Fast ForWord® at Home Scholarship

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - 08:00
  • Joanne Gouaux

Fast ForWord at Home ScholarshipLike walking, reading is a major life activity. When your child struggles to read, it feels like running on an uphill treadmill. It is exhausting and overwhelming, with no finish line in sight. Lessons keep moving at school as the days, weeks, and months pass. Despite extending their best effort, struggling readers make more mistakes and have to work longer and harder than an average learner their age.

My son showed signs of difficulty with reading and writing in kindergarten. By the end of 1st grade, things were not improving and with the best of intentions, the school suggested that maybe all he needed was more time. That's when I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but when I learned about Fast ForWord, it made sense. It was unlike anything we had tried before, and my son embraced the idea of working the exercises on a computer. Double win!

I know many families are facing similar challenges and frustrations. I invite you to take action and apply for the first ever Fast ForWord at Home Scholarship, provided by BrainPro.

It's never too late to explore options at any stage of life, especially in childhood. What may have started as a little trouble can quickly pile up and influence school performance, learning, daily activities, and relationships. With hard work, consistent effort, and the right help, your child can become an independent reader.

Related reading:

Debunking Anecdotes – One Parent’s Journey Through a Maze of Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities

Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, and the Road to College: Maria’s Story

 

 

Dyslexia Legislation is on the Rise. But Why?

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

 

dyslexia legislationIn the past few years, more than a dozen states have passed or proposed new laws to raise awareness about dyslexia through increased screening, intervention programs, and teacher training. Delaware, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Kentucky are among the states with notable legislative activity, but there’s a movement in nearly every state to legislate educational approaches to tackling the most common learning disability.

 

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity – led by Co-Directors Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz – is one force behind this trend. The center’s Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (MDAI) website positions education – and more specifically, dyslexia – as “a civil rights issue” due to the “struggles and marginalization of many dyslexic children.” The mission of the MDAI is to influence policy through the grassroots engagement of educators, legislators, and others. The effort appears to be working, with dyslexia advocacy surging around the country.

Decoding Dyslexia, a “parent-led grassroots movement,” is one example, with a presence in 47 states. Founded in 2012, the movement focuses on raising awareness about dyslexia and changing literacy legislation at the state level.

Then there’s Texas teen Ben Cooper. On behalf of dyslexic learners nationwide, Cooper is lobbying the House of Representatives to adopt HR456, a resolution calling on states and schools “to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.”

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy has spoken out about his own experience with dyslexia. Malloy is a proponent of universal access to pre-K, in part to ensure early identification of learning disabilities. As Governor, he signed a bill into law that requires future teachers to receive training in dyslexia recognition and intervention.

In Washington, D.C., there’s a new Bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus currently co-chaired by Representatives Julia Brownley (D-California) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” a film directed by James Redford, was screened at the 2012 inaugural event.

The rise in legislation is a hopeful development. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability – about one in five students has it – but not all educators know how to recognize it and help learners with dyslexia succeed in school.  

We now know that dyslexia is neurologically based, and schools have access to effective interventions like the Fast ForWord program – which has been proven to positively impact reading ability in dyslexic children and adults. With only 34 percent of 4th graders scoring at or above Proficient on the 2013 NAEP, enacting early dyslexia identification and intervention is a no-brainer.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

 

 

Meet the 1st Queen of Literacy, Dr. Linda Nash!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Dr. Linda NashDr. Linda Nash, Supervisor of Federal Programs/Grants in Cookeville, TN, has been crowned our first Queen of Literacy. She received 24% of all the votes cast (5,472!) and has won an all-expense paid trip to our National Circle of Learning Conference (virtual registration now open)! I caught up with Dr. Nash by phone to learn more about her life as an educator. 

SL: How did you get into education?

Dr. Nash: Education was very important to my parents. Neither of them had a college education and they were probably both smarter than I am. It was never a question of if I was going to school. It was always where we were going and in what we were majoring. I guess I’ve had two careers, one in accounting and one in education. I started out in home economics thinking I would like to be a home ec. teacher and then I changed to business because I needed to work to put my husband through school. Once he finished, I went back to English; however, I had worked for a CPA for many years. I finally decided to go back in education and was a senior English teacher for 18 years.

When I was in accounting, I missed education; and when I was in education, I missed accounting. Now I am the federal program supervisor for my county and I can use both of them.

SL: How did you move from being a teacher to be an administrator? Was that a goal of yours or just something that happened?

Dr. Nash: I started my doctoral work in English. I really thought I wanted to teach English at the university level, and I did do that for a while. I was getting married; and because of the program requirements I would have had to leave home for a year to do residency at the university. I didn’t want to leave my family, so I switched to administration, and I’ve never regretted it. As a distict administrator you’re helping the kids by helping the schools.

SL: How did you become acquainted with Fast ForWord?

