Do mind-mapping tools help all neurodiverse students?

Ray Martin investigates…

Under the DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), students may receive some form of online mind mapping (this is often Mindview) – but they don’t all use it. Some students – neurodiverse or neurotypical – prefer the physicality of making a map by hand. This doesn’t mean they have a luddite or fixed mindset, they just prefer paper and pencil. Some want A3 maps or even bigger. (I don’t have a good feeling about this but sometimes, when a gentle suggestion agitates a student, it’s best to keep quiet, I find, and work with what you’ve got.)

Some students like to be on the move to plan. They might do this on their phone or they might use stickers – and generally speaking, they need to learn they are at their best on the move (school discourages this, of course), it comes as a surprise. One support tutor suggested using the wall to plan (lots of lovely movement) to one student, but, no, he ‘knew’ he learned best when he was sitting down. She asked him to describe his journey to college with his hands palm down, unmoving, on the table. He couldn’t do it. He then planned his essay with stickers on the wall. Freedom. Facility.

I suggested to one student that she brainstormed onto scrap paper then planned her dissertation physically, putting the scraps in piles, arranging and rearranging the piles. She came back the following week having bought a washing line on which she pegged her planning scraps. When new material came, she could run up and down the line moving things, fully physically engaged.

I’ve also had the occasional student who is almost fanatical about linear planning, with every paragraph sorted in bullet points before being able to write a sentence. It has looked painful, but it has clearly been the only way they think they can control the chaos. There is fear when I suggest a different approach. Mindview and other tools are lifelines for many, many neurodiverse students – and for PhDs, you probably can’t beat Scrivener. I suspect this is a ‘must’ for neurodiverse and neurotypical alike.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Assistive technology in context #1 – dyslexia and dyspraxia

Ray Martin explains how assistive technology might help a dyslexic and dyspraxic student.

Jonah is one of your ‘best’ students: wonderfully creative work that is rich in humour and considerable understanding of a variety of texts. He hands in his work on time and exudes confidence. Not a student you need to worry about. Then comes a 5-7 mins. formative presentation – which he blows completely. He has 16 slides (16 slides for a 5-7 min. presentation!) He mangles his way through six of them and is clearly distressed.

First (which you haven’t taken into account – why would you when he appears so thoroughly competent?), there’s his dyslexia and dyspraxia. It’s his dyspraxia that is particularly relevant here: ‘caged in chaos’, he needed a clearer structure for the presentation than he received.

This is the first time you haven’t made clear what is expected, and it has shown up his time management and organisation weaknesses very clearly. (The formative presentations were added late to the timetable because you felt they would help students meet the summative assessment criteria with more confidence. You vow that, if you do anything like this again, you will make sure the task is as clearly explained as it would be for a summative assessment: good intentions are not enough. And you remind yourself: get it right for the dyslexics, and you probably get it right for everyone else.)

Dyslexia and dyspraxia are evident in the anxiety he began to display during his presentation. Students with specific learning differences are likely to demonstrate higher levels of anxiety than their neurotypical peers (Carroll & Ives, 2006; Jones, 2019), and a 2014 survey found that 40% of young people with Dyspraxia/DCD aged 13-19 felt anxious ‘all the time’ (Brennan, 2017). Jonah hasn’t declared any mental health difficulties – only 1.5% students are likely to do so to their HEIs (Abrahams and Chappell, 2017).

In all probability, his visuospatial difficulties (typical in dyspraxics, in his case at the 20th centile, i.e. 80% of his peers could be expected to do better) were exacerbated by his anxiety: as Jonah describes it, he has difficulty moving from his three-dimensional thinking to the two-dimensional thinking of a standard presentation: he was slipping between the two and getting confused. His slow processing skills (25th centile) are also likely to have been taxed during the presentation.

A dyslexia support tutor has suggested he explore Mindview’s mapping potential against the linearity of a standard PowerPoint presentation; he has been given a simple format for timetabling (Stephens, 1997); an assistive technology trainer has suggested he try an Audio Notetaker to break up his presentation and test its duration along with the length of time he is devoting to each slide. There is also Present Pal, created by a dyslexic student with presentation anxiety, a cue card system on the phone that can be synchronised with PowerPoint.

