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.


Should the ‘RTI’ model delay evaluation of struggling students for years?

The following the link will take you to a parent’s passionate plea for help for her daughter. She is pleading with her school board to revisit its policies. She praises the child’s teacher who is going above and beyond but unable to give her daughter what she needs.


“Learning Disablities’ movement turns 50


 by Valerie Strauss on April 12, 2013 at 4:00 am

brainIt was 50 years ago this month that the movement to help students with learning disabilities began. Here’s what happened. This post was written by Jim Baucom, professor of education, has been teaching for more than a quarter of a century at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont.

By Jim Baucom

This month, we will commemorate an important historical event that opened doors for generations of students with learning differences and, in essence, may have made Landmark College, where I teach possible. At Landmark, we specialize in teaching students who learn differently, using methods designed specifically for those with dyslexia, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Fifty years ago, on April 6, 1963, a group of concerned parents convened a conference in Chicago to discuss a shared frustration:  they all had children who were struggling in school, the cause of which was generally believed to be laziness, lack of intelligence, or just bad parenting.  This group of parents knew better.  They understood that their children were bright and just as eager to learn as any other child, but that they needed help and alternative teaching approaches to succeed in school.

One of the speakers at that conference was Dr. Samuel Kirk, a respected psychologist and eventual pioneer in the field of special education.  In his speech, Kirk used the term “learning disabilities,” which he had coined a few months earlier, to describe the problems these children faced, even though he, himself, had a strong aversion to labels.  The speech had a galvanizing effect on the parents.  They asked Kirk if they could adopt the term “learning disabilities,” not only to describe their children but to give a name to a national organization they wanted to form.  A few months later, the Association for Children with Learning Disabilities was formed, now known as the Learning Disabilities Association of America, still the largest and most influential organization of its kind.

These parents also asked Kirk to join their group and serve as a liaison to Washington, working for changes in legislation, educational practices, and social policy.  Dr. Kirk agreed and, luckily, found a receptive audience in the White House. Perhaps because his own sister, Rosemary, suffered from a severe intellectual disability, President Kennedy named Kirk to head the new Federal Office of Education’s Division of Handicapped Children.

In this position, Dr. Kirk helped persuade Congress to write laws requiring schools to provide an appropriate education for children with learning disabilities, and his influence in Washington helped create financing for the training of teachers so students received the expert guidance they needed.

At the time of that historic meeting in Chicago, the most powerful force for change in America was the Civil Rights movement.  Today, we would do well to remember that the quest for equal opportunity and rights for all was a driving force for those who desired the same opportunity for their children who learned differently.

Five months after the Chicago meeting, Martin Luther King Jr. led the march on Washington where he delivered his inspiring “I Have a Dream” speech. Twelve years later, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted, guaranteeing a free and appropriate education for all children.

Special services for students who learn differently began to flourish, giving those who had previously felt little hope an opportunity to learn and succeed in school.

The ripple effect kicked in, and these bright young people set their sights on college, a goal that would have been rare in 1963.  This led to the historic founding of Landmark College 27 years ago, as the first college in the U.S. created specifically for students with learning differences.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty emphatically declares:  “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”  If only that were true of diagnostic categories, like “learning disabilities.”  Our students are bright and creative learners who ultimately show no limitations in what they can achieve either academically or in their professional careers, so we prefer “learning differences.” It’s reassuring to know that even Dr. Kirk thought the term did not fully capture the capabilities and needs of these unique learners.

At our campus celebration, we won’t parse labels, or any other words for that matter.  But instead, we will recognize the actions taken by a small group of concerned parents gathered in Chicago a half century ago who only wanted their children to receive a better education. Today, we call that advocacy and it’s worth celebrating.

Struggling students and Response to Intervention (RTI)

Parent Rights in the Era of RTI

describe the imageIf a school is using an RTI approach, what rights do parents have and what strategies can be used to address identification issues? 

  • RTI Use across States—The manner in which states incorporate RTI into SLD identification varies dramatically.
  • Child Find—Your school district’s legal obligation to “find” all children who may have a disability and, because of their disability, need special education services.
  • Rights to Evaluation—Every parent has the right to request an evaluation at any time to determine if their child has a disability and what that child’s educational needs are.
  • Strategies for Addressing Identification Issues—The process of determining whether your child has a disability such as a learning disability and needs special education cannot go on indefinite l

The above is from

The National Center for Learning Disabilities – the leading online resource for parents and educators on learning disabilities and related disorders.

