With the rise in vaccinations, many schools have opened with a hybrid schedule which has some pros and cons for dyslexic students.
ONLINE ASSIGNMENTS – GROUP PARTICIPATION and AUDIO
The reduction in written assignments since of the start of the pandemic has provided relief for many students in terms of the quantity of homework. In its place though, sometimes classroom participation can take greater importance, which may leave out quieter students or students with word retrieval or auditory processing difficulties.
With all the upheaval and need for teachers to adjust their teaching practices since the pandemic, parents and students should not be surprised if their teacher is not aware of how practice changes have affected their students.
If your student has auditory processing difficulties, check to see if the audio has been optimized for your student. It may be possible to request better headphones for online classes.
If the following applies, have the student provide a written request similar to the one below to request accommodations:
“Dear Mr. X, Because I have both auditory processing and word retrieval difficulties, it’s difficult for me to participate in online class discussions. I would like to request an accommodation to post in the chat or even record a response that I could submit to you later…”
Of course, some other substitution can be suggested depending on the student. In general, it’s easier to obtain a request when suggesting a substitute activity rather than asking for a requirement to be waived.
When requesting a change or accommodation, it’s best in the same letter to suggest a substitution.
Besides classroom participation in real time, teachers might also consider options like Pear Deck for Google Slides (see below). Pear Deck is a free-premium add-on to Google Slides that allows students to comment on presentations. It includes Immersive Reader (beta) and teacher feedback in the paid version.
Another option for student engagement is an app like Flip Grid that allows students to add video responses to discussion prompts (see video below).
Educator accounts are free through Google or Microsoft sign-ins. Group participation is asynchronous so less pressure is put on rapid back and forth answering.
Because of all the adjustments that have had to be made with pandemic school, it’s even more important to be aware of problems that can arise with students learning and expressing their ideas in remote classrooms.
For some, the irregular schedule of hybrid schooling may be one of the most difficult aspects of school. Here are some ideas to help organize a mix of in-person and remote learning:
Here are 20 Tips from School Habits from an executive function coach.
There are so many good ideas in this video, including keeping a daily and weekly schedule, assignment book, and filling in your email signature!
Katie Azevedo’s tips are good for middle school and higher – including graduate school or even post-grads.
Katie also has a blog with all sorts of other helpful information HERE.
As vaccines roll out and schools head back for at least part-time in-person learning, many families will be thinking carefully about whether homeschooling will be the best choice for them in the coming year.
NOTHING WILL BE PERFECT
First off, it’s best to be aware that there is rarely a perfect solution for anyone – often there are various levels of fitting and not-fitting and once a decision is made, then you might find ways of minimizing weaknesses for a particular plan.
COMPENSATE FOR WEAKNESSES IN WHICHEVER PATH YOU CHOOSE
For instance, if you decide to homeschool, and a potential weakness is social interaction, then a priority might be finding opportunities for regular socialization in regular school time. If public or private school is decided upon, but math is challenging due to dysgraphia and or dyscalculia, then seeing if your student might be able to have an individualized approach to math (working with a math tutor or working through an online math program that works for them), either excusing themselves to work independently for math or shortening the school day so math can be done outside of school.
FOR STUDENTS WHO NEED SHORTER DAYS
There may be many reasons why students need shorter school days. Some work more efficiently in smaller bits of time separated by exercise, while others may have short periods where their medications are most effective.
If school is on part-day schedule, you could see whether it’s possible to optimize your students schedule. Some students may fare better with a 3 day – 2 off schedule rather than every-other.
We’ve definitely known some students who get into a routine of exercising (running around the block) before heading to school. In fact, this can even be an accommodations in a 504 or IEP.
Of course, homeschoolers can really optimize schedules to fit students particular optimal cycles.
HOMESCHOOLING CAN BUY TIME TO MAKE UP FOR COVID LOSSES
Because it looks as if schools are opening only a few months before the school year closes, some families might want to consider low key working through the summer to see if they can make back any pandemic learning loss this past year.
