Click on this link to read the article -- there are many more wonderful innerviews from educational professionals, experts in SWI and others who teach the structure of the English language. https://languageinnerviews.com/interviews/lisa-barnett/
About a year and a half ago I was heavily engrossed in continuing to research the best ways to teach my struggling students to read. I had oodles of programs at my disposal in my Resource Room and had tried them all with only mediocre results, at best. Some of my students had stagnated, their skill development flat-lined. I had also tried Orton-Gillingham methods with small groups only to find the individualized nature of the lessons difficult to reach all the varying skill sets of the group especially when new students joined. It was effective, but took far longer to teach than I kept the students (most OG-style programs recommend 2-3 years of individual tutoring-- a far cry from the Resource Room experience). I had recently discovered and been trained in an evidence based literacy method that promised faster results even in a group setting. I was eager to try it with my students and so I began. However, as excited as I was with how the students were responding to this new phonetic method, there was still a huge gap in the fullness of this approach.
Somewhere along the way, I'd stumbled upon a webcast in which a gentleman, Pete Bowers, was giving a presentation on Structured Word Inquiry (SWI). I was intrigued by the very nature of Inquiry Based instruction since we were, at the time, an IB World School and his method of teaching the structure of words appealed to my small group environment, but I was too immersed in the new training and teaching with my students to put a lot of energy into understanding more about SWI. I did however, identify with the concept that many words were built on a base word and so I taught my phonics-based units along with the concept and fun sing a-long phrase of, "It's all about the BASE, 'bout the BASE, no trouble", to the tune of a very popular song of the times. My students were engaged and intrigued with finding the base of many multi-syllable words--that were obvious to us at the time.
For the next few months, I enjoyed seeing the gains my students were making with the combination of these two types of instruction --phonics and meaning of bases. One major problem with the phonics lessons we kept encountering however, was spelling. While some people are fortunate to have a large memory-fund for spelling, most of my students do not. I didn't realize how much I, myself, had built my own skills on "tricks and memorization" until I learned this new phonetic method of developing literacy skills. I had always "said" words in my head the way they should look-- for instance, if I wrote <sincerely>, I would say, /sin--cer--e--ly/ to remember the letter <e> before the <l y> or I'd say, /ques-t-i-on/--while quickly imagining the last place I'd see that word written in a book or something. Although this method seems quite lengthy--it served me well at a rapid pace--I had a large visual memory. I actually took pride in my ability to remember spelling patterns and mneumonic trickery with words. But, soon after the phonics training, my own spelling began to decline. Because they taught us, in their unique approach, that there are 7-8 ways to write the long vowel sound /e/ and 17 ways to write /sh/, I had too many options in my repitoire to draw from! It became taxing and unreliable. If this was causing me problems, I knew it was not going to help my students enough and I feared it would cause them more harm in the long run. And so the search for a better method of teaching literacy skills continued.
During this same time, I found myself immersed in an epic battle with researchers, educators, professors and scholars from around the country in an online Listserve group who were debating the merits of teaching English as a phonetic vs. a morphophonemic language. I was enjoying the view from several perspectives; and as I sided with the phonics crowd, I was very intrigued by the morphology arguments. It was within this battle that my mountain of knowledge and research about the phonetic system began to crumble.
Outside of that listserve, a very nice lady named, Gail, had begun a conversation with me about SWI and my phonics theories; she asked very pointed (and poignant) questions of me and my evidence-based phonetic method. I answered them, wisely I thought. She asked for evidence to support the phonetic theories of words or letter patterns. I had consistent answers with rhyming words or so-called 'word families' but many times, the only answer I had was the one I'd heard echoed across many lips, "Well, English is crazy!" She led me to some interesting queries of my own and to a trail that if I chose to follow, promised a deeper understanding of the structure of English orthography. It felt a bit like Hansel and Gretel being led by a trail of bread crumbs, only very welcoming, kind and open-minded. I trusted this new friend and the trail she led me on so I spent the long, early morning hours while my children slept, researching these trails she'd led me on. Wow--was I amazed at what I learned: English is NOT crazy! It is very orderly, well structured and deep ingrained in connection of meaning and history. I was shocked, dumbfounded, and baffled at how this understanding could have been kept from me and my teaching & tutoring friends around the country for so long.
At one point along the way, an epiphany struck that caused my 20+ year career in the world of explicit, systematic phonics to shift. I could finally see that SWI fully embraced the importance of sound in our language -- only placing it where it belongs, AFTER morphology, meaning and history. So I decided to fully immerse my students in SWI without the explicit, systematic phonics lessons -- this was a gamble because I was alone on this journey. There were a few small pockets of teachers approaching literacy with SWI around the country and world, but not in my district or school, maybe not even anywhere in my state! I could find no others. I am used to being the one out on a limb but if this failed, the kids would be the ones to lose, not just me. I didn't take this decision lightly and lost a lot of sleep over it, but I couldn't be happier that I did! My students are soaring. They are making gains in their reading and writing abilities and their confidence in their own ability to use the brains God gave them to think - not be told an answer or to memorize something without purpose.
