When Loving to Read Isn’t Enough: A practical post for parents.

There is a common belief out there that if we read aloud to children and surround them with engaging books that they will learn to love reading and will therefore reading with only a little phonics help along the way. This belief has been gas-lighting parents for decades are we are tired of it. Parents have worn so much shame  believing the reason
that our child cannot read IS our fault.  Maybe if we had done more. Maybe if we had read more books to her.  Maybe if we had read food labels and traffic signs to her. Maybe if we had practiced those site words more. Maybe we are just bad parents.  STOP!

Parents, take in this truth: Schools must TEACH kids to read.  Human brains do not have a “reading” part like we do for listening and speaking. Reading was invented about 5000 years ago – a technological advance. It is something that all children must learn and some do it more easily than others.  If your child cannot read, it is NOT your fault.  Despite the myth out there that “it will just click one day” we know that approximately 60% of children need explicit, systematic and cumulative phonics instruction to learn the 44 sounds of our complicated language. Moreover, we know that some types of learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are inherited in about 40% of cases, so if your child struggles, odds are that you struggle too…so give yourself some grace. You are not alone. A lot of us struggle, too.

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I will never forget this day in 2016. Clara pulled books off the shelf, frowned and closed them. A sea of books she was dying to read, but couldn’t.  She had been surround by stories and books since birth, but it did not help.  School needed to teach her how to read.  They had failed to do so.

Parents, it is time to take back the power and change the conversation. We need to forgive ourselves a little, toss aside our shame, and dig deeper. We need to all begin to ask questions of our schools, look deeply at HOW they are teaching reading and ensure that ALL children are being taught how their brains can learn.

Here are some practical steps all parents can take:

1. Read Emily Hanford’s recent article “At a Loss for Words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers.”

2. Email your child’s teacher ask the following questions:

Q: Teacher, do you use cueing to teach my child to read?

WHY: Cueing is a method by which, when a child comes to an unknown word, the teacher instructs students to guess at the word using the pictures clues, the first letter of the word and if it makes sense in the sentence. For example, imagine a 2nd grade child reading the book “Rosie Revere the Engineer.”  The illustration shows lots of different flying things and the sentence reads “Life might have its failures, but this is not it.” When the child comes to the word “failure” that she does not know, cueing teaches the child to look at the picture clues and the first letter of the word and to take a guess. In this real-life example, my daughter did both of those things and, when she got to “failure,” guessed “flutter”  Both have seven letters and some of the same sounds. In fact, “failure” and “flutter” have a lot of the same letters in them. Plus, the picture cues of airplanes make the word “flutter” make a whole lot more sense than “failure.” Screen Shot 2019-09-23 at 1.02.49 PMBut you know what? When she guessed the wrong word, the story no longer made sense.  This is a story about overcoming failure…but she had no idea because she guessed at the word wrong.  (See Clara reading Rosie Revere the Engineer.) We must teach children to read words, to sound them out, not to guess. This is why it is important for you to know if your child’s teacher is teaching cueing strategies.

Q: Teacher, you say you teach decoding and phonics. Is it taught explicating, systematically and cumulatively?

WHY: All teachers teach some phonics and decoding but the vast majority of them do it sporadically and not in a way that is connected such that students can learn all the 44 letter sounds over time in a clear way.

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This is a description of what a proper reading instruction should look like. Taken from the Tennessee Dyslexia Resource Guide. Page 19.

(Phonics is the connection between letters and the sounds they represent and decoding is the process of matching letters or letter combinations to their sounds to decipher a word.) Additionally, most teachers use a combination of phonics and cueing, which, as made clear in the Emily Hanford article in #1 above, does not work. We need our teachers to spend about 45 a day in small groups teaching students phonics in an explicit and systematic way so they can learn the sounds the letters and blends make.  Learning this way actually builds up brain pathways so children, even children with learning disabilities, can connect letters to sounds.  Teaching this way is highly effective for ALL readers when taught by highly trained teachers.

Q: Teacher, may I please have copies of my child’s RTI screening scores?

 

 

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Clara had A’s and B’s but she was reading at 9th percentile nationally.

 

WHY: Most districts screen children for reading and math three times a year. The test may be called MAP, STAR, DEIBLES or something else in your district, but the data collected is all similar and you have a right to ask for it. Lots of schools will push back and say they don’t give these scores out.  Keep asking until you get it. The reason is that these screeners are nationally normed so that you can see how your child is reading compared to children across the country. Districts have certain “cut scores” so that students will only be flagged as being a “poor reader” if  he or she is reading, say, at the bottom 15% or 25%. However, if your child has been sitting at 26% for three years and making no progress, you may have no idea and may think your child is doing okay.  You need to see the data and ask lots of questions about it.

