Sunday, March 22, 2009

Engaging The Senses

With only two months left in the school year, parents all over the country are brainstorming ways to help their children keep up their academic skills during the summer. When evaluating potential programs or curriculum for at-home use, look for a multi-sensory approach. By fully engaging the senses, we can fully engage the child.

Research by William Glasser M.D. tells us we remember/learn:
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
75% of what we discuss with someone else
85% of what we personally experience
95% of what we teach to someone else

As a Learning Coach I try to help many struggling readers with fluency and comprehension. Most of my clients are visual-spatial or kinesthetic learners so I ask them to engage their senses while they read. When they read for meaning I have them stop after every sentence and tell me what they see or feel. They lay down meaning from what they read frame by frame as in a movie.

Consider this sample reading passage: “Then the drought came and stayed. The land begged for water, but even Pecos Bill couldn’t make it rain.”

To check comprehension I begin by asking the child, “What does the word drought mean?” Many times a student can decode a word but not understand what it means. I suggest that we can get a clue from other words in context. I ask the student, “What did the author mean when he wrote that the land begged for water?” To use all of his senses I might ask the child to demonstrate or act out the scene in order to try to make the sentence more concrete. I might say, “Pretend you are the ground and beg for water.” Then I have the child think about why the ground would beg for water. My hope is that the child would draw the conclusion that the ground would beg for water if it was dry or “thirsty for rain.”

It would be safe to guess that the word “drought” used in the first sentence meant “a long period of dry weather, with little or no rain. To check our prediction, we look the word up in the dictionary to see if we are correct. This gives the child another skill to use if he can not get clues in context. By using the dictionary, the child can integrate the spelling of the word, the pronunciation of the word as well as the definition.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Oh boy, how I am looking forward to spring! I yearn to see the sun shining more often and feel the warmer air temperatures envelope my body. I can’t wait for the grayness of the landscape to turn green once again. Spring is God’s promise to me that all things bloom in due time and new life is available for all of us.

Even though it is still the dead of winter, I had the privilege of working with an adorable 7 year-old, who showed me a “sneak peek” of spring. I say that because over the course of 30 hours of intervention with The Davis Method, I witnessed blooming. Just like a bud opening up, Olivia displayed “change” in her own right.

When I met Olivia, she was delightful but a bit immature for her age. During her instructional time with me, she became more determined and responsible for her own learning. She wholeheartedly embraced the tools and strategies I gave her and just went for it! When Olivia discovered that she was able to not only spell words accurately and explain the meanings, boy did she celebrate! She grabbed my hand and her Mom’s hand in hers and raised them high. She did a little shuffle with her feet and sang a little song of victory.

Just like a flower growing, Olivia was standing a bit straighter as our time together progressed. Her new found confidence displayed itself in physical change as well as how she viewed herself in relation to her talents and abilities. Before starting the Davis Program, Olivia was most confident speaking to me and others about her love of art, specifically drawing. She made me a picture and I must say she is talented way beyond her years! However, now she shares how she can read and comprehend stories one grade level above her current one. Letters no longer confuse her and she can even see the letters of the alphabet in order starting from the “Z” side.

Our work together is not done. We have goals set to improve comprehension of the interrogative type words i.e. (who, what, where, when why and how), work on synonyms, antonyms, homonyms and heteronyms, understand figurative language, know how to compare and contrast information and the like. The list is long but Olivia can take it in stride because she believes in her tools and believes in herself. She has experienced the coming of SPRING

Friday, March 6, 2009

Elements of a Language Based Learning Disability

In the most simple terms, a Language Disorder is identified when a person has trouble understanding others (receptive language) or sharing his thoughts, ideas or feeling completely (expressive language). My clients with Language Based Learning Differences not only have trouble processing the meaning of words spoken to them but, they have difficulty comprehending what they read. My job is to help my clients identify which words cause them trouble and find a way to clear up the confusion.

The first challenge for a client of mine would be to accurately identify each word he is reading. The child must have accurate visual-perceptual skills to correctly identify the abstract words in language and for example, read "where" and not say "were". When key words within the sentence are misidentified, comprehension will suffer. My job is to give my client a tool to help him correct his misperception of these abstract, non-picture words and thereby aid in his overall comprehension.

