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This article presents findings from a questionnaire survey of 136 male students, 62 with dyslexia and 74 without dyslexia, from 17 British higher education institutions. The students with dyslexia reported difficulties with a wide range of skills and academic tasks, notably note taking, organization of essays and expressing ideas in writing. They reported that their difficulties were long‐standing and had been experienced in primary and secondary school, although the pattern of these difficulties changed over time. They reported making use of resources available to them, including additional time for examinations, access to dyslexia tutors and support with information technology. However, there are indications of unmet needs in several areas, notably support for specific subjects and with organizing coursework, learning in lectures, and academic writing skills. The implications of these findings for provision for students with dyslexia are discussed.
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Studies in Higher Education
Vol. 31, No. 2, April 2006, pp. 235–251
ISSN 0307-5079 (print)/ISSN 1470-174X (online)/06/020235–17
© 2006 Society for Research into Higher Education
DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572173
Dyslexia and difficulties with study
skills in higher education
Tilly Mortimorea and W. Ray Crozierb*
aUniversity of Southampton, UK; bCardiff University, UK
Taylor and Francis LtdCSHE_A_157200.sgm10.1080/03075070600572173Studies in Higher Education0307-5079 (print)/1470-174X (online)Original Article2006Society for Research into Higher Education312
000000April 2006W.RayCrozierSchool of Social SciencesCardiff UniversityKing Edward VII AvenueCardiffCF 10 3WTUKcrozier@cardiff.ac.uk
This article presents findings from a questionnaire survey of 136 male students, 62 with dyslexia
and 74 without dyslexia, from 17 British higher education institutions. The students with dyslexia
reported difficulties with a wide range of skills and academic tasks, notably note taking, organization
of essays and expressing ideas in writing. They reported that their difficulties were long-standing
and had been experienced in primary and secondary school, although the pattern of these difficulties
changed over time. They reported making use of resources available to them, including additional
time for examinations, access to dyslexia tutors and support with information technology. However,
there are indications of unmet needs in several areas, notably support for specific subjects and with
organizing coursework, learning in lectures, and academic writing skills. The implications of these
findings for provision for students with dyslexia are discussed.
Introduction
The subject of dyslexia is controversial, and debates continue about the extent and
nature of learning difficulties involved, their diagnosis, their causes and the form that
any interventions should take. For example, a widely accepted definition of dyslexia
offered by the World Federation of Neurologists as ‘a disorder manifested by diffi-
culty in learning to read, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and
sociocultural opportunity’ (Critchley, 1999, p. 361), has attracted criticism for its
narrow focus on learning to read, its emphasis on deficits and its neglect of the context
in which literacy and numeracy skills are acquired. Alternative terminology exists
where, for example, dyslexia is regarded as an instance of a ‘specific learning diffi-
culty’ (Pumfrey & Reason, 1991). Notwithstanding controversies and uncertainties
about terminology, dyslexia is acknowledged by higher education institutions in the
UK as a form of disability, and the term is used to name student support units and in
policies and provision for students with special circumstances, for example, in
*Corresponding author: School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, Glamorgan Building, King
Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK. Email: crozier@cardiff.ac.uk
236 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
examination regulations that allow additional time for students with dyslexia. There
is growing recognition of the rights and needs of students with disabilities and this
provides a context for the investigation reported here into the experiences of students
with dyslexia in a sample of universities in the UK.
Dyslexia represents the most frequent self-declared disability in higher education
in the UK: for example, it was identified by 41% of first-year students declaring a
disability in 2003–04 (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2005). Precise statistics
on the numbers of students with dyslexia in higher education in the UK are difficult
to obtain, although it is evident that the numbers have been increasing substantially
in recent years. For example, data provided by the Higher Education Statistics
Agency (2005) show that the number of students in their first year of study who
identified themselves as having dyslexia increased from 4304 in 1996–97 to 18,700
in 2003–04, an increase in the proportion of the student population from 0.7% to
2.18%. These statistics underestimate the prevalence of dyslexia to an unknown
extent, since they do not include students who have difficulties similar to those who
have dyslexia, but who have not been diagnosed as such, or students who have
dyslexia but choose not to identify themselves to their university. Nevertheless,
despite the limitations of the available data, there are significant numbers of students
with dyslexia in higher education, and there is increasing awareness of the importance
of assessing their needs (Fuller et al., 2004; Teachability, 2000).
Recent legislation in the UK has provided an impetus to universities to review their
policies and practices with regard to provision for students with dyslexia. The Special
Educational Needs and Disability Act of 2001 (SENDA) extended the 1995 Disabil-
ity Discrimination Act to higher education and its provisions relating to teaching and
learning of students with disabilities came into effect in September 2002. This will
affect the experience of students (and universities’ record keeping, and therefore data
on the prevalence of dyslexia). The questionnaire data reported here were collected
between March 2002 and the summer of 2003, soon after the implementation of
SENDA; the findings with regard to university provision may be different in future
years when any changes following SENDA have had an impact. The universities
participating in this study were asked about the provision they made for students with
dyslexia, so that student responses could be compared with provision existing at that
time.
