Going into the Holidays…

Looking back at the last 6 months I have been continually impressed on how families are pushing through the pandemic. Everywhere I look plates are full and life has quickly become this insane balancing act. Now more than ever we need to take a deep breath and take a step back. Its’ time to take stock of what we have accomplished and what we can control in the hectic holiday weeks ahead. Family from out of town might be visiting. You might be traveling. School will be on break. We may quickly find this lack of consistency has ourselves and our kids spinning.

Now this may not be the most professional post, but I am hoping to bring some perspective. Here is a truth, teachers have known for years; no matter the age or abilities of our children, despite the pandemic, ALL kids lose their minds during the holidays. Yes, ALL OF THEM! ALL children are over excited. ALL of them have a hard time focusing. ALL children are experiencing sensory overload. It is like they all turn into little holiday monsters who cannot self-regulate. I hope this little dose of reality brings you comfort. This common thread of stress, inconsistent schedules, and overall holiday chaos gives me pause. We could all use some tips surviving the holidays with a smile and sense of peace.

Here are some practical steps we can implement to keep the peace.

Step 1: Identify your comfort zone. Be honest about who you want to spend your time with. Think about how you want your family to spend their time. What makes you feel comfortable? What will make your child feel comfortable? Who makes you laugh, smile, and feel completely accepted and loved? If there is a situation or a person or even a place that will disturb that peace, realize it is ok to skip the event, cancel plans, and just claim some space. Take care of yourself. Take care of your family.

Step 2: Slowly introduce sensory input. It seems in our house Christmas goes up in one weekend. Everything! Lights, tree, decorations, cookies, presents… AHHH!!! It is A LOT! And like a crazy person I do it every year! Why do we do this to ourselves? All children could benefit from the slow introduction of things. Just because the tree is up does not mean it needs to be decorated the same day. Nor does it have to have freshly wrapped presents underneath it, ASAP. Preparing your child for the changes to their environment in stages can lower anxiety and mitigate sensory concerns.

Step 3: Try to keep a schedule/routine: I am always so proud of families who assert their need to maintain a schedule. For many it keeps their children calm, stable, and it helps mitigated melt downs. I cannot stress enough how important routine is for ALL children. Research shows consistent routines help children feel safe and secure.

Step 4: Practice “front loading”: This is an educational term and a strategy that works wonders. It is basically predicting what will happen for your child. Again, it is a strategy that can help ALL children.

For loud noises try saying, “When we get there the music and people
might be loud. You can use your headphones to help you block out
sound.”

For social concerns try saying, “There is going to be lots of
people there wanting to talk and visit with you. It’s ok to take
breaks and come find me if you get overwhelmed.”

For high energy try saying, “I can see you are excited. When we get
there, let’s talk with the host about boundaries. What is ok to
play with? What is ok to do?”

Remember, what may seem completely typical to us can overload children’s senses and overwhelm their emotions. Let’s prepare them for scenarios that could be triggers.

Step 5: Give family members insight on your child: Sometime people are not sure how interact with a child with Autism or Downs or ADHD. Email, call, or text family members things you know that work. Give them the heads up on your child’s triggers, aversions, or sensory needs. I know I appreciate knowing! I go out of my way to meet the needs that friends and family have requested. I want my home to be a safe place for any child.

Step 6: Identify a helper: Oh Momma’s! We put too much pressure on ourselves. Dads, I don’t mean to leave you out, but when it comes to tough moments, us Momma’s bear the brunt. We are the ones processing emotions with our kids, doing the front loading, helping with the sensory issues, and trying the impossible task of planning and preparing for the unknown. It is stressful! For those of you who need to hear this, “It’s ok to need to tap out every once in a while”. Find a person who understands your child, who your child views as safe, and create a plan for help. I love being that person to my girlfriends. I love stepping up and offering them a moment of respite because I understand how desperately it is needed.

Step 7: Be kind to yourself: Repeat after me… I will not compare my children with others. I will not put my children in obligatory situations that cause them to be upset. I will unplug from social media and realize that the pictures I see are just that…pictures, just a snapshot, not a whole life. I will be true to myself, my family, and the needs of my children. That’s it! Nothing else matters in the scheme of things.

With all my well-wishes… find your balance, maintain your peace, give yourself some grace and have a VERY Merry Christmas!

