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Morton and Frith Causal Model Dyslexia

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 4103 words Published: 27th Jun 2017

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Despite different definitions of dyslexia, expert views very largely agree on two basic points. First, dyslexia is identifiable as a developmental difficulty of language learning and cognition. Secondly, the long running debate about its existence should give way to building professional expertise in identifying dyslexia and developing effective ways to help learners overcome its effects”(Rose, 2009: 9). There are many complex issues to consider in developing an appropriate definition of ‘dyslexia’. One of this is that there is no specific blood test or brain imaging result that can offer a diagnosis. There is a range of different assessments both written and performance actions which are based on the opportunity to compare performance of different formats (Mc Kendree et al., 2011). Firstly, elaboration of the influential causal modelling framework of Morton (1985) is a major tool as it analyses the learning difficulties from the perspective of biological causes, cognitive difficulties and behavioural influences. According to Morton (1985) these bio-psychosocial factors are interconnected and play an essential role towards the syndrome called ‘dyslexia’. Based on this model, I will specifically focus on various traditional and innovative assessments of reading comprehension and phonological awareness, including standardized tests, informal reading inventories, observations and retellings. Phonological awareness is a vital part in learning to read (Robelo, 2000). There are strong correlations between phonological awareness and initial reading, much replicated, and have been obviously affirmed (Gillam, & McFadden, 1998 cited in Robelo, 2000). Because of the correlation that exists between reading and phonological awareness and the need to identify children at risk for reading failure, numerous tasks have been developed to assess a child’s knowledge of phonological awareness (Robelo, 2000). Therefore, children need two significant skills in order to read successfully; phonics and language comprehension. Regarding the issue of choice of assessments there are a lot of arguments. Indeed, there are some advantages and limitations as far as using these measures is concerned and we should examine these measures before reaching a conclusion. Also, before conclusion it is important to note that failure to identify and address dyslexia early, can have a cumulative effect.

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Morton’s Model (Causal Model for dyslexia)

According to the British Dyslexia Association (BDA, 1996): “Dyslexia is a complex neurological condition which is constitutional in origin. The symptoms may affect many areas of learning and function and may be described as a specific difficulty in learning, spelling, and written language. One or more of these areas may be affected. Numeracy, notional skills (music), motor function and organizational skills may also be involved. However it is particularly related to mastering written language, although oral language may be affected to some degree” (cited in Ott, 1993).’Dyslexia as a precise developmental disorder raises interesting issues about the structure of the usually developing mind’ (Frith, 2009:191). Accordingly Morton and Frith(1995) the phrase ‘causal model’ is used to describe the origins of a disorder (Krol et al., 2004). Causal model is related to the biological and cognitive origins of developmental disorders and in this way, records are being kept of the a range of levels of description -biological, cognitive, and behavioural. Morton and Frith (1995) distinguish three levels of description, the biological level, the cognitive level and the behavioural level; there is a separate space for environmental influences which can interact at the three levels. Using the biological level, the genetic factors, the brain conditions, and causal links between the two can be described. In this level we can also include the influence of environmental factors, for example, birth complications on brain conditions (Krol et al., 2004). In the cognitive level, affective as well as cognitive factors, can be incorporated. An affective factor would be usually placed at the intermediate cognitive level, although Morton and Frith highlight that affect can also be defined at the biological level as a physiological reaction or defined at the behavioural level as the expression of the affect, such as the facial expression.

On the other hand, due to the fact that the internal process which interprets feeling seems to be significant in explaining how affect can have meaning, affect processing is placed at the cognitive level. At the behavioural level, the behavioural descriptions of the disorders are also stated. ‘These are the behaviours we can directly observe and where the causal flow of the model finally leads, e.g., poor reading.’ (Krol et al., 2004:729). By describing the behavioural level itself does not give a reason why an individual might have a certain problem, such as why a child has problems in reading. causal model includes explanation for a disorder which is a function of the interaction of factors at the cognitive and the biological levels and from the environment. Some of these factors will be of developmental significance, others will describe current processing. The cognitive level cannot be observed directly, but is in fact assessed at the behavioural level.

