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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Successful Educational Therapy Remediation: Learning How Each Student Thinks


Every student processes information and learns differently because we each have our own, individual cognitive makeup as well as strengths and weaknesses.  As a result, the key to successful remedial outcomes is to celebrate, understand, and accommodate the unique ways that each student thinks.

How Can Educational Therapists and Learning Specialists Uncover How Each Student Thinks?
There are a number of things that professionals can do to reveal how each individual processes information.
  1. Read comprehensive psycho-educational evaluations and progress reports. 
  2. Talk to parents, teachers and other professionals that know this student well.
  3. Ask the student.
What Valuable Information Can Be Gained From Prior Testing and Reports?
A comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation can help uncover each student's strengths as well as their areas of challenge.  On the one hand, by focusing on strengths, professionals can help students to develop compensatory learning strategies, so that they can learn to work around difficulties by using their best abilities.  For instance, a student may struggle with writing due to spelling and graphomotor challenges. However, if this student also possesses excellent expressive language skills, they could use speech recognition software to sidestep their difficulties.  On the other hand, by remediating areas of challenge, students can often improve cognition and develop abilities.  For example, by repeatedly exercising an area of cognition, a student's capacity can improve over time.

How Can Discussions with Parents, Teachers, and other Professionals Help?
Discussions with parents, teachers, and other support personnel can also help to uncover areas of talent and challenge.  What's more, feedback can provide clues concerning strategies that have and have not worked in the past.

The Most Valuable Person to Speak to is the Student Themselves:
The most important individual to consult is the student.  Surprisingly, they are often overlooked.  In fact, many students, when asked the right questions, can guide you to quick and easy interventions. One of the most important activities is asking the student how they think and approach different learning tasks.
  1. Ask each student how he or she processes information, and if they can not express it in words, allow them to draw a picture and then explain it.  Focus on one achievement area at a time.  For example, ask a student what it is like for them to read.  What is their inner process?  If needed, you can ask guiding questions such as: 
    • Do you see images?  
    • Do you hear an inner voice? 
    • Do you make personal connections to the information that you are learning?
  2. Question them more about their capacity to visualize?  
    • Can you imagine imagery in your mind's eye? 
    • How strong are your visualizations?
    • Are your mental pictures in color or black and white?
    • Can you see movement?
    • Can you hear, taste and smell your visualizations?
    • Do you use mental imagery while learning in school?
  3. Ask them more about their internal voice.  
    • Can you hear thoughts and ideas in your head?  
    • Can you hear your memories?
    • Do you ever rehearse information aloud when trying to learn or memorize it?
  4. Ask each student about his or her best ways of learning.  You can do this qualitatively or you can use an inventory such as the Eclectic Learning Profile.  Consider asking about all 12 ways of learning:
    • Visual - seeing
    • Auditory - hearing
    • Tactile - touching
    • Kinesthetic - moving 
    • Sequential - ordering
    • Simultaneous - categorizing
    • Reflective/Logical - thinking to oneself
    • Verbal - talking and sharing thoughts
    • Interactive - collaborating
    • Indirect Experience - learning vicariously
    • Direct Experience - encountering in real life
    • Rhythmic/Melodic - applying music or a beat to aid memory or maintain focus
Four Specific, Student Illustrations that Show the Importance of Evaluating How Each Student Thinks:
  1. Pat struggled with school-related anxiety and expressive language deficits.  He experienced great difficulty communicating verbally and through written language. When I asked him to try and explain to me what it was like inside his brain to write, I offered him the choice of using words or a drawing to share his thoughts.  I was surprised that he had no difficulty finding the words.  Pat expressed that it was like trying to do a puzzle.  His problem was that he could only look at one piece at a time.  He had no access to the gestalt or big picture.  This was such an insightful comment that helped me guide his instruction to learning the "formula" to writing, so that when he "picked up a single piece of the puzzle" he would know where to place it.  
  2. Peter was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, and he had the most trouble with written language.  When he came to me, everyone reported that he struggled with "writer's block." When I asked him how his brain worked when trying to write, he could not come up with any words to describe his internal process.  However, when I gave him a dry erase board and some markers.  He quickly produced an insightful image.  Many squiggly, overlapping lines were trying to get through one small opening.  Peter didn't have writers block, he had, what I like to call, "writer's bottleneck." Instead of having no ideas, he had too many ideas, and we found that creating his own graphic organizers was the solution.  
  3. Sue struggled with memory deficits and her problems manifested in poor test grades.  Through discussion, I soon learned that Sue had what I call, "a blind mind's eye." She was unable to create mental imagery, and her visual memory was extremely poor.  Through discussion, Sue remembered having a wonderful imagination as a young child and recalled using mental imagery when playing.  Soon, she realized that her ability to visualize stopped after she experienced the traumatic experience of seeing her father die of a heart attack.  This event was so disturbing for Sue, that, as a coping strategy, she mentally blocked her capacity to visualize. Once she realized this, she was able to make the conscious effort to tap into this ability again and her visual memory and capacity to visualize improved, resulting in higher test grades.
  4. Jay attended sessions to determine strategies for improved reading comprehension.  I was happy to learn that he had strong decoding and verbal abilities and also had a strong capacity to visualize.  In fact, Jay possessed all the needed skills.  However, he had never considered visualizing text, and after a few lessons, was able to apply this skill to reading.  Not only did Jay's reading comprehension ability soar, but he reported that the process of reading was, "so much more enjoyable!"
Once You have Learned How Each Student Thinks, Help Share This Valuable Information:
Once you understand how a student processes the world around them, this information often uncovers the best remedial methods.  Most importantly, be sure to share your discoveries with others, so optimal ways of learning can continue to be realized.  Be sure to:
  1. Communicate with teachers and other professionals.
  2. Tell the parents.  
  3. Educate the student and help them to learn metacognitive skills, a growth mindset and self-advocacy skills.
I hope you found this blog helpful.  I would love to hear your thoughts.
 