Many tutors have now mastered online tutoring based on Orton-Gillingham / structured literacy practices. Some students may develop a better rapport with some tutors compared to others and if a student’s learning is atypical, she or he may learn better with a tutor who knows how to adjust curriculum or vary it for different students’ needs.
HOMESCHOOLING AS TOTAL FREEDOM VS HOMESCHOOLING TO RETURN
Because uncertainty continues about the pandemic, viral variants, and vaccine protections, it looks as if for the upcoming year, homeschooling, private school, and public school may still be different from what they were pre-COVID.
Within the homeschooling decision, student may choose to homeschool with total freedom – freedom to pursue passion projects, remediation as needed, and rest and as many extracurriculars as possible, or they may try to carry out a homeschooling plan that will allow them to catch up to their classmates with the plan that they ultimately rejoin classes in public or private school.
Homeschooling parents may discover with relief that it’s easier for students to learn more quickly at home 1:1 with a parent who is able to help, than in a general classroom where there are more distractions, more background noise, and more than one student to teach at one time. With a continued requirement to distance and use masks, students may have an even greater difficulty distinguishing similar sounds spoken by the teacher; they can’t read lips, and they can’t see mouth positions.
When students lose track in a lesson (or lessons) entire periods, days, or weeks can be lost until confusion about information is discovered and addressed. Ideally, a parent (or tutor) who has adequate knowledge can detect problems and misunderstandings more quickly, allowing learning to proceed more efficiently.
What can students do with the extra time? They can get recovery down time, develop expertise at hobbies, and socialize. Some families are able to get permission for homeschooling students to take field trips and join clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities with public and private schools. There are also homeschooling groups at local and national levels that allow students to find like minds and friends.
Some families may also choose to homeschool for the short-term, but with the goal of returning full time to school in a year or two. Some public schools may have homeschooling resource groups that meet on campus, but only require attendance at school for one or a few days per week.
Some private schools for dyslexia have “transitional programs” where public school students attend a school for 1-2 years in order to get more intensive remediation with the idea that they will be able to rejoin their classes after dedicated structured literacy / Orton-Gillingham instruction.
I want to share their hybrid systems because sometimes we have families cobble out their own hybrid program to keep their students learning and happy.
The transitional program doesn’t have the total freedom of unschooling, but it may be preferred by parents and children who are highly motivated to return to public or private school after “catching up”.
THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO BE SUCCESSFUL
Dyslexic minds are great minds. There are many ways for students to be successful as they progress through their education and their educational plans may also change as student and family priorities change.
“I grew up wanting to be Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…”
“I wish everyone recognized that dyslexia has its advantages.” – Robert Ballard
It’s not just Bob’s accomplishments that make his autobiography so compelling, but his focus, resilience, ingenuity, and ability to think on his feet that allowed him to roll with the punches and turn setbacks into successes. His book is not a “kid’s book”, but rather a tell-it-like-happened book with wisdom to share as well as entertaining stories.
Today Bob is known for discovering the Titanic, the Bismarck, ancient Phoenician boats, Kennedy’s PT109, hydrothermal vents and the explosion of sea life around them, “black smokers”, and even a new form of metabolic process called “chemosynthesis” that doesn’t require light.
There are so many parts of the book that I liked, but here are a few: I liked that Bob acknowledged how much he appreciated that his parents never questioned his dream wanting to grow up and be like Captain Nemo despite the fact he was struggling with school and basics like reading and writing. Bob recalled his mother as “my biggest booster and my protector.”
I also liked reading about his circuitous route to becoming an ocean explorer. There were lots of setbacks, including lots of bad advice, but fortunately in Bob’s case a lot of people who also believed in him and supported him when they could.
Bob has said that he believes his dyslexia has enabled a lot of his greatest discoveries and we agree with him.
At the time Bob started really exploring the deep oceans, there was so much unknown because of technical limitations of reaching depths and photographing them, but also the size of the oceans. There are so many abilities and talents in being able to accomplish things that no on has been able to do before.
