Month: May 2014

Lifting Dyslexic Weights

A mom came in this week to talk about young Caroline, age 7, a second grader.    The mom had a stack of material to show me.  There was the math worksheet filled with word problems with the red 34% at the top of the page, with all kinds of ‘X’ marks throughout.

Benchmark reading assessments were also in the stack, suggesting various comprehension problems (although I wasn’t so sure the issue was “comprehension”).  Then there were the pages and pages of writing samples.  Spelling problems were everywhere.  There were no complete sentences. Teacher comment such as, “needs to follow directions,” and  “needs to pay attention,” were sprinkled on different samples.

Caroline did not have an attention problem.

The problem was that she couldn’t handle the work being given to her.  The work was clearly at Caroline’s frustration level.

There are three levels to pay attention to when it comes to reading/writing.  These levels  include the following:

Independent level: the level where it is easy for the child and no assistance is needed to perform the task. Think of lifting weights. This would be the level that is easy and very doable-no sweat.  (“I can lift those weights, no problem.”)

Instructional level: the level that is somewhat challenging, but pretty manageable. Within this range the child can mostly perform the task, but needs a degree of assistance. With the weightlifting analogy, the child can handle the weights fairly well, but starts to get winded after some repetitions.  (“I can lift these mostly, but they may be a tiny bit difficult.”)

Frustration level: within this level the work is simply too hard. The weights are too much to lift – no can do. (“Wow…you want me to lift those???  No way.”)

Caroline was being asked to lift weights that were too hard for her on a regular basis.

Becoming increasingly frustrated, Caroline was also showing signs of increased anxiety.  “She dreads going to school in the morning,“ said her mother.  “It’s such a shame.  She used to bound into school.”

No one likes to do things that are frustrating and overwhelmingly difficult.  You might try once or twice to lift the heavy weights, but soon you just stop.  It’s too much.

What’s the answer?  Certainly providing Caroline with good, remedial instruction will be essential.  But in the day-to-day of school, the material being given to Caroline needs to be monitored.

Seven year old’s should not be dreading school, nor feeling overwhelming stress.

If the weights are too hard to lift, then they need to be lightened up.



Tag:  dyslexia, learning disbality, frustration

Structuring, Cuing & Guiding

“Marlene, just doesn’t follow directions.  You know when she goes into fourth grade there’s going to be no more hand-holding. ”

“All the kids in the class, but Benjamin, know what to do.  He really should be able to do the work.  After all, he is in 7th grade.”

“What is it with Kyle? It’s like he’s in a different time zone.  He should be more aware of time management.”

This “should talk” is ever unproductive. 

Sure, on average, by fourth, seventh  or  whatever grade, a child should  be pretty self-sufficient.  They should be following directions, managing their time, processing information independently.

But, that is on average. 

In a class of 20 or so kids, I expect about six of them (about 30%) to be having some type of difficulty.   Often the parents of the 30% hear something like this – “We’re not medical doctors, so we can’t diagnose, but maybe you should have this checked out.” 

The unspoken meta-message is, “Your child needs to be on medication.”

Not all of these kids need to be on medication. 

So what do these kids need?

In non-medical terms, they need structuring, cuing and guiding.  What that looks like is an adult (usually the teacher) providing a little more assistance than is needed on average by the 70% who are capably following along. 

At home, they may need a little more parent assistance than would normally be expected for a certain age. 

Sure, it would be nice if by fourth grade a child was fully independent, but many are not. 

The Marlene’s, Benjamin’s and Kyle’s mentioned above, need a bit more external support that would be expected for a given age.  It’s the external support that provides them with a percentage boost. 

I can see this in action with some aspects of the testing that I do.  For example, a child may be getting bogged down on a task and not see how to proceed.  A sense of confusion may kick in overloading the child.  At that point, I may cue a child in to the task, help a little, and perhaps show him a clue as to how to proceed.  Often,  I see the light bulb go off –  “Oh, I get it…that’s how you do this.”   

A little structuring, cuing and guiding goes a long way.

The N.F.L & 504 Plans in the Real World

Sometimes I think of school 504 meetings somewhat like what I imagine goes on in the preparation for an NFL football game.  The coaches (apart from the players) come up with a game plan.  Then the team has to  play the game and carry out the plan.

The plan may work beautifully.  Then again, the plan may blow up.  It may not work.

What’s the link between the NFL pregame strategizing and a 504 planning meeting?

Just like in the NFL pregame strategizing, in a 504 meeting the parents and teachers (usually apart from the child) put their heads together and come out with what they think is a plan that will work.

Ideas are tossed around in the 504 meeting.  Things like:

“I think he should have extra time.”

“Let’s put him in the front of the room.”

“We’ll let him use this high-tech spell checker.”

“We’ll sign his homework planner.”

On and on it goes.  (I’ve seen 504 evaluation reports from outside professionals that have over 20 accommodations.)

Sometimes the plans are effective.  Sometimes they are not.

Another problem comes in that sometimes the kid doesn’t want what is being plotted in the meeting.  There aren’t too many kids that I know with ADHD, for example, who want more time, which is the single most recommended 504 accommodation.  If anything, they want less.  They want to be done with the tasks that they detest – like reading.

The takeaway point is that the plots hatched in the pregame strategizing or in the 504 planning session may not work.  Adjustments may need to be made.

What sounds good on paper, may not be so great in real life.


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