10 Ways to Survive Online Learning

Schools across the nation are closing due to increased Covid-19 cases. Parents are working from home and doing their best to balance work, school, and relationships. Kids are experiencing anxiety and depression from the inconsistent schedules and being away from teachers and friends. This is transferring to what they accomplish at home and how they are interacting with siblings and parents. Life is quickly becoming a mess for many families. We all still love our kids with our whole hearts, and we want what is best for them, we want them to learn. But let’s be honest, for some of us, online learning is a struggle. So, how do we love and support our kids through this stressful time? Here is my top 10 list for surviving online learning:

1. Create a written schedule (and stick to it): Schedule classes, zooms, downtime, everything they could need to get through the first half of the day. (Note I said the first half of the day… more on that next.) Make this a routine and include time for you to check in on them and answer questions. Set the example. If your child gets off task, the day is not lost. You can increase your check in times, redirect them, answer their questions, and make sure they know you are there for them. (which is truly the most important thing.)

2. Allow flexible seating: your child does not have to work at a desk or a table. Where do they feel comfortable? Where are they the most focused?

3. Allow for frequent breaks: These breaks should last at least 10 minutes and can be a great time for kids to get a snack, a drink, or just move around. This also prevents excuses during online learning because they know a break is coming. Look at your day as three main chunks: after breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner. It’s an easy plan that kids of all ages can understand. (P.S. a break is not more screen time. Breaks are not for phones or video games.)

4. Do the hard stuff first: if they hate Math, get it out of the way! Starting with the harder things allows them to use all their energy, determination, and focus to tackle the difficult subjects. It teaches them not to procrastinate and to learn when to ask for help. If they get stumped, it can give them time to zoom with their teacher or ask a question via email. If your child absolutely needs your help on a specific subject, make time for it in the schedule above.

5. Reach out to teachers: Educators are sad and stressed being away from their students. This is just as hard for them as it is for us. If problems arise, send an email, or attend a zoom. I find, they are more than happy to help. One of the best ways to handle the stress of it all is to communicate! You are not a bother; you are doing your best to support your child.

6. Allow kids to vent: kids need a place to say if they think something is dumb or frustrating. They need to know you understand, you are not going to judge them for it, and you will help them work through their emotions. In a crisis like this one, the old fashioned “buckle down and focus” conversation can make things worse. Making a child laugh at a situation and preserver is far more effective.

7. Document concerns: if you notice your child have frequent meltdowns, using avoidance strategies, refusing to read or write, and anything else that seems out of character, WRITE IT DOWN. Keep track of the frequency, times of day, and what could be the trigger. This is valuable information that teachers use to determine if there is a potential learning disability. They can also use it to make accommodations for your child, so the work is more manageable.

8. Ask for accommodations: let the school know your child might need extra-time to complete assignments. Ask for alternative assignments. For example, if writing is a challenge maybe they can submit a video. If lengthy reading passages are a problem, ask for an audio version of the book. There are many solutions!

9. Use tech tools: It is ok to google something, ask Alexa, or look for helpful videos on YouTube. It is ok to use speech to text or audiobooks. We all do it! (Yes, even the well-trained educational advocate needs help with 7th grade Math.) There are wonderful resources out there like Khan Academy or Grammarly that can be a lifesaver.

10. Give yourself Grace: You are not a trained educator. You love your child fiercely but putting pressure on yourself to be an expert in excel or algebra or any other topic is unrealistic. Joke with your kids about it. Take deep breaths, set small goals, and congratulate yourself for surviving another round of online learning! www.inspire1learning.com

Getting Personal

Today I am compelled to write about my daughter. This is not from an advocate, this is from me, the Momma of a child with Dyslexia. The Momma who gets frustrated her daughter is in third grade and cannot spell basic site words. The Momma whose child reads an entire grade level behind. The Momma who is trained in all things education, advocacy, special education, and uses the Barton Method with fidelity. The Momma whose heart still breaks because of the mountain my daughter has to climb when it comes to literacy.

In the beginning, my “M” started off great with reading. I was so proud of her bringing home her little level A books and reading every night in Kindergarten. She made progress and was moving through the standards guided reading levels. I never suspected a thing. I was confident she would make gains and learn to read and write. Then, in second grade, something changed. It was like she just got stuck. It took longer and longer to move to the next level. Words confused her. She guessed all the time when reading and could not spell. She avoided writing and reading. She would find ways to get me or the computer to read it for her. She would send video and audio responses instead of typing them. She was a pro at avoidance strategies!