It involves intelligence, of course, and creative problem solving, recognizing patterns, and being able to see what others have missed. But it also takes a lot of personal traits, resilience in the face of setbacks, bravery in the setting of personal danger, and character traits to lead and inspire teams, and raise funds for massive projects.
Bob also was able to put on his scientist hat to winnow and consider the implication of new information and make sense of incongruent or puzzling information.
Bob is also a powerful communicator and educator, and now has inspired generations of people to study the oceans and become their own Nemo.
Now the preceding articlemight suggest that the issue of processing speed is a simple one for individual students, but as George Dorry alluded to in his article, The Tortoise Hypothesis, there may be other factors involved. George’s article is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but he raises the practical complexities of trying to figure out just what is going on with a particular student.
George again: “If you were hoping for a single benign explanation for processing speed difficulties, ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’.” There are many to consider. As you read the following descriptions, remember that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. They may be co-occurring, or they only occur in some circumstances and not in others…
Under ODD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, George describes two varieties:
“Gandhi (passive-resistance): “You can’t make me do it!”
Che Guevara (active resistance): “Power to the people! I get to decide what I do, or don’t do!”
Both demonstrate a conscious choice to avoid or escape from performing tasks or to resist the request by authority. The result is slower performance despite the necessary intelligence. There can be a reason for that resistance other than egocentric or control issues. Many individuals develop resistance to tasks they do not do well.
Although I personally am not particularly fond of the term “oppositional defiant disorder,” I’d recommend taking particular care using the term in the setting of dyslexic students. It’s clear that children can be passive or defiant, but usually if it’s in the setting of dyslexia, the main causes are situational because of the extremes between knowledge and output and common inappropriate work output expectations in conventional schooling.
To circle back to the title of this article, though, the guiding of tortoises and hares, I also want to make sure I include the possibilities that students may also show suboptimal hare-behavior… working quickly rather than carefully or rather than slow and steady.
In some cases, it seems as if students have a natural tendency to enjoy doing things fast. Our daughter was like this and I’m not entirely sure why. She was naturally competitive in sports when she was little and liked to race and do
things fast rather than carefully. I remember once I tested her on a pencil control test involving a maze and she had so many contacts with the side walls of the maze, it looked as if she could be quite impaired. In reality, she didn’t care whether she contacted the sides of the maze…she only cared about her final time!
There is a wide continuum of responses tests and schoolwork. Some students may be excessively down on themselves about poor performances and mistakes, while others may be too happy-go-lucky to care.
If you are tasked with trying to motivate or even encourage practice in a student who really needs a ton of practice to move more toward fluent reading, writing, or fact mastery, then don’t hesitate to use a “spoon full of sugar approach” and use external rewards to make the practice more palatable. Think small rewards (it doesn’t have to involve money) with a quick turnaround rather than big rewards that take a long time to earn.
A weakness of George’s paper is how surprisingly few suggestions are given to help students with slow processing speed. In fact, a lot can be done to help students who are quite slow, especially in the setting of dyslexia.
The first step should always make sure that learning is pitched high enough to match their intellectual level and realize the slowness because a great foundation is being built. If you are going to build a little tent, it doesn’t take
a long time to set up; but if you are building a grand estate, then you must take time to get all the plans in order, build a strong foundation, get everything set, and then build all the levels.
Academic progress for dyslexic students is very non-linear. They may have periods of time where output may seem to be hitting a plateau, but if all the pieces of education are working well, then be patient and soon you will see a
spurt in ability and what can be done.
Tortoises need unhurried time to build skills, to learn in multisensory ways with experiences, physical materials, and opportunities to build on strengths.
If students seem to be “time blind” (researchers have shown that dyslexic students and students with ADHD) have more trouble perceiving the passage of time, then provide supports for time.
Low pressure work on timing can be done by having students work with a clock in view (special timers like the one at right show children visually that time is passing as the colored part of the clock disappears). They can try to beat previous times for finishing homework, or other activities. Just realize that if even these strategies cause stress, then put the clocks away for a while and praise persistence and accuracy.