For a free booklet on additional information go to http://info.ncld.org/parent-rights-in-the-era-of-rti


Dyslexia in the Classroom

Article from The Portland Press Herald in Maine

Maine Voices: As schools start, it is important to identify dyslexia early

Though dyslexia is not curable, proper instruction makes a big difference in helping affected children.


Did you know that there are at least 40,000 children in Maine with dyslexia?


If we include adults, there are at least 200,000 Mainers affected by the same condition.

Affecting roughly 15 percent of the general population and often running in families, dyslexia is widely misunderstood and profoundly impacts learning, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

In a typical school serving 500 children, that translates to roughly 75 dyslexic students exhibiting varying degrees of reading difficulties ranging from mild to severe.

For a variety of reasons, many of these students may not be identified in the special education system.

As Maine children head back to school, we all share the hope that it will be a successful year. We cannot leave this 15 percent of our children out of the equation.

It is a particularly compelling time of year to ask the question: Is your child or student dyslexic? Do you know what signs to look for?

First and foremost, dyslexia is a well-understood, clearly defined condition.

If someone tells you that dyslexia does not exist or “went out of style,” run, don’t walk, to a more accurate source.

Second, dyslexics are not unintelligent. On the contrary, many dyslexics are highly intelligent, often demonstrating particularly strong artistic skills and strengths in problem solving.

Dyslexics do not “see words backwards.”

They often have difficulty accurately reading or pronouncing words that look similar.

Dyslexics often intend to say one word but say another.

Dyslexia is not the result of laziness and it cannot be “cured.”

It is the result of a common neurological variation in the way the brain processes print information that can make it extremely difficult to read quickly and accurately, and also makes spelling more difficult.

Not surprisingly, this condition often profoundly impacts a dyslexic child’s performance in school and can be devastating to his or her self-esteem without proper support.

Teachers and parents should be on the lookout for children who have consistent difficulty recognizing and responding to simple rhymes, sounding out short words, or remembering letter names.

Some of these early signs of dyslexia, such as difficulty with rhyming, can be identified before a child even begins kindergarten, and shouldn’t be dismissed as “something he’ll grow out of.”

Teachers must be aware of the significant number of dyslexic children that pass through their classrooms each year.

In a typical classroom of 20 students, statistics tell us that at least three of those students will be dyslexic.

While all children benefit from clear, direct instruction in reading, it is especially important that dyslexic children get the right kind of reading instruction as early and intensively as possible.

Dyslexia is not “curable” or something to be “fixed,” but proper instruction makes a tremendous difference in helping affected children learn to read and be successful in school.

The earlier the learning difference is discovered, the sooner a child can receive the help that he or she needs.

Perhaps even more important, parents and teachers can help a child to understand that he is not “stupid” or “lazy,” nor alone, but that he has a common variation in how he learns and will need extra patience and practice with reading.

A number of studies have clinically proven that the risk to a child of low self esteem stemming from dyslexia can be successfully countered by arming the child with age appropriate, accurate information about what dyslexia is and is not so that he can learn from an early age how to best advocate for his own learning.

In the Portland area, the Maine Twig/ New Hampshire. Branch of the International Dyslexia Association offers a free monthly support group for parents of struggling readers. It is held at the Portland Public Library at noon on the third Friday of each month (resuming Sept. 21).

The Children’s Dyslexia Center in Portland, usually full well beyond capacity, offers tutoring services for dyslexics as well as instructional training for adults.

Many wonderful resources are also available now on the Internet for educators and families needing more information.

As we welcome our children back to school this fall, please help spread the word that dyslexia is not a strange or rare phenomenon.

It is a common learning difference impacting a significant percentage of our population that deserves far greater attention and accommodation so that we can expand literacy opportunities for all Mainers.

Julie Boesky is a member of the Maine/New Hampshire branch of International Dyslexia Association.


Great day to be outside and, of course, …. to READ!

