Structured Word Inquiry: It’s Not Either/Or…It’s Also!

NOTE:  THIS IS THE SECOND EDITION OF THIS BLOG POST.  I HAVE BEEN INFORMED BY EXPERTS IN THE SWI FIELD THAT I HAD PROVIDED ERRONEOUS INFORMATION IN MY EARLIER VERSION.  I ALSO MADE CHANGES TO INFORMATION ABOUT EMILY O’CONNOR’S BIO. THE COMMENTS IN THIS BLOG ARE MY OWN AND ARE NOT MEANT TO REFLECT THE THOUGHTS OR BELIEFS OF EMILY O’CONNOR. 

 

In the dyslexia world, the introduction of SWI as an instructional approach for dyslexia has been met with a fair amount of misunderstanding.

 

What is SWI?  Is it like Orton Gillingham (OG)?

 

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of inteviewing Emily O’Connor, a brilliant, delightful learning specialist in Portland, Oregon.  She works with dyslexic kids in both math and reading and, in the last several years, has developed a passion and expertise in what’s called Structured Word Inquiry (SWI).

 

Listen in to our FREE video here.

 

In our video, Emily does a wonderful job telling us about SWI, how it works AND gives us a real-time example of a mini-lesson.

 

Perhaps most importantly she talks about what led her to explore SWI.  About two years ago, she was working with a student who was really struggling with building his reading skills even though Emily had been faithfully following her Orton Gillingham training.  Her student was frustrated.  Emily was at her wit’s end.  What to do?

While searching the web for “something else” she found a post on Facebook from the Dyslexia Training Institute that led her to Gina Cooke and her website https://linguisteducatorexchange.com/about/

SWI is now her core intervention approach when working with dyslexic kids in her practice and she no longer uses OG.  

My understanding from expert in the SWI field is that SWI and phonics instructional approaches are incompatible.  Proponents of SWI do not believe that OG is an appropriate or the most effective approach for teaching dyslexic kids.  I know very little about SWI (much of what I learned is from Emily’s video) so I really can’t comment in any depth.

I’m actually trying to reconcile what I know from the neuroscience and clinical research and (largely) OG studies and the effectiveness the phonics-based instruction has shown with the assertions by the SWI folks.

To be clear, there is a large multi-decade database of research that confirms the efficacy of multisensory, structured, systematic and intensive instructional approaches (e.g., Orton Gillingham) for teaching dyslexics to read.  And in the last 20 years, the fMRI results confirm the connection between reading development and neurobiological functioning.

Is it the best approach?  I don’t think we know yet.  OG certainly has it’s limitations which, frankly, is what drove me to interview Emily.  I think the SWI folks have a really powerful model.  I don’t know enough about it yet but I respect the results that folks like Kelli Sandman Hurley and Emily O’Connor are reporting.  I’m looking forward to fMRI and clinical studies.

 

My concern is that there has been some emerging conflict about OG vs. SWI.  It would be a huge disservice to our dyslexic kids if we engage in an us-versus-them battle.  Please let’s not repeat The Reading Wars!  Much of the conflict derives from misunderstanding. Some of it is that we don’t have the same size database of research for SWI like we do for OG approaches. 

There are always going to be fierce defenders of any one approach, model, inquiry, etc.  But there are also tens of thousands of hard working, well-meaning people who want to learn as much as they can to help our kids.  Let’s not let them get caught in the middle.  Let’s engage them in a way that captures their hearts and souls versus telling them what they put their heart and soul in is stupid or wrong.  Teach them!

We should listen and learn…while also expanding our research base.

 

I love how Emily explained it at the end of our video interview.  Here’s what she said:

“Language is not static.  Learning is not static.  I invite my colleagues to embrace the responsibility of always learning and growing.”

 

I couldn’t agree more.

 

I hope you can listen in to learn more now!

 

For more on SWI, we’ve included several links for your review on the watch page.

 

For the kids,

Michael

Wishing you a happy and peaceful holiday season.

