Dyslexia Superpower: The Incredibles minus (39/52 or 75%)

I can’t believe it either! How did I get from going public with my first blog, The Dyslexic Professor, to this, the 39th (of 52) blogs? And, how dare are use ‘The Incredibles’ in the title – even with a minus?!

I am unashamedly promoting dyslexia as a superpower. But, very importantly I want to jettison the negativity associated with the word Dyslexia – hence the reference to The Incredibles – a film based on unrecognised superpowers. But why the minus? Just skip forward to the moment Edna Mode says, “No capes!” in reference to the sad tales of Thunderhead, Stratogirl and Metalman. I want us to say, “No” to the negative portrayal of dyslexia and to focus on the value it brings to our society.

Judging from the only trailer for The Incredible 2 I can find, it looks like Edna Mode’s time has come too!

I do not claim any originality – just look at:

Dyslexia Superpower: Building the ultimate dyslexia library (38/52)

The ultimate book on dyslexia has just arrived through my letterbox!

More on that in a moment – since the beginning of the year I have been gently adding to my library of books on dyslexia. It’s looking something like this:

Reference shelf:

  • The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain (2011) by Brock Eide and Fernette Wide.
  • The Power of Different: The link between disorder and genius (2017) by Gail Saltz.
  • Creative Successful Dyslexic: 23 High achievers share three stories (2016) by Margaret Rooke.
  • Connecting the Dots: Understanding dyslexia (2017) by Made by Dyslexia.

Self-help shelf:

  • Grammar Rules: Writing with Military Precision (2011) by Craig Shrives.
  • Defeat Dyslexia! The parents’ guide to understanding your child’s dyslexia (2016) by Holly Swinton and Nicola Martin.

And the ultimate book on dyslexia?

But, why am I so positive about Positive Dyslexia?

I simply think that Rod Nicolson captures, in a mere 150 pages, the issue, the strengths, the what, the how and the why! I will attempt to summarise his main points below [and in a rich picture in next week’s blog] but you could just watch his 2013 speech for

Positive Dyslexia is about recognising the 9 strengths of dyslexia that culminate in unconventional thinking and doing so demands the cessation of sinking into a ‘failing to learn, learning to fail’ cycle and replacement with positive assessment. This catapults (positive acceleration) dyslexics by inspirations (positive ambitions, positive career) to success in school, work and society by building these strengths into a Dyslexia Superpower [my words] needed by successful organisations and achieved by talent diversity. It ends with a call to action: “Positive Dyslexia will change the world for good. Its time has come. Please help!”

Unconventional thinking = Cognitive skills (1. Big picture thinking, 2. Creativity/Innovation, 3. Visualisation/Spatial); Work skills (4. Determination/Resilience, 5. Proactivity, 6. Flexible Coping) Social skills (7. Teamwork, 8. Empathy, 9. Communication).

Yep, looks like a superpower, sounds like a superpower, smells like a superpower, so, it must be a superpower!

So, we now have a guide book for the journey of creating a grassroots organisation committed to moving the agenda from learning disability, through learning difference to positive dyslexia – that is the Dyslexia Superpower.

All we need now is to gather the flock of Dyslexia Activists to make it a really …

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Time for ‘Visual Thinking’ GCSE, NVQ, A-Level, BSc, MSc, PhD! (37/52)

Whether you call it big picture thinking, spatial thinking or visual thinking, there is something rather special about the way the dyslexic mind processes complex information – let’s just call it the dyslexia superpower!

Of course, our education system recognises and rewards other types of vital thinking. Such as, the fine detail thinking so evident in subjects that are linear and structured and can be assessed by clear rubrics and produce well distributed marks with clear grade boundaries. In fact, these also lend themselves to examinations rather than coursework. The recent changes to GCSE and A levels have reinforced the rewards for fine detail thinking assessed by examinations.

However, there have been failed attempts to develop subjects which broadly test thinking:

  • Critical Thinking (AQA – no longer offered from 2017)
  • Critical Thinking (OCR – no longer offered with statement “OCR is currently reforming its GCSEs, AS and A Levels in line with the government programme of reform. However, it was not possible to develop content for Critical Thinking that met Ofqual’s principles for reformed AS and A Levels” )
  • Thinking Skills (CAIE – a lone survivor?)

But, what of visual thinking?

With the culling of so many subjects from the list of approved GCSE and A levels, what hope this there for developing a new subject, which rewards visual thinking skills? Given this current climate, what hope is there to assess visual thinking skills by a wide range of methods: animation, video, presentation, digital media, portfolio or just plain old coursework?