It is clear that many students embark on degree courses with severe problems in
acquiring and employing a range of skills that would in the past have been regarded
as essential for effective study at this level. The scope of the problems that students
experience is illustrated by a definition provided by the UK Dyslexia Institute of
specific learning difficulties ‘as organizing or learning deficiencies which restrict the
students’ competencies in information processing, in motor skills and working
memory, so causing limitations in some or all of the skills of speech, reading, spelling,
writing, essay writing, numeracy and behaviour’ (cited by Pumfrey & Reason, 1991,
p. 14). Consistent with this definition, the research reported here does not assume
that students’ difficulties are restricted to reading, spelling and writing, but may be
experienced across the range of tasks that students encounter in higher education.
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 237
Most research into dyslexia has concentrated on the difficulties experienced by
children, yet applying concepts and methods that may be appropriate for the school
years to learning in higher education is problematic, not least because students have
developed strategies that have enabled them to attain sufficiently high grades in
school to meet the admission criteria for university. The experiences of students with
dyslexia in higher education warrant research in their own right. It has been argued
that research into dyslexia, at least in childhood, has been dominated by what might
be termed the deficit-diagnosis-remediation model of dyslexia, and that this needs to
be replaced by a ‘personal empowerment’ model that seeks to find ways to support
learners in the pursuit of their goals (Hunter-Carsch & Herrington, 2001; Fuller
et al., 2004). In order to support learners effectively it is important to analyze the ways
in which the policies and practices of higher education institutions facilitate or place
obstacles in the way of empowerment, to investigate the experiences of students with
dyslexia and to identify their needs. The identification of students’ perceived difficul-
ties and needs for support is the principal aim of the study reported here.
It is important for research to compare the perceived difficulties and needs of
students with dyslexia with those who have not been so diagnosed, since higher
education makes demands upon all students, and the difficulties experienced by those
with dyslexia should be evaluated within this context. Exploration of this issue is the
second aim of this study. Finally, the study aims to investigate the learning difficulties
that this sample of students report having experienced prior to university, in order to
examine how long-standing their difficulties have been and whether, and in what
ways, students believe these have changed as they have progressed through the
educational system.
Some published guidelines on study skills aimed at students with dyslexia indicate
the kinds of problems that are encountered. Klein (1993) listed persistent difficulties:
memorizing names and facts, remembering sequences, rote memory tasks, problems
with telling the time and time-keeping, concentration, writing, copying and word
retrieval (putting ideas on paper, either as lecture notes or when writing assignments).
McLoughlin et al. (1994) reported students’ difficulties with verbal and written
communication, reading, spelling, organization of work and concentration. Gilroy
and Miles (1996) reported problems with time management and organization, read-
ing, note taking, and writing assignments and examination answers. Riddick et al.
(1997) report difficulties in retaining the meaning of texts, marshalling facts effectively
in examinations, and producing disjointed written work due to losing track of sequen-
tial information. A systematic survey of the barriers to learning reported by students
with dyslexia, within a sample of students with disabilities in one university, identified
problems with learning from lectures, using learning centres and libraries, and produc-
ing coursework assignments (Fuller et al., 2004). Reading continues to pose problems
in higher education, as even students who have developed effective coping strategies,
and who score adequately on standardized reading tests, can experience difficulty with
the higher levels of fluency required to read university texts. Some students report
problems with motor skills and coordination, so that they find it difficult to produce
legible script or to master keyboard skills (Nicolson & Fawcett, 1990).
238 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
Richardson and Wydell (2003) provided evidence that students with dyslexia
encountered difficulties with their programme of study and obtained lower attain-
ments: they were more likely to withdraw after their first year and were less likely to
obtain a ‘good degree’ (a first class or upper second class degree).
Problems with academic work can have an impact on self-esteem and self-
confidence, particularly when written assignments attract criticism for their poor
presentation and weaknesses of grammar, punctuation and spelling (see, for example,
Kavale & Forness, 1996). Many tutors will be ignorant of a student’s diagnosis and,
even when they are aware of it, their marking may be guided by the belief that, what-
ever the student’s difficulties, the effective production of written work is an essential
component of ‘graduateness’. Alternatively, tutors’ assessment of the content may be
influenced unconsciously by the poor quality of presentation. Some students with
dyslexia report feelings of inferiority and lack of confidence (McLoughlin et al., 1994)
and anxiety about assessment (Fuller et al., 2004).
The aim of this research is to survey the perceived difficulties and support needs
of a sample of students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, and to compare
their responses with those of a sample of students not identified as having dyslexia.
The study focuses exclusively on male students. The data reported here were
collected in the course of an investigation into the influence of dyslexia and cogni-
tive style upon recall of material in a simulated lecture task, and adding gender as a
factor in that study would have produced design and sample size problems. Gender
is a pertinent issue for dyslexia. Research suggests that dyslexia is more common
among males (Pumfrey & Reason, 1991; Snowling, 2000), and that more male
students identify themselves as having dyslexia (National Working Party on
Dyslexia in Higher Education, 1999). However, Shaywitz et al. (1990) suggest that
this trend might be due more to diagnostic techniques and gender differences in
responses to the condition, than to any underlying difference in incidence, while
Richardson and Wydell (2003) argue that the evidence suggests that the gender
difference in higher education has been overestimated. These issues are not
addressed in this study.