Check Out This Cool Visual Dictionary–FREE Online Tool

Hello Everyone:

Got a fun one for you this week!

Check out this fun, free online visual dictionary and thesaurus.  Great for anyone…Children and adults–dyslexic or not..  Super simple to use!  

www.lexipedia.com  

Just plug in any word in the search field and you’ll immediately see a web of interconnected words mapped out by a different part of speech or relationship to the original word – nouns, verbs, synonyms, antonyms, etc. 

Lexipedia also supports six languages: English, Dutch, French, German, and Italian.

Hope you enjoy!

The Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR): The Best Universal Screener I’ve Seen

With the explosion of legislation mandating early-school reading screening comes all sorts of questions about which screener does the best job. I think the PAR is it.

About a year ago I interviewed Gavin Haque who is the representative from Red E Set Grow, the publisher of PAR. I want to share the recording of the interview with you today. I was fascinated and I think you will be too.

What I like best is the level of support  the tool provides for both educators AND parents AFTER the screening is completed. Very robust. Very thorough.  

A Few Facts From the Website

PAR is built from a huge NIH database of neuropsychological testing results which was collected starting in 1986 at Wake Forest University. No one else in the world had access to that kind of data. It let the developers of PAR do things no one else could do.

The PAR is a 10- to 15-minute, four-part test that analyzes children’s reading skills and predicts their success years later if no intervention is given.

The test, which can be given the spring before children enter kindergarten, as well as to kindergarteners through third graders, focuses on:

  • Picture vocabulary
  • Letter or word calling
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Rapid naming

Whether you’re an educator or a parent, please take the time to listen to this interview. I think the PAR solves a key challenge for many of us who are implementing early reading screening.  

I hope you enjoy.  

Click here to get immediate access to the interview

The Ugly Truth About Teacher Professional Development: Reading Screening and Early Intervention

A Very Large Challenge

One of the most powerful examples of the challenges of effective teacher professional development can be seen in our efforts to implement screening and early intervention for struggling readers.

 

Currently there are 35 US states that are either in the process of or have passed legislation mandating early identification and intervention for dyslexic students and other struggling readers.

 

Yet implementation has been slow.  In many cases change has been extremely frustrating and demoralizing for our educators–not to mention our struggling readers and their families.

Here Is The Context

The research is clear that both neurobiologically-based dyslexics as well as those from impoverished communities, ESL students, etc. benefit from early screening and intensive, systematic and explicit reading instruction.  Frankly, over 40 years of reading research proves that it’s just good teaching.

 

But the data are abysmal.  By fourth grade, essentially one-third of our students in the US are below proficiency in reading.  Remember that from first to third grade, kids learn how to read.  From fourth grade on they read to learn.  So, by fourth grade one-third of our students are already behind and likely set up to continue to fail.  (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/coe_cnb.pdf )

 

If you parse out fourth graders that are below proficient reading by race the numbers are alarming.  See Table 1 for information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation from 2016.

 

Table 1: Percentage of US Fourth Graders Below Reading Proficiency–2016

teacher professional development

http://bit.ly/2vwJWNw  Annie E. Casey Foundation

Where Is the Disconnect?

The fundamental question is why, if we know so much now about the diagnosis and treatment of dyslexia and reading struggles in general, why are so many children still suffering needlessly?

 

The answer lies in the disconnect between what the science of reading tells us and what educators are being taught in their university programs and professional development courses.  The science of reading reflects what we know about the science of language development.  Capacity for language mastery deeply informs a person’s ability to read and write.  And yet the majority of teachers are not trained to understand language development and the connection to reading proficiency.

 

In the US, over 60% of elementary teacher preparation programs still are not educating teachers about how children learn to read.

 

If by fourth grade, a child is reading to learn how can we not teach our educators how kids learn to read!

 

Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a lifelong issue.

 

How can you expect an educational team to implement early screening and intervention when they aren’t given the education, training and experience to do so?  

 

The short answer is that they can’t.  

