Tag Archives: Paradigm shift

Readers Read…and so do my middles!

goodreads exampleIt’s Christmas break and I update my latest reading on my Goodreads account, and then it hits me! I’d been lamenting the lack of enthusiasm for reading among my 7th and 8th graders, and I couldn’t seem to motivate reading for fun. My middles were used to reading for points, for prizes, for grades — but not for any of the reasons that last after school gets out. This was last year, my first year back in the classroom as a middle school teacher in 30 years, and my first year back as a classroom teacher in 12 years. So much had changed in terms of popular culture, technology, and standards. Nothing, however, posed more of a frustration to me than this apathy and even antipathy toward reading among my students. And then, as I said, it hit me!

My kids don’t see people reading; they don’t encounter peers who read or adults in their lives who read just for the fun of it. I knew this because early in the semester, when we talked about “active reading,” I asked my students to interview three adults about their reading habits. Questions included: “What and when do you read for your job?” and “What and when do you read for pleasure?” Most students interviewed adults they knew; some interviewed people on the street. All found that many people admitted that they don’t read much for pleasure, but they do read during their work-day — texts, emails, memos, and professional reading, for example.

When I updated my progress that day during Christmas break last year, I thought about all of the books I’d read, and all of the people I’d met through Goodreads, and all of the books I’d tried because of Goodreads recommendations. My yearly thrill is completing my Goodreads Reading Challenge and seeing my stats at the end of the year — okay, so that is kind of like reading for points, I’ll admit. Anyway, I suddenly realized that my middles need two things: time to read and people with whom to share their reading! So I revamped my whole approach when we returned to class after Christmas break.

First, I gave my students 15 to 20 minutes each class period to read. We have 90-minute class sessions, so I just reworked my planning and that time for reading became sacred. Secondly, I created a Goodreads group for our school. I invited all of our school’s staff, administrators, and counselors to join “Legacy Reads” so that my kids could see what their teachers and principal are reading — and that they do read. I did have to keep the group private because I need to ensure my students’ privacy with parents. During that semester, I posted a question each week for students to answer on our group page, and each student kept track of their independent reading on their personal Goodreads page.

During the summer, I scoured thrift stores for books to add to our classroom library, bought throw pillows, a chair, and the softest rug ever to surround our library area. This year, kids could opt to read wherever they felt comfortable — and they did! why people read - 3 We set reading goals for the year, noted books we completed with stars and reviews, and shared opinions on our group discussion page. I could see which books kids loved and talk with kids about what they were reading as they were reading, rather than logging in to a program to check a quiz score. I also encouraged parents to take pictures of their kids reading at home and send the photos to me. I then enlarged the photos, printed them, and posted them on the bulletin boards and on our class web pages. I wanted to immerse my kids in an environment of reading for fun. So satisfying to hear a student say, “You have to read this!” Or to see kids smiling as they read silently. Or see that one student has sent a book recommendation to another. Or have a parent stop me in the hall to express wonder that her active 8th-grade son reads after baseball practice because he wants to and asks her to get more books!

The real joy came, however, two weeks after school got out. I was updated my Goodreads page with my latest reading and saw several updates from my students. I wasn’t checking up on them; they didn’t have to update for class. They just continue to read and give stars and share opinions about books. Readers read…and so do my middles now!



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“Find out what it is in life that you don’t do well; and then, don’t do that thing”

One of the best hugs I received at this year’s high school graduation was from a student named Brett who literally exuded both pride and relief as we lined up for the ceremony; he’d made it! I’d worked with Brett when he was a sophomore, helping him develop independent learning strategies and executive functioning skills. I hadn’t seen him much since his sophomore year until the end of 3rd quarter, this year, his senior year, when he walked into my room and simply said, “I need help.” With those three words, Brett exhibited several characteristics that led to his successfully completing his senior year. According to Dr. Marshall Raskind, (2004), “there is a ‘spirit’ of optimism…based on knowing that, despite an early ‘poor prognosis’ or having to face great adversity, some individuals with LD ‘beat the odds’ and go on to lead productive, satisfying, and rewarding lives” because they have “certain factors like self-awareness, internal locus of control, proactivity, realistic goal setting, and strong support systems promote positive life outcomes” (King-Sears, Boudah, Goodwin, Raskind, & Swanson). Brett, self-aware, recognized he was in trouble, pro-actively determined on his own to seek help, knew where to find support in setting goals for repairing the academic damage done during that 3rd quarter, and took action steps with the first one being coming to my room that day.

