Example of a moderate spatial bias profile

  • Students with a moderate spatial bias exhibit a relative strength in spatial over verbal learning.
  • Moderate spatial bias students’ performance is likely to be better when they are engaged in tasks that require visualisation – including working with pictures, diagrams, maps and 3D objects.
  • While national assessments in secondary education are likely to reflect their verbal abilities rather than their spatial abilities, students with a spatial bias might be drawn to STEM subjects that make the most of spatial ability and are less text heavy.

Romana’s moderate spatial bias profile and strength in spatial learning is countered by a significantly low verbal score of 83, and so early identification of whether additional language support is required is essential. A diagnostic test such as GL’s Dyslexia Screener should be the starting point for an evaluation of her needs.

As well as addressing specific individual issues, there is also much that can be done to support reading development across the curriculum for all students, ensuring that they are able to make progress in their learning because they have the required reading skills. Examples of specific strategies are provided below.

  • As learning moves through the middle-school to the high-school phase, the subject-specific language demands become much more challenging for many students. Crucially, teachers need to ensure that this key conceptual and technical vocabulary is learned and applied, which means that teachers must ensure that students are hearing, recording, learning and then using these new words in their work.
  • This requires that students are engaged in active ways that lodge these words and concepts in their memories. As Sherrington (2017) notes, teachers will “often find students who are not confident saying a word out loud even when it is one they encounter frequently at school”. This is his list of such words: remarkable, spontaneous, extraordinary, photosynthesis, decomposition, denominator, transformation, confrontation, specific, accommodation, commendation, appropriate, reflection.

As noted earlier, the distance between being ‘word rich’ and ‘word poor’ for students like Romana can be a crippling disadvantage long before external examinations become important. Thus, making all teachers aware of the cross-curricular language challenges she is likely to face is essential.

EAL students who appear to have a mild, moderate or extreme spatial bias often actually have suppressed verbal scores which will develop with the acquisition of the English language. For further help and insight please go to page 77.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Moderate spatial bias students, particularly if they have lower than average verbal reasoning scores, are likely to require more support in developing language skills.

  • This requires that teachers have a clear understanding of the language demands of their subject area and that common strategies are used to help students like Romana negotiate their way through the reading challenges they will face.
  • Devising a simple audit for the most commonly used text types across the curriculum is a straightforward way to do this. Once all teachers have completed the audit for their subject, they can then be provided with some basic guidance to encourage them to refer to common features of the most frequently used texts. Examples of this approach are given below.

Examples of strategies for a moderate spatial bias profile

A strong body of evidence from research has identified the benefits of targeted reading comprehension strategies. Early intervention is often better than late intervention, particularly when increased automatism of reading skills can lead to freeing up the working memory for other tasks such as new learning, leading to the cumulative advantage.

1. Developing reading skills

It is important for teachers of all subjects to ensure that active strategies enabling students to develop their reading skills are used across the curriculum. It is important now for teachers to use a repertoire of cross-curricular strategies to improve, sustain and deepen reading abilities.

The starting point for any teacher should be an evaluation of the reading demands of their subject or phase, as well as the reading abilities of their class. This means thinking carefully about how students encounter texts (for example, in subject textbooks and worksheets) and how teachers manage the verbal workload (for example, by clear layout and the use of bullet points and columns; through specialist vocabulary lists and appropriate definitions).

Good readers are fluent readers, but this skill does not simply appear. It needs to be developed, practised and sustained. We can break down reading into several parts: the technical aspects of reading, and reading a passage for deep comprehension. We will then cover the key skills of skimming and scanning, and move on to how teachers can establish a reading culture.

Firstly, the technical aspects can be developed without a text to read. For example, choosing a reading activity as a lesson starter will ensure that reluctant or EAL readers are able to achieve some success in the first five minutes of a lesson. Some popular examples, some of which have been taken from https://www.thegrid.org.uk, are listed below:

  • Students match word cards with definition cards. This can be done as a card-sort or snap game.
  • Students write dictionary definitions or mnemonics for new words/terms/concepts learned in the last lesson.
  • Students identify from anagrams the key words/terms/ concepts to feature in today’s lesson.
  • Bingo: as the teacher reads, students must spot a word/symbol and mark their bingo card.
  • Dominoes: students match a symbol/image/definition with a key word.
  • Pictionary: students draw a picture representing a word or phrase chosen by the teacher. Other students guess the word or phrase.
  • Students are given a wordsearch containing key words or information useful in the lesson (which can also provide clues/ definitions to activate prior knowledge). See www.puzzlemaker.com for models.
  • Students break a code to identify three main words/terms/ concepts of today’s lesson (a=b, b=c and so on).

Secondly, when reading texts, it is important to go beyond the text itself. The usual method used by teachers to check student understanding of any new text is to ask questions, but this is not the only way. Where teachers in any subject develop their repertoire of supporting activities, students are likely to feel more confident and teachers can be reassured that understanding has taken place. Appropriate strategies could include:

  • Students work in pairs with a cloze exercise in which key words are missing.
  • Paragraphs or sentences are presented in the wrong order and students have to work out the correct structure.
  • Students are required to draw and label a diagram/picture that sums up the meaning of a key concept.
  • Students work in groups of four to predict what will come next in a section of text.

Teachers could use short, direct, engaging pieces of text and directly model their responses to some generic key questions: Who is the text written for? What layout features can I see without reading any words and what do these tell me? What do I think is the writer’s attitude to his/her subject?

Working with the students, and asking them to work in pairs, the teacher can then work through simpler (but often more challenging) questions: Who, What, When, Where, How and Why. Teachers should follow this up by encouraging students to predict using the text: What do you think Frankenstein will do next? What do you think he feels about creating the monster? Teachers should model responses first if necessary.

With more responses comes deeper understanding, and once students begin to see the rewards of their efforts they are more likely to continue the process themselves.

2. Skimming and scanning

Skills such as skim reading (getting the gist of the text) and scanning (looking for specific information) should not be overlooked by teachers interested in developing reading skills. Because teachers tend to do much of this text interrogation instinctively, it’s important to externalise this process for students. It’s easy to say skim read, but, like all strategies, it needs to be explained and practised.

An easy way to do this is to ask some key questions. For example, What kind of text does this look like? Who is it aimed at? How is it structured? (and, for some texts, When do you think it was written?). Here, the aim is to quickly build an understanding at text level, rather than word level or sentence level.

For example, the general rule of a series of reading comprehension exercises is that the answer to Question 2 will generally be found after the answer to Question 1 but before the answer to Question 3. This is likely to be self-evident to teachers but not necessarily to some students, particularly those whose working memory has been used up in the process of reading such that they cannot notice wider patterns.

3. Establishing a reading culture

More widely, establishing a reading culture across the school is a key way to support less secure readers because it places teachers within the reading process, making them active participants in the act of reading. Therefore, it is essential for teachers to be seen to read themselves (for pleasure and to develop subject knowledge); to be confidently reading aloud in class and enjoying the process; to be actively researching meanings and derivations; to be checking their own spelling with a dictionary or an online tool; and, perhaps most importantly, to be modelling any of the strategies they find effective in decoding and understanding texts.

This relates to the idea of rehearsal after a class, that we have touched upon previously.