Growing Up with Dyslexia with Vikki Ray and Jordan Convertino – Universal Learning with Saj Mohammad
Please Note: This transcript has been slightly edited to improve readability.
Saj Mohammad: In this series, I’ll be talking to professionals inside and outside education, as well as parents, carers, and learners themselves about their experiences of inclusive practice.
I’m on a mission to discover as much as possible about inclusion, because I’ve been a learning support practitioner for over six years and I’ve come to realise that many of the adjustments we make for students with additional needs could benefit all learners. For example, making things easy to read helps dyslexic students, while using clear language can benefit autistic learners. So, shouldn’t inclusive practice be part of our normal routine when planning teaching, learning, and assessment?
In an ideal world, I’d like educators to stop thinking about inclusive practices as another chore to be added to an ever-expanding workload. In actual fact, I believe that inclusive practice can ultimately make life easier by making learning more accessible for all of our students.
This is the final episode of the first season of Universal learning. It’s also the most personal episode for me, as I am talking to Vikki Ray and Jordan Convertino, a mother and son who I first met when Vikki was looking for a tutor to help Jordan. He faced a number of challenges growing up due to the fact that Jordan is dyslexic and Vikki was getting to the point where she felt he needed extra help with his GCSEs.
Although Jordan was predicted low grades of 4 and 3 in English Language and Literature respectively, with his hard work and some help from me and his family, he achieved high grades of 6 and 8 in English. Jordan was in fact the subject of my first action research project and has success was due in part to my use of pre-teaching as an intervention. By pre-teaching, I mean that I was able to tutor Jordan one-to-one in advance of his lessons to prepare him for any new topics or other content. This meant that Jordan could focus more in lessons and even feel like the expert in some areas, which had a profound effect on his self-confidence and ultimately his academic attainment.
We begin our conversation by talking about Jordan’s early years. He was born in Italy to an English mother and an Italian father, so Italian was his first language. While Vikki wanted him to be bilingual, this wasn’t possible while living in Italy. He then came to England with Vikki at the age of four and this proved be a very challenging transition as Jordan spoke little in the way of English.
His English began to improve, but he was still experiencing problems with reading. As Vikki relates, he unfortunately had primary teachers who called him things like ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid’. Finally a headteacher recognised that he had dyslexia towards the end of his primary education, but it still took time for him to be formally diagnosed.
While he was eventually able to access support in secondary school, Jordan describes how learning support departments are staffed with good practitioners, but can be small and under-resourced. But getting a diagnosis meant that he could finally get things like extra time in exams and the additional support as well as the tuition from people like myself began to make a positive impact.
It’s clear from talking to Vikki and Jordan that they faced huge barriers when trying to get support and I asked them what motivated them to persevere. In Vikki’s case, she cites the fact that she comes from a family with an academic background and this gave her social capital that helped her navigate the complexities of getting support for Jordan. She also says that economics were also a factor as she went from being a single parent to being in a relationship, which enabled her to pay for things like dyslexia screening and tuition. Vikki readily admits that not everyone is able to do this and this is clearly unfair.
In Jordan’s case, it’s clear that he was underestimated by some and this gave him the determination to prove them wrong. He also mentions the importance of having good teachers to inspire him. Jordan explains that pre-teaching was also useful as he learns holistically, so he often needs to learn most or all of a topic before he understands it fully. Pre-teaching enabled him therefore to feel grounded with new content in lessons and build up that holistic knowledge and eventually master the topic.
We conclude our conversation with Vikki and Jordan’s advice for listeners who are dealing with dyslexia. Vikki advises parents and carers to not give up. She says that you will face barriers which can be demoralising and make you think about giving in, but if you keep going, these barriers can be overcome.
Jordan meanwhile is full of praise of the learning support practitioners who helped him. But he says that the level of collaboration between teachers and learning support staff is not as good as it could be. Vikki also shares her strong opinions on teachers who don’t pay due care and attention to ensuring learners get the support that they need.
In our discussion, Vikki and Jordan share numerous personal insights and advice based on their experience of inclusion. But if there’s anything else that you want to know more about, I am planning to answer questions from listeners about inclusion in a future episode. So do feel free to get in touch with your questions via our website at UniversalLearning.education
So, this interview was recorded using Zoom and the quality is not always the best. However, you can read a transcript of this and every episode on our website UniversalLearning.education where you can also find links relating to each episode to help you discover how you can put inclusion into practice for all of your learners.
Working with Jordan and Vikki was definitely one of the most fulfilling experiences that I’ve had during my career in education and it was wonderful to take a trip down Memory Lane with them. I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation.
Saj: Just to start with, if you could introduce yourself. Just say, “My name is…” and how you want to describe yourself briefly.
