* Warning signs

Without doubt, early intervention is key to identifying dyslexia and providing the specialized instruction that creates new neural pathways. This spelling test is the work of a second grader who is struggling mightily. She has had ‘guided reading’ out the wazoo but nothing to address her phonological and phonetic weaknesses. She would certainly qualify as twice exceptional, with abundant signs of above average intelligence and desperate signs of being in distress.

Certainly, there is much more evidence of her disability than this test, but an analysis of her errors is quite telling. Sadly, by the time she may receive support, her self-confidence and behavior will likely be in the tank.

I have had limited success convincing parents who are in strongly emotional denial that their child has a disability. In my 49 years of teaching, I’ve noticed that even if they support appropriate interventions, it is hard for them to accept a special education label. And without that label, such students are not usually going to receive the help they need. Public schools receive funds for special ed teachers because those students qualify under state and federal guidelines.

What to do?

  • Wait. Many parents have accepted this ‘loss’ after a few more years of agonizing over it. Educational struggles truly are a matter of grieving for most families, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes parents admit to having similar struggles at school or refer to relatives with a similar profile.
  • Work to reduce stigmatization. The more we routinely show students and parents that everyone has learning differences, the less likely they are to freak out.
  • Provide info about and cool examples of brain-friendly teaching in back-to-school events and teacher conferences. Learning challenges are no fun but they are not the end of the world.
  • Don’t gloss over significant signs of struggle just because there is push- back from classroom teachers or parents. Collect data and do your best to provide the right kind of support, even if the label is incorrect (or, more ‘politically correct’).

* YDCD: Cool site on dyslexia

It’s no surprise that Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz have founded one of the best sites around for info on dyslexia.  The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (YCDC) provides terrific resources for educators, families, and kids.  As the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” and a leading figure in ongoing research on dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz focuses on both the strengths and challenges experienced by folks with dyslexia.

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This wonderful site features:

  • Research on dyslexia, including the rationale for calling dyslexia an “unexpected difficulty” in reading by individuals who have the intelligence and motivation to read.
  • A powerful section of resources for kids, parents, educators, and policy makers.  You’ll find terrific student tips and poignant stories featuring young people from a wide range of backgrounds- and all of it is printable!
  • Success stories of folks who have used used their unique learning style for good (and no, they are not all actors!).
  • Advocacy tools for parents and educators, including helpful strategies for raising awareness of dyslexia, social media suggestions, and more.
  • A news and press section with summaries of current news articles on dyslexia and newsletters from YDCD.

I highly recommend this site as a starting point for learning more about dyslexia.  YDCD is also a place where educators and families can find support in their dyslexia journey, which can be tough but oh, so rewarding!

 

 

* What is homework?

To my nephew, Isaac, homework is “tor-tradition,” meaning torture + tradition.  See?  He has some math sense and lots of common sense.  Poor Isaac.  As third grade has shifted into hypermode to prepare for the end of grade tests, he has been left dangling. There’s not enough time for remediation after school, not with the tor-traditional piles of homework.  Fortunately, he has a flexible teacher who is now willing to let him move through the multiplication.com system of learning his times tables.  After months of trying more traditional (and yes, torturous approaches), I switched to Alan Walker‘s language- and association-based approach.  It has paid off bigtime for Isaac, providing him with a dose of much-needed confidence.  But is it too little and too late?

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Isaac would benefit from a formal educational and psychological evaluation.  He appears to have serious weaknesses in auditory processing skills, along with attention, working memory, and long term memory issues.  His success in reading fluency camouflages many of his weaknesses.  Sometimes both teachers, parents, and kids think everything is fine if you can read above grade level.  Ouch.  Try giving Isaac multistep directions and watch the confusion.  And like many twice exceptional kids, Isaac’s mental energy has been fried to a crisp after half a day of school.  His teachers report that he spends his afternoons in silence, never responding and apparently inattentive.  At home, he screams and bangs his head when it’s time for homework.  Torture indeed.

I don’t think it’s too late for this sweet kiddo.  He is eager to learn, responds well to instruction in incremental steps, and has enough curiosity for an entire classroom.  And he can do a perfect Patrick or Spongebob imitation.  Isaac can go far, especially if a certain tortuous traditions can be axed.

* Vocabulary A-Z

Vocabulary A-Z is a classy online resource to support vocabulary development under the Learning A-Z umbrella.  Vocabulary weaknesses may underlie reading comprehension problems and are often characteristic of students with language disabilities, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, and English language learners.  Vocabulary A-Z offers pre-made lessons linked to Reading A-Z; in fact, they’re also linked to Science A-Z, Harcourt Trophies, Macmillan Treasures, Scott Foresman Reading Street, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys.

