What should we say? Are you “dyslexic” or do you “have dyslexia”?

250700_jnan1756_hiI read an article yesterday by an author who describes herself as a “proud dyslexic”.

It made me think again about the whole business of labeling people in a politically correct (PC) fashion. The author, Sarah Chapman, says “I haven’t got dyslexia, I’m dyslexic!”  The PC police (sorry reader, if you are one of them…) tell us we mustn’t label someone as being “dyslexic”; we must say they “have dyslexia”. But doesn’t that make dyslexia sound like some sort of illness? The same PC police correctly embrace, and even campaign for, the notion that dyslexia is not a learning disability; it is a learning difference. And indeed it is. How much poorer the world would be if Einstein, Churchill, Branson and all the well-known names in the gallery of the “heroes of dyslexia” were not different from the rest of us.

So why then talk about it as if it were an illness? Why not use “dyslexic” as an attribute in the same way as we use “creative”, or “analytical” or “funny” or “thoughtful”, for example? And as far as avoiding the label of dyslexia goes, I do not know a single dyslexic person (and I know some very well indeed) for whom the classification (I will avoid the word “diagnosis” because of its medical connotations!) of dyslexia has not been helpful in enabling them to understand their history and their uniqueness. If I find out that someone is dyslexic I expect two things: one; that they will have encountered difficulties at some level or another in their educational journey; and two, that they will give me a fresh take, a broader vision, another color palette, to bring to my view of the world. If you are dyslexic, you may have had some issues in the past, but you can give your bit of the world a brighter future.

Dyslexia is a gift, not a syndrome. It may be hard to unwrap at times, but we need to value it and cherish it; not pretend it doesn’t exist. You don’t have dyslexia; you are dyslexic, just like you are tall, or short, or blonde,  and possibly also creative, funny, brilliant, thoughtful, kind …

Of course you may also be various other things. But we won’t go there.

Bob Hext – Crossbow Founder & Special Ed Teacher

At home with dyslexia – five tips for success

Girls and Dad_older style_croppedMy eldest daughter is a qualified Doctor of Medicine.  However her teacher would never
have predicted her career success when she was in elementary school, still just looking at the pictures when all her peers had launched into reading books; or in the juniors, when she seemed to spend more time gazing out of the window than looking at the board (still black in those days).

Like about 15% of the population, Shelley is Dyslexic. She has a specific learning difficulty which does not mean she is unintelligent (far from it) or lazy, but which means she has specific problems which  need to be addressed and supported if she is going to make the most of her learning opportunities. Dyslexia is, of course, not the only specific learning difficulty that can affect a child’s educational progress, and in many cases strategies and resources for one can also be helpful for others. In fact most children can probably benefit from some of the following tips, which come from my experience not only as a parent, but also as a special ed. teacher and publisher of SpEd resources.

Make it visual
More of the brain is devoted to visual signals than any other way of processing information. The size of the optic nerve compared to the auditory processing part of the brain is like that of a double decker bus to a toy car. Give your child the opportunity to reinforce learning through pictures and diagrams wherever possible.

Encourage the use of mind maps– if you don’t know what they are Google it: they were popularised by Tony Buzan.  We used to let Shelley mind map (with washable pens!) all over the patio doors and her bedroom window when she was revising: just having essential information displayed in strong colours in a visually accessible format that her brain was processing subconsciously whenever she was in the room made a difference, as well as the actual activity of doing the mind map on the window in the first place.

Make it multisensory
Don’t just make the eyes and ears do the work: involve touch as well. Magnetic letters on the fridge are great, especially foam ones that are pleasant to handle: get your child to spell out words, or put up a few yourself and get your child to find the spelling mistakes(s).

Make it fun
Play is the natural learning mode of mammals – why not use games for schoolwork? A good learning game will be visually strong and will involve the players manipulating the different elements of sets they have to learn, physically putting letters together to make words, words to make sentences, symbols to make formulae etc. Cards, dice and spinners are good, but be careful with board games as they can often just involve children reading words off a board without actually doing anything with them.

