Sunday, December 30, 2018

I Am Grateful For.....

As the 2018 year ends, here is a list of some of the school programs I am grateful for in my work  with students with learning disabilities:

1- The library - I have used this especially as a resource for finding "just right" books for my students.  The summer reading incentives keep them reading.  And sometimes its a quiet place to work with students when other spaces are unavailable.  Reading aloud in a corner is never a problem. 

2- Ed Tech Support - To troubleshoot needed computer issues and programs, to assist in finding new programs for students, and to brainstorm how tech can make my instruction easier.  In working with other adults, ed tech support has helped me with ways to communicate and collaborate on shared reports.  For myself, this support has helped me to be more organized.  I have so much more to learn.

3- Social Emotional programs - I wish I could be all to my students, and help them with all their needs that affect literacy, but I cannot. I am grateful that these programs help my students with important social understanding and communication skills.

4- STEM - Many of the students I help love scientific inquiry, but do not always have access to advanced thinking skills because their literacy skills interfere.  STEM has helped them develop confidence to think like a scientist.

5- Curriculum development  - In curriculum planning, I am grateful that all kinds of learners are taken into account. Reading is just one mode of learning, and I am glad that curriculum development includes all modes of learning.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dyslexia - Random Thoughts

Here are a few snippets that have come up recently in my consults regarding dyslexia:

1- Dyslexia is on a spectrum - you can be mildly, moderately, or severely dyslexic

2- Phonological/phonemic awareness deficits are a part of this condition

3- Accurate speech/articulation skills are important to imprint phonological awareness skills

4-I see many students who do not have a systematic sequence for forming printed letters

5- Syllable segmentation is an important skill in decoding science and social studies texts

6- Packaged reading programs are important, but we also need to step back from them to make sure our students can generalize to the reading demanded of them in their curriculum

7- #6 also helps students build their reading confidence.

8- As literacy experts, we all have our favorite programs.  That does not mean we can put other programs down, if they are solidly research-based.

9- Teaching the decoding and also meaning of prefixes, suffixes, and roots will expand a student's vocabulary as well as reading ability.

10- Spelling (encoding) should be taught in conjunction with decoding lessons.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Phonemic Awareness 101

Phonemic Awareness is awareness of small units of sound, such as the /p/ in the word "pig." The individual sound is called a "phoneme." This skill is addressed without print, and is a precursor - actually a prerequisite - for decoding. This should be addressed in every first grade classroom.  Here is a shortcut guide to what activities to look for:
- rhyming
- alliteration - does the student enjoy picture books and word plays that repeat the same first sound?
- segmenting - breaking a word into individual sounds c-a-t "cat"
- blending - giving the student the sounds (c-a-t) can they come up with the word?
- phoneme isolation - when given a word orally, can the student identify the first, last, middle sounds?
- phoneme deletion - asking the student to take one sound away: for example, say "cat" - now say it without the /k/ sound ("at").

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Giving Directions

Giving clear, simple, and repeated directions to students is highly important.  If I have a class of students with very different strengths and weaknesses, it is even more important - and will help all students.  I know many people will read this and say to themselves "well, of course...."  But however simply I  break my directions down,  I realize I can probably break them down even more.

It's easy for me to assume that the students can infer a step - but then I realize I have been exposed to this lesson a whole lot longer than they have! - So they don't have the background to infer what to do next.

I make my directions clear and brief. If there are multiple steps, writing them as well as saying them is useful - students can refer back to the directions, thereby increasing their sense of independence and control.  Lately I have seen some veteran teachers asking specific students to repeat the directions in a very effective way.  Done every day with different students, no one feels singled out - its just part of the routine.

For long term assignments in upper grades, I love it when I am helping a student and the assigning teacher has given them a handout with expectations, a  sequenced timeline. You would not believe how often students come to me asking for help on these long term assignments but are unable to clearly explain what they have to do.

