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The Importance of Reading to Your Children

Posted on June 1, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (1)

Do you have fond memories of reading cute little board books to your children when they were just little toddlers? For children who struggle with reading, sometimes books can become a negative thing. It represents really hard work, or failure, or even embarrassment and shame. Not all children feel this way about books, but it certainly is an issue for some.


Regardless of whether your child thinks the work “book” is a scary word, it is important for them to still be exposed to age-level literature. Whether your child is working through a reading remediation program with a parent or tutor, or receiving support through school, the content is going to be at their expected reading level, and not their intellectual, comprehension, or interest level. Or, if they are given reading materials that are age-level, then they are likely struggling so much with the mechanics of reading that they are not getting anything out of the book – aside from a headache.


Why is it important for them to be exposed to age-level reading? Children who struggle with reading often fall behind on more than just the ability to read. Other areas that develop through reading will also start to lag. For example, if they are learning vocabulary by listening to conversations, either in-person or through television and movies, they will be exposed to an average of 5,000 words. When reading, depending on the text, one is exposed to an average of 10,000 to 35,000 words. You can see where one will fall short in vocabulary development if they do not read. This is not even touching on the more complex sentence structures, themes, ideas, and plots that a child sees in age-level books instead of reading-level books. Not to mention, how will a struggling reader develop a love of literature if they only read simplistic books about Spot, Dick, and Jane.


The solution is easier than you think. All you need to do is read books to your child that are at his or her listening comprehension level. Make sure you pick books that interest them, because you want this to be a positive experience. It will also help them fit in socially if they have read the same latest books as their peers. Don’t worry about your child looking at the words and reading along with you, this is not the time for that. They are not reading to learn how to decode words, they are reading with their ears to improve all the other areas that are developed by reading. All the right parts of their brain will still be activating.

 

Another tool that can help is audiobooks. Particularly if your child does not want you to read to him or her, or the timing is not convenient. The effect is the same, but the child has more autonomy and can read even if you aren’t available. Whether you are reading to your child, using audiobooks, or a going with a combination of both, you child will be learning so many important things that struggling readers often lack.

 

While there are many sources for audiobooks, you can download audiobooks on your computer or smart devices for free from your public library using the website or app called Overdrive. For example, the Ottawa Public Library currently has 1,600 audiobooks for download for juvenile audiences, 1,300 for young adults, and a total of just under 8,000 audiobooks for all audiences. Audiobooks are great, but as a last note, if your child will actually allow you to snuggle up and read a book with them, then enjoy it for as long as possible!

 

Mothers are Awesome

Posted on May 1, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (2)

Mothers are awesome, and I mean that in the original sense of the word. The Oxford dictionary defines the word “awesome” as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe”. One of the reasons I am so fortunate to work as a tutor for students with dyslexia, is because I have the opportunity to work for and with so many truly awesome mothers who, day after day after day, do whatever it takes to ensure the future success and happiness of their children. You are my people, because about eight years ago, I became one of you. Eight years ago I couldn’t fathom why my beautiful, oh-so-bright son just couldn’t seem to learn to read. He couldn’t remember the sounds of the letters of alphabet. In fact, he couldn’t remember many of the letters of the alphabet. My son, Kieran, who is still beautiful and oh-so-bright, is now 14 years old, almost 6’ tall, and an honour roll student who chooses to read for pleasure.


Our family comes from a long line of academically-inclined readers. My husband and I have 19 years of university combined. In our family tree we have a university professor (from Cambridge no less!), a librarian, two lawyers, a scientist, a research editor, a journalist, several health care professionals; almost everybody has a university degree or three. Our house has always been full of educational materials and books. When our son was a young child, we read to him everyday, strictly limited his screen time, and made sure he attended a quality preschool. All of our hard work paid off, and he was a toddler-sized expert in many subjects. He could, and frequently would, explain to us how plate tectonics worked and how amphibians were different from reptiles. However, he could not, despite our efforts, tell you what sounds were made by the letters of the alphabet.