Dr. Nash: When I came to the central office as a federal programs supervisor, Dr. Kathleen Airhart was the Director of Schools, and she had had experience with the Fast ForWord program with our special ed students in her prior role as our special ed supervisor. So when I became a federal supervisor she had said to me that Fast ForWord was a great RTI program and wanted me to take a look at it and see if it might be something we might be able to use in our schools, not just with special ed students.

I started doing some investigating, looking at data—not just what you all provided—and looking at schools that had used it. To be honest, we first started using it because the state had a new law that said any 3rd grader who scored below basic on our state test either had to have progress in an intervention or they had to be retained in 3rd grade. We purchased it really to use in our summer school intervention program and then we started using it in all of our elementary schools as an intervention.

Because we’re purchasing subscriptions, we use it during the year as well. During the school year I leave it up to the school how they use it. I have some schools that use it differently than how we use it in summer school. I have two schools in particular that have really been targeting our ESL population because some of the sounds from the English language are missing totally from the Spanish language.

SL: So you were able to see right away from the data that this would be an effective program for your students?

Dr. Nash: Yes. All of the 3rd graders who go to summer school use it. We’re not just putting the kids on the computer for 2 ½ or 3 hours and leaving them. They rotate. They do oral reading in a section, they do vocabulary in a section, and in between they do Fast ForWord. By combining all of those we’ve really had good success in our summer school. It’s a bit harder to discuss in the regular school year because each school uses it differently.

SL: What principles guide you in your work on a day-to-day basis?

Dr. Nash: I think work ethic is number one in anything that you do. Your integrity, coming to work knowing that you’re going to give your all and do a job to the best of your ability. I think that’s with anything. I think with me, federal guidelines, knowing the federal guidelines, being able to decipher them and apply them. For my job I am meeting the compliances that the federal government says we have to meet to spend this money. And more importantly to me, are we good stewards of that money and getting the best effects or getting the best thing for the dollar?  One thing that’s really important to me in my job is to listen to the principals. They know best what they need in their schools and to help them be able to do what they want to do in the compliances of the money that we can spend. I have had the experience of just being told, “No, you can’t do that,” without trying to find a way. Is there a way if we do it this way? What if we change our intent a little bit to meet this guideline? I think being a good listener of the needs of the principals is key.

SL: What have you learned during your career that you would like to share with educators who are just starting out?

Dr. Nash: First and foremost we’re here because of children. We are here so that kids can do their very best with what we can give them and we owe it to them.

One of my grandsons—he is in college now—said one day about a specific teacher he had had, “You know, Granny, if I had had Mr. or Ms. So-and-So for this particular class I might could have done something else in college.” And it broke my heart because I thought to myself, every child deserves the very best teacher for every subject every year. And then that child can decide what they want to do with their education.

I just hope teachers understand the importance of the effect they have on kids on a day-to-day basis, whether we’re using Fast ForWord or whether we’re using a textbook or just whether we’re entering the classroom smiling. 

You've made us smile, Dr. Nash! Thank you for your support.

 

 

Are Your Special Education Practices Aligned With RDA?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 20:00
  • Will J. Gordillo

Special Ed RDAThe U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) announced a major shift in the way it oversees the effectiveness of states’ special education programs. Until now, OSEP revealed that its primary focus was to determine whether states were meeting procedural requirements such as timelines for evaluations, due process hearings, and transitioning children into preschool services. While these compliance indicators remain important to children and families, under the new framework known as Results-Driven Accountability (RDA), the Department will also include educational results and outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs) in making each state’s annual determination under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Each state will also begin to issue their school districts an annual determination that is aligned to their own data on educational results and outcomes for SWDs. This will encourage each school district to be more cognizant of the impact that each school’s data for SWDs will have on their district’s determination and work closely with schools to improve instruction and provide targeted evidence-based practices and interventions to struggling SWDs. This change in accountability represents another significant raising of the bar for special education. The “shift” towards RDA will have a great impact in refocusing the priorities of state education agencies, school districts, and schools by sharpening the focus on what is happening instructionally in classrooms to promote educational benefits and improve outcomes and results for SWDs. How will these changes affect your school or district? Join me for a complimentary webinar on this topic next Wednesday, October 15th. Register now.

Throughout my tenure overseeing the provision of special education and ensuring compliance with IDEA in school districts, I have been a strong advocate for systems change that is focused on student performance in order to continue to redefine special education and help it regain its groove.  Some of the things most valued in terms of impacting outcomes for SWD include focusing on serving students in the least restrictive environment (LRE), promoting inclusive practices, implementing evidenced based practices and interventions, closing the achievement gap on standardized assessments, reducing suspension rates, reducing drop-outs, and increasing graduation rates towards attainment of successful post-secondary school outcomes.  

