Month: February 2016

Phonological Awareness According to Hank & Claire

Phonological awareness refers to an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of words. Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability and has, therefore, been the focus of much research.

Trying to explain terms like “phonological awareness” or auditory discrimination is not easy. Parents ‘ eyes glaze over as you try and explain how these terms are related to later reading, spelling and writing development.

This week to help us out with terms such as these I got a nice gift from two different kids.

The first, was a five year old named Hank. As part of an evaluation, when I asked Hank, “Who wears a crown,” he confidentially said, “No one.”
I encouraged him a little – “Come on, Hank,” you know who wears a crown.”

Hank looked at me like I was out of my mind and insisted on his first answer, “No one, “ he stated emphatically. When I tried again one more time he stated, “No one wears a clown!!!”

Yep. Thanks, Hank. That sums up a lot o what we need to know about some of these variables. I am going to use that with parents to explain auditory discrimination and auditory awareness difficulty.

For further support after Hank, there was Claire age, 6. When asked to explain the definition of the word, “prize.” She said, “Well, like when you have a birthday party and you didn’t know it was going to happen you have a ‘surprise.”

Thanks to you, too, Claire. That’s also a great example.

Takeaway Point
Those little indicators like ‘clown’ for ‘crown,’ or ‘surprise’ for ‘prize’ may not mean that much, but in the context of emerging difficulty they start to weigh in on the side of the scales that reads “proceed with caution.

In the case of Hank and Claire they were certainly starting to add to the bigger picture.

Just remember, a king does not “wear a clown.”

Screens, Distractability & ADHD

“Children surrounded by fast-paced visual stimuli (TV, videos, computer games) at the expense of face-to-face adult modeling, interactive language, reflective problem- solving, creative play, and sustained attention may be expected to arrive at school unprepared for academic learning—and to fall farther behind and become increasingly “unmotivated” as the years go by.”
― Jane M. Healy, Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It

I go out to the waiting room to greet young Jana, age five, a kindergarten child who is coming in for an assessment because her school thinks she is having trouble “paying attention.”

“Hi Jana, “I say in the upbeat style that usually gets kids engaged and comfortable.

Jana does not look up. Her iPad is far more captivating than saying hello to this new person. To Jana I don’t exist. The mom tries to get Jana to say hello, but she’s not budging for her either.

We go back and I offer Jana some toys (old school ones in a box – you know, different human figures animals, cars and trucks) that she shows no interest in playing. Again, her iPad is holding her riveted.

(I flash on Gollum in Lord of the Rings – ”My precious, my precious,” as he would stroke the ring. I think Jana may start doing the same the same with the iPad – ‘My precious…my precious.’)

Jana’s mom, Beth, starts talking about Jana’s focusing difficulties. She says, “I worry that it’s all the screens. She gets in the car and the TV is on the seat panels. She’ can’t even go three minutes without it on. When we get to the restaurant, she demands the iPad. We give it to her – maybe it’s helping her visual skills, I don’t know. At night she never wants to plays even though we try and play games with her. When kids come over all they want to do is have iPads.  They really don’t play with each other.   The school thinks we need to see a doctor to consider medication for her focusing.”

I don’t want to sound like an old head, but Jane Healy hit it on the head in the above quote.  (Keep in mind Jane Healy wrote Endangered Minds in 1999.)

There is a skill to greeting someone in the waiting room. There is a skill to playing with toys or interacting in a restaurant. These skills need development and practice.
If we don’t give kids a chance to practice these skills, the skills will not develop.

Simple as that.

Takeaway Point
Create “No Screen Zone” blocks of time.

Detox them.

Be firm. Be brave.

“Smarts Draining From the Kid’s Ears”

This week I met a real cute, spunky, spirited 7 year old second grader, Noah, who was having the common struggles with reading, spelling and writing. When asked about three wishes he told me, “to be Superman, to fly, and to be able to teleport.” Once he wrote down his wishes (not very clearly I might add), he quickly amended his wishes to note, “But if I became Superman, “that would cover me for the flying one,” he astutely noted.