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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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Early Literacy: Letter, Number and Shape Challenges


Occasionally, I get inquiries from other learning specialists in the field that have difficult cases. Recently, a director of a tutoring academy asked me a question about a new student, and I thought I would share our correspondence for this week's blog post.  Names have been altered to preserve anonymity.

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Dear Erica:


I have a question about a new case.  When I first contacted you about two years ago, it was because I had a little 5-year-old girl who was way behind.  Your guidance really helped me.  Anyway her first cousin has come to us.  The girl turned 4 in June, and she is having a number of issues.   She has no number recognition and no letter recognition, except the letter "A" - because her name is Alice.  She does recognize most of the basic shapes.  However, she can only trace, but not copy them.  I asked her to write her name, but all letters were illegible - but the letter A.  I'm not sure it was even her name. She knew all her colors, but blue, which she called "lellow." I had her color fruit, and she colored both grapes and an apple blue. She had no rhyming ability and no concept of compound words.   I gave her the two words to put together.  I don't know where to begin.  Do you have any suggestions?


Dear Sue: 

I like to work off of student strengths, and it sounds like Alice can trace.  So, I would use this ability and have her trace things and color them by placing images into dry erase pockets.  Be sure to get a variety of dry erase markers too.  

Here are my suggested steps:
  1. First, you can place letters, numbers, and different colored shapes into the dry erase pockets and ask Alice to trace them while saying the name (and color - if applicable) 5 times.  In the beginning, stick to one category and limit the instruction to 5 concepts.  For example, focus on the first 5 letters of the alphabet.  You can do both upper and lower case letters at the same time, or focus on one at a time. 
  2. Second, blow up a balloon and write each of the 5 letters onto it with a permanent marker.  Be sure to make the letters as large as possible.
  3. Third, toss the balloon to Alice and see if she can name the first letter she sees while tracing it on the balloon.  Pass the balloon back and forth.  You can do the activity too, so she can learn vicariously through demonstration.  After she can do each of the letters successfully, teach her the letter sound.  Toss the balloon up in the air.  Say you see the letter "B" trace the letter and say the letter name 5 times.  Then say "B makes the 'b' sound like balloon.”  Do this for each letter and then let Alice give it a try.
  4. Fourth, when Alice is ready, make the game even more challenging - Each time she gets the balloon and sees a letter, she has to come up with a new word that starts with the same sound - "B makes the 'b' sound like banana...”  "B makes the 'b' sound like ball....”  
  5. Fifth, when the session is over, encourage Alice to take the balloon home and teach the games to her parents and siblings. 
You can follow the same sequence for numbers and shapes.

Use the App Touch and Write.  This is such a fun, multisensory, motivating approach that I'm sure she will enjoy!


