Hooks in a Mental Closet by Dr. Richard Selznick

As part of an assessment I recently asked 17- year-old near senior, Bethany, “Who wrote Hamlet?”  Looking bewildered, she said, “I have no idea.”

Then, when asked to define the word “tranquil,” she could not further no guess.  Bethany had no association to the word.

By the end of the assessment, it turned out that Bethany scored in the 16th%ile for word knowledge and the 9th % ile for fund of information and general knowledge.

In contrast, Bethany functioned somewhat above average on tasks that were nonverbal, like putting blocks together to make spatial patterns and while analyzing a series of visual patterns.

“I think I have ADD,” Bethany said to me.

“What tells you that,” I asked her.

“When I read my mind wanders.  I have no idea what I am reading.  In class I can’t follow what the teacher is saying and have no clue what they are discussing. It has to be ADD – I think I should be on meds. Most of my friends are on meds.”

I get that kind of thing a lot – kids thinking they should “be on meds.”

Even though Bethany may benefit from stimulant medication, what I do know is that one of the primary reasons Bethany does not pay attention in class or while reading is that she lacks what I call “hooks in the mental closet.”

We used to think of reading as a fundamentally one-direction process.  In this model words would go from the page to the brain.  Researchers in the 1980s and 1990s enlightened us that reading (and listening to class lectures) was more of a two-way, interactive process.

The fact is the more “hooks we have in our mental closet” (the researchers used different terminology, mind you), the better we comprehend what we are reading or understand what we are listening to.

These “hooks” also help us to pay attention.  While medication may help Bethany focus, she still needs to be building in background knowledge and word awareness to try and overcome her sense of feeling lost.

In short, Bethany needs to build in more hooks.

There are plenty of books on the market that may be helpful such as, “Words You Should Know In High School: 1000 Essential Words To Build Vocabulary, Improve Standardized Test Scores, And Write Successful Papers.”

I can tell you with pretty good assurance that Bethany knew about 15 % of the essential 1000 words.

Even if Bethany practiced two words per day for a year, she would be in much better shape with the 720 new words (365 words X 2) for the year that she could learn.

There would be 720 new hooks in her mental closet!!!

Takeaway Point

Hooks in the mental closet matter and may explain some of the reason your child is not paying attention or adequately comprehending. Try and build them in any way you can.

 

Make reading a priority this summer…..

With just a little over a month left of school, it’s time remember the impact that daily reading can make for students.  Shaywitz’s (2003) graph below says so much

For those who find reading a challenge, summer is the time when just a little bit of intentional, focused oral practice every day can help a student get them back on track and regain their confidence.

For those that find reading and writing especially difficult, it’s a great time for multi-sensory scientifically based instruction, sometimes referred to as Orton-Gillingham or Structured Language approach, with a tutor trained in these methods to solidify skills. It’s time to work on skills that are lagging behind their peers, without the fatigue created by spending the day in the classroom.  Students have a marvelous opportunity to make strong gains.

Whether you’ve planned some “academics” for your children or not, below are some ideas for summer activities. In addition, you could consider rewarding your child with an end of the week treat if they read at least a certain amount of time minutes for at least five days in the previous week (an old fashioned chore  chart works well for this).  20 minutes a day 5 days a week is less than 2% of summer vacation.  How much time do they spend practicing sports, playing computer games, or other things.  Make reading a priority this summer.

Below are some ideas to encourage and enjoy reading.  Need some ideas for “treats/rewards”? Try a DQ, a new book, a special dessert, and — a favorite at our house – having a picnic dinner.

  1.  Find a movie based on a book.  Watch the movie, then read/listen to the book.  Talk about the differences and similarities.
  2.  Go to the library and borrow some books and games.
  3.  Pre-read some of the books that will be part of next year’s reading.  (Get that list from the teacher before school ends.)
  4.  Do a read-out-loud book.
  5.  Make dinner together—read the recipe, measure the ingredients, learn about the chemistry of cooking.
  6.  Play board games and card games.
  7.  Encourage your child to read to a pet or younger sibling/neighbor.
  8.  On a rainy day, have your children curl up with comic books or magazines.
  9.  Have your child plan a dream day somewhere. Be creative: they could write about it, make a collage, research with a travel book, or just talk about their ideal day.  Make sure you share your ideas, too.
  10.  Have a TV/technology free day.
  11.  Once a week, “drop everything and read” for 15 minutes … everyone in the house has to participate.
  12. CREATE A READING HABIT!!!