I know it was not her teacher. She had the most amazing teacher. A woman who is an expert in her field. This teacher knows literacy inside and out. I have the utmost respect for her ability as an educator and her opinion. If this teacher could not get my daughter to make progress, I knew something was up. She moved to third grade and these problems persisted (even with another excellent teacher). Yet here I was, a trained advocate and a trained teacher questioning my own insight. I am someone who knows about pedagogy, methodology, and child development. I found myself wondering, “Is there something wrong? Is she not paying attention? Is she not working hard enough? Did I not read enough to her? Did I not make her read enough? Was she not in a literacy rich environment?” I went through all those questions and self-doubt that I warn parents about. Everything I knew about Dyslexia went out the window. Everything I knew about teaching and learning, forgotten. I just could not fathom that my child, the child of an expert, was struggling. I was not trusting my instincts that she was struggling because of Dyslexia. I knew it in my core and could not admit it. I am ashamed of this fact.

My thought process was completely skewed. Yes, my daughter had reversals of letters, but that is not the only indicator of Dyslexia, it could just be a developmental thing. So, I dismissed it. Yes, my daughter mixed up letters when she wrote words. Again, it could be developmental. Her spelling? Atrocious! Her reading fluency? Choppy! Her ability to decode words? She guessed! I had to take a hard look at all of these pieces of evidence. I could not blame her teachers, they were wonderful. I could not blame myself, although I tried. I could not blame her, unfortunately I tried this too. It boiled down to understanding this was all beyond her control because she lacked the tools she needed.

We started the Barton method in May. This was not easy. She did not want Momma to see how she had been coping, compensating, and covering. It was eye opening. Her struggle was far worse than I had thought. One lesson could take three, 45-minute sessions for her to process. Sometimes, I had to go back and re-teach lessons. She needed explicit, repetitive, multi-sensory instruction. It was a whole new way of looking at literacy and it was a major shift for her. This philosophy contradicted everything she had been taught about Reading and Writing. Now on level 4, I still remind her not to guess and to use her knowledge of language and letter sounds to decode a word.

I wish educators would understand, this is such a long road. It takes patience, determination, and strength to do what you know your child needs. I wish educators would understand this is not made up, not an excuse, and that parents of children with Dyslexia are not crazy. I wish they would not be so dismissive. I wish they knew that certain methods of teaching reading will do more damage than good. A multi-sensory method will serve my child far better. Reading and writing is not one size fits all and being trained in multiple methods will benefit students. I wish educators would do an in-depth study on Dyslexia to understand it better. I wish they would understand the years I have spent studying Dyslexia, working with students who have Dyslexia, and advocating for them; then maybe they would see the validity to the discussion. I wish they could see how using an inappropriate method severely affects children with Dyslexia. It makes them hide who they are. It makes them pretend because they think they are dumb.

My daughter is smart and spunky. She is creative and funny. She is so much more than her struggle, her guided reading level, or her poor spelling. She is full of beautiful ideas that are difficult for her to express through written language. Last year, I had a little girl who would never read signs wherever we went. This summer, at Reptile Gardens, she read every sign and piece of information we passed. I almost cried. I had a girl who would not write thank you cards because she could not spell all the wonderful things she wanted to say. Now, she makes cards for fun. I had a girl who would never pick up a book and read to herself. (She preferred catalogues because of the pictures.) Now, she will choose a book to read because she wants to. She was bored this weekend and uttered the words,” I guess I’ll read a book.” What? I love that!
It has taken us 7 months to move 4 levels in Barton. That is unusually long. This just speaks to how much time we needed to understand basic sounds. She processes slowly and we only work on it a few times a week because it is exhausting for her. She still has struggles. She still cannot spell “people”, but we are working on it. She can, however, understand digraphs, blends, long and short vowels, and a myriad of other things she could not do 4 months ago. This is the best decision I have ever made for her. I am giving Barton time to fill the holes left by guided reading and then will likely pursue a 504 plan.

It is sad I do not trust the public schools across the state of South Dakota to handle Dyslexia appropriately. (It is not their fault; they lack training and understand of this complex disability.) She does need specialized instruction from the school, and I am fortunate to have the training to provide that for her. Most parents do not. She will also need accommodations. She may need audio books or verbal responses on tests. Her work will need to be looked at for its ideas instead of its spelling. She needs things that can reveal her true intelligence and help everyone see her beyond Dyslexia.

