People who struggle to learn reading and writing need much support. As parents and educators, we do everything we can to advocate for our students. This means we try to not only provide them with the best instruction possible, but we also work to form a protective circle around them to guide them on their way. Amongst the people in the circle are parents, teachers, allied health professionals and other practitioners, working hard to lift the student towards their learning potential.
Advocacy for your child can feel like a lonely journey, especially if schools are under-resourced. Teachers aren’t typically taught much about learning difficulties during their initial training and have to seek and often pay for further training on the subject themselves. We can help in the following ways:
- We can come to your school and talk to teachers about dyslexia and other learning difficulties.
- We can help you interpret cognitive testing results so that your child gets a good deal at school.
- We can consult on Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) or Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
- We can run parent talks on what to do when you suspect a learning difficulty.
- We can provide accurate, up-to-date assessments of spelling, reading and writing.
- We can put you in touch with groups and practitioners to support you in your local area.
If you feel your child needs support at school, there are many groups and organisations you can be part of to help them along. There are also many websites with free information and resources. See our list below.
The BDA is a lobby group, training organisation and information provider for people in the UK affected by dyslexia. They support regional development of other dyslexia associations. They also deal with cases of dyscalculia (problems with mathematics).
“The BDA has three campaign areas:
- To encourage schools to work towards becoming dyslexia-friendly.
- To reduce the number of dyslexic young people in the criminal justice system.
- To enable dyslexic people to achieve their potential in the workplace.”
Details: The Children of the Code website has a list of interviews with leading scientists, pracitioners and commentators in the field of education. It is a fascinating repository of views from many sides of the great debate and well worth browsing.
“Statistically, more American children suffer long-term life-harm from the process of learning to read than from parental abuse, accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders combined. In purely economic terms, reading related difficulties cost our nation more than the war on terrorism, crime, and drugs combined.”
History: Founded in 2018 by Dyslexia Support Australia administrators
Details: This non-profit organisation was founded “to create change and bring greater awareness of dyslexia to schools and the community. We will continue to support families & individuals with dyslexia, as well as act as an official voice for parents with government & educators to improve education outcomes for those with dyslexia.”
History: “The DDOLL network was established in 2003 with funding from the Australian Research Council. The group consists of scientists, clinicians, teachers and parents interested in discussing, and disseminating information about the investigation and treatment of developmental disorders of language and literacy through sound scientific methodology and evidence-based research. In order to maintain this focus, membership of the network is through invitation only.”
Comments: Though founded in Australia, the DDOLL Network has members from across the globe and actively engages in fascinating debate about the education scene as it pertains to literacy and literacy instruction. It is a goldmine of information and a must for anyone working in this field. Those who wish to join can contact the network by email.
“DVS is a free resource hub that supports evidence-based education for dyslexia.We promote evidence-based programs that have been independently, scientifically peer-reviewed and published in reputable scientific journals.
DVS is a place to seek advice and support. You can get involved, come to information meetings or just be a Facebook member. We don’t require a formal diagnosis for you to be a member or attend support group meetings.
Dyslexia Victoria Support operates first and foremost as a Facebook Group.Every day, new members join our group, share their experiences and support each other.
Our Facebook Group is run by a volunteer team of parents, who have a passion for sharing information, raising awareness, offering support to dyslexic parents, children and adults and raising awareness about evidence-based education.”
No matter where you live, suspicion of dyslexia or a dyslexia diagnosis can lead parents and teachers into a minefield. There are dozens of dyslexia support pages on Facebook, but only a handful are committed to providing evidence-based support. The rest have no qualms about posting and reposting harmful dyslexia myths, paying for members to inflate their status and selling time and money-wasting resources.
If a no-nonsense, factual support page is what you require, then look no further than Dyslexia Support Australia (DSA). Even if you live outside Australia, their fact files alone provide answers to help people all over the world avoid the pitfalls.
They have been instrumental in helping to establish high quality regional support pages throughout Australia and are a model of how a grassroots movement can effect real change.
From their page:
“The admin team of Dyslexia Support Australia acknowledges that there are many approaches to assisting students to learn to read and write that adopt an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading and are therefore likely to be effective both in the teaching of initial reading and in assisting students with reading difficulties and we DO NOT hold any one approach as superior to another.
The function of this group is three-fold:
- To support parents through this difficult journey
2. To help parents, and teachers to understand what constitutes effective, evidence-based literacy teaching and intervention for assisting children with reading difficulties.
3. To support the work of the not-for-profit organisations associated with reading and learning difficulties.”
“The world of publicly funded education is comprised of numerous institutions, agencies, organizations, and regulatory bodies. They range from schools and colleges to teacher organizations, to vendors of books and desks, to academic interest groups. All share in the growth and prosperity of the multibillion dollar industry of which they are a part. All are stakeholders in the industry’s successes and failures.
