What is dyslexia.

Student perspective video: How might staff identify when dyslexia is affecting a student's work? (8 minutes : 54 seconds)

Ryan Beardsley (School of Physics & Astronomy), Christine Carter (Academic Support), Annie Evans (School of Humanities), Joel Feinstein (School of Mathematical Sciences), Anna Kidd (Nottingham University Business School), Michael Shaw (School of Biosciences), Barbara Taylor (Academic Support).

In terms of the prompts that tutors or teachers might pick up on, you’re suggesting written work might be a feature, are there other prompts that might lead a tutor to suggest that they come to talk to you?

Barbara Taylor, Academic Support:
I think often it’s the fact that students do very well in their coursework, their written work, but their exam papers are not quite the same standard, and so the tutors see that what has taken a long time and is good is not then repeating itself under time pressure. Sometimes students are very good verbally in class, and then it goes all to pieces when they get to paper. There’s that process of getting it from the head down to the paper, and they don’t manage it, and more and more tutors are, I think, recognising this and seeing it in students. Literally, I think, it's getting it onto paper that counts for them.

In working with students who have dyslexia, how did you come to observe this? What were the features of their dyslexia that impacted upon the things that you saw as a tutor?

Joel Feinstein, Mathematical Sciences:
Well in marking the student's work, for example, I would see various levels of misprints and maybe bits that are hard to understand and hard to follow. But in some cases the coursework would be excellent except for perhaps a few standard translations of c’s into s’s in certain places, that sort of thing, and what I would really observe would be how the exam performance would be much worse than I’d expected from the coursework performance or from the projects or dissertations which would be excellent, compared to the exam performance which would, in some cases, be much shorter than I was expecting. Much less appeared to be there, it seemed to maybe take a lot of effort to get the answers into this form where the form would look perfectly clear so there wouldn’t be really evidence of dyslexia in what you saw, but there just wouldn’t be as much as you’d expect to see given the time of the exam.

Christine Carter, Academic Support:
It can appear that the student has a mass of ideas that are scattered all over the place, but an essay is actually getting all of those ideas into a straight line, and it’s a complete difficulty with knowing where to start, "I could start anywhere" and "I can’t see any kind of order", so that’s when we might look at mind-mapping or to see if we can identify a strategy that’s going to help them to do that.

For some students, though, they have to actually write it as a mess, and it’s not until they’ve got the whole thing laid out that they can then start to organise it, because that’s then reducing the memory load, they’ve got everything laid out in front of them instead of having to keep it all alive in their heads, and then they might be able to begin to organise it.

And then at another level it can be just at the paragraph level, so they start off giving the evidence, but they haven’t told us the point that the evidence is meant to be supporting, and you might find the point somewhere else in the paragraph that’s not helpful, so you’re then working with them on "How would that paragraph work so that we know why you’re telling us this at this point in the essay?". So it shows itself in a variety of ways, but you’re also seeing students who have developed their own strategies for dealing with it. So it is there, but it’s not appearing in the essays because they have strategies for dealing with it.

Dyslexia is often associated with a weakness in spelling. What are the particular features that you see in people having difficulty in that way in spelling?

Well, in the screening we do ask people to spell, and sometimes the level of difficulty with it that that demonstrates is really quite surprising, so there might be a student who would start trying to spell curiosity with a Q for example, so you realise then how dependant that student is on a spell check and other methods for getting, presenting work which is at all at an acceptable level in terms of spelling.

Other students it’s the level of errors may not be that great, but there is a lack of automaticity about it, so even though it might be a correct spelling they’re uncertain whether it’s correct or not, so they’re still doing a lot of checking, and then there are always the kind of spellings that the spell check won’t pick up, so you might always have a small number of errors.

Anna Kidd, MBA Student:
With me, if you see what I write in an exam or if you see what I write in an essay, it’s not the same person that’s speaking to you face to face. You would say that they are two completely different people with two completely different levels of intelligence. In an exam, I will deliberately choose words that I can spell, which usually means no more than two to three syllables, and I have to say it’s only since being confirmed that I’ve realised exactly how much I do do this. Dictionaries were a nightmare and computers have come so far in the past twenty years, it’s unbelievable. Dictionaries were a nightmare; I could never spell the first three letters of a word, so I could never find a word in the dictionary.

Annie Evans, student, Archaeology:
In spelling I can only write the words that I can spell so in an exam I do have to write very simple words. Even in essays sometimes I just write what I can spell. I know lots of big words and I know what they mean, I just can’t spell them.

It’s that, and its getting things in the right sequence that’s really important, and it figures not only in spelling, but it can also figure in a sentence. So you will often find that a dyslexic student will start a sentence with a subordinate clause, and you’ll get the main clause at the end.

How did your tutor raise it with you, what kind of approach?

Michael Shaw, student, Biosciences:
She just basically says you need to look at, you know... because I was getting borderline, I was passing the marks, but she said my grammar didn’t seem to be right. So she said “Perhaps you just need to go to student services and have a word with them,” and that’s all she said. When I went there we had a discussion, and we had a test, and then they said I was struggling with dyslexia.

What might be the impacts of dyslexia when it comes to contributing to a discursive class such as a seminar? What features might be seen there?

Some students will thrive and they will say they’d much rather speak their ideas than write them. But there’s quite a large number of students that we see whose speech is also hesitant, and that can be to do with... you can listen and hear it happening in a number of ways. Sometimes it’s a word retrieval issue, that they know the meaning, that they can’t quite get the word out that they need to say, so that will hold them up and if it’s very pronounced it will make them very embarrassed about even trying because they can’t rely on the word being there when they need it.

Others, it will be, they’ll get the words, and then they’ve got to piece them together in a sentence, so you’ll hear them starting a sentence and thinking “no that’s not going to work”, so they stop and they start again. And they might have to have several goes and have ended up going round the houses quite a few times before they’ve said what they want to say, and they’re afraid, then, in seminars that the discussion will have moved on before they’ve really worked out what they want to say and how they’re going to say it. So they end up looking as though they’re not really contributing but they’re brains are probably going fifty to the dozen trying to find a way in and get it out quickly enough to be able to be useful.

Some students, of course, have the problem that although they’ve read the word and they’ve got an idea in their head of how it might sound, they’re not quite certain that’s how it really sounds. And so they can’t quite match this word that they’ve seen on paper perhaps with the one they want to say, or perhaps with the one that the tutor’s just mentioned, and so you can see them trying to make sense of it. And then I think the other thing is that some students feel themselves and describe themselves as being slow, and people talk about slowness in processing. But actually dyslexic students aren’t slow, there is often just so much else going on at the same time, and slow has such a negative feeling about it, it’s just not accurate.

Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.

Other videos in What is dyslexia:

Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 2 minutes : 33 seconds

After an initial screening, how is dyslexia formally identified?

2 min 33s student perspective video

Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 3 minutes : 13 seconds

Dyslexic students choose subjects to suit their strengths.

3 min 13s inclusive teaching video

Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 2 minutes : 34 seconds

How do academic staff get to know a student is identified as dyslexic?

2 min 34s student perspective video

Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 6 minutes : 48 seconds

How do students know they are dyslexic?

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Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 3 minutes : 57 seconds

What is the first step for students being screened for dyslexia?

3 min 57s student perspective video

Dyslexia video: "Array." Duration: 3 minutes : 0 seconds

What students consider in deciding to disclose their dyslexia.

3 min 0s student perspective video


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