Structured Word Inquiry has been the single most effective way of teaching orthography and reading with my students. It is not a program or a method per se, it is an understanding of how the written word works that propels an educator to be able to teach effectively, the skills necessary for spelling and reading. This understanding is what empowers students (of any age) to apply logical, meaningful connections within orthography while reading & spelling.
As an educator, I am expected to remediate my students skills as well as provide avenues in which students converse with their peers, regardless of skill-set, developing communication skills for explaining themselves, their thinking and to defend a stance they are taking with clear ideas. This has seemed like an impossible task in a resource room in years past. However, SWI is helping kids discover their own abilities to think, reason and defend the orthographic system because we've discovered that "English is NOT crazy". It is built on structure and meaning.
In a traditional phonics-based instructional setting, we teach phonemes and their grapheme correspondences which, unfortunately, fails quite often.
Think about these words: <ear> <great>, <learn>, & <react>, all of them have the vowel letters <ea> in them, but, they all sound differently. Students have much to memorize without any meaning attachment or connections to other words whose structure and meaning make sense. In a phonics-based approach, we would have spent a lot of time teaching word families with each of these words. We would have studied <ea> words that rhyme and categorized them into charts to discover which spelling or pronunciation was more frequent. We would have looked for quantity vs quality. Spending time with traditional word families focuses on building a phoneme-grapheme relationship only, which is just a memorization task. For those who have great visual memories for orthographic patterns, this works. For those who do not have such a large bucket in their brain, this is a nightmare.
The difference in teaching with SWI, is that it's approach is to teach connections words have with each other via their meanings, history and morphological structures first, then look at its pronunciation. With SWI, we look at how words are related in meaning and history (etymology) to find trails and nuggets of knowledge that lead to a deeper well of meaning and connection. We would study the words that share a quality relationship with one another such as with <ear>, our word list would be: ear, hear, hearing, heard, ears, earring. We would find that the structure, history and meaning connect. We would discover affixes such as <-ing> in <hear> + <ing> but how <earring> does not share that same suffix, it is a compound word: <ear> + <ring> and that the two <r>'s exist to preserve the meaning that an earring is a ring that is placed on the ear. In words such as <react> we would learn that a phoneme does not cross a morphological boundary. The <ea> is not functioning as a digraph in this word. It is made of a prefix and a base word:
<re> + <act> --> react.
There is so much more depth and quality going on in a SWI lesson than memorization. Kids (and adults) begin to make connections to many other words. Their spellings begin to unveil themselves. Think of the way this word sounds: /reeakshun/
If you were a beginning speller, spelling by the sounds you hear, you'd probably spell it something like the way it is pronounced: <reeacshun> or <reeackshin> but when kids are taught that structure of words is based on the meaning and morphological structures, they are likely to recognize the word's relationship to <act>, plus the affixes to build the word in this way:
<re> + <act> + <ion> --> reaction
Programs do not offer what exceptionally well-trained teachers can offer our students (struggling through advanced). There are thousands of dollars of wasted programs buried in the cupboards of many classrooms. With SWI, there is no need for big business to sell a program – teachers just need exceptional training in understanding how the written word works. The classes I’ve taken through Real Spelling and the sources below have minimal costs with maximum education. The hardest part of this transformative journey has been recognizing the fettered years spent in my previous research of teaching students with dyslexia, professional development and university classes and the students who did not benefit the way my current students are.
I am grateful for this community to learn from. This past month I started running a mini-workshop with my colleagues to help others bring this to their classrooms for all students to advance to their potential. This Spring/Summer I will begin teaching educators how to get started with SWI, I am enthused by the growing numbers of educators beginning their learning journeys by attending the classes, presentations and workshops offered by the best scholars in the world. The Whole-Language World has been turned upside-down and the Phonics World is about to be as well – all for the good of the student –to bring up a more literate society. All along, I've been on a journey of transformation in my teaching, only I didn't know it until now, as I watch my students free themselves from the cocoon they've been in and transform into beautifully, literate butterflies.
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance,
it is the illusion of knowledge.”
edited for clarity May2016
To learn more about SWI, the following websites and scholars offer amazing resources and a wealth of knowledge.