When our son was six years old we moved to Colorado for my husband’s career and it was time for Kieran to start school. We had already decided homeschooling him would be our best option. Kieran’s preschool had warned us that he would need extra help once he started Kindergarten, and since he didn’t have any type of a diagnosis at that time, he wasn’t eligible for additional support in public school. Fortunately, Colorado had a program for homeschooling families whereby the state provided a full curriculum along with teachers to monitor students’ progress.


A few months after Kieran started (homeschool) Kindergarten, his Colorado teacher noticed that he wasn’t making progress with his reading or writing skills, despite the fact the he was a hard working student. We were incredibly lucky that his teacher had taken extra courses in recognizing dyslexia in young children! She counseled us to start using an Orton-Gillingham based reading and spelling program right away. This was the beginning of our homeschool journey with the Barton program.


Kieran’s dyslexia was severe and yet I never doubted he would learn to read and spell proficiently; I knew he just needed to learn in a different way. We worked together diligently, five days a week, eleven months a year, and he progressed slowly. Being a wiggly young boy, he struggled with focusing on his Barton lessons, and it took a lot of ingenuity on my part to keep him engaged, but as mothers do, I dug deep and did whatever it took. We followed all of Susan Barton’s recommendations about pacing and when to allow Kieran to try reading uncontrolled text. Additionally, we used all of the extra Barton resources that were available such as the fluency pages, the extra practice pages, and the Barton-specific children’s books.


His hard work paid off for him, and at age 7 ½ he chose to read a book on his own for the first time. It was an unforgettable moment for our family. He wrote his first complete sentence at 8 years old, and by age 9, he was finally reading at grade level and writing paragraphs. Eventually, Kieran started enjoying his Barton lessons and we continued with them until he completed level nine at age 11. By then, Kieran was an accurate reader and a reasonably good speller, but his writing lacked complexity and style. We spent about a year focusing on a program recommended by Susan Barton called “Teaching Writing: Structure and Style” with excellent results. By age 12, he was able to pen engaging compositions with flair.


Kieran’s introduction to a “brick and mortar” school was not gentle by any measure. By the time he was ready to start school, we were living in Belgium, and the only option for education in English was at one of those rigorous, competitive international private schools. Kieran wanted to keep being homeschooled, but I felt that socially and emotionally it was time for him to be with his peers. It took about a year for him to adjust to life in the classroom and to figure out the social dynamics of preteen boys, but once he got in the groove he absolutely shone, despite the incredibly high scholastic expectations and workload. He was, and continues to be, one of the top students across the board in all subjects, except for French, in which he receives good grades with a lot of hard work. He has received several academic achievement awards and he has also won awards for his songwriting, guitar, and poetry slam performances.


The Barton Reading and Spelling system set Kieran up for success in life, and as a mother I am so thankful. There were also other educational resources he benefited from, such as Handwriting Without Tears, Type2Learn, K12 online school, Five in a Row, “Two plus two is not five” and “Five times five is not ten”, Times Tales, all sorts of manipulatives, and the aforementioned “Teaching Writing: Structure and Style”.


As anything worth doing does, it took time and effort, but in the end, it worked brilliantly. When I look back at where he started, and where he is now, I am in awe of my son. My self-professed super nerdy, robotics crazy, show choir guitarist son who, on a pleasant summer day, will choose to flop in the hammock with a book instead of being holed up inside playing video games.


To all the mothers out there who are doing whatever it takes, don’t give up, because just like you, the results can be awesome.


Leigh Anne is an awesome mother, as well as an awesome tutor with The Open Door Educational Services.



Book Review: Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents and Those Who Help Them by Gavin Reid

Posted on April 1, 2017 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)



A book review by Marion May

Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents and Those Who Help Them (Second Edition)

By Gavin Reid


  • ISBN (Paperback) 978-0-470-97373-8 ISBN (Hardcover) 978-0-470-97374-5
  • 216 pages/267 pages including appendices and index
  • Available at some public libraries and Chapters: Paperback $41.26, Hardcover $117.95, Kobo EBook $32.99
  • Note: Second Edition (published in 2011) by Wiley-Blackwell
  • First edition was published in 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