A questionnaire was devised specifically for the study, drawing upon the difficulties
and needs identified in the research summarized above, and also those that emerged
from a pilot study. The items refer to students’ experiences of learning difficulties
prior to and during higher education. They also explore perceptions of the learning
support available at their higher education institutions. Additional items question the
students about their preferred learning strategies in higher education.
Sample selection provides practical and ethical problems for the researcher into
dyslexia in higher education, problems that are magnified when different institutions
of higher education are included in the sample. There is the problem of identifying
students with dyslexia. One approach would be to advertise throughout each univer-
sity in a search for volunteers. However, students might be reluctant to identify them-
selves as ‘dyslexic’, or might be reluctant to commit themselves to participation,
particularly if they are experiencing the difficulties keeping abreast of their study
commitments that the research is intended to investigate. Furthermore, this approach
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 239
would raise the issue for the researcher of how to establish whether the participants
did have dyslexia, with the assessment and ethical problems this would raise.
Alternatively, potential participants could be approached through their university
centres for student support or dedicated dyslexia units. This is the approach adopted
here. The researcher does not ask to be provided with any contact information, but
sends letters to potential participants via these centres. This has the advantages of
maintaining student anonymity, placing little direct pressure on them to participate,
and approaching them about dyslexia via a channel that is relevant to their needs.
This procedure has its limitations. It can introduce bias, since it excludes those who
were not aware of their dyslexia, who had not yet been diagnosed as having dyslexia,
or who, for whatever reason, had chosen to conceal their dyslexia from the university.
Furthermore, it means that the researcher is dependent upon the cooperation and
support of the staff in these centres and units, and any unwillingness to participate in
the projects will have a significant impact on the representativeness of the sample.
This approach also raises the issue of the operational definition of dyslexia, since
the researcher is dependent on the criteria that are adopted by each higher education
institution, and can expect that the students will have been diagnosed by a large
number of professionals applying a range of different tests and procedures. While the
research reported here is guided by the working definition of dyslexia quoted above,
in practice the operational definition of dyslexia must be in terms of procedures
adopted by institutions and agencies that are involved with the participating students.
All the participating students identified as having dyslexia had a diagnosis of dyslexia
based upon a psychometric assessment by an educational psychologist.
Method
Participants
The participating institutions comprised four ‘old’ universities and 13 ‘new’ univer-
sities. In the UK the term ‘new university’ refers to the former polytechnics and
colleges that obtained university status following the Further and Higher Education
Act of 1992. The distinction between old universities, those having university status
prior to 1992, and the new universities has persisted, in part due to differences in
funding allocations and in the entry qualifications of students. An attempt was made
to include students from as wide a range of degree programmes as possible, with
representation from business studies, creative arts, drama, medicine, music and social
studies. The sample comprised 136 male students from 17 universities located in
Wales, the west of England, and London. Sixty-two of these students were diagnosed
with dyslexia and a comparison group of 74 students without diagnosis were matched
as closely as possible with the dyslexia group for age, academic subject studied, and
year of study. Members of the comparison group were contacted at the same univer-
sities as members of the dyslexia group, and were recruited in a number of ways,
including asking the student with dyslexia to bring along a fellow student from their
degree programme. A list was drawn up of the programmes followed by students with
240 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
dyslexia, and individual students without dyslexia on those programmes were
approached and asked to participate. No inducements were offered for participation,
although each student was promised feedback from his performance on the
computer-administered cognitive styles assessment. Potential participants were not
screened for disabilities, but the questionnaire asked participants about any disabili-
ties. None of the comparison sample reported dyslexia, but one reported a physical
disability. Although the absolute numbers of students with dyslexia in the sample
were comparable in the two types of institutions (29 in old universities, and 33 in new
universities), the composition of the two groups varied, with students with dyslexia
comprising 35% of the old universities sample and 63% of the new universities
sample. This imbalance in representation of the types of universities reflects practical
difficulties in obtaining a matched sample, and is taken into account in the analyses
presented below.
Questionnaire
The questionnaire comprised several sections. The first section asked respondents to
indicate any experience of difficulties with the aspects of learning described below and
the stage of education (primary school, secondary school [including further educa-
tion], university) when these difficulties had affected them. They were instructed to
give a ‘yes’ response if they could remember having difficulty with a particular aspect.
The difficulties were grouped as follows: reading; spelling; note taking; organization
and time keeping; general study skills; expressing ideas orally; handwriting; memory
and concentration (Table 1 lists the items).
Table 1. Percentages of dyslexia and comparison groups reporting difficulties in higher education
%
Dyslexia
%
Comparison
Chi-square,
dyslexia vs.
comparison
% Dyslexia
Old
Universities
% Dyslexia
New
Universities
Reading 47 6 29.73 *** 54 40
Reading speed 64 7 47.47 *** 61 67
Spelling 62 7 45.20 *** 54 70
Note taking 78 18 46.07 *** 71 83
Organizing essays 76 8 61.89 *** 71 80
General organization 67 36 12.45 *** 64 70
Time keeping 55 31 8.02 ** 57 53
Expressing ideas orally 24 10 4.93 * 25 23
Expressing ideas in writing 72 11 51.00 *** 64 80
Handwriting 64 18 28.39 *** 64 63
Concentration 52 25 9.85 ** 43 60
Remembering facts 57 14 26.84 *** 54 60
Listening 40 12 13.29 *** 36 43
*p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 241
The second section of the questionnaire comprised items referring to support needs.
