Learning with Dyslexia and the Darkness of the Acronym

Posted By - Tony Stott


Learning with Dyslexia

From a young age I suffered as a result of learning with dyslexia, but it wasn’t until I was forty seven before I had an intensive testing session to determine the extent of the condition.

When I go on training courses, I am always impressed, but maybe tinged with a little sadness and jealousy that the instructors and facilitators reel off names of authors, theories and my biggest dread……… Acronyms!!

Now I love training, I love being in a class with people, learning from their stories and their emotions which make the content tangible, but I struggle with exams and theoretical based practice. For me, learning with dyslexia is difficult. An example of which was the ‘Prince II’ course which I passed (just) and the tutor was amazed as he had mentioned how convinced he was that I would fail.

So when Scrum entered my working life, I was relieved that a practice and less theory based approach was something I could really get into, except to become a practitioner still needed an exam, and a theoretical understanding that you could ‘remember’ when sitting the exam

The Limited Shelf of Learning with Dyslexia

When I was having sessions after my dyslexia assessment, I remember being told two things. Learning with dyslexia was like having a shelf that could only hold three items. If you needed a fourth item on the shelf, one would have to be taken and you would then forget about the item that was removed.

The second analogy of learning with dyslexia was to imagine throwing a deck of cards in the air and once they land, you are asked to sort them into Aces, Ones, Twos etc….. However, when a dyslexic mind tries the same activity, it’s very common to pick up an eight and your mind loses the original request. It says, “oh its red, and a heart…… that’s a nice shape” and then the brain loses the plot and goes off on its way back to look at the items on the shelf!

learning with dyslexia

The Struggle with Acronyms

SMART has been taught for so many years that I can find it easily when I need to recall. But now I find myself in a world where acronyms are coming at me faster than I can handle. Learning with dyslexia means I find recalling them impossible to achieve in a rapid timeframe.

So when I had a discussion with Geoff Watts about joining the Agile Mastery Institute and becoming a ‘Licensed Guide’, the one thing that gave me the biggest worry was the RETRAINED practice that I would need to learn and embed as a guide.

Usually as a learner, I can’t write down notes as I go because I then miss content which I may want or need to hear.

Livescribe have a pen and a notes app which can record everything that is said during the session. However I found this meant doubling up my learning time as I needed to listen back to the content again. Of course this isn’t a bad thing as it can re-enforce my learning but after an 8 hour day, spending the equivalent time listening back is a tough ask for any learner.

I have tried to create visuals of the acronyms as the course unfolds but this also takes my mind away from the learning and often sends me down corridors of procrastination which is a common learner avoidance tactic!

According to studies between 10% and 20% of people in the U.K have dyslexia. That’s potentially 13.33 million people in the U.K. alone.

Training for teachers is available through The National College but this is more aimed at Primary and Secondary Schools however, learning about preparing the room for enablement is key in any learning environment.

A great checklist (albeit created for school aged learners) can be found at Chattalearning.com and covers the following aspects:

A Classroom Checklist for Learning With Dyslexia

During our ‘Guide’ learning, I found that as we delved deeper into each letter of the acronym, I could relate to the letter as it was delivered in a more fun, graphical and interactive way which gave me a depth to the training and formed a place on my shelf that is more anchored.

The other thing I realised was that as a Scrum Master, having interactive sessions and learning how to do the role in a practical way, would have given me built in experience that I could draw on to cement and establish patterns that I could use and build on for the rest of my agile journey.

The downside for anyone learning with dyslexia is that we need more time to process, learn and remember.

Reinforcement of Learning

My way of sorting through the jumble is to spend time after each session, noting what was memorable about the content and making quick notes about it. Then, at the end of the day, building a bigger picture of the notes and try to add more personal meaning so that it forms a place on my shelf.

Unfortunately, it does mean the potential of missing out on some social interactions but the investment in learning I have made is often worth the cost.

Drawing pictures (I do a mean stick person) and creating a fun visual to build a memory around the content is my go to way of storing knowledge. It also helps me build my content for training others as I remember the sessions due to the images I create on my posters/slide deck.

My Advice for Learning With Dyslexia

For trainers and teachers out there, please be mindful of your words and speed of speech. We are already in awe of your ability to share and teach but can sometimes switch off when a word mis-heard or unknown sends a learner into a spiral of trying to find meaning to the content.

If you liked this article, you might like this post on Effective Journaling by Emma Burt

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