Choose Strength Not Shame. That’s the title of a tremendously inspiring TEDx session presented by Ben Foss, entrepreneur, author, and yes, dyslexic. I would assume he falls into the category of twice exceptional. I think he might say he doesn’t want to be categorized and has learned to leverage his strengths.
Foss talks candidly and humorously about his dyslexia, starting off with an MRI depicting his brain as he attempted to read. The focus of his presentation is shame, not dyslexia, but he uses his disability to explain how dyslexia is “the perfect storm of shame.” He quotes Gershon Kaufmann, PhD, on shame: “Reading disabilities match in intensity the level of shame associated with incest.” No surprise there for parents and teachers of kids with dyslexia. Foss lists three reasons that a reading disability can create a lifetime of shame. FIrst, its diagnosis usually comes at a vulnerable age for developing children. While their peers are successfully navigating the world of reading, dyslexic kids are failing. Second, kids at that age are going to define themselves as lazy or stupid without sufficient explanation. As Foss puts it, their self-view (shame) is made harsher by misunderstanding the true nature of their learning difference. Finally, peers and the school will reinforce this shameful view by mocking and labeling, respectively.
So what’s to be done? Foss provides one example of dealing effectively with shame in the video above. He also writes about how to raise a shame-free dyslexic kid in his book The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning. I have a copy and can’t wait to read it!
“Helping the last become the first” is a nugget of wisdom from Dr. Don Leu, Professor of Education at UConn. I recently watched his podcast in my online class on disciplinary literacy. I love his suggestion that when new technology is added to the classroom, teachers train the “weakest” or most marginalized students first, so they can teach their peers. This is a concept similar to my mentoring suggestions, which take advantage of our students’ special interests and abilities, but Dr. Leu is suggesting an even broader scope of supporting our “weakest” students. His podcast includes an overview of skills needed to read online effectively. He also summarizes a research study which comes as no surprise: kids from higher income levels have better online reading and research skills. Dr. Leu states, “in terms of equal opportunity… we [must] begin to aggressively support students’ acquisition of these online reading skills to acquire new information and to learn new things.” Since we know that race and income are also correlated, here’s yet another area in which our black and Hispanic students need equity.
A student from Dynamic Community Charter School (DCCS) wrote an opinion column in today’s News and Observer. Entitled “A life-changing school where everyone fits in,” Bailey describes his long, miserable years of educational and social struggles. Diagnosed at age 3 with Asperger’s, he found himself without friends, considered “a freak of nature.” Fast forward to this year, where he is now a member of Dynamic Community Charter School, where all students are identified as having special needs. Bailey describes his initial skepticism and then joy in discovering an environment where he is no longer an isolate and no longer bullied. He “can’t survive” in a regular public school and will drop out if Dynamic is closed.
DCCS is facing an uphill battle against the State Board of Education, which seems determined to put an end to this special school. The board cites three reasons, according to DCCS’ website: funding, teacher licensure, and IEP compliance. I’ll briefly describe the issues but encourage you to visit their website and read for yourself. The funding issue resulted from their previously home-schooled kids not receiving state funding for much of the year. (One-third of this school’s students had been home-schooled as an alternative to public schools which failed to met their child’s needs.) The school is now solvent due to incredible and varied fundraising events by families who love DCCS. Most of their teachers are EC certified but they have lost a few staff members due to ongoing uncertainty about the school’s future. Four teachers are working on their certification, which would make all teachers certified. No one at DCCS seems concerned about IEP compliance. They report that was an issue BEFORE they got to Dynamic. The school was audited two months after opening but not given a chance to respond to timelines and recommendations. In January, the state board said the school would not be closed, then at a February meeting of which they had no notice, full closure of the school was recommended by the state.
I am utterly dismayed by the state’s recommendation. Does it have some ax to grind against Dynamic Community Charter School? Must all special needs kids be mainstreamed? If parents, staff, administrators, and students are overwhelmingly positive about this fledgling school, why should the state be pushing for closure? Does the state simply close its eyes to the fact that kids with IEPs are not always served by certified teachers? I now teach one special needs student who had a retired regular education teacher as a year-long substitute for EC services. I also know of other situations where students did not receive the support to which they were entitled through their IEP. Dynamics’s parents are desperate but savvy. If their children’s IEPs were not being met, do you seriously think they would be fighting for this school’s survival?
How you can help: Please sign DCCS’ online petition (through Change.org)! I am usually reluctant to sign something online but I strongly believe that these folks should have a chance to continue their creative endeavor to meet the needs of their kids. Please! It took me just a couple of minutes to fill out a simple form. Currently, they have 1,725 signatures with a goal of 2,500. As Bailey concluded: “I beg the State Board of Education to let Dynamic stay so that all of its students have a school they are happy to go to every day to learn and spend time with friends.”