Brett knew where to come for help because when we first worked together, two years prior, we had worked on several of the 6 Success Attributes listed in Robert Langston’s book The Power of Dyslexic Thinking. I didn’t realize that we were doing so, but I’m glad that I had made developing students’ self-awareness, pro-activity, perseverance, goal-setting, use of support systems and coping strategies part of my Academic Success Program. In fact, this knowledge of the 6 Attributes fits with the name of my program. When I first created the program and introduced it, I called it the Academic Support Program; after a few months and working with the kids, I realized that the name didn’t inspire. Some kids felt it meant they “needed special help” and checked out of the program, either physically or mentally. So I suggested to my administrator that we change the name to the Academic Success Program because the program’s purpose is to help students develop the executive functioning skills needed to “do school” successfully. We knew that the students were intellectually capable, but they needed to develop the strategies for success that other students seemed to inherently know or be able to do. The name stuck and for the past 10 years, without realizing it, my kids have been working on learning independence and developing attributes for success.

I will admit that imparting the value of the attributes to my students is more challenging than engaging my students in activities that develop the attributes. Perhaps this is because they are high school students who do not want to be talked “at” when they meet with me. If we get involved in doing something immediately, I can talk about the values, but an activity’s relevance to the student’s success often speaks louder than my words can. With that said, I plan to share in a series of posts how I approach sharing with my students and helping them develop these 6 Success Attributes, beginning this week with “Self-Awareness.” I’ll also mention now that I highly recommend reading The Power of Dyslexic Thinking – every teacher should dare to read this book — guaranteed paradigm shift!


Langston notes that “self-aware people with learning disabilities know the types of problems they have and how they impact their lives, as well as their strengths and talents. While they recognize their limitations, they’re not defined by them.” Sometimes when a student first starts meeting with me, he does see himself as “lazy,” or “unmotivated,” or “dumb” – a label, either directly or indirectly attached to the student, has become how he defines himself. I’ve seen those kids who sit across from me and expect me to point out their bad grades and say “this is why you need me.” I’ve had to deal with tense moments when the parent comes with the student and points out bad grades and says, “This is why you need her!” I find that often in order to help a student develop self-awareness and ‘redefine’ himself, I need to do all I can to “learn” that kid. I use questionnaires to guide conversations with the student. I like the suggestion from Ficksman and Adelizzi (2010) about using “questionnaires regarding likes and dislikes, executive functioning skills, writing samples, how well the game of school is played, and the like” (p.36). I also like questionnaires because they keep the conversation somewhat focused – I have ADHD, I am often meeting with a student who has ADHD, and I wish I could have recorded some of the meetings I’ve had when this is the case because our conversations do not follow any type of a linear path at all and I find it completely ironic that I am in this role of leading the way.

The learning issues that I typically see in my students are ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, central auditory processing disorder, Asperger’s, Autism, and related issues. When I have a sense of who the student is, how he feels about himself, his temperament, and what he understands about his own strengths and weaknesses, I can move forward in building on my own sense and helping my student develop a clear sense of his strengths. This may involve first demystifying his learning issue. For example, when I take out my picture of the brain and show a kid where his “pre-frontal lobe” is and then share that that part of the brain doesn’t mature until the early 20’s, I have his attention. I can then say something like, “You know what, Jon, your pre-frontal lobe works differently, and not only that, it’s still maturing. So you’re not “Irresponsible” when you forget about an assignment; your brain just didn’t file that input as expected. Let’s figure out a way to sort out your brain’s filing system.” When Jon realizes how his brain functions, and that he does not need to define himself as “ADHD” as if it’s a synonym for “irresponsible”, he begins to see what he CAN do because he emotionally is ready to do so.  Langston explains this in the chapter about Paul Orfalea when he reasons that when society says you should be able to do something and you can’t do it, “then in your mind—whether anybody’s saying it or not (and a lot of times they are)—you think you’re stupid. What we need to get out there is that dyslexia is about how the brain is ‘wired,’ not about being stupid” (Langston, 2014).