I look forward to the day when she can read and write confidently. I know Dyslexia will always be an issue for her. I am thankful I can give her the tools she needs to make progress and find success. I am thankful for my training and understanding of this topic. I am thankful for this platform to tell my daughter’s story. I hope this reaches another family struggling, another family with questions, another family who does not know what to do and needs help. I am here. The Dyslexia community is here. We can help. Thank you for reading. www.inspire1learning.com

Hey Parents….listen up!

Hey Parents, did you know how you approach an IEP meeting has a serious impact on its outcome? What kind of energy are you bringing to the table? Are you biased? Do you have negative past experiences? Do you feel fear? embarrassment? anger? Do you just want to cry? I think I have worked with families that experience all these emotions. This is what I call “educational baggage” and trust me, we all have it. It all stems from what school was like for us, how we learned, and how we process the hopes and dreams we have for our children. I have had parents call me in rage, in tears, and in utter confusion. I listen, understanding this all comes from the love you have for your children, knowing we must work through them to be an effective team.

Part of my job is to help you understand these feelings and determine if they are useful to our goal. Yes, parents cry at IEP meetings. It happens all the time, but I can tell you it does nothing to help your child. I know that is hard to hear but it is true. Teams see people cry all the time and it is not productive. However, taking those emotions and turning them into an impact statement or actionable goals is far more powerful. This can help the team better understand you, your family, and your child.

If I am to stand up for your child to the best of my abilities, I need to understand every part of your child’s history, including family dynamic. I have to understand your experiences with school and your child’s experiences. This helps me paint a more accurate picture of your child. We are looking at the WHOLE child, not just the one at school. For example, some children work all day to hold it together, to keep their behavior and emotions in check and then blow up at home. This is important information for the school to know. The team can work to help your child process during the day to lessen the reactions at home. Hiding your home life and experiences is a detriment to creating an effective plan.

To make a strong plan, I also try to see things from the perspective of the district. This can be confusing to families. Yes, I am there to represent your child, but I am also there to help you understand what fights are worth fighting. I have relationships with the people working with your children. I know when something we might be asking for is not possible. (We can still ask for it, but I will tell you it’s not likely as we plan.) Often, the two parties in IEP meetings see things very differently. These different perspectives can cloud judgement and decision making on both sides. This is often the case when discussing something like methodology. I often push for Orton Gillingham to be used for a child with Dyslexia. The district disagrees claiming their methods, training, and systems are enough to meet the needs of the child.
Understanding this perspective helps us shape the conversation.

Remember, I am not a “hired gun”. I do my best to stay unbiased and focus on the child’s needs. What is in the best interest of the child? What do they absolutely need to succeed in school? Are our requests reasonable? Are we placing too much responsibility on the school? Are we not considering our own roles and responsibilities? I would be failing as an advocate who claims to represent the whole child if we did not look at ALL the angles.

In conclusion, to make the most of my services, it is important share details about your child and family life. It will be helpful to work through emotions that can hinder progress at a meeting. We also may need to answer some hard questions. We will be prepared, calm, in control, and keeping the focus on your child’s needs once we do. In the end, it will all be worth it.

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

I posted an “ask me anything” challenge on Facebook and you did not disappoint. I am always available and can be contacted through my website wwww.inspire1learning.com or Facebook. Here is what I received:

How do you get a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is all about access. It guarantees equal access to an education. Think of it as leveling the playing field. So, if a child has ADHD, Dyslexia, Anxiety, Diabetes, ect… the question becomes what do they need to access their education? What kind of accommodations will help them succeed? It is a disability that affects a major life activity. All you need to do is write a letter to the school (teacher and principal) and request a 504 plan. If they deny you, call me! It’s the equivalent of denying someone their civil right to an education. Remember, Grades are not an indicator of a disability. The parent/educator guide to 504, provided by the federal government, clearly states students may still need equal access to the general curriculum even if they have good grades.

How do you get an IEP?
This differs greatly from a 504. You don’t “get” an IEP. You are found eligible for an individualized education plan. This means your child will receive specialized instruction. They will have annual goals, accommodations, and a clear plan on how they will make progress. The first step is putting a request into writing that you suspect your child has a disability. This includes social emotional needs, academics, attention, and many others. There are 13 categories under which your child could qualify. Once you have written a letter stating the specifics of what kind of disability you suspect, the school will start the evaluation process. They will then hold an eligibility meeting to determine if your child has qualified. Then there will be the IEP meeting to develop the plan. Remember, your meaningful participation is guaranteed throughout the entire process. If you are just sitting across everyone at a table and not contributing, you may need to call an advocate to help you. It should never be a situation where you just sit, listen, and sign. Contribute! You know your child best!