Items were based on a list of learning support provisions that was compiled after
consultation with the learning support facilitators in a number of the universities
participating in the project. The items were grouped into the following categories (see
Table 3 for items): examination assessment methods; tutorial support; group
support; information technology (IT) support; coursework support; lecture support;
vision assessment; counselling facilities. Students were asked to respond to each item
by indicating whether they had used, would like to use, or had no need to use each of
these forms of support. Students were invited to mention any other form of learning
support that had not been included in the set of items.
Further sections of the questionnaire asked students to indicate if they had a diag-
nosis of dyslexia, dyspraxia (disorder of organization of movement), attention deficit
disorder or any other learning difficulty, and to state at what stage of education this
had been established.
In the final section, respondents were provided with the opportunity to add any
additional comments about their learning needs. Because most of the respondents
(and all of the respondents with dyslexia except for two) completed the questionnaire
individually rather than in a group setting, the researcher was able to invite the
students to clarify and elaborate upon their responses; these contributions were
written verbatim and later transferred to a file for subsequent content analysis.
Procedure
Seventeen universities in South Wales and the west of England (regions close to the
researchers’ base) and London (where one of the researchers is also based) were
approached and all agreed to participate. The disability or dyslexia resource centre at
each institution was asked if it would be willing to participate in the study by mailing
a letter to all students who were registered with the centre as having dyslexia. The letter
explained the context of the study and invited students to volunteer their participation
by replying to the researcher, giving contact information and brief details of their age,
year, and programme of study. Full confidentiality and anonymity were assured and,
because their replies would be sent direct to the researcher, their resource centre
would not know whether they had participated or had declined to do so.
When positive replies were received, the students were contacted for an appoint-
ment. The brief details were used to approach students to participate in the compar-
ison group. Across the two groups as a whole the participants were matched for
programme and year. It was not, however, possible to ensure that each student with
dyslexia attended the same university as their counterpart matched for programme.
A quiet room was set aside for the project. When students arrived, they participated
in the lecture simulation task, undertook a cognitive style assessment (these activities
are not discussed further here) and completed the questionnaire that is the focus of
this article. The order of these activities was randomized across participants.
The disability or dyslexia resource centres in the 17 institutions were also asked to
indicate which of the support facilities and resources listed in the questionnaire were
242 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
available to students in the academic years 2001–02 and 2002–03, the years covered
by this research. Ten of the centres responded to this request, representing 117 of the
136 participants, including 40 of the 62 students with dyslexia.
Results
The responses to the questionnaire were coded, entered into an SPSS data file, and
checked for transcription errors. The distributions of all variables were examined, and
inspected for the presence of any outliers.
Reported difficulties
The frequencies of students with and without dyslexia reporting each type of diffi-
culty in university were computed and are reported in Table 1. The difficulties most
frequently endorsed by the students in the dyslexia group were with note taking,
organizing essays and expressing ideas in writing. Nevertheless, all the other items
were frequently endorsed, and only three difficulties were reported by less than half
of the sample: reading (47%), listening (40%) and expressing ideas orally (24%).
The pattern of responses of students with dyslexia attending old universities and new
universities was compared. Inspection of the relevant data, presented in the two
right-hand columns of Table 1, reveals that the overall pattern is comparable
between the two types. There was, however, a tendency for more students with
dyslexia in new universities to report difficulties with spelling, expressing ideas in
writing and concentration.
A series of chi-square analyses comparing the distribution of the responses of
students with dyslexia and the comparison group confirmed that the students with
dyslexia were significantly more likely to endorse each type of difficulty. Most of the
items were endorsed by small numbers of students in the comparison group: reading,
reading speed, spelling and organizing essays were all reported by less than 10% of
the group. Nevertheless, there were some difficulties that were frequent in the
comparison group: general organization (36%), time keeping (31%) and concentra-
tion (25%).
Difficulties at successive stages of education
Participants were also asked to indicate whether they had experienced any of the diffi-
culties at primary and secondary school. Table 2 displays the frequencies of students
in the dyslexia group endorsing each learning difficulty at each of the three stages of
education identified. Rates of reporting difficulties are high across all levels. The most
prominent difficulties reported in primary school were with spelling, reading, reading
speed and handwriting. Although some of these decrease somewhat in frequency
across the stages, they remain problems for substantial numbers of university students
with dyslexia. The most marked changes take place between primary and secondary
education, with substantial increases in the numbers reporting difficulties with note
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 243
taking, organizing essays, time keeping, expressing ideas in writing and remembering
facts. Note taking and organizing essays show further increases between secondary
and higher education, and these are, along with expressing ideas in writing, the most
cited difficulties at university.
Rates of endorsement of difficulties were low in the comparison group, particularly
at primary level, where the most frequent responses were to items referring to hand-
writing (19%), spelling and concentration (each 18%) and reading speed (17%). These
difficulties become less pronounced over time, for example, in the cases of spelling
(reduced from 18% and 19% in the primary and secondary school years respectively
to 7% in university) and reading speed (from 17% and 14% to 7%), although the rates
for handwriting remain constant at 18%. These decreases presumably represent
perceptions of increasing skill and, in the case of spelling, access to word processors.
