Organize your Life!

One of the most frustrating parts of having executive functioning difficulties, is the lack of a clear organizational system. Simple, everyday tasks become difficult when you don’t know where to begin or worse…when you are ready to begin you can’t because you cannot find the necessary tools for the job. This can really get in the way of not just learning, but life in general. Those with poor organizational skills often end up late for school, appointments, social functions, etc.

Whether it is the child that is lacking in organizational abilities, or the parent (I’m guilty of this!) here are a few suggestions and strategies to help make things go a little smoother.

1.ROUTINE – Create a routine for your family. This is so important. Routines can easily become habits when they are DSC_0014-3Snap 2012-03-07 at 08.02.04consistent. This paves the way for leaning life-long strategies to help organize your life. Time management is always a valuable lesson. Making a schedule for your young children to follow can cut out a lot of family arguments as well. If children have assigned shower times and homework
times, there is no fighting over who goes next in the shower and yelling to turn the tunes down (depending on the age of your children). Always include homework time, a chore and free time in the routine. A balance is necessary. If your child doesn’t have time for these things, you may want to consider a shift in activities for better time management.calendar

2.FAMILY CALENDAR – Have a central family calendar that is posted somewhere with high visibility, like the fridge. I bought an “Mom’s Ultimate Family Fridge Calendar”. It comes with stickers for different activities and
appointments. You could also find many different DIY calendar ideas on Pinterest. It is way easier to plan events and activities when everyone knows what is going on.

2.PERSONAL AGENDA – Another important tool for children as students is the agenda. Many students are expected to carry an agenda for school each day. This
provides an essential daily means of communication between the parent and teacher. Phone calls and interviews are good for periodic checks, but in order for you to get the full picture on your child’s agendaschool day, an agenda routine is necessary. Some teachers and/or schools do not follow this policy. If that is the case it may be difficult for you to convince your child to consistently use an agenda, but give it it a try. It keeps them organized with assignments and homework and they can transfer any important days onto the family calendar at the end of the day.
Some teachers use blogs and websites to relay this type of information. That is great news! Make sure that checking the blog or website is built in to your child’s nightly routine.

3. ORGANIZE! – Organize and reorganize and reorganize! We finally get a room organized and then VOILA! All your hard is gone. Of course it is…it takes work to stay organized. Make sure you expect this to happen. Look for lots of ideas on how to organize parts of your house. I find most of mine on Pinterest or Google. It does take time to adjust to news ways of organizing your items, but it is worth it when you are looking. I use labels and pictures to help organize things at home and things at school. If you aren’t sure where to start, a FANTASTIC website for organizing your life is:


This website really can help you clean and organize your entire house. She has tons of great ideas and even better – a routine to follow!

Most of my favourite ideas come from Pinterest though…



4. GENTLE REMINDERS – Remember – everyone needs lots of reminders! That usually includes the parents too. It takes a lot of work to change a lifestyle. You can do it! Life will be so much easier in the end.

Living with Dyslexia – Part III

 What to do if you think your child may have Dyslexia.

 As a Learning Support teacher, I see a lot of children that have difficulty learning how to read. I work with these children to help them learn the rules of our language. Although these children are often extremely bright, the standard ways of teaching these concepts do not seem to do the trick.

The story at schools is so often the same: Teachers are hesitant to give poor marks to students that know the work, yet are unable to write it down or read the content. Even though the student may be reading or writing two or more years behind grade level, they seem to know their stuff and can recite their knowledge orally. This is actually really good assessment – being able to give oral answers is a very popular way of extracting information from students with Learning Disabilities. However, in the primary grades if a student is reading and/or writing well below grade level it can seem devastating. Our schools are experiencing a seemingly ever-increasing amount of students with special needs. These needs are complex and must be addressed for the safety of the student, the student body and, often, the staff. Many of the children with very high needs are waiting to be tested, and will be high priority.

 What does this mean for students with reading/writing problems?

