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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Two Best Apps for Dyslexics: Words from Designer Winston Chen


Voice Dream Reader and now the new Voice Dream Writer are what I believe to be the best apps out there for dyslexics as well as struggling readers and writers.  I am so pleased to feature an interview with Winston Chen: the creator these Voice Dream apps.  We focused our discussion on his recent release, Voice Dream Writer


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Erica: If you had to put it into a single sentence, what is at the heart of Voice Dream Writer?

Winston: It helps everyone write better.

Erica: Why did you create Voice Dream Writer?

Winston: Over the 3-year period during which I worked on Voice Dream Reader, my reading app, I became aware that reading and learning isn't the only challenge facing students with dyslexia. Writing is as just as problematic. This was obvious from the emails that I receive from users. Beyond education, in the workplace, poor writing puts people with dyslexia at a severe disadvantage. I started to think about ways in which technology can help them improve the quality of their writing beyond dictation and word prediction.

Erica: How does Voice Dream Writer help people write better?

Winston: Three core capabilities. One, it incorporates speech throughout the entire writing process from typing to proofreading to help writers make fewer errors. Two, it has a sophisticated search engine for words that help improve spelling and word usage. Three, it has a synchronized outline that helps writers better structure and organize compositions. The goal is to help people write better, not fancy graphics and snazzy technical wizardry. It gets down to the basics: this magical but intimidating process of creating words and sentences on an empty screen.

Erica: Were there any key people or organizations that helped to inspire the genesis of Voice Dream Writer

Winston: Many people gave me ideas. But I want to point out especially Landmark College, who encouraged me to develop this app, and Dr. Matthew Schnepps, one of the most respected researchers in the field and a dyslexic himself, who explained to me many of the problems that dyslexics face when writing.

Erica: Who is your audience?

Winston: The audience is precisely the same group of people who find my reading app helpful: adults and students with dyslexia, low vision, or blindness. These three groups have one thing in common: they do not process text the same way as the majority of the population does, and in particular they all value speech.

Erica: What other apps have you created?  


Winston: This is only my second app. My first app is Voice Dream Reader, which lets people read with their ears. 

Erica: Are you intending on creating more apps?  If so, what are some of your ideas?

Winston: I always have a bunch of ideas floating in my head. For the foreseeable future, however, I want to focus on making the Reader and the Writer available on more platforms, such as Android and Mac. Two babies will keep me busy for quite a while.

Erica: Can people learn more about your new app?

WinstonYes. The best way to learn more about this app is to watch the demo I narrated on my website: http://www.voicedream.com/writer

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I want to thank Winston Chen for taking the time to speak to us!  I hope you learn more about the Voice Dream apps and discover the benefits these valuable technology gems.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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Friday, January 16, 2015

Eight, Dyslexia Games Make All Reading Programs Fun and Memorable

Do you ever have to bribe your students with candy or stickers to entice them to read through long lists of words or complete workbook activities?  There are a multitude of phonics and Orton-Gillingham based reading programs available on the market, but so many of them place struggling readers through boring drills and activities.  I experienced the same problem.  What could I do?

I Created Games to Bring the Fun Factor into My Lessons:
Over the past few years, I created a system to make any reading program fun and motivating.  I designed and published board and card games to weave into reading lessons.  Now, my students can't wait for their sessions, are reading more, have increased stamina and they are mastering concepts at a faster pace.  A series of three reading game publication bundles have been available and selling like hot cakes, but upon popular request, I have released a new title, Reading Games Primary.  This publication offers new games that help students master basic reading concepts such as syllables, rhyming words, short vowel sounds, ending sound blends and sight words by playing super fun and engaging card and board games.