Actually, time blindness can sometimes be a good thing if students get lost in time while working on projects. Some creatives operating at the highest levels have even told us that they see their time blindness as a strength. When they are in the “flow,” they can focus extremely well and don’t realize that time is even passing.
Encourage your student to plan the day with time and also use time as intervals of activity (work on math or read for 30 minutes, for example). If your student is doing something that they love, then don’t set a time for that and don’t give rewards – the activity is its own reward.
Are there activities when timing is a bad idea? When learning something, students shouldn’t worry about how long it takes them to ‘get’ a concept or learn an approach to problem solving. Many students need to see multiple examples or view a problem from multiple perspectives before understanding a concept or method of problem solving.
This is part of the slow part of learning for many dyslexic people…but once mastered, the information and knowledge may go very deep so that ideas and understandings are “intuitive” and missed by other people.
Tortoises may need more structure and accountability with fixed deadlines. Calendars, whether digital or physical are useful to all, especially when organized with care, breaking down projects and due dates, and incorporating deadlines before deadlines like “Finish assigned reading” two days before a test to allow for review.
Tortoises may also need to have a system to fall back on when they don’t understand concepts or aren’t on track to finish readings or other aspects of work in time. Having a check-in may be all that’s needed or a reminder list of fall back supports like talking to someone else about a subject, finding a YouTube video, looking for Cliff notes for a book, or whatever.
Tortoises and hares shouldn’t be seen as “disorders,” but rather as something more like temperaments or tendencies. Each has its particular strengths and weaknesses – and self-understanding can lead to greater fulfillment of talents and possibilities.
Although spatial intelligence is often a “dyslexic super power” and associated with famous architects, filmmakers, inventors, and engineers, it gets surprising little education in K-12 education. What that might mean in a practical way is that many of the young members of this community might only stumble into their greatest talents by chance, or worse, not at all.
MOST CURRICULA ONLY SPECIFY NAMING AND SORTING SHAPES
Math educator David Fielker noticed a surprising blind spot when it comes to math instruction with shapes: typically students are led to practice sorting and verbally classifying shapes, rather than working with them, building, adding, and taking away.
It’s physically working with them, “composing and decomposing shapes, comparing and mentally manipulating two- and three-dimensional figures, and mapping and orienting” (Sue Gifford, The Case for Space) that leads to active spatial intelligence.
Gunderson and colleagues (2012) found that it was children’s proficiencies on spatial tasks like the ones shown above that best correlated with ability to use a mental number line and success with mental math.
So this discussion of mental math is not just for students who may become experts in this area; it’s also for those who are struggling spatially. Substantial research shows that spatial intelligence can be trained up – and that it is not limited to a fixed skill (or deficit) that one is born with.
In fact, for many dyslexics, over the course of development, what initially appears as spatial weakness (for instance confusion of mirror-related symbols and shapes), may later appear as a strength by older ages.
In our clinic, we had the privilege of testing many a young engineer in the early grades where we could see first hand how they would lose points on “spatial intelligence” tasks like Block Design when they would lose time points when flipping back and forth between mirror-related shapes. Years later, this area of weakness did a flip, not infrequently becoming a strengths as the mirror confusion of youth gave way to the more adult pattern of strength in mental rotation.
For younger children, or older students with significant spatial challenges, Sue has a nice handoutshowing activities that foster spatial problem solving ability.
Examples are shown on the opposite page. Another great link for activities and resources (requires Flash though) is Mathclips.ca
Spatial problem solving exercises are not “add-ons” that are included only if there is extra free time. In fact, researchers at Vanderbilt University found that spatial skills assessed in high school would predict which students would be successful in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and spatial skills were better predictors or math success than verbal or mathematical skills.
Had I known, what I know now, I think I might have done things differently when our kids were younger. My husband is very strong spatially and our daughter took after him in this regard. My son was more like me – very weak spatially, so often the kids gravitated to things that they were already intrinsically good at.
There is nothing wrong with this, but what I noticed over the years is that my son took a greater interest in hands-on and spatial activities as he got older and likely better at them.