These indicators for success are now moving to the forefront of accountability. Some progress has been made throughout the years but we are still not bridging the gap significantly and disparities in student performance between disabled and non-disabled peers continue to grow.  Common Core implementation has raised the bar on rigor and expectations for all students and there is a valid concern that the gap for SWDs will continue to grow based on the historical trend data and outcomes for this subgroup. There is great potential to redefine the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process by placing a greater collective emphasis on how educational benefit is provided to the student through specially designed instruction, accommodations, and evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how well their fidelity of implementation is monitored and recorded for SWDs served in both general education and special education settings.  

This new RDA framework encourages some reflections.

As educators, we must always presume competence. It is important to remember that the majority of SWDs will receive instruction in the standard curriculum and will follow a standard diploma pathway towards graduation.  IDEA is founded on principles that all SWDS are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the LRE and the IEP documents the processes of addressing the needs of the students in accordance with all the requirements of this federal law. We must also remember that the “I” in “IEP” stands for “Individual” and stop expecting SWDs to deliver the same results at the same pace and in the same ways that their non-disabled peers do. Their ways and rate of learning may be somewhat different, but “different” doesn’t mean “less.” The word “individual” should also apply to the ways in which they are instructed and provided evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how their progress is measured. It’s not just about standardized test results but also about measuring against their own individual histories and not solely compared to the history of other student’s records. SWDs often need more time to master concepts and specialized approaches that are proven to be effective based on their instructional needs, measured performance, and recognized disability. If the same evidence-based practice or intervention is being delivered to a SWD that all other students are also receiving and is not working, then it’s time to try another one that is more individualized and addresses the presenting needs of the student while considering the context of his or her disability.

So what could a “shift” towards RDA look like in both general education and special education classroom settings in the future?

  1. Standards-based IEPs are written to provide access to instruction and research-based interventions for SWDs by teachers who can align IEP goals and Common Core Standards confidently while implementing and monitoring them with fidelity.
  2. Early intervention is provided to struggling learners with a greater focus on language and literacy first with the goal of all students reading by 3rd grade.
  3. Instruction in the content areas is provided to SWDs who are following a standard curriculum pathway in the general education setting first.
  4. The neediest SWDs with deficits in language and literacy are scheduled first for interventions on the master schedule in general or special education classroom settings in accordance with the IEP.
  5. Evidence-based practices and interventions are selected and matched to address the individualized needs of SWDs.
  6. Flexible scheduling is implemented by grouping clusters of SWDs in the general education classrooms based on similar instructional needs to effectively provide specially designed instruction and implementing evidence-based practices and interventions with co-teaching or in-class supports by a special education teacher.
  7. Personnel resources are efficiently scheduled to provide co-teaching or in-class supports to SWDs by special education teachers in general education classroom settings.
  8. Paraeducators are shared to assist multiple SWDs and provide individual or small group instruction under the direction of the teacher and help scaffold access to instruction in the common core standards.
  9. Processes that monitor the fidelity of implementation of accommodations, specially designed instruction, evidenced-based practices, and interventions are clearly delineated in the IEPs of SWDs.
  10. Universal design for learning, accommodations, and assistive technology are used and clearly evident in both general education and special education classroom settings to address the individual needs of SWDs.
  11. Facilitated classroom environments that incorporate specially designed instruction delivered in group rotations with stations that provide multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. direct instruction, cooperative learning, individual seat work, virtual/online/computer-based learning, project-based) are evident during classroom observations.
  12. Instruction is extended beyond the classroom for SWDs using content that is accessible through multiple devices and can be used at home or in the community.
  13. Multiple diploma pathways are available that will provide options for SWDs to progress towards college career readiness, employment, and successful post-school graduation outcomes.
  14. Early warning systems will be in place to track SWDs who are at risk or not on track for graduation so that appropriate strategies can be implemented proactively.

In my upcoming webinar, How Can Special Education Regain Its “Specially Designed Instruction” Groove in the ERA of Results Driven Accountability (RDA)?, we will explore this topic further in order to gain a better perspective of what this “shift” towards RDA will look like in classroom settings serving SWDs in the future. Practical information will be provided that will assist practitioners, schools and districts to implement systems change so that strategies are aligned for success in this “shift” in accountability.

Further Reading:

New Accountability Framework Raises the Bar for State Special Education Programs

Florida Inclusion Network Website Resources

Inclusive Education Research & Practice (PDF)

Related reading:

Assessing ELLs for Special Education: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

 

 

Congratulations to the 2014 Champions of Literacy!

Monday, September 29, 2014 - 18:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Scientific Learning is pleased to announce a select group of educators nominated for this year’s Champions of Literacy award. We recognize these educators, selected from across the U.S., for their commitment on behalf of students, parents, and colleagues.

In honor of their hard work and dedication, every Champion will receive complimentary registration to our 2014 National Circle of Learning Conference, November 6th and 7th in Dallas, TX.

We are also holding an online contest to elect the first King or Queen of Literacy. The Champion who receives the most votes will win an all-expense paid trip to the conference. Vote now and help us crown our King or Queen!