An essential A-Z step-by-step guide on dyslexia

Tip: A necessary read if you’re considering a learning assessment for your child


I was number nine in line for the Ottawa Public Library’s next available copy of Dr. Gavin Reid’s, Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents (First Edition). With the school year well underway I wondered a) how many parents in Ottawa might be questioning dyslexia in their children and, b) what made Gavin Reid such a sought-after author and expert on the subject of dyslexia. Being a former tutor of teenage students who struggled with literacy and now, a tutor with The Open Door Educational Services, I was curious to tap into Dr. Reid’s nuggets of wisdom to better understand my students learning challenges and empathize with their parents’ frustrations in seeking help. When my copy finally arrived, I devoured it within a few days and could easily understand its popularity.


The title says it all…


Just like the title promised, it was a complete step-by-step, chronological guide written specifically for parents about dyslexia, and includes: how to spot the early signs in very young children, how to get a useful assessment to achieve school accommodations, what to look for in research and learning aids, how to successfully collaborate and communicate with educators and professionals and how to support children with dyslexia through to adulthood.

Written in plain language in a logical, easy-to-reference format—with a short summary at the end of each chapter—it was easy to see why the book was in such high demand. I should also mention that, in addition to being a well-educated and highly-respected educational psychologist on dyslexia and learning disabilities worldwide, Dr. Reid is also a parent to a young man with special needs. I found the empathetic tone of his writing and respect for the reader’s situation to be very refreshing, offering the reader a sense of hope without being preachy. In supporting a child with dyslexia, he promotes advocacy with a healthy dose of collaboration and enlightenment.

Naturally, it comes as no surprise that Dr. Reid published a second edition in 2011 entitled, Dyslexia: A Complete Guide for Parents and Those Who Help Them. Having read the entire second edition, I am pleased to report that he has expanded the chapter on obtaining an assessment, added more information on the assessment tests and why they are conducted, expanded the resources section, updated the research and included a chapter entirely devoted to dyslexia’s effect on self-esteem and emotional development. Best of all, on the “About the Author” page, I was pleased to discover that Dr. Reid is now based in Vancouver, Canada.


About the Author:


Gavin Reid, is an independent educational psychologist based in Vancouver, Canada and a consultant to a number of organisations and charities worldwide. He is the co-founder and director of the Red Rose School for children with specific learning difficulties in Lancashire, UK and was visiting professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Previously he was Senior Lecturer at Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh. He is the author of 25 books including Dyslexia: A Practitioners Handbook (4/e 2009), Dyslexia in Context: Research and Practice (2004) and Dyslexia and Literacy (2002). He has run seminars for parents on dyslexia in over 60 countries and is also the parent of a young man with special needs.


“Collaboration is the key and communication is the means”


In the Preface of the second edition, Dr. Reid writes that he extended the title to include ….and Those Who Help Them, because “it is important that parents should not be seen as separate or isolated. Collaboration is the key and communication is the means. Parents and teachers need to work as informed partners and that is the thinking behind extending the title.” For me, being in the “Those Who Help Them” category as a Reading and Spelling Remediation Tutor with The Open Door, I couldn’t agree more! Having read through the psychological assessments for my students and recommendations for remediation, I found Dr. Reid’s guide to be very helpful in discovering why certain tests are conducted, what the outcomes reveal and how I can be a more effective tutor in addressing the deficits and strengths of my students.

While I found the entire book to be very helpful in explaining dyslexia, related learning disabilities, latest research, successful teaching methods, accommodations and advocacy, Chapters Three, Nine and, the Appendices offered information I had not come across in other books about dyslexia. Information such as: assessment criteria, a human portrayal of self-esteem in learning, practical lists of psychological tests—and why they are conducted—and commonly used terms by educators and psychologists. For parents and helpers trying to navigate a learning path for a dyslexic child or student, this is very practical and necessary information for the journey ahead.


The importance of an assessment and what it should contain


In Chapter 3, Finding out if my child is dyslexic, Dr. Reid begins the chapter by stating that “this is one of the most important chapters of the book.” I couldn’t agree more! In this chapter he explains why an assessment is important, who should assess the child and, the role of parents and professionals such as classroom teachers, educational psychologists, specialist teachers in the assessment process. He goes on to explain what feedback parents should expect from the assessment and what crucial information the report should contain. For instance, under the heading “Understanding assessment reports”, he explains that the report should contain a list of the tests conducted and what learning challenges they are looking for.