**WAIS-IV (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 4th edn) is the set of psychometric tests most widely used by educational psychologists in diagnostic assessments. It is designed to test four sets of abilities: verbal reasoning, visual reasoning, working memory and processing speed. The scores across the 10 tests will be more or less the same for the neurotypical, whereas those with SpLDs will show marked differences across the scores. For verbal comprehension, say, they may score at the 85th centile (i.e. only 15% of their peers will do better) while scoring at the 10th centile for speed of handwriting or working memory. The likelihood is that they will score much better on the tests of verbal and visual ability than those on working memory and processing speed.
(For examples of ‘spiky’ neurodiverse WAIS-IV profiles, see Grant: That’s the Way I Think.)


Abrahams, H. and Chappell, M. (2017) Mental Health in Higher Education for Students with SpLDs. (Lecture at Patoss Conference, 20 June 2017)

Brennan, L. (2017) Understanding Mental Health in SpLD Learners. (Lecture at Patoss Conference, 20 June 2017)

Briggs, V. (2007) Caged in Chaos: a dyspraxic guide to breaking free. London: Jessica Kingsley

Carroll, J. and Iles, J. (2006) An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 651-662

Grant, D. (2017) That’s the Way I Think: dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and dyscalculia explained. 3rd edn. London: Routledge

Jones, A. (2019) ‘The voices of university students with dyslexia and their experiences of anxiety and coping’. Patoss Bulletin 32:2 pp.10-29

Stevens, M. (1997) How to be Better at Giving Presentations. London: Kogan Page and The Industrial Society

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Planning for teaching online

Before you teach

Creating your teaching materials

  • consider pre-recording short, weekly introductions as video or audio podcasts so students can access them when convenient (if you have at GTA, get them to help you create, edit and upload these)
  • include international case studies
  • use diverse images on your slides
  • use relevant images to reinforce the key message of each slide
  • review your references and try to make them less white, western and male
  • provide a glossary of any specific terms
  • keep text on slides to a minimum
  • always use a light coloured background on your slides and handouts (green, pink, orange) to reduce glare and aid comprehension (this helps all students, not just those with dyslexia)
  • where possible, try and make learning materials (e.g. readings, videos, activities) available 2 days before a taught session. This benefits all students by giving them time to look at the materials and tackle any potentially problems before the session.

Planning your session

  • consider dividing your session into ten minute sections, and change the activity every ten minutes to keep students engaged. E.g. talk for ten minutes, then give students a question to discuss in breakout rooms for ten minutes, then recap the breakout discussion for ten minutes.
  • use the chat panel to increase engagement, e.g. ask a question and ask students to respond in the chat, or run a ‘true or false’ activity
  • ask yourself how / where might you prompt learners to find solutions to problems
  • ask yourself how might you facilitate students’ learning rather than simply delivering content
  • ask yourself how might you help learners locate content that is useful to them
  • create opportunities for students to share their experiences of the topic and their cultural references – this is especially valuable for BAME and international students
  • create regular opportunities for students to work together in pairs or small groups. Use breakout rooms, and ask each pair/group to respond to a problem or question. Students will often find it easier to talk with their peers rather than risk looking silly in front of the whole group.
  • consider using active learning activities e.g. putting students in pairs and giving them a list of questions to answer about the briefing document, rather than just telling them the information

While you teach

Be mindful of your delivery

  • keep the briefing as short as possible
  • speak slowly and use simple language, avoid jargon and slang
  • make sure any spoken instructions are also provided in writing

Set clear ground rules

  • explain the rules of the online classroom e.g. please:
    • respect everyone’s opinions and viewpoints
    • keep yourself muted unless you want to speak
    • keep your camera switched on
    • be mindful of what is behind you
    • use the chat to post your questions

Talk about the challenges of group work and effective collaboration

  • for example, different cultures perceive being interrupted during conversation. in some cultures interruption is rude, but in other cultures interruption shows that you are engaged in the conversation, Spanish/Greek/Italian students often talk over each other, whereas Japanese students are likely to expect pauses in conversation and active listening. This can prevent the latter students from contributing effectively.
  • consider asking students to assume different roles in group work – e.g. someone who takes notes, someone who ‘chairs’ discussions and ensures that all group members have an opportunity to contribute their views.