Lenny Armato, Special Education Supervisor, St. Mary Parish, Centerville, LA

Mr. Armato is an inspiring manager of the Scientific Learning products for St. Mary Parish. He has selected and retained the best Fast ForWord coaches available, rolled out iPad use for the Fast ForWord program, and launched new Reading Assistant implementations at the high school level for ACT score improvement.

 

Kathy Brown, Reading Coach, Highland View Elementary, Bristol, VA

Ms. Brown has been a tireless leader for the last 10 years, helping to improve state test scores with students receiving special education services. She is a strong advocate for her students' growth and has a steadfast vision for how Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant helps them. 

 

Shannon Gilfeather, Reading Teacher, Salk Middle School, Spokane, WA

Ms. Gilfeather shows an exceptional level of creativity, care, excitement, and enthusiasm for her students’ success, creating a fun and interactive Fast ForWord lab in the classroom that keeps the kids fully engaged. She treats them to contests that reward them for their hard work. Her students love her and appreciate all she does for them.

 

Teresa Gross, Reading Director/Coordinator, Palmyra Macedon Middle School, Palmyra, NY

Ms. Gross is incredibly dedicated to her students, and a pleasure to work with. She has been a huge advocate of the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs within her district, ensuring that the Superintendent is involved and that the district participates in Scientific Learning research studies.

 

Cassandra Juba, Fast ForWord Coach, South River School District, South River, NJ

Ms. Juba is the coach that runs the Fast ForWord Lab at South River Elementary. She is an expert in the program and a role model for helping students succeed. One effective strategy she uses is her response to intervention flags. When Ms. Juba sees a flag, she scans her reports to see when that student will work on that exercise again and will sit with the student at the next session and “Y-jack in” to see how she can help.

 

Laura Lundy, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Medford Area Public School District, Medford, WI

Ms. Lundy is proof that positive leadership at the district level can impact each and every student. She is especially passionate about reading, and has shared her enthusiasm for Fast ForWord with the building principals in her public school district, the private schools they serve, and even their virtual academy. Both of her daughters have also used the Fast ForWord program.

 

Linda Mahoney, Reading Specialist, Springfield School District, Springfield, PA

Ms. Mahoney has been part of her district’s Fast ForWord implementation for more than five years. She started out working with about 50 middle school students and soon found herself taking a leadership role in ensuring that all teachers were following the same approach to implementation to ensure student success. She has made participation a priority for all students who fall below grade level and are considered ‘at risk’ and has consistently used data to show significant growth among students using the program. Over the last couple of years, Ms. Mahoney has turned her attention to streamlining the transition for Fast ForWord students moving from elementary school into middle school. Her passion for her students and her dedication to the program have gained her the position of Fast ForWord Implementation Coach for the district, where she is committed to ensuring that her students get the maximum benefit possible from the program.

 

Nancy McGee, Language Arts Coordinator, Grand Prairie ISD, Grand Prairie, TX

Ms. McGee is a dynamic leader who cares very much about the success of her students. She oversees the Fast ForWord implementation at 24 schools in Grand Prairie ISD. She is diligent about monitoring data and is constantly working to improve her knowledge of the programs to ensure the most successful implementation possible at every school. Ms. McGee works with students at all grade levels and is constantly searching out innovative ways to reach and motivate every student. She visits all the schools regularly, asking, "What can I do better?" She is a true advocate for the principals, teachers, and students in her district.

 

Carole Meyer, Principal, Salk Middle School, Spokane, WA

Ms. Meyer’s determination to bring Fast ForWord to her school is impressive. She pursued the program for more than five years before she was finally given the green light to pilot it. She hired a new teacher (Shannon Gilfeather – also a nominee) to head up the program and did whatever was needed to ensure the program’s success. Ms. Meyer has hosted other principals, her district’s new SPED Director, and customers from around the region, providing them with a firsthand look at her school’s lab and success. She and Ms. Gilfeather are constantly promoting Fast ForWord across their district and beyond.

 

Linda Nash, Supervisor Federal Programs/Grants, Putnam County School System, Cookeville, TN

Dr. Nash is passionately dedicated to expanding the use of the Fast ForWord program in her community, district, and neighboring schools. She is always happy to talk with educators from other schools to answer their questions. She is a positive leader who clearly loves helping students succeed. 

 

Bobby Simma, Principal, Perkins-Tyron Elementary School, Perkins, OK

Mr. Simma rolled out his school’s Fast ForWord implementation in 2013 with just 10 licenses, and has since gathered enough funding to increase that number to 60. He and his staff share a strong belief in the Fast ForWord program and work hard to ensure their students are realizing their maximum potential. Mr. Simma’s students have seen significant gains, with a majority of those tested demonstrating an average one-year, four-month reading level gain in just 63 total days of product use. Mr. Simma represents dedication to student achievement and his results demonstrate his commitment.

