It’s Dyslexia Awareness Week 2019! And alongside a whole host of schools, libraries and bookshops across the UK we’re celebrating this year’s theme of empowering people with dyslexia. To join in the conversation we thought we’d ask some experts to share their thoughts on empowering their readers, using our books and building dyslexia-friendly spaces …
Classrooms – Rachel, Firrhill High School:
“As an English teacher in an Edinburgh secondary school, the key strategy that I use to make my classroom dyslexia-friendly is my class library. I’m passionate about promoting reading to all pupils, and by careful selection, it’s easy to include pupils with dyslexia, visual stress and other barriers to confident reading.
A great place to start is by considering how to promote reading in general. We all need a nudge at times, and spending time talking about books, modelling reading, and talking about stories can be the inspiration that some pupils need. Consider advertising what you’re reading to your classes, whether on a poster on your door or by taking a couple of minutes to tell them about your current book at the start of a lesson. Once this is habit, it’s easy to make sure that you regularly feature books that are accessible to all.
Choosing books that are dyslexia-friendly may seem tricky. I would say that the real challenge is finding books that are accessible to a young reader, yet that they don’t consider babyish or childish. Many of us will teach (or parent, or otherwise look after) children whose reading age is far below their actual age. This naturally means that they are often offered books that are designed for much younger readers. We can do much better than this.
Barrington Stoke haven’t asked me to promote them in any way, but I have to highlight them as being especially good at this balance necessary to dyslexia-friendly books. Authors they publish, such as Tom Palmer, do an excellent job of writing stories that are accessible to less confident readers but that are packed with the kind of content that teenagers want to read about: relationships, conflict etc. In addition, Barrington Stoke have led the way in publication of books that give thought to the font and the colour of paper as well as the content. These things can be the difference between being able to read a book and not.
To give one example, I recently enjoyed Non Pratt’s Unboxed. It’s a perfect example of a book that is short and written in accessible language, yet is not babyish or childish in its content. We need more books like this – and more publishers that are willing to publish them.
All readers have the right to see themselves reflected in what they read and Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon is an incredible novel that features a protagonist who has the gift of seeing the world differently. In fact, this is because he’s dyslexic, but this isn’t stated outright. A few years ago I used this novel with an S3 class of boys with literacy problems and several of them saw themselves reflected in the main character’s alternative way of viewing the world. What is especially powerful is that this is never depicted as any sort of fault or disability.”
Libraries – Agnès, East Lothian Library Services:
“School librarians are reading ambassadors, they play a key role in helping all students become lifelong readers. In East Lothian School Libraries, Barrington Stoke books are an important tool to achieve this.
One of our school librarians commented: “Barrington Stoke books are extremely popular books in our school library and in our classrooms and not just for dyslexic pupils … Very, very rarely do I get a pupil return a Barrington Stoke book and say ‘I don’t like this’ and never do I get an ‘I can’t read this’ … If I have a pupil who is new to the school and they say ‘I don’t like reading’, Barrington Stoke are my books of choice.”
All of our school libraries stock most of the Barrington Stoke titles and they are used in different ways.
Some libraries have a separate section of shorter reads but a more common approach in our libraries is to mix Barrington Stoke with all the other stock on the shelves. This avoids singling any pupils out and enables all pupils to access the titles, including those who may have undiagnosed conditions or who are fiercely independent and don’t want to be seen asking for help. We do not call them ‘Quick Reads’ as what we may see as a ‘Quick Read’ will not appear as such to a child who struggles with reading.
The fact that these books are of a very high quality, by excellent authors, is also a major factor in their success. I have no hesitation in promoting them to all readers, even confident ones, and I often point out that they may be ‘Super Readable’ but by no means easy in terms of maturity level and the issues they are tackling. Finding age-appropriate books for pupils with a lower reading age is often very difficult, and it is even more important that these books are excellent if we want to make sure that pupils who struggle with reading still find it enjoyable.
Finally, a ‘dyslexia-friendly library’ within a school is very much a collaborative project. It requires input from the pupils, as well as support from the SfL and Literacy faculties. This ensures that all are aware of all our options, including our Barrington Stoke books.”
Bookshops – Sharleene, Seven Stories Newcastle:
“We are very proud to stock Barrington Stoke titles and believe they contribute massively to the enjoyment of reading for both dyslexic and reluctant readers, especially with the wide range of authors they have available.
In our shop we have dedicated two shelves at eye level to the Barrington Stoke books. This ensures they are seen by our customers and are easily identifiable. We use the standees given to us around the shop to highlight the range in various sections and this has resulted in many conversations with customers about dyslexia.
One of our team wears a badge which reads ‘Ask me about our dyslexia-friendly books’; this has had a huge impact on people asking us about Barrington Stoke titles and how they can help get their children reading. We also regularly choose Barrington Stoke or Little Gems titles to be added to our school learning packs to promote them directly with teachers and librarians.
Last but by no means least we enjoy reading and recommending the books in the exact same way we do with all our other publishers and love to put them in children’s hands as purely just fantastic reads!”
Our top tips for building dyslexia-friendly spaces:
- It can be difficult to navigate libraries or bookshops when only words or lists are used for signposting. Try colour coding or use images to flag different sections.
- Include dyslexia-friendly books alongside other books on your shelves. It’s great to have a separate dyslexia-friendly section but it can be intimidating for some.
- Use clear fonts on off-white or coloured paper for posters, recommendation cards, signs, or handouts. Try to not to be ‘too wordy’.
- Celebrate dyslexia-friendly books! Read them in class, recommend them, have them on display, show people with dyslexia that there’s nothing to be embarrassed of.
- Start a conversation — talk to people with dyslexia about what would be most helpful for them. Take feedback and always be willing to listen to their experiences. Accessibility and a dyslexia-friendly space should be built through collaboration.
Thank you to our brilliant experts! We’d love to hear your success stories and top tips for building dyslexia friendly spaces, so please share them with us over on twitter or facebook and we’ll keep this conversation going all week!
Finally, to help you build your dyslexia-friendly space and to celebrate Dyslexia Awareness Week, we’re thrilled to offer 15% off online orders with the discount code:
(Discount excludes pack purchases and cannot be used in conjunction with any other code. Offer available until 31st Dec 2019)