Can’t Read/Won’t Read – Breaking Down Barriers

I was very fortunate to attend an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year that focussed entirely on dyslexia and the world young readers live in – ‘Breaking Down Barriers to Books and Reading’.

Mairi Kidd (MD of Barrington Stoke) and Lucy Juckes (literary agent for Jenny Brown Associates and co-founder of Barrington Stoke) were in attendance and the author, Vivian French, hosted while the rain battered down on the tent.

Here is my take on the fascinating event…

Mairi Kidd started off proceedings with an introduction to the journey information takes after reading and deciphering words on a page. Carrying on with a fascinating look into both sides of the brain and the routes visual information take when a reader looks at letters on a page and also how they explain themselves to the reader’s brain once they get there.  There were essential words used to describe these routes, such as GPCS – Grapheme Phoneme Correspondence System and the Lexical route – Visual Lexicon. A barrage of information that just made me even more interested in the whole subject matter, the need to know more was overwhelming me. A further fascinating glimpse into the science behind our brains and what we can achieve as parents and teachers when we have the right knowledge and information available to us, only made me even more enthused as I tried to keep up with the words that flew across the room.

Barrington Stoke is a publishing house that concentrates on ensuring readers have the opportunities to read books that their class may be reading without feeling lost in the literary quagmire that can appear on the pages in front of them. Perhaps they may  find the words too small or the font too difficult to read in a general format. There are many changes that can be made to a text: different/larger font, bigger spacing between lines and words, indenting, heavier paper to stop transfer of words from next page coming through and also different coloured paper to the standard white.

The way an author writes the story can also be changed to help, for example:

Walking into the room. Susan smelt smoke.

to

As soon as Susan walked into the room, she smelt smoke.

In the second phrase, the character is introduced quicker before the event is mentioned.  A subtle but essential change to help dyslexic readers. Pictures are also used to guide the reader along, for example there may be a telephone picture beside a phone call in the text. There are obviously some words that can’t be depicted well – unsurprisingly. How would you draw unsurprisingly?

If you are an author and looking to write for dyslexic readers then have a think about your layout and story, here are some tips given from those in the know: 1. have a very strong opening 2. lots of chapters to give the reader some rest 3. cliff hanger at end of every chapter to keep them interested and 4. keep it short.

There will be an app available later this year that will give readers a ruler to help them follow the lines of narrative and ensure continuity of story rather than reading the same sentence again if they have lost their place by the end of the line. Amazing!

Lucy Juckes ended the session with a heart-felt informative talk on the characteristics of dyslexic children and shared a very personal story too as one of her sons is dyslexic. There are many ways to help children with the letter formations – write in the sand, draw letters on their back and let them guess which one it is, use overlays to stop the blurring and drip-effect of words on the page and listen to audio books at night.

As every parent knows, it’s all about bribery. I will pay you 50p for every page you read, if you read 1500 words then I will take you to your favourite… etc. I think every parent out there can relate to this. What have you tried and has it been successful?

A few books to consider too – joke books, graphic novels, Asterix/Tin Tin – all help with getting children to read whether they are dyslexic or not. One word a day is better than none.

Barrington Stoke books have their advantages too as they give dyslexic children ideas and help fill their imagination with pictures and words . These books are also shorter in length – helping the child remember the story, which in turn boosts their confidence and enables them to talk about it with their friends. The strong plots keep them interested and they come back for more.

As a paired reader at my local primary school, it is essential for me to know as much as I can about dyslexia, dyspraxia and all other related literary wonders out there to enable me to help the children I am reading with as much as I can. Using filters on the page can work but if only if they remember to bring them along and use them every time they read.  Every child I read with has different needs and different ideas about how they read and also what they expect to achieve in the limited time we have together. I don’t have an agenda, I just go along and let them decide what is best. It’s amazing how quickly half an hour can fly by though and when you get them to read a whole book, it may take a whole year but it’s worth the wait.

I am used to singing along to the ‘snake is in the grass’ and ‘ants on my arm’ as phonics is currently part of the curriculum, so you can imagine my surprise that GHOTI = FISH. It has never occurred to me to look at words in such a different way before. GH = as in rough, O = as in women and TI = as in motion…FISH!

All in all, the event left me mentally exhausted, humble and slightly tearful that there isn’t enough funding in the world to help every single child. But I remain resolute and will use all of the information gained as best as I can. I’m ready to challenge myself with my next readers!

Are you an author – have you considered becoming a Patron of Reading? A fantastic way to connect with your local school and become a Patron. Through your annual visit (or more if you like), reading, blogs and school newsletters etc you can help children to relate to your book and others.

We are all very busy but getting one child to read just by saying hello and talking to them for half an hour isn’t all that bad, is it? Fees are the same as any school visit and schools can also apply for Scottish Book Trust’s live literary funding to get financial help. A win-win situation don’t you think?

Useful links:

The Big Book Babble

Barrington Stoke

Dyslexia Scotland

Dysguise

Guardian For Kids

A parents survival guide – Dyslexia by Christine Ostler