Word Works Kingston by Dr. Pete Bowers
LEX: Linguist-Educator Exchange by Gina Cooke
DTI: Dyslexia Training Institute by Kelli Sandman-Hurley
The moment has come for your 5 year old to ride his bike without the training wheels on. You are both filled with trepidation, unsure if the training you provided will be enough to keep him from falling. You reflect on the skills you've given him...a shiny new bike with all the bells and whistles, the best training wheels money can buy, a sturdy seat and even a cute little horn! You showed him the bike on Saturday, told him how to ride it, let him sit on the seat, test out his balance with the training wheels teedering back and forth. You celebrated with joy and laughter when he honked the horn and placed his feet on the pedals. He rode it up and down the driveway all day Saturday and Sunday, grinning from ear to ear. It's Monday morning, time to take the wheels off, letting him ride independently. As he gets on the bike, he asks, "Hey Dad, do you think I can ride it now?" You answer, "Of course you can son, you've trained for a couple of days, you have all the equipment you need and it looks great!" You wave at him, wish him well and walk away back into the house, you have many things to do after all so he's on his own. You're sure the training you provided for the couple of days is certain to be enough, you couldn't afford to hire the best professional bike trainer nor do you have more time to invest in his training, a momentary thought crosses your mind, "I hope it was enough, ahww, he'll do alright."
How do you think he'll do? Will he take off down the driveway and around the block like a seasoned pro or wobble a few feet before he falls? If he falters, will he keep trying or throw the bike down in disgust? If he gets back on, how long do you think it will take him to master bike riding? What if he never learns how to balance properly and yet learns how to ride in an awkward fashion just enough to get by? Will that be determined as successful?
This father never came back outside to see how his son faired with learning to ride his bike. He never checked on his progress. But, a long time later, he found the brand new bike in the back of the garage under a pile of other toys that were barely used. He confronts his son about wasting money on toys and equipment he isn't using. His son says he tried, but just wasn't making enough progress without proper training. His son has a great idea though, he has talked with his friends in the neighborhood who all ride their bikes like pros, up and down the street. They've made tremendous gains with their skills, even starting to learn to jump small ramps. They have found a really good trainer who spends weeks on training, not just a couple of days. His son has researched this method and found it to be highly recommended all over the country. He asks his dad for this training. His dad says he has a perfectly good bike, just get on it and ride, soon he'll be sure to show progress. The son argues that excellent training is the key to using his shiny new bike properly, that it's not very resourceful to have something he is ill-equipped to use. Not much progress can be made if he isn't sure he's using it right and that no one checks in on to be certain progress is being made. His dad agrees that something must be done. The next day, his dad calls him into the garage to discuss a new plan .......he's bought him a brand new bike! This one is a different color, made by a different name brand company and get this, ..... the horn is on the cross bar instead of the handles, this will surely be exactly what his son needs to master bike riding!
We would not use these methods to teach our children how to ride a bike, but this is often how we approach professional development with our teachers. Recently, The Washington Post printed an article about how wasteful much of the annual teacher training is. While I think the amount of $18,000 per teacher per year is astounding and may be over-estimated, I agree that much of the annual teacher training is wasteful.
Teacher training is determined based on the Spiderman Effect. The Spiderman Effect is just a term I've made up, but the image that runs through my mind when I picture administrators choosing which Professional Development (PD) opportinities to provide their teachers is much like Spiderman casting out a large web from his wrist.....whatever throws the widest net and will reach the MOST teachers, wins. Whether it is necessary, wanted or even relavant may never be part of the equation.
Administrators are tasked with the same job as every teacher is, to DIFFERENTIATE their instruction to the group that sits in front of them. This is a VERY difficult task if one appraoches it in its truest form, provide PD for each of the type of teacher---gym, art, music, resource room, reading interventionist, math interventionist, science, social studies, robotics, yearbook, videography, speech, reading, math, spelling, writing, special education, etc., this list is not complete....but you get the idea. That is a very long list of very specified PD. On top of just this basic list, is the fact that teachers come with differing strengths and weaknesses. Teachers are likely going to have a variety of skill levels in their teaching; some due to their university education, the number of years they've been teaching, their outside/personal education interests, etc. With this long list of variables, many administrators pick an area of study for school or district as a whole that suits the majority of teachers, whether it applies directly to their job or not. Trainers are expensive, the really good ones are even more expensive and booked well in advance. There are too many trainers who sell themselves well but aren't worth hiring.
In addition to all those variables, much of the collective billions of dollars handed over to schools (according to the article) has stipulations tied to it that must meet minute, detailed government criteria. It makes the job of providing PD even more difficult for administrators--how in the heck can they begin to pay attention to the varying needs of their staff when they have to complete mounds of paperwork and meet mounds of criteria in order to receive these billions of dollars?!? The job of the administrator has shifted from looking at the needs of the staff to keeping up with paperwork.
