‘Dyslexia’ label could determine teachers’ effectiveness

Labelling a child as ‘dyslexic’ could influence a teacher’s belief in their own effectiveness.

Labelling children who have difficulties with reading, such as ‘dyslexia’, could be associated with various beliefs in how effective a teacher can be, according to new research.

Dr Simon Gibbs from Newcastle University and professor Julian Elliott from Durham University set out to investigate how different labels for difficulties with reading influence a teacher’s perception of their effectiveness.

dyslexia-label-could-determine-teachers-effectivenessThe findings of the research are being presented by Mr Gibbs to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Education and Child Psychology between January 7-9th 2015.

To conduct the research, a sample of primary school teachers were recruited and asked to complete two questionnaires surrounding children who were having difficulty with learning to read.

One questionnaire was devised to discover the extent to which teachers believed they could help children effectively. The other questionnaire set out to determine how much the teachers believed that the children’s difficulties were ‘essential’ – in other words, whether or not the difficulties were regarded as having a distinct biological basis.

There were two different versions of the questionnaires – one which discussed ‘dyslexia’ and one which talked about ‘reading difficulties’. A total of 146 teachers responded to the former, while 121 completed the latter.

Upon analysing the responses, the researchers noted a link between the two different labels and the teachers’ beliefs about their efficacy in helping the children.

It was found that the label ‘dyslexia’ was deemed as a fixed disability, with teachers believing their ability to help children with this label was unlikely to change over time.

By contrast, the ‘reading difficulties’ label was viewed as less permanent, which led to teachers believing they would be able to help children with this label and build upon their skills over time.

Mr Gibbs concluded: “These findings challenge the value of labels like ‘dyslexia’, which may be used as shorthand descriptors for the difficulties some children experience.

“These labels may be of illusory benefit because they reduce teachers’ belief in their ability to help the children.”

If your child has difficulty with reading, no matter the label, it is important to help and support them. This can be made easier by assistive technologies, which can boost the reading, writing and comprehensive skills of such youngsters.

(Credit image: Thinkstock/Sergey Nivens)