Month: June 2015

Reading Acquisition: Playing the Notes & the Chords

The field of learning disabilities/dyslexia can be overwhelming to parents.  There is so much terminology and confusion out there, much of it is unnecessary.  It is a mission of mine to try and make the obtuse clear, to put things in terms that parents can understand.

Frequently, I use metaphors to explain different concepts to parents.  One of my favorite is that learning to read really isn’t that much different than learning how to play music.  First, you need to learn the notes.  Then you learn some chords and soon you are playing simple pieces of music.  Once you have learned the simple pieces, you can tackle more complex ones.

Is learning to read that much different?

I don’t think so.

First, the child learns the letters, then the sounds that go with the letters.  Once these skils have been internalized, the child can learn basic words (chords), which leads to actual reading (playing the music).

Recently, I went through old files and came upon an article from the NY Times that I saved called:  “How Learning to Read is Like Learning to Play the Piano.”  The article centered on the Windward School, a special private school for dyslexic children in Westchester County, NY.

The article discussed the philosophy of Windward and the difference between the work that they did and more traditional teaching of reading.

“The most important difference,” the article stated,  “is that the school [Windward] views reading and writing not as things that human beings are “naturally wired”  to do, but as acquired skills –like driving or playing the piano – that require structured practice and constant conceptual reinforcement.  Phillis Bertin, director of reading for the Windward’s teacher Training Institute, believes that many children who fall behind are “curriculum disabled” by schools that do not know how to teach them.’

Takeaway Point:

Reading instruction and the acquisition of the skills is not that different than learning any other skill, like playing the piano.  A good instructor will break things down for you and directly teach skills to practice over time until they are mastered.

Now go work on those notes and scales!




Development Rules

To finish out the week, I am going to make a simplistic point, but one that I think is often forgotten.

Development rules.

To illustrate, let’s forget disabilities for second.  Let’s say your 7 year old is one of those Science Channel kids who knows everything about everything – you know, swamps, reptiles, dinosaurs, and planets just to start. Your family and friends are amazed by his encyclopedic knowledge.

Yet, you wonder if he doesn’t have a disability like “dysgraphia” because the teacher noted, “His writing just doesn’t reflect his knowledge.”

Of course it doesn’t.  It’s a rare smart 7 year old whose writing can match his/her knowledge base.

Froom what I can tell, since writing has been a part of the school curriculum, 7 or 8 year olds were never expected to be able to produce extensively in written expression.  One good, well-constructed paragraph with a few complete sentences was always the developmental capability of these kids. (Think back to the Mother’s day letters you used to write your mother in elementary school.  Maybe she’s saved some and you should read them again to remind yourself.)

The fact that the child  can  talk a “blue streak” about lizards, ecosystems and planets is irrelevant.  Development in writing takes a long time to catch up to the child’s knowledge.

Take Away Point:

Think development first before wondering about “dysgraphia.”

The Intangibles

Last night I received a very special recognition from the Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper University Medical Center where our program, the Cooper Learning Center is within the Department of Pediatrics.

One thing that was particularly special was that some of the people in attendance were former parents and kids (now grown up) who were there to offer their acknowledgements for what our program and my involvement meant to them. I then thought about the current state of affairs in the field of education.

These days in education and psychology it’s all about the measurable goals, the quantifiable objectives.  The work that you do as a teacher or as a therapist needs to be “evidenced based.”  Your outcomes need to hit a certain percentile of growth to document and justify your work.

I get all of that.  It’s probably good to ground your practice in approaches that are supported by research.  It’s also good  (I think) to measure outcomes.

I can tell you this, though.  The kids in the room last night and the parents who came to offer their own tribute were not there because they hit “outcome measures.”  They were there for something unmeasurable, something intangible.

With all that we know about education and psychology, with all of the research and studies that have done, we can’t get past the intangibles.

It’s still the intangible that impacts kids most.

Think back.  Who is a teacher or mentor that inspired you?  Did they inspire you because you hit your “student growth objectives?”

I doubt it very much.

It’s the intangibles that matter, that make all of the difference in a kid’s life.  I hope in this world of quantifying and measuring we don’t lose sight of that fact.




Latest Posts