Vikki Ray: My name is Vikki Ray and I am a parent of a dyslexic child.
Jordan Convertino: My name is Jordan Convertino and I am the dyslexic child.
Saj: Just to start with Vikki, let’s rewind to Jordan’s very, very early years that he probably doesn’t remember too much. He was born in Italy where you were living at the time. He had two parents, one with English as a first language and one with Italian as a first language. When he was little, were you conscious of raising him bilingual or was he just immersed in Italian too much to make that happen?
Vikki: It was difficult. I wanted for him to be bilingual but the family that I was in and the person that I was with didn’t speak very good English, whereas my Italian was better. The extended family, which is always a large part of everyday life in Italy, just from a cultural perspective, didn’t speak English. Speaking English in the house wasn’t something that my partner was particularly fond of. He is a character himself. We’ll probably end up touching on that.
It wasn’t easy for me to speak English. This was a time, so I was 21. You’re looking at 2001, he was born. It was at a time where there wasn’t Netflix. There wasn’t the ability even for me to just put something in English on the TV. I didn’t have any family there with whom I would be speaking English. I tried to when it was just me and him on our own, but for the most part, it was difficult to do for lots of reasons.
Saj: Jordan, I know you were a babby in those days, as you say in Birmingham, but do you have any memories of your very, very early life in Italy and what it was like?
Jordan: I don’t have a lot of memories. I feel like a lot of it was blocked out or I just don’t remember it at all. I remember coming to the country not knowing any English at all. Where my mom probably have tried speak English, I wouldn’t have got any of it really. I think, again, that’s my dad and being obviously in Italy, it wasn’t necessary to speak English. It was preferred to speak Italian.
Saj: In those years when you were new to England, so I think you were four when you came to England, weren’t you?
Jordan: Yes, about that.
Saj: Do you have any memories of feeling that you were a little bit maybe like behind other kids, for example?
Jordan: Yes, 100%. I have quite a few memories. I have particular memories of me at school where I was put in school not knowing a word in English and expected to just stay there the whole day. I know mom didn’t want me to be there. I was younger, I didn’t have a choice. It’s law for me to go there. I also have memories of me being in the car, for example, and hearing my name, getting very upset because I didn’t understand what people were saying which obviously isn’t very nice as a child because you might feel like I felt anyway, that people like speaking behind your back. You are slightly paranoid because you don’t know what people are saying and you don’t know what people’s true thoughts on you because of it.
Saj: Vikki, as Jordan’s mother, seeing him going through those sorts of struggles, how did that affect you?
Vikki: Well, it was harrowing. To put it into context, I have to put it into context, I had had to spend an extended period away from him. His father was abusive. I had to get him to England. I couldn’t leave and just take him because his habitual residency was in Italy. The only way for me to get in here would be to come here and fight a legal battle. From the age of between two and four, I was here, he was there with my mother-in-law and I was fighting to get him here.
You might have seen recent events on TV with a woman called Juana Rivas who was in a similar predicament. She was a Spanish woman in Sardinia. That was quite a famous trial. She did leave with her children and she had them taken off her. That was the option that I had. I had to fight very, very hard. I went through absolute hell to get him here, and then to have to take him to a school that he… All I wanted to do was hug him and hold him and never let him go.
That’s my automatic reaction as a mother who’s missed a child, who’d been desperate to have him with her, to then have to take him to a school where he didn’t want to go. He would cry every morning, he begged me not to take him and I had to take him and leave him there. For me, it felt like he felt abandoned even though I hadn’t abandoned him. I was fighting for him. He didn’t know any of this. He was just a baby. To do that every morning again and again, the emotional side of that was horrendous.
Even if there hadn’t been with all that, it would have been hard enough for him, but with that context, it made it awful. The amount of times I was called into school to go in and calm him down initially because the teacher couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was just desperate, really desperate. I would have to go in, talk to him in Italian, calm him down, tell him I’ll be back soon, and that he’d only have to stay for a few hours. This went on for quite a period. Even little things like going to bed at night, I couldn’t put him to bed and go downstairs.
He had the separation anxiety as a result of that. I had a spare bed in his room and I would lie on the bed and read to him until he fell asleep and stay there, and then leave, but if he woke up and I wasn’t there, all hell would break loose and for a long time I would sleep in his room just so that he could know, if he woke up, I’d be there. It was really, really difficult, really difficult.
Saj: How long would you say it took for Jordan to properly transition to being in England and start to feel more secure?
Vikki: Well, that’s a difficult question because his English improved and he understood what was going on, but a large part of his day was at school. He was struggling and he didn’t enjoy it. At first, there was the language issue, there was the emotional issue, and I thought it would settle down in time, but as time went on, his aversion to school in general continued. I think he was happy in the home. His behavior in the home was good, but at school, he was a different being and I couldn’t be there to control it or to help. I don’t think he did settle.