Many teachers' dedication to their passion for teaching leads them to find amazing resources but because the training is suited to their individual area of need or interest, funding is often not available. The administrator is usually only willing to put monetary resources toward PD that casts a wider net or they cannot figure out how the request ties to the long list of criteria they are allowed to spend the money on. On occasion, they will pilot a program, but follow through with studying its effectiveness is often lacking, mostly due to time constraints and future funding cuts.
I've sat through hundreds of hours of PD in my 20+ years as an educator. I ALWAYS find something of value from each one, because my very wise father (who was a great teacher of bike-riding and all other skills) taught me that nothing is valueless unless YOU choose not to seek and eek out what is useful to YOU. So, while I've gained something from every PD opportunity, sometimes I've had to look very hard to find it.
I spend a lot of looking for and finding the perfect PD that will make me a better teacher and lead more children to become readers and writers only to be told the money is not there. I need more hours in a day to find grants that meet my needs and can be applied for--there are thousands--but not many for teacher development, and the amount of time it takes to apply and then wait to hear if your idea met their criteria is wasteful. Boy, that's hard to say, applying for grants can be of great benefit, but unfortunately, in this stage and in this time of my life--it truly is wasteful. With the hours in a day spent teaching, researching, educating oneself, and taking care of family, the little time left is precious. This time is needed to spend on my own children so they grow up to reach their potential and not only be productive members of society but problem-solvers or grant-givers or provide some other way to be of benefit to their communities and the world. My wish is for educators to be entrusted with a set amount of funds to use as they see fit to educate themselves in ways that make the most of their skills.
This blogpost comes from a dad who posted in the Homeschooling Dyslexic Kids Facebook Group. My daughter and I just had a conversation about this same topic this morning.....Paul Godwin's post says so much about digging deeper for the root cause of unexplained behavior and adults often-too-quick explanation of mislabeling behavior as lazy.
To borrow a quote from Autism Awareness
"In order to label it Dyslexia, you have to first TALK about Dyslexia."
Paul Godwin wrote:
I have been contemplating writing a post for the Dads for quite some time. This will be a long post, but please take the time to read it. I wanted to give my perspective as a Dad who probably did everything wrong before we found out our child was dyslexic.
Academics came very easily to me. I did not have a lot of patience with my son when it came to his struggles. I did not understand what the problem was and I thought it was just a lack of effort on his part. As men we are taught that, although not everything may come easily, if you just work hard enough you can accomplish a set goal. I could not fathom why it took my son so long to accomplish basic tasks such as reading a single word on a flash card. I had ZERO patience. Once he finally started getting the flashcards down, we moved on to sentences with the words from the flash cards. This was a disaster. He could not read anything. I was livid. I would berate him for what I deemed was a lack of effort. I did not get my “Compassionate and Understanding Dad” merit badge. There were other things that drove me crazy. He had great difficulty in doing things that I thought should have come easily. Tying shoes, riding a bike, and other fine motor skill functions did not come naturally. I remember becoming so frustrated when trying to teach him how to ride his bike that I picked up the bike and threw it into an empty lot in our neighborhood.
My son had originally been diagnosed PDD-NOS, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. At that point this was considered part of the autism spectrum which basically meant “we know there is something wrong but we are not quite sure what”. My son did not fit into the a typical autistic category, but there were definitely some issues. My wife started doing some research about his behavior. The more she read, the more she became convinced he was dyslexic. Once we had him tested we found that he had moderate to severe dyslexia. I still did not fully grasp all that this entailed. I obviously felt like a complete and utter jerk for how I treated my son concerning reading and his academics. I still look back and think how much differently I should have done things. That being said, I did not buy into how dyslexia could affect the other areas of his life. What did a reading disorder have to do with tying your shoes?
The reality is that dyslexia affects almost every aspect of a child's life. Motor skills, memorization, math, remembering sequential steps (both in academics and in daily tasks), and organization skills are all impacted by dyslexia.
As men, we are wired to fix things, no matter what it may be. My best advice to you dads is that you can't fix your child because your child is not broken. They are different. They think different, act different, and react different, but they are definitely not broken. Don't try to fix them, try to understand them. Be patient. Do research, this is not just your wife's job. The better you understand why they are the way the are, the better you can help.
Reading Recovery's origins began more than 30 years ago in New Zealand, long before the best, tried-and-true research was conducted on how to effectively teach our most struggling students to read. However, Reading Recovery programs continue to be used in our schools and have a cult-like following that is difficult to penetrate, despite their ineffective results as proven by the high number of children who are not reading at grade level and by the existance of the large gap between the highest and lowest achieving students in the areas of reading & writing. Most non-Reading Recovery minded people are baffled by the strong beliefs held by RR teachers and schools because of the existance & abundance of brilliant, scientific-research on the BEST teaching methods for teaching students how to read. The article below, from Learning Difficulties Australia, November 2013, discusses the ineffectiveness of the Reading Recovery Program, the manipulation of data by its teachers in New Zealand and the current data which shows 66% of its students still not reading proficiently.
