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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Prof Joe Elliott

Gibbs, S. & Elliott, J.G. (2015). The differential effects of labelling: how do ‘dyslexia’ and ‘reading difficulties’ affect teachers’ beliefs. European Journal of Special Needs Education 30(3): 323-337.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper reports a survey of primary school teachers’ beliefs about working with poor readers. The primary research question was ‘does the way difficulties with reading are labelled affect the teachers’ beliefs about their ability to intervene effectively?’ An opportunity sample of teachers was surveyed using 2 questionnaires. One examined teachers’ efficacy beliefs. The second questionnaire assessed the extent to which teachers considered that difficulties with reading formed a clearly defined category with essentialist characteristics. There were two variants of both questionnaires. In variant A, the word ‘dyslexia’ was used. In variant B that term was replaced by the phrase ‘reading difficulties’. The findings indicated that labels were associated with differences in teachers’ efficacy beliefs. Responses to the ‘dyslexia’ variants suggested that teachers’ sense of efficacy was associated with beliefs that dyslexia was an immutable phenomenon that yields viable inferences and that efficacy beliefs were not uniformly associated with experience. In contrast, the ‘reading difficulty’ items evoked responses that indicated that all aspects of teachers’ efficacy beliefs about intervening were related to greater experience and only marginally related to essentialist beliefs about reading difficulties.