Month: April 2017

On Finding Waldo & Going “Old School”

Even though we tend to talk about learning disabilities, dyslexia, ADHD and other school stuff in these blogs, sometimes just talking about the state of modern childhood catches our attention.

When kids come in to the office, there is often some down time where I may be talking with a parent and the child is not a part of the process.  I usually offer them some things to do.  Since the office isn’t equipped with iPads or other technological goodies, they are offered “old school” activities, like drawing at the white board or playing with some cars, figures and other objects.

There’s also a bookshelf of kid-friendly books.  One of the books on the shelf is the one from the “Where’s Waldo” series.

Two siblings came in recently and I suggested that they try and find Waldo while I talked to their parents.  They looked at me like I was beyond crazy.  If their nonverbal could speak words, it would be something like, “Find Waldo???  Why would we want to do that???  I mean we do have our phones here and that’s so much better than finding this goofy looking person hiding somewhere among these thousands of images.”

They gave a little half-hearted attempt to find Waldo in the first picture and then turned back to their phones.

I tried having a few other kids spend some of their down time looking for Waldo and I pretty much got the same response – a shrug and a look of “Why would I do that?”

One of the things that struck me was how removed the whole “Where’s Waldo” book and activity were from their lives.  Not only did they have pretty limited interest in finding him, they really didn’t know anything about Waldo.  They had never seen any of the books.

I don’t know why that strikes me as sad, but it does.  Waldo’s out there hiding and no one’s looking for him.

Increasingly, I have been seeing articles and studies and gathering anecdotal data that if it isn’t on a screen it has little value for a child.

Waldo’s in a book.

Takeaway Point

Every once in a while, carve out some “old school” time and put the screens away for about a half hour or so.  Get a hold of a couple of Waldo books (don’t look for the Waldo app on the iPad) and have a little fun together.

Waldo and your child will thank you for it.

Comprehension Land

This week we move a bit away from “Dyslexia Land,” and go the other side of the continuum to “Comprehension Land.”

A few observations about comprehension:

  • It’s really hard to assess properly.
  • What we accept as a “comprehension,” may well be a poorly written story or a test that the kid does not easily connect to or understand. In other words it’s the test or story construction that is the issue.  (Try reading some of the worksheets or tests that get passed off as good stories.)
  • Comprehension is not taught by worksheets.
  • It takes a lot of work to teach comprehension.

Let’s take young Jeremy, a fifth grader who shows some signs of a “comprehension problem.”

When assessed Jeremy was given three reading formats that assessed comprehension under entirely different conditions.

On a multiple choice test where he read the passage and answered the questions, he bombed out on an easy second grade level selection, but scored adequately on a much harder sixth grade story.  His struggling at the second grade level affected his overall score, but was that a comprehension problem?

With an informal reading inventory where Jeremy read the story both out loud and silently and was then asked questions of the stories, he missed many of the concepts at the third and fourth grade levels, but then was pretty capable at the sixth.

Again, that may not be a comprehension problem, but represent difficulty with certain passages.

Additionally, many children have not had sufficient practice or feedback on how to tackle reading selections.  With comprehension there needs to be a  back and forth dialogue that takes place between the teacher/tutor who acts a facilitator who can help guide kids to find answers or to respond when the information may not be all that explicit or clear.

A simple text example would be the following:

“When the people got on the train to go to work they had to make room for those carrying their coats and umbrellas.”

If a child was asked, something like “What do you think the weather was like in the story,” he might say something like, “I don’t know.  It didn’t say anything about the weather.”

That is because the child who answers like that is not tuned into to making inferences.

A child more tuned in might say, “Well, it mentioned coats and umbrellas, so I am guessing it was chilly and rainy.”

Such a response would be a perfectly plausible inference based on the text.

My guess would be that about 50% of the population of fifth graders are pretty capable of managing the processes involved with comprehending.

That leaves a hefty 50% who show what I refer to as, “Swiss cheese holes” in their understanding of what they read, especially with forming inferences.

Takeaway Point

What is called “comprehension” is complex and multifaceted.  It is very hard to make blanket statements about comprehension.

Ultimately, for kids struggling in this domain they need a lot of guided, back and forth practice conducted over  time to help them become more “tuned in.”