Reading Recovery is missing the essential elements of the actual teaching of reading skills: "systematic teaching of phonemic awareness (the ability to reflect on and manipulate the phonemic segments of spoken words) and alphabetic coding skills (the ability to translate letters and letter patterns into phonological forms)." Why would a program that has proven itself to be inadequate continue to be used? Its Gestapo-like administration of the program is run so that no changes can be made to the program, thereby hog-tying the adminstration of the program despite its ineffectiveness. Schools have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into training, adopting its philosophy, integrating its philosophies into every classroom and intervention programs and through the purchase of tons of materials. If and when schools recognize its ineffectiveness, they will have to scrap some of what they currently use and their beliefs that have been ingrained for the past 20-30 years. They will need to investigate better programs--hopefully NOT be SOLD by big business companies--and provide training for all staff and purchase materials to use. This investment would NOT cost as much as it would seem. Most scientific-based phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding and reading fluency skill programs are inexpensive and highly effective at teaching children to decode and read fluently. They don't require schools to throw out all the materials used in their guided-reading programs, those could continue to be used to read in small groups after decoding lessons--AS LONG AS the teachers DROP the terrible strategies adopted by Reading Recovery methods such as: find a chunk within a word; use picture clues to guess the word; use context clues to figure out the word, get your mouth ready, etc. These strategies appear to be good on the surface because they help with overall comprehension, but they do NOT help one DECODE; the basic necessity of reading.
The Barton Reading & Spelling Program is continuallly touted as one of the best and simplest programs to implement . Recently, I began using Levels 1 & 2 in my resource room and actually saw data points rise on nearly all students. Prior to implementing that program, nearly all students' data points had flat-lined with the programs I had access to. Unfortunately, I had to fight hard to get the program and the only way I received it was to seek donations from myself, friends and family through Donor's Choose. After I began using level 1 and finding success with it, my district bought level 2. I don't mind raising funds in some ways, and yet, I do; having to find the money caused a great delay in providing the best instruction to my students. In addition to that travesty, my own family's budget had to suffer and my extended family and friends had to dig into their budgets because I was so passionate about this program. Thankfully, they trusted my judgement because while providing the program to my students, I saw their eyes light up with new knowledge and confidence in their skills. I saw the confusion lift slightly for them and can't wait for this school year to start so we can continue to rid them of their confusion with the alphabetic code. With the ease of use and DVD training methods, others are eager to use the Barton System with students. Over the summer I spent several days training in a newer program called, EBLI (Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction) which is a method of instruction to teach reading that should give results in a lot less time than other methods. I have spoken with many educators and adminstrators all around Michigan who use this program and love it because of its effectiveness; ALL of their students are making gains --general education, learning disabled, even cognitively impaired students are making progress....the rate of progress varies but the program is not limited to just those who struggle to read or spell. Many of those I spoke with, use it school-wide and are finding great results in their reading scores which are transferring to their state assessment scores. The cost for this program is in training only, no materials to purchase with the exception of dry erase markers and white-boards.....cheapest program I know of with highly effective results in teaching how to decode & encode fluently. I am excited to see how my students respond to EBLI this year!
Reading Recovery methodology is antiquated and ineffective. It's time our schools recognize that and start making changes. More of our children need to learn how to read; they deserve to have our undivided attention to this end with every ounce of our energy. Our schools need to look at the research--NOT what the big business companies say or attempt to show them--they must be able to discern a sales pitch with weak research from the peer-reviewed research & studies to implement the best remediation techniques that teach our students how to read fluently (see Resources Tab on my website for more info)
Which program(-s) have you found to be the most effective in teaching skills of reading and spelling?
Some people do not believe in labeling children with a learning disability or dyslexia. They feel that labeling puts limitations on their potential for achievement. I can see this point to a degree, but while I think labeling has the potential to limit ones' expectations, I feel more strongly that NOT labeling has the capacity to limit one's potential even more.
Take the memoir of Nelson Lauver for instance, which is resonating with thousands and thousands of people all over the world because it rings true to their own stories. Nelson grew up in an era when the label Learning Disabilites (LD) was not well known or used. He started out life as a happy, intelligent, rambunctious little boy. When he started school, life began to take a wrong turn. Without a label for his struggles, he was viewed as stupid by his teacher and classmates. Without knowledge of LD's, dyslexia, etc., his education created a 'monster'---he was so intelligent, that he learned how to act, how to manipulate situations and outcomes, he even manipulated the testing by professionals. He chose his own path, and at the age of 6-8 years old, he chose that path with the maturity and breadth of knowledge of merely a child. He chose the 'bad kid' path so that he wouldn't be called on in class to read or write in front of his peers, so his peers didn't ask him for help with reading and writing but most importantly, to preserve his own self-esteem; its easier to choose to be viewed a certain way than it is to be 'labeled' erroneously by your peers. The intelligence & insight that it takes for a child to instinctively chose self-preservation leaves me awe-struck. The path that he chose, allowed him to bumble thru his academic life, to eek out a meager education and graduate. It also allowed him to surface from the depths of the dungeon that trapped him for 12 years to begin to tread water as a young man, earning a living by creating his own destiny. Society is damned lucky he didn't falter--his life could have had a totally different outcome.