 We know that many children with reading difficulties exhibit similar symptomology:

  1. They are very bright

  2. They have a hard time reading

  3. They often have difficulties with writing

…and many more that depend on the individual child.

Since we are dealing with bright children, they get by. Teachers give them extra time and accommodations such as oral answers, etc. The problem with this is that they will never get identified by the school if they are passing. In order to be referred for further testing a child must be receiving R’s and D’s.

Many parents (with the required resources) address this issue by pursuing private psychological testing. This is often a much quicker path to identification by the school. The school can use the report to identify the student with an exceptionality in a quick meeting called an IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee). Once the identification is in place, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed by the student’s teachers and the LST. This plan helps to address the individual learning needs of that particular student (using recommendations from the psychological report).

 If you wonder if you should be looking into private testing or being a stronger advocate for your child’s learning at school, take a look at this website. It offers many suggestions on what to look for when your child is having difficulties with reading and writing.

 Never hesitate to advocate for your child. They need you!

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

knowledge_is_power1The more you know something or have a keen awareness of a subject, the more comfortable we are talking about it. These discussions are valuable for solving problems that may arise.

In the case of having Dyslexia – talking about the fact that he has a problem with reading, spelling and writing, my son Donny has decided that this disability is becoming more like a challenge accepted.

 I believe that his knowledge and awareness of his own unique challenges have helped him to become a more confident individual. He sees Dyslexia as a challenge in that he has to figure out how to take a task (like reading a novel) and make it work for him (buy/download the MP3 file of the that book, start earlier and budget more time, etc.). This is what teachers have been trying to do for ages!

 Since he was diagnosed and identified with Dyslexia, he has been kept informed of all the information he could handle at that time. In grade four he knew that he had a really difficult time reading, spelling and writing, but that was it! He did well in math and all his other subjects, as long as text was read to him.

 By grade eight, Donny was attending his own IPRC and helping decide his pathway based on recommendations made by the Learning Support Teachers, Counsellors, etc. He was also a strong advocate of his Individual Education Plan. He knew what was on it and what was best for his learning.

 Donny was a graduate of the Orton-Gillingham program and is familiar with the program so he has been encouraged over the years to help with tutoring (by listening to young students read). He also has the opportunity to sit on the Board of Directors for the Learning Disabilities Association – Windsor Essex as the students representative.

 Each experience and each chance to learn about LDs empowers him even more. He has been on The

Donny Rotary

Bridge radio show on CBC radio and was featured in Communiqué magazine. Last night I was very proud of him as he spoke in front of a group of Rotarians about his Learning Disability and the challenges he faces. He did a great job!

If your child is able to understand information about his or her learning challenge, empower them! Simplify things, but let them know that their challenge is not with everything – it is specific. This can create a shift in attitude. The idea that there is only a couple of challenges to face the task seems more manageable than if you feel that you don’t understand anything.

Empower your child! Talk with them about their learning issues. They will know what they are good at and what they have a hard time with. You can guide them through the tough parts and help to find strategies that will work for them. As they get older, ideally they will adopt these strategies as their own and know what works best for their own learning.



Help For Struggling Readers

ImageFrom research, a student’s phonological and phonemic awareness is very predicative of being able to learn to read.  Phonological Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of words and syllables.  Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.  For example, if you take the word ‘cat’ it has three phonemes: /c/ / a/ /t/.  Students who struggle with phonemic awareness will tend to struggle with reading. The good news is, that both phonological and phonemic awareness can be developed by explicit instruction and practice through numerous activities.

Many students identified with a reading disability are past the age where phonological and phonemic awareness is taught in the classroom.  These students benefit from one-on-one or small group instruction in these skills.  Student’s attending the LDAWE’s ABC123 Tutoring Program are instructed in these skills.  Through developmentally appropriate activities and play, students practice and improve upon these skills either individually with a tutor or in a small group of two or three students.

Parents of my students ask what they can do at home to support their struggling reader.  Some activities I suggest to parents include playing word games.  Reading books with rhymes is also helpful.   I’ve put together a list of my favourite games, computer sites and iPad apps that help students improve their phonological and phonemic awareness.


