Reflect on the learners that you work with: how many of them find reading, writing, speaking or listening difficult? Often this list is far greater than those listed on the SEND register. For some, it may not be a SEN reason, but for others it is. The British Dyslexia Association (BDA) estimates that over 80% of young people with dyslexia are not identified at school.

Take ‘Harry’ for example. Harry is classed as a disadvantaged child who seems disinterested in learning. His work is very messy and, it appears in class, that he puts little effort into his writing. He never has his reading book or record and, on the rare occasion that it is, nothing’s been recorded. Harry’s low attainment in reading and writing have been attributed to his lack of effort and poor parental support. Could there be another reason for Harry’s difficulties though?  

Many children’s literacy difficulties go unnoticed, masked by other issues such as behaviour. For other children, even if the difficulties are apparent, if they appear to be coping, adequate support is often unavailable as stretched resources are given to the neediest. 

What can be done to support any child who has literacy difficulties?  

Identify gaps in basic skills

Teachers are regularly reminded to assess prior learning and use what the child already knows as a starting point. Often the prior learning that is assessed is learning that has happened recently. However, a crucial bit of knowledge might be missing from earlier on in the child’s education. Do they know their alphabet, for example? It is assumed that a child in year 8 has that knowledge. By the age of 12, being unable to recite the alphabet is not something that a child will readily share but it may be holding them back from using the dictionary. Poor behaviour is often used to disguise embarrassment. Once gaps have been identified, consider how best to rectify these, either through additional teaching or the use of resources. A simple alphabet strip could be all that is needed in this example.  

Slow processing

A child who appears to be daydreaming during inputs may have slow verbal processing. They could be struggling to understand the teacher due to the speed of delivery or the lack of supporting visuals. A short pre-teach session prior to the lesson could help the child’s understanding during the lesson. Or some simple visuals may help the child anchor their understanding.  

Assistive technology

Often seen as ‘cheating’, assistive technology can be a real lifeline to children with literacy difficulties. If an adult struggled to spell, they would use their phone to help them. Surely, the same logic should be applied to children? The learning objective is to write an engaging story; does it matter whether it is handwritten or typed? It is the 21st century and technology needs to be embraced. DYT have a free factsheet exploring both free and paid assistive technology options. 

Utilising shared reading and paired writing opportunities

Similarly to assistive technology, there is a reluctance in schools to let children work together on a shared literacy goal. Yet, through paired work, a child with literacy difficulties can shine. Their difficulty may be in handwriting or organisation, but their strength could be in vocabulary or inference. By working together, children can utilise their strengths and support each other’s weaknesses.  

Extra time

In life, if you find something tricky, it will probably take longer to complete. The same is true for children with literacy difficulties. They may need longer than other members of the class to complete a comprehension task or piece of writing. Often, extra time allows for the completion of good quality work. If this extra time is their breaktime, it will only fuel a dislike of literacy. Find a way to ensure that additional time to complete work is not seen as a punishment. Time is scarce in schools, but children must not be penalised for finding literacy difficult.  

Professional development with DYT

If you would like to continue considering how to support children with literacy difficulties in class, join us for one of our webinars running in the summer term – Laura is hosting our Key Stage 2 Reading webinar on 29th June and our Key Stage 2 Writing session on 5th July. See our full webinar menu here

We are also launching our brand-new Driving Inclusion: Creating Champions for Literacy Difficulties programme at the end of the month! This 6-12 week intensive programme is ideal for all teachers of literacy, pastoral leads, middle leaders and more. Click here to hear more from the team!

Laura Dobson

DYT Consultant

Laura is an experienced primary school teacher and education consultant who has worked in and supported numerous settings to develop their practice in all areas of English. She has led, and is still an active member of, an Open University Teachers’ Reading Group which advocates putting reading for pleasure at the heart of the curriculum. She has a Masters in Education and has written several articles for Teach Primary. She is a long-standing governor, a mother of two and currently teaches part-time.