Let’s Review What We Know About Effective Professional Development

Above we touched on the importance of getting the right content about literacy development and reading to our educators so they are armed with the information they need to screen and remediate our struggling readers.  

 

Perhaps more importantly from a professional development perspective, we need to train our educators about the processes needed for effective change in the classroom.

 

In my first blog post in this series (Let’s put a link here?), I outlined what the Center for Public Information says about the Four Top Practices for effective professional development (http://bit.ly/2tAydde).  Let’s look at each one within the context of screening and early intervention for dyslexia and reading struggles in general.  

 

    1. The duration of professional development must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem. 

      The key here is that we need to acknowledge the substantial depth and breadth of training necessary to gain a level of understanding regarding effective screening and reading intervention strategies. But we can’t boil the ocean all at once. And we don’t want to overwhelm our school team. 

      We need to think long term (e.g., multi-year), stick to the plan and keep it doable. The leadership team needs to prioritize the goals of the district and continously communicate them to the whole team; not just the special ed group. 

      Far too often the goals and objectives are derived from top-down decision making versus bottom-up collaboration. Input from the teaching staff and other school team members is absolutely critical. Both regular ed and special ed teachers, school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, learning specialists, etc. should be given the opportunity to provide input.Keep in mind that we’re using ongoing professional development to compensate for the lack of in-depth education and training in our university programs. It will take time.

      Pragmatically, there are several well-regarded, evidence-based training models for both screening and intervention. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The costs will have to be embedded in the budget.Most importantly, though, there has to be adequate planning with regard to the process of providing the professional development and acknowledgement of evidence-based research regarding effective implementation.

    2. There must be support for a teacher during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice. 

      I’m going to state the obvious: True change is really, really hard. The secret to maintaining change is making sure all invested parties are supporting each other in their efforts to make that change.It’s not the content about screening and reading instruction, it’s the process by which we implement it.

      Does the superintendent buy in? Does your principal? Vice principal? Master teachers and influencers?

      Is the leadership supporting changes in budgeting, scheduling, team development and collaboration time? Is the team abandoning current practices, meetings or assumptions that don’t support the change management?

      A key question to ask yourself is this: How is the team organized around changing classroom practice in ways that support or hinder our goals?

    3. Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice.

      Very early in my first blog post about teacher professional development
      , I stated that the one-and-done professional development model does not work. That’s true. We know from the research that it may take up to 50 hours of instruction, practice and feedback to truly master a new teaching strategy. It could take 20 times of practice to really embrace a new skill.It’s ironic that many of us still employ the one-and-done model. What is needed is the same as what’s needed in reading intervention programs: systematic, intensive and explicit instruction!

      Ultimately, teachers and the rest of the school team need to own this process. My colleague Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher ) uses a great quote from a change management consultant:“Ken Blanchard says in Leading at a Higher Level (p.213):People often resent change when they have no involvement in how it should be implemented. So, contrary to popular belief, people don’t resist change — they resist being controlled.”https://www.edutopia.org/blog/top-tips-highly-effective-pd-vicki-davis

       

    4. Modeling has been found to be a highly effective way to introduce a new concept and help teachers understand a new practice. 

      This is where I diverge a bit from the Center for Public Information.  The data from the classic Joyce and Showers study in 2002 (see below) shows that while presenter modeling is a part of the training picture, ongoing coaching and administrative support is clearly the key component in professional development training.

teacher professional development


How Can We Afford This Type of Training?

Historically, teacher professional development, even the one-and-done model can be very expensive and consequently cost prohibitive.  How can a district afford ongoing training and support?  How can a district afford changes in budgeting?  

 

I think the answer to that question involves how we use all these new digital technology tools to maximize community building, share information across the team or district and save a TON of money.

 

I’ve been providing teacher training webinars, online classes and consultations specifically regarding dsylexia and reading difficulties for a few years now.  