We could just ask the RSA to develop a GSCE based on RSA Animate!

I (and 1,806,538 other people) really liked the Divided Brain (2011):

Or the The Power of Networks (2012):

I don’t have the answer to this problem but I do recognise it is a problem. The first step along the way.

I think it’s time to mobilise an army [or peace corps] of people to address this fundamental flaw in our education system. Or even better a flock of dyslexia activists!

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Clearing the decks for creativity (36/52)

It’s clear that big picture thinking (visual thinking or creative thinking) is a prevalent skill in dyslexics (one of our superpowers) but how do you create the space for creativity?

This week, a couple of things have brought the need to clear space [clearing the decks!] for new projects and enable some creative thinking.

Firstly, Dr Michael Bloomfield’s article in Tuesday’s Guardian, ‘Forget about work and keep a dream diary: how to think creatively‘, suggested: i) Relax and meditate, ii) Make time for undemanding physical tasks, iii) Practise connecting ideas, iv) Keep a dream diary.

No doubt we all have our own way of clearing space for creative thinking. For me, knowing I’m on top of my to-do-list helps me relax (i), striding alone on a familiar walk (ii) and drawing big pictures (iii). However, I’ve never tried keeping a dream diary (iv). In fact, I don’t seem to be able to remember my dreams – in direct contrast to other members of my family.

I wonder, is this a characteristic of the dyslexic brain?

Secondly, I have been asked to get involved in a new charity [more on this in a future blog] – one very close to my heart. I have been looking for an opportunity to change perceptions of Dyslexia for a while and this has meant, I hope gently, exiting from two important charities – Foundation (after 6 years) and the Small Business Charter (after nearly 4 years).  My role in Foundation and the Small Business Charter has been strategic but that doesn’t mean not paying attention to the detail and caring passionately about their purpose – both are very different:

FoundationTransforming lives: Inspiring Individuals
Providing support for the homeless and vulnerable. With experienced and dedicated teams across Leeds, Yorkshire and the North of England, Foundation is here to provide help and support vulnerable people in our community. Our services extend to individuals and families who are affected by the following issues: i) Homeless or at risk of homelessness, ii) Leaving prison or on probation, iii) Leaving care and iv) Domestic abuse. We work with hundreds of people every year, helping them to build a better, healthier and more positive life – we’re here so that you don’t have to face your challenges alone.

My role: To help recruit an new Chief Executive and help navigate the choppy water of austerity.

Small Business Charter – The Small Business Charter award is a mark of excellence for business schools, which recognises their expertise in: i) Supporting small businesses, ii) Student entrepreneurship and iii) Engagement in the local economy. For business it means that Business Schools, which hold the Small Business Charter award are the go-to source of information for businesses who want to benefit from expert advice, training and courses. They can provide business support, sometimes even a space for local businesses as well as access to consultancy and mentoring.

My role: To bring insights on bridging the world’s of academia and business. In my view, a marriage made in heaven!

These roles have provided me with interesting challenges but above all a chance to work with great people on delivering a common goal for society. Not a bad way to spend your day!

In both cases, the last board meetings are this month. So, October should see some space emerge to think creatively about the new charity and engage with the founding team.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Guest blog by Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2 (35/52)

You can’t beat a good horror story sequel!

To be honest Alien (1979) would have been quite an enough without Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) and prequels Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017)

Following hot on the heels of the ‘Dyslexia Nightmare Fortnight: GSCE and A-level Results‘ blog, I thought an academic’s perspective on marking might be particularly insightful. Julie Holland is Head of Executive Education & Corporate Relations at Nottingham Trent University and perviously Director of the Glendonbrook Institute for Enterprise Development at Loughborough University.

Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2

Twice a year I get that sinking feeling! An email alert tells me that I’ve got three boxes of exam scripts to pick up. “You’ll need a trolley and you’ve got ten days” the administrator says. Sounds familiar? Yes of course it does but for the dyslexic academic marking coursework and examination scripts, particularly handwritten, can be one of the most stressful aspects of academic life. I often give myself a talking too. I imagine the students taking the exam. Their paper is so important to them personally, but when added anonymously to an ever increasing pile of papers, it becomes just another number. I want to make sure that I consider each piece of work carefully but with shortening deadlines, I know that this will mean many hours of reading with inevitable fatigue that can’t be good for the student or my wellbeing. Yes it’s the same for all academics, but spare a thought for those with dyslexia. We want to give every paper our full attention but it will take us many more hours to mark papers than our non-dyslexic colleagues.