Use appropriate technologies to improve learning

  • record your session and make it available online
  • if you have a GTA, ask them to edit and upload recorded sessions
  • consider using Rev Live Captions to provide real-time captions (currently $20 per month direct integration with Zoom)
  • consider using tools such as Padlet to create opportunities for collaboration
  • consider providing an online discussion space and asking students to respond to a weekly question or prompt, then bring their responses into the next taught session. This enables students to learn at their own pace during the week, and contribute at a time and pace that suits them. However, an online discussion space will only be successful if it is actively used by tutors – you will need to decide whether you are happy/able to commit time to it. If you have a GTA, one of their weekly tasks can be to monitor the discussion space and respond.

Explain the amount of ‘learning hours’, not just ‘contact hours’

  • give students a clear indication of what they need to be doing each week, and an estimate of how long each task will take them
  • give guidance on what they might need to prepare for the next scheduled session

Explain assessment clearly and regularly

  • a key problem for all students is a lack of clarity regarding assessment. Consider asking a Learning Development Tutor to run a session about the unit assessment for all students, and possibly one specifically for international students.
  • take time to explain how the brief is designed to help students meet the learning outcomes (LOs) and assessment criteria (ACs)
  • refer to the LOs and ACs at the start of each taught session, so students can see how the session aligns with the LOs and ACs
  • explain regularly that you are assessing students’ learning, not what they produce at the end. This is really important, as it can help students gain a clearer understanding of what you are looking for in their assessment.
  • consider using short, reflective breakout activities which ask: What have you learned this week? How can you apply what you have learned? What do you need to learn next?
  • where possible, provide a range of ways for students to evidence their learning e.g. pre-recording a presentation, producing a video essay, creating a portfolio.

Be mindful of the specific needs and behaviours of international students

“online instructors need to design courses in such a way as to remove potential cultural barriers, including language, communication tool use, plagiarism, time zone differences and a lack of multicultural content, which may affect international students’ learning performances…a culturally inclusive learning environment needs to consider diversity in course design in order to ensure full participation by international students.” (Liu et al, 2010).

  • attendance: be mindful that students from Confucian Heritage Cultures (e.g. China, Japan, Korea) are heavily conditioned to view the timetabled lecture as ‘teaching’, and anything else (e.g. workshops, seminars) as not important. This can often explain why many international students don’t turn up for a lot of timetabled sessions unless they are formal lectures. Also, you will also need to consider time-zone implications for some international students when timetabling sessions.
  • group work: group work using breakout rooms can help international students by giving them more opportunities to learn socially. Manage group composition and mix international students with home/EU students to encourage cross-cultural learning. If possible, keep students in the same groups for a meaningful number for sessions to enable students to get to know each other. Set clear expectations regarding participation and etiquette.
  • encourage speaking in taught sessions: ensure that you receive any spoken contributions professionally. Even if an international student has missed the point, thank them for their contribution and encourage another student to offer a different point of view. Remind all students that obtaining a range of viewpoints is essential in developing a deeper understanding of an issue or a topic.
  • ask students to use the ‘chat’ tool to share their thoughts, and respond to your questions: remind students that their contributions in the chat must be in in English, and also respectful and constructive.
  • remember that ‘have you got any questions’ translates as ‘have you got any problems’ in Mandarin!

Competencies for effective online teaching

(adapted from Shé et al (2019) Teaching online is different: Critical perspectives from the literature)

