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Friday, April 24, 2015

A Learning Disability Diagnosis: Should I Tell My Child?


I find that a lot of parents decide to hide the fact that their child has a learning disability.  They want to protect them from negative associations with the label.  Most of all, they don't want their child to feel disabled or experience any bullying from his or her peers. Although there might be some short-lived uncertainties and uneasiness associated with learning about one's diagnosis, the research shows that has lasting beneficial outcomes.

How Can Learning about One's Learning Disability Diagnosis Help?
Learning about one's diagnosis can help in a number of ways.  Whether the child is in elementary school or even approaching college, learning about one's learning disability:
  1. shows there is a reason for academic struggles and that the child can receive support and reasonable accommodations that will help them to succeed.
  2. helps define the type of assistance that a child needs so that remediation can be tailored.
  3. enables children to shed negative labels such as stupid, lazy, unmotivated, and careless.  
I actually did my doctoral dissertation on this topic.  I interviewed higher education students that were diagnosed with a learning disability for the first time in college.  I wanted to see if their diagnosis impacted their sense of self.  The stories were inspiring and profound. Although some of the participants experienced some initial, short-term concern about their testing results, before long, all those interviewed reported that learning about their learning disability as well as their strengths was empowering in three areas of their life: personally, academically, occupationally, and socially. All of the participants had an improved self-esteem and felt "vindicated, validated and freed."  They reported improvements in their lives, and they all experience resulting academic and occupational success.

How Do I Disclose a Learning Disability Diagnosis to my Child?

      1) Prepare Your Discussion

  • Manage your own emotional reactions to the diagnosis, before talking to the child.
  • Make sure you know all about the learning disability including associated struggles and even some possible strengths associated with the condition.
  • Compose a simple script before you begin the conversation about the evaluation results and any changes that might take place in school.  
  • Be prepared to explain what the learning disability is and what it is not in a sensitive and age-appropriate way.  Avoid professional terms and use vocabulary that is easy to understand.  
      2) Conversation Suggestions:
  • Discuss the child's learning problems with him or her in a gradual, informal, and sequential way.
  • Share that all people have strengths and weaknesses and then discuss some of your own challenges. 
  • Remind the child that they learn in a unique way that requires hard work and some different activities from classmates.  
  • Explain that learning can be a challenge and that it may take a little longer to master some skills than other classmates.
  • Reassure the child that negative and fearful feelings are natural and understandable at first, but that in time, learning about their brain will help them to be successful in life.
  • Provide inspiration by citing successful people, friends and family members that have similar problems.
  • Emphasize the child's strengths and do not simply focus on deficits and difficulties.
  • Remind the child that there is a strong and intact support system at home and at school.
  • Talk about accommodations and modifications that he or she may need.
  • Encourage the use of teacher-pleasing behaviors in response to receiving extra help.
  • Finish the conversation by encouraging the child to ask questions.
How Do I Support my Child After Disclosing His or Her Learning Disability?
  • Maintain open lines of communication with your child, so he or she can speak freely at home and with school personnel.
  • Be prepared to spontaneously discuss incidents that may occur at home or at school in a positive and supportive manner.
  • Share ways your child can compensate for any academic or social difficulties.
  • Teach your child self-advocacy skills.
  • Provide encouragement as well as positive and constructive feedback.
  • Maintain a positive attitude and express optimism about the future.
  • Keep expectations realistic but high.  As children grow and receive remedial assistance, areas of difficulty can be overcome.
  • Set goals that are attainable, even if this is only in small progressive steps. 
In the long run, hiding a learning disability diagnosis from your child will create more difficulties and angst than it will save.  In contrast, helping a child learn about their difficulties as well as their strengths is a critical step in developing and sustaining motivation, independence, and self-advocacy skills.
 
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, April 17, 2015

The Key to Improved Attention and Memory for Optimal Learning

Did you know that visualization can be the key to unlocking memory abilities, attentional skills and enjoyment for learning? Surprisingly, the use of mental imagery for learning is not a new
idea. 

