Archive for Dyslexia

BOILING THE FROG

Paul Krugman referred to the proverbial frog that, when placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated,never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive.

So it is with education today. While the debate of how to best raise reading and math scores rages on and on, the United States continues to lag near the bottom when compared to most civilized countries today. Increasingly we can see the effects of this all around us, from pharmacists who misread prescriptions to clerks who cannot add. We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy. But we don’t notice it!

In 1950 no European country enrolled 30% of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70% of older teens were in school, and America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. We became the world’s leading nation largely because of our emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites.

That happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl, and stagnated completely between 1975 and 1990. Today in the District of Columbia only 8% of eighth graders meet expectations in math. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.

Although tons of money is being poured into education for a whole variety of possible solutions including better pay for good teachers, smaller classrooms, adding computers, better assessment tools, etc., so far nothing has made too much of a dent in improving American education.

We insist that we DO teach phonics, but what went wrong? What are we missing?

BULLS-EYE!

Decodable text is the missing link between teaching letter sounds and reading books! It is the thing most lacking in reading programs today. “Open Court”, for example, used to be one of the best phonics programs available. But today’s revamped version of this wonderful old program teaches 130 high-frequency words in first grade alone in order to move quickly into reading good literature. Their pre-decodable readers contains words such as “sandwich” and “napkin.”

When whole sight words are taught along with phonics while learning the mechanics of reading it throws a monkey wrench into the learning process. In “The Mind and the Brain” Schwartz and Begley point out that the left brain acquires knowledge by small, sequential parts (learning math, letter sounds) and the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (viewing illustrations, learning sight words).

They found that activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side!

Not only that, but MRI imaging confirms that the neurobiological basis of reading disability changes to normal after children are taught to read with explicit phonics and gradually progressive decodable practice reading!

TWO DIFFERENT SUCCESS STORIES

One mom sent me a video of her three-year old boy, who was reading fluently from the back of “Phonics Pathways” with great emotion and emphasis on meaning in all the right places.

Another mom wrote a note about her 18 year old son with down’s syndrome who was told he would never learn how to read—but now has almost finished “Phonics Pathways”. She wrote:

“Nathan is doing fantastic with your book. He is in the room right now working with contractions. We are flabbergasted!”

It’s thrilling to me to hear about these success stories at all levels of ability! I turned 84 the day after Christmas, and it’s wonderful stories like these that keep me as young and frisky as a newborn colt! (Well, almost…)

The Comprehension Connection

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Should comprehension be taught before or after phonics? Or should they be taught together? Or. . . ? Read on!

Our grandson went to a highly-rated private school in Marin, but when he was in first grade he would guess wildly at everything he read.

He was taught to infer, predict, and guess at the words and meaning while still struggling to read the material accurately. If he guessed the meaning to be anywhere similar to the meaning in the story, he was praised for a correct answer.

I began working with him, and we were working on the “I” and “A” lesson on page 50 of Phonics Pathways. Just before he read “I hug Mom” I got inspired, and told him the next sentence was like a game, and that he had to DO what it said.

He looked at me uncertainly, read the sentence, and then slowly looked up at me with a beautiful look of stunned comprehension and a wide smile that I’ll never forget.

He hopped up, went over to his Mom, and gave her a great big bear hug, and then came back and hugged me too.

It was the first time that he realized he could get meaning OUT of what he was reading, as opposed to putting meaning INTO what he was reading. From that point on he had no more problems with comprehension — he was “reading for meaning,” as opposed to “meaning to read.”

COMPREHENSION TRAINING:  GOOD OR BAD?

Comprehension training can indeed be valid. But the big danger is that it is frequently brought to play much too early in the game.

We don’t learn ice-skating dance routines until we first learn how to ice skate well. In my experience we should not begin teaching comprehension (along with reasoning, visualizing, inferring, predicting, etc.) until those primary skills have jelled and are at an automatic level.

I’ve watched too many tutoring sessions in schools with reading specialists who begin asking complex questions about the text while the student is still struggling to read it accurately, The student just guesses the best he/she can, and if it’s anywhere similar to the meaning needed they are praised for a correct answer.

A MOTHERS’ DAY SURPRISE!

RecentIy I received the following letter from a parent:

“Dolores, I just had to share with you the most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I ever had. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child-like pictures with no idea of what the card says. He found what he was looking for and told the lady not to let me see this card.

“He gave me the card on Mothers’ Day and said: ‘Mom you know I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. You know how hard we have worked this year. Okay, now open your card’:

‘MY MOM’

‘This is a story about a kid with a Mom who believes in him and has taught him about important stuff, like chasing his dreams and trusting his heart. It’s a       success story and it was written by you.

‘Happy Mothers’ Day with love, from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact he had made on his own self! We love Dewey’s words of advice as well. Every day Dewey is there, encouraging us, or just breaking the tension. It’s strange how a paper worm can become such a friend to someone.”

Way to go, Jimmie–keep up the good work. You’re a READER now!

