Approaches to teaching

Approaches to teaching

CoPS results should always be considered in relation to two fundamental educational strategies:

  • Remediation of cognitive weaknesses
  • Differentiated teaching in basic skills

Cognitive abilities that are especially important for early literacy generally improve with the right type of practice. Where CoPS reveals limitation in these skills, the teacher knows where and with which students to give remediation. However, the objective of CoPS is not just the identification of specific cognitive weaknesses so that these can be given training. An equally important function of CoPS is to give the teacher insights into the student’s pattern of cognitive strengths and weaknesses. This enables the teacher to make the literacy and basic skills learning programme for the student more individualised and more efficacious. It is important to stress that the two approaches (cognitive remediation and differentiated teaching) should be complementary and not contradictory. In other words, both strategies should be considered and will usually be implemented together. The best overall approach is one which attempts to remedy weaknesses whilst at the same time building on strengths.

Throughout this chapter, teachers will find recommendations regarding software and other resources. Teaching strategies and suggested software for pupils with dyslexia and other literacy difficulties have been reviewed by Reid (2016) Crivelli (2013), Keates (2002) and Stansfield (2012) and Shaywitz, Morris and Shaywitz (2008). The Rose report (Rose, 2009) also gives an overview of strategies for supporting students with dyslexia. For further suggestions on suitable software see the British Dyslexia Association New Technologies Committee website (www.bdatech.org) which is updated on a regular basis.

Remediation of cognitive weaknesses

The approach here is to use the CoPS subtests to identify cognitive weaknesses and then for the teacher to address these directly with suitable training activities. However, some cognitive weaknesses respond better to direct remediation than others, especially with younger students. Phonological awareness (Rhymes) and auditory discrimination weaknesses (Wock), for example, generally respond better to training than do memory difficulties.

Training can be carried out individually or in group work, in the classroom or at home. Examples of training activities are given later in this section. It is important that progress is properly monitored to ensure that the techniques being used are effective. As far as possible, it is better to use measures or techniques other than CoPS for this purpose. Although CoPS can be used for monitoring progress, care must be taken not to over-test the student. Any test will show a practice effect with repeated testing and the apparent improvement in test performance may not always give a true reflection of the more generalised cognitive improvement that is being sought.

However, it is important to stress that remediation of cognitive weaknesses should generally be used in conjunction with differentiated literacy teaching. Cognitive remediation is unlikely to be a successful strategy by itself unless the weaknesses are very minor and/or can be treated swiftly in a manner which has already been proven to be effective. For example, in the case of a student from an impoverished language background, who has scored low on Rhymes (phonological awareness) but has a satisfactory performance on all the other CoPS tests. Phonological training using rhyming, alliterative and syllable segmentation activities have a very good chance of success with such a student, as long as the help can be provided early enough and intensively enough (Bryant and Bradley, 1985; Goswami and Bryant, 1990; Bode and Content, 2011; Kjeldsen et al., 2014; Falth et al., 2017). However, it must always be borne in mind that whilst cognitive remediation is being carried out, the student is still likely to be involved in early literacy work in the classroom. If that literacy work is not differentiated for the student in a manner which takes account of their cognitive strengths and weaknesses, they are likely to experience failure and frustration which will be a barrier to learning. They will quickly perceive that their progress is not as good as that of other students and this will affect motivation. There is good evidence, however, that phonological training is most effective when combined with structured teaching of reading (Hatcher, Hulme and Ellis, 1994; Hatcher, Hulme and Snowling, 2004).

Differentiated teaching in basic skills

The approach here is to use CoPS to identify the student’s cognitive strengths as well as limitations, and for the teacher then to use this information to design a literacy learning programme which is differentiated for that particular student, taking those strengths and limitations into account. By recognising difficulties which the student is likely to encounter, the teacher is in a better position to structure the student’s learning experiences in such a way that success is maximised, and failure is minimised. Examples of this approach are given later in this section.

It can be appreciated, therefore, that CoPS is not just a device for assessing the risk of dyslexia. It can be used as a form of early screening on school entry, to identify all students’ cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and to shape learning schemes more appropriately. Alternatively, CoPS can be used later in school to assess students who are experiencing problems in reading, writing or maths, to help uncover the causes of the difficulty. However, this latter approach is perhaps not as desirable as using CoPS to screen all students, because it will not enable the teacher to identify at an early age – and before they have begun to fail – those students whose difficulty is unexpected (which is the case with most dyslexic students).