DESIGNING DYSLEXIA OUT OF THE SYSTEM
The consultant tells the parent that the child has an academic problem called dyslexia. Suggestions are made but no long-term hope is offered. The parent goes away somewhat confused, unable to decide where to look for help.
The first glimmer of hope could be a simple definition. Dyslexia is a "catch-all" term that merely means: "problems in readingócause unknown." The word is not useful to a parent because it offers no helpful next steps.
If a child is said to have dyslexia and is finishing first grade, the child's teacher will probably follow the standard procedures of referring the child to the reading specialist for checking and screening. There will be talk of testing for learning disabilities if the child has normal intelligence, and if reading does not show improvement. The parent will be dismayed that this could have gone so long undetected. A well meaning friend will say, "Don't worry, lot's of first grade boys are too immature to read. Maybe he will start to roll in second or third grade--or whenever." But why wait? The needed skills can be mastered by the end of kindergarten or beginning first grade.
Without the help described in this book, many children will be labeled dyslexic or learning disabled.
According to Dr. Thomas Roberts, special education professor at Arizona State University, 95% of the children he examined who had been labeled learning disabled could more realistically have been called "teacher disabled."
Of course, the rate at which a child grows and develops is unique for each child at each age. It is known that some children begin school with hearing loss, vision problems, speech disorders, allergies, family emotional problems, and other medical and psychological difficulties. These need special attention too. They do affect the rate of academic progress, but the student can still succeed and progress while the above are being tended to..
SCREENING ENTERING FIRST GRADERS
All graduating kindergarten students and entering first graders should be routinely screened for reading ability or readiness for it.
The test materials should be designed for individual students rather than as a group test. At this and at older age levels group test results may not be as accurate as individually administered devices.
A small number of entering first grade students in each class are not in need of the traditional readiness work and can be started directly in beginning or more advanced reading instruction. This prevents valuable time and impressions being lost on too easy work. Placing them correctly is in keeping with the philosophy of having every child at his or her best working level (which we define as the instructional level in reading as opposed to the easy independent level and the too-hard frustration level).
Test results will show that most of the children require varying amounts of pre-reading readiness activities. Tests may also show which children have a mental age of six. This will indicate which children have enough vocabulary comprehension to become successful beginning readers. Many children reach this level prior to their sixth birthday.
It is well known that standardized intelligence tests measure only a few areas of mental ability. However, if a child does well on such a test, it is an indication that the child has more than a little potential, and high expectations are in order. (Seldom is an intelligence test called for. If needed, it should be requested early and completed as soon as possible, and only for the benefit of the child).
BASIC STEPS: HOW TO TEACH READING FROM SCRATCH
For best results with students who need careful basic instruction, conduct each session in the following order-.
1. Check for, and assess needs in visual discrimination of lower case letter groups. Provide necessary worksheets as needed (especially helpful in eliminating "reversal problems" or careless errors). [matching: asdf--- asfd asdf afds asdf]. See Visual Discrimination Work Sheets.
2. Check for, and assess needs in auditory memory and blending skills. This skill is seldom a problem--about ten percent of students might need it--but it must be taught when needed. Provide one-to-one practice using exercises available. See Auditory Memory and Blending Activity.
3. Introduce the personal phonics chart and begin an initial practice, and then many more practices with this vital tool. Use the plus system up to ten or more practices. Nearly all students need this in the beginning. See Phonics Charts.
4. Provide a large print copy of the Dolch basic sight word list or the longer Dale version of the Gray-Leary list of frequently used words. This practice is also done with the plus system, after an initial assessment to determine which words are unknown. After a word is read successfully on three separate days (mark a plus beside it each time it's read correctly), draw a line through the word (three pluses equal current mastery) [+++ was . . . saw+++ ].
5. Next provide time for the students to review their own personal recorded word list, which has been accumulating from their oral reading practice. Use the plus system, and cross out any word where three correct practices (+++) show mastery. Show pleasure each time you cross out a word. All reading students must have this data recorded in order to build the reading vocabulary for review.
6. Provide time now for silent reading using controlled vocabulary materials, utilizing silent reading techniques. Follow this with oral reading of the same material, recording all words miscalled or unknown, including the word that the student inaccurately guesses, such as was for saw: was/saw This is the student's personal recorded word list, mentioned in #5.