EYE TRAINING FOR EYE TRACKING?

Indeed, the young boy mentioned above had been diagnosed with dyslexia. But was it inborn or induced by incorrect reading methods? In the earliest stages of reading if we are not trained to read from left to right by building letters into syllables, words, and sentences it often results in irregular eye movements and letter or word reversals. This results in slow and/or inaccurate reading which impacts comprehension. Eye-tracking skills must be well established BEFORE real learning can take place.

The concept of eye training is not new or unique to America. It has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. It has been my experience that “dyslexic” students have benefitted greatly from vision/motor training such as the teaching method of Phonics Pathways. Another mother wrote:

“My son is nine and this is our second year of home schooling. The activities in back of the book to help hand and eye coordination are three same exercises we did for Perceptual Vision Dysfunction Therapy with a specialist. What a difference it made! My son loves it so much that it is one subject I get ‘Great Mom, I love doing Phonics Pathways!’

Reading Pathways also has been a tremendous boost in our family to reinforce blending and eye tracking. My five-year-old read the very first pyramid story last week and it really made her day!”

EXCITING NEW BRAIN RESEARCH

On a recent News Hour a savvy teacher said that students don’t fail in high school, they fail in second grade because they have not been taught explicit phonics and are subsequently just carried along through school.

Furthermore, most beginning readers are only 50% decodable. These students are then labeled “learning-disabled” or “dyslexic” which is frequently confirmed with brain imaging.

Results? For example, sixty-two percent of Texas’ ninth graders passed the statewide achievement test results for English. What did they do to pass the test? They only had to get 37% of the answers right. Only thirty seven percent.

Is there no hope? There most definitely, certainly, positively IS! Newer exciting brain imaging research reveals that the neuro-biological basis of reading disability actually changes to normal as students become skilled readers after being taught direct, systematic phonics. (Dr. Guinevere Eden, Georgetown University, Nature Neuroscience, May 2003)

It’s never too late to learn how to read.

DYSLEXIA BEGONE!!!

 

Don Potter’s Challenge

Don Potter is a reading specialist from Odessa, Texas, who has also made it a point to collect many different kinds of reading books (donpotter.net) espousing many different ways and methods to teach phonics. He recently wrote:

“I have been doing much of my tutoring with Hazel Loring’s Blend Phonics, and the results are almost always excellent. But once in a long while, I get a student who undoubted has real dyslexia. Artificially induced whole-word dyslexia is generally easily cured with simple phonics. But on rare occasions, I get those students who I find almost impossible to help. They seem helpless when it comes to learning and using the sound-to-symbol correspondences. They always try to read words by the shape, and are very resistant to looking at all the letters.

“For these students, I turn to Phonics Pathways. Fortunately, they generally are have some ability with the short vowels. Since Phonics Pathways constantly reviews (and compares with the long vowels) the short vowels during the long vowel lessons, I am able to skip the short vowel lessons (to save time and money for the parents) and jump right into the long vowel section. I started a 2nd grader and a 6th grader on Phonics Pathways today. This is adventuring into territory where no other Bookworm has ever gone.

“I only trust Dewey for these hard cases. I will let you know how the tutoring goes. (You may recall that many years ago I cured a child with real dyslexia using Phonics Pathways. He cried the first time we did the first long vowel lesson, saying, “I hurt from the bottom of my feel to the top of my head.” He went on to become a great reader.)

“I learned right then and there a lesson I have never forgotten. There is something special about those lessons that enables the most challenged dyslexics to reprogram their brain to become good readers. I will send you full reports as the children make progress.

“A formal study needs to be done of the special features of Phonics Pathways that sets it apart from all the other programs. I feel very strongly that even the best Orton-Gillingham programs are missing some of the special features that you integrated into your book/program/system.

“The way you teach the long vowels by contrasting them with the short vowels seems to be a significant feature. Also the two word phrases that are just on the edge of full meaning. They particularly like reading the sentences where they sound out two word and then read the sentences. They can attain some fluency because they are prepared for the two new words, yet the other words are providing a review back to the very first of the program!
“Also there is enough practice to make a significant impact. Of course parents who use the program with their own children would never know nor need to know the linguistics, psychology, and pedagogy behind the program, but for a person, like me, who has dedicated their lives to teaching ALL children to read, it is very intriguing to sort out the factors that set Phonics Pathways apart from EVERYTHING else. The absence of pictures for the sentences and stories is more important that anyone might imagine. Kids with the whole-word guessing habit learn quickly to overuse pictures. The absence of pictures to illustrate the sentences is a very significant factor in the overall strength of Phonics Pathways.” 

Will Don succeed in teaching these struggling students how to read? Will he once again be able to venture into territory that “no other Bookworm has ever gone” and help them overcome their severe dyslexia?

Stay tuned!

A Fourteen-Point Checklist for an Outstanding Phonics Reading Program

Are you shopping for a good phonics program? Want to supplement your current reading program? Here is a blueprint and guide to what in my experience are the best features to look for in a good phonics reading program:

1. One Letter at a Time

Short-vowel sounds are the very foundation of our English language. They can be difficult to learn and are best taught first, one at a time, in isolation. Focusing on only one sound at a time develops reading accuracy and prevents guessing.