To be frank, I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to get through this essential academic task in order to meet the exam marking deadline. I’ve used a magnifying ruler given to me by a dyslexic friend, and a coloured transparent page to put on top of the script. Nothing has worked. In fact it has slowed me down even more. I had to do something radical, and while a solution to my hand written exam marking problems has yet to be found, I have at least found help with marking electronic documents.

A couple of years back, I was faced with the usual three boxes of pink examination papers. The first twenty scripts were in a special packet; those students tested by disability services and granted extra time. If only the dyslexic academics could get the same. So having spoken to one or two colleagues who I knew wouldn’t betray my secret, I gave the disability centre a ring. The answer was sympathetic but disappointing. ‘We only really provide help for students, not staff’ was their reply.

Undeterred, I decided to see what external help I could get. There must be technology available? I’d seen an MBA student, dictating to her computer using an app called Dragon. Perhaps this would help me write. I certainly don’t have any problems talking! Then there was software to help keep your eye in the right place. It helped, but how do you get through a 120 page masters project one word at a time? My technological saviour came in the shape of Read and Write, Gold, computer software developed to assist with reading and writing disabilities. It seemed at first to be predominantly aimed at children and students, but I found the trial really helpful particularly because the voice, while computerised, was of a very high quality. Although lacking the silky smooth tones of a BBC newsreader, I could actually listen to the voice for more than ten minutes without needing to take a break. Progress at last.

Read & Write is expensive, but it’s well worth the investment. I’m doing much better and although I only use the software for electronic documents, I use it for every aspect of my work from reading papers to reading email. In an environment when marking on line is becoming the norm, things are certainly looking up for this dyslexic academic. Perhaps one day, technology experts will create software that will turn every handwritten exam script into something that can be listened to. I expect that this software already exists and speaking to a research collaborator at IBM, I was assured that computers would soon be able to do the marking for us (Dr Watson, I presume!). I would also make a plea to university exams offices, departments and schools. Please spare a thought those of us who read at half the speed of our non-dyslexic colleagues and certainly ask the question of staff as well as students, confidentially of course…… ‘Do you need more time during the exam period?’

Many thanks to Julie for sharing this challange.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Making grown people cry! (34/52)

What a good week! Apart from the namecheck in today’s article, ‘Inside the project to fix Britain’s low-performing businesses’, I’ve connected with four people who have reminded me that each of us with dyslexia and our supporters have there own personal [and more than likely moving] story to tell. 

Firstly, my father read-through my now 33 posts as the Dyslexic Professor. Not only did it bring back memories for him and a chance to reflect on all those decisions made in the dark (we just didn’t know any better) but also allowed me to revisit that sense of failure the education system ingrained in me.

By the time I went to boarding school, aged 8, I was already struggling – a feeling only enhanced by homesickness. Interestingly, I recently returned to this school (now apartments for the over-60s) and walked by the classroom which did so much to reinforce my sense of failure. It’s hard not to feel a bit moved by that little person in grey shorts and long socks – although I’m pleased to see knitted ties are back in fashion!

Secondly, through the power of LinkedIn, I connected with Professor Tim Conway of the The Morris Center, which seeks to put into practice the learning from research-based evaluations and treatments of dyslexia. Tim sent me a link to a moving account of a parent struggling to find the best way to support their dyslexic son and illustrated the power of appropriate intervention.

And finally, the next two connections came as a pair. Following a recomendation from a University Vice-Chancellor who read my article in the Times Higher Education, ‘I have decided to go public as the Dyslexic Professor’, Rosa Weber and Sally Gardner made contact and we finally met this week. We all share a passion for moving the dyslexia agenda from a disability to a difference and ultimately a superpower! I think the best name for us is – dyslexia activists. Meeting with fellow activists is a simultaneously cathartic and empowering experience.

Sally’s personal story is moving and needs a separate blog (maybe even in her own words). Now a successful author [my summer holiday reading!], she is challenging the established thinking in schools and prisons. Rosa and Sally have founded an enterprise to take this agenda forward: NUword – imagining a world beyond the word dyslexia.

Imagine what could be achieved by an organisation full of dyslexia activists!