 

Reference

Shaywitz, S. (2003).  Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level.  New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Scientifically Based Reading Instruction

This is a nice comparison from Dr. Louisa Moats in her article The Whole-Language High Jinks: How to tell when ‘scientifically-based reading instruction’ isn’t. We need Scientifically Based Reading Research driving our reading instruction.  (Moats. L., 2007, pg 18)

Below is a great letter…

Below is a great letter written by JM Lawrence of Grapevine, TX to help a parent respond to an email from a teacher about her child’s behavior during a language art activity. The teacher indicated that she knew the child had difficulty with reading and spelling. The child also said, “this is only easy for people who can read”. Some of the laws she references are specific to TX, but it’s a great letter that I thought needed to be shared. Thank JM!

Dear _______, _______, _______

I am sorry to hear from your email that X continues to struggle with reading and spelling, which causes her to act out. Her disability, dyslexia, is at the root of the issue and it is time to protect her access to the education offered her peers. Emotionally, you can see that X would rather “look” angry and defiant than “stupid” to her classmates. She is NOT choosing this behavior, it is her protection mechanism that has developed in your building, in response to teachers and administrators choosing to delay appropriate instruction to teach her to read using methods scientifically developed for students with the characteristics of Dyslexia. While our district is not choosing to participate in the Pilot for Act 69 Early Dyslexia Screening and Intervention, it does not mean that our school does not have the obligation to do the right thing and assess my daughter for Dyslexia and provide Free Appropriate Public Education including reading instruction that meets her needs.

John King’, US Secretary of the Department of Education, used these words in his testimony before a Senate committee, “But, the IEP team would be expected to address the screening for Dyslexia as a part of the assessment of the needs of a student who is struggling.“ This is Secretary of education acknowledging that IEP assessment teams should reasonably be administering testing instruments that can be used to identify Dyslexia? As the voice of the federal department of education, he is voicing support of for my daughter who struggles to read, being identified, for her disability and then being “taught to read.”

I am requesting that the district follow federal disability guidelines and provide my daughter with “Dyslexia” testing because her characteristics are those of a student with Dyslexia, whether or not she qualifies for Special Education, our school has the federal responsibility to help her learn to read. If the school does not have a person that is qualified to identify Dyslexia, then I am requesting an Independent Educational Evaluation of my daughter with a credentialed Dyslexia provider.

Please respond to this request in writing within the next 5 business days. Until the district chooses to follow the law and provide X an appropriate education for a child who can be identified by section 504 ADA laws, when an assignment requires her to read and write, at grade level, please send her on an errand to a place where she can be helped through the assignment.

I look forward to hearing that you have received this correspondence and how you will be addressing my daughter’s needs for FAPE.

Sincerely,

To tell or not to tell….. your child

The following is from Kyle Redford, Dyslexic and Educator.

To see Kyle’s story watch “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dylsexia”.

http://dyslexia.yale.edu/PAR_PrivacyDilemma.html?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=postplanner&utm_source=facebook.com

 

“When students see their teachers and parents whispering and being discreet,
it screams of shame. Additionally, if it’s a secret, it’s also scary.
The Privacy Dilemma 
by Kyle Redford


As a teacher, I have encountered many parents who feel that sharing information about their child’s learning challenges will hurt their child’s self-esteem or diminish their chances of being successful in school. The truth is, when students see their teachers and parents whispering and being discreet, it screams of shame. Additionally, if it’s a secret, it’s also scary. It is human nature to fill an information void with worst-case scenarios. Ironically, a decision made to protect a child can often breed shame and fear.

It is understandable why parents choose to whisper and hide their child’s academic challenges; they don’t want their sons or daughters’ potential to be limited by low expectations.

Many parents also fear that the information or diagnosis will land in the wrong hands or in some file that will follow the student around and ultimately hinder his chances of getting into an elite school or college somewhere down the line. The problem, however, is that fear can prevent the student from getting access to key remediation or accommodations from which he/she would benefit.

The reality is, students don’t grow out of their dyslexia. Despite the legitimate excitement that results from a “good year” or a learning breakthrough, dyslexic students carry their unique challenges and strengths with them through the grades. Certainly their specific challenges will morph over time. For example, decoding words and spelling are a main obstacle in the early school years; in secondary school, keeping up with the volume of reading and writing is the central challenge. Over time, dyslexic students normally become more adept at dealing with their academic soft spots, but special support is critical to helping them achieve their full potential. The truth is, information about a student’s dyslexia needs to follow that student around. Instead of worrying about what is in their child’s file, parents should make sure that crucial information is shared among their child’s teachers.