Nevertheless, there are increases in difficulties across the stages of education that show
parallel trends to those reported by the students with dyslexia, with increases between
primary and secondary school in those noting organizing essays, general organization,
time keeping and concentration as problematic. There are further increases between
secondary school and university in note taking, general organization and time keeping.
In summary, students with dyslexia report substantially more difficulties with all of
the learning skills and tasks during primary, secondary and higher education. Both
groups report increases across these stages in organization, time keeping and note
taking, trends that presumably reflect the changing demands of teaching and learning
methods, for example, increases in self-directed learning. Some difficulties that inten-
sify markedly for students with dyslexia, expressing ideas in writing, for example,
remain consistently low in the comparison group (10% of this group). Some difficul-
ties that are reported by the comparison group in primary school—reading speed and
spelling—reduce over time, but persist at a high level for the students with dyslexia.
Table 2. Percentages of students in the dyslexia group reporting difficulties at three stages of
education
Primary Secondary Higher
Reading 60 52 47
Reading speed 62 62 64
Spelling 74 76 62
Note taking 36 59 78
Organizing essays 34 64 76
General organization 43 53 67
Time keeping 28 43 55
Expressing ideas orally 15 21 24
Expressing ideas in writing 47 71 72
Handwriting 62 65 64
Concentration 55 62 52
Remembering facts 43 64 57
Listening 38 43 40
244 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
Support needs
The second section of the questionnaire asked participants about their support needs.
Table 3 summarizes the percentages of students in the two groups who reported that
they had used, would like to use or had no need to use each type of support. A series
of chi-square analyses found that the difference in the distribution of responses
between the two groups was statistically significant for every item, with 25 of the 31
differences significant beyond the .001 level.
Despite their greater use relative to the comparison group, the students with
dyslexia reported less use than might have been expected of the potential resources.
Only two forms of support were reported by more than half of this group: extra time
in examinations and the use of a scanner to scan text and images into a personal
computer. The remaining resources that were most commonly used (reported by
more than one in three respondents) were: a separate room for examinations; access
to dyslexia tutors for help with literacy; access to individual tutors employed through
the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA; additional funding for students with
disabilities); open access to special computers, including those with speech–text
conversion facility; access to voice-activated technology; help with structuring essays;
the provision of lecture notes.
There were several areas where a substantial proportion of students in the dyslexia
group reported that they had not used a resource but would like to use it. Access to
academic subject-specific support was used by only 13% of the group, but was
thought to be desirable by 64%. The provision of taped lecture notes was used by only
3% but 64% would like to have this; 12% had used extra library support but another
50% wanted this. The remaining items in the coursework support and lecture support
categories were used by between 25 and 41% of respondents, but were thought desir-
able by between 46% and 60% of them, with the numbers wishing to use the resource
more frequent than those who had used it in each case.
Several items related to examinations were reported as unnecessary by a substantial
proportion of respondents in the dyslexia group: a reader (81%), the use of an aman-
uensis (66%), use of a word processor, tape-recording of answers, the opportunity to
be examined orally, and use of coloured overlays (all thought unnecessary by more
than 50%). Tutorial assistance in the form of study skills and untrained support
tutors were also reported as unnecessary by a majority of respondents, as were
support groups.
A clearer picture of unmet needs is obtained if we consider, for each item, those
students who have expressed a need for a resource (that is, all those who did not
endorse the ‘no need’ option) and calculate the proportion of these who have used
the resource. The outcome of this analysis is displayed in Table 4 for those resources
where there is a clear expression of need (defined as a need reported by at least 75%
of respondents with dyslexia). Only three needs are being met for a majority of these
students: extra time in examinations, access to literacy-based tutors and access to a
scanner. Only 17% report receiving the subject-specific support they would like, and
support is lacking in several other areas: organizing coursework, providing copies of
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 245
Table 3. Percentages of participants with and without dyslexia reporting learning support needs
Dyslexia group Comparison group
Have
used
Would
like to use
No need
to use
Have
used
Would
like to use
No need
to use
Exam assessment
Extra time allocated 62 18 20 2 16 82
Amanuensis (writer) 16 18 66 0 4 96
Reader to read exam questions 11 8 81 0 1 99
Use of word processor in exam 12 32 56 0 10 90
Tape recording of answers 12 32 56 0 10 90
Opportunity for oral examination 5 39 56 1 13 86
Use of coloured overlays 18 29 53 1 7 92
Separate room – alternative venue 47 16 37 0 6 94
Tutorial support
Dyslexia tutors (literacy based) 49 30 21 1 4 95
Subject-specific support 13 64 23 15 11 74
Study skills tutors 12 32 56 0 10 90
Untrained support tutors 21 20 59 3 1 96
Individual support tutors employed via
DSA
36 31 33 0 3 97
Group Activities
Fellow student ‘study buddies’ 26 37 37 29 12 59
Support groups 4 38 58 4 14 82
Study skills or literacy support workshops 16 44 40 3 10 87
IT support
Open access to special computers 39 43 18 7 8 85
Scanners 55 27 18 20 20 60
Voice activated technology 36 36 28 0 18 82
Support from trained technicians 28 42 30 26 17 57
Coursework support
Structuring essays 41 47 12 20 20 60
Academic writing skills 28 54 18 10 21 79
Grammar, punctuation 32 46 22 4 23 73
Organizing coursework 25 57 18 13 34 53
Extra library support 12 50 38 9 10 81
Lecture support
Tape recording in lectures 30 48 22 0 24 76
Lecture notes provided 38 55 7 48 21 31
Taped lectures provided 3 64 33 0 24 76
Copies of overheads provided 28 60 12 35 32 33
Other
Vision assessment 22 38 40 4 6 90
Counselling facilities 16 32 52 3 7 90
246 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
transparencies in lectures, academic writing skills, tape-recording of lectures,
provision of printed lecture notes and help with grammar and punctuation.