7. Monitor students' assigned reading to maintain the "Instructional level" at all times when students are working with a teacher or tutor. In other words, please keep your students reading in materials where the student is missing from two to five words per one hundred words of text (95% or better accuracy). Use each student's personal recorded word list to monitor this. If the student misses one or less words per hundred of text, the material is too easy for instructional purposes, and the student should be moved ahead appropriately in controlled vocabulary materials. This can happen several times during a few months. Six or more errors per one hundred words of text mean that the material is too hard (94% accuracy or less), and we need to find more appropriate selections for the student to work in with us.
It is extremely important that the above steps be followed. It is really quite easy to do once you get started. Don't leave out any steps. Your student will thank you.
Library or recreational book reading done independently or without teacher help should be geared to the student's "Independent Reading Level." This means that the student should be able to read aloud the text with one or less errors per hundred words of text. This is important for several reasons. It keeps guessing of words (carelessness and substitutions) to a minimum, thus avoiding bad habits. Plus, the student doesn't get discouraged or frustrated; the student will comprehend more readily; the story in the book will be more enjoyable; and the student will be more likely to look forward to the thought of reading.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ABOUT LETTER REVERSAL IN READING
Once first grade children begin to read, certain kinds of substitution problems may become apparent in the regular classroom. An example is the classic [b] [d] dilemma- if you rotate b on its axis stick, it will become d- tip the b over so that the stick is down and it is a q; tip the d and it will be a p. None of this means anything of significance to the beginning reader. The majority of students who exhibit this kind of matching problem, as well as the other classic--saw for was--would have been able to skip this kind of frustration if their visual discrimination of lower case letters had been developed extensively prior to the actual reading experience. See Visual Discrimination Sheets.
The young mind is taught in other preschool activities that a box-shape or a triangle is still a box-shape or a triangle, even when it is turned or rotated. The lesson is learned easily and well, and it seems logical to apply it to lower case letters.
The skill of spatial relations so vital in the fields of engineering and architecture must be disregarded when it comes to the field of beginning reading, and look-alike lower case letters. Logic is not useful when a lower case letter is to be recalled. The positions must be memorized.
It is not so difficult for a child to recognize a capital D and recall its shape and sound-, the capital B is not much of a problem either, and the sound is learned. But as soon as the child is faced with lower case d and lower case b, with a lower case-P tossed in soon after, the rules seem to change. And what about the lower case u and the lower case n? A b with the tummy faced right is a b /bee/, but if you face the tummy to the left it is not a backwards /bee/--no it's something called a d /dee/. But a B turned backwards is called a backwards capital B.
Left and right are not well defined in a child's mind at this time. In order to match, children must be coached as to what part of the letter is to be the same. Is it the "fat" part or the "skinny" part? Is it the circle or the stick? Does it point up or down? Which side is the stick on? Does it really matter?
Materials such as those included in the appendix of this book are needed by as many as a third of the students in each classroom. Some students may need the help for only one day (bang! the light comes on), and some for several months. Mastery of these skills must be at the 100 percent level, and should be in place before actual reading begins, and other rules called sound/symbol relationships (phonics) come into the picture, as well as many whole words whose spellings do not seem to follow any known rules.
Later, as necessary, when working with groups of lower case letters, the visual discrimination activity can be timed to speed up the child's powers of observation. And as is noted in the cover sheet to the matching activities, total working time on this kind of skill development should be no more than fifteen minutes per day.
Some teachers ask their beginning first grade students to draw a large b in the upper left hand corner of their penmanship or journal papers each day. They ask that they write a large d in the upper right hand corner. The child then draws a soccer ball or playground ball in the tummy of the big b. The child draws a duck or a dog in the center of the tummy on the big d. By working on their own drawings, the students soon fix the concept of the sound and the shape in their minds. This becomes each child's b - d chart, and is the beginning of a personal phonics chart, and it is almost always learned well in a short time.
PREREADING SKILLS: AUDITORY MEMORY AND BLENDING
Reading involves seeing, hearing and processing. If a child has mastered visual discrimination of lower case letters, much of the work is done. Another piece of the puzzle in "dyslexia" or "learning disabilities" is the dormancy of a skill called auditory memory--the recalling of sounds. Hand in hand with that is the need to be able to recall the sounds and put them together into what we call a blended sound, or word.
