometimes you’ll find a student will say “oh, my spelling is absolutely awful”, and you’ll do the standard spelling test with them and you say “well, actually, it’s not bad at all”.
Another student will say “I’ve got no problem at all with my spelling” and you look at the spellings they produce and say “Well, you may not have, but other people would have!” But you’re always looking at why. The object of the exercise is not to make the student feel that they are under a test, which is very different from the formal assessment they may have later on.
Kate: And what’s the end stages of the screening? What happens at the end of the process?
Christine: Well, we would explain to them, the last paper of the screening is a page where we draw together the indicators, and it says something like ‘Indicators definitely present/probably/unsure/definitely not’, and then we have a list of the criteria that we might be looking for that would be indicators, and we quite often go through and gather together the information with the student at the end and say “Look, we’re identifying that this is possibly an indicator because…” So it would all be explained to them so that they, for themselves, can start to make it add up and it be hopefully quite a useful process for them in terms of insights into what’s going on and why it might be happening.
Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.