In order to interpret unambiguously the extent of use of a resource, it is essential
to establish whether the resource is indeed available to potential users. Inspection of
the questionnaires completed by staff at the disability and dyslexia resource centres
confirmed that all reported meeting their statutory requirements, and offered support
in terms of provision of extra time and access to information technology in examina-
tions, availability of literacy based dyslexia tutors, access to specialist IT and
scanners, and availability of extra library support. All claimed to provide standard
course-related support for academic writing skills, organization skills and study skills
tuition. They claimed to make available tape-recording of lectures, printed lecture
notes and copies of transparencies. It would appear that the lack of take-up of
resources is not a matter of unavailability, but of increasing students’ awareness of
what is available and overcoming barriers to take-up, whether these originate in the
institution’s system or among the students.
Turning to the comparison group, very few students in this group had made use of
learning support for examinations or tutorial support related to study skills. However,
a substantial minority of this group (between 20% and 34%) expressed the desire to
use some of the resources. These tended to be related to coursework support, such as
organizing coursework, structuring essays, academic writing skills, grammar and
Table 4. Percentage of students with dyslexia who report the need for a resource and who have
used that resource
Percent report
needing resource
Percent of these who
have used resource
Exam assessment
Extra time allocated 80 78
Tutorial support
Dyslexia tutors (literacy based) 79 62
Subject-specific support 77 17
IT support
Open access to special computers 82 48
Scanners 82 67
Coursework support
Structuring essays 88 47
Academic writing skills 82 34
Grammar, punctuation 78 41
Organizing coursework 82 30
Lecture support
Tape recording in lectures 78 38
Lecture notes provided 93 41
Copies of overheads provided 88 32
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 247
punctuation; and to areas related to extracting and retaining information from
lectures by means of the provision of copies of overheads, notes and taped lectures
and facilities for tape-recording lectures. Nevertheless, the proportion of this group
who reported that they would like each of these resources was significantly smaller
than the proportion in the group with dyslexia.
Discussion
Although the students with dyslexia who participated in this survey were sufficiently
well qualified to obtain entry to higher education, and were meeting the academic
standards of their institutions, they reported considerably more difficulties with a
range of learning and study skills than did a sample of their peers without dyslexia.
The difficulties reported by the group with dyslexia are most pronounced in the areas
of note taking, organizing essays and expressing ideas in writing. However, all of the
remaining difficulties included in the questionnaire were frequently endorsed,
indicating that these students encounter widespread problems in their studying. The
success of students with dyslexia is clearly hard won.
The comparison with a sample of students who do not have dyslexia is essential,
since it would be problematical to gauge the extent of difficulties of students with
dyslexia without taking into account those reported by their peers. The responses
from the comparison group show that a substantial minority of this group report
difficulties with organization, time keeping and concentration. Nevertheless, on all
items the rates are considerably lower than those found among the dyslexia group.
The pattern is broadly similar for students with dyslexia attending old and new
universities, although students in the latter report more difficulties in the areas of
expressing ideas in writing, concentration, spelling and note taking. This may reflect
differences in the nature of degree programmes in the two types of universities. Alter-
natively, new institutions are more likely to recruit students from non-traditional or
‘access’ routes, who might have more difficulties with study skills. However, compar-
ison of difficulties reported by the comparison groups in the two types of institutions
reveals few differences. The only item endorsed by more students in new universities
(17% compared to 9%) referred to expressing ideas in writing. This suggests that the
difference related to type of university is specific to students with dyslexia in the
sample, rather than a reflection of general differences across the university sector.
Difficulties go beyond the areas where support is conventionally offered—for
example, provision of extra time in examinations—to include essay organization, the
ability to express ideas in writing, and note taking. The last is a common concern
expressed in the comments made by respondents. A similar picture emerges when the
reported support needs of students with dyslexia are analyzed, with students express-
ing need for support with essay writing, organization of coursework and note-taking
in lectures. Lack of confidence in note-taking and in retention of factual information
has been described in previous research (Klein, 1993; Riddick, et al., 1997; Farmer,
et al., 2002). Fuller et al. (2004) reported that virtually all the students with dyslexia
in their sample of students with disabilities from one British university reported
248 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
difficulties with learning in lectures: taking notes while listening and watching;
lecturers talking too quickly or removing transparencies before the student could
digest the information.
