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MEP learning pack

Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19


Literacy and numeracy development


Problems with learning literacy skills

The underlying skills needed for literacy are:

  • vision – acuity (clearness of vision), perception (ability to detect light and interpret it)
  • hearing – hearing, filtering, perception
  • language skills – speech production, receptive, inference, articulation
  • motor skills – for writing, creating alphabet shapes
  • planning skills – focus and attention, Executive Functioning (Executive Functioning is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action; pupils use it to perform activities such as planning, organising, strategising, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space) and working memory (the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind over short periods of time, e.g. mental arithmetic, remembering a string of verbal instructions).

Delay or disorder can impact on literacy acquisition in that some children will have difficulties or delay in one area that may impact on their literacy development, e.g. difficulties with articulation, difficulties with motor skills, hearing impairment and visual impairment. However it does not mean they cannot become literate.

The following are examples of specific learning difficulties where learners experience literacy difficulties.

  • Dyslexia ‘is a hidden disability thought to affect around 10% of the population and 4% severely. It is the most common of the SpLDs. Dyslexia is usually hereditary. A student with Dyslexia may mix up letters within words and words within sentences while reading. They may also have difficulty with spelling words correctly while writing; letter reversals are common; however Dyslexia is not only about literacy, although weaknesses in literacy are often the most visible sign. Dyslexia affects the way information is processed, stored and retrieved, with problems of memory, speed of processing, time perception, organisation and sequencing. Some may also have difficulty navigating a route, left and right and compass directions.’(British Dyslexia Association – www.bdadyslexia.org.uk).
  • Dysgraphia – specific difficulty in ability to write that is not associated with the ability to read or due to intellectual impairment.
  • Specific Language Impairment is to do with speech, language and communication need.  Children with SLI have difficulty talking and understanding language. This is their main area of difficulty. ‘They may: have difficulty saying what they want to, even though they have ideas; talk in sentences but be difficult to understand; sound muddled – it can be difficult to follow what they are saying; find it difficult to understand words and long instructions; have difficulty remembering the words they want to say; find it hard to join in and follow what is going on in the playground.’ (www.ican.org.uk).


  • Find out what screening tools are used in your school to assess literacy skills.
  • How do you measure verbal comprehension in children in your class? Consider how you could do this?
  • Do you know how to check the reading level of the materials you are using to ensure they are commensurate with the reading ages of your learners?


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