The learning environment

Last week, as part of the on-going staff training that ALS provides, some of us travelled to Athelhampton House for a mini-conference on Dyslexia. In this charming venue, Dr Valerie Muter, a consultant neuropsychologist from Great Ormond Street Hospital, explained why multiple deficit models of diagnosis are now seen as more reliable than single deficit models when assessing people with learning differences.

Psychologists now maintain that whilst genes do not cause learning differences, they can create risks which might lead to problems. These risks can be moderated by and in the learning environment thus pre-empting an improved learning outcome.

It’s argued that variations in the degree of learning differences are difficult to explain when using earlier medical models. For example, differences can be co-occurring: dyslexia and specific language impairment, dyslexia and dyscalculia or dyslexia and ADD embody shared risks. However, they also each have problematic factors that aren’t shared.

Dr Muter also gave a talk on intervention in which she stressed the need for scientifically controlled randomised trials to underpin teaching and learning strategies. She argues that biological attempts to ‘improve’ dyslexia are seldom successful as they are generally predicated on anecdotes and testimonials. Developing motor, balance and posture skills to counteract reading difficulties may seem interesting but such methods have no proven worth. Conversely, linked strategies, such as work on language and written skills, have revealed positive and verifiable outcomes, both in testing and in subsequent practice.

Here in ALS, tutors always support their students with a wide range of tactics and strategies designed to meet all the learning differences identified by our educational psychologists. Metacognitive skills’ development that encompasses scaffolding techniques clearly leads to success!

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