Additional time for examinations and provision of a separate venue are common
forms of support for students with disabilities, and there was evidence of take-up of
these in this sample. Other forms of support were used by a substantial proportion of
respondents, for example, access to dyslexia tutors and to information technology.
Nevertheless, there are indications of unmet needs—where a substantial number
express a need for a form of support but few have availed themselves of that form—
in several areas, notably in coursework and lectures, and in subject-specific support.
The centres that responded to the questionnaire claimed that the resources for which
students expressed a need were available in their institution, and this implies
shortcomings in communications between institutions and students. Fuller et al.
(2004) reached a similar conclusion in their recommendations for good practice,
following analysis of students’ perceptions of obstacles to learning in one university.
Inspection of the comments made by participants shows that individual students
have particular patterns of needs, and a flexible form of provision of support is essen-
tial. While students praised the quality of assistance generally offered by support units,
they expressed frustration at delays in having their needs recognized by the university
(delays of six months to one year are reported). One student reported on the delay:
I declared my dyslexia on entry in the first year. It took till the end of the second year to
get it sorted.
Students expressed frustration at the lack of communication between the unit and the
academic departments. Academic tutors frequently had little knowledge about
dyslexia: ‘The lecturers need more workshops/training on how to deal with people
with dyslexia’. Members of learning support teams were seen to lack the status of
academic staff, a perception exacerbated by the gap between the department and
unit. One student labelled this gap as a ‘glass wall’. Another student provided an
example of the breakdown in communication between departments:
In my exam, the lecturer didn’t realise I had extra time. In the hall, in public, he said, ‘Put
your bloody pen down’. I had to say ‘I’m sorry I’m dyslexic’. It made me feel like a total
leper. There is a lack of communication between departments, some know, some don’t.
Although students were unanimous in their appreciation of the staff in support units,
they did express criticisms of the lack of staff available, overworked members of staff,
a dearth of equipment, limited opening hours and difficulty of access—several
students reported that initially they didn’t know where to go or could not find the
unit. Others expressed concern about the stigma of entering a unit labelled ‘Disabil-
ity’. Several students commented that this made the initial approach difficult, because
they did not feel that disability was part of their identity and because they did not want
to become publicly labelled as member of a dyslexic or disabled ‘group’:
I don’t use the centre because it’s all a bit alcoholics anonymous—I don’t want to go and
join a group and whine about being dyslexic.
Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills 249
Nine students stated that they had chosen not to take up the support available, while
some mentioned friends whom they suspected might have dyslexia but who could not
be persuaded to go for assessment.
The stigma of dyslexia is a recurrent theme, which influenced the take-up of support
and provoked anxieties about approaching tutors within academic departments who
were not aware of the student’s status. Concerns were expressed about others’ precon-
ceptions of dyslexia, and the judgements that are made about work characterized by
poor presentation, organization, grammar and spelling. Students were anxious that
they would be perceived as lacking in intelligence and had concerns about employ-
ability. These apprehensions create conflict over using support facilities:
I don’t think they took my dyslexia into account for coursework. I am not sure if my tutor
knew. I am not sure if I would have wanted others to inform him … I don’t go around tell-
ing stuff about my dyslexia because people who don’t understand might judge me
differently if they don’t know what it is. I wouldn’t want a future employer to know as I
think it might play against me.
Students also reported worries about other students’ perceptions of the allowances
that are made: ‘I always worry that other students will see my dyslexia as a free ticket
to easy street’. On the other hand, fellow students were commonly mentioned as a
form of support, for example, proof reading assignments and lending lecture notes.
In summary, the academic success achieved by students with dyslexia masks their
concerns about difficulties across a wide range of academic skills, tasks and
activities. Fundamental elements of studying, such as organization and planning,
attending to lectures, taking notes, reading and producing written work, cause
problems, and mean that a considerable effort has to be invested in order to keep
up with fellow students. The difficulties have an impact on student identity, with
concerns about the stigma of disability and the potential for unpleasant interactions
with staff. Respondents express their need for support in a number of areas and
they identify shortcomings in the provision available, notably the time delay in offi-
cial recognition and establishment of arrangements for their difficulties, and the
lack of communication between academic departments and support units. They
comment on the staffing levels of these units and, while this study has examined
only one perspective on this issue, that of a sample of students diagnosed with
dyslexia, this issue should concern universities as they plan to meet the require-
ments of disability legislation.
The findings have specific implications for institutions. Tutors should recognize
that the difficulties that students with dyslexia experience are not restricted to reading
and spelling and are not overcome simply by provision of access to word processors
with grammar and spelling checks. There has to be effective coordination among
support units, academic departments and those units in central administration with
responsibility for assessment, and the official recognition of special needs for exami-
nations purposes. A substantial proportion of students with dyslexia are not taking
advantage of the support that is available, and universities should aim to improve
take-up. This requires the identification of factors that deter students from doing so
250 T. Mortimore and W. R. Crozier
and strategies for surmounting these. This can be as straightforward as providing
incoming students with explicit details about the location of support units, and ensur-
ing that signs do not convey a message of disability. Universities have to be aware of
the sensitivities surrounding dyslexia and the history of difficulties experienced by
many students. More generally, policies should be guided by an empowerment model
(Hunter-Carsch & Herrington, 2001) that acknowledges the strengths of students,
recognizing their motivation and persistence in overcoming obstacles to their studies,
and seeks to provide support for these. Finally, the study has identified concerns
about study skills among the comparison group, which suggests universities also have
a wider role in student support.
