5 Tips For Success from Your Fellow Educators

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

NCOL 2014On November 6 and 7, in Dallas, TX, customers from across the country – and even China – came together to share and learn from others the best tips for success with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant. Here are 5 tips you can learn from them!

  1. Try a new way to motivate your students: “I got great ideas about motivating my students  - I didn’t know about the ‘beat the teacher’ intervention and am really excited to start using it with my students.”  Download the Beat the Teacher intervention in SciLEARNU.
  2. Include speech-language pathologists in your communications: “I realized I should be sharing a lot more information not only with our special ed teachers, but also with our speech language pathologists. I’m going to start including them in my district-wide communications.”
  3. Make use of all progress reports: “Now I know which reports to ask for from coaches to show results with students – I would ask and not really get what I was looking for. Now I know about all the reports available and I’ll start asking for more detail so we can make our RTI program stronger.”
  4. Use the products at home and after school: “I learned how so many other schools and districts are using the products at home, before and after school. The flexibility will make a real difference for reaching more students at my school.”
  5. Choose the right coach – it makes ALL the difference.  “I have a new understanding of the power and value of having the right coaches working directly with students. I am going to get more involved in choosing coaches from here on out.”

And beyond all that was learned, here’s what else people had to say:

“This is the best conference that you all have had. I really loved this year’s keynote speakers, the Murray County educators. I learned a lot from their session and from talking with them during breaktime.”

“It was great to connect with others who are having the same challenges as I am having – I got some great tips on how to gain support from parents and other teachers.“

“The breakouts were great – they allowed us to ask questions and were more collaborative than if everyone were in the same sessions at the same time. Helped me to learn more.”

“This has been great!”

We loved seeing you all there and came back with some great suggestions for ways we can help you more. One big takeaway? You need a video that helps tell the powerful Fast ForWord/Reading Assistant story to your parents, teachers and students!   Keep your eyes on your inbox in early 2015; we’ll be delivering just what you need to help share these powerful tools.

Related reading:

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

Congratulations to the 2014 Champions of Literacy!

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 17:15
  • Joanne Gouaux

Debunking anecdotes about learning disabilities"If you read to them, they will read." That statement sums up what I believed when my first child began babbling and pointing to objects in his favorite board books. Blissfully optimistic, I eagerly began reading to my child as soon as he could keep his eyes open long enough to stare at the pages of a book, long before he began speaking in sentences. That was, of course, prior to kindergarten, when the reality of learning to read gallantly collided with my pie-in-the-sky perspective of what many tout as the “magic of reading.”

Kindergarten and the enchantment of learning to read passed by in a flurry. It was not so much magical, as it was dumbfounding. Yes, we were astonished and amazed, but not in the way we had originally anticipated. It seemed the joke was on us.

The summer between kindergarten and first grade was the beginning of what felt like a carnival tour through unfamiliar side shows - weird rooms with strange lighting, specialists with long professional titles, and a seemingly endless line of shenanigans. It was disorienting. Our son led us through a maze of experiences that felt strikingly similar to the hallway of mirrors, with odd distorted reflections of ourselves and confusing passages that led to people who would look at us and smile without the slightest idea how to help. Embarking on a quest to help our child discover his path to reading was mind-bending.

Our oldest child is a laid-back, happy go-lucky character, who beats to his own drum and finds tremendous humor in ambushing the "seriousness" out of the most mundane routines.  He is curious above all else, imaginative, and enjoys playing the part of family clown, in the best sense of the role.  He is a practical joker with a sensitive awareness of others’ emotions. He lives to laugh, and loves to make people smile.  His younger brother is much more serious and socially reserved at the present stage.

Along with two beautiful children, their father and I also share another unique genetic gem - each of us has a parent who is dyslexic. Born a generation apart on opposite sides of the country, both my mother and his father experienced demeaning treatment as a result of their inability to learn to read fluently in their early school years.

Their father and I are the eldest children of parents who firmly believed in the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" and the necessity of hard work without short cuts. We both excelled at individual sports such as swimming and distance running - that is to say that we knew how to buckle down and push through difficulties and discomfort, viewing struggles and setbacks as acceptable, normal parts of life.