 

The model I employ has proven to be a very effective way to leverage a full range of digital media and communication tools to make this type of ongoing support for school communities reasonable and affordable for everyone.

 

In my next post, I’m going to discuss the tools and the multi-component platform I use to support school teams both nationally and internationally.  

 

Please be sure to stay tuned!  

Nice Dyslexia and Reading Skills Infographic From JunoMedical

As it often happens these days I was contacted by some dyslexia-friendly folks from across the globe recently.  They put together a rather nice infographic and asked me to share it with you.

JunoMedical is a global company based in Berlin.  Their mission is to fundamentally transform how patients access and experience healthcare globally through the use of smart technology.  I was pleased to see that they have dyslexia on their radar…and it’s always interesting to see how other countries are supporting our students!  

I’m pleased and honored that they reached out to me and I hope you find their infographic comforting and useful!  Please feel free to share!

 

 

Infographic - 5 Ways to Build Reading Skills in Your Child with DyslexiaInfographic – 5 Ways to Build Reading Skills in Your Child with Dyslexia – an Infographic from Junomedical

Scrible.com: The Best Research and Writing Digital Tool I’ve Seen

I want to share this recent interview that my friend and colleague, Erica Warren, did with the CEO of www.scrible.com, a research and writing digital tool.

This is, by far, the most robust research and writing digital tool for researching and organizing your content for virtually any kind of writing project.  It is of particular interest to me because so many of our kids who learn differently really struggle with executive function and overall organization.  

But the way the Scrible.com team built the tool is ingenious.  Not only can individual students use the tool for research and wrting but teachers can use it with an entire class…AND monitor the individual progress of each student in real time throughout the research and writing process.

I won’t go on and on here regarding all of the features and functionality.  I think it makes more sense to link you to Erica’s interview with Victor Karkar.  The review is extensive (45 mins) and well worth the listen.

Click HERE for the link.

Finally, the tool is very affordable.  There are two free levels usage (if you sign up they give you a free upgrade) and the third level is called EDU PRO.  It’s only $10 per year for a middle or high school student and $28 per year for college and graduate school.

Hope you enjoy.

For the kids,

Michael

The Coolness of Online Tutoring

The Coolness of Online Tutoring

Just a few years ago I suggested that maybe we could find some online tutoring services for a child I had evaluated.  The poor little guy lived in the middle of nowhere…The term “Orton Gillingham” could have been an obscure skin condition for all anybody around him knew.   Nonetheless, judging by the response from others working on the case, you’d think I was a complete idiot.

Well, that’s changed.  As with so many other areas of life touched by technology, the ways in which we care for our kids has changed forever.  

Arranging for post-evaluation remediation has been one of the most painful, frustrating issues for the families of my students throughout my career.  As clinicians, we worked so hard to write a report that made sense, stripped away all the confusing jargon, and told a story about who this child is as a person…Most importantly we strived to write recommendations that were clear, concrete…doable. And yet time and time again the community just didn’t have the resources we needed to follow up.

Sometimes it was because the teachers had not been properly trained and supported.  Sometimes it was because there just were no learning specialists in the area.  Sometimes the really good tutors weren’t able to take on anymore clients.  Far too often it was all three of those things.

That’s why I’m so excited that the tide is turning.  Every day, more and more properly trained tutors/learning specialists have adopted online tools that allows them to provide high quality, multisensory support to our kids through the Internet.  

It’s not that there is any perfect substitute for being in the room.   But when there is no “room” think of the millions of kids with learning issues that can now be properly cared for over the Internet.

We need to get the word out. Many highly regarded folks are compiling lists of tutors who are offering their services online… Kelli Sandman-Hurley, Susan Barton, The Kildonan School and many others.  

Still, there are many issues that need to be addressed when a parent is seeking an online tutor/learning specialist.

My colleague, Dr. Erica Warren and I would like to help .  Next week we’re going to launch an online course that very specifically provides parents with the map you need to successfully match your child with the right online tutor.