Before there is even a hint of phonics on the curriculum horizon, a child must acquire the skill of remembering single sounds--and of synthesizing those sounds into blends (usually into syllables and whole words). "My nnn---o --- zzz is on my face." (Leave one-second silent intervals between each sound; beginning with two sounds, working toward three and four sounds).
This is a vital activity that most parents can easily do at home or in the car. It is important for success in phonics. Usually up to 25 per cent of five- and six-year-olds this writer has worked with need to practice that auditory activity. The key is that this language barrier (lack of auditory memory and blending) be surmounted before beginning reading starts. Most children will master these auditory skills with a schedule of up to ten minutes a day, three days a week.
The point to remember is that it is vital that children get the best start possible. These perceptual skills-- auditory memory and blending, and visual discrimination of lower case letter groups--are very necessary and very teachable, but seldom taught.
See Blending-Memory Activity
HOW TO INVOLVE PARENTS IN THE READING PROGRAM
There are single parents, working parents, grandparents taking care of children, and foster parents. Most of them care intensely about the child's school progress. Most of them also have busy schedules.
Parents of children in lower reading groups must be personally invited to come to the classroom. They can be very helpful at home if the child requires practice with the modified visual motor method, which has been explained in this book. The teacher may need to have weekly conferences until progress is certain. This is part of the high expectations successful teachers demonstrate.
If the teacher is careful and consistent in staying in touch with the parent, the parent in turn will nearly always find or make time to go over a word list or flash card with the child.
All parents could and should be personally invited to meet with the teacher at the beginning of the year on a one-to-one basis. This should happen within the first four weeks of school, before academic problems are apparent. Of course, if the child is showing such problems from day one, the parent should be invited in immediately.
Parents seem to sense if a teacher is a team member and is on the child's side, not against. They know when the teacher is trying to help. They do not understand, however, when, for most of the year, they have been told the child is doing fine, and then, toward the end of the year, are told by the teacher that the child should be retained. Parents want the truth as soon as possible.
By getting acquainted early, before there are any signs of problems, parents and teachers can meet with a feeling of mutual trust without anyone having a defensive position. If it is difficult for the parent to come to the school, it is not unreasonable for the teacher to visit the home.
Parents will help with word lists or flash cards. When the reading group ends at school for the day, the teacher gives the child the list of difficult words, which are to be practiced with a classmate. The teacher should be sure to place the list in a child's pocket or lunch box before school ends. Parents of below grade level students will agree to look each day for either a word list or a teacher-initialed card with a reward sticker or smile face for error-free oral reading. Consistency with this daily effort will result in great rewards for struggling readers. This would be done as faithfully as the practice of the parent reading aloud to the child at home from good literature.
A SUMMER CHECKLIST FOR PARENTS OF KINDERGARTEN-GRADS
"Is my child ready for first grade?"
Parents often ask this question. The auditory and visual perceptual skills just covered are very important. There are other more obvious skills expected of entering first grade children. The Early Childhood Education Project of South Umpqua School District in the early 1970s produced a manual designed to answer some of the questions. Reproduced here is a partial list of skills expected of entering first graders.
3. Stand on one foot for ten seconds.
4. Walk three yards on toes (heels off floor).
5. Cut out pictures (follow straight lines, curves, and 90-degree angles).
6. Tie shoelaces in loop bow.
7. Without copying, use crayons to draw a recognizable person having: a head, a body, arms, legs.
8. Use the alphabet to print own name in manuscript.
9. Count ten pennies or small objects without error.
10. Print the number corresponding to child's age.
11. Distinguish concepts of-- same from different, top from bottom, in from out, left from right.
12. Trace straight lines, curves, and 90-degree angles using a crayon.
13. Pronounce compound-consonants correctly in words such as: basket, bottle, tree, green, please, thank.
14. Identify colors in crayons, pictures, and nature.
16. Follow a simple sequence of four spoken directions: "Go to the couch, touch the cushion, point to the window, wave to me."
Each item can be viewed as a game. Most children enjoy short duration games played with enthusiasm and much praise. Be sure to fill in high success games around the more challenging one. Games with creeping, crawling and using the balance beam are good activities.
SUMMER SCHEDULING CHART FOR PARENTS
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