COVID-19 Advice for the JCU Community - Last updated: 22 October 2021, 8am (AEST)

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Written By

Tianna Killoran

College

College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

6 October 2021

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Dyslexia Awareness Week

No matter your occupation or lifestyle, reading and writing are the keys to unlocking participation in everyday life. This Dyslexia Awareness Week (October 5-11), JCU Lecturers Dr Kerrie Mackey-Smith and Kate Blauw bring to light the importance of preparing knowledgeable and adaptable teachers who can support students that may experience difficulties with literacy.

Kerrie and Kate teach within the subject ED4306 – Students with Reading Difficulties, which prepares JCU pre-service teachers to support students of all ages — from children in kindergarten all the way through to high school — with their literacy development.

Within the range of learning needs that pre-service teachers are prepared to support, Dyslexia is a type of specific learning disorder where students experience difficulties with phonological and phonemic awareness — the ways that words can be broken down into different sounds and then matched with letters. These difficulties can affect processing when students are reading and writing. “When it comes to Dyslexia, it’s important to remember that it can present in many different ways. This means teachers need a range of practices to make reasonable adjustments for students,” Kate says.

People with Dyslexia may experience reading, writing and learning differently than people without Dyslexia. However, they are as capable of achieving goals and being as successful as anyone else; they may just have a different learning experience to their peers. “Dyslexia is not a representation of a person’s intelligence,” Kerrie says. “Often these students are really bright and have a whole repertoire of coping strategies to navigate their learning.

“There are many extremely successful people who have Dyslexia and they have made significant contributions to society. People such as Albert Einstein, Jennifer Anniston and Walt Disney have talked about their experiences with Dyslexia and how they overcame reading difficulties."

Two children doing a language activity to develop their phonological and phonemic awareness.

Supplied by Dr Kerrie Mackey-Smith

The teacher toolkit

In the ED4306 subject, Kate and Kerrie say they prepare teachers with a whole toolkit of methods to identify and support students’ literacy needs.

Kerrie, who has spent several years teaching and researching literacy development in remote communities, has seen some of the difficulties that students can face first-hand. “We encourage pre-service teachers to account for the barriers and disadvantages that students may experience when it comes to reading and literacy. We know what a difference this literate capacity can make in the students’ lives,” she says.

Kate, who also comes to the subject with many years of experience as a classroom teacher, principal and literacy support expert, says the subject prepares pre-service teachers to support students of all ages. “It can be a challenge to navigate the complexities of learning for Dyslexic students but one that is very important. Early intervention for students means less intervention overall,” Kate says.

Key to this early intervention is phonological awareness and, while there are some debates about the best method to support students — dubbed the ‘reading wars’ — Kerrie and Kate enable JCU pre-service teachers to understand the theory underpinning a variety of practices. In this way, the pre-service teachers are prepared for different contexts and student needs.

“Although it might be a time of change and uncertainty in education — with the impacts of the pandemic — we prepare pre-service teachers in line with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) recommendations and provide them with research-supported and intentional approaches to reading,” Kate says.

“It’s a matter of teachers employing a range of strategies of support,” Kate says. “This includes incorporating diagnostic assessment as part of their teaching practice and, where there are secondary students who may be diagnosed with Dyslexia or other learning disabilities, teachers can support students with texts that meet their personal interests. This is in addition to homing in on skill deficits that exist. It’s important to maintain a learner’s positive experiences and a positive identity around learning."

“Pre-service teacher education at JCU is a place where our teachers can develop their teaching practices. As lecturers, we encourage teaching practices that support all students in their literacy development. Some students may not have a diagnosed condition but will benefit from guided, individualised and intentional literacy support.”

ED4306 lecturer, Dr Kerrie Mackey-Smith

Students at school sitting at desks with their hands raised while a teacher at the front of the class holds up the letter 'A' on a piece of paper.
Dr Kerrie Mackey-Smith, a JCU Education lecturer, is smiling and wearing sunglasses with the beach in the background.
JCU Education lecturer Kate Blauw
Right (above): JCU Education Lecturer Dr Kerrie Mackey-Smith. Right (below): JCU Education Lecturer Kate Blauw.

A perfect pair: practice and research

Kerrie and Kate say the crucial part of their subject is that it combines theory with practice. “JCU Education faculty and Queensland Education have a long-standing partnership. It allows current practicing literacy leaders in schools, like Kate, to work with JCU pre-service teachers. These practitioners teach into subjects and our pre-service teachers are able to see theory put in to practice,” says Kerrie.

Modelling day-to-day literacy support practices, whether for students with Dyslexia or for any student, begins within the university classroom. “Kate and I will often model the reading of a text in ED4306,” Kerrie says. “I might read a book and show how you would introduce the text to students, doing picture walks and some phonics work with the key parts of the text.”

Kate says that she also makes use of online tools to help pre-service teachers understand students’ literacy needs. “I recommend resources such as the Dyslexia for a Day Simulation Kit and the Through Your Child’s Eyes tools, which explain some of the difficulties from a student’s perspective. Text-to-speech and other technology have also developed a great deal to support classroom learning,” Kate says.

For parents, Kate and Kerrie remind us that reading and other language activities can be fun and hands-on. “Our message for parents is to engage your young children in as much language activity as possible,” says Kerrie.

“Early reading and writing development can occur at a variety of rates and seeing your child mix up letters in these early attempts is normal. You can talk to your children when you’re cooking in the kitchen, read labels or identify words when out doing the grocery shopping, or play with words that rhyme. It all prepares children to develop their literacy. You can really spend the time together and make it fun.”

Want to learn more about Dyslexia? You can find more resources and information through the Australian Dyslexia Association.

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