In this article, I interviewed Dr Susie Nyman, Curriculum Manager for Health and Social Care The Sixth Form College Farnborough about how she builds engagement and boosts attainment with dyslexic students.
Susie, please could you tell me a bit about who you are and what you do?
I was appointed as an A Level Biology teacher at The Sixth Form College Farnborough in 1995, and subsequently as Curriculum Manager for Health and Social Care where I have worked ever since. We are one of the top performing Sixth Form Colleges in the country, and it is wonderful to be able to work with such a dedicated and empowering team of staff. Over many years, we have been one of the top performing curriculum areas in the College, and each and every one of my team is passionate about discovering how children learn, and supporting them in ways that enable them to succeed.
Whilst teaching A Level Biology and Anatomy in Health and Social Care, I discovered that the students required a different way of accessing the difficult terminology and science concepts. We would often use Plasticine in order to model the cell components, and make enzymes out of tin foil. Nevertheless, in January 2012, I experienced an epiphany when a student in my Health and Social Care Anatomy class retorted ‘I don’t do science, it is too hard!’ What was I going to do? She had to sit an Anatomy examination in order to pass her course…
I dug deep and pulled all the tricks I could think of out of the bag in the lesson. We sang the key words for the heart to Michael Jacksons ‘Beat It’, made models out of Play Doh on white boards, labelling them with board markers and finally played ‘The Weakest Link’ with the key words. All past examination questions were photocopied and laminated to A3 size, and the students would practise them as they entered the classroom at the start of the lesson. Their confidence grew, and Multi-sensory Teaching as we know it now was born!
On a daily basis, I work part-time at the College as a class teacher; often helping students on an individual basis or with small groups delivering workshops deploying a range of innovative and Multi-sensory teaching techniques to assist their learning using my famous puppets!
Seven years ago I was invited to work in Curriculum Support at The Oratory School. In the school environment, I have worked very closely with dyslexic students and made bespoke props for boys in order to enable them to access their GCSE Science curriculum. One of the boys’ favourite props is ‘Mendel’s Peas’ which is in difficult for the boys to visualize when answering examination questions about genetic crosses. Over the years, I have made tiles for working out the electronic configurations of the first 20 elements of the Periodic Table, models of the heart, digestive system and brain as well as various large mats with complex diagrams on such as the flowering plant and nitrogen cycle.
In both educational establishments my curriculum delivery is concerned with ‘raising students’ achievements, thus empowering and providing them with confidence, competence and independence. Furthermore, to be equipped with the skills they require for decoding and answering their future examination questions effectively.
I recently saw a video about you talking about multi-sensory learning. What is it and why does it make a difference to dyslexic learners?
Multi-sensory teaching is what it says on the tin. 'Teaching using the five senses!'
Everyone says that they are doing it; but are they really exposing the students to a range of Multi-sensory teaching and learning techniques and ideas every lesson, and at every available opportunity? Multi-sensory teaching uses approaches that all students can apply to their learning. Given that learning works in association with our senses, it makes sense that learning activities using Multi-sensory teaching should appeal to a range of students’ learning styles.
Multi-sensory teaching is a bit like layers of an onion. If you build up a concept in different ways (onion layers) then dyslexic students are able to understand the concept or terminology better. This can be initially explaining the language using different coloured pens with images or stories through to Post It notes, models, Mind Maps and diagrams. These techniques may improve the neuro-plasticity of the brain which helps with learning and memory.
What advice would you give a teacher who wants to support the learning of their dyslexic students more effectively?
Speak to the student individually, and try to find out the difficulties they are experiencing on a daily basis with their studies. It could be the complex terminology used in the subject, and so it may be useful for the student to be provided with a glossary of terms. Often students are interested in the Latin or Greek root of the word. For example, the atrium in the heart is a chamber which was also the largest room in the Roman House! The student could write atrium in either blue for the right atrium (receives deoxygenated blood) or red for the left atrium (receives oxygenated blood). This helps them to understand, process and decode the language used in examination questions better.
A technique one student often used was to read an examination question, and then reword it using his own vocabulary so that he understood more clearly what was required. An example of this could be ‘What is the genotype?’ He may reword this in his mind as ‘What are the genes?’
Using hooks really works well with dyslexic students. Recently, working with a Chinese boy who did not understand ‘which plants mountain hares preferred to eat and why?’ We related it to Chinese food and school dinners and then he really understood it well!
It is so important to get into the individual brain of a dyslexic child and see how they learn. Every child is different, and it is fascinating to discover the way they learn…
Where can we hear more from you and your teaching techniques?
I am speaking at the Bell House Dyslexia Fair on Saturday 14th September in Dulwich, London at 11:15am about how to be a ‘grade riser’. More details can be found by clicking here.
Could you recommend a publication that teachers could use to help them use more multi-sensory learning techniques?
Following the release of my BDA Dyslexia teaching points: Multi-sensory techniques for teaching science video, and my presentation for The Helen Arkell Centre in 2017, Oaka Books and I formed a partnership. It all made sense, as they were publishing Multi-sensory booklets for dyslexic students, and I was using the techniques in the classroom.
In October 2018, Oaka Books shot a further set of ‘Dr Susie Nyman’s Multi-sensory Teaching Tips’ videos in my classroom at The Sixth Form College, Farnborough. These were published on YouTube, and shortly after we published the booklet ‘The Multi-sensory Teaching Toolkit’. This is based on original photographs of all the techniques I have developed over the years with my dyslexic students either on a one-to-one basis or in the classroom setting. Many of these cheap and easy-to-replicate techniques can be adapted for variety of different subjects, and have made an enormous difference to thousands of students providing them with an alternative way of accessing the curriculum and achieving stellar results!