Dyslexia: A preferred way of learning

Written by: Neil MacKay | Published:
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Thank you very much. I am a dyslexic in Santa Barbara CA. USA ... I am 64 Dyslexic and after a ...

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Ahead of his workshop at Nasen Live, dyslexia expert Neil MacKay outlines some of the best approaches to meeting the needs of dyslexic students

Dyslexia is best viewed positively as a preferred way of learning, with commensurate opportunities and costs implicit with any preference, rather than negatively as a disability with the implication that there is something “wrong” with a dyslexic child or adult.

I believe in the concept of dyslexia as a “spectrum condition” and I would argue that all teachers have the ability and opportunity to identify and respond to students with Dyslexic Type Learning Needs (DTLN) as part of everyday classroom monitoring and tracking procedures.

This would typically include students who think faster than they read, spell and get ideas down on paper – a definite “thinking gap” – and those who are unlikely to get an assessment leading to an official label, a cue for needs-based intervention.

This latter point is especially important, particularly in the light of changes in the way progress and achievement are measured from 2016.

In this respect, labels are meaningless unless they lead very quickly to changes in the way a student is taught. Classroom practitioners are the best people to confer the “DTLN” label because this leads to instant action rather than waiting for panels, bureaucracy and assessments to grind on while a student is going steadily backwards.

Labels which are explanation-driven and based on what a student needs to move forward are a perfect fit with the SEND Code of Practice, the national curriculum and, for the time being at least, current Ofsted thinking.

If we look at the solution-focused approaches built around Eide and Eide’s “MIND” strengths of Dyslexia, there are ways of incorporating these to develop the “Dyslexia Zone” in the mainstream, unsupported classroom by fine-tuning already well-established “notice and adjust” approaches. Eide and Eide’s MIND strengths are:

  • Material reasoning.
  • Interconnected reasoning.
  • Narrative reasoning.
  • Dynamic reasoning.

It is also important to understand that students have the right to be dyslexic, which places an obligation on teachers to teach them in the ways they prefer to learn. In the words of Sharratt and Fullan (2009), authors of Putting Faces on the Data: “If I have an expectation of you, then I have an obligation to provide you with whatever you need to be successful in meeting that expectation.”

This makes the point that the constant pressure for student achievement requires students to be taught in the ways they prefer to learn, through differentiation, personalisation and accommodation. This is where the MIND strengths empower teachers to create the Dyslexia Zone, the place where tweaks for DTLN benefit most, if not all, students in a class.

Material reasoning

This is the ability to think, reason and visualise in 3D. For example, experiments in science, coding, problems in maths and physical geography are often processed in this powerful way, conferring advantages in terms of understanding, inference and prediction. But it can also lead to weaker 2D recall and may explain why some students prefer to write in capitals.

Interconnected reasoning

This is the ability to “spot connections and relationships between concepts and points of view” (Eide and Eide, 2011). Dyslexic students are very comfortable with the global big picture and can be seriously disadvantaged when there is an over-emphasis on detail and process. Trade-offs include comprehension at the expense of accuracy and the use of context to make intuitive leaps at the expense of reading fluency.

Narrative reasoning

This is the ability to recall the past, understand the present and imagine the future through the use of stories. Many successful dyslexics report thinking in vivid colourful pictures and a tendency for the mind to wander and become distracted by possibilities. This powerful episodic memory benefits from multi-sensory learning opportunities which support fluid thinking to link ideas in unique ways.

Dynamic reasoning

This is the ability to “recombine elements of past experience to predict or mentally simulate future outcomes” (Eide and Eide, 2011). However, they also risk “paralysis by analysis” and students often struggle to get started as they become overwhelmed by possibilities. Multi-sensory planning techniques are very effective in this context.

Creating the Dyslexia Zone

The My Dyslexic Mind approach (from Neil MacKay) will be discussed in further detail during his Nasen Live session.


  • Just enough information
  • Multi-sensory
  • Formative assessments
  • Bite-size chunks
  • Time to think and plan
  • Encourage “3D thinking”


  • Start when ready
  • Teach a range of planning techniques
  • Time to walk through
  • Time to talk through
  • Opportunities for alternative evidence


  • Start with the big picture
  • Keep it visual
  • Time to go off track
  • Expect/accept the “quirky”
  • “Can you make it work this way? Okay, show me”


  • Time to think
  • Time to visualise
  • Permission to get off track
  • Permission to start again
  • Monitoring to pull back to task focus “as and when”
  • Neil MacKay was previously a senior teacher and SENCO in a large secondary school in North Wales and is now a trainer specialising in dyslexia and other SEND issues. He will develop these ideas further during his session at Nasen Live 2016.

Further information

Nasen Live provides the opportunity for SENCOs, teachers and practitioners to update their SEND practice. It takes place in Leeds on April 29 and 30. Neil’s session is at 3:30pm on April 29. Visit www.nasen.org.uk/nasen-live/

Thank you very much. I am a dyslexic in Santa Barbara CA. USA ... I am 64 Dyslexic and after a life time of working with kids doing plays, making movies, junk art... and myself a self taught fine artist am now aiming myself at being an advocate for Dyslexia. The information on brain types is simple and clear as it the way to address the kids as teachers.... thanks again.
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