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

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Chunk Stacker

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Reading Rods

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Rhyme Out

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Rhyming Bingo

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Websites

Turtle Diary

PBS Kids Island

Starfall

iPad Apps

Montessori Letter Sounds

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Word Wizard

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Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic

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PBPhonics 1 to 3

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ABC Spelling Magic

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

Issues facing Adult Literacy Learners

Guest Blog Post by: Shelley Lavoie

Common Issues facing Adults with Learning Disabilities.

Life can be challenging for everyone. If you are an adult with a learning disability, daily routines can become problematic and lead to extra frustrations. Lack of academic skill acquisition causes issues well into adulthood. For those who struggle with low literacy levels, life can seem confusing and overwhelming on a daily basis. For those that don’t struggle, it is hard to comprehend the daily difficulties it creates. The act of buying groceries becomes an embarrassing ordeal in the grocery store. Imagine buying your groceries by the pictures on the product, or never trying anything because you couldn’t read the label, or mistakenly buying cottage cheese instead of sour cream.

As a result of the unsuccessful literacy attainment, people start to believe they are stupid, and develop a low self-concept which is reinforced many times a day. This may lead anxiety and emotional issues! Many of the adults I work with had very painful experiences during the school years and few successes which leave emotional scars. I think this is the toughest part of my job as Adult Literacy Instructor! Breaking those self-deprecating thoughts and helping people realize and focus on their strengths after years of feeling inadequate is a daily struggle. With the introduction of learning strategies and assistive technology to people who have never used them, people realize that there is help and that they are able to complete tasks independently. This is my favourite part of my job, when people begin to see new possibilities for themselves!

Lack of effective communication and social skills look differently in adulthood than they do in children and adolescents, but they definitely do persist into adulthood. These issues may lead to problems personally and in a work environment.

Organization is another issue that persists into adulthood. It is critical that people develop routines, implement strategies and practice the skills they need in order to be successful in their endeavors, whatever they may be.

The Windsor Public Library Adult Literacy Program supports adults who want to improve their reading, writing, and numeracy skills to achieve goals of Employment, further education and training, or independence. If you have any questions regarding Adult Literacy Program at the Windsor Public Library, I can be reached at 519-255-6770 x 4444.

Remember, it is never too late to find success! Celebrate your uniqueness and find a way that works for you!

The Write Stuff: Handwriting Difficulty in Young Learners

Multiple-print-reversals-e1331590434434-300x286The first time I reviewed my son’s grade one assessment binder that came home from school I was overcome with worry.  Flipping through the pages, I noticed that every page had some letter or number reversal.   I got even more concerned as I read his teacher’s notes about the number of reversals he was making.  I had excused his writing because of his young age but now having a seasoned grade one teacher comment was making the gears in my head turn.  As a teacher myself who works with students with learning disabilities, letter reversals in writing is not new to me.   I knew how to help my son; I had all the right tools to help him improve his writing, tools that I regularly use with my students.  What I didn’t know was why these reversals occur and what is typical for younger children and what isn’t.  I dove right into books and articles to learn as much as I could about letter reversals in children.

frustrated writingWhat I learned from my research was that letter reversals in young children were common until about age 8 because generally, children do not develop directionality until that age.  Directionality means up/down, right/left and forward/backward.  Another issue is that some children do not learn to properly form their letters and what helps is to re-teach them how to write.  I also learned that for children who have dyslexia, 8 out of 10 will have an issue with directionality.   Younger children who have Dysgraphia will have trouble with forming letters, maintaining word spacing, and will complain about having sore hands.  These students may also have trouble forming ideas about what to write about.  Their writing may be illegible and may not fall on lines or within the page margins.

It’s a lot of information to take in and in my son’s case I’m not yet sure if the writing troubles are because of his age (he’s in the second grade now) or because there is an underlying issue affecting his handwriting.  As an educator, I know these handwriting issues will not just disappear regardless of the outcome and some work needs to be done.  While I strongly support modification and accommodation to support a student with difficulties I am an advocate for remediation in whatever capacity possible.   It’s the basis of our ABC123 Tutoring Program and it’s what I utilize with my students and my own son.

wetdrytryIn the ABC123 program, I have used the Handwriting Without Tears  program and while researching writing difficulties I came across their iPad app Wet-Dry-Try  and purchased it to try with my son.   He immediately took to the program and was willing to practice printing.  With the program he learned to properly form his letters from top to bottom, something I had tried to do with paper and a pencil, but which only frustrated him.  The app has been a game changer in our home, and my son has been learning how to form his uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