This went on and on until I managed to get help because it became apparent quite soon… Well, for me, anyway, as a mother, his English was good by now. He was articulate. He spoke with a Brummie accent. When he first said Friday [in a Brummie accent] I went, “Oh, no.” I’d rather he kept the Italian accent, to be honest. He got grasp of spoken English really very quickly, but in terms of his reading and the tasks that he was given at school, there was always a very strong emotional response hearing him read at home. It was difficult because he enjoyed stories.
In fact, one of the first things I did when he got… I would buy books in English, like Curious George, and I would read to him, but I used to translate it into Italian as I went along, which is quite a skill where I had to develop over time because you have to… and the Enid Blyton books, I had to change the names because I didn’t want those to be the first words that he used for some of the characters in that, so I changed all their names and had to remember who was who. He loved stories, yet I couldn’t get him to sit and do his reading.
There was no obvious reason for this anymore and I could see there was a problem, but that was where it all began.
Saj: Jordan, thinking back to primary, was there anything would you say that was positive about your time in primary or was it quite a struggle or an ordeal for you, would you say?
Jordan: Positive? Probably just interacting with other people to develop my skills. Apart from that, not really. The teacher that I had the time wasn’t very good at all. This was before it turned into an academy. There was a new headmaster who spied that I might have some problems. Because my English was quite good at the time, as my mom said. I could articulate myself quite well, and probably actually better than the English kids themselves. My language skills were quite well developed.
For example, one of my teachers continuously criticised me for being lazy or unmotivated to do English work, basically, to write and read and stuff like that. It felt like she had a grudge against me. That was for a good two years, that was the start of primary. That wasn’t nice at all being continuously told, basically, you were stupid when you weren’t and you felt like you were. Because obviously, if you’re been told this constantly as a kid, and you don’t know any difference, then you’re going to think you are stupid.
Obviously, I’m not. I achieved quite well in my A-Levels as you know. I mean GCSEs, and hopefully, my A-Levels. It was me being dyslexic that held me back, and no one noticed it. Because of that, I didn’t get the support I needed until I was in I’d say end of year nine, going on. That’s where my behaviour actually improved. I was the most improved student in the whole year. I had a lot of anger issues because of it. I was quite opposed to school because I felt like I wasn’t welcome at any point going through the years of being called lazy, not knowing English, and stuff like this.
As mom said, I wasn’t too happy at school. Once I was recognised to be dyslexic, I had started to lean on and go, “Okay, I’m not stupid. I am just dyslexic.” Then that gave me the confidence alongside with drama, and other things that I did to try and improve myself. As I said, I was the most improved student in my year group. From year 10 onwards, I did really well. That’s when I really tried hard, and I achieved the grades that I wanted.
Vikki: Confidence, I think, is a really important word here because I noticed as time went on, if I was sat in the living room listening to him read, and somebody else came in, he would stop. He’d be looking at them, he’d suddenly just freeze. It was almost like he was embarrassed, he felt humiliated. He would say he can’t do it. I used to have the crying, the tantrums, the, “I can’t do it that.” It was this humiliation that I could see in him when anyone else entered the room. I raised it again and again and again with the teachers.
What really annoyed me was that they’ll say, “Well, not everyone’s noticed.” They made me feel like I was one of those pushy parents who was saying my son’s better than he is. I couldn’t accept that my son was just mediocre or thick, basically. I thought but anybody who spends any time talking to this boy can see that what he’s saying in a conversation that you have, and what he’s putting down on paper, are two different boys. This isn’t the same boy. Just talk to him and you can see.
As this went on, and he got older and he moved into secondary school, this humiliation and these feelings of anxiety transformed into anger. Then he was getting bigger, it was getting more difficult in school for him to behave himself and not react emotionally. It’s all about how he was feeling. This is anger. He’s not just a bad person. He was just reacting in a way that he didn’t want to appear weak anymore, so he would mask it with anger because that made him feel more big, rather than showing his true feelings of humiliation and fear and all of that.
Because, of course, you get to that age, and there’s that machoism and boys trying to outdo each other. The last thing you want to do in a year 7 class is appear like a weak person because you just going to get torn apart. I could see all this happening. We’ve managed to get a screening done by then.
As time went on through year seven, we’ve got the full diagnosis through the counselor, which is a long and arduous process. I had to get the screening done myself. Nobody offered to do this. I had to go and get it and then say to the school, “Look, I’ve been telling you this for years, all you educational professionals, no one was listening to me. Here’s the screening. I want you to do a full assessment now because this is a strong indication that there is dyslexia here.” Because up until year seven, there was nothing at all. Everyone kept fobbing me off.