In the Appendices of the book, he has generously provided a list of the psychological tests normally done and what strengths or deficiencies they reveal. Appendices Two to Four include further information on, programs recommended for remediation, criteria for learning disabilities under the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) published by the American Psychological Association, and more information on sources, resources and organizations for help. Appendix Five provides a glossary of terms for learning disabilities and learning styles mentioned throughout the book.


Self-esteem and its role in the learning process


Chapter 9, Self-esteem and emotional development, focuses on the emotional needs of children with dyslexia and how parents can identify and support these needs. He outlines in a timetable format, what a typical day for a dyslexic student might look like, and the frequency of recurring failures from forgetting to set the morning alarm to failing a class math test at the end of the day due to number reversal problems. We begin to understand how these little failures can add up and affect a child’s self-esteem. Following the time table, he offers hope by describing simple, small steps that parents and teachers can take to support a child with dyslexia to avoid these daily failures. He goes on to discuss the importance of self-esteem in learning, how low-self-esteem can affect future learning and other areas of school life, the importance of positive feedback for self-esteem and motivation, the role of emotional development and emotional literacy in successful learning, the importance of student engagement and ownership as a motivator and the hidden effects of dyslexia that may not be obvious but can be very real.


Conclusion


From Chapter One, What is dyslexia? through to Chapter 13, Issues for parents to consider, and the abundance of information contained in the Appendices One to Five, I would highly recommend this book to parents, teachers and “those who help” children with dyslexia. It will give them a full empathetic understanding of dyslexia, a sense of hope in creating a positive, solution-oriented learning path—and beyond—for their child or student. Most importantly, it gives the reader a sense of empowerment to successfully advocate for their child or student.


Other books published by Gavin Reid available at Chapters include:

Dyslexia: A Practitioners Handbook Paperback|Mar 21 2016 $54.95

Dyslexia in the Early Years: A Handbook for Practice Paperback|Feb 21 2017 $29.95


Low literacy - A fight against statistics

Posted on March 1, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)



Literacy Unlimited is a non-profit organization on the West Island of Montreal, which provides free, one-on-one English tutoring for adults to improve their reading, writing and basic math skills.

Low literacy has far-reaching implications. It is highly correlated with lower income, poor health and food security, increased work accidents and absenteeism, unemployment and underemployment, and social isolation. Statistics are staggering. Four out of ten adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 - representing 9 million Canadians - struggle with low literacy. They fall below level 3 on the prose literacy scale. According to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, level 3 is generally accepted as the “desired level of competence for coping with the increasing skill demands of the emerging knowledge and information economy.”

How are these statistics even possible? In some cases, learning disabilities such as dyslexia may be present. But in many cases, it can be a complex issue with a number of influencing factors: not finishing high school, not pursuing higher education, lack of educational opportunities, and lack of family support or poor literacy in the family environment. People who struggle will often learn coping strategies to mask their difficulties:


• They will avoid reading in front of another person by saying they forgot their glasses, or that they will bring documents home to review.


• They may ask for someone to summarize a document out loud (i.e. ask the Pharmacist to outline medication usage and side-effects)


• They may have a trusted family member or friend to help them read documents or fill out forms.


• They will often avoid or cancel meetings.


People may finally seek help when their coping strategies start being ineffective. So how can you help if you think you know someone who struggles with low literacy? Think R.E.A.D:


R = Recognize the signs

E = Empathize with the struggle

A = Assist by giving a referral (to a group like Literacy Unlimited or The Open Door)

D = Discretely. Respect that this is usually a very private problem.