I was a "good student" who "worked hard" while my husband was described by his mother and elementary school teachers as "never working to his full potential."  This particular statement speaks more to a guiding fiction commonly held by teachers, and compounded by parental expectations, than it does about a child's true potential. It also sets the stage for a cleansing of misguided anecdotes that fuel the misunderstanding of learning disabilities.

Behind the heavy curtains of any storied carnival there is a place where the magician's tricks and illusions are unveiled. Tricks distract the audience into believing in the illusion that everything is exactly as it appears. Popular anecdotes are like tricks as they provide the illusion of control for well-meaning adults. In truth, most anecdotes are obstacles to early intervention and parental advocacy:

  • Practice makes perfect. Trying hard and failing despite honest attempts over and over again is painful and can be fruitless without the proper interventions and support system.
  • No pain, no gain. Demanding or telling a bright child who is struggling to read to "try harder" is counter-productive and causes intense anxiety and stress which undermines their self-concept, damages trust, and leads to unnecessary suffering by all.
  • Hard work always pays off. Having to work harder and longer than anyone else in your class is exhausting and humiliating, especially when it is not the most efficient way to learn.
  • He/She just needs more time. Children with learning disabilities only become independent learners when their underlying challenges are adequately addressed. Nothing will change without proper identification and support.

Our own child heard demeaning statements from a teacher who referred to him as smart, but lazy, and took away recess and free time as punishment for not completing writing assignments. Other teachers said he just needed more time to grow and suggested another year in the same grade.  Both our son and his grandparents were identified as dyslexic, but only with the help of an advocate.  Advocates are not limited to parents. Advocates can be teachers, family members or anyone with a meaningful connection to a child, or adult.  

Teachers and parents play a unique role in helping to identify learning disabilities. Identification requires a willingness on the part of both parties to objectively seek root causes of a child's difficulty and to work with the child to find strategies and solutions for their success. An analogy that captures the interdependence of this relationship is that of two people in a row boat: the teacher and the child, or the parent and the child. Each one has an oar and they each must row to move the boat forward. If only one person rows, the boat will go around in circles and go nowhere. Telling the child to row harder is equivalent to "try harder" and it only makes the boat go around in circles faster. We must respect the child's effort, celebrate their small successes, and encourage them to keep going while picking up our own oar and getting in a rhythm with the child's natural pace.

Children who receive help with their learning disabilities learn to successfully work smarter, not harder. In the long run, they can develop the ability to advocate for themselves. These are skills that last a lifetime. As parents, we have a unique opportunity to observe our child's struggle, and validate their experience by acknowledging their efforts, allowing them to trust their own instincts as well as trusting us.

If there is one message I wish to share with fellow parents, it is this -- do not allow well-intentioned anecdotes from our past, other parents, teachers, or administrators to belittle or dismiss your child's experiences, or to plant doubt in your own parental abilities. Every child has the right to a free and appropriate public school education. Children need additional help getting access to the right resources, but help exists, even if it is difficult to find at first. Children deserve a fair start in life, and someone to hold their hand through the carnival of unexpected oddities. With any luck, you may even come out of the "fun house" laughing at the ridiculous experience, all the while realizing that neither of you were ever broken in the first place, but rather a little lost, and in need of some light and map to navigate the road less traveled.

Joanne Gouaux discovered Fast ForWord after her 7-year-old son, Carter, was diagnosed with dyslexia. We will share Carter’s academic story in an upcoming post.

Related reading:

Girl Brains and Boy Brains: What Educators and Parents Need to Know
What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain

 

Keep Learning This Summer - Four Must-Watch Webinars for Teachers

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 (All day)
  • Alexis Hourselt

Must-Watch Webinars

School’s out for summer! While it’s a great time to relax and reset before the start of the next school year, it’s also a great time to catch up on professional development.

This summer, check out some of our most popular webinars on topics to help your students.

Comprehension: Going Beyond Fluency

Although fluency is important for reading success, it is not sufficient. Students must also actively work to make meaning out of the texts they read. In this webinar, Dr. Timothy Rasinski shares some of his favorite approaches for helping students engage in texts meaningfully and productively. Watch now.

