Immediately I saw the sign my imagination sprung into action. Disembodied jeans with bells around the ankles, snow white hankies waving of their own volition and sticks clashing in the air to rollicking tunes. Later imaginings added decorated straw hats and a self-playing band. I had misread the sign as I drove through Melton. The sign was advertising the Folk Festival and Craft Fair with Morris Dancing teams.
Looking at the numerous signs around the town the organisers certainly intended to paint the town red, appropriate for the place where the expression is thought to have originated.
Morris Dancing Teams
J I T
Now I was driving by, but honestly, would you know out of the context of a word which of the above letters was i j or t? Many younger children mix up letters that are very similar, such as b and d but a clear font or writing makes this much easier.
My mistake made me think how careful we need to be in the use of fonts. It is so easy to highlight and change areas of text in order to make it look attractive, but we need to remember that the main purpose of text is to communicate. If the font we use renders what we are trying to say unreadable to the ten percent of the population that is dyslexic and also to children who are still learning to read and not yet fluent, then we need to reflect on the choices we make. Some dyslexia friendly fonts are comic sans, Verdana, Trebuchet. Printed materials should be at least 12-14 point and some readers may need a larger size. A cream background is more easily readable than black on white. Further advice from the British Dyslexia Association about the readability of printed materials may be found at the following link.
In school we endeavour to make life easier for the children by having a set way that we write letters. This consistency makes it easier to read and if you would like a copy of how we write our letters then please ask your child’s teacher.
Green for Gross
We have a fantastic and really visual marking policy – highlighter pens are used: tickled pink for positives; green for growth indicating areas in need of improvement. Green is good because it shows what you need to learn next, that way you can make progress and see when it happens. Recently a Year 1 child explained to me, with a pen in each hand, “I’ve got tickled pink and green for gross!” Thinking I had misheard, I asked for further explanation and was told, “If it’s good you get pink, if it’s gross you get green!”
I love it when children mishear words. I have a history of mishearing and pronouncing things wrongly as my dyslexia means that I need to listen really carefully and prefer to see words in writing as well as to hear them if I can - two chances to get it right.
When I was a small child we had fruit trees in the garden: a range of eating apples; Bramley’s seedlings for cooking; greengages and my favourites the Victoria plums, known in the family as the Victorias. My father’s plum jam was legendary. He once broke a knife in some that set just a little too well. I had a vision every time the national anthem was sung of a line of bewigged and powdered footmen lining up with silver salvers of plums to present them to the Queen, a little like the Ferrro Rocher ambassador advert but with plums. Piles of deliciously juicy plums just ready for Her Majesty to eat. I did not question why she favoured one variety of plums over another after all it does say in the national anthem, “Send her Victorias!”
For children who are dyslexic or who have other difficulties processing the sounds in words it is important that we give them as many opportunities to learn as we can. Multisensory activities that engage as many of the senses as possible, open more channels for learning. Being able to read a word at the same time as hearing it opens two channels. Hearing and reading topic related vocabulary ahead of time will increase the chances of the words being understood and remembered when they are encountered in lessons. When spelling words, being able to hear it, see it and make it with letters is likely to lead to better spelling for everyone. Having a picture as a reminder of facts, to help recall how to spell a tricky word or to symbolise an idea are all useful learning tools.
Read, Write Inc, our adopted school reading programme, has red and green word cards which the children look at as they read the words and hear them said by their group. They put the sounds on Fred fingers for spelling - looking, saying and adding an action – three chances to get it right. Dyslexic children have lists of words provided ahead of a topic so that they are able to begin to process words before meeting them in class. Lists of common exception words that cannot be spelled phonetically are available so that children can look them up easily as they write. Mathematicians of all ages in school have hands on activities, visual representations, recitation and actions and this opens more of the children’s channels of learning than one medium alone would or could.
There are lots of simple ways that learning can be enhanced. However, much as I want the children to learn to the best of their ability, I would also miss those little funny moments.