Notice and Adjust

DFNZ advocates a ‘notice and adjust’ approach to supporting individuals with dyslexia.

In the classroom, for example, ‘notice and adjust’ is about simple changes that help students access classroom learning – implementing individualised and personalised learning strategies, from structured literacy programmes through to adjustments in teaching style and classroom layout.  

Simple changes come as the result of teachers noticing and adjusting at all levels – from reviewing seating layout and noise levels through to use of new technology. Individualised and personalised learning can include:

  • Multi-sensory techniques using visuals, colour and real objects as props
  • Chunking of tasks and instructions
  • Developing comprehension through use of context, syntax and grammar
  • Focusing on helping students to plan and organise their ideas
  • Teaching them strategies to aid memory
  • Accepting work in different formats such as mind maps, diagrams, photos, videos and other media
  • Reducing classroom noise and distractions
  • Valuing emotional intelligence 

Equity in education is about doing the right thing for each individual. It is not about treating everyone equally – one size does not fit all. And inclusion is about meeting needs, not physical location. In other words, it is inclusive to take a student out of a class to meet needs. But it is very ‘un-inclusive’ to keep students in the classroom but to fail to meet needs.

Dyslexic students often think faster than they read – so putting them in low-ability groups and measuring them solely on reading ability wrongly labels them as ‘failures’, impacting self-esteem.

Conversely, placing them in ability appropriate groups and supporting them with basic skills means that they are empowered to develop high level subject knowledge and skills while their basic skills are catching up.

Common signs of dyslexia

Dyslexia is often first uncovered in the classroom when core reading and writing is being taught. However, it is equally common for dyslexia to go undiagnosed, with individuals labelled as ‘slow’ or ‘struggling’ due to unexpected difficulties acquiring these skills. 

Once out of school, everyday tasks like processing instructions, filling in forms, and dealing with predominant email and social communications can be ongoing sources of challenge and frustration. Some common sign of dyslexia include:

  • Large gap between oral and written capabilities
  • Poor handwriting, punctuation and grammar
  • Frequent misspelling of words and mixing up words which sound similar (recession/reception), in speech or written work
  • Letters or numbers reversed or transposed, ie b/d; p/q; n/u; 13/31
  • Poor sense of direction – difficulty telling left from right
  • Problems with labels, rhymes, sequences
  • Being slower to process and needing repeated exposures to retain learning
  • Retrieval issues – learns something one moment, gone the next
  • Reluctance, embarrassment or avoidance around reading out loud
  • A preference for face-to-face meetings/phone calls rather than email correspondence, and for charts/graphs over text
  • Misunderstanding or misinterpretation of instructions
  • Problems meeting deadlines, despite working hard
  • Issues with fine motor coordination, eg tying laces, doing up buttons

Reading and phonics

Magic bullets are highly sought after but often fail to perform to expectations. This is the case with reading accuracy, which for many years has been a preferred academic response to dyslexia – based on the idea that if we can teach children to read accurately through the use of phonics, then the ‘problem’ of dyslexia will disappear.

This, however, overlooks the fact that dyslexia is not simply an issue with reading and writing skills. Rather it’s a learning preference which can bring a broad spectrum of difference – from enhanced creativity and ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking through to issues with auditory and information processing, planning and organising, motor skills, short-term memory and concentration. Difficulties with basic skills are merely symptoms of dyslexia, so any magic bullet which hoped to ‘cure’ basic skill difficulties would need to be aimed at the root cause of these symptoms: a brain that is wired differently. 

In essence, dyslexic thinkers receive and retrieve information in a different part of the brain to neurotypical, word-based thinkers. They tend to think in pictures rather than words. And often prefer to receive and present orally or visually rather than via the written word. 

The DFNZ supports a Structured Literacy Approach to teaching reading, such as the Better Start Literacy Approach from Canterbury University.

Overall, it is important to understand dyslexia as a learning preference and work with, and support, students from this preference perspective. Put simply, this means understanding that dyslexics think differently, and so naturally prefer to receive, process and present information in the way that makes more sense to them.

If your child has been taught reading using a  Structured Literacy Approach and they are not making sufficient progress, it is worth investigating other multi-sensory and meaning based approaches, along with adopting a Notice and Adjust strategy.  

More Resources

The 4D Schools Programme, was developed in partnership with educators. It was  based on the philosophy of ‘notice and adjust’, and remains an excellent set of guidelines for educators and parents. It identifies constructive action that can be taken based on the significant body of research and experiential evidence that already exists on dyslexia. 

We have taken the best of this work and made it available here for use in the classroom to assist you to notice which students are having difficulty, and make simple adjustments to the way in which they are taught and assessed so that they can flourish. This means adopting personalised learning strategies, and accepting alternative evidence of achievement, perhaps oral and visual based rather than written. Central to this approach is recognition of dyslexia as a learning preference. Put simply, this means understanding that dyslexics think differently, and so naturally prefer to receive, process and present information in the way that makes more sense to them.

These strategies are designed to work alongside and as an additional to resource to the MOE’s Universal Design for Learning;