Summary of dyslexia & what can be done about it?

I thought I would republish this article which was originally posted on July 24th, 2011. It updated and combined several articles on dyslexia that I had written before, such as this “page,” as well as the textbook I wrote in the early 1990’s that started it all — a multi-sensory approach that could help improve both reading fluency and reading comprehension. If you are a parent or teacher that wants to know how to do the strategy, I am going to put it in the next section under the heading: “The Tape-Recorder Strategy.” That will be followed with all the rationale and technical information — which can be read at a later late.

Using a tape-recorder to improve reading:

When you use a tape-recorder (with both record and playback features), several learning processes are going on simultaneously. The main technique is the repeated readings strategy — which involves reading something three times, but in a slightly different way each time. Plus, there are a variety of other learning strategies being used as well, such as using post-it notes or highlighting (signaling) main ideas.

  • First reading: Ask your child to read a a sentence, paragraph or short article from a newspaper or magazine. Have them read the passage slowly read into a tape-recorder or equivalent equipment with record and playback features. At this point, tell them not worry about comprehension, just to record each and every word in their usual voice.
  • Second reading: Once the recording is finished, have them put on earphones or ear buds to listen quietly to what they recorded, carefully following the text with the eraser end of a pencil or their finger. Following along is crucial in order to “attend” to what they are hearing.
  • Third reading: Then, once the recording and listening steps are fully completed, they should go back over the written copy and pick out the main ideas.  I would recommend post-it notes or a highlighter pen if the material is not borrowed. If a summary has to be written, then I would definitely use post-it notes because they can be moved around into their correct sequence and used as the basis for writing.

Continue reading “Summary of dyslexia & what can be done about it?”

What is dyslexia & what can be done about it?

Given it is summer time and the slow season for the release of new research findings, I am going to update and combine two practical articles on dyslexia  (and what to do to overcome it) that I wrote a few years ago. Originally published on my blog in 2008  (see here and here), they are based on a textbook I wrote in the early 1990’s. 

At the time my book was first published, it was considered a seminal work on “learning strategies” because of an eight-to-ten-step process I developed using a tape-recorder. The good news is, that while the content in that book is twenty years old now, the ideas within it are timeless.

Copyright and attributions:

First, however, credit where credit is due. Such researchers as S.T. Orton and A. Gillingham, Marie Carbo, G.R. Alley and D.D. Deshler come to mind, as well as D.J. Johnson and J.W. Blalock and D.G. Bachor and C. Crealock, without whose work I could not have written my original book. What has changed since my original work, of course, are the number of electronic devices (e-books and smart phones that have memo pads and built-in organizers) that are available today that weren’t available then.

However, my favourite still remains the Franklin Spelling Ace because it is phonetic. Type in “fizishun” and you will instantly get “physician.” I hear that there is now an updated version that includes the dictionary meaning so you know you have the right word, as well as a synthesizer that repeats the word.

Defining dyslexia:

The term dyslexia is explained differently depending on where you live. In the U.K. and Australia, for example, dyslexia is a generalized syndrome, much like we in Canada and the U.S. refer to “learning disabilities.” However, in the context of this article, dyslexia will refer to reading and related processing difficulties related to phonemic awareness, decoding skills, vocabulary development, visual and auditory integration and memory and cognition processing.

Sequencing & memory

Memory and cognition involves at least three inter-connected processes — immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory (where facts, colours, sounds and emotions are stored). So when information or emotions are taken in when we are reading, something happens that allows us to hold on to that information long enough to be processed into our long term memory. Later, when we need that information again, all we need to do is think of a word or idea and, all of a sudden, it’s there. At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory.

Silent Reading & Sub-vocalizing:

Reading is not only a visual and memory processing skill. It also involves auditory processing, an aspect of dyslexia that few discuss. For example, we have to be able to read “silently” without moving our lips. Think about that. As you are reading this text, you are silent, yet you are “hearing” the words in your head. That is called “sub-vocalizing, a very important aspect of learning to read because we are internalizing sounds — although there are differing opinions on this.

In the case of hearing impairment or profound deafness, individuals have to learn to read “visually” which is helped by “signing.” However, for those who can hear, given what I learned in my reading clinic, it is imperative that individuals be able to read silently with ease for letters, words and information to be readily processed into memory.

The Reading Process:

Before I get into how to use a tape-recorder to compensate for dyslexia, let’s understand that reading involves two processes that overlap — “Learning to Read” skills (decoding, word identification and sentence integation) and “Reading to Learn” skills (comprehension — finding main ideas, drawing conclusions, making inferences and so on).