UK Context Assessments of dyslexia

Before the investigation of assessments methods, this piece of paper will explore the major perspectives and changes of special and inclusive education, literacy difficulties and how legislation is applied in the educational system of UK. In these changes, the significant Acts for the development of SEN are included, such as the Warnock Report(1978). The Warnock Report(1978) highlighted the commonality of educational aims for all children irrespective of their abilities or disabilities. Furthermore, it recognized disabled learners right to be educated in mainstream schools, thus opening the way to the idea of inclusion (Warnock, 2005). Some of the international conventions and statements that have asserted the principles of inclusive education which influenced the UK policy are stated below: the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNICEF,1989) which states that inclusive education should be the goal for the education of ‘children with disabilities’. The Salamanca Statement and Framework for action on Special Needs Education (UNESCO,1994) were also important steps for the development of SEN, which ensures that all their educational policies specify that disabled children could also attend their neighbourhood school which would be the same even if there were no disabilities. “The Salamanca Statement(UNESCO,1994) has also been seen as something of a watershed in enhancing the prospects for inclusion throughout the world” (Farell, 2001:6). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities (UN, 2006) was ratified by the UK government in 2004 which requires state parties so that to have an inclusive education system at all levels. The problematic nature of integration coupled with the statements made at the World Conference in Special Education (UNESCO,1994) led to the emergence of inclusive education in England.

Another significant development in high quality intervention for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties was the Rose Review Report (2008). The children’s plan (DCSF,2007), made it clear that the government wants every child to succeed; the ability of each child to read well is a key to success in education and an essential ‘life skill’. Moreover reading and writing are two terms closely related and both on the development of children’s speaking and listening capabilities. According to Rose Review(2008), in order to overcome dyslexia and other developmental difficulties of language learning there must be highly quality provision for securing literacy for all children, especially in primary schools. In addition, in order to develop high quality interventions for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties, well trained, knowledgeable teachers and support staff will be required (Rose Review, 2008).

In England and Wales government policies have affected, in many ways for the better, dyslexic people who must learn: structured and phonic approaches are specified in the National Curriculum (Cooke, 2001). The rationale stressed the responsibility of the class teachers by identifying and meeting the individual child’s needs in primary schools (Cooke, 2001). According to Gaynor et al., (2011:176 cited in Mckendree et al., 2007) “a significant first move to helping children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia was an accurate identification and after the identification there is a variety of different assessments both written and performance based opportunity to compare performance of different formats”. As Paris & Hoffman state (2004:6 cited in Oakley &Barratt-Pugh,2007) assessments of reading in the early years can supply several purposes: ”it can identify children who need extra support; it can provide information for reporting purposes; and it can inform teachers as to the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and programs for meeting literacy outcomes”. Assessments can be provided through a variety of assessments tools, techniques or data collection methods, often called ‘assessments’, instruments, tools or measures (Oakley &Barratt-Pugh,2007).

Phonological awareness

The first part of assignment will be based on the question: How is phonological awareness (PA) best measured? Before examination on assessments methods of PA should begin with a definition. It is widely accepted that the lack of PA, the ability to detect and control the finer phonological units in either spoken or mentally recalled words, is the main shortage in developmental dyslexia (Seki et al., 2008). According to Muter et al., (2004:194 cited in Rose Review), “PA is defined as the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in words, and is recognized as a key base skill for early word-level reading and spelling development”. The Rose Report (2008) recommended that all children should be taught to read using phonics, taught discretely and systematically within a curriculum rich in language and literacy. After the Rose Review current implementation of phonics taught in English schools recommends systematic assessment of basic skills on a regular basis during the 3 years of instruction.

As Eisele and Jordan claim (2002:103 cited Oakley &Barratt-Pugh, 2007) “there are several ways in which to assess phonological awareness, and which method to employ will depend upon factors such as the number of children to be assessed, the amount of information the teacher already has about the child, and the amount of time available in which to carry out the assessments”. According to Lancashire Primary Literacy (undated) children’s phoneme knowledge and ability to segment and blend are better to be measured individually, as their progress may not be adequate, or well ascertained in the group activities. As stated by Yopp (1988) a combination of PA measures will be the best recipe for validity and reliability. In my point of view, one of the most helpful measures assessing PA is the use of phonic phases. Teachers may have a variety of activities for each phonic phases, however teachers should use motivating activities each time to encourage children, in order to have a quick reference and overview. According to The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (2008) teachers are expected to track pupils’ progress through a series of developmental phonic phases, with each phase being quantified by a number of phonic-related skills. ”The phases move from sensitivity to rhyme and alliteration at Phase 1 to confident and flowing use of letter sound knowledge for reading and spelling unfamiliar words at Phase 6” (Snowling et al., 2011: 159). Activities that can support learning in Phase 1-5 are: storytelling, linking letter shapes with phonemes, blending and segmenting long vowel phonemes (given by Lancashire Primary Literacy). This measure had a number of strengths and limitations too. The variety of the phonics’ activities make the method more reliable and valid to the users, and there is a plenty of choices each time. An additional advantage of this method is the factor of time, because teachers have the ability to design their lesson plan by setting the time limit themselves whereas at the same time this could be a disadvantage because it could also be time consuming. As Konza (2006) claims most of the phonological awareness capabilities and skills can be assessed using informal assessments. However, if screening or informal assessment methods find difficulties, formal and diagnostic assessment, should be carried out (Oakley and Barratt-Pugh, 2007).