The kid, who believes the labels, can’t build on his strengths – too much emotional energy is being used up with the negative thoughts. When Jon says, “Oh, okay, I guess if I keep a planner, I can help myself remember,” he exhibits a positive self-awareness that then allows him to move forward so that he can later say, “I am really good at thinking up ideas for group projects” and offer that strength to others, letting someone else in the group keep track of monitoring progress on the project completion. I plan to emphasize some of the stories in our text with my students that relate to this self-awareness and building on strengths. I loved the comments from Paul Smith, who avoided his office because it was filled with paperwork that he couldn’t do and who noted, “I never did those kinds of things. And fortunately, being president, I really didn’t have to, and I think it made me a better president; ” Langston follows up Smith’s words with the insight that relates to this self-awareness I just discussed: “Paul knew what he wasn’t good at, so he focused on what he could do well” (Langston, 2014). This reminds me of a commercial that I find funny and yet true – the “Most Interesting Man in the World” philosophizes, “Find out what it is in life that you don’t do well; and then, don’t do that thing.”


Ficksman, M., & Adelizzi, J. U. (2010). The clinical practice of educational therapy: A teaching model. New York: Routledge.

King-Sears, Margaret E. et al., “Timely and Compelling Research for the Field of Learning Disabilities: Implications for the Future,” Learning Disability Quarterly 27, no. 2 (2004), http://www.questia.com/read/1G1-121279906 .

Robert Langston (2012-04-26). The Power of Dyslexic Thinking AuthorHouse. Kindle Edition.

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The Myth of Sisyphus, or Why Sammy Can’t Write

Image   Hypothetical discussion between two teachers:


Teacher: Mel Levine shares the myth of Sisyphus as an introduction to his book, The Myth of Laziness. Sisyphus not only had to push a massive boulder up a mountain, but he was doomed to repeat this effort for eternity because the boulder kept rolling back down. Sisyphus could push and push, but he would never succeed, no matter how many times he tried. In Chapter 1, “Getting the Mind to Work,” Levine then introduces the term “output failure” to describe what some children experience in school. How is a child’s experience of output failure analogous to Sisyphus’ fate?

Colleague: Like Sisyphus, the child with hidden disabilities exerts extreme effort only to have that effort miss the goal or the “success point.” Often, like Sisyphus, the child must start over, and in fact, for the child whose hidden disability is not recognized, the school years must seem like an eternity of pushing boulders, with no success. For example, perhaps the child is presented with an assignment to write a summary of story he read. The child begins pushing by reading the story, and as Levine points out, may read quite well so the reading proves easily completed by the child. The child finishes the story, and like Sisyphus, has his boulder just about to the top of the mountain, but then when he sits down to write the summary, it’s as if he never read a word…and the proverbial boulder rolls back down the mountain. Thus, the child experiences “output failure” –he was able to receive the input of the language, but unable to demonstrate his understanding through a well-written summary.

Teacher: If the student reads well and understands the text, why is he unable to write a summary? It seems that a summary is a relatively simple writing assignment requiring only the time it takes to decide three to five main points and to then write them out in a paragraph. If the child focuses and he does indeed understand the story, why can’t he write the assigned summary?

Colleague: Levine presents several possible reasons for this child’s “output failure” and in fact, Levine states that “difficulty with writing is far and away the most telling sign of output failure during the childhood and teenage years.” Levine lists the number of processing activities that must take place, almost simultaneously, within the child’s brain in order to write. If there is even slightest “miswiring,” the child will not be able to wrangle all of the muscles and brain’s regions into one cohesive working unit — “output failure” will occur as the child is unable to gather the materials he needs (pencils, reference books, or computer equipment), as well as his time, generate good ideas, organize his thoughts, encode his ideas into clear language, remember many things at once (such as spelling, rules of punctuation, facts, and instructions), coordinate his fingers so they can keyboard or form letters, plan and monitor the quality of his work, and complete the assignment with a neat, well-written product — again, the proverbial boulder rolls back down the hill with each effort to write. Levine asserts that “Writing is the largest orchestra a kid’s mind has to conduct.” If like Sisyphus, the child repeatedly experiences this type of failure to complete the task well, he will most likely come to hate writing. Later in the book, Levine explains this, saying, “When you commit an error in reading, your miscue evaporates into the atmosphere, but when you mess up in writing, you leave behind a permanent document of your inadequacy.” Some children will come to simply refuse to write, producing the bare minimum on paper, and as a result, their teachers will consider them lazy. Other children will continue to try and try and try, but the process is so labor-intensive, they literally will experience physical pain — much like Sisyphus must have felt pushing that boulder up the mountain time and time and time again.

