Month: October 2014

Learning from Detective Columbo: A Parent Approach for IEP and 504 Meetings

Perhaps you are old enough to remember Lieutenant Columbo (played by Peter Falk) in the famed TV show from the 1970s.  I use Columbo as a model to help frustrated parents in terms of their style of communication.  I call it, “Going Columbo.”

Here’s how “Going Columbo” works.

When parents are in special education meetings they have lots of questions and concerns about what they are being told. Yet, they often feel frustrated and ill-equipped to challenge or raise questions.  A common experience is that the parents start to feel their blood pressure rising and may be come across as too confrontational or adversarial. Communication breaks down.

An alternative to such a confrontational style is to scratch one’s head a lot and look quite confused. That is, Go Columbo.

For example, a parent might say something like, “I know everything’s been explained to me but I find myself getting confused (while scratching head a lot).”   “Like I know you’re telling me that the child is average, but it says here that it his vocabulary score’s in the 16th percentile. Does that matter?” (Squint and tilt head while asking to make sure you’re coming across as quite perplexed.) “I know it doesn’t sound very good, but I may not get it… help me out… Wouldn’t that vocabulary score affect something like comprehension?” (Keep scratching your head looking more and more perplexed.)

As the meeting continues, you may need to go full-blown Columbo by using one of his famous lines –  “And wait, there’s just one more thing…”

So, the next time you are getting ready for an IEP or 504 meeting, instead of going full-frontal, practice Going Columbo in front of the mirror. Say very little and scratch your head a whole lot. You’d be surprised how effective such a communication approach can be. Ask the school to help you out of your confusion and use the phrase, “Just one more thing, I’m confused…” as often as you need.

Get very perplexed and very confused.

(If you need a refresher, I’m sure you can find some clips of Columbo on YouTube.)

Adapted from, “School Struggles,” (Sentient Publications, 2012)


Dyslexia – “We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident”

Dyslexia – “We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident”

I am not pretending here to be the Thomas Jefferson of learning disabilities, but to borrow a phrase from that famous document that he authored (you know the one), where it was said “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” here are a few truths of reading disability (dyslexia):

Not All Dyslexic Kids Are Created Equal –  These kids come in all shapes and sizes from all kinds of different family styles.  The issues of concern are on a gradient from mild to more moderate and severe.

Instructional Range Matters –  One of the biggest issues of concern is the fact that these children are swimming in tough waters and given work above their head.  In short, they are often drowning.  Work given (especially homework and independent reading) needs to be within a comfortable instructional range. Do you know your child’s comfortable instructional level?

No One Method of Remediation  –  Research has never supported one particular brand of instruction over another.  There are many good methods that follow the best principles.  These methods typically fall under the umbrella of the Orton-Gillingham based approaches.  There are many of  these Orton-style methods on the market.  As Dr. Jeanne Chall noted, these kids need good “decoding-emphasis work.”

Dyslexia is Largely a “Big Word” Disability –  I would imagine most of you can quickly read this word I made up – “flotenashingly.”  How come you can read that? If you don’t have dyslexia, it’s a piece of cake.  You know how to break words down into their parts.  You’ve internalized “the code.”  Dyslexics haven’t.  Simple as that.

Fluency is Tough to Crack:  I’ve seen kids Orton-ed  to death and their decoding has improved.  Reading fluency (the ability to read smoothly and not laboriously), however, often still lags behind and is extremely difficult to overcome.

Dyslexia is Not a Score – You can have average range scores and still be a very inefficient reader.  The only way to know this would be to listen to the child read on reliable measures of reading.  While scores matter, they do not tell the whole story.  How is the child reading when you listen to him?

“Dyslexia” is Possibly a Misnomer – I know I may be moving into sacrilegious territory here, but in many ways the term “dyslexia” does not describe the problem.  It’s not a “reading problem.”  It’s 99.99% of the time a “reading, spelling and writing problem.”  What should we call that?

Level of Severity Drives Level of Intervention –  For the kids with realtively mild decoding/fluency issues you can probably have them work in a small group (up to four, let’s say) a couple of sessions a week and you would see progress.  For the ones who are more moderate to severe, those kids need remediation much more intensively (preferably one on one) on a daily basis, if possible.

Well, I hope you like your  “Declaration of Dyslexa-pendence.”


The Commutative Property of Childhood (and Dyslexia)

A dad came in this week to talk about his struggling 8 year old, Anna, who just started third grade.  Anna has reading fluency issues, with particular difficulty managing words that are “low frequency.”  Even in this early part of the school year Anna is welling up with tears feeling that she is dumb.  She is starting to break down each night during homework.

A recent worksheet gives us a glimpse into why Anna feels the way she does:

                Find each missing number.  Solve for n.  Identify the property.

1.      6 + 5 = n, 5 + 6 = n

a. n = 11, Commutative Property of Addition

b. n = 11, Associative Property of Addition

c. n =   2,  Commutative Property of Addition

d. n = 24, Associative Property of Addition

2.       4 +  (3 +3)  = n, (4 + 3) + 3 = n

a. n  = 10, Commutative Property of Addition

b. n  = 10, Associative Property of Addition

c. n  =   6,  Associative Property of Addition

d. n  =   7  Commutative Property of Addition


On and on it went –  a  drab, dry slab of problems (about 20 of them), that looked more like a typical 11th grader’s algebra.

This is a far cry from problems such as, “There were twelve ducks on the pond and five flew away.  How many were left?” which is about where I thought beginning struggling third graders were in their development.

Beside the fact that Anna had no ability to read the text above, she had little to no understanding of what the problems meant (neither did I, by the way).  There was a big “-12” at the top of Anna’s page.  That was it.  There was no other feedback – no supportive comments, such as “Let’s go over this together.”  Just a “-12.”

Man, it can be tough out there in child land.

That’s the “commutative property” of childhood.


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