Saj: There’s a couple of things that Jordan mentioned that want to pick up with you, Vikki. He talks about how he had teachers that were calling him things like lazy and stupid. Were you aware of this happening at the time or did you only find out about this later?
Vikki: Yes. That was a difficult one. Because I would go into parents’ meetings and they were all sweetness and like, “Yes. He reminds me of my own son.” It was strange because it did come out. The school that he went to, it was a small school. I selected it particularly because they were like 20 kids in the class. I thought he could do with that extra attention.
I selected it for that reason. These were people who’d run this school for 50 years. There are people my age who have been taught by the same primary school teacher.
I don’t think that they were very much on top of new methods of teaching. I think they were very much stuck in a rut. It wasn’t until his very last year that the school was taken over by a local senior school academy. It was a headmistress, actually. She called me into a meeting and she said, “I’ve heard him read, I’ve talked to him. I think there’s a problem.”
I burst into tears in her office, not because she said she thought there was a problem and that I was worried that there was a problem, but because finally, somebody… It was tears of relief.
Finally, somebody could see what I was seeing. She said, “You’re going to have to get this.” It was like there was three months left of his junior school before he started senior. She said, “There’s not a lot I can do at this point. He’s moving on. This is what I advise you to do.” That’s when I went and got the screening in readiness for year 7 when he started his new senior school. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have known where to turn, what to do.
I was a young mother. I was 21 when I had him. I was full-time working. His father was living in Italy. I had no support from family at all. He had to go after-school clubs and before-school clubs. Oh, sorry. I wanted to mention this. The after-school club that he went to was actually run by a nursery that had rented part of the school. Because it was such a small school, they’d rented part `of their building. Prior to the academy taking it over, they had voiced concerns about the way in which he was being spoken to.
There were a separate company. Not only him, but other children who’d been made to stand outside in I think it was… in November or something like that and they weren’t allowed to have their coats with them. These are juniors or children. They’d seen things that they were really concerned out and they voiced it with me, that they’d heard this teacher speaking to him in a way that was inappropriate. I started to think, “Well, okay, it’s not just him telling me stories.” There are professional adults here who have voiced concern, but shortly after this, it was taken over and we were able to… This particular teacher…
Jordan: She got fired.
Vikki: … she was eventually fired. Yes. I picked it with all good intentions, the school, but actually it was completely the wrong choice. You don’t know because you rely on these professionals to tell you the truth. You think that they’re in the sphere of the vocation, they’ve got all this experience, and you’re just a single mom trying to do your best.
Saj: Jordan, for you, and going from having teachers using inappropriate language with you to having a figure and authority saying that they suspected you had dyslexia, do you recall what that was like when that happened?
Jordan: Because it was right at the end of year 6, I remember the test that we did at the end of year 6. I had to be in a separate room. I can’t quite remember exactly what it was, but I did have some differential treatment from the other kids as support. It wasn’t recognised support in the sense that I wasn’t diagnosed or anything like that. I think the headteacher at the time was wonderful in the sense that she really did try, and she did speak to me on multiple occasions, and my mom. I think she genuinely wanted to change the way things were ran there. If it wasn’t for her, as mom said, I don’t know how things would have gone, so I have really high respect for her.
There’s absolutely brilliant teachers I’ve had and some absolutely awful teachers. It’s the good ones that have really good impact on you and set you on the right road. That was huge. To be fair, in year 7, yes, there was this work done in the sense that I had some sort of a diagnosis, but it took so long, it took way too long. It wasn’t until really, as I said, in the late stages of year nine where I had any extra support in place. The process is way too slow, there’s not enough funding for it, the departments are small, and sometimes not even trained professionals, but they have the right heart.
The people working there, they had the right heart, and they really tried, but I don’t think they were trained to the extent to where they could make a big enough impact on the amount of students that there was there because I think there was multiple students who necessarily weren’t picked up, and some that did have and… Because, luckily, I had a mom who was so adamant on it, I did have extra support. Some people might not. Some people might not have that background where they have parents that are understanding and stuff like that, and that has a massive impact on them too. Yes, I was very lucky in that sense, but other people aren’t, which is the main problem. Other people aren’t and it’s not fair.
It’s not fair on those people who then believe that they are stupid. If I was left, I wouldn’t believe I was stupid. I would have refused to do work because I was angry or something like that, which I did, and my life could have been completely different. I wouldn’t have achieved the grades I did. You were of great support to me, my tuition.
Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my B and my A in [English] Literature which was massive for me. I was predicted threes, a D, completely different to what I’ve achieved. Even at the late stage where I said I want to do A-Levels, they were like, “I don’t think this is the correct move for you. I think you should do BTEC because your predicted grades weren’t enough.” I smashed it out of the park and I showed them what I was actually about.
Vikki: That’s it. It’s the self-belief because when some people are telling you that you’re stupid, you stop trying. I could see it in him. I knew he was smart. I could have a conversation with him. I knew what he knew, and I knew he could have a good articulate logical conversation. For him to say, “Well, the best you can do is a D,” I was like, “No. This isn’t the boy I’m talking to,” as well, obviously, and his predicted grade.
If you’re been given these predicted grades of a D, and they’re telling you that you can put in all the effort you like but you’re never actually going to get even a pass, which what they consider is a C, is a pass, why would you even bother?
His belief in himself was so, so low, and I always knew he could, but he just needed the right help. Then once we finally got the diagnosis, and he had an understanding of why this was happening, and I could get him support because I had to pay for support, this isn’t something that was given to us. Even with the diagnosis, I had to go and find out, “Right, okay, so we’ve got this problem, what we need isn’t just a tutor who’s going to help him with English and maths, what we need is a tutor who understands what this issue is and give him the methods he needs to overcome it.” He needs to teach him how to learn, not just the subject.
This is why I went out looking for someone who was a specialist in support because I knew that, given the right tools and the right methods, he could achieve. It was gradual, his belief in what he thought he could achieve. Where he was aiming changed over time. Even right to the very end, I don’t think he thought he was going to get the grades that he did. He got an eight in English literature for a boy who was predicted a three.
That day, when he came running out of the school with his grades in his hand, and told me, “I got an eight in English literature,” he was beaming, he was screaming. It was like, “I wasn’t expecting an eight in English literature,” I thought it would be good if he got like a five or a six would be brilliant.
It was just the proudest day of my life, and I said to him, “You see, you can do it. You can do it. Don’t let these people tell you you can’t do A-Levels, you can’t do that. That’s nonsense. You’ve shown yourself now. You’re capable,” but he needed to build up his confidence, achieve something to then believe in himself again because all of these people had told him he was rubbish, he could get swept to the bottom of the pile. Not my baby. No way.
Saj: It sounds like you really had to spend a lot of years putting pressure on people, fighting, knocking on doors, and kicking in doors. How did you find the strength to keep going?
Vikki: Well, I had to fight really hard to get in here in the first place. Now he’s here, then if that’s the fight that you have, it’s the fight that you have. Luckily, I only have one child to concentrate my attentions on. With everything that was going on, that was plenty to be getting on with.
It’s hard. I come from a background of pretty well-educated people. My dad was a lecturer, PhD. My mom’s got a degree, my brother’s have got degrees. I’ve got another brother who’s doing all sorts of interesting things for the RAF, so we’re a pretty well-educated family. Growing up, we always had books in the house, I’ve always been an avid reader. We debate things, we talk, quite an academic background.
A lot of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned myself, not necessarily in the school environment, I’ve been interested… We’re interested in things, we go out and research stuff. We like having this conversation. Joe likes having these conversations. He’s one of us. He’s a bit nerdy.
Having that background means, I suppose, that it’s a privilege. I went to a Solihull school as a kid, they’re well-funded generally, it’s a good area, and so those values of education have always been very strong in my background, and in my life.
If, however, I hadn’t had that, let’s say I was a dyslexic parent who hadn’t had those experiences of education, who hadn’t spent lots of time reading books and things like that, I might not see that he was too different to me and maybe not come to the same conclusions that I did. I’ve had that privilege and I knew where he should be in terms of what he was saying and then what he was putting on paper.
If he’d have been maybe growing up with his father who I’d never seen me read a book in his eyes, he might not have thought anything of it, he might not have had the time or the inclination to bother.
Jordan: Even encouraged it.
Vikki: Yes, and this is the issue. The family is really important because that’s where you get your values from. For them to understand that education is important and that it’s your door to your future, and have that sort of support at home is really important. If he didn’t have that, I don’t think that he would have had any of the things that he’s had. Also, the ability, because for a long time I was a single parent, it just so happened that when Jordan started senior school, I met somebody and we now had two incomes coming in. I could afford to pay a tutor to do the things that I think he needed. But had I have not been in that position or not met this particular person, I wouldn’t have had the funds to do it, I wouldn’t have had the money to do it, and he would have gone without, most definitely gone without.
Jordan: It would have been a completely different story. Completely different story.
Vikki: Yes, it was luck. It’s luck. It’s down to luck and that’s not fair.
Saj: Jordan, with all the sort of challenges that you had with illiteracy, you were having to work probably a lot harder than your peers when you were studying for GCSE. What was motivating you to keep going through all that difficulty?
