Posts from 2016-05-18

What, you have dyslexia? How?

First off, contrary to how it may seem, this Blog category is not about me.

OK, it is in that I have dyslexia, but it isn't in that after this one single post, it is going to be about things that are going on in dyslexia, famous dyslexics, and special education teaching.

There are two reasons for this - first, that is the direction that my career is going. Not only am I incorporating Dyslexia into my MA program and will be continuing on with SEN training long after that is over, but it would be ridiculous to not talk about an aspect of my teaching in the classroom (where on occasion I have seen as many as a 45-50% dyslexic cohort) and parts of our work in the Assistive Technologies Research and Learning group (ASTRAL).

The other reason that this blog category is not about me, is that despite everything, I find it very hard to personally identify as a dyslexic.

Read on to find out why.

You're a Dyslexic?

For family and friends, it may be very hard to accept that I have dyslexia. That's because first, people don't really understand what dyslexia is, believing it to be just about not being able to read, and second because of who I am, and what I have done.

I left school with 13 O'Levels and an O/A - I did not proceed to University. I did however, use my IT skills to proceed to an Executive Officer ADP (an IT specialist grade) in the civil service before (still very young) founding a company and taking it to the top three in our niche in the UK.

At least one of the products from that company is still in services with a military client 25 years after installation. I formed two other companies.

In a very short period of time after shutting down my principle company, I got a degree, qualified as a lecturer with a post-grad certificate in Education, became Chartered, got a post-grad in Design, teach IT to degree level, teacher higher math, performance for screen, have started another MA, and plan yet another MA and a Doctorate in SEN....er, need I go on? 

But lets take another look at that. There are some classic pointers in there.

I was actually a little slow (hardly noticeable?) in learning my letters, was very bad at spelling, found it exceptionally difficult to learn clocks and my multiplication tables were terrible. People perhaps did not notice this, as I tried very, very hard to not let people see. I was very (and still am) very self-concious and introverted - in front of an audience / class, it is totally the reverse but it is all an act.

I very much suspect that my difficulties, again probably subconcious, is what has been behind my tendancy to get very angry at some very minor things - often because I grasp significances easily and others don't. There has been a lot of friction over the years - most of it caused by me when I've been intolerant of others. It doesn't happen when I 'act' - maybe if I'd had known about the dyslexia, so many family arguments would have never happened.

At one point in my teens, I had strange suspicions and asked my Mother whether falling into a garden fire as a child had damanaged my hands, and whether I'd had speech issues. Now why would I ask that? Was I noticing some difficulty, however slight, in doing something?

I was exceptional in draughtsmanship but was unable to learn languages. I dropped physics and maths because I could not remember the formulae, despite being very good at the subject (should have been a school warning sign).

I barely passed in English despite being very eloquant and doing a lot of creative writing outside school (another warning sign). I got 13 O'levels, despite being very vocal about hating every minute of school. I should have been able to balance this with sport, but I was certainly not built for it, and started to show signs of arthritis in my teens in any case.

I did not get any A-levels, as I dropped out of 6th Form half-way through prefering to go military. To date, a number of mis-pronounciation of words learnt in that time still cause me problems.

I was very good in IT, despite no training whatsoever, at a time when we had real computers (not consoles). I formed three companies and created an award winning, successful software suite - with no IT or higher qualifications at all.

When I had finished with all that, then I decided to rationalise my academia. I went from nothing to a degree, three post-grads and a Chartered status in the space of six years, despite having to drag single year courses over two or even three years because of circumstance.

Now to the uninformed, that all means nothing. But, it is classic for what I am - a stealth dyslexic.

This is a dyslexic who has a certain IQ (mine has been measured just short of 150) and creativeness to fight through at a mediocre level of apparent achievement despite the dyslexic hindrances, and yet never be picked up by the system. In dyslexia, there is a problem in real-time and short-term memory but episodic-memory kicks in when sufficient case-studies have been stored to suddenly have a drastically increased learning curve. Since 2004, I have not stopped learning. I have at least four CPD courses ongoing at any time.

Oh. But despite having a very large vocabulary and able to complete on-line tests (e.g. duolingo) very effectively, I still can't speak languages conversationally. Why? It's one of the last things I try that needs real-time, working memory rather than my long-term episodic.

OK, so that's not quite everything...

OK, so that is all a little circumstantial, but I could go into a lot more detail. In fact, reading the Eide's book 'The Dyslexic Advantage' was like reading my own auto-biography. They described me in perfect detail - not just my working practices, mixed but high skill set and underlying non-subject skills, but they also described all of my likes and dislikes. Not in a general sense, but in specifics - even describing parts of topics that I would choose to do, staying away from others. For example, I always loved role-playing games, but I chose to create the background worlds. 14 of them. Highly detailed, in the space of a few years.