With students who have difficulty with writing it’s important to learn what strategies will work best for them.  For my son it was the iPad, for others it may be paper with raised lines or finding the right pen or pencil.  Practicing letter shapes through motor activities such as finger tracing in a tray of sand, or forming individual letters and numbers with play-doh are other methods that help students learn.  It’s also important to ensure that the student is using good writing hygiene, meaning that they are sitting properly, holding the paper down and have a good grip on the pencil since many of these bad habits will be harder to unlearn later on.  With many of my students, their grip is awkward which makes writing with a pencil difficult.   A strategy I learned from an occupational therapist was to have the student ball up a tissue in their hand to grip their pencil (see picture below).  For my son and many of my student’s it’s helped to find a commercial pencil grip that works for them.

kleenex grip

In the end, a wait and see approach is risky and many bad writing habits are difficult to change later on.  If you have a child or student with a writing difficulty, it’s beneficial for them (Dysgraphia or not) to try to remediate these difficulties because it’s likely that they will not improve on their own.  After remediation has been thoroughly examined accommodations such as keyboarding or Assistive Technology can be further explored.  For my son, I am taking it one day at a time and working with him to improve his printing for now.

To read more about Dysgraphia and the warning signs: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia

What was that again?

Just before I graduated from the Faculty of Education, I began volunteering in a grade five classroom one day a week. The teacher pulled me aside one day and asked if I could read with Michael*. “He has some trouble with reading,” she said. As I sat with Michael, I was amazed at how well he read to me. It was perfect and he never stumbled, not even for one single word. I couldn’t understand why this student needed anyone’s help, much less mine! As I was wondering if the teacher had paired me with the wrong student, Michael turned to the question page that went along with the story. What happened next shocked me. As Michael began reading the questions it was evident that he couldn’t remember much of what he had read. He couldn’t really explain what the story was about. As I started prompting and quizzing him about the passage he had read, the more evident it became. Michael didn’t understand what he had read and he couldn’t comprehend the story. As I looked over at Michael, bewildered, I felt terrible for him. He was humiliated and frustrated and was done with the reading work. This experience was my first encounter with a student with comprehension difficulties and, unfortunately, not my last.

Frustration 2

As a Literacy Facilitator with LDAWE for almost three years, I have worked with countless students that have reading comprehension difficulties. While there are many different strategies for teaching comprehension, these are a few that I use with my students that have proven helpful:

1. Monitoring. Teach students to monitor their understanding when reading. When they are not understanding, they need to stop and identify what is giving them difficulty. Then they should use appropriate action to remediate the difficulty. These actions may include re-reading the text, looking back to a previous page, moving forward in the text, or asking someone for clarification. Once students are able to identify when they don’t understand something, they can then take steps to improve their understanding.

2. Identification. Have students use highlighters to identify important parts of a story. Teach them to look at only one page at a time and to highlight important text. For fictional stories, this may include names of characters or places. For non-fiction, this may include dates, names of places, or difficult words. Ask them what it is that they think is important and work with them in separating what is and isnot important

3. Use graphic organizers. Graphic organizers help students construct meaning from the text that they are reading. Students can use a KWL chart (Know, Want, Learn) to activate their background knowledge prior to learning. Using their personal connections, students can then enter what they know about the topic, as well as the things that they want to learn about. Students can enter specific questions they are hoping the text answers. Finally, after reading the text, students can fill in what they learned. Character and Story maps (or Problem and Solution charts) can also be used to keep track of what is taking place in the text. Other graphic organizers can be found here: http://www.readinga-z.com/more/graphic_org.html

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4. Paragraph Shrinking. My favourite strategy to use is paragraph shrinking. Students will summarize each paragraph (for younger students, each page) and identify: 1) the who or the what of the paragraph; 2) the most important thing about the who or what; and 3) the main idea of the paragraph. Students should identify the main idea in 10 words or less, which encourages focus on comprehension.

5. Make Connections. Students will understand text they are reading if they can make a connection to it. I ask students, “Does this remind you of anything?”. If students have a schema about what they are reading, the text will be more meaningful and they will comprehend better. Connections can be a personal connection, a connection to something they have read or seen on TV, or something that they have heard about. When I sit with students, I will use self-talk to explain how I am making a personal connection to the text.

6. Read and Search. Teach students to re-read the text and search for answers. Students can read through the first time using the strategies mentioned above. Once finished, have the student read the question and then go back through the text until they find the answer. Often, students don’t realize that they should refer back to the original text. This is an important strategy for students to learn.

7. Visualize. It’s important for the reader to visualize what they are reading. I like to tell them to turn the information into a movie in their mind. I will start with reading to the students and having them close their eyes to imagine what is happening in the story. It’s interesting for a group of students to hear about other’s visualizations in order to see how everyone’s individual schema plays into the text. The next step is for students to independently read a paragraph and visualize what they are reading.

8. Read with Good Fluency. When students struggle with reading, their comprehension may suffer too. All the reader’s energy is being used to decode the words and get through the text, which means their focus is not on what is actually happening in the story. Good fluency helps with reading comprehension. One of the best ways to help students improve their fluency is to re-read short passages. For younger readers, re-reading their short stories a second time is a wonderful way to help improve fluency.