(Beneficial for everyone—especially ELL, LD, or hearing-challenged students.)

2. Illustrated Letters

Every letter should be illustrated with pictures of objects beginning with the sound. At first many children are unable to hear these sounds within a word. Multiple illustrations add a depth of perspective that is similar in effect to a 3-D hologram, and depict the subtle variations of each sound.

(Multiple pictures beginning with each sound also develop and strengthen phonemic awareness.)

3. Large Letters

Even with proper glasses students often struggle with smaller letters when first learning how to read. It’s easier for everyone to learn from large letters initially. This feature is especially useful to beginners, LD learners, or those with vision challenges.

(Once reading is well-established it is much easier to read finer print!)

4. Phonemic Awarenes

Phonemic awareness is a precursor to phonics but should never be confused with phonics. Teach phonemic awareness with letters at the same time for maximum efficiency. “Phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when it is kept simple and when it includes letters.” ~Timothy Shanahan, Director, University of Illinois Center for Literacy

(Phonemic awareness teaches only sounds. Phonics teaches both letters and sounds.)

5. Multisensory

A multisensory approach ensures success for everyone, regardless of their learning mode. How students learn may be different—but what they learn should be the same. Everyone should be able to decode long words by syllables whatever their learning mode. A multisensory method has the synergistic effect of addressing the strongest mode while reinforcing the weakest.

(After all, visual learners still must hear the word, and auditory learners still must see the word!)

6. Blend Consonants With Vowels

When teaching consonants, blending them with a vowel instead of teaching them in isolations eliminated the extra “uh” sound heard in voiced consonants, such as “d-uh” when trying to say the sound of “d.” This strategy begins to develop smooth eye-tracking skills and prevents choppy reading. Students read “di-g” not “duh-i-g,” or “ca-t” not “cuh-a-t,” etc.

(Reading two-letter syllables before reading whole words will also remediate and prevent reversals.)

7. Build Words ASAP

Building words as letters are learned provides concrete exemplars for what can otherwise be confusing and abstract rules and sounds. It prevents the “reading-without-understanding” syndrome sometimes seen when all phonograms are learned first, prior to reading a whole word.

(Memory experts have long known it is easier to remember something new if you can connect it to something already known!)

8. Build Sentences Gradually

Blend letters into syllables, then gradually build words, two-word phrases, and finally sentences of slowly increasing complexity. It’s too big a leap for many students to move directly from reading words to reading complete sentences. Graduated reading practice jump-starts reading for everyone, especially for dyslexics.

(Just because we’ve learned all the piano notes does not mean we are ready to play a sonata!)

9. Teach Spelling With Reading

Reading and spelling enhance one another and are best taught as an integrated unit. Learning how to read and spell in systematic patterns develops clear, analytical thinking which spills over into other disciplines, such as math. Spelling today is taught randomly—what if we had to learn math randomly, 12 x 7, 6 x 9, 8 x 4, 5 x 11, etc.?

(When we learn how to read and spell by pattern math scores frequently improve without tutoring!)

10. Only One Spelling at a Time

Teach only one spelling of a phoneme at a time, beginning with the simplest spelling. It’s more difficult to teach and learn multiple spellings of a phoneme all at once, such as all seven spellings of /A/.

(Don’t you remember names better when you meet people only one at a time instead of being introduced to a whole roomful of people at once?)

11. 100% Decodable Practice

Early practice readings should only be comprised of sounds and rules already learned. The left brain acquires knowledge in small, sequential parts (letter sounds, math). The right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (sight words, illustrations). Activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses activity of the mirror-image area on the other side!

(Once decoding is automatic we are able to see the whole word at once~the gestalt.)

12. Add Sight Words Gradually

After the mechanics of reading are established, sight words can gradually be introduced, a few at a time, such as “I” and “a” Example: “I had a fat cat.” Limited reading skills should be reasonably fluent before sight words are introduced.

(Our attention is limited to being able to focus on only one thing at a time. It cannot be directed to identifying letters at the same time that we are trying to comprehend the meaning of what we are reading!)

13. Teach Sight Words by Pattern

Words learned in patterns are grouped and filed in one “folder” in your brain and quickly retrieved. Words learned randomly are filed in separate “folders,” and take more time to retrieve. Example: sight words “could, would, should” are best taught with other /oo/ words such as “took, book, look,” etc.

(Having to learn words randomly results in slow and laborious reading, and children seldom read for pleasure.)

14. Include ALL Spelling Rules

Linguistic awareness eases learning and develops logical, analytical thinking. Example: “Why are some words spelled -able and others -ible, as in appeasable, horrible, etc.?” It’s so much easier knowing one rule for many words than it is learning each word individually!

(Critical thinking sharpens, and spelling improves dramatically!)

Happy Shopping!