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!

Organization or Executive Function. How do we help?

It does not matter if it is online learning or in class, some kids struggle with organization. I hear it all the time in IEP meetings; the child cannot get organized, they can’t plan ahead, or they are not paying attention. These are indicators your child is struggling with executive function. This means you may see deficits in working memory, flexible thinking, self-control, time management, following directions, self-regulating, planning, organizing, and remembering tasks. This is completely manageable when we focus on what your child CAN do! We can create strategies that play into their strengths and help them learn these skills. Here are some quick tips:

1. Finished products. Even before you start a task, ask you child to imagine what it looks like when it is done. What do they want it to look like? What do they want to accomplish at the end? Then help them see the steps to get there. Many students who struggle with this cannot see “the forest through the trees”. Help them create some laser vision and get them thinking about their thinking! This way they can slowly begin to organize everything they need to get the job done.

2. Visual schedules/cues, timers, recording important moments. Time management is huge! How many of us zone out or go down the rabbit hole of YouTube videos? A good tip is give them a visual or auditory reminder. A schedule to watch, a timer to buzz, or even having them documenting when 30 minutes has passed on a piece of paper can help the day, the task, or the lesson keep moving. This can also be applied to a list of due dates. Help them see when it is due so they can regulate how much time they have left to complete the task.

3. Frequent Breaks. It is so important to stretch your legs, move around, listen to music, and just get away from the SCREEN! Imagine not being able to get up at work for hours. It would be tedious! Dance, sing, laugh, do whatever it takes to break up the monotony.

4. Real life application. Show your student how all this applies to real life. Find a cool video where you can see it in action. Find a picture of that moment in history. Help them see how it applies to daily living. Whatever your child is learning, bring it to life!

5. Questions and review. Instead of questioning your child, allow them to create a list of ongoing questions they want to ask you, their teacher, or even their friends. Give them a space to review what they learned, talk about the day, and express how they feel about it. The great thing about children with executive function issues is that they are constantly learning from others and the environment around them. Online tasks, lectures, or book assignments may not seem meaningful or important to them. The interaction with other people is what they find meaningful and important. Tap into their need to communicate and socialize!

Even better, if your child is on an IEP or a 504 plan, these can be incorporated into their goals. And accommodations. It is simple to add a timer, visual cues, frequent breaks, or help with organization. These are all reasonable requests and can make a HUGE difference!

But we had a meeting!

Great! You had a meeting! I hear this all the time. What matters is what happens after the meeting. Did anything productive come from it? Do you have a full understanding of the plan that was made for your child? Is it being executed correctly by all staff members? Is your child making progress?

Meetings are important but can be frustrating if you don’t feel progress is being made or your child’s voice is not being represented. It is intimidating. They are the professionals, they know all the laws, requirements, and specialized methods. What do you know? YOU KNOW YOUR CHILD! If you walk into a meeting and feel like all the paperwork is already done and you must sign on the dotted line, then this is not a team atmosphere. You are guaranteed MEANINGFUL PARTICIPATION. How is just showing up and signing meaningful? It is not. Meaningful looks like your opinions, ideas, and thoughts being heard and documented. Meaningful is your child having a voice and allowing them to speak about what works for them.

If you walk out of the meeting without a clear understanding of your child’s plan or have limited understanding of what you can do at home, then another meeting must be held. It is the job of the district to ensure you have a clear understanding of all the proceedings and that you agree. Many parents do not realize how much power they have in the process. For example, if you see a lack of progress SPEAK UP! This is important for the team to know and for you to document. A child cannot be passed along from year to year. There must be proof of progress.

I look at advocacy as having an ally in a meeting. You need someone to help you find your voice, back you up, interpret findings, and explain the districts point of view. You need someone to be able to corroborate, “This does not sound right. This does not make sense. How will this help my child?” We are on your team! We are there to represent your child and help them find their path. Remember, our number one motto, “Trust your gut!”

So you want to hire an advocate?

Many people claim to be advocates in education but you must look at their philosophy, education, and background. Advocacy is not regulated and we have seen many people say they can advocate for you and wind up making the situation worse. Some advocates goals are only to sue, sue, sue! This is not our goal at Inspire Education. Our goal is relationships and helping children find their path. We have 12 years of classroom experience. We have completed two years of advocacy training by the Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates and our founder has her Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota in training and education. How many advocates can bring that resume to the table? Not many! This is a huge advantage for you and your child.
We negotiate, we give your child a voice, we want to build a relationship with your family. If your advocate says they can just show up to your IEP meeting and help, that is a HUGE RED FLAG! An effective advocate will take the time to learn about your child, your family, and the school. They will review records, communicate with staff, and create a straightforward plan before a meeting is even mentioned. Inspire Education is the ONLY independent advocate in the state of South Dakota. We are the only advocate who has been trained by COPAA. We do charge for our services and our expertise in the field is a reflection of that charge. You will get what you pay for when you hire us! You will get a professional who knows the system inside and out. You will get an advocate trained in negotiation, the law, and what is appropriate for your child. We will individualize, personalize and not just treat you like another case file. We want our students to succeed!

Back to school plan

Hello! Many districts are already back in school and some are starting next week. This is the time to get yourself organized. Here are a few tips that can help make this year run smoother in all the chaos with covid.

1. Document anything you have noticed with your child being home for such a long period of time. Think about: What changes did you see? What went well? What was not working for them? Did you notice any new triggers? Have you noticed any avoidance behaviors? Did you notice any new strengths? Did they start any new medication, therapies, or activities?

2. Talk with your child about their up and coming school year. Ask them: What do you want your teachers to know about you? How do you think you learn best? What would you like to see more of? How can we support you as a team? How can we help you find success this year?

3. Set goals with your child. Create a small, short-term goal to help them get through the beginning of the year. This can be weekly, monthly, or by semester. These goals can be academic, social, emotional, or something personal. Help them devise a plan to achieve them. We are setting our children up for success, so make sure it is attainable.

4. Review last years paperwork. Did they make progress on their IEP goals? If not, why? How is that going to be addressed this school year? How is the 504 going to be implemented if we move to full online learning? How do behavior plans need to be adjusted to reflect the different models of learning? (This is the bulk of what advocates do, there are a multitude of questions you have the right to ask. You also have the right to receive a detailed answer.)

5. Contact the school in writing. I cannot stress this enough! All contact must be in writing, especially when you are making a request that will help your child obtain the free and public education they are entitled to under federal law. Of course in this letter, be friendly and welcoming; set the “team” like attitude. Share the information you collected in steps 1-3 and the questions you formed in step 4. This will not only start a strong paper trail in case problems arise but it will also make sure everyone is on the same page for what we want the school year to hold for your child.

If any of this seems overwhelming, hiring an advocate can help. We can spend a short amount of time looking over your paperwork and offering insight into what all those evaluations, plans, and goals actually mean. We can take all of this information and craft a letter for you. We can simply listen to your insights, frustrations, fears, and offer comfort and an ally. We hope all of this information helps you start the school year off in confidence!