Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit launched

New guidelines for identifying children with dyslexia were launched by former racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart on Tuesday. The online “tool kit” , available since January but now open to all, has been created for every teacher: we are all responsible for literacy regardless of our subject or sector. The resource supports the Curriculum for Excellence’s emphasis on literacy and numeracy across learning.

 The Assessing Dyslexia Toolkit for Teachers aims to help teachers and early years workers identify literacy difficulties and dyslexia among pupils. A key target is to spot problems as early as possible so children can be given support and are not disadvantaged educationally.

A key aim of the new guide is highlighting to all class teachers that they are in the best position to identify early indicators of dyslexia and other learning difficulties. It identifies problems teachers should look out for at various stages in a child’s education from pre-school to late primary, right up to senior secondary and college.

Dr Margaret Crombie, who led the team of experts behind the creation of the project from Glasgow Caledonian, Strathclyde and Edinburgh universities, said: “We now have a resource that all teachers can use to help them work through the process of assessment of literacy difficulties.”

It’s superb: check it out.

A Final (I hope) comment on voice recognition software

I have spoken with representatives from both Enquire and the ASN Division of the Scottish Government Both are very clear that their role is not to give advice to parents on specific supports but to provide information about the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004. They were apologetic.

They defend themselves by saying that any specific enquiry is always greeted by a recommendation to parents that they contact their school.

The advert that appeared last week was written by the Government’s marketing department with reference to the Code of Practice which was agreed after consultation with professionals across Scotland. Here is Chapter 2, paragraph 13:

13. Examples of additional support provided from within education services to children and young people are the following:

  • a support for learning assistant supporting a child with an autistic spectrum disorder in a nursery
  • class teacher helping a child by following a behaviour management programme drawn up in consultation with a behaviour support teacher
  • tutorial support from a support for learning teacher to help with a reading difficulty
  • use of communication symbols by a child with autism
  • designated support staff working with Gypsy/Traveller children on their site to help them improve their literacy and numeracy skills
  • in-class support provided by an English as Additional Language ( EAL) teacher for a child whose first language is not English
  • a more able child at the later stages of primary school receiving support to access the secondary mathematics curriculum
  • use of voice recognition software by a child with dyslexia.

Yes, the contentious software is mentioned right at the very end. I am most curious to know which professionals working in the field of dyslexia in Scotland felt that this was the most commonly used and widely regarded example of good practice. (And, no, I didn’t contribute to the consultation about the draft Code so I must take some responsibility for the erroneous, or at least heavily biased,  information being purveyed by the government and Enquire. There’s a lesson there.).

In my rough and ready estimate, about 1% of 15 – 18 year olds may be enabled to express themselves more effectively with voice recognition software; while about, ooh, 90% of learners with literacy difficulties are already benefitting from using WordTalk – a free resource developed in Scotland, available to families at home at no cost and easy to use.

I was given an assurance that in future other more frequently deployed supports will be offered as examples, although the ‘Just Ask’ campaign is now drawing to a close.

While I appreciate the civil servant’s acknowledgement that the use of this example was ill-advised, this does not help us to support those parents who feel that we have let them down by not offering this software as a matter of course. It is natural that parents will want the very best provision for their children; that’s their job. But to set them up for almost inevitable disappointment, and create conflict where none need be, negates the whole notion of partnership and calls into question teachers’ knowledge and understanding of dyslexia and the plethora of provisions we already successfully make.

Voice recognition software


The ‘Just Ask’ campaign from the Scottish Government urges parents to ask for help for their children ‘to help them navigate their way through issues affecting them’: these issues include dyslexia.

The advert in the local paper declares: ‘Support can be provided in many different ways and is entirely individualised to the child. For example, a pupil with dyslexia may benefit from use of voice recognition software’.

Oh dear. While I am in compete agreement that young people with dyslexia need a ‘plan to ensure success’, to be so specific about such a very difficult area as speech to text software is going to cause all sorts of genuine problems for us in schools. I can hear the parents bashing my door down as I write.

I have not used voice recognition software myself nor have I seen it in action. There are mostly good reviews here  but none focus on its deployment in schools.

The only review I can find that specifically mentions voice recognition software and young people was last updated in December 2006. There may, of course, have been considerable changes for the better since then. I’d be grateful if anyone with knowledge and experience in this area would join the discussion.

 I have tried to summarise the major points in that review as far as they relate to enabling youngsters to circumvent the barrier of writing. The article does state that: ‘where spelling, handwriting and composing are major problems, then Speech Recognition can be hugely liberating and allow children to express their ideas on paper fluently for the first time in their lives’. Studies have shown that students with learning difficulties who use speech recognition:


  •  Use longer and richer words
  • Write more creatively
  • Organise work better
  • Complete more work
  • Improve reading
  • Improve spelling
  • and produce better hand-written work’.


‘A ‘normally clear speaker [and here they are referring to adult users], using a recent computer with a decent microphone and with a little experience should get very good recognition results and gain real productivity benefits’. (My emphasis).