Self-Advocacy, 504 Plans & #Dyslexia

I first met Rachel for an assessment when she was about 9 years old.  A spirited, warm and outgoing girl, Rachel was easy to engage.  My testing confirmed that Rachel was dyslexic.

Following the evaluation Rachel  came to our center and received multisensory remediation for a couple of years.  Rachel made nice progress, but that was just the start of the story.

As Rachel matured into middle school and high school, I would get reports from her mom about Rachel’s ability to advocate for herself.  Rachel was the kind of student who was not afraid to speak up, to go up to teachers after class and talk to her teachers about what she needed even if her accommodations were written in a 504 plan.

She would say things like, “I’d like you to know that I have a learning disability – dyslexia – and my 504 plan has certain accommodations, like being able to use my phone to read on Learning Ally and to have extra time while taking tests.”

Rachel went on to college and later to graduate school. She did wonderfully, largely due to her self-advocacy, which got even better over time.

The updates were all consistent.  “Rachel was never shy in talking to her teachers about her dyslexia – she was clear about her strengths, but she never hid from her weaknesses and the things in class that might help,” her mother informed me.  “The teachers were almost always receptive and open to what she had to say and were happy to help out.”

Even though the accommodations were written in the 504, my sense is that Rachel’s skill in talking to her teachers brought these accommodations to life in a way that just having them on a document could never accomplish.  Rachel’s self-advocacy shifted the odds better in her favor.

In my work with parents and kids, I often refer to Rachel as a model of self-advocacy in terms of how to proceed moving forward in middle school and beyond.

Just this week, for example, I met with Christina, a fun 8th grader struggling with reading, spelling and writing.   I said to her,  “One of the things you nee to think about is being able to speak up, to advocate for yourself – politely, of course, – in order to help your teachers know what works best for you.”

Christina, laughed, “Oh, don’t worry about that.   I’m really good at speaking up.  I’m not shy.”

I laughed too.  I knew I had another Rachel on my hands and that Christina was going to be just fine.

Takeaway Point

Even though 504 plans document the accommodations, encouraging the maturing student to speak up and not be shy about what  he/she needs, changes the odds considerably.

Finding the Middle Ground

A mom says to me this week, “I’m doing better…I’ve turned down the nagging.”

I said, “So, you’re watching your ‘M.N.Q.’ – the Mother Nag Quotient.”

She laughed, “Yeah, it seemed to help. He was more motivated and engaged.”

It’s never easy though.

So many parents report their child to be fundamentally under-functioning, not meeting expectations, not engaging with school work or facing the reality of their choices.

One mom reports that her child is only motivated by his “virtual world,” spending endless time on video gaming, socializing only through his Xbox. This Mom will not be the only one who can’t drag her child away from their video games. Just take one look at the Current League of Legends player count, or the player count of any popular game – the figures show just how many people spend timing playing these games daily.

Underneath the nagging is fear. As adults we don’t see the other side of it when the grades reflect a general decline. We plead, cajole, limit-set, nag, yell, and punish, among an array of other strategies that generally don’t work well.

Even if the parent shuts down the gaming system, more often than not, they’re not willing to take away the child’s phone, so YouTube excursions, texting, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram provide enough candy during the time (the child knows it will be temporary) when the Xbox is off limits.

I strive to help kids and parents find the middle ground. I appeal to compromise on the child’s part. (“I will work on helping your mom turn down her MNQ, if you do your part, meet your basic responsibilities.”) There’s a lot of that kind of talk.

With the parents I try and get them to use a ratio that guides them toward being 10% involved, to be homework consultants, but they worry that the child will sink like a stone if they turn down their Parent Over-Involvement Dial (aka, POID).

I make reference to “executive function deficits,” we talk about building in structures and systems that can help the child assume greater independence and responsibility.

Some parents try medication for their kids.

Each child and family is unique, so what works well for one may not for another.

I think it is good that the mom turned down her nag quotient; it seemed to free up some bottled up anger in her child. Feeling less angry over being over-controlled, he had a little more energy to tackle the tasks he didn’t want to do.

Takeaway Point

Anger always clogs the engine.

Keep working to find the middle ground.


Latest Posts