Month: March 2013

Dyslexia and the Old Masters: A brief look back

About a month or so ago I had the honor to present to a group of parents of dyslexic children on Staten Island.  The group, Wishes of Literacy, is doing great work in their advocacy for parents and they are joining forces with the burgeoning grassroots Decoding Dyslexia movement, such as the Decoding Dyslexia NJ and Decoding Dyslexia NY groups.

Even though I’d like to believe I know my stuff when it comes to the topic of dyslexia and reading disabilities, I did a little “homework” on the topic before the talk and I found myself reading about the history of dyslexia assessment and treatment.  

What I have always appreciated was that there were many old masters, long forgotten giants in the field of reading research, who just got it. They understood the issues.  They knew what worked.  What they said decades ago applies to the present day.

Here are a few choice quotes:

In 1909 James Hughes in his book “Teaching to Read” noted,

Oral language being natural is learned without conscious effort.  Visible language (i.e., reading) being artificial, has to be learned by a conscious effort.

“Word recognition is the only possible basis of reading…the best method of teaching word recognition is the one that makes the child independent of the teacher.”

That was in 1909!!!!!

Later in 1967 the late, great Dr. Jean Chall, stated:

It would seem, at our present state of knowledge, that a code emphasis – one that combines control of words on spelling regularity, some direct teaching of letter-sound correspondences, as well as the use of writing, tracing, or typing – produces better results with beginners than a meaning  (i.e., literature-based or comprehension) emphasis.

Dr. Robert Dykstra said it well in 1974:

We can summarize the results of 60 years of research dealing with beginning reading instruction by stating that early systematic instruction in phonics provides the child with the skills necessary to become an independent reader at an earlier than is likely if phonics instruction is delayed  and less systematic.”

It is also important to remind ourselves that the Orton-Gillingham method has essentially gone unchanged since the 1930s.  With all of the Orton-Gillingham based methods out on the market currently, really what they represent are good old wine in fancy new bottles.

Takeaway Point:

While our research or “evidenced-based” window is very narrow looking back over a few years, the old masters in the field of reading research and dyslexia really knew their stuff.  They are worth revisiting.

Giving the ADHD Kid Some Extra Time

In 504 Land, one of the classic (almost knee jerk) accommodations recommended is to give an ADHD child extra time. 

Let me ask you this, how many impulsive, hurry-let’s-get-it done, style kids that you know want extra time?  The answer is none.  The last thing that the ADHD kids want is more time.  In fact, they are looking to be the absolute first one done, regardless of the work quality.  “Ha ha, I beat everyone again,” is the probable running thought process.   “So, what if it it’s 40% accurate.  I’m done and I can put my feet up again,” thinks the ADHD style kid as he surveys the others toiling away around him.

Mark, age 11, typifies this process on a daily basis.  Rushing through his work, Mark can’t wait to be finished his homework so he can be back on Xbox 360 Live.  So, when his mother explained to him that the school was developing a 504 Plan for him so he could have extra time on tests and school work, he looked at her like she was sprouting various heads.

“Extra time???” he thought to himself.  “What do you mean extra time?  Those worksheets are the stupidest things any way….why would I want to spend more time on them.  I want less time!!!!”

“Oh,” his mother continued.  “They are also going to offer you preferential seating  so you can follow directions better.  You will sit right up there next to Mrs. Smith.”

“What????,” thinks Mark.   “Am I hearing this correctly? Whose preference is this?  Not mine!  I prefer to be as far away from Mrs. Smith as possible.  Maybe my mother prefers that spot in the classroom.  Not me. That’s not preferential seating.”

504 Plans sound great on paper with a lot of wonderful accommodations.  Just like a football coach who has all of his game plan mapped out before going into the game, the 504 plan documents the various and sundry ways the child will be “accommodated.”  It all sounds great.  Well, the coach often finds out the reality between his mapped out chart and the game itself can be very different.

Same with the 504 plan.  The kid may have other thoughts about it.  The plan may need some adjusting.  The things that you think sound helpful, may be the opposite.


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