* My son, the triathlete…

What power there is in motivation! Read this story about a young man who has suffered brain trauma and is literally racing to victory!

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo


You may know my son’s story. For once, I have no problem repeating it for those who do not. I have a very good reason for it that I have been bursting to share!

In 2009 my son was 25… a good looking, successful young man with a fast car, nice apartment near the coast and a very promising career. That ended on July 4th when he was left for dead in a Bournemouth alley, stabbed through the brain in an unprovoked attack.

2009 before the attack 2009 before the attack

I have written before of the terror of the next days as he underwent brain surgery to remove the shards of shattered bone from the left hemisphere of his brain. I have told of the weeks of heartache as we waited to see if he would live or die, while his brain bled and swelled, causing further damage to the brain stem itself…

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* What’s that on your teeth?

3 things thursday 5.JPGHere’s to Nerd in the Brain, one of the best bloggers around, who’s feeling a bit down.  I am borrowing her Three Things Thursday and hope to add some zest to her week.

1.  I was videotaped today for an educational endeavor.  How special I am!  The sweet folks involved pointed me to a chair in front of the camera.  There was a mirror on that chair, which they said I could use to “check out” how I looked.  Seriously?  I had just done that in the restroom.  I set the mirror on the floor next to me. smiled patiently, and said, “I’m good!”  The lady facing me said, “Uh, you have some lipstick on your teeth.”  I grabbed that mirror and wiped off my smile and a glob of ridiculous lip gloss that had somehow, somewhere fastened itself to my teeth.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn’t feel as stupid as I looked.

2.  Today’s delightful episode reminded me of a humongous special education meeting at which I was the “guest of honor.”  I was asked to provide my perspective on a contentious student issue.  All the top brass were in attendance.  I had parked in front of the school in a no-parking zone, checked myself in the mirror, and walked into the room.  The only available empty chair was at the head of the table so I was right at home.  I don’t remember much about the meeting, which may be a good thing.  When I got back to my car, I glanced in the mirror and saw a glob of mucus sitting in the tip of my nose.  Somehow, somewhere, that glob had fastened itself to my nose.  Did anyone tell me I had a piece of snot on my nose?  Nope.

3.  I’ve mentioned before how my dearest widower has a bit of a word-finding issue.  He’s very quick witted but sometimes struggles to find the right words to say (which is why it takes him forever to write a book).  We had just arrived in California many years ago, amazed at the gorgeous views along the San Andreas fault.  In fact, my widower suggested that we pull over so he could snap a photo of a particularly verdant landscape.  A highway patrol officer pulled over, too.  What a coincidence!  I was shocked because we were not speeding.  We weren’t moving, for that matter.  The officer pointed to a no parking sign in front of us.  My husband smiled and said, “Officer, we just couldn’t resist this opportunity to get a…ticket.”  I was certain he meant picture.  The officer was equally amazed, so he let us go on our way with a warning.  I still find myself giggling when I think of how sweetly, how innocently my widower made that comment.  When he reads this, he will deny it ever happened.

* New study: phonics and the brain

As neuroscience continues to instruct teachers in best practices for education, Brain in the News, a publication of The Dana Foundation, cites a study linking phonics instruction to improved reading performance. This is not a surprise, given the foundational work and current research by the Drs. Shaywitz, among others.  This new research, conducted at Stanford University by Yoncheva, Wise, and McCandliss, suggests that beginning readers who focus on phonics instruction, instead of trying of learn whole words, increase activity in an area of the left hemisphere of the brain best suited for reading.  This left hemisphere engagement during reading “is a hallmark of skilled readers, and is characteristically lacking in children and adults who are struggling with reading.”  In contrast, whole-word instruction tended to activate the right hemisphere. Even more remarkably, the subjects in this experiment were able to read unfamiliar words within split seconds, using their previously acquired decoding skills.