At 6 or 7, he seemed to have significant spatial impairments. As a neurologist then (I didn’t know better), I might have thought they were stable deficits and unlikely to change. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Today he works easily with 3d models creating buildings and architecture for the worlds of his books. He is easily better than me in this regard – but he’s also been practicing more since this is now what he does in his chosen profession.
Interestingly, his math skills which were initially “under-the-charts” if that is a term meaning the opposite of “off-the-charts” high, are high enough to do anything he’d like to do.
So what I would conclude today is that cultivating spatial intelligence is for everyone, but perhaps especially many dyslexic students. In the beginning, they may start a good deal behind many of their peers, but with support, practice, scaffolding, and encouragement, you can get them to the point where they on par with their peers – and then may even take off from there if that is what they may need to do something they really want to do.
Do check out the guidefor more great ideas. Some sample take-home points:
Emphasize spatial language. Encourage visualization strategies. Celebrate visual displays of data. Use and encourage use of gestures. Use manipulatives to illustrate concepts and solve problems. Provide play opportunities to exercise spatial reasoning. Take advantage of technology and multisensory methods such as animations and interactive learning.
We all know the drill – we want kids to read so that reading gets easier so it’s more fun to read, but it’s too hard to read now, so they don’t read, there’s no practice, and reading comes to a standstill.
So how can we get them to read?
HELP THEM FIND THE RIGHT BOOK AT THE RIGHT LEVEL
In order for students to enjoy reading, a book should be at the right level for their interest, but also right level for their current reading level.
FINDING THE LEXILE LEVEL THEN SELECT THE ‘JUST RIGHT’ BOOKS IN YOUR PUBLIC LIBRARY
It’s estimated that almost 1/2 of public school children have been assigned a Lexile Level based on their most recent reading achievement test. It’s possible that your student’s teacher may know your student’s lexile number or if you were given a copy of test results, you could find the number there.
If you have a book that you know your child enjoys reading, you can use it to find a lexile number that may be just right for your student.
If you you’re a teacher of older students and don’t have access to your student’s lexile numbers, you can make an assignment where the students figure out their lexile range and then find books that are right at their level. A lexile to approximate grade chart can also be found HERE.
As an example, if you put “Dav Pilkey” into the Find a Book Lexile page, here are just a few books that come through the search.
You can see that his simplest book Little Dog and Big Dog is 160L, whereas the Mighty Robot Book is 520L.
Once you know the Lexile range, then log into your online public library. Below is what my library search box looks like.
Below is what my “Advanced” tab in the public library search looks like. The arrows below can show where you can insert a lexile level (for example, 450-550 if your student likes Dav’s Mighty Robot book) as well as if you’d like an ebook or graphic novel.
If you don’t have a library card, chances are the process is still quite easy and can be done online. Also if there is a long wait list for a particular book, it’s also pretty easy to get a library card (again online) from a neighboring library that may have the book available.
Our son is converting his 20,000 Leagues book into a graphic novel, and he’s been able to use the public library graphic novel collection to study different book layouts and storytelling. Beside finding books on the LibbyApp, our library has a subscription to Hoopla Digital, which offers streaming e-books including graphic novels, audiobooks, music, and video.
We’ve also tried out “contact-free” books at the public library. It’s very easy. The librarians have a table outside. If we call when we’re heading over, they put the books in a shopping bag outside on the table.
Some libraries have made lists of hi-lo (high interest, low reading) books in their libraries, but many libraries, unfortunately, do not yet have this information that’s readily available.
Sometimes it’s possible to search these books by the publisher name, but library catalogs may vary a great deal.
In our local public library, a search for “Saddleback Educational Publishers” (a popular hi-lo publisher) result in 2 books in our district, but searching for “graphic biography” yielded many more. Our catalog doesn’t have accurate search for publishers.
Other resources for free leveled reading passages:
The second video is a good cartoon introduction to the idea of Emotional Intelligence. It has some good examples and insights, but occasionally has some misses. Try it out first yourself and see if it might be helpful sharing with a student.
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