Advocating for Dyslexia Students

Writing letters

Writing letters to the education committee

California has a dyslexia bill at the education committee. Decided to write some letters to let them know that I think they need to help dyslexic readers with early screening, appropriate intervention, teacher training and define dyslexia. The CA education committee will be voting next Wednesday afternoon, April 22, 2015. We hope they support the bill and the children in need. If you can’t be at the capital on Wednesday, you can listen live here.

Does My Child Have Dyslexia?

Reading a picture book

Reading a picture book

“Does my child have dyslexia?” is a common question for parents who’s children are struggling in reading. Some parents have never heard of dyslexia. Some people have heard of dyslexia, “isn’t that seeing backwards?”  Children with dyslexia often have written difficulties associated with letter reversals, but that does not mean that a child reads backwards. Below is a list of things that can be seen in children struggling with dyslexia, that is beyond writing reversals.

Guesses at a word: Children may see the beginning letter is a b and guess any word that starts with b. In the beginning of their reading journey the guessed word does not make sense to the context – bat, ball, bag, bear when the word is bicycle. As they get more savvy, the guessed word could fit the context – boat, bat mobile, hot air balloon, or any other vehicle that goes. A child who is guessing is not decoding words.

Unable to Rhyme: Early reader books and many picture books are written to rhyme. Stop before the second rhyming word and ask the child to guess what word is next. They have to think of a rhyming word that fits the context. The cat in the ____. Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder where you ____. Up above the sky so high, like a diamond in the _____. Inability to rhyme is very common for children with dyslexia. They can often struggle with the end sounds of a word, which is what rhyming is all about.

Inability to read a word more than once correctly. A dyslexic reader reads inconsistently. When they are beginning, not tired, they do better, but after a couple pages (or paragraphs…or even sentences) they get tired and aren’t able to use their coping strategies as well. A student may be able to read a word on one page (or line) but on the next page (or sentence) they cannot, as if it is a foreign word they have never encountered before. There can be a few reasons for the this. It’s possible that at the first encounter of the word they guessed correctly and the second they guessed incorrectly. Another possibility is that they decoded the word properly the first time, but when needing to decode it a second time they have become tired from decoding all the words in between (and before encountering that first word).

Little words are skipped or stumping. Prepositions don’t contain content, such as for, that, with.  The reader is just skimming to the next important word to give context to what they are reading. Prepositions seem insignificant to them, especially if they are an irregular word that can’t be decoded such as “of.”

Blending strain. A reader may be able to sound each sound out, but not retain in working memory their sounds to blend all the words together. If the reader sounds out a blend, they may not see “pl” blends and sounds out each letter separately. This makes for a more exhaustive reading experience.  Another blending error that is common is to use a sound from the previous word into the current word. So if the phrase is “wild frog,” they might say “wild dog.”

Loving pictures in books. Looking at pictures in a picture book gives clues to the story. It is why picture books exist. Most dyslexic children prefer picture books and as they get older will gravitate to graphic novels and comics. It may also due to the fact that they are typically right brained processors as well. You may find that when you turn a page, they put their hands on the page over the words in order to look at the pictures. This could be unintentional or intentional. One may also find that even though all the words are read by the adult, the child insists on continuing to review the picture prior to turning the page. They are reading the story by picture and most likely be able to tell you the story without ever reading a single words.

There are so many other signs, but I find these to be huge in the initial phase of learning to read.

If you want more information about dyslexia or want your child to be screened for dyslexia, contact Lisa.

California Dyslexia Bill Radio Interview

On Air Radio

On Air Radio

On March 22, 2015, I was interviewed along with another parent and professional by We the People about the CA dyslexia bill 1369. The interview addresses how dyslexia is defined, the warning signs, as well as what the bill would do in our state. Our interview is an hour, and the second hour is an unrelated topic. Enjoy!

Listen here.  Additional information about the interview.

Appropriate Intervention Does not Include a Curling Iron

It's important that your teacher have the right tools

It’s important that your teacher have the right tools

When comparing tools, a mechanic cannot fix a car with a curling iron and a glue gun. A mechanic could try to glue on the fuel pump or the spark plugs, but they would not get very far. It is similar to a teacher not having the tools necessary to teach a child to read. A dyslexic child needs a highly specialized technique, called Orton-Gillingham, in order to read effectively. Without that technique, or tool, they will be ineffective, as the mechanic with the a curling iron.

It’s important that the intervention is evidence-based and Orton-Gillinghma has over 30 years over research and effectiveness. Ask your teacher about their training. See if there is the possibility that they can be trained, as this will be the most effective way for your child to have reading remediation.