Literacy Unlimited changes lives through improved adult literacy. Services are free of charge, flexible and discreet. To find out more about us, contact us at 514-694-0007 or at www.literacyunlimited.ca. You can also like and follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/literacyone/

 

Getting to Remediation: Diagnosing Dyslexia

Posted on February 1, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Parents and teacher have an urgent need for low cost, rapid, accurate identification of reading problems in order to move on with remediation as soon as possible. Yet conventional wisdom has it that one cannot diagnose dyslexia, only identify those at risk for it. This isn’t quite true. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th Edition) used by psychologists and psychologists can be used to formally diagnose a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in reading, written expression, or mathematics contingent on four criteria being met. Importantly, the DSM V includes the following note:

“Dyslexia is an alternative term used to refer to a pattern of learning difficulties characterized by problems with accurate or fluent word recognition, poor decoding, and poor spelling abilities.” (p.67, DSM-5)

 

This formally equates the diagnosis of “SLD with impairment in reading.” with dyslexia. While a DSM based clinical diagnosis is the gold standard it can easily cost several thousands of dollars to procure privately, and public school wait times can run into years. This leaves most parents and teachers hanging. Bridging the gap are a myriad of screeners, assessment tools and standardized tests, each more rigorous than the latter. Googling “dyslexia test” will round up countless examples. Screeners typically take the form of a free, self-administered checklist of symptoms of signs and can be completed in minutes. Assessment tools such as the Shaywitz Dyslexia Screen or Nessy Learning’s Dyslexia Quest are more rigorous, but still generally parent or self administered, and build a simple cognitive profile of a student containing metrics on things like phonemic awareness, working memory and rapid naming. Such tools may take an hour to complete, and cost up to $200, but often much less. Standardized tests such as the CTOPP or Woodcock Johnson provide the same kind of cognitive metrics, but with more rigour and detail. They are administered by a professional, certified in the delivery of the test and may take one to two hours to administer in full, costing up to $500. A complete battery of standardized tests usually constitute a psychoeducational assessment which would form the basis of a DSM diagnosis, bringing us full circle.

 

Which instrument a parent, teacher or school might use will depend on budget, time, availability and the purpose of the assessment. If the purpose of the assessment is to force a school to take action or an employer to recognize a disability, then the more rigorous standardized tests would be the wise choice. But a formal DSM diagnosis should not be required before students begin receiving remediation in the classroom. While a checklist screener may not suffice to form the basis of an individualized education plan, many assessment tools and all standardized tests have science based evidence behind them that can and should be recognized by our educational system.

 

Michael Bates is the Director of Communications for Nessy Learning, a leading educational software company for students with dyslexia. He is the founder and webmaster for the Reading Well website and currently sits on the board of the Learning Disabilities Association of Ottawa Carleton.

 

Accommodation, Modification, and Remediation...What?

Posted on January 1, 2017 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (2)


These are three words that we often hear in education. Many parents wonder exactly what these terms mean, why each is important, and what's the difference between them?


Accommodation:


Accommodation is exactly how it sounds; to accommodate students refers to how a student is taught. This means that they are expected to cover the same material as other students, but they are allowed to do it differently. The reason that they are to complete work differently is because if they do assignments and tests the same way as other students, it won't really reflect what they are capable of achieving. For example, if a child has a reading disability, an accommodation may be that they are permitted to read the assigned novels by listening to audiobooks. They are still reading the same text, but their reading disability is not holding them back.


Modification:


Modification refers to what a student is taught. Gifted students may have a modified curriculum because they are expected to go into greater depth on their assignments and tests. A student who has a learning disability related to math may be working on the same curriculum strain, but is working on an earlier grade level. For example, the class is working on grade 6 fractions, but the student with the modified lesson plan is working on the grade 4 or 5 curriculum expectations for fractions instead. He is still working on fractions, but at a different level.


The Difference Between Accommodation and Modification:


Accommodation refers to how a student is taught. The expectations are the same, but how those expectations are achieved is different. With modification, the expectations are different. Either what is being taught or the expectations are changed. So, the student who had permission to use an audiobook to read the same novel as the rest of the class is being accommodated. The student who was reading a less advanced novel than the rest of the class is doing a modified lesson.


Remediation:


Remediation is extremely important. It is often completely overlooked when the correct mix of accommodations and modifications have been worked out. If accommodation is giving the students the tools that they need to keep up with the class, and modification is teaching the students at their own level, then remediation is working on the root problem that is causing the child to need accommodations and modifications in the first place.