As another activity, you could also teach Alice about syllables:  I like to use kinesthetic movements when teaching this concept, where you and the student bounce on ball chairs, learn a simple song about syllables and then feel the syllables.  Here is a video I did that illustrates the concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRVqZw_FS-c

I would start to teach her rhyming and blending once she has learned all her letters, numbers, and shapes.  If you find that she likes to play games, you can check out my reading games primary too.  

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I hope you found this blog helpful, and that sharing our correspondence has offered you some ideas.
 
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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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Slow and Labored Reading: Causes and Solutions for Dyslexia and More


Slow and labored reading can make schooling a drag for many bright students, and in order to truly help these struggling learners, teachers and support personnel need to understand the root causes. The problem is that each student has their own unique contributing factors.  As a result, the best way to serve each student is to begin with an investigation.  

What are the Three Main Causes of Slow and Labored Reading?
Three main causes of slow reading.

1) Cognitive - Deficits or weaknesses in key cognitive processing areas can point to a root cause of slow and labored reading.  Common areas of deficit that can impact reading speed are:
  • Auditory processing 
  • Visual processing
  • Memory
  • Processing speed
  • Executive functioning and attention
2) Physical - Discomfort in the physical process can also make the process of reading difficult and it can minimize the practice needed.  For some learners, the reading process is: 
  • Exhausting: Some report that reading is wearisome for the eyes and can even make them feel sleepy.
  • Uncomfortable and annoying: Others find the reading process boring, tedious and aggravating.
  • Overwhelming:  Many individuals complain that they are visually overwhelmed by small or dense text.
3) Emotional - The pairing of negative emotions with reading can also impact one's reading.  
  • Learned helplessness: When students feel a sense of learned helplessness from repeated failure, they can give up and avoid reading altogether.
  • Adversity: When reading becomes associated with adversity, students can experience the 3 Fs. 1) Fight - They will refuse to read. 2) Flight - They will walk away or even hide books. 3) Freeze - They seem unable to process the written word.
  • Feelings of inadequacy: When students feel that they are deficient readers, they can become passive learners and their fear of failure can become as self-fulfilling prophecy. 
Once Difficulties Have Been Uncovered, Also Look at each Student's Strengths:
By defining a student's strengths, it can help to uncover the needed tools that can be used to help each student work around challenging areas.  Like a detour, students can often learn to use other parts of the brain to assist them.  For example, a student may have poor reading comprehension but a a strong mind's eye.  Some explicit instruction can assist them in applying this talent to reading.

Whose Responsibility is This?
Many teachers and parents do not have the time and resources to provide this detailed analysis for each of their struggling learners, but support personnel such as special education teachers, and psychologists can help.  In addition, if students are working with an outside educational therapist or learning specialist, they too can be a valuable resource.  

Once Contributing Factors and Strengths are Defined, What Can Teachers and Parents Do?
Once deficits and strengths are defined, teachers and parents can help these learners develop and utilize the needed strategies.   Here is a comprehensive list of possible methods to choose from:
  • Be patient and provide a supportive, appealing learning environment.   To read more CLICK HERE.
  • Help students to develop their capacity to visualize.  This can assist students in maintaining focus and improving memory.
  • Teach students mindfulness, so they have greater control over their concentration while reading.
  • Use assistive technology.
    • Text to voice or books on tape can be used in one of two ways.  Students can listen and make a conscious effort to visualize what they are hearing, or they can scan words while listening to improve whole word recognition.
    • Tracking devices help the eyes to move in a fluid, forward motion from one line of text to another.
    • Color overlays or lenses can change the background color so that the visual process of reading is less agitating. 
    • Color and font type adjustments can make the reading process easier to decode words.  Students can select and adjust the text to meet their own preference.
  • Provide remedial reading instruction.  Some students need alternative, multisensory reading instruction using an Orton-Gilllingham based reading program.   One of my favorite OG reading programs is Nessy.
  • Do cognitive remedial activities that help to strengthen weak areas of cognition.  You can find a large selection of these tools at Good Sensory Learning.
  • Provide reasonable accommodations:  When students have diagnosed learning disabilities, they can pursue a 504 or IEP designation that can provide mandated assistance.  Some options include:
    • Readers for tests
    • Books on tape
    • Tracking software
    • Extended time
  • Offer pages with fewer words for those that get visually overwhelmed.  Limiting the amount of text on each page can be very helpful.
  • Present instruction on higher order language such as inferences.
  • Make reading fun by integrating reading games.
  • Start each student at the right level, so they can experience success.
  • Help students discriminate between important and unimportant details.
  • Improve sight word recognition.
  • Improve vocabulary by exposing students to more words, so they can be easily recognized when reading.
  • Teach skimming strategies so that students can quickly find main ideas and details when reading.
  • Help students read with the mind instead of subvocalizing each word.
I hope you found this helpful!  I would love to hear your thoughts!
 
