Sunday, September 16, 2018

Dyslexia is Real!

I don't normally post on subjects that involve my children or things of a personal nature. This time is different. I think it is important to share our journey and to support others that might be going through the same thing. I learned a lot as a parent and as an educator. Today is my son's birthday. With his permission, I share our story!
When my son was in kindergarten, I realized that he was not learning at the same rate as his peers. With a late birthday, I decided that he would repeat kindergarten. After a few months, his teacher met me after school and told me that he was still struggling. He needed more help than she could provide. He was easily distracted, upset that he couldn't do what the other students were doing, tired easily due to the challenges of school, and could not master basic kindergarten skills. School was so difficult for him that evenings were challenging at home. He decided in kindergarten that he did not like school and did not want to go.
I had him tested by a private psychologist. She found that he had a very high IQ and low achievement. She assumed that I was doing everything for him. I look back at that report and realize that she did not fully understand the issues that my child was experiencing. She did not have a background in reading or education. Her attitude added to the "mother guilt" I was already experiencing. The results of her report indicated that my child needed intensive remediation in basic skills. I took this report to the local school district and the only option they offered was a self-contained classroom for children with severe learning disabilities. I visited this classroom and quickly decided that this was not the right option for my child. I researched for many months and found the term "dyslexia". It seemed to describe my child and what we were experiencing. I went to seminars and read books on dyslexia. When I discussed my findings with the school staff, they were not familiar with dyslexia and had nothing to offer my child. Fortunately, there was a tutor nearby that offered the kind of support that my son needed. He went to this tutor every day during the school months for three years. His reading improved and while he never liked school, he was able to graduate. I used a 504 to support him with needed accommodations. Our experience in college was actually very positive. It took him an extra year, but he graduated and has a great job!
All of this happened 25 years ago! Back then, we did not understand dyslexia or how to help these children learn to read. I was trained to use a multisensory approach to reading and worked with a student while my son was being tutored. Over the years, I have helped many children learn to read using this approach. As a parent and an educator, I know that dyslexia is real. I know that some students need a multisensory approach to reading that involves sequential phonics. I know that one-sized reading instruction does not fit all.
Some things have changed in the last 25 years. We know much more about dyslexia. There are many resources online for parents and teachers.  However, there is still much debate on how to teach reading to students with dyslexia. There is much debate on how many children are affected and how dyslexia is determined. We need more professional learning for educators to help them understand what dyslexia is and how to help these struggling readers. We also need to understand foundational reading and how that impacts learning at a very early age.
I have a wide background in education. I taught second and third grade in general education. I have been a K-12 resource teacher and special education coordinator. I understand balanced literacy and the benefits that it provides to our students. I support reading and writing workshops. I also support multisensory instruction for those students that need it. There are no" reading wars" in my world. We provide each student with what they need. Period.
I do want to point out that my son did not become a "reader" until he found a series that interested him. He needed the decoding help that the multisensory instruction provided. But, he had to find a series that created in him a desire to read. He was in the ninth grade. He explains that here! 
I have developed a course to support educators in understanding dyslexia. Teachers are taking this course and are passionate about helping students. States are discussing dyslexia like never before. We want to identify these students early and provide the needed interventions. I hope the next 25 years are brighter for children like my son. With early intervention targeted to their needs, they can progress and develop a love for reading. I encourage you to learn more about dyslexia and how we can help to make all children readers.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Valentine's Freebie 2018

We love to sing this one at my house! Here is a Valentine Freebie of the song!
Grab the poem Here!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Developing Motor Skills

