Thursday, April 14, 2016

Happy Vocab

After spending the last year or two developing marketing and design skills and having to focus quite a bit of time immersed in tasks of rebranding, website design, content formatting and a whole slew of things which required expanding my skill set, I am excited that I finally have time to begin working directly with students again!

I am 145% passionate about helping students discover their true brain power and unlock the puzzles related to our English language. I also thoroughly enjoy the somewhat unpredictable nature of how my students see the world and apply (or almost apply) the strategies and knowledge from our explorations. I strive to help them find humor as well as pride in all they do and I am rarely disappointed.

Brief Background for Context

I think it's safe to describe one of my current co-researchers (we are always research partners working to find what works and doesn't work for their brain to read, spell, communicate and remember well) as having a good sense of humor, someone who is witty, creative and coming into his own as an individual with dyslexia - not to mention an adolescent. One of our goals has been developing stronger executive functions as far as planning and strategies for organizing information. We've also been on a journey of exploring the layers of the English language and are just delving into the forests of Latin and Greek Morphemes after an amazingly quick jaunt through the realm of the Anglo-Saxon layer. So, keep in mind that using spelling and written language to organize information or as a memory support is a fairly new tool in his default moves.

I am a trainer for teachers in the areas of English Language Arts, in particular working with students with learning disabilities, strategy based in instruction, Orton-Gillingham based literacy instruction and teaching vocabulary through morphology and multisensory methods. I frequently ask students I work with what types of strategies and concepts I should be sure to teach teachers to help kids in their classes.

Humor with a Side of Delight

This week, my co-researcher and I chatted about some recent professional development conferences and research sessions I've attended related to vocabulary instruction; in particular, the research behind the task we had just completed.

I was transitioning materials from one activity to another and he, as usual, was enjoying the slight break his brain got to take while I worked (I am a firm believer that the students should always work harder than me when we are together, so he truly enjoys those brief pauses!). While we chatted, he flipped open his planner and began jotting a string of letters in a note box. It was obvious he had thought of something he didn't want to forget so he was trying to get it down, but not out in the open enough to be asked about it. If you work with adolescents, you know that type of move I'm talking about... I'm listening, but writing this down - wait, did I write that right? uh-oh, what did she say? yeah, got it.... quick slide the paper away so I can look like I'm paying attention and didn't break stride...... 

As I concluded, I told him I was hoping to develop some decent session names that could describe how working with vocabulary, morphology, etc.. is important but doesn't have to be super boring; I wanted to come up with some names that would work for teacher sessions as well as some that might work for junior high or high school and thought that just saying "You Can Teach Vocabulary Well Without Wanting to Bash Your Head in from Boredom" was probably too long.  He looked up sharply and I thought I had finally crossed the threshold into "crazy lady". I was pleasantly surprised when he said, "I have one for you". He thumbed open his planner to the page he had been writing on. That string of letters was actually a mneumonic he thought of for me: HTTVSYDWTBYBO. 

"Or", he said, "you could try Happy Vocab". 

More than a Trifecta

  1. He created a mneumonic and all the letters were in the right sequence.
  2. He had his planner (the first session after we got back from Spring Break) and used it make a note to himself.
  3. He used the note he made from himself in his planner.
  4. He thought I could teach vocab in a not-so-boring way!
Happy Vocab indeed.....

Friday, October 30, 2015

Re-Surfacing to the World of Commentary and Pondering

If my thoughts could go directly from my brain to a keyboard when I am driving or taking a shower, I just might keep up with everything; since that's not really possible for me, I just have to get back to the keyboard!

The last 4-6 months have been quite the time for dyslexia and learning disabilities! Rather than try to really sift through all of the pieces, I realize might just be better to just chew on one at a time.

Today's pondering is related to what appears to be the muddied world of Social Impact Bonds and Pay for Success related to ESEA Bill. One thing I love about having a blog that is mine and not really related to an agency that I work for or represent, is that I can speak out and it's okay if it's not always 100% complete thoughts. Today that is key because, Pay for Success - what the heck is this?