We’re going to cover all kinds of topics including:

  • The types of key professionals that support students through online platforms
  • How to deal with safety, connectivity and cost
  • How to find the RIGHT person to work with your child
  • 14 best questions to ask when you interview prospective online candidates
  • What online instruction and remediation sessions should look like–including a video demonstration with Dr. Warren

The last part is especially cool because Dr. Warren is an expert at online educational support (well beyond just reading) so you get a real example of what it looks like.

I’ll post again next week when we’re ready to make the course available.  Stay tuned.  

 

For the kids,

Michael

Understood.org Video Chat: Exploring Evaluations with Michael Hart, Ph.D.

My Understood.org video chat recording is available. Great for beginners to learn about psychoeducational evaluations.  I’m very pleased to be included as a subject matter expert with Understood.org.  In this video chat I provide basic information regarding a family’s rights regarding getting a child tested, what the evaluation should look like and the benefits of testing and the difference between a public and private evaluation.  I cover several other very common questions about testing as well.  I hope you find this helpful!

Click Exploring Evaluations with Dr. Michael Hart to listen!

Your Child Restored: The Path From Suffering to Success

Your Child Restored:  The Path from Suffering to Success

By Michael Hart, Ph.D.

Effective Advocacy for Your Child with Learning Issues

 

Discovering that your child has a learning problem can be very confusing, frustrating and often overwhelming. Many of us, even bright, highly functioning people really struggle with figuring out what to do.  Oftentimes, our first reaction is to reach out to the school for help and support.  For a myriad of reasons, we may find that teachers and their colleagues are ill prepared to provide all the help we need.  In addition to the lack of training and support for the teachers, our education system is often a messy, slow-moving bureaucracy.  In the meantime, our children suffer needlessly…Sometimes for years.

Just last week, while meeting with a group of parents, I was struck again by the pain and agony we feel when we assume that our children’s school officials have the know-how or resources to adequately support our students’ special learning needs only to find out that they don’t.  I’ve been experiencing this pain and agony since I started practicing 25 years ago.  That is TRULY needless suffering and we’ve got to change this.

To be clear, I am a huge advocate for teachers.  The vast majority of educators are seriously committed to their profession and want to do their best.  A lack of proper educational opportunities, inadequate professional development and limited resources frequently stands in the way of their ability to function effectively.

The primary example I use is this:

Facts about Dyslexia and Teacher Preparation Programs

  • Research indicates that approximately 10% to 20% of our students struggle to some degree with dyslexia–a language processing-based difficulty with reading, spelling and writing.http://eida.org/dyslexia-basics
  • And yet, three out of four elementary teacher preparation programs still are not teaching the methods of reading instruction that could substantially lower the number of children who never become proficient readers. http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Chapter3_FindingsByStandard (pp. 36-38)
  • Virtually no secondary school preparation programs include curricula about reading and written language instruction in spite of the fact that dyslexia is a life-long issue.

The majority of our students who struggle with learning struggle due to issues with language-based processing weaknesses.  So, first and foremost, how can you expect a teacher or educational team to help your child in this area when they aren’t given the education, training and experience to do so?  The short answer is that they can’t.

We need to change that reality but it’s going to take decades.  So I’ve come to realize that the path from suffering to success is found by changing our assumptions, expanding our focus and taking better care of our heart and soul RIGHT NOW.

Your Child Restored:  The Path From Suffering to Success

 Over the course of 25 years of working with kids and their families, I’ve created and refined a 5-Part Program where parents and guardians have to think much more creatively about their kids who have learning challenges starting at the very beginning of awareness of the problem.

The core belief behind my program can be obvious but also quite provocative and nerve wracking for the child’s caregivers.  I very directly challenge the assumption that the experts lie outside the family.  Parents must go way beyond contacting the school for help and understanding.

