Dyslexia and study skills
British university students (both with and without dyslexia) were given a questionnaire about their study skills and support needs.
- Reported difficulties
- Difficulties at successive stages of education
- Support needs
There are two curious things to note about the structure of this study:
- They only included male students, explaining that including females would have made the sample size too big. They did not give a reason for why they didn’t exclude the males instead of the females.
- Many times in the discussion, they point out that they included students from ‘new universities’ and ‘old universities’, which changed more than 10 years before their study. They even share some of their data divided this way. They don’t explain what an old funding model has to do with student surveys on dyslexia.
This study investigated three things:
- What do students think they have difficulties doing, and what do they think they need for support?
- How do these perceived needs of students with dyslexia compare with the total student population?
- What learning difficulties did they have before college, and how do they think those have changed over the years?
They asked students to identify difficulties. By percentage, the top three tasks identified by students with dyslexia were:
- Organizing essays
- Expressing ideas in writing
- Reading speed
Students without difficulties identified:
- General organization
How have difficulties changed?
They asked the students with dyslexia to identify the difficulties they had in elementary school, during middle school and high school, and then in college. By percentage, some things mentioned as a difficulty in primary school remained constant throughout, but as the students got older other difficulties increased in urgency. Tasks like spelling don’t get easier; other things just get harder or become more of a hindrance.
In elementary school, by percentage the top three difficulties were:
- Reading speed and handwriting (tied)
In middle school and high school, the top three by percentage were:
- Organizing essays and remembering facts (tied)
In college, the top three were:
- Note taking
- Organizing essays
- Expressing ideas in writing and remembering facts (tied)
What learning supports are most used, and most desired?
They then asked the students (those with dyslexia, and those without) what learning supports they used in college, and what they would like to use. This was to identify unmet needs, but one interesting thing is that their colleges did offer all the learning supports.
I was interested to see areas of overlap between the two groups of students. Almost everyone was in agreement that they did not have use for:
- Someone to take notes for them
- Someone to read their exam questions to them
- Untrained support tutors
A significant portion of both groups would like:
- Tapes of their lectures
- Help organizing coursework
Students with dyslexia mostly used:
- Extra time during exams or other assessments
- Dyslexia tutors (literacy based)
Students without dyslexia mostly used:
- Lecture notes given to students
- Copies of the slides shown in class
- Fellow student ‘study buddies’
If desired supports were already available, why aren’t they used?
Among students with dyslexia, there were some supports that were widely desired but not used. The top three that had a wide gap between desire and use were:
- Subject-specific support (77% wanted it, but only 17% had used it)
- Copies of slides (88% wanted it, 32% had used it)
- Lecture notes (93% / 41%) and help organizing coursework (82% / 30%) tied for third
There are several possible reasons.
- Students don’t know what’s available: There might be a communications and awareness issue; the schools need to increase their efforts in making these resources known.
- Resources are too limited: This was reported by the students. If equipment is scarce, hours of availability are limited, and staff are overworked, all of these factors can serve as a deterrent to using the resources.
- Students don’t want to be labeled: If using the resources require a self-disclosure, this has an obvious effect on students’ concerns about identity, perceived identity, and positional identity.
The authors make these recommendations:
- Professors should recognize that students with dyslexia are facing a broader range of difficulties than just spelling and reading, and so they are not on an equal footing when given a spelling and grammar checker.
- The various departments should coordinate their efforts to make a more-seamless system of support.
- The universities should work to improve the rates of awareness and use of existing offerings. Part of this is by identifying why students do not use the learning supports. Another part of this is by increasing faculty and staff understanding of the issues students with dyslexia face (both their support needs, and their concerns about identity and disclosure). This increased understanding should be under-girded by policies that empower these students.
- Universities should take a closer look at the support needs of all students, because the study indicated a need for help with study skills across the entire student population.