The study has limitations, notably in the sampling of students. A more representa-
tive picture of students’ difficulties and support needs would require more systematic
sampling across a large number of universities. This sample may be biased towards
the inclusion of those students with dyslexia who are more concerned about their
difficulties, or who are more interested in learning about them. Nevertheless, the
participants with dyslexia are all registered with university support units, and they
represent 17 higher education institutions in different parts of Britain, pursuing a
variety of degree programmes. Furthermore, the differences between these students
and the comparison sample are substantial.
The focus on male students is clearly a serious limitation, not just in terms of reduc-
ing the representativeness of findings, but in the neglect of problems that might be
specific to female students with dyslexia, or to such students in some institutions or
degree programmes. Furthermore, the composition of the sample might unwittingly
reinforce the perception that dyslexia is exclusively a male problem, a perception that
is not warranted by findings on the gender distribution of students with dyslexia
(Richardson & Wydell, 2003). While the findings about male students are valuable,
a priority for future research should be to assess the experiences of female students.
In conclusion, the findings suggest that students with dyslexia encounter difficul-
ties with a wide range of study skills and learning tasks and these problems warrant
attention by universities as they fulfil their obligations to students with disabilities.
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Thesis
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The performance of a group of 23 13-year-old dyslexic children was compared with that of same-age controls on a battery of tests of motor balance. A dual-task paradigm was used--subjects performed each test twice, once as a single task, and once as a dual task concurrently with a secondary task. Two alternative secondary tasks were used, the classic counting-backwards task and an auditory choice reaction task. Both secondary tasks were calibrated for each subject to ensure that their performance on the secondary task alone fell between pre-specified performance criteria. In all single-task conditions there was no difference between the performance of the two groups. By contrast, in 19 out of the 20 tests performed under dual-task conditions, the dyslexic group were significantly impaired, whereas the controls showed no impairment, thus resulting in significantly better performance by the control group than the dyslexic group. The sole exception was that the dyslexic children were not impaired on the easiest balance condition with the choice reaction task. Under the dual-task conditions the dyslexic children also performed worse than the controls on the secondary task. It is very hard to accommodate the findings within the traditional framework of a deficit specific to lexical skills. One plausible explanation of the results is that, unlike the controls, the dyslexic children need to invest significant conscious resources for monitoring balance, and thus their performance is adversely affected by any secondary task which serves to distract attention from the primary task. This need for "conscious compensation" suggests that for dyslexic children the skill of motor balance is poorly automatized. It is possible, therefore, that many of the reading deficits of dyslexic children are merely symptoms of a more general learning deficit--the failure to fully automatize skills.
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We hypothesized that results of previous investigations indicating an increased prevalence of reading disability in boys compared with girls reflected a bias in subject selection. In an epidemiologic sample of 215 girls and 199 boys, we identified two groups of reading-disabled children: research identified and school identified. Results indicated no significant differences in the prevalence of reading disability in research-identified boys compared with research-identified girls in either second (17 [8.7%] of 196 boys; 15 [6.9%] of 216 girls) or third grade (18 [9.0%] of 199 boys; 13 [6.0%] of 215 girls). In contrast, school identification resulted in the classification of 27 (13.6%) of 198 boys and seven (3.2%) of 216 girls in second grade and 20 (10.0%) of 199 boys and nine (4.2%) of 215 girls in third grade. Our data indicate that school-identified samples are almost unavoidably subject to a referral bias and that reports of an increased prevalence of reading disability in boys may reflect this bias in ascertainment. These findings caution against relying solely on schools for identification of reading-disabled children. (JAMA. 1990;264:998-1002)
Article
Over the past 15 years, increased attention has been directed at social skills and their relationship to learning disabilities. Using the methods of meta-analysis, this investigation explores the nature of social skill deficits among students with learning disabilities. Across 152 studies, quantitative synthesis shows that, on average, about 75% of students with learning disabilities manifest social skill deficits that distinguish them from comparison samples. Approximately the same level of group differentiation is found across different raters (teachers, peers, self) and across most dimensions of social competence. Although social skill deficits appear to be an integral part of the learning disability experience, a number of questions about the relationship between learning disability and social skill deficits remain unanswered. Until these questions are answered, social skill deficits are best viewed as one among many elements of the learning disability constellation, and no significant definitional changes related to social skill deficits appear warranted.
Dyslexia and inclusion: assessment and support for subject teachers
  • M Farmer
  • B Riddick
  • C Sterling
Farmer, M., Riddick, B. & Sterling, C. (2002) Dyslexia and inclusion: assessment and support for subject teachers (London, Whurr).
Dyslexia and effective learning in secondary and tertiary education
  • M Hunter-Carsch
  • M Herrington
Hunter-Carsch, M. & Herrington, M. (2001) Dyslexia and effective learning in secondary and tertiary education (London, Whurr).
  • M J Snowling
Snowling, M. J. (2000). Dyslexia (2nd edn) (Oxford, Blackwell).