By contrast, the Education Consumers Foundation (ECF) is a non-profit organization that is financially and otherwise independent of the public education industry and its support groups. ECF’s top priority is the aims and interests of the parties who rely on the services provided by schools, not the satisfaction of the persons and organizations that comprise the industry.”
History: Founded in 2016 by Dr Jennifer Buckingham, Centre for Independent Studies, Australia
Details: This non-profit initiative strives to provide free, accessible information for parent s and teachers on best practice literacy instruction.
Their name comes from their understanding that children are most likely to achieve reading success if skillfully and explicitly taught the five keys to reading from the age of five.
“Five From Five is an initiative of the Centre for Independent Studies that aims to improve literacy levels by ensuring all children receive effective, evidence based reading instruction. Five From Five brings together an alliance of philanthropic organisations and individuals, researchers, educators, parents and professional associations.”
History: Formally organized in 1949 (after beginning in 1920) and known as the Orton Society, after Dr Samuel T Orton and his pioneering work in the field.
Details: This is the oldest advocacy organization for learning difficulties in the world. It has branches and roots across the globe and strives, very successfully, to bring together researchers, practitioners, legislators and parent movements in the quest to benefit those with dyslexia.
“To create a future for all individuals who struggle with dyslexia and other related reading differences so that they may have richer, more robust lives and access to the tools and resources they need.”
History: Founded in 2014, IFERI lists 15 committee members, but I happen to know that the glue sticking all of these parts together is the inspirational, tireless Debbie Heppelwhite from Phonics International.
Details: IFERI is intended to be a hub of information regarding research-based literacy instruction. It has guest bloggers and numerous forums, discussing everything from getting Ghana reading to synthetic phonics success stories and projects around the world.
“The aim of the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction is to contribute to raising standards of literacy in the English language based on robust research and high-quality instruction in the teaching of reading, spelling and writing.
Our focus is on literacy for learners of all ages wherever in the world English is taught – regardless of whether English is the first or additional language.”
History: Established in 1965 as the Diagnostic and Remedial Teachers’ Association of Victoria, this group has a long history and occupies one of the most esteemed places in Australian education. It has an absorbing six part history which can be found on its website.
Details: If you are in Australia and you have a question about teaching, literacy, language or assessment, this is an ideal place to start. They also publish, through Taylor and Francis, the Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities (AJLD). LDA is, in fact, a rather terrific place to start no matter where you are.
“Learning Difficulties Australia is an association of teachers and other professionals dedicated to assisting students with learning difficulties through effective teaching practices based on scientific research, both in the classroom and through individualised instruction.”
History: Academics at the MacQuarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC) decided to offer, as a public service, a series of free, downloadable, one page documents about how reliable the evidence base for certain high profile interventions and practices was.
Details: Numbering 40 in total, these brilliantly written guides help parents and teachers know, at a glance, whether or not to pursue a certain course. They include positive as well as negative reviews and recommendations.
Funding for the MUSEC Briefings eventually dwindled, but all the documents can be found online with a simple Google search. Well worth looking into.
History: Established by activists Carrie and Peter Rozelle in 1977 in response to the ‘hurricaine’ that their undiagnosed learning disabled son Jack wrought on their family.
Details: This American organization provides advice and resources to parents and legislators regarding best practice early literacy instruction and remediation.
“The mission of NCLD is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. We’re working to create a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work and in life.”
History: Founded in 2007 with a grant from the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs and continued by the American Institutes of Research
Details: This organization provides support for states, districts and schools implementing Response to Intervention and Multi-Tiered System of Support for both academic needs and behavior of school students.
“The services provided by our staff are designed to assist states, districts, and schools to successfully implement and scale-up MTSS/RTI [Multi-Tier System of Supports/Response to Intervention] and its components. To determine what services may be needed, staff collaboratively problem-solve with the requesting state, district, or school to (a) identify and prioritize the areas of need, and (b) select evidence-based practices that can best meet those needs.”
History: Created in 1997 to support the implementation of Direct Instruction worldwide.
Details: Direct Instruction, its many programs and its history could be the subject of a book in its own right. Project Follow Through, the most extensive educational experiment ever conducted, concluded that “no other program had the results that approached the positive impact of Direct Instruction.”(Meyer, 1984)Suffice to say that this site is a perfect starting point for teachers and school leaders to understand the potential impact Direct Instruction could have on education.
“Direct Instruction operates on five key philosophical principles:
- All children can be taught.
- All children can improve academically and in terms of self image.
- All teachers can succeed if provided with adequate training and materials.
- Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster rate than typically occurs if they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers.
- All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction.”
History: Founded by Robert Sweet and Jim Jacobson in 1993 to educate the public about evidence-based literacy instruction.
Details: This website provides a wealth of resources, including published research, studies, articles and links for parents and educators who wish to improve literacy instruction.
