Labelling a child dyslexic could have an impact on the way teachers educate them, according to research by Newcastle University.A study by Dr Simon Gibbs found primary school teachers responded differently when asked questions about teaching children with “dyslexia” to children with “reading difficulties”.
The research indicates that teachers felt their efforts in the classroom would be more likely to help children with “reading difficulties” than “dyslexia” – despite children often receiving different diagnoses for very similar behaviours or symptoms, depending on how they were tested and who carried it out.
“Dyslexia and reading difficulties are not so easily defined,” says Dr Gibbs, Reader in Educational Psychology at Newcastle University. “Our study suggests that labelling a child “dyslexic” may have an impact on the way they are taught in the classroom, as it appears that teachers’ belief in their ability to make difference is compromised by an underlying belief in the nature of “dyslexia” as an unchangeable condition.”
A total of 267 teachers from 23 primary schools across the North East took part in the research, which is published in the latest edition of the European Journal of Special Needs Education. They were asked to fill in two questionnaires: one about the teachers’ beliefs in their ability to make a difference, while the other was designed to assess teachers’ beliefs about the underlying nature of the two terms.
There were two variants of each questionnaire, one referred to “dyslexia” and the other to “reading difficulties” with the questions identical in all other respects.
Researchers found that teachers did not seem to think their understanding of how they could make a difference for children with 'dyslexia' increased with experience. “When teachers were asked about “reading difficulties”, however, their belief in their ability to intervene, motivate and enable children to progress with their reading did grow with experience,” explains Dr Gibbs.
“These findings are important as they highlight how teachers’ ability to make a difference may be influenced by “superficial” labels. More research is needed to investigate the impact labels have in education and how they may be detrimental to children’s well-being and educational progress.”
Research paper: 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
published on: 29 April 2015