Q: Teacher, my child has a low screener score but he is getting all A’s and B’s on his report card. What is the discrepancy?

 

WHY: Many low readers (those below 30%) can get good grades so parents don’t worry despite a nagging fear that their child isn’t reading well enough. Report cards are deceiving. If you have a concern dig deeper. Students who struggle to read, as in the case of dyslexia, actually have higher than normal IQs so they can still get good grades despite slow reading. The simply learn to compensate, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling. You need to look closer.

3. If you learn through this process that you do have a child who is a struggling reader, DO NOT WAIT. Demand that your child be tested for a learning disability like dyslexia. Demand that your child gets reading intervention everyday that is explicit, systematic and cumulative.  Educate your self about dyslexia at the Yale Center for Dyslexia or your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter.

4. Once you have your child on the right path, join the movement to make sure all teachers across America learn to teach based on the science of reading. Literacy is in crisis. We must all demand that our public schools do better.

Two Years Ago Today

Its hard to believe it has been two years since the Say Dyslexia Bill passed in Tennessee. It was such an amazing thing to be a part of.  While I cheered from the sidelines on Social Media to encourage law makers to support this important Bill, so many others did so much to get this law passed.  I am proud that much of the hard work was done by members of Decoding Dyslexia – TN.  A huge thank you goes out to Lori Smith, Julia Johnson, Representative Joe Pitts and JC Bowman with ProEd Tennessee.

The Bill was signed into Law on June 9, 2016. Stay tuned for another post then.

The new law has not made things perfect for students with dyslexia, but it has made them so much better. There is still so much to do…lets keep at it y’all.

 

To learn more about the Say Dyslexia Law in Tennessee, visit the Decoding Dyslexia TN website here.

Assistive Technology and Tips for Parents

* The information below is part of the presentation “How Technology Can Support Students with Dyslexia” that I gave with Krista Bolen at the TNIDA 2018 RISE conference on April 7, 2018.

Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology (AT) is an important tool to help people with dyslexia be successful. We recommend you start using programs and apps similar to the ones below to assist your child with reading, spelling and writing. These programs and apps can be used at home to help with homework and worksheets, or at school if your child has access to technology. Additionally, Section X of the Tennessee Dyslexia Guide gives schools guidance for the use of Assistive Technology in the classroom for students with characteristics of dyslexia.

READING: Ear reading (listening to content with your ears instead of reading it with your eyes) is one of the most important piece of Assistive Technology for students with dyslexia. Reading can be slow and inaccurate. Listening to content can improve comprehension and give children access to books and material that they could not access with eye reading. There are many great resources for ear reading including traditional audio books and “play-aways” from your local library. Oftentimes, you can access digital content for ear reading from your child’s teacher. Many families use a mix of ear reading programs and apps depending on the type and availability of the content they are seeking. We encourage you to explore the programs and apps listed below.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 12.51.33 PMThere are many digital resources from your public library that incorporate audio or text to speech.  Many offer storybooks to be read aloud along with great pictures.  Some are free and others have a small fee. Check with your local school or public librarian to learn more about the options.  Some examples include Reading Rainbow, BookFlix, Tumble books, Hoopla and OverdriveKids.

 

WRITING AND SPELLING: Writing and spelling can be extremely challenging for people with dyslexia. Writing by hand can be messy, frustrating and downright illegible.  However, with technology, students can be much more successful at writing and spelling.  We encourage you to explore the apps listed below.

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Technology Tips for Parents

WHERE TO START: INTRODUCING TECHNOLOGY

  • Identify what devices your child has access to at home and at school: computer, laptop. iPad or phone. All can support dyslexia in unique ways.
  •  Explore the programs and apps available for reading, wiring and spelling. Identify two or three that you think will help your child the most.
  • Try the program or app yourself so you can teach your child in a frustration-free way.  Make sure it is appropriate for your child’s age, ability level and deficit.
  • Introduce each technology when you have plenty of time. Show your child how it works. If it has multiple features, introduce several at a time but do not overwhelm her.
  • Let your child explore the programs or app with content they choose. If it is a reading app, let them find a book on their own to choose to read.  If it is a writing program or app, let them make up a funny story or spell silly words.  Do not force them to use it right away on a big homework project. 
  • Encourage kids to practice and not give up. Technology can be frustrating. The more they use each technology, the easier it will become.
  • Once you have success at home, talk to your child’s teacher to let your child use it in the classroom or for classwork and projects.

