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Dyslexia – Be Creative

13th November 2020

Happy Friday 13th! We are already in a lockdown due to a pandemic, what else could go wrong?? Within all this madness I hope I bring a bit of positivity, I try to anyway.

This week I have been reading ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ronald D. Davis, have you read it? On the front cover it boasts its the “Worlds most widely used method of correcting dyslexia.”

Now don’t ask me why and I am probable being too picky but not sure about the word ‘correcting’. But anyway I did, on the whole, enjoy reading the book. Some things I question but I think questioning is a good thing.

As R Davis is a dyslexic himself he speaks from experience, an understanding of what trials and tribulations dyslexics face on a daily basis. He has recognised that what makes his strengths can also be his weakness. I thought the general positivity to be uplifting and would recommend the read if only for that.

I will just give you a brief insight into the contents, but please feel free to give it a read during lockdown yourself if you so wish.

Davis is of the view that the individuals need to fully understand a word or concept not just learn by rote. He describes a ‘potential dyslexic’ child to have strengths in picture thinking, curiosity, and manipulation of visual perception. That a baby who can not move, is lying down, is able to take what he sees and be able to see it in 3D and move it around to see all sides in his mind. He states that dyslexics use non verbal conceptualisation (picture thinking) which processes fast. Non dyslexics use verbal thinking (in sounds) which is slower but helps when learning to read.

When a non verbal thinking child starts school they continue to use their 3D image manipulation skills but this time with 2D letters and soon get frustrated and confused when it doesn’t work. They think in objects so when a teacher writes ‘cat’ on the board and ask what it is they don’t recognise the letters but they would if it was a picture of a cat. They try to move around the symbols/text to see if it helps make sense of it but obviously this is unsuccessful. They become to realise the difference between themselves and others in the class and their self esteem starts to suffer. What had helped them before was no looking working, why?

Davies continues to say that an individual may then create copying strategies so that they seem that they are learning and do not stand out in the class. He refers to memorising the ‘alphabet song’ or over concentrating which causes headaches or getting others to do the work for you.

A little word about my experience with the ‘alphabet song’. I consider anyway that helps someone to remember something (and it works) is a good thing. However I agree that things should not be learnt by rote without any understanding. Also if that ‘thing’ is learnt by rote incorrectly it is a habit which can be hard to break. For example I have lost count of the children who have difficulty with the order of the middle 5 letters of the alphabet. This is because within the song ‘lmnop’ is sang very quickly and they all seem to merge together. They then have to ‘unlearn’ the song to try and really know the alphabet order.

My interpretation of what Einstein is saying is that when you really know and understand something to the point that it is automatic and within your long term memory you should be able to explain it with a few words or even a picture? To be able to understand a subject or concept so well that you can strip away what is not necessary and be able to explain the basics.

The underlining principle of the Davis method seems to me to help the individual understand what he is learning. I agree with this as this in turn will help in making the concept into something the person has actually ‘experienced’ and aid the transfer of information to the long term memory. I would refer you to one of my previous posts on memory – ‘Picture a memory’. This gives more information on the subject of working and long term memory which you may find useful.

Davies writes that there are ‘trigger words’ which cause the individual to be disorientated. To see a word and struggle and try to see the word in many different ways to try and make sense of it. This causes an incorrect image of the word to be stored. He thinks that he can teach methods to an individual to be able to turn off the disorientation.

“The symptoms of dyslexia are the symptoms of disorientation, so once the dyslexic knows how to turn the disorientation off, he can also turn the symptoms off.” says Davis.

What do you think of that quote? Obviously that is only one sentence out of a whole book and should be read along with the rest. However, I am not sure you can ‘correct’ dyslexia with a flip of a switch. There are so many different symptoms, suffered in different degrees by so many people. The Davies method does seem to be focussed on reading and spelling. However, the book even states it has its limitations.

“They may still have problems with words that they don’t know but they can recognise words they have learnt.’

Davies suggests that unfamiliar words can be added to the trigger words and then learnt later by using the symbol mastery procedure. He thinks this can be successful without phonic interventions.

The Davis method to turn off disorientation consists of two ways:

  1. Davis Alignment Procedure (for the tactile/kinaesthetic learner)
  2. Davis Orientation Counselling Procedure (for individuals who have no difficulties creating mental images and moving their view of perception.)

The Perceptual Ability Assessment would highlight which Procedure is relevant for the individual. Then follows an intense 5 day tuition along with ‘Symbol mastery’.

Davies considers the symbol mastery element can be useful for enhancing creativity and language skills. You start with basic language symbols (alphabet and punctuation). He uses modelling clay. I think anything tactile is a bonus.

The programme then moves on to the mastering of words and reading exercises and the list of trigger words for the individual. Dyslexics find rote repetition boring and can daydream and lose attention. Davis is of the opinion that CREATIVITY is needed! With which I wholeheartedly agree. Allowing the individual to use their creativity to create personal mental pictures which accurately show meaning.

Also, it is important for the instructor to be creative and introduce the topic, concept, word, subject in different ways. Davis’ advice is to “Keep it fun and adventurous.”

I am sure the methods he uses “to ‘turn off’ distorientation and therefore the symptoms” will be like marmite, you will either be up for them or not! You will believe in them or be skeptical. I will leave you to make up your own minds.

Exercises take place for the student to locate the orientation point of their ‘mind’s eye’. To be able to recognise that when this point doesn’t move distortion does not take place. Alternatively, when the point does move there is distortion (person sees the word in many different view points, different pictures) which can cause mistakes.

