… was how I began my presentation at BETT last week.

I had been invited by the British Dyslexia Association and iansyst.com to talk about dyslexia friendly schools and the use of digital technologies.

But I started with a story just to set the mood (of which more later). Nobody fell asleep even though it was after lunch and Olympia is a crazy and tiring place to be at conference time.

I then talked a little about the process some schools in East Lothian have embarked upon whereby the whole staff commits to working towards pledging to be a Dyslexia Friendly School. We audit practice, identify areas for development and evaluate progress.

I make 2 assumptions:

  • Difficulties are almost entirely created by the context and conditions in which learning takes place.
  • Digital technologies can minimise or even remove literacy difficulties altogether. ICT not only assists access to the curriculum but enables learners with dyslexia to personalise their own learning.

The central component of my presentation was about what we mean by the term ‘literacy’ as our interpretation has implications for the fundamental beliefs and practice we have taken for granted for a long time, and has profound implications for learners with dyslexia. TheBig Debate’, in simple terms, is that between the purists who say that literacy is about the written or the printed word and the techno-zealots who claim that print is dead.

I proposed that neither is accurate, and that literacy is a constantly evolving process; one which must encompass new technologies and approaches to accessing ideas, experiences, opinions and information.

I quoted the Curriculum for Excellence definition of literacy and illustrated the different and complex forms of text available to learners today. An exciting new notion to some teachers in England was that CfE is described principally in terms of outcomes for learners rather than inputs from teachers and that this inevitably changes relationships between teacher and student; I would argue for the good

My story was about 2 youngsters; Matilda, a fluent and enthusiastic reader and writer but one with a relatively fixed mindset, and Leo whose formal literacy skills were undeveloped but who took risks with his learning – mainly out of school using multi-modal platforms and media. I claimed that it was a youngster like Leo who is more likely to be a successful learner in the long term as he is a critical and creative thinker whose skills will be highly prized in the Information Age – just as long as he manages to survive school with his sense of self worth intact.

I described how Leo constructs his own meanings and performs understanding using the tools with which he is familiar, and with real audiences in mind. These of course cross arbitrary divisions between age + stage and subject boundaries that he finds so irksome in school.

I addressed the notion of the Literacy Club, very familiar and comfortable to the likes of Matilda (and me). Up until very recently acceptance and membership of this club has been defined by the thickness of the book, the speed of the tongue, and the amount one’s brain could hold (at least until test time rolled around.)

Comprehension was something that happened when the work with words was done.

It’s a club from which learners with dyslexia have been excluded for too long.

If we base teaching on a conceptualization of reading as a single line of development from simple to more complex tasks, it will perpetuate the myth that reading is over and done with by age 7 or 8; unless you’re stupid.

Reading is a life long endeavour, that develops in competence and confidence the more it is practised across increasingly more difficult and diverse text. In an era of new literacies we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn. So I asked, ‘Who’s in the various literacy clubs?: Blog, Twitter, Wiki, YouTube, Transmedia…’

I posited that we were all emergent readers when we encounter new texts and media that push the boundaries of genre, form, format, and mode: on and offline? My experience with Inanimate Alice is an illustration.

I concluded with a quotation from I know not where:

‘Confusion is an enlightened reaction. If anyone is not confused then s/he is missing some of the details’.