When -ed Puts a Kink in Your Spelling

The three sounds of -ed

The three sounds of -ed

When adding the suffix -ed to make a past tense, you might assume it always makes an /id/ sound, but in reality there are three sounds of -ed. It can say /id/ as in wanted. It can also make the /t/ sound as in looked. The third sound is /d/ as in called. When we converse we don’t think about the different sounds we make when talking in past tense, but we need to when we convert it to writing.

It may seem arbitrary when we say -ed one way or another but there is actually a very systematic way we say each of these sounds. The /id/ comes out when the end of a word is /t/ or /d/. I call them the Ted words, because they are either t or d.

The /t/ sound comes from the sounds /s/, /k/, /p/, /f/, /sh/, /ch/, /x/, unvoiced /th/. These are sounds that are called “unvoiced”.  These sounds are said in our mouth and not in our throat. With words that end with these sounds, we naturally say the /t/ sound when making something past tense with -ed. I teach my kids this sentence to help them remember the unvoiced sounds. Skip has the fishchex. Remember that these are sounds are not letters. So, if you have a soft c that says /s/, or if you have the unusual gh with the /f/ sound, you would say the /t/ sound – fenced, laughed.

The /d/ sound comes from the voiced sounds, essentially all the other sounds not listed above. Instead of listing off 11 sounds, I usually just teach the first two and by default all the others will be /d/ sound.

The importance of teaching the 3 sounds of -ed, is mainly for spelling. Spelling -ed is not the complicated piece, it is distinguishing it from words that end in: -pt, -ct, -ft, -st, -nd, -rd, -ld. It is only these 7 endings in which older students seem to get confused. You will see words spelled: malld, reflecked. When a student is spelling in this manner, this is the concept that has eluded them.

It’s important for them to understand the concept of “passed tense”, but what throws a wrench in things with words like swept. Although there are only a few past tense exceptions, those spelling patterns can be taught as well. I find that this concept plagues the older student often as words get longer. They like the fact that it is only 7 endings to watch out for. Giving older students hope for spelling is so important. With exposure to the explicit rules and review they can master this concept!

I Have a Dream…Let Appropriate Education Reign

I have a dream that all children will be able to read

I have a dream that all children will be able to read

On this historic today, in the honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who fought for our freedoms, I believe he would stand beside us in our advocacy for educational justice in literacy.

In a world where 15-20% of our population has dyslexia, a condition of difficulty in accurate, word recognition, poor spelling and inadequate decoding ability. Dyslexia disrupts our children’s ability to read and write in relation to his or her peers. It is seen in all states, in all ages, and in all ethnic groups.

We live in a world where the word dyslexia is considered profanity, and if given the opportunity it would be bleeped out at every school, administrator’s office and school board meeting. Those in use of such a profane word would be given detention and surely be expelled for repeated use. We have been told by teachers, principals, and administers it doesn’t exist, and that it has no meaning.

We live in a world where “special education” no longer refers to education, but to behavioral services, to mental health, and classroom management. Dyslexia is a disability that can only be addressed by the realm of education. It is not a mental health disorder. It is not a behavioral disorder. It is not a medical problem. It needs to be dealt with not only in the education system, but in the public education system.

We live in a world that passed a law 40 years ago affording persons will disabilities the right to free, appropriate public education, but today in 2015, we are still fighting for the ability to exercise our right. Parents are being told on a daily basis that their child with dyslexia does not qualify for specialized education services. Parents are being told their child will not be tested because they will be receiving RTI, albeit separate education services; they are neither special education nor appropriate. Tell us this is not a Jim Crow approach to education. Parents are told daily that their school does not have the researched based structured literacy programs necessary to teach their child. Parents are told daily that their child doesn’t need those structured literacy programs and their general education approach is adequate.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of it’s federal education code: “Each State must ensure that free and appropriate education is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade and is advancing from grade to grade.”

I have a dream that one day any child of this America can sit on the field of his school under a tree and have the capacity to read the great literature of our nation.

I have a dream that my son and his friends with dyslexia processing will not be judged by the speed of their reading, the inadequacy of their spelling, nor the difficulty of their word retrieval, but by their extra-special abilities afforded to them by these dyslexic genes.

I have a dream that the blind educational administrators who vow to disregard dyslexia and the struggles of dyslexic students, those that deny the young 7 year old of specialized educational services will be granted sight.  That one day the administration will see, actually see, these students who have word blindness. That not only will they be seen, but that they will be worthy of specialized appropriate reading education as afforded in our federal education code.