Are these kids and their teachers superheroes? YES! See for yourself below.
Lexile levels are measures of both a reader’s ability level and a text’s difficulty. They are based on a scale that rates reading scores and reading materials from a beginning first grade level to an adult workplace reading level. Lexiles were developed by MetaMetrics©, funded initially by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (popularly called NICHD).
Let’s look at Lexile levels for readers. The range of Lexiles is 5L (Beginning Reader) to 2000L, with intervals of five. A higher reading Lexile level is associated with a higher reading level. Typically, a range of Lexile scores are associated with each grade level from second grade on. These Lexile scores are derived from a wide range of popular reading assessments, including DIBELS, Aimsweb, Performance Series, Iowa Tests, and multiple state reading assessments.
Similarly, Lexile levels are used to report text difficulty. Lexile text measures are based upon word frequency (vocabulary) and sentence length (syntactic complexity). MetaMetrics© analyzes texts by computer and assigns a Lexile in increments of ten. The goal is to match student and text Lexile measures as a starting point for determining appropriate reading materials. The Lexile measures also provide teachers and parents a sense of whether textbooks and classroom materials fall within a reasonable range of student abilities.
There are other factors besides Lexile levels to consider when matching students to reading materials. Student interest and knowledge affect readability for students. One of my kiddos is an avid reader of a series which is well above his measured reading level. His comprehension often falters as he reads (although the graphic features provide additional support). Regardless, he LOVES the zany characters and devotes considerable effort as he reads for pleasure.
The graphic above is provided by MetaMetrics© for sharing with “students and peers,” so I assume my readers fall into one of those categories. Here is a link to the entire document and the website is definitely worth checking out: Infographic8.5x11_updated
I’ve been asked how to best supplement a reading program with additional books and texts. This question assumes that you HAVE a reading program, the nature of which varies considerably across this country. Wake County, the largest school district in North Carolina, uses a Balanced Literacy approach, which relies upon leveled texts (such as the Fountas and Pinnell system). (And yes, Wake County has beefed up its phonics instruction due to poor student performance.) Other districts use basal readers, as do many home school classes.
Regardless of the program or method being used, supplementary texts are often beneficial if students need additional practice on certain skills, want to read more on topics of interest, or benefit from materials to read at home. I use Raz-Kids combined with a Reading A-Z license to provide a vast supply of additional online books. For families without internet access, teachers can print take-home books from these sites. Other sources of inexpensive books include used book stores, thrift shops, and donations from school families. Public libraries offer free books and magazines, but may be difficult for some families to access due to work schedules or transportation issuessupplementar.
For shorter passages, Wonderopolis, Newsela, and ReadWorks provide terrific free online materials on a range of topics and reading levels.
I always suggest that my students use a five-finger rule for determining (roughly) if a book is at their reading level. They hold up one finger for each missed word on a beginning paragraph (although they may exclude proper nouns). If they reach five fingers, chances are good that the book is too hard.
I’ve been asked if kids can struggle with reading WITHOUT having an actual reading disability. My answer is yes. Some kids grow up in homes with limited exposure to books and reading. Their parents may be semi-literate and/or not understand the impact of early reading experiences on a child’s potential success in reading. I have also worked with kids who performed poorly in reading due to misguided attempts to have them “read” books far beyond their beginning reading skills; consequently, these kids had unpleasant associations with reading and were likely to approach that subject with anxiety.
For the majority of non-disabled students with whom I’ve intervened in reading instruction, their difficulties came from faulty and unbalanced reading instruction. In most instances, these were kids who suffered “trauma” from Phonics Wars. If teachers/parents are engaged in Phonics Wars, they typically align themselves in one of two battle postures. The side I am most familiar with does not teach phonics systematically, can’t stand the idea of “sounding out” words, expects kids to memorize most words, and relies heavily upon context as a means of decoding. The other side teaches phonics to the exclusion of other strategies for developing vocabulary and deriving meaning from text. The latter position is infrequent in my experience but I have seen it practiced.
When kids are not taught phonics skills systematically, they must rely heavily upon language and context in order to read. Many of these kids “run out of memory” by about second grade, with particular difficulty reading words that are visually similar. The texts they are expected to read no longer have enough illustrations to compensate for their weaknesses in decoding words phonetically. They have learned to “keep going” when they make an error, which can become habitual and lead to reading without meaning, especially when kids come from language-starved backgrounds.
The solution is to build the child’s toolkit of decoding skills, while improving his or her reading for meaning. For one student, reteaching the process of reading meant continual external monitoring for understanding (by me) until he learned to monitor himself. In his case, it took a year to relearn the process of reading for meaning while acquiring phonics skills as a tool.
If you want to see teacher and student reflection and authentic engagement in math activities, read this exceptional post on creating number lines. I believe this is what we WANT to happen in schools. Very encouraging!