In a nutshell, PARENTS OR PRIMARY CAREGIVERS are always going to be the most powerful and effective advocate for THEIR child.  NO ONE…Not your child’s teacher, or guidance counselor, or principal or therapist will be more effective than YOU.  You may not feel that way in the beginning but you can get there.  It’s important to remember that this is a process…a marathon, not a sprint.  But you’ll get there…and so will your child.  This is not to say that there is not a role for educational consultants.  We can be very helpful but in the long run we often come and go over the years.  We are most effective serving as anchors or guides during the critical moments when you need us.  And we are most effective when we guide your self-directed education.  It’s the old “Teach a man to fish and he eats forever” model.

My program, Your Child Restored: From Suffering to Success, is based on five key steps that a parent or caretaker needs to take.  Here is a very brief synopsis of each of those key steps.

 

Part One:  Fully accept and embrace the role of your child’s advocate

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the prospect of advocating for our child when we think we don’t know a thing about their challenges.  Moreover, aren’t the teachers the experts?  Far too often that is not the case.  When we offer our children up to the educational bureaucracy, months and months or even years can go by before a proper remediation plan is put in place.

It behooves us to emotionally accept that we are not only able to take on the role but can be effective.  And, as I will mention in Part 3, it creates a mindset where you much more rapidly begin to take a look at all of your options both in school and out.  Remember that early intervention is key and that you cannot take the “let’s wait and see” approach.

 

Part Two:  Educate yourself relentlessly so that you can make informed decisions

One of the wonderful aspects of the digital revolution has obviously been our ability to access information that previously was locked up far and away from lay people.  There are mountains of content out there that you will find helpful in both understanding what you’re dealing with as well as what to do about it.

Initially, it will take time, like all new things, but you will grow your database of knowledge quickly.  It is not rocket science.  Even understanding the underlying neurobiology is do-able.  Just slow down and you will learn the specific terminology.

One key issue will be your awareness of your rights in negotiating for services within the school district.  Know them well.

Over time, your need for certain types of information will change.  The demands of middle school are different than the demands of high school and college.  How your child’s or loved one’s brain is wired will likely not change but how they use their brains to meet the environmental challenges will shift over time.  Information regarding how to manage those transitions is available to you.

 

Part Three:  Evaluate all of your options for supporting your child–both in your community and within your school district

The cliché that “It takes a village to raise a child” is a cliché because it is true.  In most cases you will find that you will need community and home-based resources above and beyond what the school is offering for remediation and skill building.  This may take the form of perhaps private school placement, extra tutoring, special classes (both to help with the dyslexia and classes that give your child or loved one pleasure), counseling and consulting, etc.

Fortunately, educational technology has become one of the most powerful tools for remediation, training and education.  The software and applications available today are completely transforming how we work with our children.  This is especially so for people with dyslexia.  It is a “specific revolution” within the overall educational technology revolution.

 

Part Four:  Advocate fiercely along the way.  Be calm, be ready, be fearless and never give up.

By advocating “fiercely,” I do not mean that you should act like a bull in the china shop.  A true warrior is calm, well-prepared and fearless.  “Never give up” of course is the mantra for many struggles in our lives.  In this case, it is a great gift to your loved one.

Dyslexia does not go away.  Henry Winkler, The Fonz from Happy Days, is well known for quoting the following, “You don’t grow out of dyslexia, you just learn to negotiate with it.”  So you have to keep at it and work to avoid giving up.

Again, having electronic access to information and having access to a community of others through digital media and local groups is so critical and at the very least you or your loved one will learn that he or she is not “broken” and you or your loved one are not alone.

 

Part Five:  Take care of your heart and soul as well as your child’s heart and soul.

I am not sure that I can possibly emphasize Part Five enough.  It’s often the missing ingredient for families who really struggle with learning issues like dyslexia.

For your child or loved one it is so important to help them pursue what they love to do and what they do well.  Six or seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year our children are in a setting that screams failure for them.  They need your guidance and support to heal their heart and soul by doing what they love.

And the same goes for you.  So many parents or caretakers get so focused on the difficulties and challenges that they miss the value of replenishing their spirit.

Really, when all is said and done, what is most important in life?