Use of Visualization Throughout History:
In fact, an appreciation and recognition of visualization is sprinkled throughout history. It can be traced back as far as Aristotle in 348 B.C.  He wrote, “recollection is a searching of an image.” Again, in the 5th and 6th century, Greek and Roman intellectuals used mental images to
enhance memory (Ashcraft, 1989; Sadoski and Paivio, 2001). At that time, visualization was a common strategy used for public speaking.  Scholars used this skill, which is now known as method of loci, to organize and recall a speech by imagining and associating topics with everyday objects (Douville, Pugalee, Wallace, & Lock, 2002). Yet again, in the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas spoke of visualization, indicating that we acquire knowledge by forming “phantasms” or mental images (Magill, 1963).  Finally, in the 19th and 20th centuries, a resurgence of interest in mental imagery took place in the fields of experimental psychology and cognitive psychology (Thomas, 2013). Piaget, with a focus on cognitive constructions and “mindfulness,” offered a renewed interest in the role visualization played in cognition and learning. (Douville, Pugalee, Wallace, & Lock, 2002).  Einstein was also a proponent of visualization and, to this day, is often quoted as saying, “If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it.” 

What's the Scientific Proof?
Most recently, scientific methodologies have been utilized to assess the validity and utility of visualization. In the past 50 years, researchers have looked at the impact of mental imagery on academic achievement. There is a host of research on this topic, and this blog focuses on some of the key studies that investigate the impact of mental imagery on learning.  

Research on the Impact of Visualization on Reading:
Research has investigated the effect of visualization on reading abilities. Studies have shown that there is a direct link between poor comprehension skills and the inability to visualize text (Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell and Bales, 1986; Gambrell and Jawitz, 1993; Steingart and Glock, 1979).  In contrast, research substantiates that students who picture what they are reading, thus painting the setting, characters and plot on the canvas of their mind’s eye, have better comprehension scores and find greater joy in the reading process (Bell, 1991; Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell and Bales, 1986; Gambrell and Jawitz, 1993; Long, Winograd and Bridge, 1989; Sadoski, 1985; Sadosi, Goetz and Kangiser, 1988; Sadoski and Quast, 1990; Steingart and Glock, 1979). Algozzine and Douville (2004) also assert that training in mental imagery aids students in generating their own mental images when reading. In addition, students who visualize while reading are better at making inferences and accurate predictions (Gambrell, 1982; Steingart and Glock, 1979). Moreover, research on the efficacy of using visual imagery has also been shown to improve deep connections that aid in memory recall and reading comprehension (Craik and Lockhart, 1972). Clearly, visualization is a necessary cognitive skill that helps readers attend to and encode literature, but mental imagery also helps learners develop their expressive language abilities.  

Research on the Impact of Visualization on Writing:
Employing visualization has also been demonstrated to enhance writing skills in students (Jampole, Konopak, Readence, & Moser, 1991). In particular, gifted students who received mental imagery instruction outperform those who did not on originality and the use of sensory descriptors (Jampole, Konopak, Readence, & Moser, 1991).  Additionally, Algozzine and Douville (2004), claimed that training in visualization helped students generate their own mental images when writing. Furthermore, Kwan-Lui, Liao, Frazier, Hauser, and Kostis (2012) reported that visualizing events described in writing, “is crucial for constructing a rich and coherent visuospatial mental representations of the text.” Finally, when Jurand (2012) researched the efficacy of visualization for a summer writing program, he reported that art projects were a successful method that helped students to visualize their ideas during the writing process, and they also served to develop the students’ imagination. Yet, reading and writing are not the only areas of academic achievement that benefit from mental images.

Research on the Impact of Visualization on Math:
Visualization hones mathematical abilities too. Dougville, Pugalee, Wallace and Lock (2002) suggested that using mental imagery can help learners to, “concretize abstract mathematical concepts in ways that facilitate more effective problem-solving.” They also noted that more advanced math imaging can be achieved through storyboarding activities where the steps of a math problem are drawn in a pictorial sequence. Dougville, Pugalee, Wallace and Lock (2002) claimed the words of their participants offered compelling evidence. Participants suggested that using mental imagery was like, “having a video camera in my brain” and like “going to a movie in my head” and that, “reading and learning was more fun” for the participant students.  Clearly, the mathematics community embraces the benefits of visualization but do the hard sciences concur?

Research on the Impact of Visualization on Science:
Even the scientific community is beginning to consider how visualization can make research more understandable and manageable to the public (Kwan-Liu, Liao, Frazier, Hauser, Kostis, 2012). When
students visualize graphic progressions and cycles, as well as webs, diagrams, and lab experiences, they can improve their understanding and memory of the content.  Although the research on visualization in the sciences is sparse, it appears clear that all areas of instruction are enhanced by learning to use one's mind's eye. 

