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Some define literacy as the ability to read and write, others expand to functional literacy - including deliberating ideas, solving problems, managing finances. No matter how you define it - literacy is essential on an individual level, and for society as a whole. 

And yet, many struggle with core skills of writing and reading. Some receive diagnoses of Dyslexia and Dysgraphia, and many more struggle quietly, going through life trying to cope or hide their difficulties.

If you or someone you know is challenged by literacy, this blog can help you understand why. Dyslexia and Dysgraphia will be examined through the lens of specific brain processes leading to these diagnoses. We’ll also introduce a solution – an evidence-based neuroplastic approach that is enabling children and adults to  transform their relationship with the written word. 

To accompany this blog and if you would like to explore this subject in more detail, sign up to our free webinar - Mastering Literacy: Excelling Beyond Learning Challenges, Dyslexia, and Dysgraphia. This is the second in our three-part series looking at how the brain can be strengthened for success in the classroom, workplace and life.

There are still two dates available for Webinar 2:

▶️ Thursday Sept 21 at 7PM ET

▶️ Tuesday November 7 at 7PM ET


Literacy Challenges in the Classroom, Workplace and Daily Living

All would agree that without literacy, it can be challenging to live a productive life. These skills enable us to develop, communicate and succeed in school, in the workplace, and across our life span. 

Dyslexia as a term has evolved over the years, initially referring to struggles with decoding and the application of phonetics in reading. More recently, it has expanded to include individuals also experiencing struggles with comprehension, communication and other language related tasks.  

Dysgraphia symptoms include struggles with the mechanics of writing. It commonly leads to issues with grammar, syntax, comprehension, and generally putting thoughts on paper. While a common compensation is replacing writing with the use of a keyboard or speech-to-text computer programs, many students find they are still challenged: spell check may not recognize their efforts, or they still struggle to type effectively, given it still requires secure motor planning ability. 

Dyslexia and Dysgraphia are common, representing anywhere between 20-40% of diagnosed learning disabilities. They can cause academic struggles, social and emotional turmoil, and limit professional pathways. 

Whether diagnosed or not, challenges in literacy skills impact individuals across their lifespan, and in the classroom, the workplace and in daily life. Issues can include: 

  • struggle to read efficiently, accurately, out loud or quickly
  • struggle to organize and communicate ideas when writing or typing
  • difficulty recalling and applying phonetic rules to decoding and spelling
  • need to re-read several times to understand what is written
  • need to re-read emails/documents multiple times to understand them
  • finding it hard to scan or skim text
  • tendency to ramble in written notes/emails/documents
  • difficulty following conversations in meetings
  • struggle to remember verbal instructions/conversations
  • illegible handwriting

At Arrowsmith School, we examine not the diagnosis, but the brain processes contributing to the struggle. 

This is Our Brain on Reading and Writing 

Reading and writing are complex tasks that do not come easily or naturally to everyone. In fact, the human brain is not naturally designed to read.  Even with explicit teaching from an early age, many have a particular cognitive profile that impacts their ability to learn these skills. This makes these foundational steps to literacy difficult, sometimes impossible. 

What we call our cognitive profile, ultimately makes us who we are. Every individual has a unique cognitive profile that shapes how we interact with the world, how we see ourselves and how we see everyone else around us. 

The building blocks of literacy are specific cognitive functions that make it possible to interact with the written word. Whether it’s eye tracking, decoding and phonemic awareness involved in reading, forming words while writing or typing, or understanding what is read or said - deficits in any one of these foundational pieces can lead to lifelong difficulties left unaddressed. 

Weaknesses in the one or multiple cognitive functions can impact an individual’s’ literacy ability

Interested in finding out your child’s, or your own, cognitive profile? Complete the Arrowsmith Cognitive Questionnaire.



How Arrowsmith Can Help Address Reading and Writing Difficulties 

At Arrowsmith, we believe cognitive transformation should be part of any educational journey, and that every student should achieve their full potential. Ideally, students participate in academic learning AND cognitive enhancement through programs like the Arrowsmith Program.

It is through cognitive transformation that we unlock everyone’s gifts, allowing them to dare to dream. 

Arrowsmith achieves this by harnessing the principles of neuroplasticity to fundamentally, and significantly, change the cognitive capacity of the learner. By using cognitive exercises to effective cognitive change, Arrowsmith students strengthen and change their brains for improved function. 

“Strengthening cognitive functions presumed to underlie academic achievement deficits improves reading, mathematics, and writing by targeting the cause (the cognitive deficit) rather than the symptoms.”
~ Researchers at the University of Calgary

At Arrowsmith School our goal is to assist our students in acquiring the capacity to succeed. Our focus is not on accommodating or lowering expectations, but rather to strengthen the capacity of the areas of the brain that are essential to reading, writing and communication.

By strengthening underperforming cognitive functions, in our students, we are able to improve their literacy skills, at any age.  

Arrowsmith can strengthen you or your child’s capacity to:

  • comprehend what you read
  • identify the main idea
  • read fluently
  • decode and spell accurately
  • retain and recall information
  • write legibly
  • follow and engage meaningfully in discussions

“If a network supporting a brain function is repeatedly stimulated through practice and training, it will become stronger, contributing to the optimization of that brain function.”
~ Fernandez, SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness

Interested in learning more? Get in touch with Arrowsmith today, or sign up to our webinar on the subject Mastering Literacy: Excelling Beyond Learning Challenges, Dyslexia, and Dysgraphia



Shelley Woon
Post by Shelley Woon
September 21, 2023
Shelley, a passionate educator, brings a solution focused and collaborative perspective to each situation which is informed by her 30+ years of engaging with students, families and community partners. She values the brain-learning connection and is eager to assist others in developing an understanding of a neuroplastic approach in unlocking potential, particularly for those struggling with learning difficulties. She is thrilled to be an integral part of the dynamic and innovative Arrowsmith community. She holds a Master of Education in Leadership, and Supervisory Officer and Principal qualifications, along with Specialists in Special Education and Reading.