Jordan: I’m not sure what was motivating me, but I knew that it’s a short period of time in my life in comparison to, hopefully, what I will leave. I just thought, “You know what, these people are telling me I’m basically crap. I’m going to prove them wrong.”
I did have a brilliant science teacher too. His name is Mr. Soni. He was an amazing biology teacher and he didn’t believe that my predicted grades meant anything. In fact, imperative he just went, “Pff,” and just went, “Bullcrap,” basically, “You can do better.” That was really, really good for me. Same thing with my English teacher. It was two of the best teachers I think in the school who did have a positive impact on me, which I think helped. But motivation-wise, I think I like to be right and I wanted to be right in the sense that I can do better, and I was determined to do better.
When people were going out and enjoying themselves and stuff like that, I was revising continuously, I was putting in the effort, and I was working a lot harder than anyone else. I was just going over and over and over it again and again. How many times we did poems, for example, until it just basically became ingrained. We did practices and stuff like that. There was an element of luck, of course, on what came up on my exam. Luckily, it was one of my favorite poems I could have contrasted to, but it was my motivation that got me through it.
If I was disheartened, I think I wouldn’t have achieved the grades. I feel like it’s very easy at that age to be disheartened by other people, like teachers and things like that. I think having the right teachers is so important that you can, to a certain extent, work for yourself, but you need that support and that’s what teachers are there for. They’re there to support you. When that isn’t well funded, or where people aren’t picked to do the job properly, it can break people’s lives.
It can just demotivate people from trying, it can just… It’s the framework. School is the framework to make you an adult and if you don’t have that, you’re not going to contribute to society, you’re not going to be able to be a functional person. You just won’t be able to achieve what you should be able to achieve with the right people there in place.
Saj: Also, you had the benefit of having pre-teaching when you were studying for your exams, your GCSE. This was where your tutor was getting the scheme of work from the school and was able of prepare you for your lessons by having little study sessions where you could preview the content of what you were going to be learning. What impact would you say that pre-teaching had on you?
Jordan: I feel like the way I learn is holistically in the sense that I would say I understand the topic as a whole, my understanding of the topic is a lot greater. I start to really be able to critically think about the topic and, at that point, I can gauge more, I can be more interested, which makes me learn even more. That pre-teaching, what that did for me was have sort of an overarching understanding of the topic before I went into lesson.
Then when I went into lesson, I was able to pick up things that might have slipped through, maybe keywords or smaller aspects of the topic, which then obviously make a difference when you’re writing. That shows you’re understanding. Having some level of pre-teaching for tuition, or even trying to do it yourself, obviously, for me, it’s tuition, because of my dyslexia. That really helped. Gave me that extra boost to concentrate, I’d say, in lesson. It helped with my concentration in lesson to understand and not just sort of… it didn’t go one in one ear and out the other. I can retain the information because of it.
Saj: Yes, and Vikki, could you see the difference that pre-teaching made to Jordan?
Vikki: Absolutely, because he could concentrate on the finer details and the nuances of it because he’d already got an understanding of the basics. Then he could look at the finer details and go into it more. So much so I have adopted it when I provide training in my workplace because I think that you don’t have to necessarily be dyslexic to benefit from this.
I train on… I work in finance, the people that I train have to have quite a wide knowledge of our area and how we lend. It’s a niche lender, so we don’t do high street, vanilla stuff, we do quite complex stuff. There is quite a lot of information they have to have and so I do… I have pre-training sessions scheduled in before I provide training now, so that when they come to me, and I provide the training, they’ve already got a kind of rough idea of what we’re going to cover, and I can then spend my time as a trainer going into that finer detail and expanding their knowledge on the topic.
I think it helps it stick. Particularly, we’ve got people of all different ages. I’ve had apprentices come and it might be their first experience in work, and it’s quite scary. In the training thing, there’s other people there, and you might not retain, there’s distractions. You might have older people who maybe needs someone to go over… If it’s a new thing, they might need to go over it a couple of times before they’re… because it’s a brand new thing, and learning a new job at their age could be harder.
I’ve adopted it because I thought it was brilliant. I could see the results. He’s got the results on paper forever, and I want to be able to provide that when I give training, so yes, I stole it from you and I’ll keep using it because, if it works, use it.
Jordan: I think we had a graph that sort of tracked my progress in what I was getting in levels, so it was the first section which was a D-D-D. It was over a… I can’t remember… I think it was… When was it? Whenever they did the tests basically, I think it was the end of term, each end of term test, and it was D-D-D, then it went to C-C-C. Then you see this graph going ballistic upwards at the end of the topic once I understood it and hitting those goals.