Make it short
What your child needs most of all is success. If Shelley can’t succeed with ten spellings, try her on three, and hassle her teacher to make sure she only gets given what she can do! Don’t insist on them sitting down with a book for too long, particularly if your child is ADHD. Turn the concentration problem into a challenge: set a timer for five or ten minutes and get them to try and complete a specific task within that time. You’ll get more focus out of a few short bursts than one prolonged session.

And finally, make it sweet.
Whatever your child’s needs or difficulties don’t let them get in the way of your relationship! A despairing “When will you ever learn…” attitude will only make their own despair worse. Encourage anything they are good at, to build their self esteem: you don’t know where it may lead in later life. What they long for most is for your love and approval: make sure their lack of success at learning does not deprive them of this most precious gift.

Bob Hext – Crossbow Education Founder and Special Ed Teacher

A little bit of anagram fun!

shutterstock_90589885 On a day when our woeful performance on the soccer pitch has “booted” (sorry) us Brits out of Europe for the second time in a week, I’ve just found some material on our file server that I’d picked up some time (i.e. years) ago that serves to illustrate that, in the broad scheme of things, appearances may change but realities remain the same.

So with acknowledgements to whoever it was who compiled these anagrams, I hope you enjoy the following…

Dormitory Dirty Room
Desperation A Rope Ends It
The Morse Code Here Come Dots
Slot Machines Cash Lost in ’em
Animosity Is No Amity
Snooze Alarms Alas! No More Z’s
Alec Guinness Genuine Class
Semolina Is No Meal
The Public Art Galleries Large Picture Halls, I Bet
A Decimal Point I’m a Dot in Place
The Earthquakes That Queer Shake
Eleven plus two Twelve plus one
Contradiction Accord not in it

This one’s truly amazing:
To be or not to be: that is the question, whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

And the Anagram:
“In one of the Bard’s best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten.”

And for the grand finale:
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong

The Anagram:
“Thin man ran; makes a large stride, left planet, pins flag on moon! On to Mars!”

Bob Hext – CEO of Crossbow Education

Why Are Children Still Guessing and Not Decoding?

Reports are coming back from schools that despite Synthetic Phonics being taught in Reception classes, many children are failing to learn to decode.  This has been reflected in the results of the Y1 Phonics Check with 58% reading 32 out of 40 words correctly.  Why is this happening?

Here are some possible reasons:

1.       Not enough experience and practice of ‘blending’

Teachers are teaching children to recognise the graphemes.  Children are learning the Phonic Code.  But do they know what to do with this knowledge?  The underlying skill they need is ‘blending’.  Are children being taught to blend?  Do teachers know how to teach children to blend sounds into words?

2.       Books that are not decodable

Children need to practise using the phonic knowledge and skills they have been taught.  Initially, the best way to do this is by providing them with exercises in the form of texts which are decodable.  If the teacher offers the child a text that is not decodable , she/he is encouraging  the child to guess.  How else can the child access the text?  Are children being offered decodable texts to practice their reading skills?

3.       Pace is too fast

Is the pace of teaching matched to the children?  If the pace is too fast some children will not retain what has been taught.  The fundamental building blocks of reading are essential.  Gaps that are created will need to be revisited and filled in.  It is better to work at a slower, steadier pace, building the child’s confidence at each stage.

4.       Not enough practice at each stage

Is enough practice included in the programme so that the new knowledge can be internalised and absorbed?

5.       Inadequate teacher training

Good teacher training would solve all the above.  Have we invested enough in teacher training?   Are our teachers confident and skilled in teaching the most important life skill a child needs to learn in school?

Tami Reis-Frankfort – Author of the Phonic Books series

What is the Difference Between a ‘Reluctant Reader’ and a ‘Struggling Reader’?

One often hears the term ‘reluctant reader’ and ‘struggling reader’.  Is there a difference between these terms?

A reluctant reader is a child who is reluctant to read books.  He/she can be an able reader who is switched off from reading for a variety of reasons: boredom or disinterest in the reading materials offered, poor attention span, and a general disinterest in the medium of books and the benefits of reading. These pupils do not read for pleasure.  Many reluctant readers do not see reading as a ‘cool’ activity in this day and age of visual stimulation of TV, video games and You Tube.

