One-Size-Fits-All Teaching: The Challenges and Impact on Student Mental Wellbeing
There has been renewed focus on supporting the learning of students with dyslexia in recent months. The Dyslexia Screening Bill was presented by MP Matt Hancock in December 2021 and more recently we have seen the SEND Alternative Green Paper from the UK Government, which looks to change the culture and practice in mainstream education to be more inclusive and better at identifying and supporting SEN through earlier intervention.
A child with dyslexia, by their nature, thinks differently to those that do not have dyslexia. Whilst many see dyslexia as a disability, others acknowledge the strengths that come from dyslexic thinking, including exceptional creativity, trouble-shooting, verbal reasoning, empathy and much more.
The Dyslexic entrepreneur, Theo Paphitis, once shared comments from his final school report on Twitter. It stated:
“Theo is a splendid person with fine qualities but unfortunately there are no examinations in this field.”
- Dyslexic Entrepreneur, Theo Paphitis' school report
His ‘fine qualities’ did not serve him well in school, but he has gone on to become an incredibly successful businessman.
In a video by Made by Dyslexia, Space Scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock states that schools are “not teaching kids to think, they are teaching kids to pass exams.” Many of the skills required to be successful in school and pass exams often play to the weaknesses of children with dyslexia and other SEN.
Change is needed to make the Education System a fairer place to exist for all concerned. I believe that the Education System is very much implementing a ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching, wasting valuable resources to manage pupils who cannot deliver on what is unfairly expected of them, when they are not given what they need to excel.
Many of these pupils will be labelled as badly behaved and find themselves excluded, or go ‘under the radar’ by behaving well in class but attain at a low level. In both cases, enjoying opportunities later in life could be affected by poor attainment, but also by poor levels of self-esteem.
Empower Children With Assistive Technology
One simple way to support learning is to empower the child to choose the tools that they need to learn. For example, often a ‘dyslexic strength’ is visual processing and non-linear thinking. Getting a pupil to write an essay in a linear way may work for many, but it simply does not work for a dyslexic thinker. They need to be able to manipulate and examine information in creative ways that work for them, so that they can communicate learning and pass exams.
I have always been a keen advocate of using assistive technology to support dyslexic learning. This is often software that has been designed to help ‘level the playing field’ for dyslexic learners, such as visual thinking software that takes a non-linear and visual approach to manipulating concepts, facts and figures.
Photosynthesis Concept Map made in Inspiration 10
In delivering visual thinking training sessions to secondary students who struggle with writing essays, the ability to use a different approach to generating coursework meant that they could often relax, reduce anxiety, and focus on exploring their learning whilst still producing the content required for their courses. Even if this did take a different approach, it still met the same requirements of the school, and the young people were more engaged and, more importantly, enjoying the process of learning.
The problem for many schools is that by implementing strategies for individuals in the classroom there is a perceived diversion of time and resources, and this is the result of the Education System not being able to fully cope across the UK with supporting special educational needs of individual students.
If the approach of the Education System was to strategically incorporate technology that supports SEN making it easily available to all, then for all pupils to know that there are tools in place to support their learning, would, in my opinion, boost engagement, improve positive self-esteem and improve attainment for all.
The expense to put this in place is justifiable as further down the road we would have more students leaving school with qualifications that help them to start careers and positively contribute to our society with their higher levels of skills.
About John Hicks
John Hicks is an accredited therapeutic counsellor and assistive technology advocate who supports young people and adults in unlocking their strengths and managing their weaknesses. He is responsible for The Studying With Dyslexia Blog and for supporting some 2500 families with his Parenting Dyslexia online initiative.