Qualitative Evidence Supporting Visualization: 
Qualitative anecdotes further support the power of visualization in learning. Many of my students who love to read and also have excellent reading comprehension, claim that words, “create movies in
their heads,” which allows them to take a mind trip into the fantasy realm created by the author. Similarly, the actor, Tom Cruise noted, “I had to train myself to focus my attention. I became very visual and learned how to create mental images in order to comprehend what I read.” Some talented few have reported that they can even relive historical events, past science experiments, and classroom lectures!  Likewise, visualization is reported to help with the writing process.  Great writers, like Mark Twain, claimed to have used personal visualizations to help him write a scene by picturing the moment and then painting it with words. Twain remarked, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Likewise, the writer, Holly Lisle professed, “We have to see – really see – the people and places around us as if our bodies were full-sensory cameras and our minds were film.” Even scientists report that they use visualizations to help them grasp concepts. Albert Einstein was credited with saying, “a picture says a thousand words.” He also offered advice on how to visualize in the 4th dimension: “Take a point, stretch it into a line, curl it into a circle, twist it into a sphere, and punch through the sphere.” Even if a student can visualize and use their imagination, they
may or may not be using this talent when reading, writing or listening.  Because reading, writing and listening all require attention, researchers suggest that some students find that they do not have the cognitive space to visualize when learning (Gambrell, 1982; Gambrell, & Jawitz,
1993).

Overall, mental imagery appears to impact all areas of academics. Douville and Algozzine (2004) unite the prior outcomes, and propose that visualization can be used across the curriculum.

How Can I Teach This Needed Skill?
I have found that the best way to teach visualization is through games and mindful discussions.  To help with this process, I wrote a book entitled Mindful Visualization for Education.  In fact, this blog includes an excerpt from the book, and all the full citations are available in the full document.  This 132 page downloadable document (PDF) provides a review of the research, assessment tools, over twenty game-like activities and lesson suggestions in all the subject areas as well as for vocabulary development and listening.  In addition, I offer two PowerPoint downloads that review the 10 core skills that need to be developed to optimize visualization abilities.

If you have any thoughts on the use of visualization for learning, please post a comment! Also, if you have had some success with visualization in the classroom, please share your experiences.
 
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, April 11, 2015

Eradicating Errors and Mistakes and Embracing Oopsy Doodles

Have you ever made a mistake or error? Were you ever wrong? Were you ever told that you were careless, lazy or umotivated?

How did that make you feel? Were you embarrassed? Were you ashamed? Were you angry? Were you sad?

Now, I want you to imagine a giant eraser, because were are going to erase all mistakes. We are going to erase errors. We are going to erase anything and everything wrong or careless. And, as we mindfully delete all those negative words and memories while holding onto any valuable lessons, all those bad feelings disappear too.

Imagine that you travel around the world and erase every careless mistake - every single error - everything that is wrong. All those bad feelings leave everyone and float up into the sky and disappear. All that remains is a perfect, deep blue sky with wispy clouds.


Now, imagine that in the sky, appears the words Oopsy Doodles in colorful swirly letters. Oopsy Doodles are wonderful, because they help us to grow. Oopsy Doodles tell us what we don’t understand, so we can learn. Oopsy Doodles are cool, colorful and fun.

Everyone makes Oopsy Doodles and that’s one of the wonderful things that make us all human beings. Parents make Oopsy Doodles. Teachers make Oopsy Doodles. Even our president makes Oopsy Doodles; and you make Oopsy Doodles too. So the next time someone tells you that you have made a mistake or an error, that you are incorrect or they call you careless, tell them about Oopsy Doodles. Tell them that you and many others are changing the world. That you are helping to erase negative labels and replacing them with the beauty of Oopsy Doodles. Help them to see how positive Oopsy Doodles can be.
____________________