Teacher: Okay, so if the child’s inability to complete the summary isn’t due to laziness, which would be the assumed cause, why is the inability to write caused by this “output failure?”

Colleague: First, we want to distinguish between cause and effect here. True, if a child were lazy, that would cause him to neglect or put off or ignore the writing assignment. In the case of “output failure,” however, failure to complete the assignment, this “output failure,” is the effect, not the cause. We are seeing the effect of one or more hidden disabilities. For example, these disabilities may affect the child’s ability to physically grasp a pencil correctly (graphomotor control), or impede his ability to store information in long-term memory for later retrieval when needed, or impact his mental stamina rendering him unable to focus long enough to meet the cognitive demands of writing. These hidden issues are actually called neurodevelopmental dysfunctions. Some children are born with these dysfunctions, others acquire them. Some dysfunctions are genetically caused and others occur due to environmental factors. Because we often don’t know the exact cause, we sometimes make assumptions about a child’s motives and abilities rather than considering what may be happening neurologically. This is especially true when the child takes in information without difficulty, such as through reading. For this reason, the dysfunction is not a processing issue, but a production issue. To make a long answer short: “output failure” is misidentified as laziness, but unlike laziness, it is not a cause of weak writing; it is an effect of neurological dysfunctions which impact writing ability.

Teacher: Well, clearly this means a paradigm shift for me as a teacher. I may never have told a child that I believe he’s lazy, but I’m sure that I’ve thought it and communicated it indirectly. In my defense, however, if these dysfunctions are neurological and do not manifest themselves as visibly as say, a reading disorder where the child clearly cannot sound out words for example, how am I supposed to know whether or not the child who doesn’t write well struggles with “output failure” or with a lack of motivation?

Colleague: That’s an understandable concern. But the very fact that you’re asking the question will lead to the answer. These children need teachers who recognize the need for that paradigm shift; they need teachers who will care enough to seek answers to why the child can take in and process information well but cannot produce; why the child continues guaranteeing and expecting to do things, yet can’t seem to deliver on the promises; why the child can read much better than he can compose; and why he can translate information, yet can’t put what they figure out to use in written format. We look for clues such as does the child hold the pencil awkwardly or seem to experience pain after writing. During in-class writing activities, we note how the child begins – does he have a system for brainstorming ideas or does he just sit because he doesn’t know how to gather the ideas in his brain and collect them onto paper. Does he start writing and then suddenly wad up the paper and start over, repeatedly (like Sisyphus and the boulder)? And of course, assessments can reveal clues; does the child express insights and understanding during class discussion, but fail to write such lucid and meaningful responses on written tests. When we look for these clues, we will see the signs, and though we may not know the exact neurological cause, we will certainly be able to avoid making negative judgments. Levine says it best when he admonishes us that “when we call someone lazy, we condemn a human being.” This first chapter “Getting the Mind to Work” enables us to make that paradigm shift allowing us to look for clues with Levine as we read the case studies, and to see his application of the understanding of the difference between laziness and “output failure.”

Teacher: When we recognize “output failure,” do we excuse the child from writing so that we don’t continue the Sisyphus-effect of repeated failure?

Colleague: Writing provides so many benefits beyond simply meeting the needs of a specific assignment, so we do want the child to write. Writing aids in developing and maintaining the brain circuitries that connect various functions such as language, memory, and motor control. We do not want to hinder this development by excusing the child from writing. Instead, we want to help the child by providing instruction in specific skills so that the child can better deal with the neurological miswiring – that’s why Levine’s book is so important. He hasn’t just “demystified” the problem of perceived laziness for us, he also provides specific guidance for working with children affected by output failure. For example, if the issue seems to be related to motor control, Levine shares specific interventions that can be used to assist the child with pencil grip and the physical act of writing; or if the problem lies in the area of language, Levine offers strategies for working with the child in the area of spelling. The book actually contains 7 case studies, each of which demonstrates Levine’s work with a child to determine the nature of the production failure, the possible interventions, and results. The final chapters present specific strategies for working specifically on writing output, breaking the task of writing into manageable tasks that the child can learn to do independently after practicing with his teacher. As a result, we can work with our children so that they can enjoy positive experiences with writing and move that boulder up the mountain with confidence.