What could the collective noun for dyslexia activists be? Taking inspiration from Sally’s school and prison talks about dyslexia and her analogy to swans (quite rightly, Sally draws a picture of swans looking serene as they swim upriver but are, in fact, paddling furiously below the waterline), I wondered about:

  • A ballet of swans
  • A bank of swans
  • A bevy of swans
  • A drift of swans
  • A eyrar of swans
  • A flight of swans (flying)
  • A flock of swans
  • A game of swans
  • A herd of swans
  • A lamentation of swans
  • A sownder of swans
  • A squadron of swans
  • A team of swans
  • A wedge of swans
  • A whiteness of swans
  • A whiting of swans

Given the amount of discussion at our first meeting, I did wonder about a gaggle or flock of Dyslexia Activists!

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower Toolkit 1: Rich pictures (33/52)

I first mentioned ‘big picture thinking’ in “Time to see Dyslexia as a Superpower?” (3/52) and in “Stimulating Big Picture Thinking” (11/52), which explained how to design a workshop to help develop this skill in environmental scientists. However, I thought it might be useful to explore one specific technique (tool) to help with this – rich pictures.

I first encountered rich pictures in 1998 as part of a lecture given by Professor Peter Checkland on Soft Systems Methodology (SSM). Just Google, “soft systems methodology rich picture” to see lots of examples. I was captivated by SSM not particularly because of rich pictures, it is only one part of the approach, but because as a Managing Director of my own company I use to say, “We don’t have problems, we only have situations and every situation has a solution”. This was a simple way of empowering staff to pause for a moment when they encountered a problem [or situation!] to think about possible solutions before coming to me. It worked!

However, when using SSM to ‘take action to improve’ a situation, I came to value rich pictures as a way of improving my own understanding and engaging stakeholders to see the essence of a problem. Little did I know, that being dyslexic gave me a built-in head-start. Let me explain how it works in practice …

When I encounter a thorny issue, one that seems very difficult to crack, I take a piece of A4 plain paper and start to draw out the situation with the objective of condensing it all on to a single page (in landscape). It now takes me just two attempts – the first drawing to capture all the ingredients and the second to reshuffle items to make it simpler – I also use colour. I try to use as few words as possible. Once I am happy with it, I start to think about possible solutions.

This can be useful for helping me make decisions but the real power of rich pictures comes when you need to share a problem, when there are many views or it would just help to have other peoples opinions.

Something strange happens when you place a rich picture in the centre of a table with a few pens (preferably in different colours). I think because the picture is hand-drawn , people seem happy to add their own drawings, cross out, circle and write on it. It just seems to grow. This is really helpful because you get a better understanding (both what you have got right but also what is missing or contentious) and people feel their opinions matter and are more engaged. It’s important to remember, the rich pictures are just a ‘moment in time’ not a work of art!

I have started to scan rich pictures and email them to everyone after a meeting.

As part of writing this blog, I started to look through some of the more recent rich pictures with a view to sharing a few. However, I realised that they all contained sensitive information that couldn’t really be shared beyond the participants – an interesting observation in itself. So, in order to give you an example, I decided to draw (in 30 minutes) a rich picture of a more public thorny issue … The “e” rush to low pollution transport.

Perhaps you feel a strange urge to add your own highlights, images or words!

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support



Dyslexia Nightmare Fortnight: GSCE and A-level Results (32/52)

Quite rightly, we now have numerous ‘awareness weeks’, with our very own Dyslexia Awareness Week in October, which celebrate ‘good causes’. However, at least in the case of dyslexia, we have other weeks in the year which are particularly significant.

In fact, I would argue that for people with dyslexia in the UK, it’s a particular fortnight each August – the two sequential weeks that start with A-level results and ends, the following week, with GSCE results day. Of course, there are other exam results days but these are big two and attract all the media attention – such as:

So, why are these important and how are they linked to dyslexia? (or the Dyslexia Nightmare Fortnight!)

You may recall that myself and guest bloggers commented on the experience of compulsory`education in emotional terms: failure or labelled stupid (The Dyslexic Professor, Vincent Walsh). For most of us this sense of failure is personified by GSCE, and if we got that far, A-level results days.

Leah Jacobs, a 31 year old undiagnosed dyslexic, puts it simply – “I felt like the world was telling me that I was stupid” in the Guardian’s “A-level students whose results were a lesson in life

I think it has something to do with the public nature of it all – the list of results posted on the noticeboard, the envelope distributed in the school hall or text which you are expected to share. For those who have been recognised as dyslexic and had extra tutoring or support it might be mitigated but for the undiagnosed dyslexic there is no lifeline – the storm of unmet expectations that turn a glorious extended summer holiday into a nightmare fortnight. The pressure to respond pragmatically to this underachievement is overwhelming and leads to rushed decisions, make with all good intent, to change well made plans: “Don’t worry there’s always Clearing” or “Never mind you can go to college and resit

But behind it all sits ‘failure’. One could also argue that this has been exacerbated by the recent changes to single point exams for both GSCEs and A-levels, which increase the pressure on students with dyslexia which results forced underperformance. Just another example for rewarding fine detailed thinking above big picture thinking.