For those of us who’ve been teaching both dyslexic and “typical” readers who struggle with reading, this research comes as no surprise.  In my work with non-dyslexic readers, they consistently make huge gains in reading with systematic phonics instruction.  The dyslexic student will also make those gains, but it takes much more time and effort.  I encourage you to subscribe to Brain in the News (follow link above).  I appreciate their summaries of current research, which also help me decide whether to read the original source.  In this case, both are worth a look.   network-440738_640

* And Jill came tumbling after….

falling-99175_640I must say, Lizzi’s Ten Things of Thankful has been an impetus to look on the bright side of my tumble down the the stairs this past week.  I could have used Jack to slow my descent, but here are my silver linings:

  1. Our stairs are carpeted.
  2. I realize now that I am not qualified to steer a luge in the Olympics.  It’s good to know.
  3. I did not realize how hurt I was.  I would have been much more shaken had I known.
  4. I did not know I would hurt more each day.  “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
  5. I did not hit my head.  Any more concussions and I won’t know who I am.
  6. I will restart my PT exercises on my bad knee.  I had been slacking off.
  7. My bum has more padding than I realized.  Not sure how to evaluate that, exactly.
  8. My dearest widower has taken good care of me.  True love.
  9. There are only 14 steps in most sets of stairs.  What if there were 30?
  10. I could never become addicted to painkillers.  I wouldn’t know who I am, where I am, and what I’m supposed to be doing.  Of course, that does describe me in a sleep-deprived state.  That’s another post.

Bonus for today!  Here’s another image created by my tutoring kiddo, taking a brain break from our long distance teaching.  He’s “at the beach” with his snorkel, hair cut Mohawk-style and a lot of facial hair for a young’un, while eating a cake.  Do you recognize him?Hangout 4


* Update on long distance teaching

In yesterday’s post, I described some bumps in the road for my twice exceptional student.  We’re using his summer break to catch up on crucial reading and writing skills.  What a precious kid.  When I asked him how he felt about summer tutoring, his response was so poignant: “I’m disappointed but overall it’s a good thing.”  I asked him to tell me more about the disappointment and he said, “I’m at my grandparents’ house and I sort of want to relax over the summer.”

His statements are a clear window into the dilemma faced by twice exceptional students.  He does understand the long-term benefits and that reasoning sustains his effort for needed academic gains.  But he also feels the weight of this summer work.  It’s an hour or so each day, so I could tell myself (and him) that it’s a small fraction of his time.  However, it’s not a small price to pay.  He worked extremely hard all year in the face of tremendous challenges.  As I’ve written numerous times, twice exceptional students often exert at least twice the effort.  The cost of feeling stupid, when in fact he’s brilliant, takes its toll.  He also pays a price for our one hour a day, which does stretch beyond that hour, I admit,  First, it feels unfair, although he didn’t use those words.  Second, we are working about one-fifth of his academic school day with relentless intensity.  In a classroom, his teacher would walk away and then return to see how he’s doing.  With me, he is continually providing verbal and written responses.  All accompanied by the delightful sound effects and accessories of Google Hangouts.  He achieved a ghost-like effect today.  Very creative!hangout 3

I had been concerned that his anxiety about the upcoming school year was affecting our sessions, but that does not seem to be the case.  He feels confident about the school year with the exception of the librarian, who “acts nice to the kids when the assistant principal comes by, but as soon as she’s gone, the librarian is yelling at us, ‘You can only get a book at your reading level.’ ”  That request might sound reasonable, but for a student who is acutely aware of reading well below his peers, that comment is devastating.  It does not account for his interests in more advanced subjects nor his parents’ willingness to read to him.

When I reviewed where he had started the summer, where we are now, and how much more he needs to accomplish, my student was thrilled.  He had thought there was so much more!  Despite the issues of working memory and phonological weaknesses, he’s better able to locate the correct “files” for categories of words and syllabication rules.  His skills and confidence are on the rise!

* S O S !

Save Our Students?  Student in distress?  How do I handle situations when students are stressed and in tears?  This happened yesterday during a long distance session using Google Hangout.  The student and I were comparing syllabication rules and he seemed to be uncertain about pronouncing “vanish.”  He had been playfully mispronouncing a few words and was also having a struggle with some unfamiliar words.  In this case, he was trying to tell me that he understood how to read the word, but I wasn’t sure he knew what rule to apply.  What to do?

1.  My core beliefs about children form a foundation for my responses.  I have never met a student who did not want to do their best, who did not want to learn or to please.  I’ve worked with struggling learners from pre-K to high school, and no matter how they might act, they are desperate to do well.  Elementary students, with whom I’ve spent most of my teaching career, are typically not as well-guarded as older students by a wall of apparent disinterest or hostility, but sometimes those walls have gone up at an early age.