Do we need to worry about reluctant readers?  Yes, we do.  If children stop reading once they can read, this can have a detrimental impact on their education.  Pupils who are not exposed to texts with increasing richness in vocabulary and grammatical sentence structures, will not develop their receptive and expressive language beyond the limited language used in conversation.  Limited language then limits comprehension. This can impact their access to more difficult and demanding texts throughout their education. Limited comprehension can become a barrier to future learning in any subject they may wish to pursue.  Limited vocabulary also limits their ability to articulate thoughts and ideas in speech and in writing.  Also, pupils who are not repeatedly exposed to print are often poor spellers.

What to do?  It is up to the teachers to try to engage these pupils in reading which is relevant to their interests, through a variety of genres.  Many new reading books include non fiction literature with fantastic illustrations and the internet offers a huge mine of texts that can capture the imagination of young people.

 A struggling reader is a child who experiences difficulty learning to read.  This may be due to: speech and language problems, specific learning difficulties, English as a second language acquired at a later age, poor reading instruction when they were learning to read or a combination of the above.  Many struggling readers are also reluctant readers because they find it difficult, fear failure and are aware that they are falling behind their peers.  Many of these pupils experience low self esteem.

What to do? These pupils need a highly structured phonics reading programme to ensure that the missing gaps in phonic knowledge and skills are filled.  Then they need lots of reading practice at each level to develop reading fluency and confidence. It is important that at every stage struggling readers are offered age-appropriate reading materials so that their self esteem grows with their reading progress.

“I don’t like reading!” Sound familiar? Take a moment to stand in their shoes…

shutterstock_195500480Have you ever asked your student “What do you see when you look at text?” The answer for most is no, because surely the answer is obvious – they just see text.

This assumption stems from the idea that we all visually perceive things the same, however, what if this were not true? If you knew that for some children just looking at text was difficult, would this alter your expectations of him/her?

Extensive research has now demonstrated that this is indeed the case, and that approximately 5% of the population find it so uncomfortable to look at text that it severely impacts their reading ability. This is referred to as visual stress.

Visual stress, (sometimes referred to as Meares-Irlen syndrome, it has also previously been referred to as Scotopic Sensitivity, however this has now proven to be a misnomer, as visual stress is not related to the eyes), is visual-perceptual in nature and is caused by a hyper-excitability of the visual cortex. It is triggered by a combination of the high contrast of black text on a white page and also the patterns that lines of text create.

The biggest problem? Children don’t realize they see the page any differently to anyone else!

When questioned however, a sufferer of visual stress may note that the words appear to jump or otherwise move on the page, they may see swirling effects appear in the text, shimmering colors may appear on the page, letters may double, reverse, fade or blur, or they may describe white “rivers” that seem to run down the page, where the white background, as opposed to the black text, has become the dominant image perceived. These are just a few examples.

How can our children learn to decode if they cannot focus on the text?

Fortunately, visual stress is very simple to treat. The simple act of reading through a color filter “calms down” the text enough for our brains to be able to better process it. Indeed, in the UK nearly 70% of all schools and colleges now use colored overlays for their children with visual stress – we in America have a little catching up to do!

With the correct color overlay (each sufferer of visual stress has a specific wavelength of light that causes the most discomfort, therefore the most effective color filter is also individual – it is important that the correct color is assessed), readers are once again able to see the words clearly and begin moving forward in their education.

It is therefore of vital importance that parents and educators are aware of the signs and symptoms of visual stress. The UK is again ahead of us here, with visual stress recognition now a national, mandatory part of training for every special education teacher. Luckily there are telling signs that we can all look out for:

Some, or all, or the following can be noted while reading. Sufferers may:

• Fatigue quickly when working with text.
• Experience problems copying from the board.
• Develop headaches and migraines when reading.
• Skip words or lines when reading.
• Seem to experience increased difficulty after an initial period of about 10 minutes.
• Keep moving their head or body position, or moving closer to or further away from the page.
• Read slowly and haltingly and have difficulty absorbing information.
• Track with the finger.
• Yawn while reading.
• Frequently rub their eyes.

In general, somebody with Visual Stress may:

• Experience difficulty looking at a computer screen.
• Be unusually sensitive to bright lights, especially fluorescent lighting.
• Have difficulty judging heights or distances, which sometimes causes problems with stairs and/or escalators.
• Find driving at night particularly stressful, sometimes experiencing a fragmentation of reflected light. (Many adults have visual stress and do not realize – they may have always just thought themselves “bad readers”!)

