In our recent investigation we surveyed the beliefs of teachers in primary schools in the North-east of England in relation to supporting children who struggle with learning to read.
We found that when presented with the ‘dyslexia’ variants teachers’ beliefs about being able to do things to achieve appropriate outcomes (their efficacy beliefs) were a) closely associated with responses to items that revealed beliefs that ‘dyslexia’ was biologically determined, immutable and culturally specific; and b) that their beliefs in their efficacy did not increase with experience.
On the other hand, when presented with items describing children as having ‘reading difficulties’ teachers’ efficacy beliefs about being able to motivate and engage children in appropriate tasks were only weakly associated with an element of essentialism we termed ‘cultural specificity’. However, more significantly for us these teachers’ beliefs in their efficacy increased with greater experience.
This may have importance since in general when teachers profess stronger efficacy beliefs these have been associated with better outcomes for children. It is reasonable to anticipate that teachers in their professional careers will encounter a number of children who find it harder than some others to acquire skills in aspects of literacy. Our research suggests that if such children are described as having ‘dyslexia’, then, all others things being equal, teachers appear to be unlikely to gain in confidence that they can intervene effectively. Accordingly we suggest that ‘reading difficulties’ may be a more positively helpful label (if any labels can be helpful) than ‘dyslexia’. The reason we would offer conclusion is that this seems to open the door to a virtuous circle of increasing teacher efficacy beliefs as teachers accumulate experience of work working successfully with children having ‘reading difficulties’. Our proposition is that this could lead to better outcomes for children.
We have just published the study of teachers’ beliefs about teaching children who have some form of difficulty with reading (Gibbs, S. & Elliott, J. (2015) The differential effects of labelling: How do ‘dyslexia’ and ‘reading difficulties’ affect teachers’ beliefs? European Journal of Special Needs Education (In Press) doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2015.1022999).
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