“The truth about reading English:
- The mythssay reading is confusing…the truth is reading is
- The mythssay reading is difficult…the truth is reading is
- The mythssay reading can only be taught well by experts…the truth is anyone can teach reading.
- The mythssay reading is not accessible to those with special needs…the truth is anyone can learn to read.”
History: The American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) won a U.S. Department of Education grant in 2005 to devise some TV shows to help children to read.
Details: The Ready to Learn grant has extended to encompass a website and TV shows that provide education in reading, mathematics, science, spelling and vocabulary.
History: Founded in 2015 by literacy Professor Maria Murray
Details: This American advocacy body aims to provide practitioners in the field with the most up to date information regarding teaching reading. Their aim is to spread evidence-based practice as far and wide as possible by having regular meetings with various stakeholders and increasing awareness through conferences and publications.
Their website lists a host of advocacy organisations and partners worldwide who share their mission.
“There is a lot that can be done to help each child and adult in need of learning how to read. There is a lot that can be done to help each educator learn what evidence we have for various skills and strategies. We can help.”
History: Founded in 1989 by a group of educators and researchers to help stem the tide of illiteracy worldwide by promoting alphabetic code based teaching.
Details: The Foundation works to disseminate best practice information to parents, teachers and government departments. Apart from a rich website with free resources and articles, the members of the foundation actively campaign for reading reform. As a result of their campaigning, all local-authority-maintained schools have been mandated to use synthetic phonics in early literacy teaching since 2014.
“For too long now the teaching of reading has been affected by the idea that children should learn by discovery and ‘incidental’ phonics teaching, leading to the rejection of systematic, explicit phonics instruction. This idea is deeply ingrained in education and still has a powerful influence on how reading is taught, despite having no scientific validity.”
History: Founded in 1993 by professor of psychology Ron Carver
Details: The SSSR sponsors conferences and a scientific journal about reading, language and literacy called Scientific Studies of Reading.
“The circle of going from fad to fad in reading will never be broken unless reading researchers demand that unusual theoretical claims are backed up with unusually sound empirical evidence.”
History: Founded in 2013 by Tom Bennett with assistance from Helene O’Shea
Details: What started as a one-off grassroots conference on research in education has now become a worldwide phenomenon. ResearchEd events are held throughout the year all over Britain, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe.
They are low-cost conferences, with speakers and venues donating their space and time, so that teachers and other educators can come together easily, bust myths, share findings and move toward a more evidence-informed educational landscape.
Their stated mission has six key points:
- “Raise research literacy
- Bring people together
- Promote collaboration
- Increase awareness
- Promote research
- Explore what works”
History: Founded in by speech-language pathologist Dr Jan Wasowicz from Learning by Design Inc.
Details: Learning by Design Inc. is the parent company to a range of programs and products for literacy known as Spell-Links. As a public service, the company established a listserv called Spell-Talk. This dynamic discussion forum connects educators and researchers from around the globe.
Commercial organisations who engage in activism
There are many reputable literacy resource providers in the world. Mentioning them all would be quite daunting. Instead, this section gives a snapshot of some outstanding for-profit organisations that also engage in activism. They provide free resources and advice. They speak out in the media and make submissions to government about best practice. They do this with consistency and sincerity; not as convenient sound-bites or cynical power-grabs, but over and above selling their brand.
This organization was founded in 1995 by Kevin and Robyn Wheldall as part of a research initiative at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia. From their very beginnings, much of their work was focused on helping disadvantaged and indigenous students.
Three major non-profit initiatives have sprung from there:
- MUSEC Briefings – see above
- The DDOLL Network – see above
- Nomanis – a free journal published and funded by Multilit Pty Ltd which is “a vehicle for promoting the ideas and evidence about effective instruction in reading and related skills, for teachers, parents, fellow professionals and policy makers.”
The indefatigable Debbie Heppelwhite finds time in between writing high quality, low cost online systematic synthetic phonics programs (many parts of which are free to view and download) to be a government lobbyist extraordinaire.
Debbie writes articles, advises government and is the founder of several literacy initiatives (UK RRF and IFERI, listed above).
Speech pathologist Alison Clarke does much more than provide a high quality suite of resources to teach the big six of literacy.
Her extremely impressive free videos show effective techniques for teaching reading and spelling. Her blog successfully bridges the gap between research and practice and gives up to date answers to so many of the current tricky questions in the field.
Founded in 2011 by Dianne and James Murphy, Thinking Reading was set up to educate about effective practice in the secondary sector.
Thinking Reading challenges government policy and works with like-minded organisations to bring about better quality reading instruction in the UK.
Resistance to tweets and blogs is futile! If you aren’t already on Twitter or if you haven’t signed up for anyone’s blog, but if you enjoy debate and information on education and literacy, here are some tweeters who also blog that may be a great starting point.