Practical strategies, 2nd ed., by Michael Farrell, Abingdon, Oxon., Routledge,2012, 95pp.
Reviewed by Fay Tran
In spite of the rather awkward full title, The effective teacher’s guide to dyslexia and other learning difficulties (learning disabilities) practical strategies is a well organised source of up to date information about learning difficulties. With just a chapter on each disorder, it can’t pretend to be a comprehensive guide, but the author has packed a great deal of information into each chapter and every word is relevant. There are six chapters: an introduction, one for each of the four disorders, and a summary/conclusion. Each of the chapters on a disorder begins with current definitions and a detailed discussion of the disorder, which includes prevalence, causal conditions and identification. This is followed by sections which vary according to the condition and the chapter concludes with a list of recent publications on the topic.
The introduction discusses definitions and understanding of the various learning difficulties and disabilities, comparing definitions in Britain, U.S.A, Canada and Scandinavia. The chapter on reading disorder/dyslexia has sections on possible related difficulties, including difficulties with phonological processing, visual processing, auditory perception and auditory processing, short term verbal memory, and sequencing. There is also discussion of teaching methods including early intervention, direct code instruction, phonological training, combination programmes, generalization of phonics skills, fluency and reading comprehension.
In the chapter about written expression/dysgraphia there are sections on spelling, handwriting, and written composition, while the chapter about mathematics disorder/dyscalculia links problems in mathematics with difficulties with developmental co-ordination disorder and reading disorder, due to similar underlying difficulties such as short term memory and sequencing.
The discussion of developmental co-ordination disorder/dyspraxia includes many practical suggestions for helping children improve their co-ordination, motor perception and spatial skills for activities like hand writing, and physical education activities as well as personal hygiene and appearance, and social interaction. There is also an extensive section on how to save these children from becoming demoralized at school and at home because of the constant frustration of dealing with their difficulties.
The summary in the last chapter is brief and could be included in the introduction, but the conclusion is a fitting last comment to the book as it stresses the importance of a wide range of professionals working together to support children with learning difficulties. There is a bibliography listing the many references throughout the book and an index which also includes the references.
Throughout the book the interrelated nature of learning difficulties is stressed, as is the need to identify skills and sub-skills which are weak or dysfunctional so that they can be improved. Every chapter mentions the need to explicitly teach and practise these skills whether it is phonological analysis and blending, vocabulary, letter formation, number facts or physical skills like ball catching. Also stressed is the need to use direct instruction for the teaching of both the skills and the strategies for the generalization of skills.
There are practical suggestions for identification, assessment and teaching each chapter, but most tend to be examples and not detailed enough to be applied by a teacher not experienced in the area. They are sufficient, however, to guide a teacher in the selection of assessment tools and teaching methods from other sources. The sections on care in the classroom and at home are full of sensible suggestions to help a child struggling to cope with his or her difficulties.
The Effective Teacher Guide series consists of 5 books, the others covering the topics of behavioural and emotional disorders, sensory and physical impairments, autism and communication difficulties, and moderate, severe and profound learning difficulties.