Tutor roleHow to be effective onlineCompetencies required
Be socially presentEncourage student-tutor contact as this establishes presence that will encourage a supportive learning communityCommunication skills, written and oral; modelling of good online behaviour; maintain a cordial learning environment.
Facilitate learningEncourage cooperation among studentsPromote interactivity within the group;Facilitate interaction; manage group work and build communities; advising/counselling skills; facilitate participation among students; resolve conflict in an amicable manner.
Facilitate learningCommunicate high expectations which will provide clarity and relevanceCreate significant real life problems with rubrics for guidance; Demonstrate commitment and favourable attitude; Sustain students’ motivation, demonstrates leadership qualities;establish rules and regulations.
Support studentsEncourage active learning and be agile in how you move between different learning and teaching approaches    Create and facilitate novel, reflective and pedagogically sound activities; use teaching strategies/models and general education theory; Use internet tools for instruction; access various technological resources;select appropriate resource for learning; suggest resources to the students.
Support studentsGive prompt feedback and timely responses which supports students success  Provide opportunities to perform and receive feedback; Monitor individual and group progress; assess individual and group performance; Suggest measures to enhance performance.
Support studentsRespect diverse talents and ways of learning Provide clarity and relevance through course structure and presentationAcknowledge when students are succeeding in their work and treat them with respect;provide different types of learning activities;address Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in all created materials; comply with ethical and legal standards; suggest measures to enhance performance; provide guidance based on student needs.
Manage the courseEmphasise time on taskTime manage activities to provide student time efficiencies; Manage the time and course;Establish rules and regulations.
Create an effective learning environmentDevelop and maintain an online environment that supports effective learningDemonstrate managerial skills; structure online learning resources so materials are one click away.
Be currentBe a content expert who is research-informed about both the topic and the teachingContent knowledge; library research skills;undertake efforts to update knowledge;suggest resources to the students; conducts research on classroom teaching;interpret and integrate research findings in teaching.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

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Dealing with bullying and harassment

‘Alarming levels of bullying and harassment … exist in the higher education (HE) sector.’ (Unison, 2013:8)

Equality Act 2010

Under the Act, the following nine characteristics are protected from discrimination at work and in society generally:

  1. Age
  2. Disability
  3. Gender reassignment
  4. Marriage and civil partnerships
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religion and/or belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

The public sector duty

The Public sector duty is designed to:
. Eliminate unlawful discrimination.
. Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.
. Foster or encourage good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.

‘72% of BAME staff are ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ subject to bullying and harassment from managers and were ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ subject to cultural insensitivity.’ (UCU, 2012:1-2)


Unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another individual.
(This relates to a person’s characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010.)


Bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour which intentionally or unintentionally undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient. Bullying does not need to be deliberate; someone may demonstrate bullying behaviour, which falls within the above definition, without intending to.
(This is independent of The Equality Act 2010)

Community responsibility

Any member of staff or any student who witnesses an incident that they believe to be the harassment or bullying of another member of staff or student should report the incident in confidence to their line manager/course leader/head of school or member of the Human Resources Dept.

Adapted from ‘Inclusive Working’ workshop (UCA Farnham 5.3.2020) by Joe McCarron, UCA’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Manager


UCU (2012) ‘The experiences of black and minority ethnic staff in further and higher education’ at:  (accessed 1.6.20)

Unison (2013) Tackling bullying at work  at: (accessed 1.6.20)

Photo by David Taffet on Unsplash

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#creativeHEjam Monday 15 June

Great ideas in this post for online activities that can make inductions more interactive. Definirely some useful ideas for September…


Virtually (Im)possible: Creative Ideas for Online Socialisation Activities for Induction

Hello everybody, Thank you for joining us for this #creativeHE jam activity which will run across Monday 15th June - from 09.00 until 17.00 BST.

Today’s event is a ‘stretchy conversation’ – where we want you to contribute your ideas for creative online induction activities across the day.

Image by Donna O’Donoghue from Pixabay

We know how important it is to find ways to bring people together. It is equally important for learning and teaching, when starting a new programme and module. The pandemic will not be over when the next academic year begins and most, if not all, academic programmes, will be offered online with some face-to-face elements where possible. So, the usual induction needs a rethink. Right? How do we do induction effectively online, virtually? How can we bring our students together, to get to know each other…

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PGCert online exhibition 2020

Welcome to the 2nd online exhibition of UCA’s PGCert in Creative Education!

team-red    team-blue

team-teacake    team-spare

It is always difficult to give people a sense of what it is like to study on UCA’s PGCert. Our annual online exhibition is an attempt to provide a window into the learning experience. The online exhibition is our way of responding to two of the key learning theories that underpin the course: Paolo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy and Dilly Fung’s Connected Curriculum.

