Ever wondered how dyslexic teachers cope? Sal McKeown finds out why it was love at first sight when Joe Beech met his iPhone
There is plenty of media coverage about the problems facing students with dyslexia but imagine how it affects a teacher. How on earth do you cope with the reports and lesson plans?
One person with the inside story is Joe Beech who will qualify this summer as a secondary school PE teacher. He has written a book about his experiences called The Little Book of Dyslexia: Both Sides of the Classroom, published by Independent Thinking Press.
His book offers his own personal 'ACB' to teachers with hints and tips showing how dyslexia can impact on assessment, classroom practice and behaviour. He also talks in some detail about the role of ICT in supporting learners.
Touch-typing – a great gift for all students
Growing up in Kent meant he had to sit the 11-plus and, while his brother went off to grammar school, Joe went to a non-selective high school. Although it proved to be an unsuitable setting for a child with specific learning difficulties it did give him one great gift: the ability to touch-type. "I can touch-type twice as fast as I can handwrite and the end result is not only legible but I can manipulate and edit it as much as I like. I regard this kind of skill as a requirement; dyslexic or not, it is something that your students will find incredibly useful in later life."
As he grew up, Joe developed a great liking for technology, fostered by gaming and to a lesser extent by word processing. One of his jobs after leaving school was in the IT department of Kent County Council where he spent his time taking BlackBerrys apart. When he got his first smartphone, an iPhone 3G, it was love at first sight.
After years of lugging a laptop around, he enjoyed all the benefits of back-pocket technology. "For the first time I had a product which was quite versatile," he says. "Up till then everything served just one purpose. Suddenly, I could make notes on the move so I did not have to rely on memory. It also offered all the benefits of predictive text which helps so much with spelling so I could think about what I wanted to say instead of focusing on individual words."
Best of all for Joe and other dyslexics, the iPhone has so many apps. If you want to do something, it is highly likely someone will have thought of it already and have created an app.
Joe went to the University of Chichester for his teaching course and was assessed for the Disabled Students Allowance. He was given a laptop and introduced to a range of different technologies. Inspiration 9 mind-mapping software was part of the bundle. After years of trying to brainstorm and mind-map in Word, this piece of software was an eye-opener: "This is a simple but very effective piece of mind-mapping software which I love. It allows you simply to click and type your ideas then link them together in whatever order you like. You can then go on to link files, change icons and add notes."
As well as using it for extended writing, Joe has used it for planning lessons and says, "I think it could be used much more widely in the classroom for teachers to present ideas and concepts to students." While many use Inspiration 9 for presentations, Joe's choice here is Prezi, a cloud-based presentation tool which works in on iPad or iPhone and allows for 3D presentations too.
Dragon Naturally Speaking is another bonus. Joe expected it would be quite clunky and take a lot of training in the initial stages but he was pleasantly surprised at how accurate it was from the very beginning. He doesn't use it as extensively as others might because he likes to listen to music while composing and the two things are incompatible. Nevertheless he thinks Dragon Naturally Speaking is "a phenomenal idea, such a huge leap forward in terms of technology".
Naturally, as a student and as a teacher there is an enormous amount of reading and Joe finds that this is tiring: "One of the things about having dyslexia is that if I am reading in my head, my recall is not particularly good." To get round this problem he uses Texthelp Read And Write Gold which uses visual and auditory channels so he retains more of the content for much longer and does not get nearly so tired.
Joe still finds that his organisational skills are challenged by teaching but once again it is his iPhone that keeps him on track, "I now plan everything on my phone." he says. "Not only did I find the calendar easier to use but I always had my phone on me and was much better at looking after it than my diary because I was fonder of it! There is so much technology in a mobile phone these days, so it is a shame that as teachers we don’t tap into them more."
The Little Book of Dyslexia: Both Sides of the Classroom will be published by Independent Thinking Press on March 31.
Sal McKeown is a freelance journalist. Her book, How to Help your Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Child, is published by Crimson Publishing. Brilliant Ideas for Using ICT in the Inclusive Classroom, co-authored with Angie McGlashon, has been shortlisted for an Education Resources Award