By not putting a label on kids, society often adds its own labels instead, most of the time these are WRONG labels. Without proper diagnosing of an issue, we miss some very important steps. By having an avenue in which to meander, we can recognize some of the most odd characteristics of dyslexia in young children that are so common among our kids when we look at them collectively. If I had known these characteristics (like calling familiar objects/people by the wrong name; being unable to tie shoes; etc.) when my son was in preschool--I would have been able to begin a targeted intervention instead of floundering around, wondering if it was this or that. When he could not identify many letters of the alphabet, but was beginning to read stories, I would not have been so relieved that the process appeared to be beginning.....I would have recognized sooner that he was using his awesome memory skills to memorize the stories he'd read in small group at school to read to me at home. I was questioning his memory instead because it appeared that while he could read larger words on a page, he would miss the simplest ones like 'the, and, is'; what he was really doing was using his intelligencce to figure out the larger words using the context clues.
Analyzing errors can be tricky when you don't know what you're looking for, labeling allows us to lump characteristics together (the odd ones and the main ones), giving us possible approaches that lead to help! Recently, I sat in a meeting where the evaluator was shocked at the responses the child had given on a word reading task, she reported that the child was so close in her responses that she felt the child just wasn't paying attention to the details, therefore, it was clear to her that AD/HD may be an issue. I was sad, angry and filled with anxiety because I was analyzing the errors--writing down the words the child should have read and on top of each, the response that the child had given--quite clearly a pattern was developing. With the knowledge of dyslexia that I have, I was able to disway the laser focus of AD/HD discussion to one of a decoding issue. The parent said that while the school had been advising her of attentional issues for the past few years, she had held off because while she saw the attention issues they weren't consistent. She also shared that the child's doctor had prescribed medication but was 'on the fence' about it--they were in a trial period. Within a short time of informal testing, working with the child and observing her learning patterns, I was confident in recommending that the mom consider researching dyslexia. She was so relieved --it made sense because of the struggles her child faced daily in school but were so different than her behavior and performance at home or in situations that weren't academically related. Additionally, she was relieved that this may lead to some targeted solutions. It is wonderful to feel like you made a difference in that person's life, but also disheartening at the same time---it's only one--why isn't this knowledge more common? Why isn't this knowledge sprayed out like a firehose instead of a trickle of water in an abandoned warehouse?
Decoding Dyslexia organizations around the country (and now beginning to reach its arms around the world!!) are working hard to raise the awareness of dyslexia. Celebrities and important business leaders and entrepreneurs are doing their part too which is making great impacts in ways that a group of parents simply cannot reach alone. People like Nelson Lauver are brave enough to tell their stories and are such good writers that their stories leave us laughing, crying and most importantly, connecting. Please read this humorous, touching and eye-opening book, Most Unlikely to Succeed; The Trials, Travels and Ultimate Triumphs of a 'Throw-Away Kid', you will be glad you did and if you haven't yet volunteered to take some action with your local chapter of Decoding Dyslexia, maybe this will inspire you to do so, we're looking forward to your help!
Nelson Lauver--Motivational Speaker, Voice-Over Artist; Literacy Advocate; The American StoryTeller
Farmer's Son is a great novel by N.E. Lasater! It is a work of fiction but so true to life for many who are either dyslexic or who live with dyslexic individuals. In this novel, the McAllister Family suffers from one of the most devastating effects of growing up as a slow reader---shame. This story emphasizes one of the many, but main reasons I am so passionate about changing how we view and educate dyslexics.
The current educational system does not recognize dyslexia, does not educate their teachers enough about the science of reading and thereby continues to miss the opportunity to re-mediate this issue early on in a child's life. Because people with this learning difference have average to above average intelligence, they KNOW they are not keeping up with their peers and generally feel ashamed of that --as early as preschool where they watch their friends catching on to the alphabet. This feeling of everyone knowing something they don't, gets imbedded into their way of thinking and if not remedied early in their school careers, can lead to devastating results.
