Defining 'dyslexia' and: What is a 'well-founded, targeted intervention'?

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Defining 'dyslexia' and: What is a 'well-founded, targeted intervention'?

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Sat Jun 08, 2019 12:58 pm

I notice that when people are discussing the definition of 'dyslexia', it is common to suggest that dyslexic children are those who have not succeeded to read well enough having been provided with 'well-founded, targeted intervention'.

But what do we generally understand by the notion of 'well-founded, targeted intervention' - and which are these interventions?

I raised this issue on one of my networks saying this at first:

Perhaps the greater problem is the identification of ‘well-founded, targeted interventions’?

My heart has often sunk on observing phonics lessons that are to all intents and purposes ‘ content-rich’ and ‘fit for purpose’ only to find a group of six children slipping out of the class to do those ‘well-founded targeted interventions’ which, arguably, are far lesser and less appropriate than the lesson taking place in the class.

For example, how many people would consider Reading Recovery a ‘well-founded targeted intervention’ for a struggling Year One reader?

We must surely be much more specific when using general language in such scenarios.

My comment led to this response:

This is unfortunately true.

Can you suggest a definition of a ‘well-founded, targeted intervention’ that is concise and easily available, and can be referred to when using this term.

Unfortunately, I failed to answer the question concisely or well enough, but it led me into pontificating about my observations and worries concerning programmes and practices that some people would consider to be 'well-founded, targeted interventions' - but I would not!

I replied:

Of course it must be established ‘what’ the problems are of the struggling reader – eg. Lack of language comprehension and/or the ability to lift the words off the page sufficiently effortlessly to be able to attend to what they mean.

If it is lack of alphabetic code knowledge and the all-through-the-word decoding skill, then that is what must be addressed.

A ‘well-founded, targeted intervention’ should then address introducing alphabetic code knowledge systematically but with materials and practice that is most likely to support both teaching and learning.

As people may have picked up from my many comments via the DDOLL network, twitter and forums, activities like tracing in the sand and mini whiteboard work are not the most fit-for-purpose as they are often too indirect, not tangible enough and do not provide permanent banks of words and texts that belong to the learner to enable quick review, reminders and permanently accessible material to enable embedded learning.

Even scripted programmes can be in danger of talking at the children with little for the children to do – and lack any substantial content to enable substantial and effective learning/embedding/revising opportunity.

Common practice in schools for intervention often takes the form of group work where round-the-table activities take place such that each learner is actually doing very little when you are savvy enough to track each child’s experience. It is painful to watch.

Then, we bandy around ideas such as ‘revisit and review’ (terminology now commonplace in England from the Letters and Sounds teaching and learning cycle) but ‘revisit and review’ what exactly?

One teacher’s idea of what revisit and review at the beginning of each phonics lesson consists of can be very different from another teacher’s. Some grapheme flash card work? How many flash cards? From print to sound and sound to print? Group work? Individual work? How tangible?

When I have gone into schools and asked to see the work of children receiving intervention (or even mainstream provision), there is little or nothing to show for their phonics lesson – nothing tangible, no permanent body of content to see for any accountability or repetition purposes in the school and at home (aspirationally).

So, my very first question would be ‘What are the children provided with that belongs to them, that is tangible and permanent, that they can share with any supporting adults and revise, and be reminded, of the content of the knowledge and to provide ample practice?’.

For me, then, any intervention programme that does not provide permanent, paper-based content-rich, in the hands of the learner, material is not that likely to be ‘well-founded, targeted intervention’.

As soon as I see alphabet arcs, that are literally ‘arcs’ sometimes even with the letter shapes slanted around the arc, any provision for the children is not in the hands of a sensible adult. What is the most fit-for-purpose form of showing alphabet letters – oblique angles and displayed in an arc? I don’t think so.

Any intervention that involves a lot of teacher-talk and not much children-talk and activities, or any over-the-top entertainment type activities, are not likely to be ‘well-founded’ interventions.

Any break-out corner designated for intervention, but without a good, clear, comprehensive range of visual teaching and learning aids, is not likely to provide ‘well-founded’ intervention.

In other words, there are many factors to take into consideration.

Many older intervention programmes such as ‘Direct Phonics’ is more teacher-script and less children doing content-rich appropriate activities – and soon mixes letters and letter groups at the level of the phoneme with consonant blends/clusters which increases the units of letters being introduced, and diminishes all-through-the-word decoding processes – I’ve watched this type of scripted intervention and it is painful. There are others that spring to mind. It is nothing short of a miracle that children are biddable and behave themselves with so little going on for them to actually do.

Teachers who have undertaken dyslexia courses such as Dyslexia Action have covertly sent me the course contents to review as they have already identified some very poor practice themselves (encouraging the word shape approach for example) – and so some of the content is chilling – and yet the courses are presented with academic authority (that is, with various research references) – and, much to my horror, the trainees are contracted not to share any of the information. For someone like me who believes in complete transparency of material and methodology for open review – and willing to share any information freely or inexpensively, the very ethos of such organisations is indefensible.

I’m straying from the original question. Sorry.

But this is all about transparency, clear information about a literacy programme or intervention programme easily available for review – but also, consider this thought: If a ‘well-founded’ intervention has not worked, is the intervention actually ‘well-founded’ in the first place?

One of the greatest needs currently is equipping teachers, tutors and parents to be able to evaluate programmes/intervention with a fresh look underpinned by some knowledge and understanding of the requisite aspects and content required for foundational literacy.

I have long since criticized the Education Endowment Foundation for its page describing ‘Phonics’ – the notion promoted is that children who have not benefited from phonics provision before the age of 10 may need something else. Really? Where is there any mention of reviewing the previous phonics programme and practice rather than turning it onto the child’s apparent inability to get on with phonics provision? And what else is there if the child has difficulty lifting the word off the page?

The Education Endowment Foundation state this:

EEF: Phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers
For older readers who are still struggling to develop reading skills, phonics approaches may be less successful than other approaches such as Reading comprehension strategies and Meta-cognition and self-regulation. The difference may indicate that children aged 10 or above who have not succeeded using phonics approaches previously require a different approach, or that these students have other difficulties related to vocabulary and comprehension which phonics does not target.

[My emboldening above]

I responded thus:

Debbie: This statement above is very misleading which is concerning. The age of the learners does not matter. If they have a weakness in alphabetic code knowledge and/or the blending (synthesising) skill, then that is the knowledge and/or skills gap that must be addressed for the sake of their life-long literacy, learning, job prospects and self-esteem.

When people encounter an unknown word in reading material (unknown because they don’t recognise the word and also it is not in their spoken language), then the only way to come up with a pronunciation for the new word is some form of phonics – that is, translating the letters, letter groups, and/or word chunks into sounds. The person can possibly deduce the meaning of the unknown word when it is presented in context, but without a pronunciation, that word cannot be added to the person’s oral vocabulary. Thus, phonics knowledge is not an either/or scenario. If children have reached the age of 10 and they are struggling with their reading, then the teacher needs to assess whether their stumbling block is language comprehension (spoken language) or technical ability to lift new words off the page, or a combination of both (the Simple View of Reading diagram is very helpful for illustrating the relationship between the technical skills for reading – what ARE the words? and the language comprehension skills – what do the words MEAN?) ... -projects/

And see all of these organisations purportedly promoting best practice for interventions and ‘dyslexic’ children: ... ds-advice/

Lots of food for thought of the realities, the minutiae, the very notion of ‘well-founded’ interventions! What are they?

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