School – Trying to learn in the Dark

in the darksmallDreading my turn to read – Entering the school system, in the UK, at age 4, my literacy was progressing, fitfully. By the age of seven, I was really struggling. My report at 16 says: “Hampered by lack of vocabulary and atrocious spelling, she has an inability to express herself clearly. It really would help if Olive could learn to spell.” I had been in the same school for 12 years and was generally a good but often shy student. It took me another 40 years to discover the secret of why literacy, in English, seemed so tricky. Having no mental images of words was like trying to read and write in the dark. I realised then that schools take no responsibility for their teaching methods negatively affecting their students’ ability to spell or read fluently.  I was expected to fix this, and I had no idea how to do it. I now regret, missing out on all that fabulous children’s literature, for I could read to myself, but I couldn’t remember anything I read. As a result, I found reading boring, and I only read those things I had to, rather than for pleasure.

A teacher once told my mother that my brain was far too fast for my hand, which was nearly accurate.  Whilst reading this, you may notice I have a very different perspective on many things, which is a common and positive neurodivergent trait.

I now feel privileged not to have been given any label in the past, although I knew my literacy skills were well below average. I recall wanting to disappear into the floor when we were reading aloud in class – dreading my turn coming around. I never read for pleasure until I was nearly 40 when I wanted to read to our son. How could I contemplate reading anything for fun when I found it such a nightmare? For me, it was extremely difficult to remember what I had read and, when putting a book down, a bookmark was essential. I also studied French for years and never managed to achieve ‘O’ level. Now, whose idea was it to teach me another language, when I couldn’t spell in my first language?

However, I did GCSE and A Levels Maths a year early, which was almost unheard of in the 1970s, thanks partly to my excellent mental images of numbers. I then graduated from Sussex University with an honours degree in mathematics.

Just like my clients, I was the child who always asked “Why should we do this?” and “How does that work?”  I have learned so much from clients, and come to understand more about what each brain wants and needs in order to make learning easier, and decipher what is happening for the student.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers for every learning difficulty as I am also continually learning, but I hope the understanding you will gain from this book will give you many new perspectives to try.

This is an extract from my latest book,  “The Elephants in the Classroom: uncovering every student’s natural power of mental imagery to enhance learning“.  To find out more, order your own copy here, or more than 10 copies here or on or

#neurodivergent #learningdifferences #learning #learningdifficulty #students #reading  #mentalimages #atrociousspelling #French

About olivehickmott

I am a Forensic Learning coach, showing people how they can improve their own learning and change their health. Working with creative neurodivergent students is a joy, as they learn new skills to overcome many of their learning challenges.
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