Schools are unintentionally teaching kids to hide their inability to read or spell well, causing them to learn stealth-like methods of coping to survive the school day. The processing of language comes at a much slower pace than learning how to copy a neighbor's paper, listen closely to class discussions to answer questions; cajoling others into doing papers; being so charming that people want to help or see them pass; being loud; a class clown; avoidance tactics; or causing a distraction to alter the course the teacher is about to take so they don't have to read aloud or write in front of their peers. Even larger consequences happen....some kids stop trying, quit school, and too many go on to lead lives of crime or blight. Perhaps the greatest consequence is the reduction or extinguishing of the joy in simply being a thinker about things read or expression of ones knowledge and thoughts. These kids without access to print, don't get their ideas out often enough to grow as much from their experiences or feel joy often enough to continue to push themselves to express their ideas or gain more knowledge thru print.
Kids use these coping strategies as a form of self-preservation due to the shame they feel with not being able to break the code or by the fear of being "found out" by their peers. This causes ones' emotional state to be in a flight or fight mode. Children grow into adults who often continue to feel ashamed of their skills and practice these same strategies in their working lives. One of the greatest human tragedies is to go through school feeling ashamed of oneself; to never discover or uncover your talents; to never believe in yourself enough to strengthen your talents; to fall short of your potential because you didn't believe you could just because you don't read or read as well as others. Every human being needs a champion in their life, someone who is willing to help uncover their strengths and make you feel good about yourself, who teaches you how to overcome your weaknesses and bring out the best in you.
I try to imagine what the world will be like when we stop all this nonsense, allow all kids to think, feel good about themselves and intervene with the right remediation programs at early ages. Lasater's novel has left me feeling even more passionate about this quest I am on with Decoding Dyslexia to make large scale changes in this country. Thank you for writing a novel that will resonate with all kinds of learners; one that will allow them to connect with the feelings that can lead to making a positive difference.
This story begins about a year and a half ago, when a friend introduced me to a parent volunteer in her classroom. This parent was a working mom who had sought out a personal journey which led her to Mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is a state of being, a peaceful, calm, positive approach to daily life. Trice felt so strongly about the benefits of Mindfulness that she spent her single-day-off in the work week volunteering in her daughters' & others' classrooms to show kids how they could learn to focus better, attend lessons and support each other by becoming more mindful of one another. Trice didn't have any kids in my classroom, but after talking with her about my own son's low emotional threshold due to executive functioning issues and dyslexia, and that there were similar issues with other kids in his group, she felt the desire to help him and found the extra time to devote to these kids. As life goes, after a few lessons, unfortunate circumstances occured in her life and her family's needs became greater; she had to step down from volunteering for a while. After several months, she worked hard to make extra time to come in near the end of the school year again. This is when I saw a huge shift in my students.....they realized HOW MUCH they had missed those lessons. They began to gel even better as a group, the tiny issues that followed them in from the playground melted away, they focused better on the lessons and were happier on a daily basis. We had always worked well together but this brought the group to a whole new level.
By noticing opportunities and being open to changes, Trice found a way to change careers by the time my son's class moved to the middle school. She began teaching Mindfulness full time through the Crim Foundation and is now reaching hundreds of students.
As a parent, I wanted to see these lessons continue for my son desperately but I also realized the benefits it could bring to his classmates and the trickle down effect it could have on his & their whole school experience; if more kids could learn these lessons, then maybe they'd experience better journeys thru the middle years together. So I wrote a letter to the principals outlining the benefits my small group of Resource Room kids experienced in such a short time through Mindfulness. This program was not expensive, in fact for our school it would be free thru the Foundation she was working with...how can anyone turn down free and beneficial?! It worked, they were signed up and ready to go! Since his class started their lessons in March, his daily frustrations have decreased tremendously. He doesn't bring home papers to re-do that are filled with answers like, "I don't know; or my friends are so much smarter than me." Now, he is more focused, bringing home less unfinished work and trying to think more mindfully about his path in life.
Mindfulness doesn't take away every struggle, he still has issues with really stressful situations and his executive functioning deficits are not miraculously fixed; but the effect that those have had on him are decreased and the turn around is quicker. But most importantly, his self-reflection is improved, he thinks about his reactions and how a different reaction could have altered the outcome. He plans for the next time, execution is still down the road a bit but he's on that higher path.
