Do any of your students have dyslexia? This secondary assembly is about Dyslexia Awareness Week (November 3rd to 9th 2008). It invites students to consider what it’s like to be affected by dyslexia, encouraging empathy within the learning community

Resources

  • 1 reader
  • 2 actors (one a student, the other a teacher)
  • Small whiteboard, or large notepad, and marker pen

Engagement

Leader: This is a true story; only the names have been changed. Let’s call the student Steve.

Reader: I remember my first ever spelling test at school.

[Actors enter. Teacher gives whiteboard/notepad and pen to student. The actors then mime the action as Reader 1 speaks. The intention is to create pathos rather than humour]

The teacher asked me to spell the first word. It was the word “spelling”. I thought very carefully and wrote the word down: S, P, E L, I, N, G. Then I showed the word to the teacher.

[Student displays whiteboard/notepad to whole assembly group]

He was furious and marched me to the front of the class. He made me write out the correct version of the word, with 2 L’s in the middle, on the blackboard. He made me write the word 100 times.

[Student mimes writing on a blackboard very slowly and precisely multiple times]

It took me a long time because I had to copy out his correct version very carefully. But I managed to get it right. Then he told me to return to my place and continue with the spelling test. The teacher gave me the next word in the test. It was the word “spelling”, again. I thought very carefully and wrote the word down: S, P, E L, I, N, G.

[Student displays whiteboard/notepad to whole assembly group]

The teacher was furious once more but I didn’t understand why. He marched me to the front of the class, took out his cane and gave me 6 of the best.

[Pause]

I didn’t come back to school the next day. In fact I played truant for 6 weeks until my parents moved me to another school.

[Pause]

The teacher’s name was Mr Goodfellow.

Reflection

Leader: This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week. Steve suffers from dyslexia. It affects not only his ability to spell, but also his reading ability. Steve’s not thick, far from it. He’s an extremely intelligent man.

The British Dyslexia Association estimates that there are around 300,000 schoolchildren in the UK who are affected by dyslexia. Each one is an individual experiencing dyslexia in his or her own particular way. It’s quite likely that there’s at least one person coping with dyslexia in your class. It may be that you recognise Steve’s story for yourself and can identify with something of his experience.

If it’s not handled with sensitivity, dyslexia can have a profound effect on a person through their whole life. The story we told took place about 50 years ago but Steve is still finding Mr Goodfellow standing at his shoulder. Whilst he can spell fairly well when he’s with people he knows, whenever he goes into a strange situation where he knows he needs to write, such as in a Post Office, completing a questionnaire or filling in a form at the Tax Office, immediately the image of Mr Goodfellow flashes into his mind and he feels the panic coming on. He knows he’s going to spell words incorrectly and he’s deeply embarrassed. Mr Goodfellow’s response to his dyslexia, treating it as deliberate misbehaviour that should be punished, has resulted in a psychological scar.

It could all have been so different. Steve’s children have been diagnosed with dyslexia in various forms but were helped to cope by teachers who knew learning strategies to address the situation. They’ve gone on to make a success of their education.

During Dyslexia Awareness week the British Dyslexia Association aims to achieve two objectives. First, that we become dyslexia aware, as the title for the week suggests. Awareness is about sensitive observation of one another, of recognising why some tasks may be more difficult for some students than others. Awareness is about trying to understand the challenges faced by someone who experiences dyslexia. It’s about showing empathy to one another.

The second objective is that we become dyslexia friendly. This means that no-one is rejected, criticised or (as in Steve’s case) punished because of their dyslexia. Instead we do all we can to encourage one another and accept the errors when they occur.

These are attitudes that can be spread more widely than just towards dyslexia. We all have our blind spots, our failings, our individual limitations. Within this school can we first develop an awareness of this? Whether it be on the sports pitch, in the computer room, the science lab or the drama studio can we be sensitive to one another, recognise why we don’t all achieve the same results and try to understand what it must be like to experience some level of failure in that subject? Can we then be friendly towards one another, despite our limitations, overlooking them in order to create a strong community? It has been suggested that a community shows its strength by the way it responds to the needs, not of the strongest and most able, but of those who experience limitation and disadvantage. Let’s adopt the attitudes of Dyslexia Awareness Week and become aware and friendly towards one another.

Response

Meanwhile, think about the words of this prayer. Make it your own if you wish.

Dear GodI admit that I’m not perfectI have my faults, failings and limitationsI need other people to accept me as I amMay I be aware and friendly towards those around meMay I never reject, criticise or make fun of someone because of their faults, failings or limitations

Amen

Find out more

  • teachingexpertise articles on dyslexia
  • British Dyslexia Association

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2008

About the author: Brian Radcliffe

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