2.  When students struggle, the first person I examine is myself.  I look at my behavior, my strategies, my history with the child, my expectations, and my plans.  In what ways did I contribute to the problem?  What early warning signs did I miss?  In this case, I have been propelling us forward at a very brisk rate.  We are coming to the last third of the summer and still have much ground to cover.  I’m balancing continual review and introduction of new concepts with brief brain breaks.  I have not focused on how much he has learned.

3.  I consider what the child is bringing to the table.  He had to do a lot of writing in that lesson, which is his most difficult assignment.  He seemed tired and needed a fair amount of redirection.  In fact, I hadn’t spotted the misunderstanding because it was fairly similar to what he had been saying playfully just a few moments before.

What did I do yesterday?  I realized we had a mini-storm which I could defuse quickly by apologizing.  I told him I was so sorry I hadn’t understood what he was trying to tell me.  I said I would ask him to show me his work (held up to the camera) if I was ever uncertain.  I told him that we were going to do a favorite activity when this one was finished.  He recovered quickly and before we disconnected, I apologized again for not understanding what he was saying.  I didn’t press him to talk about it, because that behavior was atypical and he was feeling fragile.

What did I do today?  After probing to see how resilient he was feeling today, I addressed the issue immediately.  I did repeat that I had misunderstood what he was saying, but I also pointed out that he had made it more difficult for me to understand him.  We discussed the best way to handle misunderstandings in the future and I thanked him for working so hard.  He had a good session today bur did show more fatigue than usual, so I added some favorite activities to keep him going.

What will I do next?  Tomorrow we talk about fatigue and anxiety.  Knowing his background, I am aware that he is probably dreading the next school year, he has a good sense of what skills he still needs to master, and he is probably feeling some summer tutoring fatigue.  We will review his goals and the reward system as well.  To switch analogies, he needs a tune-up, oil change, and air in his tires.  Again, based on past experience, I think he can continue with this pace of instruction, but we need to look at the road map to celebrate how far he has traveled this summer.folding-map-360382_640

* Share Your World

Once again, in response to Cee’s Share Your World challenge, I’ll answer a few questions and suggest you visit Cee’s site for the most delicious picture of mac n’ cheese I’ve EVER seen!  Yum!  Is it time for dinner yet??

When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher.  I taught everyone and everything I could get my hands on.  And look where it got me!  Yes, this was an early morning Google Hangout for long distance tutoring.  I look like Captain Kangaroo, who always scared me.hangout 2

My favorite food as a child was chocolate and that continues to be my favorite food group.  I do teach nutrition, if you want to sign up for my course.

If I were invisible, I would go to the beach and sit in the sun, since my invisible skin couldn’t burn.

Would I rather forget everyone else’s name all the time or have everyone forget my name all the time?  That’s so easy.  I don’t care if everyone forgets my name.  Whatever.  People often stop and stare at me, trying to figure out my name.  How hard can it be to remember “Captain Kangaroo?”

I am looking forward to watching another episode of The Last Ship from season 1.  PLEASE don’t tell me what happens!  I’m not listening!  La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-!!!!!!!!!


* Ten Things of Thankful

See's CandiesAs always, I am indebted to Lizzi for her authentic, clever, funny, and authentic lists of thankfulness.  Her post this week is one of my favorites already.  She writes with so much wisdom- and did I mention authenticity?  I should explain what I mean by authentic.  Lizzi does not polish herself for public appearances, she does not pretend to know it all, she accepts herself (eventually!), and she encourages others to be courageous by example.  Lizzi is not a mannequin or a blog post.  She’s a real woman walking, through her real life.  I like that a lot.

I do not have any gems of wisdom to share.  But I am grateful for a precious couple who stayed with us this week.  Talk about authentic, kind, and funny!  They are role models for “it’s not all about me.”  I am working on that lesson.

We had a beautiful thunderstorm today.  It was a Camelot kind of event.  We got dark skies, rain, and delightfully noisy thunder, but nothing yucky like downed trees or power outages.

I am so pleased with Black Beauty, this Asus computer, which has been swift, sure-footed, and tireless as I spent many hours in the saddle this week.