 

Pam Smith, Principal, Highland View Elementary, Bristol, VA

Ms. Smith has carried the torch for engaging students in reading to learn as well as learning to read. As middle school AP, she oversaw great success with some real strugglers. After one year, she led the charge in reducing the rate of retention by 10% across the board.

 

Congratulations to all!

 

Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 21:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

When a student struggles to learn to read, we often look to social or economic factors, access to books, or the home environment for an explanation. While each of these factors can play a part, treatable brain differences are often part of the equation.

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Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

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Neuroscience-based interventions like the Fast ForWord program create specialized learning conditions that can rapidly improve reading and cognitive skills in struggling readers. These interventions work because the brain can actually reorganize itself, changing its internal wiring in response to learning. This ability does not “turn off” after infancy as once thought, but remains active throughout our lifetime.

Many struggling readers who have fallen behind or thought it was “too late” have overcome their reading difficulties. The journey to proficiency starts inside the “plastic” brain.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

The Neuroplasticity Revolution With Dr. Norman Doidge

 

10 Questions to Ask Your Child’s Teacher This Year (Don’t Forget Cognitive Skills!)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 17:15
  • Norene Wiesen

It’s back to school…again! Your child is getting to know a new teacher and facing a host of new expectations. How can you be sure that you are prepared to help your child navigate the school year and get the most out of every day at school? It helps if you know what questions to ask. Here’s a list you can use as a starting point for talking with your child’s teacher.

Parent Night Questions

Many teachers provide a Parent Night handout or a website with detailed information about classroom expectations or procedures. See what your child’s teacher has prepared for you, and if it doesn’t answer the following questions, be sure to ask them yourself.

  1. Student Feedback & Support - How do you like to provide feedback to students? Are there any interventions to help children who need a little extra attention? When are you available if my child needs extra help?
  2. Home Support - How can I support you, as a parent, so that my child gets the most out of this school year?

Conference (or “As-Needed”) Questions

  1. Reading – When working in a small group with my student in reading, what is an area of strength or weakness that you notice? How is my child’s decoding? Fluency? Comprehension? Vocabulary?
  2. Writing – What are my child’s specific strengths and weaknesses in writing?
  3. Math - What are my child’s specific strengths and weaknesses in math?
  4. Cognitive Skills – How would you say my child is doing, as compared to peers, in these areas:
    1. Memory: How well does my child learn and remember new information? Does he or she require more or less support than peers? How easily is information retained?
    2. Attention: How is my child’s attention during different types of activities? One-on-one? Small group? Whole class?
    3. Processing: How well is my child able to “make connections” as compared to peers? In reading: decoding new words, making educated guesses about the meaning of a new word, using background knowledge, or predicting and inferring. In math: during computation (is it labored or slow?) or retrieval of simple number facts. In writing: able to generate coherent ideas without a lot of support and begin to put them into words (orally or on paper, depending on grade).
    4. Sequencing: How well is my child able to organize his thoughts for writing or explain his understanding of a new concept?
  5. Expression of Thoughts & Language Skills – How often do students have an opportunity to share their thoughts with the class (i.e., “think out loud”)? What do you notice when my child participates (or not)?
  6. Motivation – What does my child find motivating? What can I do to support this?
  7. Social Skills – How does my child do without direct supervision? How does my child handle conflict with other students? What one thing could my child do to improve his or her social skills?
  8. State Testing & Advancement – Do you have any concerns about my child’s ability to prepare for and take the state tests? Or his or her advancement to the next grade?

If you have concerns about your child’s cognitive skills or academic performance, don’t wait until conference day to let the teacher know. Use the teacher’s preferred method of communication to request a special meeting. For any area where extra help might be needed, or even if your child has reached proficiency, be sure to ask, “What can I do to support my child at home?” And then really do it. That school-home connection can make a huge difference in student achievement. Here’s to a great school year!

Related reading:

The Parent Trap: Getting Your Struggling Learner to Do Homework Independently

Instilling a Love of Reading: What Every Teacher and Parent Should Know

 

Assessing ELLs for Special Education: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 20:15
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Assessing ELLs for special educationWhen educating English language learners who seem to be struggling, how do you know when it’s time to think about a special education referral? How can you be sure you are assessing ELLs fairly, not mixing up linguistic and cultural diversity with cognitive ability and intellectual functioning? Clearly, it’s not easy – as evidenced by the widespread overrepresentation of ELLs in special education.

Consider this: not long ago, Latino ELLs in San Diego USD were 70% more likely to receive a special education referral than Latino learners who were not English learners. ELLs were also identified for special education earlier, on average, than non-ELLs and tended to wind up in more restrictive settings.