If you’re looking for a quick, yet impactful book to add to your summer reading list, I highly recommend Mel Levine’s The Myth of Laziness

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Dyslexia and Implications for the Classroom


A Discussion of the Research on Dyslexia and Implications for the Classroom

Laurie Hagberg

Research has determined that observable differences in brain structure and function exist in the brains of those with dyslexia. Though I found some of the explanations complex, generally speaking, I understand that in the dyslexic brain, the magnocellular system, or pathway, functions differently. It is made up of large cells which carry out fast visual processes and appears disorganized with groups of smaller cell bodies than the magnocellular system in non-dyslexic brains. These disorganized bunches of cells and nerve fibers are called ectopias (“ectopic” meaning abnormal position). Scientists believe that ectopias occur in the developing brain of the fetus before its sixth month, and this belief coupled with the observation that dyslexia often runs in families, leads to the belief that genetic differences affecting early brain development cause ectopias. The differences in the magnocellular system may cause interference with the rapid processing required for changing visual signals such as those involved in reading changes in the cortex. Interestingly, the system that performs slower visual processes, the parvocellular system, is similar in both types of brains.

In addition, researchers have discovered a cortex difference. The planum temporale, an auditory region that is part of the language network, is typically larger on the left side of the brain, and it is believed that the asymmetric brain design provides for efficient processing of sequential information and for learning certain language skills, including reading, writing, and spelling. Studies show that the planum temporale is the same size in both sides of dyslexic brains. In other words, dyslexic brains are more symmetrical. Symmetry of this area may interfere with learning to read and write.

The primary similarity between the brain of the dyslexic and the non-dyslexic is that in both the brain of the dyslexic and of the non dyslexic, processing activity occurs in Broca’s area, though to varying degrees; a key difference is that activity is also occurring in the Parieto-temporal and Occipito-temporal regions of the non dyslexic brain. Even when subjects used the same brain regions that non-impaired readers typically use, the time it took for different areas to become activated, as well as the order in which they became active, was still noted to be different.

The purpose of most research on dyslexia is to establish the entire chain of causal links between certain genes, certain parts of the brain, certain cognitive functions, and the ability to read and write; Gordan Sherman emphasizes that no two brains are alike, with variations of variations among brains (Sherman & Cowen, 2003).

Sherman defines cerebrodiversity as “the collective neural heterogeneity of humans as well as individual neurocognitive profiles of strengths and weaknesses,” and then continues the explanation with this fantastic sentence: “the underlying neural design may embody wonderful even pivotal possibilities” (Sherman & Cowen, 2003). The idea behind cerebrodiversity, and that I completely agree with, is that we want to view dyslexia in a larger context and understand the implications beyond its negative impacts. I enjoyed reading about this idea in other publications and found Sherman’s and Cowen’s (2010) discussion of Geschwind and his work really interesting. They write that Geschwind “often spoke and wrote about – what he called ‘the advantages of the predisposition to dyslexia’ or ‘the pathology of superiority” (Sherman & Cowen, 2010, p. 14). Sherman explains this as the brain developing in a subtly different way, but not in a deficient way, and that the negative impacts of this difference play out in the context of learning to read. He believes that in other contexts, this negative consequence might almost be considered negligible, but the fact is that we operate in a society that not only values literacy, but demands it. Sherman states that this conflict between what society demands and how the dyslexic brain processes is due to how reading is taught — or more accurately, how it is not taught. Sherman says that “for the most part we do not teach reading in ways that play to the strengths of people with dyslexia” (Sherman & Cowen, 2003).