Traditionally, those processes were thought to be separate and distinct but for some time now, we have known they must be simultaneous — although once the first phase is automatic, reading is almost entirely about comprehension.

That said, any time we encounter reading materials that are technical or new to us, we have to resort to decoding and figuring out word meanings again.   

Using a tape-recorder as a multi-sensory strategy:

When you use a tape-recorder (that has both playback and record features) as a multi-sensory approach, several learning processes are going on simultaneously. The main technique is, of course, the repeated readings strategy — which involves reading something three times, but in a slightly different way each time. Plus, there are a variety of other learning strategies being used as well, such as using post-it notes or highlighting (signaling) main ideas.

So, readers, try this:

  • First reading: Get a short article from a newspaper or magazine, or even this post. Now, slowly read the entire article or a series of paragraphs into the tape-recorder (children could do as little as one sentence). At this point, do not worry about comprehension, just record each and every word in your usual voice.
  • Second reading: Once the recording is finished, put on earphones or ear buds and listen to what you recorded, carefully following the text with the eraser end of a pencil or your finger. Following along is crucial in order to “attend” to what you are hearing.
  • Third reading: Then, once the recording and listening steps are fully completed, go back over the written copy and pick out the main ideas.  I would recommend post-it notes or a highlighter pen if the material is not borrowed. If a summary has to be written, then I would definitely use post-it notes because they can be moved around into their correct sequence and used as the basis for writing.

The crux of the matter is that by the time the three steps are completed, the individual will, not only know how to decode the material, but have a clear understanding of it as well.  Eventually, of course, the tape-recorder will no longer be necessary — meaning the dyslexia will have been overcome.

Endnote: Over the years, I had several clients who were college and university students who had been diagnosed as dyslexic as children. They used the tape-recorder technique all the time when preparing for exams (e.g., recording and listening to lecture notes) or to understand key readings when preparing to write an essay.  

Do StatsCan numbers mean we are a country of illiterates?

I would swear that each and every time there is a major literacy study, the percentages get higher. Now, either the teachers in our publicly funded schools are totally inadequate (which some would debate is the case) or it is how illiteracy is defined that is responsible for the ever increasing statistics. And, while I think that decades long social promotion and no-fail policies are likely not helping the literacy rates, the latest StatsCan report is, without a doubt, misleading. 

Specifically, to read this CBC story titled “Canada’s Shame,” is to think Canada is a country of illiterates. Yet, that is simply not true. It is not true because it all depends on how the numbers are collected and analyzed, what assumptions one makes about what it takes to become literate, as well as how one defines illiteracy or semi-literacy. And, in my opinion, StatsCan misses the mark on all three with their seven-country international survey.

Continue reading “Do StatsCan numbers mean we are a country of illiterates?”

Overcoming dyslexia & other LD

Here are five articles that have to do with accommodating and overcoming reading and other learning disabilies, such as organizational and memory difficulties. The technical aids and learning strategies are from a book I wrote on the topic (see Feature Pages), as well as what I learned from clients when I operated my own reading clinic. The main point is, with regular practice, they work and they work well.

Dyslexia 1 – What can be done about it

To begin with, dyslexia, like all learning disabilities, can be very complicated. So, what I plan to do is write a series of three articles that will help children, teens and adults who are still in school or adults who are dealing with work and everyday life situations. The various posts could also help teachers at all levels of the learning spectrum. The topics will cover :

  1. What dyslexia is and what can be done,
  2. Using a tape-recorder to enhance reading, and
  3. Strategies & technical aids (that can be used in school or everyday situations).

This is not an academic exercise. This is simply by a blogger who also happens to be a retired educator who previously worked with children and adults who have this problem. What I write will be completely based on a college level textbook I personally wrote which was published back in the early 1990’s.

I can use that handbook, even though it was written sixteen years ago, because none of the information is dated. Everything I wrote then is as relevant today as it was then because learning strategies don’t change. They are simply commonsense techniques that we all use to learn, but which people with dyslexia don’t use automatically.

What has changed are the number of electronic devices that are available today that weren’t available then. Yet, the original Franklin Spelling Ace is still the phonetic spell checker of choice.

Dyslexia is a reading disability that affects all aspects of your life. It’s much more than reversing letters or words, that is just one symptom. It is also about the proper sequencing of ideas — which can affect how effective a person is at problem solving. Although some would separate dyslexia with dysgraphia (writing disabilities), in the U.K. and Australia, the term dyslexia is used to include all types of “learning disabilities.” I am going to use the term dyslexia in that broader sense.