Earning Money Because less Students are Identified as Needing Special Education?

From what I can tell, the short version of a social impact bond, which seems to be the same thing as Pay for Success, is that a Wall Street company funds a social impact project directly related to school success of some kind. When/if that success occurs, the company receives their money back plus interest. I get the upside of opening up some potential opportunities for funding and the goal of success. What I definitely don't get is how these goals are determined and measured - and the fact that it's kids and teachers who get caught in the middle.

The project I have read about today is related to a corporation which receives the return on their investment with interest (through a bond) when students in preschool do not end up in special education. Again, I get how this is a good thing in theory; how about actual translation? For example, it also translates as someone gets extra money for each child not identified as special ed - not necessarily because they are achieving as expected.

And, these types of programs would be part of federally funded projects through the ESEA? Okay, so the money goes into a bond which can provide funding to a non-profit to implement a program in a school..... and the corporations would earn money when programs they have paid for are implemented well. Wall Street directs educational practice is what I keep getting as a mental paraphrasing.

I believe schools need community support to truly do their jobs, but a corporation being able to receive what is really an incentive for support when students are not placed in special education? I see some definite RED flags there!


That is where my pondering has stuck this afternoon.

Additional reading:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Another Great for People with Learning Disabilities

The more people you know, the more people you know. I know that sounds redundant, but there are times when it seems like I recognize too many names when I read the obituaries or read of great people passing on. During those times, I remind myself that I wouldn't have many people to recognize if I didn't know many people.

Over the past decade or so, I have volunteered with the Learning Disabilities Association of Michigan. My level of involvement has varied depending on my family and employment situation and over the past few years, I have not been as active as I would have liked perhaps. What never ceases to amaze me though is how many of the people I know who have contributed to me being good at what I do have come from that world - the world of conferences, projects, board meetings, attending national and regional conferences through LDA.

Last evening, I was able to join in on a conference call with the current Board of Directors of LDA of MI. Even after a few years on the very-outer fringes, the people weren't all new to me; the discussion wasn't all that new - what do our members need, how can we provide that, what are reasonable and sustainable resources, how do we move forward, etc...; but the passion is always fresh. People who want to help people. People who know other people who are passionate about the same things; people who make the world a better place. Real people working in a variety of "trenches" for, and with, real people.

Dr. Janet Lerner

I am musing on this this morning as I came across a note of passing of another great in the LD field: Dr. Janet Lerner. Being in this field, I most certainly recognize Dr. Lerner's name from textbooks on my shelf and some articles I still keep filed away for reference. I have even seen Dr. Lerner speak a few times at conferences. What struck me this morning was that Dr. Lerner was actually Janet to me. I didn't know her well, but I was fortunate to know her as more than a name in a citation. I knew her through LDA of Michigan, and, of course, the laudable Flo Curtis. Janet was a friend to LDA of Michigan and, as a board member, I had the opportunity to have dinner with her a few times. She was a great human being filled with knowledge, compassion and quite a sense of humor. She has been on my list of "who I want to be when I grow up". Because she is not a national political figure, her passing did not make the huge headlines. If her passing was able to get through whatever Facebook algorithm is in charge this week, I must have missed it mixed in with memes and social conversations. Since Facebook is my social network, I'm not beating myself up too badly over that but with the abundance of information on the web today, I don't always take the time to filter through to visit my non-social networks as I should.

What I realized in my musings this morning was that if I had not been on that call last night, it's not likely that I would have reminded myself to see what was up at National since I tend to only go there to look for a resource in reaction to a request.  If I hadn't checked National's site, I probably wouldn't have seen the piece about Janet's passing. Thinking about Janet re-fires some mental connections in my "what to remember about learning disabilities" areas. That is a good thing; that is a little thing that is really a big thing; that is the kind of thing that keeps things moving forward for people with learning disabilities.

