Building underlying skills

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Here are some free resources. I had a shot of these games and activities and, while not blown away by their graphics, feel they may be useful for assessment of very specific dificulties. Let me (and Ian Smythe) know how you get on.

Do you try to teach phonological skills to dyslexic individuals young and old?

But what about those other skills necessary to support learning of those phonological and visual skills. Dys2 offers over 300 fun visual and auditory games to support learning of auditory discimination, rhyming, alliteration, auditory memory, visual memory, visual-spatial and other important skills.

And before you ask, it is all provided free.

Example problem: Where do you find fun activities to practice rhyming skills? Answer: Dys2 (Under Auditory Discrimination and Auditory Memory)

If you are a teacher/tutor wanting to try or to sign up your students, send an email to

For accounts in other languages, see the website, Dys2 .

(Partner Languages – EN, BG, CZ, DE, GR, LT. Games in ES and DK are still available through the original website.)


Dyslexia Awareness Week: Dispelling Myths 5 + 6


Myth 5: People with dyslexia see things backwards.

Fact: Dyslexia is not caused by a vision problem, although reading difficulties very often are. Children need to have their eyes (and ears) checked regularly – and if there is a reading problem make sure the optometrist knows this. There are lots of exercises and strategies that can be used. If these sort the reading problem out, then the difficulty is not likely to be dyslexia.

Yes, they often reverse b/d, p/q, 6/9, 2/5, m/w and muddle ‘was’ and ‘saw’. But that’s caused by sequencing and directional confusion and working memory difficulties.

Myth 6: Dyslexia is rare.

Fact: Dyslexia affects about 20% of our population. That’s 1 out of every 5 people on a wide continuum of difficulty.

Dyslexia Awareness Week: Myths about Dyslexia


See you on the other side by Annalisa Shepherd

Next week is Dyslexia Awareness Week and I shall be posting something here every day.

First, here is a list of myths about dyslexia. I’ll make sure each one is debunked before the end of the week!

Myth 1: Dyslexia does not exist.

Myth 2: Dyslexia is a “catch all” term.

Myth 3: Intelligence and ability to read are related. So if someone doesn’t read well, they can’t be very bright. Equally, very able children cannot be dyslexic.

Myth 4: People with dyslexia cannot read.

Myth 5: People with dyslexia see things backwards.

Myth 6: Dyslexia is rare.

Myth 7: Dyslexia is a medical diagnosis.

Myth 8: Children outgrow dyslexia.

Myth 9: Dyslexia affects four times more boys than girls.

Myth 10: Any child who reverses letters or numbers has dyslexia.

Myth 11: Every child who struggles with reading is a learner with dyslexia.

Myth 12: Children with dyslexia are just lazy. If only they tried harder…


Thanks to Annalisa Shepherd for the picture.

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Learning Styles don’t exist


Here is a very interesting clip contesting the notion that teaching to different learning styles is effective. Thanks to ICT-Echo for the link.

Professor Daniel T. Willingham does not dispute that some people have better visual or auditry or kinaesthetic memories (for example) than others. What he does say – convincingly – is that this is not all that important for teaching: we do not always learn better in our strongest modality. So much depends on what it is to be learned,  but principally learning depends on creating meaning.

Good teaching is good teaching. We don’t need to adjust teaching styles to students’ learning styles if we are teaching for meaning.

Memory Performance Boosted while Walking

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Interesting article here  (thanks to Charles Fernyhough on Twitter for the link) on memory perfomance and activity.

This research that shows  that memory performance can be boosted by walking compared with sitting down.

The headline finding was that the working memory performance of both age groups improved when walking at their chosen speed compared with when sitting or walking at a fixed speed set by the researchers. This was especially the case for more difficult versions of the working memory task, and was more pronounced among the children than the adults. So, this would appear to be clear case of mental performance actually being superior in a dual-task situation.

 Why should the secondary task of walking aid, rather impair, mental performance? The researchers aren’t sure of the mechanism, but they think the attentional pool tapped by a sensori-motor task like walking is likely separate from the attentional pool tapped by working memory. Moreover, physical activity increases arousal and activation, ‘which then can be invested into the cognitive task,’ they said.

It is often argued that children with specific learning difficulties ‘have more problems than healthy controls when they have to divide their attention between two concurrent tasks.’ However, this research indicates that the opposite is in fact the case. So get those kids moving – at a brisk but self determined pace – and you might find that their working memory (and hence learning in general) improves.

Worth a try!

Working memory and Learning


I am indebted to Tracy Packiam Alloway for her work on memory and learning. I have summarised here some of her findings. Forgive me if I’ve written these before!
Working memory is the term used by psychologists to refer to the ability we have to hold and manipulate information in the mind over relatively short periods of time. It provides a mental workspace or jotter that is used to store important information in the course of our everyday lives. Working memory is limited in capacity and this capacity varies between individuals and is affected by characteristics of the material that is being stored.

We usually experience mental activities that place significant demands on working memory as a kind of mental juggling in which we try to keep all elements of a task going at the same time. Often, the juggling will fail either because the capacity of our working memory is exceeded, or because we become distracted and the task in hand is displaced by other information.