So what are these strengths? I wanted to learn more so I kept reading. I learned that a British neurologist named Macdonald Critchley, who personally examined more than 1,300 patients with dyslexia, found that “a great many” of these patients had shown exceptional abilities in spatial, mechanical, artistic, and manual activities, and that they often pursued occupations in these areas of strength (Eide, 2011, p56). In his book Thinking Like Einstein, author Thomas G. West shares a conversation with dyslexic computer graphic artist Valerie Delahaye, who specializes in creating computer graphic simulations for movies. She told him that at least half the graphic artists she’s worked with on major projects like Titanic and The Fifth Element were also dyslexic. I actually laughed out loud when I read that West also quotes MIT Media Lab founder and dyslexic Nicholas Negroponte as stating that “dyslexia is so common at MIT that it’s known locally as the ‘MIT disease’” (Eide, 2011, p55). I had fun sharing these findings with a student today – he told me that indeed his ability to mentally visualize 3 dimensional spaces, objects, angles, and trajectories gives him a definite advantage on the hockey rink.

As Sherman points out, it’s all about context and I agree that this view helps us move beyond the disability mindset. We need to view dyslexia as “a dynamic gene-brain-environment interplay” that “yields tiny neural differences (anatomical, cellular, and connectional) that, depending on environmental demand, can translate into socially defined talents and disabilities” (Sherman & Cowen, 2003). For example, one may have “strength in the big-picture reasoning needed to combine multiple perspectives into a complex, global, interconnected, 3-D model of a virtual house” while struggling with memory and processing of fine details: this shows “the pattern of trade-offs” (Eide, 2011, p52). Geschwind (2010) put it succinctly: “Context determines advantage versus disadvantage.”

With this in mind, teaching matters, and clearly we need a paradigm shift among classroom teachers regarding delivery methods, assessment procedures, and reasons for what is being taught. As Sherman asserts, “We must understand the complex interplay between unique brain designs, environmental variables, and resulting learning differences” (Sherman & Cowen, 2003).  We have overlooked the significance of environment and thus missed recognizing the elements of effective reading instruction and the part played by ineffective reading instruction in general education classrooms. What have resulted are misdiagnosis or missed diagnoses, inadequate interventions, and frustrated students, parents, and teachers. I thought it interesting that it’s been noted that the IDA took this into consideration when revising the definition of dyslexia as (underlining mine for emphasis):

“characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (IDA, 2007)

Implied here is that if there is not effective classroom instruction then these difficulties are expected in the classroom.

When Sherman discussed this, he used the word “contaminated” to describe the impact on research into the prevalence of learning disabilities and in particular, estimates of developmental dyslexia; that is a loaded word, carrying much more connotative significance than other words he might have used such as “skewed” or “influenced” or even “distorted”!  As a result of Sherman’s work and the work of others, it is clear that children with the following weaknesses or deficits are not adequately identified, understood, or helped:

  • executive/metacognitive skills such as setting goals, initiating, monitoring behavior, organizing, planning, anticipating, and adapting
  • social communication skills
  • adaptive functioning in predictably challenging environments, such as adopted status and socioeconomic disadvantage (Dickman, 2008)

We need to have a better understanding of the complexities and the inter-relationships of genetic factors, brain differences, and environmental influences because “things are as they are because of their relationships with everything else. You can’t just look at anything in isolation.” (Eide, 2011, p79).

For this reason, teaching matters; more accurately: appropriate, purposeful, research-based teaching matters.

All this leads to the belief that we must weigh the risk of altering programs now in place to provide help to students with dyslexia vs. the risk of doing nothing at all in terms of change. As Sherman cautions, this does not mean throwing out the “disability model” — it is valid in some contexts, and we recognize that literacy is and will continue to be integral to the lives of individuals (Sherman & Cowen, 2003).  The fact that we all value literacy and want the best for our students’ lives in and beyond the classroom is the binding similarity that keeps many striving for change and improvement through organizations such as IDA. What we need to do is ensure evidence-based instruction in every classroom.