An additional measure of assessing phonological awareness is the Yopp-Singer (1992) test; the purpose of this test is assessing phoneme segmentation abilities. This assessment is consisted of 22 single syllable words, which children are asked to segment into individual sounds. This assessment is not normed, but competency benchmarks are suggested. It is quick to administer and they can provide important information on which instruction can be based (Oakley &Barratt-Pugh, 2007).

Reading Comprehension

The second section of the essay will be referred to the next language and literacy difficulty that children may face from kindergarten and that is reading comprehension. During the period of the last 15 years, great progress has been made to the area of reading, and particularly in reading comprehension. But what is reading comprehension? How is reading comprehension best measured? According to Farr (1992 cited in Carver, 1972: 292) “reading comprehension can be defined as thought communication process which involves two primary components, the rate at which the thoughts are received and the accuracy with which the thoughts are understood. The end product of these two components is the efficiency with which the thoughts are communicated”. Reading comprehension is one of the most commonly assessment methods across all the stage of ages, when it comes to educational skills (Svetina et al., 2011). In order for someone to be an efficient reader they must have a set of phonemic awareness and phonemic skills that allow for new words to “unlock”. According to National Centre for Learning Disabilities, children might face trouble when reading in the late grades if they lack phonemic awareness. In addition, children’s reading could be improved in identifying the phonemes in words by using simple techniques. In this piece of paper, various traditional and innovative reading comprehension assessment measures will be critically analyzed, including formal and informal methods such as standardized tests, observation and informal reading inventories. Each technique has its relative strengths and weaknesses. According to Gunning (2002) whatever the method of reading comprehension is the material which is given to students to be read, must be at their instructional level in order to be read with an adequate fluency. If the student can’t read at least 95% of the words, they will have a lot of trouble when reading.

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The first technique of reading comprehension which will be explored is standardized tests. What is being measured by standardized tests to measure reading comprehension? Do these tests measure comprehension accuracy? What are the strengths and weakness of this technique? Standardized tests are planned in a way which, questions, conditions for directing process to set the scores are accurate and are scored in a fixed and standard way (Popham, 1999). Standardised tests are administered and scored in a structured, prescribed way to ensure consistency and reliability. Such tests often have scripts that are read out by the teacher / administrator. Standardised tests may be norm-referenced or criterion-referenced and they are always formal assessments. As suggested above, the use of standardised tests needs careful consideration as many are based on the assumption that literacy is a set of skills that a child has or needs to acquire. In addition, because, they are normative they are often used as an indication of a child’s overall ability rather than an indication of what is yet to be learned. Therefore the cost and the time are some of the strengths of standardized assessments. At the same time, most assessments are scored easily by computer and not by people. In my point of view, this is an assessment’s limitation, because tests should be scored by a human and not by a device.