One of the most important things I have learned as an educator is that a one size solution does not fit all. It’s important for teachers to know how and when to differentiate. Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, their own likes and dislikes, and their own preferred methods based on their learning styles. I teach my students to know what it is they need in order to be successful and to learn to advocate for themselves. To speak up and say “I need this in order to learn.”

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These are my experiences and this is what I do. There is no manual to follow when teaching people to read. You do what works for the individual. Sometimes you really have to work hard to find what works. You search and experiment. When you fail, you go back and try again. When the “Aha!” moment finally comes for the learner, your inner teacher will jump for joy and you’ll know then that, in the end, it’s all been worth it.

*Name has been changed.

The $64,000 Question

Guest Blog Post by: Erin Plumb

 

Hello My Name Is…

So I am new to the blogging world. This will be my first ever post and as such I thought I would take the time to introduce myself to you.   My name is Erin. I am an assistive technology trainer who works in a variety of places, including LDAWE, with a variety of age groups and disabilities. I have been an advocate for persons with disabilities for over 20 years. LDAWE asked me to create and facilitate a course for Adults with LD several years ago as Bev, our phenomenal Executive Director, and I share a passion for this under-serviced group.

What do I mean when I say under-serviced? Well, let me explain. Children within the public and separate boards have reasonable access to assessment, accommodation and funding for both. Young adults in either college or university have similarly comprehensive access. Adults by and large do NOT. That is not to say that parents and educators don’t struggle implementing reasonable and equitable accommodation; but, simply that adults have a couple extra hurdles.

Sculpture by artist Su Blackwell featured on the National Art Society. Click on the link to hers and other fantastic art. http://nationalartsociety.com/?p=4165

Sculpture by artist Su Blackwell featured on the National Art Society. Click on the link to hers and other fantastic art.
http://nationalartsociety.com/?p=4165

An Unhappy Ending

Once upon a time, before EQAO testing, IPRC and IEP meetings; there was no standardized system that existed province wide. There was limited resources for exceptional children in terms of testing and accommodation. Special education existed as a separate program for only the most severely disabled children. Many learning disabilities (LD) had not even become widely know to educators and parents. Even today many LD’s are poorly understood and many difficulties persist due to the invisibility of the disability. Adults who attended schools during this time were most often referred to as poor students who were perhaps lazy, deviant, or intellectually stunted. Unfortunately this fairytale does not end with “they lived happily ever after” for those involved.

The Woes of the Many

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Many of the adults I have met over the years have expressed fear and loathing as the most prevalent feelings associated with their school years. Many didn’t read well, had poor writings skills and were singled out for it. For many it has led to lower literacy, poor self esteem, and less employment opportunities. Many are chronically under or unemployed. Many end up on Ontario Works and ODSP without even the knowledge that they have rights much less how to stand up for themselves. Many who were either not diagnosed or misdiagnosed. Many who become frustrated, disillusioned with society, angry and isolated. The many are a growing group representing as much as 2.5% of the Canadian population.

The Vicious Cycle

Vicious Cycle 2The biggest problem for this group of “many”is access to funding and support. If they missed out on meaningful diagnosis they run the risk of being trapped in a vicious cycle. A diagnosis is required for any formal accommodation; however, without an understanding of strengths and weaknesses many adults don’t know what they need to succeed and have difficulty asking even for informal accommodations. Assessment is a pricey undertaking especially if you have a fixed or limited income. School or training without accommodation is difficult or impossible. Many adults also have profoundly negative feelings of school based on their experiences and inherently mistrust education. With limited education this population has limited employment opportunities. A lack of accommodation coupled with all the problems associated with poverty leads to difficulties retaining permanent employment. Rinse, lather, repeat. At least until utter the frustration and perceived futility of the exercise causes complete disengagement from the goal of success within the society.

The $64,000 Question

Given the amount of barriers and the difficulties overcoming these barriers is there a functional solution? Can we as people of many different abilities devise an equation that is balanced? My writings on this blog will not likely solve all of these problems; however, I do have some ambitions and caveats.

Stuff that I will do:

  • create a positive space for adults with LD to talk openly about their experiences and ideas
  • try to shed some some light on the available community resources for this group
  • create awareness of  the needs of adults as distinct from those of children
  • discuss possible solutions both high and low tech
  • encourage society at large to embrace inclusivity and understanding

Stuff that I will NOT do:

  • give specific advice to individual cases
  • tolerate any hate speech or demeaning commentary towards any group of society regardless how angry/frustrated someone is with that group
  • engage in an “us vs. them” mentality

I will be writing 9 more blogs throughout the year. It is my sincere desire to generate some discussion so that we can use the collective wisdom of our experiences and ideas for change to make a difference.

Did I mention I am new to blogging? I managed to post this before I wanted to, not figure out how to add tags, AND delete the title while doing so. So here’s hoping the edit will address some of those issues.