That is the way I learned holistically, so once I got to the end of the topic, I understood it. I understood those nuances to the topic, then I was able to get those high grades. But at different points, previous points in a few years back, I was sort of halted at the lower grades because I didn’t quite understand the topic, and this happened quite recently in my A-Levels with biology. I think with biology both and psychology. Biology, as an A-Level, is quite a tricky A-Level. Once you get to the end of the topic, it really clicks because it really makes sense in how the body interacts and how different ions and stuff like this really interact with each other and you can write in length for it, but that’s only until you get to right at the end.
I don’t think this is, as I said, just for people with dyslexia. I think this is for other people too. It depends on the way that you learn, it is definitely the way that you learn. It doesn’t just involve me, it involves people who aren’t dyslexic and don’t understand why they’re not hitting their grades at the start because if it was down to, for example, the way that last year’s grades worked because of Covid, they gave you a generalised view on how you were doing. I don’t think that’s a good representation for people that learn the way that I do. I think that is a massive problem because they aren’t able to finish the topic and they’re not able to… I didn’t finish the topic this year. We still have two topics, so I can’t say what’s going to happen with my grades, but I’m hoping my revision was good enough to hit those targets.
Saj: Vikki, for parents of dyslexic children who might be going through some of the challenges that you faced, what advice would you give to them?
Vikki: You know your child. Talk to them, don’t give up, because they will make you want to give up. You’ve got lots of things you’re trying to do in a day. You’re working, you’re cooking, you’re cleaning, you might have other kids to look after. It’s easy to be worn down. They just ignore you and ignore you and ignore you, until you just have nothing left to give. Don’t let them. Don’t let them. You got to be like a dog with a bone on this because nobody is going to give you anything.
If you are able, and this, it’s awful, it feels so unfair. If you’re able to get a specialist in, to get a tutor who can come in and help, but it has to be someone who understands people with learning difficulties because the standard tutor, they don’t, they’re not going to give them the tools they need to overcome that. They need to be able to give the methods and help them with things like assisted learning, and the technology that’s available to them, to help them. There’s all these things out there, YouTube videos, so many different ways of learning now, catering to different learning styles, and they can help with that.
That’s a brilliant thing to do, but again, that’s going to be down to the resources you have available, and it’s really unfair that that’s the case. If you can do it, I would strongly recommend that you do. If you can’t, then make it your one life’s thing because you’ll do this for them now, but they’ve got another 60-odd years of life ahead of them. It might feel like a really laborious and hard task, but once you get them there, and you see them doing well, and they’ve got a future that they can create for themselves, you’re not going to have a child living with you until he’s 40. He can actually leave one day.
There is a return on this investment. Put the time in and you know your child. If what the teachers are saying to you seem different to the child that you’re looking at and talking to, if what they’re putting down on paper is different to the conversations you’re having, you know that there’s a problem. You can get a screening. I went to My Bad Dyslexia or something like that. There are websites and will come and screen. I think that cost me like £100. Beg, borrow, and steal for it, but once you’ve got that screening in, because they’ll try not to give you a diagnosis assessment.
Once you go to them with a screening that you’ve paid for by a recognised institution, they have no choice. They’ve got to give you that screening. That’s the first thing you need to do. I had a friend call me the other day about it. She’s got a friend that she goes to school with and she’s like, “Oh, she’s having all these problems, can I give her your number?” I was like, “Please give her my number,” because she’s not alone and you feel so alone and you’re not. It’s not good enough that you’re being ignored. There’s lots of us out there, don’t think that you’re odd or you’re wrong in some way. Just keep on with it. Keep on.
Saj: Finally, for you Jordan, what advice would you give to the educators and the support staff who work with dyslexic learners like yourself?
Jordan: I think their job is really hard. I feel as if they are really under-representated.
Jordan: Yes, I don’t know what just happened there. Yes, I feel like they are treated really unfairly, even by teachers I’d say. I hear a lot of stories from the people that do one-to-ones with me, where they don’t have good communication with the teachers because the teachers are lacking also. They need to be taught. The teachers need to be taught what they need to do and what they need to put in place, and just communicate well with the LS team. The Learning Support team can only do so much. They need to know when I’ve had problems with having my tests on time, having the right reader scribe and extra time. This is ongoing. It didn’t stop.
Vikki: The teachers have to request it from the Learning Support staff and I remember having a conversation with this history teacher who didn’t have a scribe with him in his tests, “Oh, I couldn’t get a hold of them.” I spoke to the Learning Support staff, they said, “We’ve never had one request of this guy.” It’s just lazy.
Jordan: Pure laziness.
Vikki: That was his mock exam. They’re saying, “Well, your predicted grade’s a D.” Well, no bloody wonder. Then he thinks that’s the best he can do. That’s just lazy, lazy teaching. You don’t want to do it, don’t go in for it.