I have a dream that students will not be put down for their reading skills. That their teachers will not call them lazy or tell them to “try harder.”  I have a dream that when teachers start their teaching career, they know the word dyslexia, it’s meaning, see it in the classroom and know how to teach them. That this newly trained teacher can join with his student’s parents in their deepest concerns for their child and truly help their child to read the great stories availed to them in this free nation and to be able to write the wonderful stories from their own minds.

I have a dream that our educational system will employ the specific teachings shown through research that will actually teach our child to decode and encode, to read and write. That they will be taught by multi-sensory structured literacy program, such as Orton-Gillingham, Slingerland, or another research based program. I have a dream that every teacher in America whether they just graduated yesterday or 40 years prior, that they too will know and embrace this way of teaching that is more than 30 years old yet has barely seen the inside of an American public school room.

I have a dream that every child in this great nation will learn to read. That we will live in a society where our prison population’s literacy is 100%, not 30%. I have a dream that if our literacy rates rose, it would give great hope to the young people of this nation. That hope would fill their souls, instead of despair and when it was time to make a choice that might carry them to prison, that they would choose otherwise, because they would have hope for their future because their ability to read.

I have a dream that other parents will not shake their heads and tell me that my child just “needs to read more.”  I have a dream these fellow parents will join with me to see that the education system needs change. That “reading more” is not effective if these young people have not been adequately taught to decode so they can read the words on the page. I have a dream that all Americans will demand 100% literacy for all of America’s children whether they have a child with dyslexia or not, and whether they even have have children or not. We must cross the Edmund Pettus bridge together.

I have a dream that all of America’s children will receive free and appropriate education.

Let appropriate education reign.

Let appropriate education reign.

God almighty, we need appropriate education at last.

What is a Phoneme and Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?

A phoneme is a unit of sound or sounds. A phoneme allows a student to hear the three separate sounds of “cat” – /k//a//t/. There are some phonemes that carry more than one sound, for example the “q” and “x”. The “q” has the sounds /k//w/ and the “x” has the /k//s/. Some may argue that it is two phonemes, but it is really 2 sounds that make up that one phoneme. Likewise there are some sounds such as /sh/ that have a 2 letter grapheme, “sh”.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear all the sounds in a word. For a word as easy as “cat”, there is three /k//a//t/. The struggles come in with the blends. “Mold” is often hard for some dyslexic student to hear the separate /l/ and /d/ at the end. The word “wild” is similar. Beginning blends can be difficult for dyslexic students to hear the /r/ or /l/, such as “blind” or “grand”. The purpose of phonemic awareness is to teach a student to break down what they hear, to ensure they are recognizing all the sounds present for a word. When a student is unable to master phonemic awareness, letters are often omitted, especially “r” and “l” at the beginning or “l” or “n” neat the end. When this skill is not mastered, they will struggle with reading, and even more so with spelling.



What is the Importance to Teaching Nonsense Words to Dyslexic Students Learning to Read?

nonsense words for use in decoding

nonsense words

Nonsense words are words that are not in the English dictionary. The use of nonsense words are used to practice reading consonants and vowel patterns. Children with dyslexia can guess words from pictures in stories and do well at “word prediction”, which falsely makes it look as though they are actually decoding. This is one reasons that sometimes dyslexia is not identified until 3rd grade, as that is when chapter books begin and there are no more picture clues to help the dyslexic child. Here are some nonsense words:

cat vs. vit

most vs. blost

my vs. gry

nine vs. scrine

The first word is a regular dictionary word. The second word is a nonsense word. The idea is that the second word can be decoded using the principals of the first word. Therefore “vit” would be said with short vowel and “blost” would be said with long vowel. The “y” in “gry” would say a long i sound. “Scrine” would have long i and silent e. There are crucial decoding skills.

If a student is unable to master the nonsense words, there is a significant deficit in their ability to decode. Sometimes students will master one segment of nonsense words, but not others. So it is important to pay attention to the nonsense words carefully.

Independence in Checking Your Writing for a Dyslexic Student

How you check your writing

How you check your writing

When a student with dyslexia writes, they use a lot of brain power to get their thoughts onto the page. Most dyslexic students are unable to process their thought, capitals, punctuation and spelling all in one moment as they put pen to paper. Most students have to review each process separately. I like to use the acronym: CHOPS.

C- capitals. Go back to see where capitals need to be? Where are there capitals that don’t belong?

H- handwriting. Is it neat? Are your o’s closed? Are your t’s crossed? Can you make out each letter?

O- out loud. Read your writing out loud to make sure it sounds right.

P- punctuation. Do your sentences have a punctation at the end? Any commas, or quotation marks needed?

S- spelling/sight words. Do all of your words look right? Do you need to look any of them up?

This simple acronym can help your writing become easier to read by others, especially teachers and writing critics.