What does an advocate cost?
We charge $75.00 per hour. However, we let you dictate how in depth we get. Some families opt for a quick 2-hour review. Other families feel better knowing we are with you every step of the way. If it is an initial IEP and evaluation, you can expect we will spend more time with you. We want to make sure you understand the process, the implications of testing results, and that we have a clear understanding of what you want for your child. If an IEP is already in place the time will consist of reviewing the plan, meeting with you to get your input, and attending the IEP meeting. We document concerns, communicate with the IEP team, and do our best to be the voice of your child.

Are IEP meetings longer when you are involved?
Absolutely! This is a good thing. You do not want to be rushed when it comes to your child’s educational needs. You want to have a complete understanding of what your child is learning and how they are learning. This takes time! Under IDEA, you are guaranteed meaningful participation. I believe “meaningful” means allowing more time to ask questions and sharing your ideas and knowledge. There are no time requirements for IEP meetings listed in IDEA. Of course, we want to be respectful of the school’s time but if you need another meeting to guarantee that meaningful participation, then so be it.

Can’t you just give me some quick advice?
We could, but each child is unique, and each plan is individualized. What works for one child may not work for another. That is why it is so important to see the evaluation results, input from teachers, your input, and their current plan. I need to have a clear picture of the child including strengths, weaknesses, and learning style. Many times, I will even ask to meet with your child to get their take on school.

Does having an advocate make the IEP team angry?
Sometimes. Unfortunately, advocacy has gotten the reputation of being adversarial. Too many, untrained advocates are quick to threaten lawsuits, state complaints, or due process. I will exhaust every effort before recommending any of these steps. I will negotiate, compromise, ask questions, and come up with creative solutions.
Some teams also take it is a sign that we do not trust them. This is not the case at all! I know teams are overworked and have large caseloads. I know they are bound by funding, staffing, and time constraints. I am not. I am free to look at the plan for the possibilities of what it can be and how it can help the child. It’s exciting to see the possibilities! I like to keep the focus on the child and create a plan that is unique and individualized to meet their needs. I find, once the meeting gets going, the team realizes I am not there to tear anyone down, I am not there to judge, I am not there to threaten, I am simply there to help families understand the process. I am there to ask for what we believe the child needs to succeed in school. I am there so families do not feel so alone and isolated. I am there to represent the interests of the child. I even make it a point to smile, make small talk, and try to break the ice. It is important to build trust and build relationships with people. I would be a terrible advocate if my goal were to fight and argue in every meeting. How would that help the child? How would I build any kind of mutual respect with the team?

How do you handle conflict?
Conflict is going to happen. It is a fact. However, conflict does not mean I become unprofessional. Conflict is simply a disagreement and adults have disagreements all the time. I do my best to stay calm, polite, and respectful. It is not personal. The school represents one perspective and I represent another. I stay objective, share my knowledge why I think my request is appropriate. Sometimes the team agrees, sometimes they do not. That is ok. I will advise you accordingly. I might say to let a request go; we have a good plan. I might say to enact your procedural safeguards and contact a lawyer. It depends on the child and the request. (In two years of advocacy I have only referred a family to a lawyer once. That shows negotiation can work!)

Do you only work in Rapid City?
I work all over the state of South Dakota thanks to technology. I can zoom into any meeting in any location. I can email you what you need to self-advocate. I can email or call schools. There is a great deal I can do even though I may be hours away from you. However, I do not work in other states. Although IDEA is federal law, state requirements vary. I am only familiar with the laws, policies, and procedures of the state of South Dakota and IDEA. I am not a lawyer, I am not a psychologist, I can only advise you based on my training through the Council of Parents Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), my experiences as a teacher, and my history in advocacy.

On Reading Wars… part 2

The core of the argument concerning the reading wars is about methodology. This is HOW your child is being taught. Whole Language is one way or METHOD of teaching reading. Orton Gillingham is another. However, OG specifically addresses the needs of learners with dyslexia. Whole language learning does not.