 

WHY EAR READING MATTERS: DICK AND JANE V. HARRY POTTER: Students with dyslexia often desperately want to eye read books like Harry Potter but can barely access books like Dick and Jane with their eyes.  Over time, this can have many negative effects. It may starve them for rich vocabulary and complex sentence structure. It also can make a child feel left out socially when kids on the playground are playing Hogwarts, but she can’t join the play because she doesn’t know they story and characters. Here are some tips to make ear reading successful:

  • Give your child with dyslexia access to as much ear reading as she wants at home for books that she cannot access with her eyes, especially books for enjoyment. Treat ear reading as you would with another child asking to read a book.
  • Try not to include taking away ear reading as punishment like you would other technology. Remember, if your child misbehaved, you would not typically take away a book as punishment. Consider using Parental Controls or Guided Access to turn off everything BUT the books.
  • Encourage your child to eye read books that he/she is able to successfully with low frustration. You still want to encourage eye reading. Get high interest, short stories that he/she can read successfully and complete.  Eye reading is always wonderful!
  • Talk to classroom teachers to let your child use ear reading in school for books or chapters that need to be read quickly and accurately (think homework and classwork).
  • When people tell you “that’s cheating!” you can confidently tell them that it is not.
  • Visit www.DecodingDyslexiaTN.org for more information about Assistive Technology resources and advice.

 

HOW TO MANAGE ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN YOUR HOME

  • Allow lots of ear-reading for pleasure in free time.  Let your child pick the books he/she wants to read.
  • Create clear guidelines to encourage children to use their technology for homework and projects that they need to write, read or spell well.  Often kids will want to just complete a worksheet or write a story without their technology because it is quicker. Some parents make rules like “For any story you have to write over one paragraph, I need you to use your Co:Writer” or “I know you want to read that social studies article yourself, but it is really long and the answers count for a grade. So please eye read the first paragraph but then please try using your ClaroScan pen.” Talk to your child about your rules. It works best if you decide some guidelines beforehand to avoid nightly homework battles.
  • Build independence. Instead of always helping then they ask “How do you spell it?” Respond with “Please use your Easy Spelling Aid first. I am here if you still need help.”
  • Set clear technology rules and use Parental Controls. Check what they are accessing often. Be clear on the time of say they can use technology and for what purposes. For example say something like “I am excited you want to listen to your audiobook, but I need to trust you that you are not playing Minecraft while you listen.” Realize that inappropriate content can get through even the best parental control and that audiobooks may have inappropriate content.  Realize that if your family shares accounts on things like Audible, books you read can be accessed by your child. Stay vigilant.
  • If you have more than one child, explain to siblings why one child gets to use technology more often. Combat the “but it’s not fair!” argument before it starts.  You can also consider telling other children that they are welcome to type homework assignments on the computer and listen to audiobooks if they want to. Once they understand that technology does not mean games – they usually back off.
  • Talk to your child about how he/she feels using technology at school. Some kids feel embarrassed by being different. Some kids love feeling special. Let them know you are open to talk about it. The social stigma of dyslexia can be real. One teacher knew her student with dyslexia was feeling out of place so she announced to the entire class that any child could bring in a device from home to listen to audiobooks. After that, the student felt more comfortable. Be creative.

 

RESOURCES ON AUDIO BOOKS AND ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

 

Massey-Sexton Dyslexia Advocacy Award 2018

It was such an honor to receive TNIDA’s Massey-Sexton Dyslexia Advocacy Award for 2018. So often, advocating for your child with dyslexia is an lonely endeavor. You feel isolated like you are the only one out there who understands and who is fighting to make things better. You feel like you are the only one who sees the difference between how things should be for students with dyslexia and how things actually are.Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 1.07.00 PM

But being in the room at the TNIDA RISE Conference made me feel the power that we each are not alone. We are all doing this together – educating, advocating, pushing to make people around us understand dyslexia. It does not matter if you are doing this just for your child, or just for your school. If you are advocating in an IEP meeting, in teacher conferences, or in a professional development sessions.  It matters that we are all doing it together…making real change for the 1 in 5 of us to have dyslexia who are ready to be seen and understood in school.

I am thankful for my family, especially my daughter Clara whose dyslexia journey has been my inspiration. I am thankful for all the dyslexia mamas out there who have shared their stories, their frustration and their pain with me and given me the fuel to keep going when I felt tired and hopeless.  I am thankful for all the educators and policy makers out there who get it and have shown me that what we are doing is working – even if it is slowly. I am thankful for all the advocates out there who have mentored me and stood beside me. I am thankful forTNIDA and Decoding Dyslexia for being the change agents in Tennessee and keeping educators and policy makers focused. 

We have all made such progress, but there is still a long way to go in Tennessee.  My challenge to each of you reading this is to keep going today. This work matters. Again, it is an honor to advocate amongst such wonderful company.