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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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Dyslexia Strategies: Improving Your Memory for Names

A common difficulty for individuals with dyslexia is word finding problems.  They may know someone's or something's name one day, but are unable to access the same information the next.  In fact, in those moments when they can not recall the needed name, they may be able to tell you how many syllables are in the name or even the beginning letter.  This can be a frustrating and embarrassing problem, and learning memory strategies can help.

Managing Word Finding Difficulties:
The key to improving memory is to be mindful and employ memory strategies that are in line with strengths.  By playing an active role, individuals with dyslexia can learn to organize material, employ methods and make connections to prior knowledge so new information can be encoded and then easily retrieved. 

How Can One Determine Strengths that Can Be Utilized?
The answers to the following questions, can help tailor an approach!

Do you remember what you:
  • see?  - use visual strategies
  • hear?  - use auditory strategies
  • touch? - use tactile strategies
  • say or discuss? - use verbal strategies
  • think about? - use reflective strategies
  • sequence? - use sequential strategies
  • categorize? - use simultaneous strategies
Visual Strategies:
Generate visual associations. A visual association allows you to connect a mental image with the information memorized.  
  • Say you are introduced to a woman named Mary.  You could visualize her on her wedding day getting married. 
  • Say you met a little girl named Patricia.  You could visualize giving Patricia a pat on her back.
  • There is a local garden where I love to take walks.  The woman that runs the facility always remembers my name and greets me with a smile.  After forgetting her name twice, I decided to come up with a strategy.  When she reminded me that her name was Barb, I said, “Ah, there is barbed wire around the gardens to keep the deer out."
  • I remember the first time I met a co-worker named Vera.  She was wearing a V-necked shirt, so I made the conscious effort to visualize Vera in her V-necked shirt.
Auditory Strategies:
Create rhyming word associations.  
  • Say you met a guy named Paul.  Perhaps Paul is small.  If not, perhaps you could find some part of his body that is small – such as his nose or ears.
Create auditory associations.  A word may sound like something that reminds you of the person.  
  • For example, Rich may be a wealthy or a "rich" man.
Use the alphabet.  Search through the alphabet to see if that jogs your memory.  
  • “Does his name begin with A?  With B?..."
Tactile Strategies:
Use a pen and paper.  The physical act of writing down the names that you have to remember, can be very helpful for some individuals.  
  • When you meet someone new, you can place their name and any notes in a little notebook on your smartphone.
Verbal Strategies:
Utilize verbal rehearsal.  Some individuals are assisted when they are able to verbalize new information.  
  • After you are introduced to someone, say their name aloud and then try to use it as much as possible.
Reflective Strategies:
Make personal connections. 
  • When meeting new people, associate their name with another person you already know that has the same name.  
  • I remember the flower impatiens, because I used to get impatient trying to remember the name. 
Sequential Strategies:
Organize information in a sequence or series.
  • If you have to learn a group of names, organize them in alphabetical order.
Simultaneous Strategies:
Organize the information into categories.  Arrange the material you have to learn by placing the names into groups.
  • I have trouble recalling the names of flowers.  One day, I noticed that four of the flowers that bloom in my garden each year all start with the letter, H.   This is often enough for me to recall: hosta, hydrangea, hibiscus, and hyacinth.  What's more, three begin with the sound "hi!" 
Combining Strategies:
Unite two or more strategies for better results!  It will be even easier to recall names when using more than one strategy!  
  • Geranium rhymes with the word cranium (auditory) and my red geraniums in my garden are shaped similar to a brain (visual).
  • When I'm networking and meet new people online, I utilize both a visual and tactile approach. All new people are placed into a document within a table.  In the first column, I copy a picture of that person.  In the second column, I record their name and contact information.  In the third column, I record some notes about them and our correspondences.
So, if you want to improve your memory or help others to do so, be sure to try some of these mindful and multisensory approaches.  I hope you found this helpful!  If you have other ideas, please share them below this blogpost. 
 
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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