Some children with Dyslexia memorize the shapes of words. This is because the letters could appear to the child in any order. If they memorize the shape of the word, they can give the impression they are reading. (You may have heard the phrase, “guessing is not reading”. This is where that phrase comes from.) In guided reading, we teach children to look at familiar parts of words. We teach them to use the pictures to help them. We teach them to use context clues. Children with Dyslexia will focus on “using the pictures” as their primary strategy. Take those pictures away, and suddenly they cannot read. They have a hard time using known parts of words or “chunks” because, again, the parts of the word or the letters may be processed in a different order in the brain. This strategy is not effective for them. Context clues also becomes a challenge because the reader is supposed to use the words around the unknown word to help it make sense. Again, the way words are processed in the dyslexic brain does not correlate with this method. Thus, a different method will be more effective. Using a method that utilizes phonemic awareness, with a focus on syllables and rules, is appropriate methodology for children with Dyslexia. We know this. Research has proven this. Yet, getting an IEP team understand this is usually a HUGE undertaking.

We know children with Dyslexia needs specialized instruction. This has been upheld in the court system. Research also shows they need a multi-sensory approach to reading. This is not whole language. This is OG, Barton, Wilson, and Lindamood Bell. But these are not the methods most public schools use, have access to, or are even trained in. Districts will not commit to the purchasing or the training of these programs because it can be expensive. Getting a district to financially commit is always a fight in the world of advocacy. Always.

The reason why IEP teams have a hard time with developing IEP’s for children with dyslexia comes down to methodology. IDEA does not say a school has to use a specific method at the parents’ request. IDEA just says they need specialized instruction to meet their unique needs. A school can offer specialized instruction without using OG or any other method you may suggest. Methodology then becomes a gray area in which IEP teams across the country debate about. It is rare to get a school to admit their methodology is not working. It takes an extensive amount of data collection, time, and debate.

My training influences my philosophy about methodology. If something is working for a child and allowing them to make gains towards their goals, it needs to be allowed. The Federal Department of Education states, “if an IEP Team determines that specific instructional methods are necessary for the child to receive FAPE, the instructional methods may be addressed in the IEP.” The decision is truly left to the state and local school districts. Unfortunately, it is easy for many districts to say “no”. They know you will have to file a state complaint, or due process, or obtain a lawyer. Most families give up at this point understanding it could take 2-3 years of legal proceedings to see any progress. It’s not personal, it is a systemic problem.

The true consequences, in the end, is that children with Dyslexia are not getting what they need to succeed in school. It is a fact and not up for debate in my mind. So… case by case, family by family, child by child, I do my best to prove METHODOLOGY MATTERS. www.inspire1learning.com

I am an expert…

There are many different types of advocates out in the world. It is wise to understand who they are, their experience in education, and their philosophy. Some might be able to advocate for you for free but you have to ask: What experience and training do they have? What is their style? How much will they help my family? Is their goal my goal? Are they threatening? Is their goal a lawsuit? Are they too objective? Are they going to truly represent my child?

With me, I can tell you exactly what you will get. You will get someone who listens. Someone who will take your frustrations and anger and turn them into actionable goals. I am polite, friendly, honest, and I actively work to build relationships with the school. However, this does not mean I am push over. I have years of experience in the classroom and advocacy. I have been trained by a national organization (COPAA) and have a Masters’ Degree in Education from the University of South Dakota. Yes, I am bound by a Code of Ethics and will never shout, belittle, or threaten a team but I am FIRM. I know your rights and I know how to assert them effectively. I will use state and federal code to negotiate services for your child. I know the meaning of evaluation results and how they translate into the classroom. I know what appropriate services look like for children and I am an expert at seeing when that is not happening. Even if you are unsure, call me for a review! We can do chat via email, zoom, or by phone. inspire1learning@gmail.com or 605-431-3318

On the Reading Wars…

Why does Dyslexia get such a bad rap in the world of special education? It is a disability. This fact can no longer be debated according to federal guidance. It affects 1 in 5 children and therefore is quite common. Plus, it often holds back some very bright children from loving school because they cannot read, write, or spell effectively. Yet our schools hold onto one specific method with all they can muster. Thus, we have the reading wars. Two camps of people who believe strongly in their method of teaching and will not compromise on what is best for the child. This makes me sad as a parent of a dyslexic child, an educator, and an advocate.