Motor skills involve the function of muscle movements in the body. There are gross motor skills that use the large muscle groups and fine motor skills that use the smaller muscles in the hands, fingers, and forearms.
There are stages of motor development that are important for educators to know. Scholastic has a great article that will help you understand   The Ages & Stages: How Children Develop Motor Skills
By Susan A. Miller Ed.D., Ellen Booth Church, and Carla Poole.
Stage by Stage 0 - 2
Locomotion begins when a baby can turn onto her tummy and pull herself forward with her arms.
By eight months, babies may be grasping objects and pushing forward on their hands and knees.
One-year-olds, learning to stand unsupported, are gaining muscle control in their backs and legs.
Stage by Stage 3 - 4
Preschoolers love high-energy, outdoor activities.
Threes and 4s enjoy working with a variety of media as they exercise their fine motor skills.
Developing eye-hand coordination helps preschoolers fine-tune their creations.
Stage by Stage 5 - 6
Dramatic growth in the development of physical skills often takes place during the kindergarten year.
Five- and 6-year-olds' emerging physical abilities also increase their capacity to learn new cognitive skills. Games become more appealing to kindergartners as their physical skills become more finely tuned.
Puzzles are important for developing the skills.
Did you know that there are links between fine motor skills and achievement? You will find a summary of the research in this article: Fine motor skills and executive function both contribute to kindergarten achievement.
NAEYC provides us with a picture of what children learn in kindergarten. Motor skills are a part of physical development and very important to learning. We need to take time for developing these skills!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sequential Phonics for Struggling Readers

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Professor John Hattie is well known for his meta-meta-analysis of educational research, Visible Learning. In his section on reading comprehension, he writes: “the support from this form of [synthetic] systematic phonics appeared to be strong: that is, the synthesis of separate sounds associated with letters appears to be superior to many other methods.” Hattie concludes: “Overall, phonics instruction is powerful in the process of learning to read – both for reading skills and for reading comprehension” (Hattie, 2009). 
Many students struggle when learning to read. One of my children had a very difficult time learning to read and after testing it was determined that he had a reading disability. About 10% to 17% of the U.S. population has a specific reading disability sometimes called dyslexia, which is the major cause of reading failure in school. It is important to note that reading difficulties exist on a continuum. Some children will do well with a quick intervention and other children, like my son, will need lots of support and explicit instruction in reading.
After researching different ways to help my child, I found that a systematic, multisensory approach to teaching phonics was needed. According to the prominent dyslexia researcher Dr. Sally Shaywitz the key ingredients of an effective early intervention are:

Systematic and direct instruction in:
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Syllabication
  • Spelling
  • Reading sight words
  • Vocabulary and concepts
  • Reading comprehension strategies
  • Fluency Training-Fluency is the ability to read quickly, smoothly, accurately and with good comprehension. 
  • Enriched language experiences-Interactive dialogue involving listening, speaking and storytelling.  
In this blog post, I want to focus on the first three on the list!

Phonemic Awareness
Image result for phonemic awareness continuum chart

In order for children to learn to read print, they must be aware of how the sounds in words work. They must understand that words are made up of individual speech sounds, or phonemes. Phonemic awareness involves segmenting (dividing spoken words into individual sounds), blending (putting these sounds together), and manipulating (adding, deleting, or substituting sounds). Although people often use the terms interchangeably, phonemic awareness is actually a subcategory of phonological awareness, which refers to a more general understanding of the sound structure of language. Here is a guide by the University of Virginia on phonemic awareness instruction.
Phonemic Awareness is so important! Research indicates a strong relationship between early phoneme awareness and later reading success, and it links some reading failure to insufficiently developed phoneme awareness skills. Reading Rockets has more ideas for developing this important skill. The best news about learning phonemic awareness is that it is and should be fun!
Image result for levels of phonemic awareness
Mrs. Judy Araujo has a wonderful website that is just full of great ideas! Don't miss this one!

Phonics involves the relationship between sounds and their spellings. Phonics is the understanding that sounds and print letters are connected; this is the first step towards “reading.” The goal of phonics instruction is to teach students the most common sound-spelling relationships so that they can decode words. This comes naturally to the majority of students. For some students, like my son, this did not come naturally. I learned that students who fall into the moderate to severe spectrum of dyslexia need to learn language in a structured way from the simple to the complex. It needs to be multisensory (students are taught using all pathways to learning: auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic (movement).  This instruction needs to be cumulative where new learning is connected with what is already learned. 
There are different ways of structuring phonics instruction. I teach phonics based on the six types of syllables (closed, open, silent e, vowel teams, r-control and consonant le). This is an approach to teaching phonics that does not rely on a program. The goal is not to just teach phonics/spelling rules. The goal is to teach the student to recognize the patterns of the syllables in words. I have taught many struggling readers over the last 25 years to decode this way. Remember, children with dyslexia are intelligent! They can pick up the patterns when taught in a systematic way. 

