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Thanks to @nwinton for the photo.

Here is my talk on Digital Storytelling and Dyslexia that I gave at TeachMeetLothians11 last night and here’s a wee summary for those of us who can’t bear audio files (me!):

I talked about the false dichotomy between the purists who regard anything but print as being beyond the pale to the techno-zealots who declare that print is dead. This debate is only useful if it challenges assumptions and makes us think about literacy now.

I quoted extensively from Bill Boyd  here when I said that the ability to read in itself is meaningless as it begs the question, ‘The ability to read what?’. The ability to read and the ability to access texts in all their forms are not mutually exclusive.

My thesis was a familiar one – at least to this audience: we must teach children to thrive in this century rather than preparing for the last. The need for creative and critical thinkers is never more desperate – and it is learners with dyslexia who are often able to think laterally beyond the confines of the conventional. That’s why I like them!

I talked about membership of the ‘Literacy Club’: membership of which in the past was dependent on children’s ability to move through a set of hierarchical skills – something that learners with dyslexia find hard. Reading is a life long endeavour which develops in confidence and competence the more it is practised across increasingly more diverse and difficult texts. The children I teach have often failed spectacularly at traditional reading but  flourish with the broader range of texts we are urged to use in Curriculm for Excellence.

I went on to talk about digital storytelling, Inanimate Alice in particular; reprising some of my thoughts already posted on this blog (all in 7 minutes!).

I finished with the wonderful quotation from Thomas West and make no apology quoting once more:

We should encourage diversity,

  • not only to be civil,
  • not only to be respectful,
  • not only to be humane,
  • not only to be just,

 but also because we have  a particular stake in diversity.

We want there to be people who have

  • abilities that we have not ever tried to measure because we didn’t know that we needed them,
  • abilities that may be in no way associated with the abilities and talents that we now measure by formal or informal means,
  • abilities we don’t yet know we need.


 TM was at the Scottish Book Trust’s headquarters on the Royal Mile. What a beautiful venue! And thanks to Fearghal and the team for organising such an invigorating event.


Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies. It happens when society adopts new behaviours. Clay Shirky

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Thomas West states:

Some have estimated that more than 50% of computer graphics artists are dyslexic. Brains that seem ill adapted to one technological context can be superlatively well adapted to a very different technological context. The child who has struggled most with conventional academic skills may be perfectly adapted to lead the way with these new and powerful computer visualisation technologies.

 The Curriculum for Excellence gives permission for teachers to celebrate and develop those attributes that have traditionally been accorded less value. Our new (or perhaps re-awakened) perspective tells us that insight and innovation are more even important than book knowledge. Technological change is re-defining the kinds of things that need to be learned and the ways in which we can express our knowledge and understanding.

Many learners with dyslexia are creative and enterprising, while they often fail in school-based clerical and memorisation skills. It is amazing to observe those dyslexics who excel at very high-level maths but who still have not mastered the ‘basics’. Sophisticated mathematical thinking contrasted with poor computation is akin to mature facility with oral language and poor spelling and punctuation. The Tortoise Mind cannot always compete with the Hare Brain, despite deep and thoughtful understanding. 

Sometimes the very terminology of different subjects defeats those with processing difficulties; even when their imagination and vocabulary is wide ranging and rich and even when they know the stuff. I wish I had kept the picture one student produced in a maths exam when asked to ‘show his working’. He painstakingly drew himself seated at a desk, head in one hand, and pencil in the other.

Some brains seem designed to do the high-level work while the elementary is stubbornly problematic. CfE encourages educators to acknowledge the differences in learning and cognitive styles and to celebrate the various approaches to learning adopted by our students.

One of the most important and distinctive characteristics shared by many learners with dyslexia (within great diversity) – when it comes to details they falter. They are not so good at remembering exactly what the teacher said or the exact argument used by this author or that. They may be a bit vague about the numbers cited or the lists of names given. However, sometimes, perhaps often, they can be very good at listening carefully and drinking in the whole situation in all its complexity – and slowly working toward seeing a much larger integration of many divers elements.

We are re-thinking what we are trying to do in education and what our unspoken and unexamined assumptions are. We are using the newest technologies to prepare our students for the realities of the modern world – and in so doing tap into talents that have rarely been noticed or developed before. We are moving beyond fixing problems and discovering where unconventional learners thrive.