Scrabble Soup


Chunk Stacker


Reading Rods


Rhyme Out


Rhyming Bingo



Turtle Diary

PBS Kids Island


iPad Apps

Montessori Letter Sounds


Word Wizard


Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic


PBPhonics 1 to 3


ABC Spelling Magic


What have you tried for your struggling readers?  Is there anything you would recommend?

Assistive Technology: A Remediation Tool

Technology 7I have wanted to write a blog about the use of Assisitive Technology (A/T) as a remediation tool for some time now.  Many teachers and parents of children with Learning Disabilities agree that Assisitive
Technology is a great tool to compensate for a child’s learning deficits but many do not understand the role of A/T as a tool in the remediation process.  Classic remediation tools are very important especially in the early years and students can make significant learning gains with these strategies.  The question I am asked the most by many of my fellow educators and parents alike is “How does Assistive Technology help the student learn to read and write?”  While many of us understand how A/T can help compensate for learning deficits we may not be familiar with how to use Assisitive Technology as a remediation tool.

My colleague Alicea Fleming and I spent some time researching how Assistive Technology was being used as a remediation tool for reading and writing.  We presented our findings at the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.  Our suggestions for using Assistive Technology as a remediation tool for reading and writing follow.

Using A/T to improve Phonological/Phonemic Awareness

Learners can utilize text-to-speech technology to read small text selections aloud. Then, phonological awareness tasks can be practiced with the help of a tutor (Phoneme: Detection, Isolation, Completion, Blending, Deletion, Segmentation, Reversal and Manipulation).

Using A/T to improve Decoding Skills

1) Digital Texts (e.g. audio books, e-books) can be used to help improve decoding skills: Provides Multi-modal (Visual and auditory involvement) input to the student (multi-sensory) and allows students to add content/notes to the text, modify the text, and use other tools (such as a dictionary and text to speech software).

2) Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud, allows students to control voice and pace and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Fluency

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud and models fluent reading, allows for echo reading, allows for choral reading, and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Comprehension

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Built-in highlighters allow for paragraph shrinking, reads challenging words that they would otherwise need to guess or skip and provides visual reinforcement (multimodal learning) for students who have auditory processing difficulties.  It also allows for repeated exposure
to new words. Technology 6

Using A/T to improve Writing Skills

1) Speech Recognition/Speech-to-Text Software: Dictate thoughts and information into various programs, allows students to focus cognitive energy on the ideas they would like to express (without using excess resources on spelling).

2) Word Prediction Software: Can be used to assist with typing thoughts and information into various programs, and is good for students with some phonemic

3) Graphic Organizer Software: Can be used for developing pre-writing strategies (brainstorm webs, writing models, timelines, flow charts, etc…)

Assistive Technology software is not a replacement for a teacher or tutor. However, it can offer invaluable assistance to both teachers and students by providing opportunities for drill and reinforcement as well as providing opportunities for students to practice reading skills independently.

You can find our presentation from the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference here: Assistive Technology: A Tool for Literacy Success 

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

Living with Dyslexia – Part II

How do I Teach my son to Read????

Near the end of Grade 4 my son Donny was seen by a psychologist at the school. He was officially diagnosed with a reading disorder, or Dyslexia.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines Dyslexia as a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia include difficulties with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds), spelling, and/or rapid visual-verbal responding.

Of course I was relieved to hear from the psychologist that my son was above average intelligence and he only had difficulty with symbol/sound relationships. He also has the extra challenge of having Dysgraphia, which seems to be more challenging now than the Dyslexia.

Knowing that this was our obstacle made the task seem much less daunting, however I still had a 9 year-old that was not able to read. I was panicking inside.

The psychologist’s recommendations listed many useful strategies to deal with Dyslexia, including the use of a computer, an IEP to address his learning needs and the Orton-Gillingham Method as a means to remediate reading. I had never heard of the Orton-Gillingham Method and as a teacher, my interest was especially peaked. I did quite a bit of research on Dyslexia and different ways to address the challenge.