But what happened Jack Horner’s results day? No, not Little Jack Horner but paleontologist Jack Horner

See 0:23 “Dyslexia, Learning Differently, and Innovation”

Time to start a movement to reposition dyslexia as a superpower …

But where to start?

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Know your superpower and World Around Me (31/52)

Following on from Victoria Tomlinson’s guest blog: Time to rethink dyslexia – ability not disability? and Sarah Robinson’s TED Talk: How I fail at being disabled, I thought I should explore further the notion of dyslexia as a superpower before giving an example of big picture thinking.

Sarah Robinson proposes five tips for how to fail at being disabled:

  1. Know your superpowers
  2. Be supremely skilled at getting it wrong
  3. Know that everyone is disabled in some way
  4. Point out the disability in others
  5. Pursue audacious goals

Particularly relevant to dyslexics is, “Know your superpowers” [at 02:21] because big picture thinking could indeed be a significant superpower prevalent in dyslexics.

Imagine if our education system, having firstly screened (free of charge) all children for Dyslexia, provided support not just to engage in language but also develop their emerging big picture thinking into a superpower. If nothing else, it would move the agenda away from disability!

Tarun Sainani, a former student and founder of  WT InfoTech – the company behind the World Around Me (WAM) App. To the best of Tarun’s knowledge, he is not dyslexic – but, at least in my opinion, possesses big picture thinking and, what’s more, has developed an App that embodies this thinking and, wait for it …, invented a new word! Wamification.

Tarun explains wamification in his press release announcing the partnership in Genova , in Italy, and a BBC radio interview [for definition of wamming see 05:40]. Genova seems to be a sweet spot for the WAM App, which overlays information on a phones camera. Imagine arriving in a strange city looking for an Mexican restaurant, city art gallery or a place of worship. Hold up your phone, activate your camera and the image now includes relevant places of interest – then click on one to find out more. No more exiting a tube/metro station not knowing which direction to travel!

And, what about World Around Me (WAM)?

In May 2016, WAM was selected as one of only ten apps for outstanding achievements as part of the inaugural Google Play Awards! And, the last time I spoke to Tarun he was flying off to another city looking to enhance their visitor experience.

Nigel Lockett – The Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: 50% of Africans live in areas without adequate water (30/52)

No, I’m not claiming that dyslexia is directly relevant to tackling the big challenge that 50 percent of Africans live in areas without adequate water – this will be 800 million people by 2025.

However, as The Dyslexic Professor, I am extremely pleased to be part of the team at Lancaster University that has just announced a £6.8M RECIRCULATE project to focus on “joining up” the different ways in which water supports communities, from sewage disposal to energy generation and water used in food production. It is based on the co-creation of solutions with leading researchers in Ghana and Nigeria in the first phase and the second phase bringing in partners from Malawi, Kenya, Botswana and Zambia. Interestingly, it is part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) a £1.5B fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015. It has been specially designed to stimulate research on the challenges faced by developing countries.

For me, it’s a great example of big picture thinking in action. Yes, I do mean big – it will probably be the highest value research project I will ever be a co-investigator on! But, I really mean big in terms of complexity. I’m co-leading the work on entrepreneurship, innovation and knowledge exchange, which seats at the heart of this four-year project.

But why is this so important?

The Lancaster University’s award-winning Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, is quite literally full of bright scientists who are working across a number of areas related to water. The project brings four of these together (Energy; Food; Pathogens; Sanitation) and using the expertise on entrepreneurial learning in the Lancaster University Management School works to develop capacity in Ghana and Nigeria and develop the water economy. This means bringing together all the stakeholders – including entrepreneurs to co-create and take solutions to market.

Talking of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, you might remember me working with some of their PhD students …

The full video of Stimulating Entrepreneurial Thinking in Scientists programme:

My quote for the press release states: “Our goals are clear – to grow capacity and capability in Africa’s eco-innovation community. We are in no doubt that co-creating sustainable and scalable solutions together will be hard but the rewards of success to the people of Africa will be huge.

Now, all we have to do is deliver!

Nigel Lockett – The Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support