The theme of this year’s exhibition is Power, Technologies and Learning Theories. Throughout the course, participants work in teams to complete several team tasks. For the online exhibition, each team was asked to view their learning experience from a perspective of critical pedagogy as a way to question the power dynamics that manifest in online creative education.

Hopefully, by looking through the range of artefacts that each team has created and curated you will develop an understanding of both what and how participants have learned.

We hope you  enjoy it! Please do leave your comments below, we would love to hear your feedback.


The PGCert online exhibition opens on Wednesday 29th April 2020 and continues until Monday 31st August 2020. 

Find out more about UCA’s PGCert in Creative Education.

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Mental health – supporting colleagues and students

Now that the disruption of the last few weeks is beginning to settle down, we are faced with a long period of isolation. During this time, it is incredibly important to focus on mental health – our own, and that of our colleagues and our students.

On the PGCert, each of the four student teams recently completed a team teach, and Team Red’s focused on the pastoral aspects of working in Higher Education. The team put together a useful list of links and resources for supporting mental health, and they have kindly agreed to share them with the wider community. Please makes use of these, and share them with your colleagues and students as needed.

Useful links

UCA Health and Wellbeing services

UCA Inclusivity Guide – Mental Health

CALM: Prevention of male suicide 0800 58 58 58 open 5pm-midnight 365 days a year

Nightline: 0207 631 0101 open term time 6pm-8am

Papyrus: Prevention of young suicide also see
Hopeline 0800 068 41 41

SamaritansFree phone 116 123

Students Against Depression

Students Minds

UCA Student Union: Mental health advice page

Young Minds

UCA Health and Wellbeing policy

Suicide – advice on how to respond to someone talking about it:


Further reading

Hughes, G. et al (2018). Student mental health: The role and experiences of academics. Oxford: Student Minds, pp 14-24.

Anderson, J. and Houghton, A (2017). Embedding Mental Wellbeing in The Curriculum: Maximising Success In Higher Education. [online] York: Higher Education Academy, pp.9-12. Available at:  [Accessed 11 March 2020].

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Inclusive assessment example 3: sensitive to criticism


Lynn Winfield is a very sensitive student who has a history of reacting badly to criticism. The last time she was given a low mark there was a temper tantrum, tears and threats of filing a complaint. For the current project she has again given herself a high mark on the self-assessment. You’ve looked carefully at the work for submission and sought a second opinion. You both agree that like last time it should be awarded a low mark. What will you feed back to Lynn?

You have no choice but to follow the rules and assess to the marking criteria. You will certainly follow the Houghton Ten Top Tips (see below) and you may do something that counts as being kind to yourself immediately before you see Lynn. Certainly you need to pause. Perhaps some yoga breathing? Mindfulness? A cake? And, yes, Lynn may be hell to deal with again.

She’s in her own personal hell, so that won’t be surprising: she knows she’ll fork no lightning in the creative world, but she has to tell herself something very different because, if she can’t succeed here, she really is rubbish. From early on, she’s been told she’s talented – when her parents realised she was ‘slow’ (the dyslexia assessment didn’t come till much later), they did as many parents do: they encouraged her to see herself as good at art (a strategy that has brought rich rewards for many dyslexic art students). As a result, she spent a lot of her school life in the art room at the expense of cultivating other potential interests.

At university, this isn’t her only issue: she is exhausted much of the time because of her dyslexic difficulties, partly because she doesn’t have the automaticity that non-dyslexics have (Nicolson and Fawcett, 1990) – ‘It’s never comfortable; everything requires more concentration and alertness,’ says psychologist Rod Nicolson (2017). She also has two major dyslexic difficulties to deal with: her very poor (‘severely impaired’) processing speed and her restricted working memory, both of which impact on her understanding of feedback – and much else. (You have probably noticed that she often needs you to repeat things and her responses are not immediate. The word ‘stupid’ has crossed your mind but you have immediately quelled it.)

Lynn’s verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning are average, according to her educational psychologist’s report, but her processing speed is at the 2nd centile, i.e. 88% of the population can process information faster than she can. David Grant (2017:23) describes the problem: ‘This is rather like a slow broadband speed taking more time than it should to download and upload information, and the connection sometimes failing because it is taking too long for different regions of the brain to talk to each other.’ Stress, such as the assessment situation (presentations also spring to mind), exacerbates this weakness.