Accommodations and modifications are important to allow the students to continue to learn along with the rest of their class, but this is essentially treading water. We need to teach these students some actual swimming lessons if they are ever going progress. It's wonderful to be able to let students read a novel through an audiobook, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't continue to work on teaching them to read. If you have a student who needs a modified lesson because his reading comprehension is poor, then it's important to modify his lesson so that you can meet him at his level. However, you should still work on strengthening his reading comprehension skills. Remediation focuses on "fixing" the problem.


Accommodation and modification are like giving a wheelchair to someone who is recovering from an injury. Remediation is like giving them physiotherapy and retraining their muscles to walk. We don’t want to simply give them a wheelchair and not bother with the physiotherapy because they can get around well enough in their wheelchair. Similarly, we don’t want to deny them a wheelchair while they are working on physiotherapy because they still need to be able to get around while they are recovering.


Accommodation and modification allow students to continue to learn about history, science, math, arts, grammar, and literature while they are receiving remedial teaching to acquire the skills that will lessen their need for accommodations and modifications in the future.

 

Top 5 things I learned at the first Canadian dyslexia conference - and how you can make change

Posted on December 1, 2016 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (1)


More than 200 parents, students, educators and advocates packed the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto to attend the first dyslexia conference in Canada.


“Understanding dyslexia: A conference for parents, families and educators” was organized by the Ontario Branch of the International Dyslexia Organization in partnership with Decoding Dyslexia Ontario.


As a mother and a dyslexia advocate, I was excited to attend this historic (and sold out) event with my family. I’ve summarized my thoughts into the “top 5 things” I took away from the conference (though there was so much more), but first a birds-eye view of the day:


The agenda featured a who’s who of dyslexia experts from across Canada and the United States. The speakers shared research and evidence-based recommendations for identifying and teaching dyslexic students, as well as tech tips, education law, and how to advocate for our children.


A student panel took the stage to answer questions about “surviving and thriving” with dyslexia. The group opened up about how they deal with bullies, the biggest obstacles they face and the upside to being dyslexic (hard working, resilient and creative were some of the answers).


Last but not least, Keith Gray and Stuart Bruce of Dyslexia Canada gave an impassioned plea for the rights of dyslexic children—and outlined their mission to establish legislation in each Canadian province, specific to recognizing and remediating dyslexia in our public schools.


Though most of us had never met before, we quickly realized that we are all on the same path, and have a similar story. We shared advice and information, exchanged contact information, made plans for organizing in our own communities.


The conference left me with hope that positive change is coming for children with dyslexia. Said one conference organizer: “I feel a revolution coming on!”


I’m already looking forward to next year!


Top 5 things I learned at the first Canadian dyslexia conference


1. Don't wait for a child to fail: Too often, students have to fail to get the help they need. Experts say it is never too early to help a child who is struggling to read.


2. Dyslexic students can and will learn to read with proper reading instruction: Early identification (as early as kindergarten) and intervention with an evidence-based reading program are key to teaching readers who struggle.


3. One size does not fit all: Dyslexic students learn differently, so they need to be taught differently. They may read more slowly, but fast reading does not equal good reading.


4. Take care of emotional needs:  Dyslexic children may experience social and emotional challenges, such as bullying, anxiety and low self-esteem. Along with reading support, these children need emotional support along the way.


5. We work better when we work together:  Parents, students, educators and advocates need to work together to make positive change.


How you can make change


Sign the petition to legislate compulsory student early-assessment testing for dyslexia in Canada.

Support the organizations working to make change for dyslexic children in Canada:

International Dyslexia Association Ontario Branch

Decoding Dyslexia Ontario

Dyslexia Canada  


Participants learn tech-tips from Jamie Martin at Understanding Dyslexia Conference in Toronto. (Photo credit: Jamie Martin, AT Dyslexia)

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Anne Boys is a writer and editor living in Ottawa. You can read more about the conference, and her family’s journey with dyslexia at her blog dyslexiclibrary.com.

 



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