It's personal connections with my LD-people network that rejuvenate my neurons to just look and see what's happening and to stay connected with real people making a difference, people like Janet. Being involved with an organization like LDA of Michigan gives me some deliberate time to focus on those connections which makes me a better educator, a better advocate and a better mom for a person with dyslexia. I'm not sure how to quantify that for others as a "why become a member" or to add to our network in Michigan, but I am thankful for the connections I have made and I will continue to do my part to keep things moving forward for people with learning disabilities with special thanks to those who have gone before, in particular Sally Smith, Dr. Janet Lerner and the ever-dear-to-my-heart, Flo Curtis.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bipartisan Resolution to Support Students with Dyslexia

1 in 5 individuals have dyslexia.

Self-made millionaires are four times more likely than the rest of the population to be dyslexic.

It is real. It is amazing. Those with dyslexia change our world. It should be fully recognized.

We want our future thinkers to be "progressive", individual and well-educated; we must then reflect this within our culture and policies.

Congress is taking steps in this direction. They need to know if their constituents support an educational environment and direction which recognizes the gifts of all learners. Let them know.

Below is the text of the Resolution. For more information, including sample letters, check out the Wrightslaw blog or Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity.

[Congressional Bills 113th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
[H. Res. 456 Introduced in House (IH)]
Calling o
2d Session
H. RES. 456l agencies to
recognize that dyslexia has significan
n schools and State and local education at educational implications that must be addressed.
January 10, 2014
r. Cassidy (for himself and Ms. Brownley of California) submitted the
and the Workforce
following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Education
RESOLUTION Calling on schools
and State and local educational agencies to
unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has
recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed. Whereas, defined as an intelligence to be a much better reader, dyslexia reflects a difficulty in getting to the individual sounds of spoken language which
ecting one out of five individuals in
some form, and is persistent;
typically impacts speaking, reading, spelling, and often, learning a second language; Whereas dyslexia is highly prevalent, af fWhereas dyslexia is a paradox, so that often the same individual who has a weakness in decoding or reading fluency also has strengths in higher
de in understanding dyslexia at a scientific
level, including its epide
level cognitive functions such as reasoning, critical thinking, concept formation, and problem solving; Whereas great progress has been m amiology, and cognitive and neurobiological bases; and Whereas diagnosis of dyslexia is critical, and must lead to focused, evidence- based interventions, necessary accommodations, self-awareness, self-
nt educational implications that must be addressed.
empowerment, and school and life success: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives calls on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significance.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Student Success Act Could Derail Progress

I am inserting a message I received from the National Council for Learning Disabilities in my inbox this morning. I have already submitted a letter to my representative and urge others to do the same. There are no easy solutions to the current crisis in education we have in our nation, but this is definitely not the answer for effective change - only to increase misconceptions about quality education for students with learning disabilities. 

Don't Take Students Off the Path to a Regular Diploma.

Stop H.R.5This is big. The Student Success Act (H.R.5) is up for a full vote this week on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, and if the bill passes, it will be a disaster for students with disabilities.

Why? H.R.5 allows unlimited alternate assessments on alternate standards for students with disabilities — this practice could force millions of students off the path to a regular high school diploma. 

Here are the top five reasons we have to stop this:
  1. H.R.5 lowers expectations for students with disabilities.
  2. H.R.5 turns the clock back to a time when students with disabilities were not expected to graduate from high school or attend college.
  3. H.R.5 allows tracking of students as early as third grade.
  4. H.R.5 will lower the amount of early intervention, targeted instruction and support for struggling students.
  5. H.R.5 is the first education bill to make it to the floor since 2001 — 12 years ago! — and will set the stage for how students with LD are treated for years to come.
Now is the time to act. Tell your Representative to vote against H.R.5. 

(Note: You can act on this alert even if you did so before, because H.R.5 is now headed for a full vote in Congress.)