Working memory is distinguishable from short term memory because it involves manipulating information mentally and holding it in one’s head for a time. Recalling a phone number in order to make an immediate call is a good example of an activity that depends on short term memory. Working memory is a term for more complex tasks, such as following lengthy directions about how to reach a location.

The expression ‘long term memory’ has four components: episodic, autobiographical, semantic and procedural.

  • Episodic memory is about details particular experiences such as what we had for breakfast.
  • Autobiographical details from away back also form part of our long term memory;
  • and semantic knowledge is, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France.
  • Procedural memory lasts a life time, once a skill is established, for any information that can be used automatically such as ‘knowing’ how to drive.

Working memory increases from childhood through to adolescence when adult levels are reached, in most people.  Increases in working memory capacity with age relate to improvements in the efficiency of processing and of attention. It is related to, but distinct from, intelligence. Because it is independent of factors relating to the child’s background and learning opportunities it provides a comparatively pure measure of learning ability.

Thus children with learning difficulties in reading and maths typically have poor working memory capacities, and their memory scores predict the severity of their learning problems. Poor working memory does not appear to be due to more general factors such as language difficulties or general cognitive delay. The poor rates of learning in children with low working memory capacities are due in large part to memory overload in structured learning activities which causes them to forget crucial information and so to fail in these tasks.

Memory overload leads to difficulties following instructions, in completing tasks that combine storage and demanding mental processing, and problems in keeping track of their progress in complex tasks. These frequent task failures impair learning in key academic domains – not least because they have enormous impact on the child’s sense of self efficacy.

Many children with poor working memory appear to be inattentive and highly distractible.

Interventions are possible. Teachers need to:

  • be aware of the warning signs of working memory failure,
  • monitor the child, 
  • evaluate working memory load if the warning signs are detected,
  • reduce the working memory load if necessary,
  • repeat important information, use memory aids
  • encourage the child to use strategies for supporting working memory.

 Teachers who are particularly effective at implementing the intervention approach combine a number of principles and strategies in a single activity to provide a strong network of working memory support.

Working Memory: the New Intelligence

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Working memory is the new intelligence: the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. We use this mental workspace not just when doing ‘mental maths’, but also when following instructions and directions, recalling sequences in words, sentences and oral presentations, and retaining information long enough to evaluate and synthesise. Children who do poorly at school may have poor working memory rather than an immutable lack of intelligence.

Working memory is not linked to differences in income, environment, social class or any of the other factors that make traditional IQ tests so unhelpful. Poor working memory is often not routinely identified at school and teachers often describe children with this problem as inattentive, day dreamers or being less able.

Working memory determines how effectively someone can learn and is, according to Tracy Packiam Alloway, ‘the best predictor of academic success’. I had thought this was receptive vocabulary but of course knowledge of a wide variety of words is dependent on the ability to retrieve these words at will. An effective working memory is fundamental to learning.

Dr Alloway is the director of the Centre for Memory and Learning in the Lifespan at Stirling University. I heard her at the Edinburgh Science festival last week and was most impressed with her energy and wide ranging research profile.

People use working memory to stay focused, creatively solve complex problems, respond to questions thoughtfully and recall instructions and crucial information. Those who are better at remembering and working with new information do better in all aspects of learning.

Working memory impacts on every aspect of how our brain works and, as a consequence, every aspect of our lives: from securing our survival, to making savvy business decisions and controlling our emotions. Understanding what we can do to train our working memory can have a tremendous impact on preventing memory loss and delay the signs of dementia.

Alloway states that specific ‘Brain Training’ programmes have no benefit other than enabling people to do brain training exercises more effectively. She has also debunked ‘Brain Gym’ in her extensive research. The BBC programme this week, ‘Bang goes the Theory’ , confirmed these findings in an amusing way. A chimp demonstrated that practise in such games improves performance measurably, with no concomitant surge in overall cognitive function. The chimp didn’t become more intelligent in the generally accepted sense of the word.

Brain Test Britain found that people who play brain training games do get better at those specific brain training games. But this really only proves the old adage of ‘practice makes perfect’. There is no evidence that this transfers to the brain skills measured by our benchmarking tests.

However, all is not lost. Alloway’s research demonstrates that playing video games involving planning and strategy, such as war games, may also train working memory. Games that demand keeping track of past actions and mapping the actions you are about to take (Scrabble, chess, crosswords, Sudoku being prime examples) are likely to have the same effect as their video equivalents in challenging the brain.

Dr Alloway’s team has developed a program, Jungle Memory , that claims to increase the performance of 11 – 14 year olds. After 8 weeks, children in a trial saw ten-point improvements in literacy, numeracy and ‘IQ’ scores. (I wonder why Alloway continues to use this outdated mode of assessment. It is clear that she regards intelligence quotients only as effective indicators of the ability to pass intelligence tests).

Doodling is also highly recommended for recording those ‘mental scribbles’ about information we need to remember and reflect on.

Adopting approaches that encourage note making using symbols, metacognitive strategies for recall, strategic thinking, time for reflection and – crucially – collaborative learning and playing games in the classroom is likely to help those children (estimated at 10% across all age ranges) whose poor working memory affects their progress.

Interesting stuff that should impact upon learning and teaching for all children, but especially those with learning difficulties.