How the ELL Brain Learns

What does the latest research reveal about the ELL brain? In this session, Dr. David Sousa provides an overview of how the young brain acquires the first language, and then looks at how trying to learn a second language affects brain development. Learn about the challenges that ELL students face when learning both conversational and academic language simultaneously and explore ways to help them. Dr. Sousa also debunks some misconceptions about ELLs and English language acquisition. There are some surprises! Watch now.

Use Brain Science to Make Dramatic Gains in Special Ed

This session features Dr. Martha Burns and special guest Kelly Winnett of Blount County, AL. Dr. Burns shares the latest research on the brain and learning (especially in students who struggle) and Mrs. Winnett shares how the Fast ForWord program has helped her students in special education make tremendous growth (AYP!) - in some cases moving learners from non-readers to readers and from non-verbal to verbal. Watch now.

New Science of Learning for Your Struggling Readers

Dr. Martha Burns discusses the ability of neuroscience to profoundly impact education. Hear how the science of learning has guided the development of breakthrough technologies to enhance underlying memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities in struggling students. Watch now.

Related reading:

Summer Learning Programs, ELLs and the Achievement Gap

How to Create an Effective Summer Learning Program

 

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

iPads and student engagement

When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?

Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1 stand 2 ndgraders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.

Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:

  • iPads benefit learners of different ages, sometimes in different ways
  • iPads have special benefits for learners in the very early grades
  • The iPad makes typing easier for 1 stand 2 ndgraders

More generally, results indicated that:

  • iPads improve student engagement
  • “iPad buddies” collaborate more
  • iPads boost perseverance

The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.

These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.

In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.

References:

Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator.Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom

Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

 

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

Self-regulation strategies

When a student with a learning disability struggles academically, it’s logical to think that the issue is related to the student’s deficit in a specific ability. And while that may be true, there might be more to it. Students with learning disabilities often encounter academic difficulties, at least in part, because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.

One effective tool that students can use to improve academic performance, regardless of ability, is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the process by which students take charge of their own learning, monitoring their behavior and progress and making adjustments along the way to get from idea to execution. It’s the transformation of thought into purposeful action. Here are several strategies teachers can introduce for use in the classroom and at home:

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an important part of self-regulation and can be foundational to other self-regulation strategies. When used effectively, the process of goal setting gives students an opportunity to observe their own behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement. It helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.

Students should set goals for themselves that are specific and challenging, but not too hard. A goal should be quickly attainable so students can experience a sense of accomplishment and move on to tackle the next one. For example, when two students are struggling with homework, each might need to set a different goal to see improvement. The first student might identify time management as a problem and decide to cut out a leisure activity in order to achieve the goal of completing homework before dinnertime each day that week. The second student might realize that he needs to bring his class notes home from school every day so he has the information he needs to achieve his goal of completing all of his homework assignments for the week.

Self-Monitoring

Students self-monitor by asking themselves whether they have engaged in a specific, desired behavior. Building on the goal-setting examples above, our students might ask themselves, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime?Or, Did I put all of my homework assignments in my backpack to take home?Students may find it helpful to self-monitor for behaviors like paying attention, staying on task, following strategy steps, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.

Self-Instruction

Self-instruction is also sometimes called “self-talk” and is part of normal development for many younger children. It can also be quite powerful when used by students of any age to purposefully self-regulate and direct learning behavior. For example, a student who is struggling to comprehend a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.

Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, to reinforce positive behaviors, and more. Teachers can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements. A little advance planning can be helpful here. Coming up with the right phrase in the heat of the moment – when focus has been lost or frustrations are running high – is unlikely to help. But taking a little time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.

Self-Reinforcement

Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be used over shorter and longer timeframes and can tie into goals. Our student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.

Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.

Purposeful Learning

Becoming a better self-regulator isn’t a panacea for academic difficulties, but students with learning disabilities who learn effective self-regulation strategies will have some advantages. They will have tools in their toolbox that they can try out in a variety of situations before seeking outside help, or when help is not immediately available. They will understand how their behavior influences their results. And they will understand that their learning is a purposeful, active process in which they play the leading role.

Best of all, these self-regulation strategies can benefit all learners, not just those who are struggling. Why not give them a try?

References:

Reid, R., Lienemann, T.O., & Hagaman, J.L. (2013). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities,(2nd ed.) .New York: Guilford Press.

Self-Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cehs.unl.edu/csi/self.shtml

Related reading:

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function

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