Young girl of secondary school age, in a red school uniform sat in a classroom writing. You can see other students and a teacher in the background. 
PhD candidate: Kerissa Nelson 
The study drew on different perspectives using a qualitative multi-temporal case study research design. Participants were selected through purposeful sampling and data were generated using semi-structured interviews: five with secondary aged students with dyslexia and four with teachers who teach students with dyslexia including one Teaching Assistant. Additionally, a focus group was conducted with six participants, including teachers and teaching assistants from the same mainstream secondary school in South West England, and two further focus group discussions each with five university students.

Summary of findings

  • Learners’ identities are constructed in social contexts where others may be unsure of what dyslexia is or what makes students with dyslexia different.
  • Depending on how students interact with their environment and how teachers and support staff connect with them, developing a positive identity can be difficult.
  • Some teachers may lack understanding of students with dyslexia and inconsistent messages about dyslexia may cause identity issues.
  • There can also be tensions about the way labels are used in teaching approaches, how relationships develop between teachers and peers, and the value placed on inclusion practices.

Dyslexic students' understanding of their learning difference can influence how they view labels and shape their identities. 
Peers' attitudes towards students with dyslexia can also affect identity formation. Having similarity with their peers can be important for many students, and some students with dyslexia may fear being seen as different. 
Additionally, some teachers might not able be to recognise both visible and invisible signs of dyslexia, and may lack adequate understanding of the label. Teachers may also be unaware of a student's reluctance to be identified as different due to their dyslexia - while still wanting support. These students may have difficulty understanding themselves if teachers focus excessively on labels such as "special" or routine pedagogical practices such as reading aloud without acknowledging or supporting their needs.
Another significant finding is that school might value increasing the students’ participation in decision-making, while at the same time limiting their options for particular GCSE subjects.
Decisions about choice of subjects are usually guided by the school and students with dyslexia must follow such guidance. 
Students with dyslexia can often have limited access to Modern Foreign Language in mainstream secondary classrooms today, due to the tendency towards choosing subjects to maximise grade outcomes, with emphasis on mandatory subjects such as Math and English; many students with dyslexia show strengths in creative areas and other subjects that contribute to their identity formation, but timetables can be skewed towards mandatory subjects.
Teacher helping or talking to male student over his shoulder, pointing to his workbook on the desk. 
Perspectives of current students and those reflecting on their past experiences in mainstream secondary classrooms suggest that practices which fail to promote inclusive values can create tension between participation/autonomy and the need to maximise GCSE passes. 
Participants at both universities and secondary schools felt empowered when they were allowed to choose their own GCSE subjects. Studying subjects of their choice is an important part of any student’s identity; it can affect how they perceive themselves and cope with challenges. 
Students with dyslexia are more likely to be motivated by their own goals, even if these do not concur with the school's intentions. Students with dyslexia reflecting on both the past and present viewed themselves and the school’s aims in a way that determined their actions and developed their capacity to cope.
It was also found that, over time, students with dyslexia understood more about how to deal with being in a classroom that failed to meet their needs by developing their own strategies.
The ability to advocate for themselves as a coping skill gave some university and secondary participants a voice, increased their self-confidence, and encouraged positive self-esteem. Using self-advocacy, students could request changes that would help their learning.
The coping ability of some past and present student participants led to certain educational outcomes; for example, they expressed open dissatisfaction with being limited by being submitted for foundation papers in external examinations. Another coping strategy used by older students with dyslexia to improve self-understanding was self-reflection on identity.
Participants' active and passive coping skills varied depending on whether they were reflecting on current or past experiences. In both types of participant, self-advocacy was used, but in distinct ways with different outcomes.
Jo Rowland, dyslexia and learning support advisor
A university participant reported using self-advocacy skills to secure her choice of subjects, which significantly impacted her academic performance, her teachers’ pedagogical strategies, and achievement of university entry qualifications. 
There was a second participant who insisted she was not ‘special’, but wanted support specifically tailored to her needs. The ability to construct a strong coping strategy to lessen the challenges of participating in particular learning activities was linked to active coping skills, including self-advocacy and reflection.
Additionally, passive coping strategies were reported, such as daydreaming and switching off, which negatively affected classroom relationships. In addition to students’ academic performance, all such strategies had implications for their feelings of inclusion within the classroom.
Finally, most secondary and university students indicated that they would like to share their coping skills with their peers who were also dyslexic and had similar experiences. 
According to university students who reflected on their school experiences, they could minimise their sense of being different if they felt part of a peer community that understood their weaknesses and encouraged their strengths.