In my fifth decade on this rock, there is absolutely no need to go through a full dyslexic diagnosis. It would simply not be financially beneficial - it is very expensive, and with little worth to me at my age. That is not to say that I have not been screened officially. Now having gone through nearly a dozen screening processes (how is that for not identifying?), every one lists me between mild to moderately-severe, depending upon the scaling system being used.

So why can't I still not identify as a dyslexic?

Accomodations.

The main reason why I can't identify is that until last year, I had no indication that I was dyslexic. While I identified my daughter 18 months before I finally convinced her school to test her from my own educational knowlege, difficulties that I always had were just that - difficulties. Doesn't everyone have them?

Of course, then I found out that dyslexia is herditary.

Slowly, I worked backwards, identifying my difficulties and how I overcame them. I started to find the accommodations that I had automatically put into place that we are trying to teach my daughter now. I also had two big boons - a Grandfather and Father, both of whom I respected immensely and taught me and incentivised me so much without either they or me really knowing that it was going on.

It took me two years to fight my way through a book that they gave me, White Fang. Two years - why didn't that one jump out at me? I fought through it - of course I did - they gave it to me, didn't they? I remembered little of it, but it probably helped me develop my three-phase reading style. Sub-conciously scanning ahead for context, reading properly (if badly), and self-correcting problematic words once the entire context is known. Doesn't everyone do that? Er, OK. Apparently not. Now I know.

Then there was Asterix the Legionary. Not just any Asterix book, all of which came later, but the Legionary. Comic. Humerous. For children. Set in the politcal turmoil of Roman civil war, the hunt for mercenary slaves, historical fact and North African conflicts - apparently, for a dyslexic, an historical mix like nectar.

I'll not tell you how long it took me to read Lord of the Rings, page by tortuous page, but by my mid-teams I was ingesting five pulp novels a day. I was no longer literate with fiction novels, but iconerate, digesting paragraphs in one single understanding. Shame it doesn't work for reference books.

Then at 9, Dad introduced me to a life saver - literally. If he had not brought this new fangled, suddenly affordable thing into the house called an 8-bit computers, what would I be doing now? or not.

Identifying

At no time, though out all of this, was it dyslexia. I could read, couldn't I? In fact, I could read exceptionally. The fact that for some reason, a badly written reference book might take six attempts per paragraph was just the material, wasn't it? Who would have thought that I had dyslexia?

And that is the way it is today. I've spent too long automatically accomodating with these difficulties despite now identifying with pretty much every single dyslexic trait. At no time have I needed to 'overcome my dyslexia' - what dyslexia?

I know its there. Only it's not. er, understand?

The weird thing is, now knowing as an adult, and going into the MA post-intermit, I am now doing things conciously that are making my learning easier. I use my diagraming techniques a lot - I'm good at them, but I was not dyslexic, why bother using them outside of context?

I am summarising, keywording, indexing when apparently I don't need to - I'm not dyslexic remember? Only then I come back to things, and boy does it make it all instantly easier.

I'm using certain fonts and spacial layouts - I'm a designer remember, but I don't actually need these fonts, I'm not dyslexic, remember? Only, now I can read for many more hours and the migraines don't appear.

Hmm. I'm liking this not identifying.

 

The Revised Program

The reason for this huge rework of the blog area of the website, is that in early 2015 I chose to intermit my post-graduate course with Raindance. Some of the added pressures that appeared during the academic year were simply so great that even if they did not halt my work on the course, there is no way that I would have been able to undertake it to full effect.

During the intermit however, a number of things happened. Some of them were work related, some of them course, some of them personal. During this time, I ended up changing the focus of the course and started a full redevelopment of my Learning Contract to reflect the changes.

In the second half of 2015 however, something else happened. Something that meant that I would not only roll-back the changes to the Learning Contract and fully start again, a second time, but something that would mean that I would change the entire course of my career. Circumstance mean that this career training will not take place until after the Raindance post-grad ends, but it is important enough to result in me bending the focus of the Raindance work to support it all when it arrived.

This is not to say that the Raindance course has been degraded by it. The changes are very, and perhaps surprisingly meaningful to the film industry - it is just a shame that some further tweaks to the Learning Contract were required, going to three full re-drafts, because Raindance simply did not have the authoratitive graders to mark it all. Now however, it is all set to go and work has begun in earnest.

So what is the new theme?