But that was before districtwide reforms instituted a “pre-referral process” – essentially a well-implemented RTI program – to exhaust other possibilities before considering special education referral for English learners. Avoiding common pitfalls can help schools and districts achieve a more fair and accurate identification of ELLs with special needs:

  1. Overlooking the “silent phase” of language acquisition.

When students acquire a new language, they typically go through a silent period while learning basic vocabulary and syntax rules. Behaviors like listening, pointing, choosing, and matching – in the absence of English speaking – may signal that a learner is still getting comfortable with language foundations.

The silent period tends to decrease with age, lasting for weeks to months in older learners and for as much as a year or more in preschool age students. Understanding typical timeframes for the silent phase of language acquisition may help educators to better understand the trajectory students follow as they progress in a new language and have a stronger sense how long might be too long, suggesting the possibility of additional learning challenges.     

  1. Discounting extrinsic factors.

Before assessing a student for special education, educators need to consider other factors that might be at play. Is the student receiving enough parental support? Are there gaps in attendance, and why? Are there family issues such as health problems or a history of frequent moves? Historically, has the student had access to effective instruction?

Has the student received quality research-based interventions, and how well has he responded? Taking a look at progress monitoring data should yield important insights that can result in a special education referral or in providing additional language support for the student.

Experts recommend that educators create a 360-degree view of factors affecting students by collecting medical and developmental histories and conducting classroom observations in addition to interviewing parents, teachers, and the student.

  1. Dropping the ball on general education interventions.

San Diego USD made significant progress in fair and accurate identification by escalating general education interventions according to a step-by-step process throughout the district. By exhausting intervention options first, the district prevented premature referrals.

Implementing a districtwide procedure for carefully screening students and delivering instructional and behavioral interventions can be part of every district’s RTI process.

  1. Not assessing students in their primary language.

Imagine taking a test that evaluates your ability and lacking proficiency in the testing language. It’s a scary thought. How does the evaluator distinguish your degree of knowledge and competence from your ability to understand and respond to the questions being asked? IDEA 2004 recognizes the challenge and calls for special education assessments to be conducted in a student’s primary language.

Experts agree that testing in a student’s first language is an important part of the assessment process, but not everyone agrees that it is sufficient. For one thing, there may not always be appropriate testing instruments available (e.g., recommended assessments might include Communication, Cognitive, Academic, Social-Emotional Behavior, and Adaptive Functioning). In addition, some experts argue that cultural factors play a greater role than assessment language in the misidentification of students for special education.

  1. Ignoring cultural differences.

When working with students from unfamiliar cultures, it can be hard to recognize the cultural factors that can influence a student’s approach to education. Do gender roles play a part in a student’s participation or investment in her education, or affect the degree of parental support for the student? Does the student “go with the flow” instead of raising his hand when he needs help because he comes from a culture that puts the group before the individual? Is there a cultural perception of time as more open and flexible that might be a barrier to attendance or meeting assignment deadlines? When cultural differences are ignored, academic performance may be mismeasured as a result.

Best Practices

Experts recommend a broad approach to assessing students for special education, including collecting information from a wide range of sources so the result of the assessment team’s integration and interpretation can be as unbiased as possible. Language background counts. Cultural background counts. Response to intervention counts. Include them all.

Educators should also be aware that over-representation is not the only risk to ELLs. Some studies indicate that under-representation can also be an issue – typically in areas with higher proportions of ELLs. Being aware of the patterns in their schools can help teachers and assessment teams avoid similar pitfalls. Are English learners represented in special education at about the same rate as other populations? If the proportion of ELLs is higher or lower, everyone involved in the assessment and referral process can be advised to stay alert to possible oversights. Implementing nondiscriminatory evaluation of academic progress by ELLs can go a long way toward solving both problems.

For further reading:

Culturally Competent Assessment of English Language Learners for Special Education Services

The ELL Companion to Reducing Bias in Special Education Evaluation

Cultural Factors That Influence Learning for ELL Students

 

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 17:30
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

For most of the 40-plus years that the term “dyslexia” has been in existence, and although the diagnosis has long been considered a “learning disability,” it has been based on comparisons with average readers. Simply put, a child has been diagnosed with “dyslexia” if he or she is shown to have an IQ in the “normal” range but falls at or below the 10th percentile on standardized tests of reading for a specific age group. The cut-off has been arbitrary, often varying considerably from one setting to another. As a result, a child who falls at the 12th percentile might be considered a poor reader while a child falling at the 10th percentile would be diagnosed with dyslexia.

The technical term for that diagnostic approach is called “discrepancy criteria.” Stanislas Dehaene, in his book Reading in the Brain, succinctly explains that the diagnosis of dyslexia has thus depended “on the setting of an arbitrary criterion for ‘normality’ … [which] might lead to the erroneous conclusion that dyslexia is a purely social construction.”

Certainly, for those parents among us who have a child diagnosed with dyslexia, it is obvious quite early in the educational process that our bright child is not just behind in reading but dumbfounded by the written word. A child with dyslexia seems to struggle at every turn.