He was that type of kid.

After he had done nicely on different hands-on, non-verbal tasks I exclaimed, “Wow, look at you, you’re a pretty smart kid, aren’t you?”
Without skipping a beat, Noah responded, “Yeah, but my smarts drain out of my ears when I get to school.”

While I intuitively understood what he meant, I asked him to clarify his statement.

“Well it’s like this,” he explained.” “The other kids are not that smart, but when they get to school they get smarter, but when I get to school it (the smarts)drains out of my ears.”

Translation: “The other kids can read spell, and write. That’s not something that I can do very well. Therefore, I am not as smart as the others.”

With all of the emphasis these days on scores, IQ/achievement discrepancies, RTI, Common Core, and the work-sheeting of childhood, it is good to keep in mind there are significant emotions behind these struggling kids.

Always operating on a 45 degree incline, while others around are on a flat plane, drains motivation, resulting in a discouraged kid whose battery dims like our little Superman, Noah, whose smarts are draining from his ears.

What are the solutions? Here are a few:

• Take time to connect with the child’s strengths. For example, this boy above was very imaginative. When he said about wanting to become Superman and teleporting, I said, “Me too!!!!! Great wishes.” He loved that I admired his wishes and it made helped him feel validated and supported.

• Understand the 45 degree plane is very real for kids with learning disabilities and dyslexia. School can be exhausting. By finding the connection points with a child, fuel is added to the emotional tank.

• Talk to the teacher about reduce the worksheets. They are overwhelming the strugglers. Not one kid ever came home excited from school telling you, “Mom, guess what, I got a great worksheet today in school.” Never.

The solutions are intangibles, not things that will show up as goals in an IEP, but they matter.

Takeaway Point
Don’t let the “smarts” drain from the kid’s ears.

The Elements of Good Remedial Instruction for Struggling Readers

Last week we talked about how you need to get clear on what it is you are targeting in any type of remedial situation such as tutoring. Continuing that theme, let’s talk about tutoring/learning therapy for Type I (dyslexic) readers. Typically, it is recommended that they receive some type of ‘Orton-Gillingham’ approach as these are the ones that are considered structured and multisensory. What is it about these methods that benefits struggling readers?

Consider this. About 70% of the population in suburban school districts progress pretty nicely with reading, spelling and writing no matter what curriculum, methodology, or approach that is utilized with them. The necessary skills (e.g., decoding, fluency, word identification) are internalized early. Progress is rapid and off they go.

Then there’s the 30% or so (a significant percentage of those who fit the definition of “dyslexia”) who are on the other side of the fence.

These kids need certain elements in their instruction and remediation in order for them to progress.

Some of the elements are:
• The instruction needs to be explicit. Skills can’t be left to chance. They need to be taught directly and explicitly.
• There needs to be a logical sequence with one mastered skill being layered on top of another. Until a skill is mastered, the instruction should not rush ahead.
• The individual lessons themselves need to follow a set sequence.
• To the extent possible, the lessons should simultaneously engage different senses, such as the auditory, visual and tactile.

These elements are in pretty clear contrast to the “literature based” approaches that are seen to be more “top-down,” and comprehension focused. There is a less discernible skill sequence with these methods. In a sense, the children who are in the 70% category don’t need the mastered skill sequence, since the necessary skills have already been internalized. The emphasis on comprehension and “higher-order reasoning” is appropriate.

Most of the methods that fall under the umbrella of the “Orton-Gillingham” approaches follow these principles as noted in the above bullet points..

As a final note, I would encourage you as a parent not to get too fixated on one brand or method over another. For example, I will hear parents say something like, “My child must have a Wilson certified tutor,” or Lindamood-Bell, or whatever (insert the method). While the methods being requested may have great value, research (e.g., National Reading Panel Report) does not advocate one method as superior over another, but that the elements of good remediation need to be in place.

Takeaway Point
The kids in the 30% category need different instruction than the rest!


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