Case study about a full-time BSc Quality Management student with dyslexia. He describes the difficulties he has experienced and how his department has helped him.
This information has been extracted from the http://jarmin.com/demos/resource/interviews/09.html (information accessed and extracted May 2008)
Saptal Bains is in the final year of a BSc Quality Management. Saptal describes the outcome of being assessed at University for dyslexia.
What sort of things did you find out about yourself?
I’m not good at – my reading and my writing skills are below average and the way I interpret things is a lot different to somebody else i.e. I can easily misinterpret something if I read it – I think it means something – but it doesn’t. So the process of my mind is different. I can’t go from A to Z just like that, I have to go through all the alphabet and it’s just a longer process.
In the first year I was quite naive – I just didn’t want to come to terms with it. It’s a disability, or a gift – some people call it that. It’s with you for all your life. It’s classed as an illness and I thought if a read a couple of books I will be fine. So I kind of plodded through the years until I came to this year and this year it has hit me big time.
So what’s hit you?
It’s the level of work you have got to do. In past years, you pretty much read a text book and describe it. This year you have to analyse it and be critical about everything and evaluate everything. For me that process takes a hell of a lot longer than the average person. For me it’s a hell of a lot harder. My first assignment is like a half module and we are given four weeks to do the assignment. The question was simple enough. The wording was poorly done. I had to read it about a thousand times just to make sense of it. I wasted almost three weeks just reading the question and trying to understand the damn thing. It took me the final weeks to just cram everything in. It was a shame because I should have done it in the first two weeks and allowed time to do the other two assignments – they all come in at the same time. So because I went in that mess and couldn’t understand my ability, I came out under attack for that particular assignment. It left me three weeks behind – and three weeks in you final year – you are on your deathbed, basically. It’s the wrong thing to do.
Do you get a personal tutor and regular feedback from staff?
I’ve only just had a personal tutor for the last two weeks. I think it’s such a bonus having a tutor because you sit down and rip the question to bits and brainstorm it. When I used to do my own I used to brainstorm my girlfriend at a tangent and on different topics. But this way she shows me how to focus on one area.
It says, ‘Provision of lecture notes in advance wherever possible.’ Does that happen much?
Would that help? When you do get them, does it help?
This has only been happening now recently. If this was done earlier on, say at the end of the second year. When I came back to start my final year I was really geared up and you are in that mood to do everything in advance. Because I am so far down the road, they can’t give me anything in advance now, because the exam periods are starting now. I’ve got the notes and now I have just got to revise it. When it comes to the second semester, if they give something in advance then, that would help because I could stay, not ahead of the game, but level with the game.
I was talking to someone before you and he said that in his department, often lecturers will do presentations and they will hand out slides and you can take notes with it. Yes they do that in lectures but if I had them beforehand, a week in advance, I would know that I would not have to research on that. I can go to the next stage. By the time I go to the next stage the other students would have done that and caught up with me as well. It would help if we were all in the same place.
So it’s constructing the essay that you need the extra time for, rather than reading through and trying to change the grammar and things like that. So, in lectures you take in aural information quite well and you prefer that method. So what do you do about taking notes?
I used to take a dictaphone in but I stopped that because you run out of tapes extremely quickly, your batteries die quickly and I was having like a double day at uni. So on Monday I was in from 9 til 5 and I would come home and do the same thing again and it got to me – it was way too much.
So the second time, were you listening to them to try and take notes, then?
Yes, you can stop the tape and rewind but I don’t think it’s a particularly good thing because there is a lot of the tape you don’t need but you record it anyway. I think a lot of people would agree with you. A lot of students do it but whether or not they then make use of it because it is so time-consuming. I’ve tried it many times. You’ve got head-phones on and you are intensely listening and trying to make notes. I still believe that handouts are the best. I saw my dyslexia tutor today and she has different coloured highlights and she highlights with one colour which basically describes it; then highlights one area saying a negative point and then a different colour bringing out the good points. It’s really wicked. It’s basically so simple and I never thought of it. I know it’s going to help because my time is wasted in going back and re-reading, going back and re-reading and this way I can pick out the good bits, the bad bits and the bits just describing it.
What about working in groups? Have you done group assignments? What do you do and are you good at it?
If there are four or five people in the group I can hide it. It’s come to the stage where I’m not really bothered if they do know. It’s not going to make any difference. I’m not saying in a group work situation that you should use it as an excuse, but it could come to draft something and you might feel embarrassed …
I’ll give a whole chunk for them to read and I might just read a paragraph myself right at the end. I try to be a bit of a leader, in that sense. I know that if I have to read a big chunk it is going to take me ages. I get somebody else to do the writing and I say that my spelling is atrocious. I’m not sure whether that’s good or not. It’s tactics! That’s what students with dyslexia do. Lots of them have these strategies of coping with it. Especially if you have been undiagnosed in the past – you’ve got to get through school and all that sort of thing.