A very helpful book that uses this structure of teaching phonics/spelling based on the six syllables is Angling for Words- Basic Angling Practice Book by Dorothy B. Montgomery - Linda M. Gipson. It allows the teacher to take students through phonics in a sequential order. It gives you a word list for all 6 syllable types and has sentences that match the word pattern you want to practice. Be sure to get the teacher's manual that comes with the student book. Corresponding phono-cards are also very helpful. They can be found here. Here is an outline of the progression. In the teacher's manual, there is a blank chart that can be filled in for each child as they move through the syllables. While it was published a long time ago, it is a great intervention tool for the general education classroom. It is simple and straightforward. 

Helpful Ideas and Supports
  • One helpful tidbit is to give each of the vowels a hand motion. This allows the teacher to remind the student what to say without actually saying it. Mine are: short a-an open palm, holding the largest apple that they have ever seen! Short e-rubbing a finger along the "edge" of the table (this positions the mouth and teeth correctly). Short i-itch by scratching my hand. Short o-opening my mouth, saying the short o sound and circling the opening in an o shape. Short u-pointing up. You may have different motions. Just make sure they are quick and subtle. My students will use these on their own to help them remember. It is a great kinesthetic connection to the short vowel sounds.
  • Comprehension is not always an issue for a student with dyslexia. It wasn't for my child. (But, I have seen many children that struggle with both decoding and comprehension.) To foster his comprehension skills, I read books aloud to him, watched movies (asking questions) with him, and bought many picture books and magazines for him to read. This helped him enjoy reading until his decoding skills improved. In the classroom, we foster this idea by approaching literacy in a balanced way. We use read alouds, shared reading, listening to reading, and many literacy activities that support struggling readers.We also explicitly teach comprehension strategies
  • Cursive Handwriting is important! Maria  Montessori’s extensive observations of children revealed the importance of learning through movement and the senses. Research corroborates the vital hand/brain connection, proving that new pathways in the brain develop as children use their hands to explore and interact with the world. I love this quote: "Only three fingers write, but the whole body works.”-Medieval Scribe. Students with dyslexia need the motor memory and tactile experience that comes with handwriting. Cursive letters can all begin on the line (the way I teach) and letter reversals are almost impossible. Maria Montessori believed that writing of single letters could begin with three or four-year-olds. She noted that children try to write before they begin to read.I have seen this countless times with littles! I encourage you to take the time to research this vital link for struggling learners.You can find out more here and here

Multisensory Approach

Example of the lesson plan steps:

1. Visual drill- Students see the letters or groups of letters for the sound(s)/spelling pattern(s) you are working on. They can name the letter(s) and say the correct sound(s) for the letter.

2. Auditory drill- The sound the letters or groups of letters make.  Teacher says sound(s)and student repeats.  Then, the student writes all the ways that sound is spelled.

3. Read words- blend sounds they are learning in words and break the word into sound parts. Elkonin Boxes are great for this!

4. Dictated spelling words- teacher says a word(s), student repeats it and then writes the word down. This is where S.O.S. Spelling comes in handy. 

5. Dictated sentences- student writes complete sentences with that contain the sound taught throughout the lesson.

6. Reading passages/books- The student will read a passage or book that has many words containing the sound presented in step 1. I have used phonetic readers (Primary Phonics) to match my phonics skills to a text. Reading A-Z has decodable readers as well.The goal is to move the child into a variety of books and genres, especially ones that interest them. Here is a resource for finding books matched to levels. 

This lesson plan format can be used in small group or individual reading instruction. It is an excellent way to provide intervention for those students needing this level of support. 

Additional multisensory tools can be used to introduce new letters, phonemes, or practice spelling. Here are a few that students and teachers like:

Plastic Canvas- This is easy to find in craft stores. It comes in different colors. You place the paper over it creating a bumpy writing surface.
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Colored Sand, rice, or beads are great for tracing letters or words. This work better on a tray. The Montessori Sand Tray is very nice. But any tray will do!

Montessori Sand Tray

Scrapbooking Paper comes in a variety of textures. Check out your local craft center and see what is available. The rougher the better.
Colorful Burlap Digital Paper. Scrapbooking Backgrounds, Linen patterns for Commercial Use. Fabric textures. Clipart Instant Download.

I hope that this information has prompted you to discover different ways of supporting students with dyslexia and those who are struggling in other ways. We must be persistent in our efforts to help them be successful.