As I thought about this, I contemplated what this would look like in the general classroom here in southern California, in both public and private institutions. Here’s what I see:

  • assistive technology the norm in the general education classroom as a means of enhancing instruction and learning for all students (not yet in our local public schools)
  • all content delivered in multiple ways using multiple modalities (increasing in our public schools)
  • emphasis on quality of instruction over coverage of content (depends on the school’s overall test scores)
  • emphasis on training teachers to recognize signs of dyslexia and how to effectively teach phonological awareness in the general education classroom (still a weakness in credentialing programs, in my opinion, and limited in scope in public schools due to funding issues)

I know I should conclude with my own words, but the following quote sums up the topic so much better than I can:

“The unexpected consequence of attempts to standardize educational practices has been to handcuff our educators, stifle creativity, create conflict and competition between general education and special education, and deny our children access to meaningful early intervention. If the system is indeed ‘broken,’ as seems to be the political consensus, then the injury is self inflicted. In this case top down problems need bottom up solutions. We must reject that which is ineffective and immoral and we must demand the knowledge, training, and freedom to be effective. The “we” of whom I speak is parent, advocate, teacher, principal, and everyone who is in the position to see, touch, and influence the life of a child” (Dickman, 2008).


Dickman, G. Emerson. “Roads Less Traveled,” Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Fall 2008, 5, http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-1639897981

Eide M.D. M.A., Brock L.; M.D., Fernette F. Eide (2011-08-18).   The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain. Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Geschwind, Norman. “Pathology of Superiority: A Predisposition to Dyslexia May Have Advantages,” Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Winter 2010, http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-1995238211

IDA web site: http://www.interdys.org/FAQWhatIs.htm

Sherman, Gordon F. and Cowen, Carolyn D. “Neuroanatomy of Dyslexia Through the Lens of Cerebrodiversity,” Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Spring 2003,

Sherman, Gordon F. and Cowen, Carolyn D. “Norman Geschwind: A Man out of Time,” Perspectives on Language and Literacy, Winter 2010, 14, http://www.questia.com/read/1P3-1995238201



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Whatever It Takes

Critical to any student’s learning is a teacher asking the right questions at the right time, and perhaps the most important question a teacher can ask is “how do I know if all of my students have learned what I think I have taught, and what will I do to help those who have not?” In this content-driven world, many students do not learn what we think we have taught and we just keep on moving. We rationalize this by arguing that the student didn’t try hard enough or that we do not have the resources to change the situation. This book addresses all of the above with practical advice and examples of how schools can ensure that students have a better chance of learning, not just being taught.

Notes I would like to discuss with my colleagues —

* three critical questions — p2,3
* goal — p5
* Systematic, timely, direct intervention – p7

Chapter 1
* “all children can learn”
* three critical questions — p2,3

Chapter 2
* teacher “lottery” should not be characteristic of education
* “Darwin” theory (failure to succeed indicates student should not be at school) and “Pilate” theory (failure to succeed reflects irresponsibility of student)
* paradigm shift as necessary, if not more so, than additional resources – p35-37
* Must have a plan — school admin and faculty must implement plan together

Chapter 3
* Pyramid of Interventions – p60ff
* summer study skills course

Chapter 4
* grading periods of 3 6-week sections each semester, rather than 2 9-week sections
* paradigm shift: “think positive, not punitive” — approach to assessments

Chapter 5
* needs of the middle school student – p83
* key question – p85
* crucial at all levels: steps 5 through 8 (step 5 often skipped — reteaching/support for those who didn’t “get it” the first time) – p87

Chapters 6 and 7
* team learning process
* SSD needs – work directly with grade-level teams – p111
* two-way system of communication/synchronization of schedules – p112,113
* focus of SST – p126
* “learning will be constant…time and support will be the variables” – p128

Chapter 8
* commonalities – p134
* is there an “if” factor – p134
* structured collaboration and shared knowledge and action
* analyze results/targets for improvement — just because it was taught does not mean it was learned – p140
* key question – p141
* collective commitment works through conflict

Chapter 9
* honest dialogue between “change zealots” and resisters
* questions we may face – p150, 158 (teach to the top philosophy), p165

Chapter 10
* paradigm shift about teaching – p 173
* key question – p175
* from “fixed” to “flexible”
* from “average learning” to “individual learning”
* from “punitive” to “positive”
* honor improvement/effort, not just the success of elite few – p179
* misapplication of “rigor” as “more” and “more difficult” – p180
* assessment “for” learning – p183,184
* collaborative culture w/ timely interventions
* look for and share evidence of small-term wins – p189

The appendix
* mission and vision statements – p201
* job descriptions
* sample correspondence
* program descriptions
* graphics to illustrate intervention plans
* graphic representation of Adlai Stevenson’s Pyramid of Interventions – p210

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