Did you get a computer through the DSA and how do you use it? Were you handwriting assignments previously?
Yes, handwriting. Now I type it and you have the Inspiration program and the speech thing, which is not all that good because I hate the way it talks. You can’t blame the technology.
The speech feedback one, rather than the speech input, or do you use both?
I’ve used both but I’ve stopped using them. I just use the Inspiration and the mapping packages. Most of the software they have given me I don’t particularly use but I use the PC with it connected up to the Internet because I can’t be arsed with going to the University all the time. I have to pay a bit of money, which is sometimes a bit of a headache, but I have to pay some money in my flat and I use the money that way.
So you think your department is reasonably supportive?
Reasonably supportive and they are quite with it. They don’t completely discard it. Only a few of them might know the range of dyslexia. They all know about dyslexia, but only a few of them know about the range of it and not many of them know about the different levels.
So you think they are accepting of it, but they might not have the depth of knowledge
Yes, but I don’t think it’s too much of a weakness, because they are balanced by some that do, which makes it easier.
This year I need an interpreter for my exams – for my assignments and for my exams. You get two stickers to put on your assignments but they’ve changed slightly now. There is a bit to do with the interpreting of work and not just on the reading and the writing but the structuring and that’s changed a bit. There are one or two things that have changed – I’ll show you.
So this goes on your exam scripts, does it, and also your assignments?
Yes. That’s what I have been speaking to them about and that is what I need. The memo has been sent off to the Head of Department and so on.
This is quite a good document to go through because it will structure what we are talking about. It is asking for certain types of academic support. Does all this happen, the academic support? You’ve got concessions for spelling and coursework.
I don’t know how they do that. I don’t know how they make concessions for spellings. That’s not clear to me – I just leave the stickers and think that maybe they just do it.
When you get the coursework back, what sorts of comments are on there?
The usual average of my marks is not fantastic. My best piece would be a 60 something. Usually I’m like a 2.2 student. The comments will be like, ‘A few interesting points but didn’t mention/argue this point or that point and wasn’t able to put this across.’ So I do lack a lot.
But they don’t go through and point out your grammar and spelling mistakes?
No. The first time I handed in an assignment I was really worried about that. I thought it would shatter me because that’s all I had in my school life and college life – your spelling’s this, your grammar’s wrong and all this kind of stuff. But they just pointed out the weaknesses in my assignment and the areas I had covered – which was good.
So for you hearing information is a lot better?
Yes. Some lecturers do think I am quite bright in the sense that I can sit in lectures and you have those ‘light bulb moments’ when things click in your head. It all makes sense when the lecturer’s telling me something. But then when I go to do it myself, that’s when it goes all wrong. It’s the process in my head – it doesn’t sink in, won’t sink in. I have to take it in really small bite sizes and be really patient with myself. I can’t sit there and say; ‘I’ll read this whole book.’ I’ll just read a couple of pages of a chapter and come back to it next time.
Three tips for lecturers
If you could think of three top tips for lecturers that would make your life easier, what would they be?
Advance notes. Irrespective of whether the student reads them or not, he’s got them and there is no excuse.
What do you think about lecturers who say that if they give notes out in advance then they won’t turn up to lectures?
It’s the student’s fault. If they can do all they can, nobody can say to them, ‘You didn’t do this.’ So if they give a handout and if those students don’t turn up to lectures and then the student turns up at the end of the lecture and says, ‘What does this mean, what does that mean?’ They have the right to say, ‘Well, you didn’t turn up to the lecture. I give out handouts but you should also come to the lectures.’ It’s up to the student then, especially in the final year.
Examples: When you explain something, I reckon examples works wonders because you can relate to something and picture something.
The final one would be …
I think in some ways it is good that all the lecturers know that you are dyslexic. I don’t think it should be undisclosed. I do feel that the lecturers know not only that a student has dyslexia, but also the level the dyslexia is that he or she has got. They have got to know the level or they will think that if one student is like this then they are all like this. You can have quite mild dyslexia and just get on with everything and not have any difficulties. But then, on the other side you can be struggling. You know where it says about flexible arrangements for coursework. I think it’s about it running to deadlines. Has there been any talk or negotiation about it. Some courses have a ridiculous amount of written assessment and to keep banging on at a student with dyslexia and asking for a 5,000 word assessment and then another 5,000 word assessment, when in actual fact you know what kind of grade they are going to get, anyway.