Through a little research I was able to receive training in the Orton-Gillingham method. There is a learning centre located in our city that offers free training to students with Dyslexia. However, the waiting list for this centre is quite lengthy due to high need. I volunteered to offer my time tutoring in exchange for training (this is only one of many ways to become trained in the methodology).

My son attended the centre for two years and graduated from the program. I was very proud of the success that he achieved through the program and believe wholeheartedly in the method.


So – What it is all about?


Samuel Orton

The Orton-Gillingham Method was named after Samuel T. Orton (1879-1948) and Anna Gillingham (1878-1963), early pioneers in reading and language mastery. They conceived of a program that was language-based, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible – exactly what students with reading disorders need to be successful in learning.

The most important aspects of the program are that the approach is the multi-sensory. The learning must be:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Kinesthetic
  4. Tactile

Below is the detailed description of the Orton-Gillingham approach, as provided at the Academy’s website.


Teaching begins with recognizing the differing needs of learners. While those with dyslexia share similarities, there are differences in their language needs. In addition individuals with dyslexia may possess additional problems that complicate learning. Most common among these are attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD).


It uses all the learning pathways: seeing, hearing, feeling, and awareness of motion, brought together by the thinking brain. The instructor engages in multisensory teaching in order to convey curricular content in the most understandable way to the student. The teacher also models how the student, by using these multiple pathways, can engage in multisensory learning that results in greater ease and success in learning.

Diagnostic and Prescriptive

An Orton-Gillingham lesson is both diagnostic and prescriptive. It is diagnostic in the sense that the instructor continuously monitors the verbal, non-verbal, and written responses of the student in order to identify and analyze both the student’s problems and progress. This information is the basis of planning the next lesson. That lesson is prescriptive in the sense that will contain instructional elements that focus upon the resolution of the student’s difficulties and that build upon the student’s progress noted in the previous lesson.

Direct Instruction

The teacher presentations employ lesson formats which ensure that the student approaches the learning experience understanding what is to be learned, why it is to be learned, and how it is to be learned.

Systematic Phonics

It uses systematic phonics, stressing the alphabetic principle in the initial stages of reading development. It takes advantage of the sound/symbol relationships inherent in the alphabetic system of writing. Spoken words are made up of individual speech sounds, and the letters of written words graphically represent those speech sounds.

Applied Linguistics

It draws upon applied linguistics not only in the initial decoding and encoding stages of reading and writing but in more advanced stages dealing with syllabic, morphemic, syntactic, semantic, and grammatical structures of language and our writing system. At all times the Orton-Gillingham Approach involves the student in integrative practices that involve reading, spelling, and writing together.

Linguistic Competence

It increases linguistic competence by stressing language patterns that determine word order and sentence structure and the meaning of words and phrases. It moves beyond this to recognizing the various forms that characterize the common literary forms employed by writers.

Systematic and StructuredImage

The teacher presents information in an ordered way that indicates the relationship between the material taught and past material taught. Curricular content unfolds in linguistically logical ways which facilitates student learning and progress.

Sequential, Incremental, and Cumulative

Step by step learners move from the simple, well-learned material to that which is more and more complex. They move from one step to the next as they master each level of language skills.

Continuous Feedback and Positive Reinforcement

The approach provides for a close teacher-student relationship that builds self-confidence based on success.

Cognitive Approach

Students understand the reasons for what they are learning and for the learning strategies they are employing. Confidence is gained as they gain in their ability to apply newly gained knowledge about and knowledge how to develop their skills with reading, spelling, and writing.


Emotionally Sound

Students’ feelings about themselves and about learning are vital. Teaching is directed

toward providing the experience of success and with success comes increased self-confidence and motivation.