Write Your Representatives!
NCLD has a letter which can be personalized (follow the links above). This is from that template but I did add my own statements as well. 

As a nation we must have an expectation that all students will graduate college and career ready and this won't happen unless ESEA sets academic performance targets and graduation goals, requires improved instruction in struggling schools and limits the use of alternate assessments.
 Unlimited alternate assessments can be positive for specific groups of students, but for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities it can be catastrophic. In an effort to save money, schools already deny simple accommodations such as a reader or extended time for students who have a right to them. When it is allowable to stop reporting the scores of these students when improperly assessed rather than properly taught and supported AND assessed, we are not only opening the door to return to bad practice, but we are sending a message to those 2.2. million American students that while the adults are working hard with Responses to Intervention and wanting to get all students to success after graduation and they're just not worth the whole effort anymore. There are the 2.2 million American students with learning disabilities and many thousands more who struggle in school which are completely separate from physical and cognitive impairments. Over the past decade, as a result of the ESEA's focus on accountability and support, education results have improved for these students.These are certainly not perfect and can be challenging for schools to follow through upon, but they are necessary! Congress can continue this progress by reauthorizing ESEA using three core principles:
  1. Students with disabilities must be fully and equitably included;
  2. All students with learning disabilities must stay on track to graduate with a regular high school diploma;
  3. The law must increase access to early intervention and effective instruction.
 I urge you to vote against H.R.5 because this bill, if enacted, could take millions of students with disabilities off the path to a regular high school diploma.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dyslexia and Echoes of "Who's on First?"

"Mrs. B, what is dyslexia and how do I know I have it?"

"Well, wonderful, creative thinker I know, dyslexia is how we describe a brain that does not process language through what is considered an efficient or neurotypical process. People with dyslexia do not have typical development with reading, writing, spelling and other language-processing based tasks or skills. Researchers are finding that there are different categories of dyslexia and can show what brain activity is, or is not, operating efficiently when a person with dyslexia is processing language. 

Even though there is not a medication that can alleviate dyslexia directly, an official diagnosis of dyslexia requires a visit to a medical professional who performs an assessment and interprets the assessment results based on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The DSM first came out in 1952. The DSM-V, I mean DSM-5 is due out next Spring. 

Major studies are currently being published and funded through the National Institute of Health to further explore these neurological factors so teachers, parents and others can better support individuals with dyslexia. This is fabulous, because as recently as my mother's generation, people who struggled with reading were considered stupid, lazy or even brain damaged. I am thrilled that modern society is moving away from such a limited understanding of your creative brain."

Historical Definitions and Terms for Dyslexia Up to the Coming Soon DSM-5
Brain damage.
Congenital word blindness.
Specific Reading Difficulty.
Reading Disorder (Dyslexia).
315.00 Reading Disorder.
No Longer Recommended - See A 08 Specific Learning Disorder, Type Specified in Diagnosis From Following Domains of Academic Difficulties and Their Subskills Impaired at Time of Assessment:

  1. Reading (Word reading accuracy, Reading rate or fluency, and/or Reading comprehension)
  2. Written Expression (Spelling accuracy, Grammar and punctuation accuracy, Legible or fluent handwriting, and/or Clarity and organization of written expression)
  3. Mathematics (Memorizing arithmetic facts, Accurate or fluent calculations, and/or Effective math reasoning)

"So Mrs. B, what does that really mean?"

"Well, wonderful, creative thinker I know, it feels a lot like the educational version of "Who's On First?". I think I'm not so thrilled anymore."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"What now?"

I am proud to be an X for tomorrow! 

I have followed TED events online for many years now and never cease to be inspired. Tomorrow is TEDx Grand Rapids and I will be at the Livestreaming for Education. 

I was looking over the directions and information this evening and reading a few pointers on what to expect: surprises; opportunities to start exploring the What Now ideas; encouragement to share; and an environment totally open to interpretation - YES!!!!!!

C'mon Grand Rapids, what can we do? What will we do together? What now?!