As I put my teacher hat back on for a moment, I look at the training I have had in both Whole Language Learning and Orton Gillingham. Teachers are extensively trained in guided reading, the core of whole language. Honestly, when I was teaching, I loved it! However, it did not help all my students make progress. There was always a few in each class, no matter what I did, that did not make gains. As I look back, I wonder how many of them had dyslexia? I think of my own daughter, who has had and still has AMAZING teachers. People who I turned to for my own training and advice when I was still in the classroom. People whom I completely have faith in, whom I complete believe in their teaching abilities. People who are experts at teaching reading. If anyone could help my daughter read, write, and spell, it is these teachers. They are the best of the best. Yet, here she is, an entire grade level behind in reading and even further behind in writing. It is not a reflection on them, it is a reflection on the fact that she learns differently. (I began OG with her in May. I knew it would work because I could see how she processed language. I am happy to report we are still doing OG, it is still working, she is making gains, and she is beginning to enjoy reading!)

Now, from a teacher’s perspective, a parent bringing this unknown method of Orton Gillingham to the table is intimidating. There was a time when I knew nothing about it and had concerns about its validity. Was it rigorous and relevant? Does it correlate with our standards? Is it effective? Is it research based? By using it, are we challenging the expertise of the school and passing judgement on the teaching abilities of staff? This is not the case at all! The dyslexia community, including myself, is just trying to tell their child’s story. We are trying to explain that using one, particular method (of guided reading) does not work for dyslexic learners. There are mountains of evidence and research to support this claim. There are true scientific reasons why whole language learning is the complete OPPOSITE of how children with dyslexia process and learn language.

Between the myths that are circulating and the lack of training, it can be hard to determine what Dyslexia looks like in the classroom. Like I mentioned above, Dyslexics process differently, not wrong, not in a bad way, just different. We need different methods to help them understand and retain information. The Orton Gillingham approach is a powerful tool for a teacher to possess when a child is struggling in Reading, Writing, or Spelling. I can tell you from experience, it is a JOY to watch children unlock their potential and begin to not only learn to read but LOVE to read! Children often breathe a huge sigh of relief when I no longer ask them to “stretch out a word” or look for a known “chunk”. They finally have the freedom to say, “This is not working for me. I don’t get it.”

If I could go into schools and share some basics with staff, I think we would be better at identifying and helping our students that have these struggles. My wish list is as follows:

1. Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder. You can have a mild case and it can still wreck-havoc on your learning.

2. It is not all about letter reversals. My goodness, this is the worst myth of them all!

3. You may see children substituting pronouns consistently as they read. (he for she, we for us)

4. You may see children mix up basic articles like “a” and “the”

5. Children may not be able to write on a line.

6. They may have all the letters to a word but in a mixed-up order.

7. They may insert extra letters into words that are not there. They may mix up the endings of words.

8. They may jumble words in a sentence.

9.They may avoid reading out loud at all costs.(Nor should they be forced to read aloud.)

10.They have outstanding coping mechanisms and have all sorts of creative ways of hiding they are struggling to read and write.

This list could go on and on! If you are an educator reading this, please reach out to learn more. If you are a parent reading this, please know I understand your point of view. This is no longer about dyslexia or the reading wars for me. It is about meeting the learning style of the child. It is about differentiating instruction. It is about abandoning this “one size fits all” mentality and making sure the school has ALL the tools they need to help ALL learners.

www.inspire1learning.com inspire1learing@gmail.com 605-431-3318

Dyslexia Awareness Month

Oh, I have a heart for children with Dyslexia! They are typically bright, creative, kind, and helpful. We just need the right tools to unlock their potential. Unfortunately, many schools across the nation do not recognize Dyslexia as a disability. If they only knew the mountains these kids must climb just to survive public school! Reading effects everything! Your child might struggle in ALL subjects because of Dyslexia. This diagnosis has a major impact on their ability to be successful in an educational setting. It effects 1 in 5 children. That is a staggering statistic! Yet, schools are not responding to this research. (This lack of response has heavy ties to funding, staffing, training, and even the big curriculum companies. It is a complicated lengthy discussion that all in education must have.)
However, we do know we have guidance from the federal government and the Office of Special Education programs. The encourage schools to recognize Dyslexia and to discuss what methodology works best. I am trained in multiple methods of teaching reading, including whole language learning and Orton Gillingham. We know whole language does not work for children with Dyslexia, they process language differently. Using a specific, multi-sensory approach to reading will help Dyslexics process language in a way that is appropriate for them to understand. This gives them direct access to their education which is a cornerstone of IDEA and 504. It is imperative we bring attention to the work being done this month and keep the focus on how we can help children read. Keep checking our blog for insights!