I worked with children, teens and adults and the problems were often the same. Children usually hated school because not being able to read affected everything the child had to do. With teens, they were ready to drop out or just wanting to be finished. And, with adults, while some were far from reaching their potential, others struggled and yet were doing exceptionally well at their chosen work or service — because learning disabilities has very little to do with IQ, other than the higher the IQ the more frustration will be felt.

First and foremost, overcoming the effects of dyslexia involves learning effective learning and memory strategies. Why? Because the memory is what learning and information processing is all about. Just think about what happens to a person who is suffering from dementia? The memory, or lack of it, affects the person’s whole life.

The memory consists of three inter-connected processes — immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory (where facts, colours, sounds and emotions are stored). So when information or emotions are taken in, something happens that allows us to hold on to that information long enough that it can be processed into our long term memory. Later, when we need that information again, all we need to do is think of a word or idea and, all of a sudden, it’s there. At least, that is how it works in theory.

For example, let’s say you visit the home where you were brought up. Someone else may have lived there for forty years after your family left, but the minute you walk through the front door, all the emotions and events that happened there (positive and negative) come flowing over you. It can be an overwhelming experience. You were not even aware that all those memories were stored inside your brain.

How do you remember things? Let’s say you are at a party and you are about to be introduced to six people, what do you do? Do you try and associate a word to a name? Or, what do you do when you are given a phone number on the run — chunk the numbers together and say it out loud several times? Yet, although those techniques (chunking, association and verbal rehearsal) are simple and commonplace, many individuals with dyslexia don’t use them automatically.

Now, I need to ask — when you (or your children) are reading “silently,” are you able to “hear” what you are reading in your head? That is what is called sub-vocalizing. It is imperative that individuals be able to do that with ease for letters, words and information to be readily processed.

So, although, reading is visual because you see shapes, it is also auditory because each one of those shapes has a sound. If you can only read by reading out loud or whispering, you need to learn to use a tape-recorder to train your mind to read silently. I will write about that in Part 2.

Reading involves two processes: fluency and comprehension. In the first instance, fluency means being able to “say” or “decode” the letters and combinations of the letters, as well as knowing what words mean. It then means being able to put those words in sentences. That first phase is called “The Learning to Read” phase and should be completely automatic by the end of Grade 3.

The next phase is comprehension, “The Reading to Learn” phase and involves being able to identify one or more main ideas, make inferences and draw conclusions. As I said above, without fluency being completely automatic, comprehension will be very difficult if not nearly impossible.

Here is an example of a simple compensation that individuals, parents or teachers can use. Have children use post-it notes of all different colours and sizes to help them keep track of information. The notes act as a memory technique and the papers can be shifted this way and that to put a story in a proper sequence.

In Part 2 I will talk about the use of the tape-recorder. It is an inexpensive way of training your mind, or your child’s mind, to process information that is presented verbally — an absolutely essential skill and one which is a major symptom of dyslexia.

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Dyslexia 2 – Tape-recorder to improve reading

In this article, I am going to talk about how to use a simple tape-recorder (with a “record” feature), to re-train your brain to learn to SEQUENCE what you hear and read. Why is that important? Because, although reading is a visual decoding process, it is also an auditory/verbal one as well. And, as anyone who struggles with this disorder will tell you, they often have trouble remembering what they hear.

What we will be doing by using a tape-recorder is reinforcing and improving fluency skills– which in turn will help the reader’s comprehension. In technical terms, it is called a “multi-sensory strategy.”

TRY THIS:

Get a short article from a newspaper or magazine, or even this post. Or, if you are working with a child, use a sentence or short paragraph from a school or favourite story. Now, slowly read the entire article or paragraph into the tape-recorder. At this point, do not worry about comprehension, just recording each and every word.

Once the recording is finished, put on earphones and listen to what you recorded, carefully following the text with a pencil or your finger. If you start to feel tired, stop and come back to the task later.

Once the recording and listening process is fully completed, then and only then, do you think about main ideas or other technical aspects of the reading. No matter who uses this strategy to improve reading, if the child or adult is dyslexic, be patient, because this will be very difficult to do at first.

The more you practice, the faster you will get and the easier it will get. But, guaranteed, if this is done three times a week for several weeks, both fluency and comprehension will improve dramatically. Why — because the individual’s mind will be learning to process information in both visual and verbal sequences.

Other ways of using this approach:

If a child or teen has to study for a test, take part of what they need to learn and have them tape-record what it is they have to recall. Tell them not to worry about remembering anything. Just say the words and listen back. Then, once they have completed that process, casually ask them if they remember anything.

You will be absolutely amazed at how much they do recall. To those who try this and similar techniques on themselves or with their children, let me assure you that they work.

Eventually, the tape-recorder won’t be necessary.

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