So what can we do?

Well firstly, if you have any students who suffer from any of the above symptoms, assess them for visual stress! This does not have to be an expensive process – while there are comprehensive assessment kits available, the quickest and easiest way to tell if color will help is simply to buy a set of different color overlays (they are often sold in sets of 10 colors), and systematically work your way through them, asking your reader which is more comfortable – for those who severely suffer the improvement when using color will be obvious. Once the best color is known, they can then keep an overlay to hand whenever there is reading to be done!

A little caveat…

It should be made clear that successful treatment of visual stress IS NOT a cure for dyslexia or any other learning difficulty. Reading through color is just the start – once our children can see the text, then we can start the long, rewarding journey of teaching literacy!

To learn more about visual stress, or to see what resources are available for those with visual stress, got to www.crossboweducation.us. If you would like information about where to find the research for visual stress please contact Elizabeth Macdonald at elizabethmacdonald@crossboweducation.com In addition, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for additional study tips, weekly reading challenges, phonics news and more.

The Importance of Learning the Phonics Way

To the average adult, reading and speaking is simply something done naturally without giving much thought to how one came to read, speak and write. However, go back to the early developmental days and the way in which we were taught versus how we best learned played an integral role in the development of these skills.

To begin, it must be understood that written languages are simply codes of symbols which represent spoken language. In some scripts, the symbols may represent parts of the word. In the English Phonic Code, symbols (letters) represent units of single sounds. Teaching reading with phonics unlocks the code to beginner readers. However, teaching reading without phonics is like teaching children a secret code without the key to decode it. Some children are natural code-breakers but many are not.

The phonic system behind Crossbow Education’s line of decodable phonic book sets is known in the UK as synthetic phonics, and in the USA as blended or inductive phonics. The books ensure that each child is taught in accordance with their current reading level, addressing any potential issues and working to assist in the reader’s development and skills.

Our Magic Belt series, suitable for “catch-up” readers who would benefit from starting a phonics program from the beginning, is an invaluable reading resource for older, beginner readers ages 8-14 years at a kindergarten reading level. Our Totem series is an exciting, fresh start for older readers that builds up their reading skills from CVC level. This series precedes and builds up to the Talisman series and is ideal for readers ages 8-14 years who are currently at a first grade reading level. Finally, the Talisman series is for older, reluctant readers with gaps in their phonic knowledge who are at a second grade reading level.

To learn more about the importance of teaching to read with phonics, or to see how Crossbow Education’s decodable phonic book sets can benefit your struggling reader, visit us at www.crossboweducation.us. In addition, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin for additional study tips, weekly reading challenges, phonics news and more.

Seven lessons on teaching math, learnt from the students.

The seven points below are taken directly from Steve Chinn’s summary of a workshop he will be delivering a Feb 17th. Anybody involved in teaching can benefit from a reminder of these important principals, in particular lesson 2!

Steve used to be the principal of a beacon specialist school for dyslexic students, and has advised the government on numeray strategy. They really ought to listen to him. This is what he says:

“After 17 years of successful teaching in University and mainstream schools I had a reputation for being a ‘good’ teacher, but then the lessons from my first experiences of trying to teach maths to dyslexic students taught me that I wasn’t good enough. In this session I will explain the significance of the ‘seven lessons’:

Lesson 1: Rote learning does not work for all students

Lesson 2: If they can’t learn from the way I teach, can I teach the way they learn.

Lesson 3: Know which students have poor working short term memories.

Lesson 4: Making students anxious does not help learning.

Lesson 5: Asking students to do mental arithmetic, or any maths question, quickly is rarely productive

Lesson 6: Children rarely learn from their mistakes in maths (but teachers can).

Lesson 7: It’s complicated!”

Steve is an excellent speaker and a leading authority on maths and dyslexia. You can get  a series of low cost teaching videos by Steve at www.mathsexplained.co.uk.

He has written a number of books and articles on the subject: NEW for 2015 is ‘The Routledge International Handbook of Dyscalculia and Mathematical Learning Difficulties,’ edited by Steve Chinn, with 30 chapters from experts around the world.