Barbara Kelly

A book changed my professional life. More specifically, a chapter in that book (Dyslexia & effective learning in secondary & tertiary education, 2001) that explored the fundamental importance of enabling students to reconnect with their own resourcefulness and, more importantly, find and develop their own voice.

‘Voice’? Now there is a very interesting concept. We first meet many of our students at a low point in their life: not only do many feel they no longer have a ‘voice’ but also that they have nothing left to give: they fear their inadequacies will be found out. Emotions can be highly charged and expectations can come crashing down. In this type of situation, individual identity is one of the first casualties, and this can have psychosocial repercussions way beyond the student’s academic life. Just turning up at learning support can signify loss of personal power in relation to learning as well as status.

A very important step in re-establishing identity, and ultimately an ability for self-advocacy, requires reawakening resourcefulness, creativity and confidence, which can be a tall order for someone who feels they have been referred to learning support because they are a ‘failure’. It’s an even taller order for the tutor who is going to work with them, and the complexity of what we do on a daily basis can leave us feeling deskilled and quite frankly a bit unappreciated. This is the area of evidenced-based practice that I love to engage in, because if we, as tutors, can’t communicate the complexity and value of what we do then we have precious little hope of others understanding it either. We also need to be consciously competent, able to draw on a wide range of underpinning theories and philosophies which inform our practice because this is where we can find the tools to encourage the development of the student’s own voice. Without these underpinning philosophies the tutors’ gaze may be too limited and limiting for their dyslexic students (Herrington 2001) and interpretations of what we do reduced merely to ‘study skills’ – rather than a complex, developmental teaching process that leads to autonomous learners. As professional SpLD tutors we need to share our knowledge and skills, and this is a process that I wholeheartedly support.

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