The reason why I created this post and I encourage you to spread the word about Oopsy Doodles is because so many students are traumatized by negative labels and wording in education. Students are continually told what is wrong with their work, but rarely told what is right. Many are afraid to participate in their classes, because they don't want to "look stupid." They are disinclined to make mistakes and combat the impatient smirks, belittling snickers, and disgruntled rolling eyes. In addition, time and time again, students have shown me assignments that are covered in negative comments and large red "Xs." A couple years ago, one student came to a session feeling so dejected, it took me an hour to rebuild his confidence. Even though he got an 87 on an assignment, the paper was filled with big red "Xs" and in giant letters across the page his teacher wrote, "LOTS OF CARLESS ERRORS!" This student had executive functioning as well as attentional weaknesses, and the last word that described him was careless. Still it took me an hour to pull him out of a deeply defeated and helpless mindset. It wasn't until the end of the session that I pointed out to him that that everyone makes oopses. In fact, the teacher had misspelt careless. Another incident was a six grade student that was doing poorly in school. She had a teacher that made all the students in her class redo wrong answers on assignments and tests and categorize these mistakes as concepts errors (never understood the content) and detail errors (careless mistakes). She hated completing these assignments and because of them, she hated school. It wasn't until I changed the wording that she could begin to follow through with the assignment. Instead of a content error we called them a "What?," and we replaced detail errors with an "oops."


An article by Harvard Business Review reported that the ideal praise to criticism ratio is six to one for the highest performing teams, and this study was done on adults! But is criticism even appropriate in education? Couldn't we just change our focus to the positive and even praise those that help us to understand areas of confusion?

Over the years, I have learned to mindfully eradicate negative words. For example, I never say "no." Instead, I declare, "That was close" or "Give it another try." If you too can do this, it will change the energy of your classroom and will create a safe place for students to participate and learn. If you would like to learn more about shifting negative labels to words of encouragement come read my blogpost entitled Embracing Positive Learning Environments.
 
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, April 3, 2015

Strategies that Strengthening Math Abilities for Struggling Elementary Students


There is often an easy solution to helping elementary students that struggle with math.  But first, we must understand that the root of math troubles often results from one or more of the following:
  1. lack of experience and practice working with numbers and symbols.
  2. drab or humdrum instruction.
  3. problems activating the needed areas of cognition to solve these problems.
  4. weaknesses in the cognitive areas of quantitive reasoning, spatial skills, visual processing sequencing, and working memory. 
What Happens to These Struggling Learners in Our Present Education System?

Young learners often lose interest and motivation quickly when they have problems learning concepts. What's more, when their peers exhibit learning mastery and they do not, it can feel embarrassing and humiliating.  If left unaddressed, anxiety, a poor academic self-concept and even helplessness can result.

How Can We Protect Students from Negative Thoughts that Quickly Damage One's Academic Self Concept?
  1. Choose names for lessons that bring excitement and anticipation to the learning process.
  2. Make lessons "magical."  Like a magician, teach your students tricks in an animated way that helps them uncover the answer. To read more about this CLICK HERE.
  3. Bring fun and enticing activities to the table.  Integrate manipulatives, games and movement into lessons. 
  4. Go multisensory in your lessons and teach to the 12 Ways of Learning.
  5. Pay attention to popular fads.  When I saw my students obsessions with rainbow looms, I quickly integrated the color bands and geoboards into my lessons.  
  6. Ask your students for strategy and lesson ideas?  When learners get involved with the teaching process, they often get more excited about the topic or instruction.
  7. Provide scaffolding.  Continue to walk your students through the sequence of steps required to complete a problem, until they can do it independently.
  8. Offer memory strategies to help your students encode and retrieve new concepts.  You can also ask them to generate their own strategies. 
  9. Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through the process aloud. 
  10. Integrate mindfulness into your class and teach visualization strategies.
  11. Teach your students how to be active learners.
How To Activate the Needed Regions of the Brain and Strengthen Weak Areas of Cognition?


But what if the core difficulties are the result of weak areas of cognition or learning disabilities?  One of the best ways to assist is to act like a personal trainer for the brain and help students activate and strengthen foundational skills. 

I created Quantitative and Spatial Puzzles: Beginners for this population of learners.  Eight, engaging activities help students improve upon: 
  • quantitative reasoning
  • spatial skills
  • visual processing
  • sequencing
  • working memory
These engaging activities were designed for 1-5 grade students, but I often use them with my older students to help fortify these key cognitive abilities.   The activities also can be printed and placed into math centers, used or morning warm-ups and offered as fun activities for students that finish their class assignments early.

If you would like to learn more about my new publication, Quantitiative and Spatial Puzzles - Beginners, CLICK HERE or on any of the sample images.  I hope you found this blog helpful. Please share your thoughts and comments.
 
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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