In mid-late 2015, I discovered that I was Dyslexic. Yeah, I know - reading this, how could I be dyslexic, right? More on this in later blog posts. I am now also the head of ASTRAL - the Assistive Technologies Research and Learning group at the college where I teach, as well as now assisting my daughter with her own dyslexia (the whole reason behind me identifying my own). With all of this going on, it makes so much sense to extend my STEM specialism into SEN and share my research and learning across everything that I am doing.

So what could I do in film-making that would benefit this new learning chain?

The first choice was to research dyslexia in the film industry - which is as much as 30% of the industry personnel, 5 times the general population norm - and ultimately make a documentary. Why should this be the case? In my own IT speciality, we have have had as many as a 45-50% cohort. So what skills and attractions are there in certain industries that have made them a hub? What positive skills do dyslexics have (a situation that is very real) that make them prime players in these industries?

The problem here is that we are also treading into Education and Psychology territory - in a conventional University this would not be a problem, and staff would be drafted in from other departments to provide the assessment skills. In Raindance, this is not possible, and I have had my own issues with graders not appreciating, or perhaps not wanting to appreciate, an area of research even prior to the intermit. I pre-empted Tiska's thoughts on this (head of Education at Raindance) - the idea needed tweaking so that the Raindance staff could do what they are best at.

Eventually, I decided that the best approach was to not undertake my own new research, but to present the established findings of others as well as personal experiences of being dyslexic. This meant that there would no need for Raindance staff to grade the Dyslexic research, only that of the film-making process. But what to produce at the end? What would give this course of action its own unique selling point rather than it being purely about the production of a documentary on Dyslexia? Though in itself admirable and providing a great deal of scope, I wanted a better twist.

The Final Decision

So here I am. My final theme is the production of a documentary on dyslexia. Only it's not a documentary, it's a dramatic production (which is not to be confused with say, a serious drama).

Why present it as drama? Because I can make it fictional, and bring in lots of sterotypical experiences where in reality they may be shared across many people. Because I need a way to include anecdotal experiences with actual medical fact, but be consumable by school staff, parents, and children without making it serious and stuffy, and certainly without making it frightening. I have seen a lot of good dyslexic short films recently, but to my mind being a little too dark. We should be concentrating on the good side of dyslexia, not the bad.

This theme is intended to produce a film that educates dyslexics if what they are and more importantly what they can be (I am a firm believer in the Dyslexic Advantage and Positive Dyslexia for a reason, again see other blog posts). It also needs to be a film which tells the uninformed, or even better those who think that they are informed, what the reality of dyslexia is and how dyslexics can be helped in teh classroom and workplace in often very subtle ways. Dyslexics don't want an advantage - they want the opportunity to operate at the same level as everyone else, without penalisation.

Because of the mix of information that needs to be delivered to the audience, jumping from fact, to anecdote, to medical proofs, and the aim to deliver this to both adult and child alike, a very specific style is going to be required. At present, I can see this ultimately being a stylised Wes Anderson, Lemony Snicket, Tin Tin crossover - so its going to be interesting!

Module Path

The remaining course is therefore to be broken down into four modules, the last being the major Masters Project which is double length:

NP1 - May to Sept 2015

NP1 will be a research module examining actual dyslexia truths and interviewing the experiences of dyslexics both wanting to enter the industry and those within it, but also a development module. The final result of this module will be a script that can be built into a final production.

NFP - Sept 2015 to Jan 2017

NFP will be the production design module - something that is a little like returning to my roots in that despite spending more than thirty years in IT as a Chartered professional, my highest academic qualification is actually in Design. It is here that I will be examining exactly what this film needs to look and 'feel' like to the audience, as well as producing any prototype props and sets.

NP2 - Jan to May 2017

NP2 will be the pre-production phase. This phase includes a lot of work in both casting and location scouting, but also a lot of the administrative side of things usually accomplished by the Producer and their team. Here I'll be doing everything from scheduling and budgeting, to ensuring that I have insurance, licenses and permissions for everything that my crew will be doing.

MAP - May to December 2017

And now, the big one. A double length, double point module in which I bring it all together and produce the final film. But trust me, it's actually a lot more involved than that. Wish me luck!

Fresh Start!

Welcome to the inaugural post of the Raindance 2016 post-grad course blog. Here I'll be be keeping people (but also mainly myself...) up to date with progress on the Raindance 2016 MA course that I started all the way back into 2014, but which I was forced to intermit because of all sorts of external factors at work. In the meantime, lots has happened - so much so in fact, that the entire theme of my course work has changed drastically, resulting in a total re-write of my learning contract.

This has now been finalised, submitted after discussion (more on that later), and my new mentor/tutors assigned in the form of Rick Harvey and Anna Jancso. Time to get back to the grindstone!