How does it work?  Teachers can select from pre-made lessons, as noted above, or find pre-made vocabulary lists from three grade levels: Tier One for grades K-1, Tier Two for 2-5, and Tier Three for grades 6+.  You may search for words under function (primarily parts of speech, but also compound words, articles, figures of speech, and more) or subject area content (including computer technology).  Another section of vocabulary resources are linked to Learning A-Z resources, with a whopping set of materials for English Language Learners.  Finally, vocabulary lists are available under “Special Lists,” which would relate well to special ed reading instruction.  These lists include Dolch, Fry, and Marzano words, as well as Common Core academic vocabulary.

What if you want a personalized list?  I typically create my own word lists from Vocabulary A-Z, which is another useful feature of this resource.  With the massive lists noted above, I have yet to add a word not already available on site.

What kinds of activities are included?   The vocabulary lessons are designed for a five-day sequence of instruction, which is easily editable, by the way.  At all grade levels, the vocabulary activities include: matching word cards to definitions and/or sentences, analogies, cloze sentences, concept development, and comprehension assessment.  The Vocabulary A-Z graphics are similar to the Frayer model, a graphic organizer used to develop vocabulary comprehension through examples, non-examples, sentences, pictures, and definitions.  More teacher suggestions are included in many lesson plans, with more active learner involvement for Tiers One and Two.

Other positives:  As a special educator, I appreciate the emphasis on parts of speech for all vocabulary, which I have found effective in supporting both reading and writing.  The vastness of the vocabulary lists, as well as the ability to select the activities I prefer, make Vocabulary A-Z a terrific resource for individualized instruction.  For classroom teachers, the pre-made lists would be great time savers with a heterogenous large group.

Costs?  Time is money to a teacher, so this site is a no-brainer.  Right now, Vocabulary A-Z is on sale for $29.95 for a year’s subscription.  That’s $10 off the regular price.

My rating:  5 out of 5 stars   starstarstarstarstar

 

* Writing failure, writing success

After my two-part analysis of writing failure experienced by a twice exceptional student with dyslexia, here are some effective writing strategies to consider for older elementary students.

  1.  Address writing anxiety, which alone can derail all other attempts to learn new skills.  Dealing with anxiety is different for each student, but should include a strong validation of the institutional failures that led to the writing crisis.  There were many missed opportunities by the school/teachers/specialists to address a student’s difficulties before they became crippling.
  2.  Continue to work on phonological and spelling weaknesses by tackling multisyllabic words.  Teach spelling rules and patterns.  Teach syllable types, syllabication rules, and meanings of prefixes and suffixes.  Megawords is an excellent program for addressing these skills.
  3. Teach parts of speech if these have not already been addressed.
  4.  Provide ample time for students to learn new vocabulary associated with skill practice in #2 above.  Use crossword puzzles, games, word searches, mad libs, skits, and conversation to add these words to a student’s working vocabulary.
  5.  Teach vocabulary related to character traits.  By the later elementary years and into middle school, students will be required to analyze character development and use appropriate adjectives.  Many of our dyslexic students, despite high IQ’s, are still using descriptive words such as “nice” and “happy.”
  6.  Attack the disconnect between details and main ideas from “both sides.”  Have the student generate (dictate) lists of details and dictate main ideas (topic sentences/blurbs).  Also provide main ideas and require students to generate as many details as possible.  The first approach seems to work best, in my experience.
  7.  Graph or otherwise record increments of growth.  After years of struggle, these kids need to know they are climbing out of the abyss.
  8.  Allow kids to read and write on topics of interest.
  9.  Teach prewriting organizational strategies, such as graphic organizers.  Help kids use as many consistent shortcuts as possible for recording their ideas.  I suggest symbols and simple drawings.
  10.  Keep writing to a minimum until the student is well-equipped with spelling and organizational skills.
  11. Make use of technology, such as talk-to-text features and spell check.   All these kids should be able to use a keyboard efficiently.

It IS possible for students to recover from years of dismal writing experiences.  Supportive parents and teachers are crucial in validating a student’s effort and providing the requisite skills for success.  Who knows?  They may end up writing you a thank you note!

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* How WordPress Helped Me Conquer Having Dyslexia

Hugh, an amazing blogger with a heart of gold, suffered from the “monster” called dyslexia. His writing is now an inspiration to thousands. Read on for more!

How WordPress Helped Me Conquer Having Dyslexia.

Source: How WordPress Helped Me Conquer Having Dyslexia

* Ratings rule!

When working with kids, one of the first things I establish is the importance of their honest feedback.  I’m especially interested in creating a language to discuss the difficulty level of a lesson or specific task.  A numbered rating scale, once defined and practiced, is a useful means of eliciting immediate feedback.  While it’s also important to gauge understanding, I can usually assess that without as much direct student feedback.  On the other hand, the levels of effort, discomfort or anxiety, and interest can be masked by compliance and a good working relationship.