My hearing aids died, which will cost a pretty penny.  A teaching assistant and I both suffered hearing loss the year and a half we took turns checking a hearing-impaired student’s hearing aids.  But the audiologist has loaned me one hearing aid so I can hear half the time.  I can’t locate the direction of sounds but I can enjoy the hum of summer.  Lovely.

Our friends (above) brought us a box of See’s Famous Old TIme Candies, my most favorite chocolates in the world.  Ah, California!

I miss the kids I worked with this past year.  For some reason, I have always taught the BEST kids in the world.  I never imagined that I’d move in such exclusive company, these kids and their families.  What a joy, year after year.  Did you know it’s been 45 years now?  Isn’t that incredible?  I think that brings the thankful list to well over a thousand.

And thank YOU for reading!

* Reflections on Week 1: MOOC-ED #all_learn

keyboard-70506_640I have signed on as a facilitator for a MOOC-Ed course offered by The Friday Institute and North Carolina State University.  I took this course myself in the spring and was very impressed with its quality, so I was honored when invited to help support class participants this summer.

Here are some quick facts about the MOOC (which stands for Massive Open Online Course).  First of all, it’s free!  The topic is Learning Differences, so most of the participants are teachers.  Many are National Board certified, which is how I first heard about the course myself.  The team of experts who put this course together know what they are about.  If anything, this course is even better than it was in the spring.

My impressions after a week:

1.  Teachers are a passionate group.  The love they have for their students and profession is remarkable.

2.  Participants take this course seriously.  They are already planning ways to implement changes and improvements to their instruction.

3.  North Carolina teachers are struggling with a serious mismatch between quality teaching and testing requirements.  Some have expressed concerns about morale.

4.  I am spoiled.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve taught in resource-rich environments.  It’s not that way for all teachers.  Participants come from all over the globe and have many obstacles which I’ve never faced.

5.  This is a fun adventure!  I am still learning how to be a facilitator.  I have invited folks to the course, often spelling it “curse” until I edit my post.  I hope I did not overlook any invites to the curse.

If you want to follow this MOOC adventure on Twitter, look for #all_learn.

* Safe and sound

tiger-165074_640In my work with a student who has multiple physical challenges, I am currently focusing on the issue of personal safety.  Our local SafeTouch program has been effectively addressing violence prevention and child sexual assault (CSA) in schools for 30 years.  My kiddo can’t go to school.  And there are large numbers of kids with developmental delays and other disabilities which potentially make them targets of abuse.  On the other hand, these kids are usually in a setting with highly individualized support, an environment where personal safety programs can be modified to meet each child’s unique needs.

In the case of my student, who has a passion for tigers, I have written a series of books about Chad, a cub who injures his leg.  On a visit to the doctor, Chad is traumatized by a gruff nurse (a zebra named Jenny- no, she doesn’t seem concerned that she’s treating lions).  Jenny stifles Chad’s tears with threats and then pretends to “affectionately” pinch his little face.  When Chad has nightmares about Jenny, Chad’s mama intervenes.

Chad exhibits many of the signs of abuse: noticeable behavior changes, trouble sleeping, unwillingness to talk about his feelings, and unusual fears about an environment which was previously safe.  (Another important sign would be unexplained bruising, broken bones, etc.)  Eventually Chad and his mother develop a safety plan.  In this case, due to my student’s often unintelligible communication, his (and Chad’s) safety plan consists of two words which are most easily understood, along with matching word cards.  Some kids will need photos or symbols to reference their plan.  Social narratives, like Chad’s story, can be created with simple language and pictures/ photographs.  Role playing or the use of puppets can be useful strategies, as well.  Organizations such as KidPower provide commercially prepared resources for teachers, parents, and kids.

If you ‘re asking if this is all necessary, the answer is YES.  One in three disabled kids is likely to have suffered some kind of abuse (physical or CSA) while kids without disabilities are abused at a rate of about one in ten.  Most kids are actually abused by their parents, so this can be tricky terrain to navigate.  In my own experience of 45 years in special education, these statistics ring true.  I also know of kids who’ve been physically abused by caretakers in group homes and even classroom teachers and assistants.  Pedophiles have reported targeting kids who are less likely to report abuse, less likely to understand abuse, and less likely to be believed.  Let’s be proactive in making sure that all our kids are safe from abuse and neglect.