However, there are also many caveats, summarized thus:

  • Motivation is a key component. It would be impossible for children to learn dictation at the same time as learning the basics of computing, of Windows and of word processing. This all adds up to considerable information overload and time implications. On the whole children don’t produce masses of written work, so are less likely to have the motivation to persevere with speech recognition. If it’s not used often the child will need to relearn it each time; and is likely to stop bothering.
  • Patience and accuracy are needed. Time training the software to recognise the voice is necessary. [And in young people, especially boys, the voice can change, requiring frequent up-dates]. Accuracy is hugely important. Each ‘mistake’ [or misinterpretation by the computer] made takes many times longer to correct compared with dictating a word correctly. [Children with ‘regional accents’ – i.e. accents from areas outside the south of England – are likely to find training the software to recognise their voices even more difficult]. Fluent speakers with a wide vocabulary are most successful at using speech recognition software. [Not all learners with dyslexia fall into this category].
  • Good, fast word retrieval, finding the words needed easily to express ideas, is essential. Multi-tasking – using the software whilst composing text – is also likely to be hard for many children with dyslexia. [Slow processing speed and poor automaticity are very common characteristics].
  • An understanding of word processing & punctuation is crucial. [No comment necessary].
  • A quiet, relatively private environment for confident dictation for training and using the software [is not always available in busy classrooms]. 
  • Proof reading is particularly difficult for dyslexic people. They are liable to have more difficulty finding and correcting an error than somebody who reads and spells well. Even the best dictation system, after you have spent a long time training it and working with it, will make recognition mistakes.
  • Ongoing support is essential and this has implications for training for those who work with the child. For somebody new to dictation there are a lot of things to get right: diction style, microphone adjustment and positioning, making corrections, punctuation and the voice commands. Modifications to speech style (pace, clarity, particularly of unstressed words, evenness of volume) make a big difference.

The review stresses that, while a helpful resource in many instances, Speech Recognition software ‘can still lead to frustration and a lack of success. The main reasons for this will be human, not technical’. However, there are inevitably technical issues that would need to be addressed if adoption of the software is to be effective:

  • [The microphone that comes with the software is universally derided]. A better microphone than that supplied in the box may make the difference between success and failure. In addition, it is absolutely critical to have the microphone properly adjusted, and the authors of the review suspect that this is the single most likely cause of frustration and failure at dictation.
  • It is generally the case that a laptop computer will be slower and noisier than a desktop machine of the same specification although both might be so slow as to be virtually unusable. It follows that it is all the more important (and, consequently all the more expensive) to have more than the minimum spec if you want a computer to perform well. It is safer to choose a machine that has been certified for use with speech recognition. [In an ideal world schools would up-date their hardware to demand but this is unfeasible].

This makes for depressing reading. We would all dearly love to find the miracle solution to the problem so beautifully described by one girl I know: ‘I can write 3 sentences, but speak 3 pages’. Alas, it seems that voice recognition software is not the panacea claimed in the adverts.

I feel that the ’Just Ask’ team has performed a severe disservice to schools and parents in promoting this as a ‘support’ so thoughtlessly.

(I was also somewhat bewildered by the case study of a boy with dyslexia on the Just Ask site. It stated, ‘Jamie was offered a place at a literacy unit’. Do any of these exist nowadays? What about the philosophy of Inclusion and Equality? I feel another post coming on.)





Free Explorer Bookpack for four-year-olds in East Lothian Council nursery provision

Every four-year-old in an East Lothian Nursery setting will be receiving an Explorer Bookpack filled with goodies to encourage a love of reading.

Adam Ingram MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years, launched the Explorer Backpack at a special event at North Berwick Community Centre, East Lothian on Wednesday 3 February 2010.

East Lothian Council and the Scottish Book Trust have created a free Explorer Backpack filled with goodies for four-year-old children to help them to move from nursery to primary with skills and confidence.  The packs are designed to encourage a love of reading in the children who receive them, and offer parents and carers lots of tips and advice about encouraging their children to read and learn at home. This is the first scheme of its kind anywhere in Scotland.

Making Websites Talk

Browsealoud is easy to download and could be a great boon for learners with difficulties reading online.

LTS is currently looking at how the accessibility of Glow can be improved, and a text-to-speech facility could be extremely useful. They are asking us to help to trial Browsealoud 6 within Glow. It will be ‘speech- enabled’ until the end of January 2010. Trial it for yourselves and let them know what you think here.

I downloaded it easily on my work PC and will try it at home on my Mac. So far I find it very user friendly – though perhaps it delays access for a second or 2.
Have a shot!

Scottish Poet Elspeth Murray returns to Glow

Get your Glow log-ins ready because on Friday 22nd January, Scottish Poet Elspeth Murray will take part in her second live Glow Meet with budding young Poets across Scotland.

The event is on at 10am, Fri 22 January and is aimed at S2 pupils and suitable for teachers interested in getting some help and ideas with teaching poetry from a poet in real time. Teachers can take part even if they don’t have a class at this time.