I cringe when I think of all the instructional time I have lost with certain students while trying to second-guess what is impeding their learning in the classroom. With the right information, teachers are able to develop an academic plan to help dyslexic students minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths. For example, using a computer for tests and daily assignments can often be critical to a dyslexic student’s success. The computer’s “spell-check” and standard font allow ideas to be more readable and help to eliminate many mechanical obstacles that can hinder expression of ideas and understanding. Additionally, teachers can offer dyslexics extra time to read class novels and texts, as well as give them advance syllabuses so they can get a head start with required reading over the summer. Spelling mistakes stop looking like “careless errors” and Franklin Spellers and computers help bring students’ editing skills in line with the quality of their ideas.

Educators often indulge the privacy myth without confronting it, thus reinforcing the idea that there is legitimately something to hide. If asked to defend a decision to keep academic information from teachers or students, few will. Most educators say that their discretion is a way of respecting the parents’ wishes, but they would rather be given the permission to speak openly and honestly with students and other teachers. Unfortunately, teachers usually remain silent on this point when parents ask them to keep information private. To challenge parents on a decision to be private takes a lot of courage and conviction.

Another reason parents embrace secrecy is that they want to protect their child’s sense of his own potential. They worry that access to information about their child’s academic profile will make their child feel inferior or deflate his/her ambitions. However, with few exceptions, most students crave candid conversations about their academic strengths and weaknesses. These conversations help students understand how they learn as well as devise thoughtful strategies to overcome their challenges. An honest dialogue also helps students develop the language and vocabulary necessary to advocate for themselves in school.

Offering students specific information helps to demystify their academic anxiety. It helps them understand that just because one thing is hard for them does not mean they will struggle in all areas of school.

Case in point: until a fourth grade student of mine had her test results explained to her, she was privately terrified. Being assigned a new special reading teacher and witnessing hushed conversations between her teachers and parents had confirmed her worst private fear: she WAS stupid.

I could sense her confusion and anxiety as she shifted from being the queen of class commentary into someone who rarely paid attention and turned off during critical instruction. I convinced her parents that she needed to have someone explain her learning evaluation to her. They were reluctant to allow me to use the word dyslexia, but I managed to convince them of the benefits of giving her school struggles a name.

It was amazing what our conversation did for this student’s confidence. Once she was able to have someone explain why reading and writing were hard for her, she admitted that she had been hiding her school difficulties for years. This admission, however, came only after she learned that the same tests that identified her dyslexia also indicated that she had very strong higher-order thinking skills. I was able to reassure her that, as she got older, school would become more focused on the things she was good at, such as abstract thinking, and less on the things she struggled with, like mechanics. Most importantly, our discussion gave her permission to see herself as something other than a poor student. It infused her with the confidence that allowed her to put her school challenges in perspective.

And despite her parent’s fears, this student had no trouble with the dyslexic label. She immediately started using it to describe herself, even with her classmates. I am convinced that if parents could witness the relief and hope that wash over students when they are presented with clear information about their learning profiles, they would never choose the secrecy option again.”

Dyslexia – Knowledge, Awareness, and Empowerment

This fall, my friend Sara and I taught a community education class on Dyslexia and received many positive comments from those that attended, so we decided to do it again.

 

Here are the details:

Dyslexia – Knowledge, Awareness, and Empowerment

Dyslexia is a learning challenge facing many children.  Come learn about dyslexia and other learning difficulties.  The main objective of the class is to discover tools and attitudes that will empower students with learning struggles.  This is a great survey course for parents and instructors.

Classes are Monday evenings at Ordean East Community School on Feb 22th, 29th and March 7th from 6:30 to 8:30pm.

 

Click here to sign up.

 

 

I will also be hosting a community education session:

 

Struggling Learners – What a Parent Should Consider

 

Is this year hard for your child? How can you help your child be more successful at
school? Homework takes hours and we’re still in elementary school, should it be this
hard? We’ll talk about reasons why kids struggle, how to help and how work with his/her
teacher.

 

This class is Tuesday, Feb 9th at Lincoln Park Middle School from 6:30-8:30pm.

 

Register here.