Psychologists, neurologists, and special educators have understood that as well and since the 1970s have assumed dyslexia has a neurological basis. In fact, the term “dyslexia” actually stems from the Greek alexia, which literally means “loss of the word” and was the diagnostic term used when adults lost the ability to read after suffering a brain injury. Dyslexia was a term adopted to confer a lesser (though still neurologically based) form of reading impairment seen in children. However, determining the neurological basis has been elusive until relatively recently.

The Search for a Neurological Basis

In the early attempts at researching the underlying causes of dyslexia in the 1970s there were no technological medical procedures available to study brain processes that might be involved in reading normally or abnormally. As a result, although the term implied that there was a neurological cause, the exact nature of the brain differences in children with dyslexia could not be determined.

Some of the early researchers believed that the cause was visual-spatial. Samuel Orton had originally thought that reading disorders in children were similar to “word blindness” in adults, caused not by a specific brain injury, but representing a maturational disorder based on delayed cerebral development of left hemisphere dominance. However, his theory could not be tested empirically and he and others became more aware over time that many children with reading problems seemed to have specific problems with other non-visual aspects of reading – specifically, sounding out of words.

Because of the inability to determine the neurological cause(s) of dyslexia, in some educational circles especially, it became synonymous with "developmental reading disorder" and the cause (neurological or perhaps otherwise) was deemed not important. Rather, the goal was to develop and test interventions and measure their outcomes without an effort to relate the interventions to underlying causation.

The problem with that approach, from a scientific standpoint, is that it is symptom based. Rather than getting at the root of the problem or distinguishing one child’s problem from another’s, the non-causative approach assumes that the solution to dyslexia depends on a specific teaching method. An analogy in medical science would be trying to treat all skin rashes with calamine lotion – it might make a person feel better no matter the cause, but it would be wholly inadequate for prevention of a virus like measles or treatment of a bacterial rash like impetigo.

Fortunately, just as medical science advanced our understanding of viral and bacterial causes of skin infections to allow for effective medical treatment, advances in neuroscience, buttressed by neuroimaging and brain electrophysiological technology starting in the late 1990s, have led to an emerging consensus about the causes of dyslexia and the most effective methods for remediating those causes. This neuroscience research has been accumulating from a variety of disciplines and is beginning to reveal a few underlying factors in brain development that can cause reading to be problematic. And the best news is that all of those processes are amenable to carefully designed training approaches.

What Happens in the Dyslexic Brain – and Why

In the early to mid-2000s, much of the available research on the underlying basis of dyslexia pointed to a primary problem with the phonological processing of speech sounds. The early research by Shaywitz (2003), Ramus (2003), and Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon (2004) – summarized in Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain – identified problems with phonological awareness, the ability to segment words into their component speech sound components.

More resent research has delineated why that problem exists. For example, in 2012, Boets et al., using neuroimaging technology, found that in adults with dyslexia the brain connections between areas that represent speech sounds and a part of the left frontal lobe that is important for higher level processing of speech sounds is significantly hampered. In other words, they found that dyslexia is a problem accessing intact representations of speech sounds. Other recent neurophysiological research has indicated that disrupted timing of auditory processing, particularly in the range relevant to speech sounds, is a core deficit in dyslexia.[1]

Retraining the Dyslexic Brain

These consistent findings have led to an emerging consensus, well summarized by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2012: namely that dyslexia is primarily an auditory disorder that arises from an inability to respond to speech sounds in a consistent manner. This underlying problem with perception of speech sounds, in turn, causes problems relating a speech sound to the written letter. Therefore, reading interventions for dyslexia should be most effective if they combine auditory perceptual training of speech sounds with exercises that require relating speech sounds to the written letter. And, in fact, neuroscience research bears that out.

The Fast ForWord Language and Reading interventions contain neuroscience-based exercises. They have been empirically tested in independent neuroscience laboratories and shown to have a rapid and significant impact on children and adults with dyslexia. The exercises have been shown to have a positive effect on the neurological processes that support reading and language as well.[2]

Our understanding of dyslexia has come very far in the past 40 years, with neurophysiological models developed in just the past five years explaining why letter-sound correspondence is so difficult for these children. Fortunately, treatment options have kept pace with the research, and children with dyslexia today have the potential to train their brains to overcome the learning difficulties that earlier generations were destined to carry with them for a lifetime.

References

Boets, B., Op de Beeck, H.P., Vandermosten, M., Scott, S.K., Gillebert, C.R., Mantini, D., Ghesquière, P.  (2013). Intact but less accessible phonetic representations in adults with dyslexia, Science, 342, 1251-1254. doi: 10.1126/science.1244333

Burns, M.S. (2012). Application of Neuroscience to Remediation of Auditory Processing, Phonological, Language and Reading Disorders: The Fast ForWord® and BrainPro Programs. In D. Geffner & D. Swain (Eds.), Auditory processing disorders: Assessment, management and treatment (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Plural Publications.

Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain: The science and evolution of a human invention. New York, NY: Viking Press.

Gabrielli, J. (2009). Dyslexia: A new synergy between education and cognitive neuroscience. Science, 325, 280-283. doi: 10.1126/science.1171999

Hornickel, J. & Kraus, N. (2013), Unstable representation of sound: A biological marker of dyslexia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 3500 –3504. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4205-12.2013

 

[1] See Billet & Bellis (2011), Goswami (2011), and Lehongre, Ramus, Villermet, Schwartz, & Giraud (2011) summarized by Burns (2012).

[2] See Dehaene (2009) and Gabrielli (2009) for excellent summaries of the research on the Fast ForWord interventions for dyslexia.

Related reading:

Auditory Processing Skills and Reading Disorders in Children

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

 

 

 

4 Ways to Use iPads in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Use iPads in Classrooms The iPad has made rapid inroads into the K-12 school tech environment – and that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. As we saw in a recent blog post, when students work with iPads at school, the result can be increased student engagement, greater collaboration, and heightened perseverance – all great things for learners. And less “techie” teachers need not fear – students can teach each other what they need to know. Asking for and giving help provides valuable oral language practice and can build learner confidence.

So what are some ways that teachers can use iPads in the classroom, besides having them work on literacy apps during tech time? One great option is to assign projects that require learners to construct their own multimedia presentations using free apps that come pre-installed on the iPad.

Most learners love working on multimedia projects to share with teachers and classmates, and projects like these have a lot to offer. As they actively combine still imagery, video, audio and text to communicate and illustrate concepts or ideas, students are able to:

  • Learn at their own level and speed
  • Practice language skills and synthesize learning
  • Connect academic learning to the bigger picture of life outside the classroom
  • Express themselves more fully

iPad Project Ideas for Students

Getting students creating with the iPad is as easy as knowing what tools are available and imagining how those tools can be used to support classroom learning. Teachers who aren’t sure where to begin can try one of these ideas, easily adaptable to learners of different ages:

  1. Plan a Party with Numbers and Keynote

Learners can have a lot of fun and learn a ton planning a party with the Numbers appParty Planner tool. Working in small groups, they can discuss what kind of party to plan. Younger learners might enjoy planning a Valentine’s Day class party or holiday celebration, while older learners might like to plan an Oscar party or presidential inaugural ball. Students gain practice reading and writing as they decide on food, entertainment and guest lists; create to-do lists with dates, tasks and notes; and research local prices (e.g., how much would it cost to rent a jumpy house for the Valentine’s Day party, or tents for the inaugural ball?). They apply math skills as they work to balance their vision against an assigned budget and real-life costs. Learners can create spreadsheets and generate interactive charts with Numbers, then insert the charts into Keynoteto present to the class along with sample menus, photos of food, music samples, videos animations and more.

  1. Create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) with iMovie

Students begin by studying the elements of a PSA before creating their own. Learners can watch a variety of examples on the SchoolTubeand AdCouncilwebsites and then work individually or in groups to select and research a topic, decide on a message, write the script, select a location for the video shoot, and record and edit the PSA. SchoolTube is also a great place for students and teachers to upload student work to share with the world!

  1. Create Digital Books with iBooks Author

Authoring an ebook is fun for learners and can feel like a significant achievement. With the help of the iBooks Author app, learners can create ebooks with photos, audio, video, web content (e.g., Twitter or blog feeds), and fully formatted slideshow presentations with animations. Learners can use ebooks to deepen their learning about topics covered in previous assignments, offer study advice to other students, or to explore an area of personal interest. Once created, the ebooks can be distributed via the iBook app available in the Apple App Store.

  1. Student Stories with iMovie or Garageband

Audio and video are powerful mediums for storytelling. Students can record a video narrative of their family history or their own personal history, or pick a family member to interview. Photos from the family album can be scanned and sprinkled in with the video footage in iMovieto make the past more real and provide a multigenerational perspective. Or, students can also record audio-only versions of family stories using Garagebandfor insertion into a Keynote presentation or ebook.

Setting the Stage

No matter how learners use iPads in school, it’s important to establish and enforce routines for use right out of the gate. Students need to understand check-out and check-in procedures, how to handle and maintain the iPad, whether they may take their assigned iPad out of the classroom, and what counts as appropriate use (e.g., are learners allowed to change settings, download apps, visit social media sites, IM their friends, etc.?). Using the iPad in a structured way benefits both teacher and learner by ensuring that classroom goals and learning needs are met.

As important as structure is, it shouldn’t take the fun out of using the iPad to learn. Fun is part of its appeal. Teachers should let the iPad be different and special, making use of it for activities that can’t be done on paper. Use it for all of the bells and whistles that draw students to it in the first place. Encourage learners to use the camera, sound, video, and internet – and let the learning come to life.

Related reading:

Using Twitter in School: 4 Ways Students and Teachers Can Connect With the World

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

 

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