Reading Systems Based on the Approach

Commercial Reading Systems that use the Orton-Gillingham approach are listed below. If your school or tutor uses one of these, you’re probably in good hands:

  • Barton
  • Wilson
  • Multi-Sensory Teaching Approach
  • Language!
  • Project Read
  • Recipe for Reading
  • Spalding
  • Orton-Gillingham (in addition to being an approach there is also an actual OG reading system based on the approach. Essentially it’s the latest version of the program Anna Gillingham invented! )

 Along with these commercial systems, there are also many individuals that tutor students privately using this training method. I have found it to be very effective in small group instruction at school and especially in smaller groups privately. I have used this methodology to teach dozens of children how to read and have personally seen the effectiveness!

Check out this great blog suggesting some great books about Dyslexia.

Goose Bumps

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching people with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology (also known as adaptive technology or even A/T).  Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, assistive technology is any item, device, or product that can help someone with a disability do something that they otherwise would not be able to do.  Assistive technology can be something as simple and common place as a cane and eye glasses to something more complex such as assistive software and speech generating devices such as that used by Stephen Hawking.

TechnologyThere are many different types of assistive technology software available that can benefit people with various types of learning disabiliities.  These can include:

The most important thing to know is that it is critical to find the right software program for each specific person.  Since every person with a learning disability has different strengths and weaknesses, there is no one-size-fits-all assistive technology software solution for people with learning disabilities.  I have been very fortunate to help many people with learning disabilities in finding their “right fit.”

I have trained children, youth, and adults with learning disabilities how to use assistive technology.   What I most often see is parents dragging their kids into the LDAWE office to see me regarding assistive technology.  Typically, the child is in the 10-14 year old age bracket.  They often come in with a huge chip on their shoulder, slouch down in their chair, and give me an evil glare.  To be honest, I don’t blame them.  By the time they’re seeing me, their parents have probably brought them to several programs, got them a  tutor for extra help, brought them to counselling, or maybe even tried some experimental solutions to “cure” the problem.  I can tell that they think this is going to just be another place where their parents bring them to try to “fix” them.

The first thing I ask the person is, “What do you struggle the most with?  Reading?  Writing?  Spelling?…”  Based on their answer, I decide which assistive technology software program to show them first.  If at all possible, I want them to see that this program can make a huge difference in their life right away.  I can always tell when I’ve found the right fit.  Especially for the kids that walk in with the huge chip on their shoulder.  The first thing that happens, is they sit up straight in their chair.  Then they actually start leaning towards the computer, clicking buttons, and asking me what else it can do.  Finally, they will look at their parents, smile, point at the computer, and say “did you see that?”  It’s a great feeling to be able to watch that moment happen.

Kids using TechnologyI had the opportunity to work with Alison, who was in grade 4 at the time.  Her Mom actually brought her to me a couple times at the beginning of the school day, because she felt this was more important than anything her daughter was trying (unsuccessfully) to learn at school.  Alison told me that she had problems with reading and writing, but that by far her biggest concern was reading.  I showed her how to use Kurzweil 3000.  I explained that she’d be able to scan her books, worksheets, quizzes, and tests into Kurzweil and it would read all of the text aloud for her.  I then began showing her how to use all of Kurzweil’s features.  After a while, Alison looked at me and said, “I can do this!”  I replied that yes, I know she can… she told me, “No, you don’t understand… I can go to highschool now.”  That’s when it hit me.  At the young age of 9 or 10 years old Alison had figured out that she was so far behind and with no viable way of catching up, that she would never be able to complete high school.  I took a deep breathe (trust me, I needed one) and told Alison that she was right, with the help of the technology, she’d be able to successfully go to high school and even beyound that if she wanted to.

But Alison wasn’t done with her insights yet.  She began to ask me questions, “Can I scan in chapter books?”  I told her yes.  “Even long books?”  I told her that they might take her a while to scan, but yes… she could scan any book that she wanted.  She started bouncing up and down in her chair and looked at her Mom and said, “Now I can read Twilight on my own without you having to read it to me.  I can be just like my friends!”

And there they were… goose bumps running up and down my arms.  What a great reminder from such a young student regarding what assistive technology is really all about…  It helps put people with disabilities on an even playing field with everyone else.