The next challenge for a client of mine would be to correctly identify individual word meaning. Understanding the abstract words and how they affect language as well as the vocabulary words within the passage is neccessary for comprehension. In the book The Gift of Dyslexia written by Ron Davis, the abstract words are called "trigger words" because they can begin a reaction of confusion for the reader. Consider the word "otherwise" as an example of a trigger word as it is one which we can't picture and most of us can't define. One meaning for "otherwise" is "or else" . This word should not be glossed over as it implies possible consequence to follow. When a visual learner with a receptive language disability is reading the word "otherwise" he needs both the accurate meaning and picture of whatever he is reading. We can't assume that if a child can decode the word, he also understands the meaning of the word.

Processing the entire passage hinges on being able to accurately decode each word, identify individual word meaning and understand how each word builds on each other to formulate meaning as a whole. The reader must lay down accurate meaning, sentence by sentence as one does frame by frame with movie film. Also the client must bring meaning to what is read by applying background information plus exposure, plus experience to the reading passage. The reader must have accurate eye-tracking and eye-teaming skills to include every word in the passage and not skip over words or lines.

Following a reading passage, language processing continues when a child must answer a corresponding reading comprehension question. Look at this example sentence, "Who was the first President of the USA?" Each word must be processed like this...
Who...(meaning a person)
was...(indicating the past)
the...(trigger word, can't picture it, what does it mean?)
first...(indicating a position in a sequence)
President...(vocabulary word meaning "the leader of the country")
of...(trigger word, can't picture it and what does it mean?)
the...(trigger word, can't picture it, what does it mean)
USA...(abbreviation for a location)

Finally the child must process the language needed for the individual answer. He will need to retrieve the correct words in the correct sequence in order to formulate an answer within his head and then originate it in written form. In the case of a standardized test, the client must then seek to fit his formulated answer into the formatted answers of the standardized test and look for a match. For a child with a Language based Learning Disability, reading and writing is no simple task.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Knowing The Why Behind The What

As a Learning Coach a number of my clients bring with them ADD/ADHD along with their highly visual, randomly non-sequential mental processing abilities. Some of my clients take meds while others don’t. With that being said, if taking a drug were “a magic bullet” to effective learning and performance, I wouldn’t have a practice.

ADD/ADHD has 3 primary symptoms: impulsivity, distractibility and bouts of excessive energy. ADD/ADHD as a syndrome is not one of attention deficit as much as it is one of attention inconsistency. While meds can improve a child’s compliance and help him finish things once started, it does not take care of all of the issues. As far back as 1990 we could see via PET scans that children with ADD/ADHD had reduced cerebral activity in the frontal areas of the brain. This area was responsible for not only concentration and attention span but language development and logical sequential reasoning. The PET scans also showed increased activity in the occipital or rear lobe, the primary visual area of the brain.

You might ask yourself the question, “How do the results of the PET scan translate into anecdotal evidence?” Looking to my clients I can tell you what they report as some of their personal strengths and weaknesses in learning.

· Struggles with phonemic awareness & phonics (they under perform due to difficulty with the fine-tuned hearing necessary to discriminate vowel sounds within words)
· Can learn a word more easily by sight when a word is connected with a picture and the child understands its meaning
· May have trouble decoding words without regular patterns i.e. thought, though, through, cough, rough, bough
· May have trouble with non-literal text and comprehending sarcasm, satire, allegory, metaphor and slang.
· Trouble with spelling (spells phonetically and inconsistently. Memorizes the words for the test but then does not apply them)
· Is a non-verbal processor and experiences delays in auditory processing as he struggles to turn spoken words into visual images
· Poor logical sequential reasoning leads to poor organizational skills and operations that require ordered steps.
· Struggles when writing with patterns of organization in works of compare/contrast, cause & effect, definition and even narration.
· Non-sequential thinking makes prioritizing needs and task difficult
· Views large projects as overwhelming rather than breaking down the whole into smaller steps
· Has trouble keeping one’s space (backpack, desk, room) tidy. Difficulties in establishing proper place, position and condition of one’s things, leads to misplaced items and homework assignments.

As a parent of an elementary school age child with ADD/ADHD, you need to endlessly educate yourself about the various learning challenges which accompany his attention struggles. By identifying your child’s individual learning style and looking for the right extra educational intervention, you can best support your child.