• Anna Frendo

Boxing with words and the value of a diagnostic assessment...

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

In my early years as a specialist teacher, I worked with two teenage boys who struggled immensely at school. I asked them to describe an image that demonstrated their literacy difficulties. One described himself in a boxing ring fighting words. The other described an exam hall in which all his peers were writing, but his words just kept falling of the paper and collecting on the floor all around him in a disorganised heap.

In many ways testing these boys, and writing a diagnostic report for each went against my instincts. It would involve shining a light on the things they couldn’t do and I needed numerous test scores to fully understand their profiles as learners, yet I also knew it would give them the answers they needed about why they were different from their friends and it would give me the understanding I needed to really help. So, I spent time building rapport, listening to their views and their ambitions. I completed the tests I thought they would find easiest first and over several sessions I started to understand why reading and spelling the simplest of words was proving so difficult.

A diagnostic assessment and report for each boy explained their difficulties, both to them and to others. It enabled me to highlight their strengths and utilise those in tackling areas of weakness. It provided a detailed profile of their learning needs and the basis for a bespoke teaching plan that both engaged in. In their specialist sessions, they revisited the same sounds they hadn’t grasped at primary school, week after week until they made progress. They used sand and clay, shaving foam, magnetic letters and games to consolidate their skills as they learnt to read and spell words that had previously been unattainable. Understanding why literacy was such a struggle and that with the right support they could make progress, was essential to their self esteem and their chances in life.

Not all children and young people have straightforward profiles and not all diagnostic assessments conclude with a diagnosis in the report, but a diagnostic report is more than just a set of test scores and a judgement. It is a collaborative piece of work drawing together the views of the child or young person, their family and the professionals who work with them. It is a celebration of their strengths as much as an analysis of their difficulties and an explanation of the reasons they are struggling. It includes recommendations for support and adjustments. It can be used to access funding or to develop unique teaching plans that target the skills that the child or young person is finding it hardest to grasp.

Whether it is picking up words off the floor and getting them onto the paper for GCSEs, mentally winning a boxing match with words or striving for the top grades that will get a young person into university, a diagnostic report and specialist teaching can help a child or young person achieve their potential, as Gwili shows only too clearly in his reflections below.

“I struggled with organisational skills, writing and other academic tasks when I was at school. This made me unhappy and I felt my teachers didn't really understand my problems. My parents took me for a diagnostic assessment where I was assessed and found to have moderate learning disabilities but scored well with an IQ test. I then started learning support to help me with my dyslexia and to build learning strategies. I also changed schools and was encouraged to use a computer. The support I received really helped me with my education and I eventually got acceptable grades and finished school. Without this support I would have given up on many things I struggled with and certainly wouldn't have got the exam results I did. Thanks to these I was able to start the undergraduate degree I wanted and found it much easier to work when it was something I was interested in. Thanks to continued support from specialists, I was then able to get a 2:1 and eventually chose to do a Master’s degree and now a PhD. Thanks to the support I received, I am now a fully functioning academic. I would not be where I am today without having had that support.”

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