Post-sec students get more help from dyslexia group

Temasek Polytechnic student Gerald Soh, 17, says the HeadsUp programme has helped him better manage his time during a school day by teaching him to plan how to handle a task, as well as to monitor and evaluate how it has been executed.
Temasek Polytechnic student Gerald Soh, 17, says the HeadsUp programme has helped him better manage his time during a school day by teaching him to plan how to handle a task, as well as to monitor and evaluate how it has been executed.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Pilot scheme helps participants handle rigours of junior college, polytechnic, ITE

On top of having to learn new concepts like all students do, those with dyslexia also have to grapple with difficulties in reading fluently, taking notes and revising on their own.

The challenges become more acute when they go from secondary school to junior college, polytechnic or the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

There, they are expected to become more independent learners, and have to take notes on their own during lectures instead of using textbooks in a class, in addition to engaging more critically with content.

To ease dyslexic students into these institutions, the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) launched a pilot for a programme called HeadsUp in January - its first intervention scheme for post-secondary students.

The pilot, which involved 20 students, wrapped up earlier this month and has seen encouraging results, said the association, which is planning to extend the programme to more students.

An estimated 4 per cent of every country's population has dyslexia severe enough to warrant intervention, and an average of one to two students could be dyslexic in a class of 40.

While the exact causes of dyslexia are unknown, it may be linked to neurological differences which may run in the family. Those with the condition often have trouble spelling, reading or differentiating letters of the alphabet, and may find it hard to hold information in their short-term memory.

The DAS, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is compiling the results from this trial and will later release a full report.

But initial findings showed that about 90 per cent of students were more confident about note-taking after the once-a-week programme, funded by the DAS itself.

During the programme, students learn how to improve their executive functioning skills, which they are usually weaker in. These are skills needed for remembering instructions, multi-tasking, and planning or prioritising projects.

The programme also helps students with writing skills.

Mr Nor Ashraf Samsudin, DAS' director of specialised educational services, said students are not taught to blindly follow a particular study strategy, but are made aware of the reasons why particular strategies are applied. This allows them to adapt the skills learnt to suit their individual learning styles.

For example, one of the strategies taught - the Cornell note-taking system devised by a professor at Cornell University - gets students to formulate questions based on notes they had jotted down in class, before summarising the notes and questions. This helps them to reflect on the content, and draw links between topics.

Mr Ashraf said DAS is planning another trial of HeadsUp next year after the curriculum is refined, before extending it to more students. The association aims to conduct the trial in one of the post-secondary campuses instead of a DAS centre.

Temasek Polytechnic information technology student Gerald Soh, 17, said the programme has taught him skills that he now uses in both schoolwork and daily life.

For example, he can now better manage his time during a school day using a framework that teaches him to plan how to handle a task, as well as to monitor and evaluate how it has been executed.

"I usually panic when I have a task to accomplish. But now, I plan out what I need to do at the start of the day, like where I should have lunch after a lesson, and see if I need to allocate more time so that I won't be late for class. It makes things a lot more organised," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 26, 2017, with the headline 'Post-sec students get more help from dyslexia group'. Print Edition | Subscribe