Tell Me More About the 8 Games:
  1. Sight Word War:   Sight Word War is a card game that helps students master sight words and practice basic alphabetizing skills.  
  2. Syllable Sort:  Syllable Sort is a card game that helps students master syllable divisions in words.
  3. Switch-A-Roo Reading: Switch-A-Roo Reading is a reading/writing game that helps students learn beginning, middle and ending word sounds as well as rhyming words. 
  4. Sole Survivor:  Sole Survivor is a board game that helps students master breaking words into syllables as well as beginning and ending word sounds.
  5. Animal Party:  Animal Party is a board game that helps students learn beginning, middle and end sounds of simple three letter words.
  6. Animal Bingo:  Animal Bingo is a board game that helps students master breaking words into syllables as well as beginning and ending word sounds.  It also develops tracking and counting skills.
  7. Three of A Kind Beginners:  Three of a Kind is a card game that helps students learn rhyming words, beginning sounds, middle sounds and ending sounds of simple three letter words. 
  8. Three of A Kind Intermediate:  Three of a Kind Intermediate is a card game that helps students master rhyming words, beginning blends, middle sounds and ending sounds of simple four to five letter words.  
Are There Other Reading Games?
Yes.  Reading Games Primary is my fourth bundle of reading games to be published.  In fact, I have created more than 50 different games for all levels of reading remediation.  To learn more about all of these games  click here.  If you would like to try a free sample game click here.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Our Golden Anniversary – Celebrating 50-Years Married to Dyslexia


I'm so pleased to feature this heart-felt and beautiful piece by my dear friend and fellow dyslexic, Stan Gloss.  Stan provides a glimpse of his "marriage to dyslexia" and shares his life's challenges as well as his most recent realization that dyslexia is in fact a gift.


A golden anniversary is an amazing milestone to reach in any relationship.  It is even more remarkable when your marriage is to Dyslexia.  Although this can be a challenging relationship, you can learn to work together to create success.  Please join me on my 50-year journey with Dyslexia.

My relationship with Dyslexia began in 1963.  My mother spoke to our family doctor, Dr. Gregory, because she was concerned that I was struggling in school with reading and writing. Initially he sent us to an eye doctor to check my vision.  After a comprehensive assessment, I was diagnosed with a “lazy eye.”  To treat this condition, a special screen was attached to our family’s 19” black and white TV set.  I had to wear huge glasses that swallowed my face like the ones from the first iMax movies. To see the whole TV screen, I had to concentrate on using both eyes, or half the screen went black. Even watching TV became work.  My eye did get stronger but my reading and handwriting did not improve.  In fact it got worse, and because of this, I began to fake asthma attacks to stay home from school to avoid feeling anxious and humiliated.

Next, my mom and I were sent to a Neurologist at Children’s Hospital in Boston. After a lot of poking and prodding and having to stand around in my underwear, my mom and a strange doctor talked about me like I was invisible.  From there, we were referred to the Reading Research Institute in Wellesley, Massachusetts.  At the Institute, I met Dr. Charles Drake, who would go on to establish the acclaimed Landmark School in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1971.  After a battery of psychological tests, he reported his finding to us. “You have Dyslexia.” With those words, Dyslexia became my silent partner.  Dr. Drake advised me, “Your relationship with Dyslexia is not going to be easy, but with hard work you will learn to flourish together.”  Dr. Drake should know, he was happily married to Dyslexia too.

Sadly, my teachers and principal had no concept of Dyslexia and refused to accommodate us.   For them, my diagnosis was just an excuse for being stupid and lazy.  Their answer was always, “just try harder.” I tried and tried and nothing changed. This became a frustrating, vicious cycle.  Albert Einstein best describes this pattern, “ Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I quickly learned, it was best to try to keep Dyslexia “in the closet.” However, as the school years continued, I could no longer hide my Dyslexia.  Red marks slashed across my papers and kids giggled as I stumbled to read aloud.  Peering over the shoulder of the girl in front of me, I compared my small insignificant blue star to her giant golden seal.  I felt ashamed and defective.  Dyslexia and I wrestled and clashed through the school years and what resulted was a lot of scrapes and scarring.  I blamed Dyslexia for all my bad grades, a 714 combined on the SAT’s, and the rejection of every college I applied to except for my father’s alma mater. To say I was in a dysfunctional relationship was an understatement.  I hated Dyslexia, but a divorce for irreconcilable differences was impossible.