Working memory tests examine skills in remembering verbal information for a short time. Lynn’s working memory speed is below average at the 15th centile. Allied to her slow processing skills, she may forget the first part of what you say to her before she has processed the second part, and she may be relying to some extent on what she thinks you are telling her – her tantrums may, in fact, come from her fears rather than anything you have said: in this stressful situation, her working memory and processing speed are further impaired.

Lynn’s dyslexia tutor has begged her to record her feedback sessions with you so that she (dyslexia tutor) can get a grip on what’s been said. This never happens. She knows Lynn is damaging herself – and damaging you too, she suspects – at these alarming feedback sessions. Her dyslexia tutor concentrates on clarifying your written feedback with Lynn, who arrives at her dyslexia sessions bearing this feedback and a hugely distorted view of what it says – you are not the only one here who is frightened for Lynn.

What Lynn really wants to do, she realises late in her second year, is to work with animals. She does get her degree first – a painful business for you both to the end – and the last you heard, she’s finished her City & Guilds diploma in animal welfare and is working in an animal sanctuary near home. There’s a picture of her on Facebook holding a bedraggled otter; you know otters bite at the first opportunity (and the second and third), but finally she looks relaxed, happy and fulfilled.

You adjust your inclusivity goggles and remind yourself you are not God.


Assessment feedback: Ten Top Tips

. Encourage
. Feed forward more than back
. Provide session time where students reflect on and implement feedback (This could happen at the start of the next unit)
. Make the feedback you give reflect the level of learning
. For tutoring, consider making a checklist of points to cover
. Identify what needs to be done rather than what’s wrong (every negative can be turned into a positive, while making the same point)
. Use language that’s easy to understand; avoid expressions that may not be understood by international students
. For written feedback, aim for parity of length
. For written feedback, write different feedback for each student and never copy and paste
. Feedback should concentrate on the learning.

(Houghton, n.d.)



Grant, D. (2017) That’s the Way I Think: dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and dyscalculia explained (3rd edn) London: Routledge

Houghton, N. (2020) Assessment (online lecture, UCA, 4 March 2020)

Houghton, N. (n.d.) ‘Ten Top Tips’ in: The Knowledge of Nicholas: a compendium (limited edn) vol. 3, p.350

Nicolson, R. and Fawcett, A. (1990) ‘Automaticity: a new framework for dyslexia research’ in: Cognition, 30: pp.159-182

Nicolson, R. (201) The Dyslexia Debate: moving forward! London (lecture at the Dyslexia Guild, June 2017)

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Inclusive assessment example 2: low confidence


Tracey Dillon really lacks confidence and this prevents her taking risks. The trouble is, you’ve found that if you tell her this it only makes her even less confident and more reluctant to take the kind of risks which she needs to, in order to produce good work. You’re struggling to know how to balance praise and criticism, since you’ve found that it’s only through praise that she gains self-belief and improves. What will you feedback to Tracey?

You know the rules, and you know you can’t change them: your feedback must be in line with assignment learning outcomes. However, you have recently come to realise that, when giving feedback (written or oral), there’s good mileage in identifying what needs to be done rather than what’s wrong, that you can turn every negative into a positive and still make the same point (Houghton, 2020): criticism can be avoided. You are hoping this will help Tracey’s confidence and allow her to consider taking risks.

This will probably make her happier and, yes, more confident, but she is still unlikely to work outside the box. This is her safe place, and she is very unlikely to leave it, for Tracey is the first student in her family to go to university, and, as with many other first-generation students, it is putting enormous pressure on her. Says first-generation student Michelle Vasquez (2019), ‘Being the first in your family is tough, and the expectations weigh heavily.’ In Tracey’s case, her father is carrying a grave misconception about Firsts: he has made his way in the world and expects his children to do the same, and he feels certain that, if Tracey doesn’t get a First, she is not trying hard enough and is letting the family down. The rest of the family are clear about this too.

