My early studies were in Australia where I completed a BA at Monash University and a Post Graduate Diploma in Education at Melbourne University. I then worked as a teacher in Further and Higher Education before moving to the United Kingdom where I moved into Specialist Teaching, completing a Post Graduate Diploma with Dyslexia Action (AMBDA).  This was followed by an MA in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education while working as a Specialist Teacher in a range of educational settings.  On completion of my MA I was fortunate to be offered a position at the IOE where I worked for a number of years, initially as a lecturer and lead AMBDA tutor and later as Programme Leader for the MA in Specific Learning Difficulties (dyslexia), which holds accreditation from the BDA.

I have extensive experience as a specialist teacher and assessor with a wide age range of learners, and I have a particular interest in developing assessments to enhance the intervention support for children and adults with literacy difficulties, including dyslexia. I started reading for my PhD at UCL Institute of Education in 2014 working with Chloë Marshall from the IOE as my primary supervisor and Bernard Camilleri from City University of London as my second supervisor.

Within my research project I am investigating the use of an alternative approach to specialist assessment that utilises the framework of dynamic assessment. Dynamic assessment (DA) is an evidence-based, interactive approach to assessment that is designed to explore individual differences.  The intention of DA is to understand not just what a learner knows, but how the individual learns best.  The principles of this approach are founded on the work of Vygotsky (1978), who argues that in early development greater achievement is possible when a child learns through a collaborative approach reflecting what Vygotsky termed the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’.  During the assessment the learner is supported to identify strategies that they might use to facilitate change; proponents of DA argue that this approach provides a more complete picture of the learner’s potential by revealing strengths and difficulties that might not otherwise be discovered.

This current research project is seeking to evaluate whether a DA approach to the assessment of spelling in children with dyslexia, between the ages of 8 and 9 years, will enhance intervention outcomes and serve as a ‘proof of principle’ on which to expand the field. To date I have published one paper on my preliminary findings with my supervisor, Chloë Marshall, in the International Journal of Disability, Development and Education (2016) and a more general practitioner paper in the Dyslexia Review (2016). I have also presented my research at the British Dyslexia Association Conference (2015) and the Dyslexia Guild Annual Conference (2015) as well as a number of presentations to Specialist Teacher groups.

I am a member of the British Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Guild and Patoss, and a panel member of the Education group for the Dyspraxia Foundation.

Email: jennifer.donovan.14@ucl.ac.uk


Donovan, J. (2016). Exploring dynamic assessment – an alternative approach to enhance our support for learners of dyslexia? Dyslexia Review, autumn/winter 2016, 6-9.

Donovan, J., & Marshall, C. R. (2016). Comparing the verbal self-reports of spelling strategies used by children with and without dyslexia. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 63, 27-44.