Davis explains that when you are ‘correctly alined’ you should be able to stand on either foot and switch feet at any time without losing your balance.

You may think the procedures are a bit like mindfulness, meditation, visualisation?

It is important to note that if you were to seek a Davis method facilitator to help you there will obviously be costs involved. I don’t know how much and I am not here to either encourage or discourage you with this route of enquiry. Please do your own research to see if you think this is a possibility for you or to become aware of its success rate or not.

I do think any strategy only works when the individual is happy to be a participant and is open to the style of procedure.

Talking from my own experience of supporting dyslexic children, I often could tell when a child was getting frustrated with the difficulty, suffering overload, when things were becoming too hard. Then often this would result in loss of attention, changing the subject or a total refusal to continue. This is where a break is definitely needed, there is no benefit in continuing as no learning would take place.

The child may go into ‘overdrive’ as it seems the overload of information makes non verbal (picture thinking) processing go even faster. Panic may even set in with the fear of failure and making mistakes. Alternatively, the child is tired and non responsive.

Breathing exercises can be done as a way to calm and ground the child. If you are interested have a look at this example link.

Davis recommends the use of magazines, books, general signs as a way of introducing all different types of font and type to to the reader. There are additional symbol mastery exercises to demonstrate and practice how each of the letters are pronounced, looking at mouth, lips and tongue shapes. Also introduces syllables, to find them in your surroundings and count them. Which does enter the speech and language, together with phonological awareness realms?

The methods include finding out the meaning of words, understanding the concept, making a picture out of modelling clay of concept as well as a clay made word. To touch and say the letter names. To recognise the letter names in a word not the sounds (the letter names never change but the sounds do). Teach the children by touching each letter, saying the letter names, going from left to right and slowly. Then they progress to sweeping over the word. If the word does not automatically come out of the mouth then sweep again. If still not then say letter names then word and they repeat. If word automatically comes to mind then move on.

Then they stop reading at punctuation. For example at a full stop ask the child what they see?, or what they feel?, or what does that mean to you? So they can build up a mental picture. Any unfamiliar words look up in a dictionary and if need be add to trigger list.

I am interested in the history of language and have read ‘Structure of Language’ by Townend and Walker. This is a heavier read but worthwhile if you are interested in the English Language.

For todays purposes I just want to refer to a few points in that book.

“Teachers of students with literacy difficulties should know about the history and structure of words, the regularities and the pattens in words and sentences, in order to organise the learning of the student. All speakers and writers of English benefit from UNDERSTANDING more about the words they use everyday.”

So many influences over the years have led to a complex language. With Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Old English, French, Normans, and regional differences no wondering its hard to learn! For example, after 1066 there were french influences which resulted in many variations such as ‘qu’ instead of ‘cw’ (queen instead of cwen).

Shakespeare and Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) also had influences over the spoken and written language. Just for interest, Davis’ book refers to ‘the minds eye’ phrase which was first mentioned in Hamlet!

History of language is interesting when you think people first communicated by way of pictures.

Townend and Walker say about communication in pictures, “These can tell a story independent of language. Even nowadays we use road signs and logos to be understood by speakers of other languages or non readers.”

In 1755 Samuel Johnson published the dictionary of the English Language with 40,000 words!

Orthography (study of language concerned with letters and spelling) in reading. There have been many debates over the complexity of English spelling leading to difficulties with acquisition of literacy. There have been debates on simplifying it and about the methods of teaching reading and spelling.

Vowels, in particular long vowels, can cause a lot of confusion. But that’s for another day.

Townend and Walker say ” With unfamiliar words its is helpful to know phonics and spelling rules.” Such as vowels, closed and open syllables, syllable division, analogy, homophones, and morphological elements. I will go further into the vast field of phonics during a future post.

Orthography in spelling. The moving from sounds to letters (phonemes to graphemes), Townend/ Walker and Davis agree on the advantage of knowing the letter NAMES. The names won’t change even when the fonts or sounds do.

Link between reading and spelling – Whilst learning to decode for reading you may split the word into syllables into visual smaller units i.e. cup/board. Then you spend time trying to make sense of it whilst getting to know the meaning and context of the word. Then for spelling you may use that syllable split with ‘exaggerated pronunciation”. Split into easier units. Really splitting the units up when you say it, putting exaggerated tone on each section. People find saying ‘wed’ ‘nes’ ‘day’ helpful when writing it.

Townend and Walker’s opinion is “If they copy a word straight from visual memory, with no reference to the sounds in the words, letters are often missed out or in wrong order. If students don’t have skills of phonics or analogy, they have no means of checking their spelling.”

It is true, dyslexic students can struggle with phonological matters. They can have a strength in visual imagery. Issues of low self esteem is evident and can be demoralising. It is also true that not one intervention/strategy will fit all. As I have said many times before its a case of really getting to know yourself/the individual and go with what ever way best suits them. It has been found that multi sensory teaching is best practice so maybe we just need to be open to all ideas and support using a bit of all the methods. I am going to spoil you and end with another Einstein quote today. If the teaching method isn’t working then be creative and think of another way.

Until next week; stay safe, be creative and remain positive!


3 thoughts on “Dyslexia – Be Creative

  1. This is a great blog. I appreciate anything that highlights and educates dyslexia. Children can feel so inadequate because of it but with the right support many go on to have great exam results.


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