Jordan: Don’t be a teacher if you don’t want to help.
Vikki: Yes, I know it’s difficult. I know that kids can be a pain. I know, I’ve got one. 23, 30 of them, god knows, but you’ve chosen to do this. This is not an easy way out. If it is, you’re really making bad choices in life, you think this is the easy way out. What you’re doing as a job is going to affect them for the rest of their lives, and if you don’t feel the weight of responsibility of that, then quite frankly, and I will swear, piss off, because you’re just doing a disservice for the future.
Jordan: It’s really unfair. It’s really unfair on the LS team, because they can only go off what the school does. It feels like they are isolated. They’re put into a corner of a building or even a very small building in itself. They are limited in the information, they are limited in the resources, they are limited in things they can’t actually do in terms of staff especially. I think in the school we had, there was a thousand-odd kids, if not more. There was definitely more than a thousand kids. The amount of staff, if I remember correctly, trying to count them in my head, there was about five.
The amount of kids that will go down there was a lot more than I’d say 15 or 20. There was a lot more. There was quite a few of them, and you need that one-on-one for them. I’m not saying have one for every child because I don’t think that’s efficient, but I think that they need to be better trained, and as I said, it’s not through them not trying because they try bloody hard. They try really, really hard, but they need more people and better training though specialists and just being able to even… teachers need to be able to pick up on what they believe are learning disabilities, all learning disabilities.
They need to be able to refer them to the LS department who are trained, who are then able to screen them and say, “Okay, these are the people that I believe should have a proper assessment,” and then they can get the support that they need.
Vikki: Going on to staff, here’s one for you. When Joe got in his A-Level results, he achieved results to go to a well-regarded local sixth form college.
Vikki: Yes, his GCSEs, sorry. He got the grades to go to a very selective sixth form college because his grades were good enough to do these. I spoke to them before, they said, “Yes, we got learning support, this, that, and the other.” When we got there, there was no learning support. They said, “We’ve got learning support in the school but we don’t have any at A-Level.” I was like, “Well, what do dyslexic kids do when they get to A-Level in your school?” “Oh, well, they don’t make the grades. We don’t have any.” They said, quite literally, that because they’re so selective about the grades that you have to have, they’ve never had a child with his level of dyslexia get entry.
Therefore, they don’t have a learning support for A-Level because they don’t need it. You’re telling me that once this child has got over his initial problems, he’s achieved everything against all odds, he gets grades into a fantastic college that supposed to have a… It was a sixth form college, that you’re now telling me he needn’t bothered because you’re not going to support him from here. I actually had to change his college. We had to actually change his college.
Jordan: I lost a year.
Vikki: He lost a year because of that. He was so frustrated. I said, “Don’t be disheartened, Joe, because you have to shown them up at the end of the day. It’s not your failing. It’s they’re failing. You, you’re the winner in this. You’ve achieved something that you were not designed to achieve. You weren’t supposed to achieve it according to them and now you show them up. That’s not your fault. That’s not your failing. That’s they’re failing.” He went to a large college, a proper college that had more learning support in place and he’s doing really, really well. Again, that was just another frustration. After having achieved all that, he got into A-Level and you just think, “God, it just never ends. It never ends-
Vikki: -what you have to go through.” When you think you’ve achieved, you’re still got to fight again.
Jordan: It’s a lifestyle at the end of the day.
Vikki: It’s a lifestyle of fighting.
Jordan: Being dyslexic is a lifestyle. If you’re not resilient, God help you because, Jesus, it’s hard.
Saj: Well, hopefully with your A-Level results on the horizon, maybe, just maybe, there might be some smoother sailing in your future hopefully.
Saj: Thank you very much, Vikki and Jordan.
Vikki: Thank you.
Saj: It’s been really fascinating talking to you today, so thank you for your time.
Vikki: Thank you. I hope this helps people.
Jordan: Thank you for having me on.
Vikki: Take care.
Saj: Thanks again to Vikki and Jo for talking to me about what it’s like to grow up with dyslexia. I also want to take a moment to thank the numerous people who have helped to make this season of Universal Learning a reality including all of my fantastic interviewees, my wonderfully supportive colleagues in #JoyFE and #APConnect, and my lovely friends and family who have listened and given me much needed feedback.
Universal Learning will now take a break over the summer and return with season 2 in the autumn of 2021.
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Visit our website UniversalLearning.education to read transcripts of each edition and find out more about how you can put inclusion into practice for all of your learners. The music you’ve heard in this edition is Sinara by Blear Moon, and sound FX are by New Age Soup, both licensed under Creative Commons. Visit UniversalLearning.education for more information.