Read a case study on the learning styles approach.

The approach is essentially eclectic and is best envisaged as a conversation between teacher and learner. It uses a learner’s strengths to maximise learning and to support and circumvent individual weaknesses. It is also based on knowledge about how adults learn, so the teaching of spelling is, for instance, always based on the learner’s own writing. It aims in this way to help dyslexic adults become confident and successful learners.

The approach is based on the following criteria:

  • Relevant to learners’ individual needs and goals.
  • Immediate experience of success.
  • Enabling learners to become aware of their own best way to learn.
  • Enabling learners to take charge of and transfer learning to other situations.

‘The key element of any support programme would be identifying their strengths and weaknesses, because I do not want to reinforce weakness. So, for example, if somebody cannot hear sounds, I do not flog a phonics-based programme. I rely on a lot of interaction with the students and that’s why I love working with dyslexic students because they give me all the material I need.’

Dyslexia specialist support teacher

It generally begins with an individualised spelling programme because:

  • most dyslexic adults find that spelling is a major problem that interferes with their ability to express themselves in writing and to carry out common tasks
  • success in learning spellings is easy to demonstrate and so gives learners confidence in themselves as learners
  • spelling is a contained and focused context for investigating the learners’ learning style and effective strategies for learning; it also helps adults understand how dyslexia affects their learning
  • spelling often helps reading, especially for those with auditory processing problems
  • the ‘Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check’ strategy used in a structured way helps develop self-checking skills.

The spelling programme is based on words from the learner’s own writing. Teacher and learner select words together. They are prioritised according to usage, relevance and importance for the learner. Confusing patterns are avoided and words are linked with those that have a similar pattern or that demonstrate word building. This develops the learner’s knowledge of letter patterns and word structure and the ability to generalise. The teacher and learner then explore individual strategies for remembering, based on an error analysis and the learner’s processing and cognitive strengths. Words are practised over the week using ‘Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check’. They are then tested the following week and retested without practice the next week in dictated sentences. This shows whether they have been retained in the learner’s long-term memory and can be spelled in context. If words are not remembered, teacher and learner explore the reasons and find a better strategy for remembering before the words are re-learned. Learners are then supported through the use of error analysis marking to find and correct in their writing any errors in words they have learned.

A learning style approach image

Illustrative diagram – A mind map of dyslexia. Reproduced with permission of Chorlton Workshop.

The learning styles approach emphasises:

  • getting the ‘right’ strategy for remembering, using learners’ strengths
  • practising to secure the spelling in the long-term memory
  • the link between spelling and writing; fluency in writing is the aim and learners need to write regularly using their spellings
  • developing self-checking skills.

Other approaches that suit the dyslexic learning style are introduced where needed, such as extending visualising techniques or mind mapping. Particular strategies to help reading may be explored; for example using coloured acetate overlays, or, for someone with poor comprehension, taping a piece of reading and listening to it before reading it again. Teachers also use common scaffolding techniques such as DARTs, writing frames and kernel sentences.

An essential part of this approach is helping learners understand dyslexia and how it affects them as individuals. Here is a mind map made by a Swedish dyslexic learner about what dyslexia meant to her:

A learning style approach image

Illustrative diagram – a mind map of dyslexia. Reproduced with permission of Chorlton Workshop.

Other approaches and resources used for developing effective strategies include computer software, plastic letters, drawing or clay modelling, highlighters and coloured pens or paper.

History of the learning styles approach

The learning styles approach grew from the work of Grace Fernald and Margaret Peters and was adapted for adults by Robin Millar at the London Language and Literacy Unit. Her successor, Cynthia Klein, and other practitioners continued the development of work with dyslexic adult learners in the 1980s. The work emphasised approaches based on the idea of dyslexia as a difference rather than a deficit and on learners finding their own right way into words. The approach uses learners’ strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. It sees dyslexic learners as having strong needs to learn in particular ways. Neurological studies of dyslexia as difference and the work of Ron Davis and Tom West have added to the picture of a dyslexic learning style.

A national development project in 1990 stimulated the design and piloting of the Certificate in Adult Dyslexia Support; this became a channel for listening to dyslexic teachers who attended the course and for extending practical knowledge about how dyslexics learn.

Current usage of the learning styles approach

The learning styles approach, as advocated by Cynthia Klein, is widely used by dyslexia specialists in adult and further education. It is taught through the Certificate in Adult Dyslexia Support course which is delivered nationally and is open to experienced teachers of adults. The Certificate in Adult Dyslexia Support is a specialist qualification that is now common in adult and further education.

Since 1999, when the London Language and Literacy Unit transferred to London South Bank University, around 500 teachers have completed the Adult Dyslexia Support course. Some 240 now hold the Certificate in Adult Dyslexia Support.

Where can practitioners find out more information?

London South Bank University
103 Borough Road
London SE1 0AA
Tel: 0207 815 6290
LLU+ website

Read a case study on the learning styles approach.