Under this pressure, she works relentlessly hard and because of it, she hasn’t made any friends: she expects those doing groupwork with her to work to her standards – to leap into action the minute a group assignment is set – and they resent the pressure she tries to exert on them. In her turn, she resents them for holding her back.

To add to the pressure, she’s dyslexic, and her anxiety levels are almost certainly higher than most of her non-dyslexic peers (Carroll and Iles, 2006; Jones, 2019) – without the added worry about her family. Her wobbly confidence is almost certainly connected with her dyslexia too.

She appeared for a session with her dyslexia tutor on the Monday after Freshers Week (unheard of before this) and has never missed an appointment since. After the first month, she broke down and cried, and it all came out – but the dyslexia tutor couldn’t get permission from Tracey to talk to academic staff so her hands are tied.  However, she knows that the Unconditional Positive Regard (Rogers, 1959) she gives Tracey counts for something, and she works hard with Tracey on organisation, reading, written work and, importantly, listens to her anxieties and  xxxxx her frail self-esteem to see that Tracey does as well as she can and is free from anxiety at least some of the time. But Tracey is never going to get the First that her father demands.

Two years later

Tracey got a 2:1 and was devastated. Her dyslexia tutor went along to the Private View of her show, where she found one of the sisters being, she felt, rather patronising and Tracey looking miserable. The tutor made it clear to the parents (keeping eye contact with father throughout) that their daughter was a remarkable person who had worked harder, she felt, than any student she had ever seen before; they must be very, very proud of her. This was repeated until the tutor was sure father’d got it – she was pleased to see the patronising sister looking discomforted, not to say slightly anxious.

‘Not so cocky, now, little sister,’ she said to herself callously.



Carroll, J. and Iles, J. (2006) ‘An assessment of anxiety levels in dyslexic students in higher education’ in: British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 651-662

Houghton, N. (2020) Assessment (online lecture, UCA, 4 March 2020)

Jones, A. (2019) ‘The voices of university students with dyslexia and their experiences of anxiety and coping’ in: Patoss Bulletin 32(2), 10-29

Rogers, C. (1959) ‘A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships as developed in the client-centred framework’ in: Koch, S. (ed) Psychology: a study of Science Vol. 3 Formulation of the Personality and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill: 184-256

Vasquez, M. (2019) ‘Pressure comes from within for first generation college students’ in The Blue and Gray Press 25 April 2019

FOCUS ON COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES, AND SCHOOLS VOLUME 6, NUMBER 1, 2012 1 The Influence of Parents on the Persistence Decisions of First-Generation College Students Steven B. Westbrook, EdD Vice President for University Affairs Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, TX Joyce A. Scott, PhD Associate Professor of Higher Education Department of Educational Leadership College of Education and Human Services Texas A&M University-Commerce Commerce, TX


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Writing aims, learning outcomes, and assessment criteria


Curriculum design expert Nicholas Houghton explains how to approach writing these core aspects of a curriculum.

Writing aims, learning outcome and assessment criteria can seem onerous. However, it’s well worth spending time to get them as you want them. Once they’re in the validated document, it’s complicated and time-consuming to make changes.

Yet you really want to make assessment as easy and clear to everyone as you possibly can. If you think they look like ‘education speak’ then it’s because they’ve been written that way. The best ones use simple, clear language which all students and staff can readily understand.

Things to watch out for when writing this part of a validation document.

Try to avoid jargon and obscure words!

If you’re writing documents for revalidation, take the opportunity to take a fresh look at the course. Don’t look at the existing aims, learning outcomes and assessment criteria until you’ve written your own.

A common mistake people make is to write aims, learning outcomes and assessment criteria that are very similar to each other. Often they only make a slight change in the wording when an aim becomes a learning outcome. However, aims should be very different from outcomes, and there can also be a different number of aims from outcomes.

Before writing any of these, think hard about two things:

  1. what do you want your students to achieve through studying on the course?
  2. what do they need to have learned?

Once you have answers to these two questions, identify what they need to have learned at the end of each unit. Remember that:

  1. what they achieve does not need to be measurable, and should feed into the aims.
  2. what they need to have learned should be used as the basis for writing learning outcomes.

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