Resources for learning about learning challenges:

The Mislabeled Child: Looking Beyond Behavior to Find the True Sources and Solutions for Children’s Learning Challenges By Brock Eide MD, MA and Fernette Eide MD

Chapters on:  Memory Strengths and Weaknesses , Visual Processing Problems in Children, Auditory Processing Problems in Children, Language Problems in Children, Attention Problems in Children, Autism and Autism-Like Disorders , Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia in Children, Handwriting Problems and Dysgraphia in Children, Math Problems in Children, Giftedness and Learning Challenges in Children

One in five American children has trouble reading.  But they are not stupid or lazy.  In Overcoming Dyslexia, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, co-director of the Yale Center for the Study of Learning and Attention and a leader in the new research into how the brain works, offers the latest information about reading problems and proven, practical techniques that, along with hard work and the right help, can enable anyone to overcome them.  Here are the tools that parents and teachers need to help the dyslexic child, age by age, grade by grade, step by step.


In their book The Dyslexic Advantage, Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide talk about the MIND strengths of people with dyslexia: advanced abilities in Material reasoning, Interconnected reasoning, Narrative or Story-Based Reasoning, and Dynamic Reasoning, a type of reasoning associated with creative prediction.

Books about working with the schools.  These two books are the best I’ve read and written by attorneys with a child with learning challenges.  Learn about IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and 504 plans.

In this comprehensive, easy-to-read book, you will find clear, concise answers to frequently asked questions about IEPs. Learn what the law says about:

  • IEP Teams and IEP Meetings
  • Parental Rights & Consent
  • Steps in Developing the IEP
  • Placement, Transition, Assistive Technology
  • Strategies to Resolve Disagreements

Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy, 2nd Edition – The Special Education Guide includes tips, strategies, references, and Internet resources.




The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s
Confidence and Love of Learning, by Ben Foss.

Finally, a groundbreaking book that reveals what your dyslexic child is experiencing and what you can do so that he or she will thrive.

More than thirty million people in the United States are dyslexic, a brain-based genetic trait, often labeled as a learning disability or learning difference, that makes interpreting text and reading difficult. Yet even though children with dyslexia may have trouble reading, they don’t have any problems learning; dyslexia has nothing to do with a lack of intellect.


Essentials of Assessing, Preventing, and Overcoming Reading Difficulties, by David Kilpatrick
Practical, effective, evidence-based reading interventions that change students’ lives Essentials of Understanding and Assessing Reading Difficulties is a practical, accessible, in-depth guide to reading assessment and intervention. It provides a detailed discussion of the nature and causes of reading difficulties, which will help develop the knowledge and confidence needed to accurately assess why a student is struggling. Readers will learn a framework for organizing testing results from current assessment batteries such as the WJ-IV, KTEA-3, and CTOPP-2. Case studies illustrate each of the concepts covered. A thorough discussion is provided on the assessment of phonics skills, phonological awareness, word recognition, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Formatted for easy reading as well as quick reference, the text includes bullet points, icons, callout boxes, and other design elements to call attention to important information.

Language at the Speed of SIght: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It by Mark Seidenberg

According to a leading cognitive scientist, we’ve been teaching reading wrong.  The latest science reveals how we can do it right.
….In Language at the Speed of Sight, internationally renowned cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg reveals the underexplored science of reading, which spans cognitive science, neurobiology, and linguistics. As Seidenberg shows, the disconnect between science and education is a major factor in America’s chronic underachievement. How we teach reading places many children at risk of failure, discriminates against poorer kids, and discourages even those who could have become more successful readers. Children aren’t taught basic print skills because educators cling to the disproved theory that good readers guess the words in texts, a strategy that encourages skimming instead of close reading. Interventions for children with reading disabilities are delayed because parents are mistakenly told their kids will catch up if they work harder. Learning to read is more difficult for children who speak a minority dialect in the home, but that is not reflected in classroom practices. By building on science’s insights, we can improve how our children read, and take real steps toward solving the inequality that illiteracy breeds……..

Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read, by Stanislas Dehaene.
A little heavier book.

The act of reading is so easily taken for granted that we forget what an astounding feat it is. How can a few black marks on white paper evoke an entire universe of meanings? It’s even more amazing when we consider that we read using a primate brain that evolved to serve an entirely different purpose. In this riveting investigation, Stanislas Dehaene explores every aspect of this human invention, from its origins to its neural underpinnings. A world authority on the subject, Dehaene reveals the hidden logic of spelling, describes pioneering research on how we process languages and takes us into a new appreciation of the brain and its wondrous capacity to adapt.

Information on 504 from US Department of Education