Let me give you an example: The experience he recently had being on a panel of experts for Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education (MC4ME.org) is a great example of how he functions & dysfunctions sometimes. Knowing his strengths and weaknesses helps me as his parent to prepare him for moments like these. Initially, when invited, he nonchalantly said, "Sure, I'll do it." which indicated to me that he didn't know what he'd just agreed to. So over the course of the next month and a half we discussed what this might look like. A couple of weeks prior to the event I realized his issues with word retrieval and his disjointed way of explaining things could likely cause him to shut-down in the middle of the crowd and forever embarass him, I panicked, thinking, this could be detrimental to his self-esteem, but, I also couldn't shake the thought that if maybe we prepared well, it could lead to one of the greatest experiences of his young life. So, when I tried asking him some questions that I thought an audience might ask him, he hit the wall--he said, "What?! What do you mean people will be asking me questions?! I can't answer anything like that! I don't know why I like Mindfulness, I just do and I know it helps me but I can't explain it! Tell her I can't do it." Imagine my surprise when after all the times we talked about this, he really still had no concrete idea of what this event was about. So I set out to build the foundation of his thinking with him. I simply asked him to start noticing what Mindfulness does for him or how it makes him feel after practicing. We practiced together a few times a week and he did so on his own. We talked several more times and after a Mindful moment, we would reflect. Each time was, in my opinion, so-so. His answers never reached anything in-depth, just skimmed the surface but he was happy to try to be on the panel and felt he could answer. On the 45 minute car ride down the morning of the event, his in-depth self-reflection surfaced and he astounded me. In this reflection he talked for the first time about his strengths and did not let his dyslexia define him. He talked about the fact that although he has difficulty getting his words on paper and that it is frustrating to him, he has so many good stories in his mind, ready to come out. He recognized that some of his friends who he always felt were so much smarter than him have some weaknesses too and that realization made him accept himself more. He also recognized that he can challenge himself to do more sometimes and isn't letting his challenges with reading, thinking style or writing stop him from getting to his goals (he has goals now --yeah!). I am having a hard time describing the amazing feeling I had listening to him -- awe, pride, thankfulness, admiration that he at such a young age has come so far---relief that maybe he won't have to wait until he's an adult to finally find some successes as a person with dyslexia, like so many people do.
My son has had wonderful teachers all of his schooling and parents who have spent countless hours teaching accountability and self-reflection, in "good-times", although during "bad-times" we often told him to find that calmness and reflect the way he's been taught, none of all that good teaching has been as effective as Mindfulness, which gave him a tool to use, showed him how to make his mind calmer, more able to self-reflect. I'm not discounting any of the lessons he's had from me or any of his teachers, I just think we had to work really hard to get half the results of what Mindfulness has been able to do for him in a short period of time. Executive functioning deficits can't be remediated thru telling one to focus better or calm down, but they can be helped with learning good solid ways to focus, attend to your thoughts, organize, relieve stress, reduce or eliminate racing or wandering thoughts, gain perspectives, and seek the positive in others and yourself.
Aside from my son's experiences, I've seen others......one of the students I work with who has a teacher that does Mindfulness daily stopped shutting-down within the first month of school, a new record for this child. Previously he brought a negative aspect to a classroom, but that ceased by October and has continued to benefit him (&the rest of the class) all school year. The other day, while trying to help a student re-do a Science Study guide, I noticed that his attention was so off that he was unable to keep his eyes on the paper, they were darting everwhere. I attempted to read it to him while using a tracking tool but he was still unable to maintain his attention. I asked if he'd ever heard of Mindfulness, he brightened up, said his 3rd grade teacher did it with them everyday ( he's in 4th now). After a brief discussion of how he could use it to focus on the task at hand, we spent 1.5 minutes in Mindful practice. He listened to the rest of the 2-page paper on the phases of the moon, helped highlight the important parts and answered all 15-20 questions with some assistance within a reasonable amount of time. Without that mindful minute, I believe we would have been at that task well into my next group's session and therefore would not have finished, he would have been on his own and at the rate he was going prior to that, it would have been homework, adding another stressor to the day.
Personally, my experience has been greatly beneficial. Since I began practicing Mindfulness on a daily basis a couple of months ago, I've created this website on dyslexia, written several blogs, learned how to create Facebook, Pintrest and Google pages, helped my children make videos that revolve around dyslexia and learned how to make and post these to my YouTube channel, been asked to present on dyslexia with my Decoding Dyslexia group and made a business plan for the near future. All of these ideas have been mulling around in my head, sort of spinning like a tornado for a few years. The focus that Mindfulness gave me allowed my inner drive to surface. My ideas no longer spin, they are filed away and pulled to the surface when needed. Some escape that and pester for a bit but I am much more aware of when that happens now and either chose to make time to locate and file them, or let them go because I know they will come back or new ones will replace them and it will all be fine. There is peace in knowing that I don't have to tackle every idea. There is peace in being able to focus on something well. There is peace in relieving daily stresses, but more importantly, there is peace in knowing that my overwhelmed son has a tool he can use to help propel himself toward his future.
To see a 3 minute video clip of his MC4ME panel experience, see the Resources tab on my website, www.seethebeautyindyslexia.com
Short and sweet today folks! I updated my webpage this evening with loads of great books for children, teens and adults on the subject .....check it out! Link quickly by clicking on the image. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment, I'm always looking for great resources