As mentioned above there is a number of variety of assessments of reading comprehension. The next reading comprehension method is the classroom assessment practises, that are specially informal reading assessments (observation). As Buhagiar states (2007 cited in Oakley &Barratt-Pugh, 2007:10) “informal assessments rely on skilful, knowledgeable teacher construction and interpretation and are often regarded as more ‘authentic’ than standardised and or commercial assessments”. Most informal assessments of reading comprehension take place in school or classroom as teachers and assessment specialists select or construct methods to estimate and summarize student performance (Leslie &Caldwell, 2008). Teachers use a variety of methods to assess student learning at quite a few points in any semester using common techniques for instance end-of unit tests, quizzes of various types but some alternative classroom assessment are less obvious (Snow, Griffin, & Burns, 2005). There are some informal and different assessments options which are considered to be the core for the successful assessments of learning, such as student observations, self reporting measures, performance inventories, group work, interviews and they usually provide converging indication over time for the appropriate total assessment at the end of the school year (Snow et al., 2005). Each general type of informal assessment category can be carried out by means of several precise tasks and in different formats. Teachers and administrators have the responsibility to concentrate on appropriate tasks and interpretations of tasks outcomes so that students are not assessed unfairly, despite the informal assessment method used (Snow et al., 2005). In my point of view, the use of informal assessments methods of reading comprehension is more reliable and realistic than using the stereotypic testing formats like standardized assessment methods. There is a range of advantages using informal methods, for instance, they are fairly simple and straightforward using these methods by teachers, and they can gain a lot of important information about children’s progress (Snow et al., 2005). Furthermore, informal tests should function in a way which provides more objective assessment than after-the-fact judgment or overall subjective assessment (Snow et al., 2005). As claimed by Moss (2003:9 cited in Leslie &Caldwell, 2008) “evidence for the validity of classroom assessments include the match between instructional objectives and classroom instruction as well as the extent to which an assessment contributes successfully to the teaching and learning process” .Additionally, the reliability of assessments methods responds to the stage of, which assessment creates reliable measurement with regards to different scorers or contexts (Salinger, 2003 cited Leslie &Caldwell, 2008).

Classroom assessments permit a much wider range of tasks and student observations (Snow et al., 2005). Observation has an advantage over verbal reports in that they supply the observer with proof of what children actually do (Baker, 2000 cited in Klinger, 2004). Students might be observed during independent reading time or while they are in smaller groups, peer or cross age tutoring or cooperative learning activities (Klinger, 2004). Teachers value the observation as a useful instrument and feel that district assessments are less helpful than examining students’ written work, listening, asking questions and talking anecdotal records (cited in Leslie &Caldwell, 2008). On the other hand as, Snow et al., (2005) assert, that in a classroom assessment, students may feel that they do not achieve well, therefore teachers may be disappointed by a specific performance by a student. An additional limitation of using observation method is that they can be time-consuming (Klinger, 2004). Furthermore, it can be complicated to find out what is causing a child to behave in a certain way. It is significant to exercise caution when taking observation notes and to identify that there can be many alternative explanations for a child’s action (Klinger, 2004).

Another promising practise for examining reading comprehension is the use of oral retelling. Retelling a story requires a student to sequence and restructure events and major sources presented in text (Hanse, 1978). In addition, retelling assesses a student’s ability to rely on memory for accurate details and to relate them to some organized significant model (Klinger, 2004). Burns and Roe (2002) suggest that asking students to recall and retell text is a precious measurement tool. An advantage of retelling is that the teacher is able to know what the student understands. However, a disadvantage is that retelling must be conducted individually and therefore are time-consuming to score.

The above elements illustrate that by using a combination of different measures such as: observation, retelling, informal reading inventories, think-aloud and standardized tests might be the best way to assess reading comprehension and phonological awareness (Klinger, 2004). “However, due to concerns about the low level of validity and reliability of informal assessment types, in some circumstances, teachers may need to’ triangulate’ results with other assessment types to ensure as high a degree of veracity as possible” (Oakley &Barratt-Pugh, 2007:11). Through combinations of approaches, we can learn more than just identifying whether students can read a passage or reply to reading comprehension questions accurately.


This essay enabled me to obtain valuable insights with regards to the assessments methods of phonological awareness and reading comprehension. As mentioned above, these two skills are significant in order to read successfully and there is a strong correlation between these skills. Due to this correlation, numerous assessments methods have been developed to assess a child’s knowledge of phonological awareness and reading comprehension (Robelo, 2000). Each technique has its relative strengths and weakness. The point is that assessment, no matter the context, is serious business and must be handled with care, purpose, and exercise (Snow et al., 2005: 363). Taking this into account, I assume that teachers must be very careful with the choice of methods for reading comprehension and phonological awareness, and each assessment method should be examined cautiously and the needs of each child, should be considered thoughtfully. In my point of view, classroom assessments and especially informal methods of reading comprehensions have more advantages than using formal assessment methods such as, standardized tests. With classroom assessment methods, teachers have an overall view for the child’s progress; on the other hand I think that standardized tests are not so reliable and may have impact on the child’s life, as a mother stated. As mentioned above, in order to assess young children’s reading in a fair, valid, comprehensive, educative and explicit way (Curriculum Council, 1998), it is necessary to assess children by multiple methods, in multiple contexts, on an ongoing, cumulative basis, preferably as a part of the normal teaching and learning context (Oakley &Barratt-Pugh, 2007:99).


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