Feedback on mental effort is especially crucial for twice exceptional students (2e).  These are the kids whose giftedness camouflages the energy drain of a lesson.  2e kiddos also enjoy a scale with a broad range of possibilities, so 1 through 10 is often preferable to 1 through 5.  It’s worth letting them take the time to adjust the numbers precisely (I got an 8.5 level of difficulty yesterday, which is pretty high).  The harder part can be helping them verbalize what features of the task made it so onerous.  Just as these students can struggle to differentiate main ideas and details, they may also paint the assignment with a broad brush.  Follow-up questioning elicits those details which then change my instructional materials or techniques.   Providing kids routine opportunities to evaluate instructional tasks not only validates their efforts but improves their ability to analyze and self-monitor their learning.  For me, it’s equally vital for improving my own skills as a teacher.  Win-win!

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* Thrice exceptional

The third time’s the charm!  Why has it taken three schools before finding one that meets the needs of a twice exceptional student in 4th grade?  “We don’t do school this way.”  “He’s smart enough to do the work but lacks motivation.”  “His parents want too much from us!”   This student does have exceptional parents.  They are exceptionally patient, exceptionally frustrated, and exceptionally single-minded.  Check out my reblog of another parent who has endured this battle for even longer!  Let’s STOP the madness!frustration
How do we start helping 2e kids?  Here are some helpful mods for 2e kids with dyslexia.  None of the following modifications/accommodations requires money (unless there’s no access to a computer), so even without an IEP, a 504 plan could include all these helpful strategies.
Reading 
Use of audio books  
Not required to read orally in front of class or small group 
Preview of content vocabulary prior to reading, when feasible 
Writing fatigue 
Manuscript style instead of cursive (for smaller amounts of writing) 
Chromebook for keyboarding and spell check (for longer amounts of writing) 
Extra time as needed 
Writing aids 
Word lists for specific writing assignments  
Use of graphic organizers 
Use of digital resources for writing and researching  
Spelling 
Modified spelling assignments 
No points lost for spelling errors in graded work 
Reminders of applicable spelling rules 
Worksheets entailing significant writing 
Sufficient lines / space for writing 
Dictation to scribe 
Can use Chromebook, then print and attach 
Fatigue reduction 
-Not required to transcribe (ie, copy text from board/written sources; 
instead, can take photo or receive hard copy) 
Fill-in-the blank worksheets not required if just finding answers 
(ie, prioritize energy toward higher level thinking) 
Reduction of memorization wherever possible 
Homework modifications 
Can reduce by approx half, in whatever way would be best for learning content, 
if too fatigued 
Can ask parents to scribe, or discuss orally with parents, if too fatigued 
Extended time for projects as needed 
 Discussions 
Prep time and forewarning during group discussions 
Called on only when raises hand (if discussing assignments that have been modified) 
Access to any written brainstorming that occurs in group discussion 
Tapping strengths 
Option to read and write on topics of interest whenever feasible  
Opportunities for analyzing and evaluating information 
Opportunities for making predictions and connections 
Tests 
Extra time as needed 
Dictation to scribe for essay-style tests 
Receive teacher notes and completed study guides whenever feasible 
Standardized tests 
Mark in book 
Extra time 
Read aloud 

* Early concerns

Early identification of disabilities is huge.  The sooner a child can receive specialized instruction, the better their chances for academic success.  Here’s a situation I’m facing, disguised a bit because of confidentiality.  Perhaps this scenario might help you decide whether your child deserves a closer look at their developmental needs.

I have been in contact with an adorable kindergarten girl we’ll call Stacey.  After spending some time with Stacey in an informal setting, I am concerned that she may have both a reading and language disability.  The other concern is whether she is on the autism spectrum.  Here are the red flags:

  • She cannot rhyme and becomes anxious when asked to play rhyming games.
  • She does not notice any significant features of printed words, such as beginning or ending letters.
  • Stacey primarily uses noises, gestures, and actions instead of verbal communication.  She also repeats phrases almost endlessly if she has received any positive feedback from a peer or adult.
  • She makes unusual grammatical errors and has difficulty copying any corrections in both speech and grammar.  She is especially weak in changing the ending sounds of words.
  • Stacey is very rule-oriented and repeats these rules to peers and herself.
  • Stacey strongly prefers repetitive activities and is unwilling to try new patterns of interacting with materials or games.
  • She told me that kids call her a “brat” at school.
  • She has a strong family history of dyslexia and autism.

There are mitigating factors.  She has grown up with an autistic brother in a bilingual environment.  Family trauma is another issue, which can cause children to regress in many areas.  And at times, Stacey is able to communicate effectively.

Next steps for Stacey: An informal reading evaluation to rule out unusual phonological weaknesses and to determine that she is learning the alphabetic code as appropriate for her age.  I will also see if she can sequence some picture cards and describe those events and will collect an informal language sample for future comparison.

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* 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!