What do you do when it seems like the world is against you?  Where do you find the strength to keep going?  The key to my survival was finding mentors and advocates.  They coached me to stand strong when nobody else believed in me.  The two most important people were Dr. Gregory and my mom. On the one hand, Dr. Gregory was my mentor.  I became his little apprentice. I would spend time after school sitting on his knee while he stitched up cut fingers, looked under the microscope at blood cells and read chest x-rays.  When I was with him, I felt excited and smart.  On the other hand, my mom was my advocate.  She fought the school system every step of the way. When they tried to hold me back a grade or limit my future by pulling me out of the college track, they invited a battle that they would never win. My mom was an unyielding force, but I was still in the trenches.

To hold my ground at school, I had to sacrifice playtime for tutoring. Saturday morning cartoons were traded for tedious drills.  Strict nuns in their scary habits and shiny black shoes instructed me at the Cardinal Cushing Reading Clinic in Boston.  My reward for enduring the tutoring was riding the subway home alone from Boston.  For me the Boston subway system was an amusement park.  I bought my token from the man in the booth, inserted my coin, pushed through the turnstile and entered a magical wonderland of adventure.  I loved riding in the front of the trains and trolleys, imagining I was the conductor driving through the symphony of orchestrated lights. Between stops, I slid down the escalator handrails and raced back up the descending stairs.  Fresh-popped popcorn was a common treat at the Government Center T stop, as well as weaving between people to catch the next trolley. When I was in the subway, I was free, independent, and in control.

If school and tutoring was not challenging enough, Hebrew school and my Bar Mitzvah became an impossible burden.  After a long day struggling through school, I went home and traded my school books for Hebrew books. Mrs. Gutell whisked us away in her carpool to the next town.  Reading English from left to right was difficult, but reading Hebrew from right to left became my worst nightmare.  In my second year of Hebrew school, Dyslexia and I could not take it any longer, so we dropped out and my mother acquired a tape recorder and another tutor.  Mr. Copeland was a rather portly, older gentleman with suspenders who taught at MIT.   Each week he recorded a couple of new lines for me to learn and practice.  I listened to the recordings over and over again.  Eventually, I memorized my entire Bar Mitzvah and proudly delivered it in front of my family, friends and the temple congregation.  

I made my next breakthrough with Dyslexia my first year in college studying to be a respiratory therapist.  At the end of my first semester, I volunteered at my local hospital in the Respiratory Therapy Department, and this became my classroom.  Watching the respiratory therapists controlling the life support machines, treating asthmatics, and bag breathing patients during a “Code Blue” became my best way of learning.  Once I made the connection between the real world and what I was studying, there was no looking back for me.  I began to stop blaming Dyslexia for holding me back, and with that I moved forward - fast forward.

With these learning strategies in hand, together we completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and all of the coursework toward a Ph.D.  At 24, I was named the youngest Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University. By 28, I was the Chairman of our Department. After that, I worked in the medical device market collaborating with Anesthesiologists. Now, I am CEO of my own company building the super-computers that scientists use to accelerate discovery.  For those who knew about my Dyslexia and me, they continually commented about and complemented our accomplishments. However, I still felt I was in a struggling relationship.

They say when the student is ready the teacher will appear. One day my sister shared a book call  The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain.  Drs. Brock and Fernette Edie’s words artfully reinforced that a relationship with Dyslexia is a blessing. For the first time, in my life, I fully accepted my Dyslexia.  It reminds me of a verse from the David Crosby song, Long Time Gone. "But you know, the darkest hour, is always just before the dawn.”  Now I reflect on my first fifty years with Dyslexia. A long time has gone, but the dawn has risen on my next fifty years.  Moving forward, I embrace Dyslexia as my amazing gift, and I hope my journey shows others with Dyslexia a path to acceptance and empowerment.

I hope Stan's story inspires you, too, to recognize the gifts in dyslexia.
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