I try to put myself in the students shoes.  There are things that I am just learning - such as a new computer procedure - where I really need to have steps written down and everything explained.  Another situation where I see this need in myself is when I am consulting with medical doctors.  In both cases, the experts often talk too fast for me and I can't retain everything.  Fortunately, I can ask them to repeat, ask for clarification, and even ask for written instructions.  Our students don't yet have the self-advocacy skills to do this, and sometimes don't have the opportunities either.  So we - the education expert - must provide this for them.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dyslexia: What to Look For

Here is a nice - short but important - article on signs of dyslexia:  Watch Out for These Red Flags  These "red flags" help alert us to the need for further intervention and possible referral for full diagnostic testing. 
For example, most PK-K students love engaging in nursery rhymes and rhyming games.  A child who does not "get it" and enjoy this may be at risk. 
At the elementary level, most people think that letter reversals or letters out of sequence in spelling may be a sign.  Although this is true,  think of it as a sound awareness issue - what is the sound difference between the /b/ and /d/ sounds, and what is the order of these sounds?
In middle school, is the student aware of common prefixes and suffixes, and can they chunk them to figure out unfamiliar words in science and social studies?
And don't forget that - even at the high school level -we still have to be on the alert to signs that may point to dyslexia.  A review of a student's history may point to a reading disability even though it has not been diagnosed earlier. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Accommodations for Students with Dyslexia

I am always on the lookout for lists of classroom accommodations - this one from is helpful At a Glance: Classroom Accommodations for Dyslexia
I especially like "Provide sentence starters that show how to begin a written response." Many of my students just don't know how to begin a written response, or how to organize even a short response. However, they actually know the material.  It can be frustrating for them. In addition, they often cannot articulate that they just don't know how to start.  For challenging responses, I will provide a sentence starter for the beginning, middle, and end of the response.  This is good classroom modeling - not enabling.  The idea is to gradually teach the student to develop the independence to formulate the sentences on their own. The next accommodation on the list, "Show examples of work that is correct to serve as a model" will help you teach that independence.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Slow and Labored Reading

Once my students have jumped that first hurdle of decoding skills, they often have a second hurdle of reading fluently.  This can be a second challenge for them - as high as the first.  This linked article is a good overview of causes.  The list of solutions is helpful.  I would also add shared reading to model and instruct inflection, punctuation, and the rhythm of our language. Students also need to a lot of practice reading to carryover the phonemic awareness, phonetics, and decoding rules they have learned in isolation. Slow Reading: Causes and Solutions

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Using Picture Books to Teach Social Emotional Skills

I love teaching social skills using picture books - because at the same time, you are also addressing language development.  Story grammar and social skills go hand in hand when you use an engaging picture book story (which, by the way, can be used with older students too - it just has to be presented in an age appropriate way).  I especially like books that address particular feelings.  Students who use these books are then more familiar with the concept of that feeling the next time it is encountered in a story grammar or ELA lesson.  Click on the link here for a good current list of books to use from We Are Teachers:   50 Must-Have Picture Books to Teach Social Emotional Skills

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Thoughts on Assistive Technology

As with most things in life, there are two extremes and then a middle "grey" area. I don't know anyone who is totally against using assistive technology with students, but there are those who are more reluctant. 

Assistive technology refers to the use of computer aids in reading and writing.  Here is a good overview from Lexercise:  Assistive Technology and Dyslexia

Those who are more reluctant to use this technology often voice the fear that students will not learn to read or write efficiently as they will come to depend on devices. 

My thought is that all student who come to me CAN learn to read and write efficiently and independently.  Assistive technology will assist them as they go though the process, but does not replace good reading / writing intervention.

Here is an example of how to balance and use assistive technology:  A student gets a long term research assignment on wolves.  Within reading intervention, we find a book on wolves that is at the appropriate instructional level.  We read this book slowly, reviewing and practicing strategies for decoding and comprehension.  In the meantime, the student's class is going through reading material at a much faster pace.  While the student is in the classroom, a text-to-speech reader is provided.  The student is a part of the classroom pace and content, and is also seeing the use and relevance of reading intervention. 

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Science of Hearing

This is a great animated Ted Talk - suitable for kids.  As a speech language pathologist, I minored in hearing science.  It is intricately connected with speech and language - and is important in learning.  I like to educate students with phonological deficits on the physiology of hearing.  I can then explain to them that their hearing is fine - but there is a "glitch" in the pathways from the ear to the brain.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Dyslexia and Anxiety

It's not uncommon for a student with dyslexia to experience anxiety.  My students often talk with me about it - but don't always connect it with the struggles they encounter with their learning difficulties.
Dyslexia and Anxiety: What You Need to Know

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Pygmalion Effect

Raising our expectations can raise our students' achievements.  This doesn't mean telling them to "work harder" - In my case, it means expecting that with the right instruction they will be great students who will love reading and learning.