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.

Games

Scrabble Soup

Image

Chunk Stacker

Image

Reading Rods

Image

Rhyme Out

Image

Rhyming Bingo

Image

Websites

Turtle Diary

PBS Kids Island

Starfall

iPad Apps

Montessori Letter Sounds

Image

Word Wizard

Image

Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic

Image

PBPhonics 1 to 3

Image

ABC Spelling Magic

Image

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

Stepping Stones

I am incredibly fortunate to work with amazing people at LDAWE.  We are lucky to be able to hire amazingly compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people.

Many people have asked me what we look for when we hire someone.   Mainly, we look for people that appear to be genuinely interested in working with people with disabilities.  Experience is helpful, but we are also willing to train someone if they appear to be a good fit for our organization.  We are also an equal opportunity employer, which means that we provide employment opportunities to people who have disabilities as well.

It’s important to know that we only hire people on a part-time basis.  There are only 2 positions at LDAWE that are full-time (my position as Resource Manager and my boss’ position as the Executive Director).

The main positions for which we hire are:Reading the Paper

  • Adaptive Technology Trainers
  • Administrative Assistants
  • Job Developers / Coaches
  • Lead Facilitators
  • Program Facilitators
  • Tutors

The level of experience necessary, the number of hours, and rate of pay vary depending on the position.  When hiring, we typically hire students or recent graduates in the following fields:

  • Psychology
  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Child and Youth Workers (CYW)
  • Developmental Support Workers (DSW)
  • Educational Assistants (EA)

Many of the people we hire are using these positions as a stepping stone on the way to their ultimate career goal.  While this may upset some companies, it is actually part of our plan.  We want to be able to expose as many people in the above mentioned fields to learning disabilities (LD) and ADHD.  We give our staff members first hand experience and provide them with insight, tips, and strategies for how to best help people with LD and ADHD reach their full potential.  We hope that as they continue on their career path they use the skills they learned from LDAWE.

As a result, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have had the opportunity to work with many compassionate, talented, and knowledgeable people over the past decade.  I am often very sad when some of them move on to work for other companies.  However, knowing the difference they are going to make in the lives of people with LD and ADHD throughout their careers makes it all worthwhile.

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
awareness.

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.

Image

So – What it is all about?

Image

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.

Personalized

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).

ImageMultisensory

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.

Image

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.

Just for Today

frazzled parent

I wrote this a few years ago but figured there are probably many parents who can relate

Just for today, I’d like to not feel like I have to fight for my kid

or that I have to convince people he DOES belong

Just for today, I’d like to not have a lump in my throat

or a huge knot in my stomach

Just for today, I’d like there to be no phone calls and emails

or the need to explain to people the same things over and over and over

Just for today, I’d like to not have to champion my son

or to feel like if I don’t speak up my son, and others like him,

will be bullied and hurt by the people who are supposed to help them

Just for today I’d like the world to not be a scary

and potentially dangerous place for my son

Just for today I wish people could just do the right thing

because it’s the right thing to do

ADHD: Approaching Discipline as a Teacher

Frustration 1
How should the teacher approach discipline?

I have to admit this subject has always been a difficult one for me as an educator. On one hand I understand the implications of ADHD and understand that behaviors that typically require some sort of discipline in a school setting stem from impulse and behavior issues that the child does not necessarily have full control over. On the other hand, how can a teacher like myself allow these behaviors to go unchecked and set a bad example for the rest of my students that I:
a) am a pushover,
b) expect and encourage disruptive behaviour, or
c) am oblivious to the environment in my own classroom.

So then how do we as educators overcome this double edge sword?

First, teachers need to understand that often, children with ADHD don’t always realize why they’re in trouble. For example, when the teacher tells Sarah not to interrupt and she says, “I didn’t,” it sounds like she’s being argumentative or making excuses. In fact, Sarah may have no idea she was interrupting. So from her point of view, she can’t understand, first, why she was accused of something she didn’t do, and second, why the teacher won’t let her defend herself.

In one study, a group of non-ADHD children and those with ADHD were given fictional scenarios of disruptive behavior and asked to explain what was going on. A significant difference emerged: Most children thought that the child in the example could have controlled his behavior if he chose to; those with ADHD thought the fictional child couldn’t control the behavior, and they identified outside forces that provoked it–for example, “His friends bug him all the time.” (source-From The Attention Deficit Answer Book: The Best Medications and Parenting Strategies for Your Child by Alan Wachtel, M.D. Copyright � 1998)

From the perspective of someone with ADHD, this view makes perfect sense. They know that in many cases they themselves can’t control their own behavior. So it’s not surprising that they feel persecuted when a teacher, parent, or peer blames them for their actions. If you got blamed because it happened to pour rain at your soccer game you’d feel persecuted too!

In the classroom, I think the teacher must walk the fine line between responsibility and blame. It’s important for the teacher to impart a sense of responsibility to the child for his actions, and to help him understand the consequences of those acts–but to do it in a way that doesn’t make the child feel persecuted.

It’s a tough challenge. One way to approach it is by acknowledging the difficulties while expressing confidence in the child’s ability to overcome them and offering a concrete strategy for doing so. For example, the teacher might tell a child, “I know it’s hard for you to sit still on the bus. I think it will be easier if you sit next to me so that I can remind you to sit down.” Even though the outcome may be the same, that approach sends a much more positive message than simply telling the child to sit next to you on the bus.

How have you approached discipline in the classroom/and or at home for undesirable behaviour? Do you feel that acknowledging your perspective has allowed you to accept disciplinary measures more readily and to learn from them and not take offense?

Technology before anyone is ready

My oldest son is in Grade 10. He received his first computer in the fourth grade. I’m not sure what kind of training his teachers received. I know that I asked and received an hour with the technology person who walked me through a hard copy printout of the one computer program he was using – Kurzweil.  At the end of our one hour I wasn’t sure I really understood it all but I was too shy or embarrassed (maybe both) to say that what would really help me would be to see it in action.  I figured I would just wait and get our copy at home and just try it out to learn the functions. It took us months to get the school to agree to send the program home for us to download it onto our home computer. By that time our son was able to walk us through the program. But he used it very rarely in class and I would be the first to admit that he was not great at typing so the computer was limited in what it could do for him if he couldn’t input.

Grade 5 was a wonderful technology year – the EA or teacher scanned in every work sheet or test into his computer and we saw great amounts of output as a result. But it was limited to Kurzweil – it seemed to me that there must be more programs that would be useful. Seems strange to buy a laptop for a student and then limit them to just one program. I occasionally asked but did not really get more answers.

Grade 6 through 10 his use of the computer fluctuated and he never really got back to the level they were at in the 5th grade.  Add to that frequent breakdowns of his computer and/or scanner and printer and his technology use is sporadic at best.

I believe technology is a wonderful tool that can open up doors that otherwise remain closed for our children with learning disabilities. But to do so, there needs to be adequate training of teachers, support staff, student and parents. There needs to be a commitment from staff that it is going to be utilized to its fullest and it needs to be taught to the student that this is the same as someone needing a cane or a pair of glasses. With the introduction of iPads, iPods and other handheld devices I believe that technology in the classroom will soon be the norm rather than the exception. I look forward to this as my youngest moves closer to having technology to access the curriculum.