Sunday, April 15, 2007

Reading, Writing & Frustration -

Reading, Writing & Frustration -

I suspect that a large percentage of so called dyslexia could be prevented by sound reading instruction. At the very least it could be diagnosed at an early age.

Back then, Sarah had a fondness for the book Put Me in the Zoo, not great literature but great fun to read when you're starting out on that voyage to literacy. She'd read the tale, about a funny, spotted leopard desperate for a home in the zoo, seemingly effortlessly, over and over again: "I would like to live this way. This is where I want to stay." At least, we thought she was reading it.

We soon discovered, when Sarah turned to other books, that she had been memorizing the words. Basic words such as "ball," "the" and "dog" baffled her. Sometimes she recognized words on one page but had no recall when she saw the words again a page later. At times, she reversed the order of words in sentences or skipped them entirely.

We brought up our concerns with her first-grade teacher. "You need to read to her more" was her response. But we were already reading heavily to Sarah. My husband and I are writers, and reading is a passion. We redoubled our efforts, recording the number of books on a log we kept on the kitchen table. Once a week, she took it to school, where the teacher put congratulatory stickers on it. By the end of the year, she'd hit 460 books.

Surely Sarah would pick up the ball and run with it, we thought. But while the other second-graders in her public school were sailing through The Magic School Bus and Amber Brown-- books with chapters, plots and complex thoughts -- Sarah was stuck with basic readers such as The Snowball.

"I saw a snowball on a hill," it read. "It rolled along and picked up Bill!"

She read haltingly, stumbling over the simplest words. She surprised and baffled us by doing well on spelling tests, until we realized she was once again memorizing. Gradually, it dawned on Sarah, too, that there was a problem.
Well duh...

The article goes on to blame all of her woes on dyslexia, a syndrome that affects "5 to 15 percent of schoolchildren with normal or above-average intelligence."

It seems to me that schools should address the other syndrome that affects far more children. The poor teaching syndrome, characterized by lack of effective reading instruction, a reliance on idealistic but flawed pedagogy, and an abundance of frustrated children and parents.


Anonymous said...

Rory, are you familiar with the idea of artifically induced dyslexia? See
for a lot of links.

Parentalcation said...

Thanks for the links. I suspect (but am not quite willing to say conclusively), that the large majority of "dsylexic" children, could of been prevented with decent reading instruction.

Thats not to say, I don't think that some children have a harder problem picking up reading, its just that they don't intuitively teach themselves phonetics. Explicit phonetic training helps them overcome this deficiency.

Anonymous said...

It's Liz from I Speak of Dreams. Rory, while I agree that a lot of kids suffer from "dysteachia", I wish that "eliminating dyslexia" were as simple as installing effective reading instruction.

As you might recall, Jumper Girl, my 18 yo daughter, has dyslexia. She will be attending college next year.

Her dyslexia was remediated using an Orton-Gillingham (often called OG) approach-- intense, multi-sensory, structured, sequential, and cumulative. At the end of 4th grade, her reading comprehension scores were well into the 6th grade level.

But evidence of her disability remains (and, no thank you, it isn't a "difference", or a "gift", it is a disability, albeit a minor one).

While her oral reading rate is excellent (meaning that she has a large bank of sight words and can decode "on the fly"), that's not the whole story.

While she finds reading fiction relatively easy and rewarding, reading non-fiction, especially technical material is still easier if she both listens (thank you, Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic) and reads. In other words, she still has difficulty reading and thinking about what she reads, simultaneously.

Handwritten work is still likely to produce blenderized words (siad for said being the handiest example). Interestingly, writing on the keyboard is much less likely to have such errors.

Difficulties with Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN) manifest everywhere. It is as if she is always having that tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon.

I'll give you a homely example. The other day we were cooking dinner, and she asked me to hand her "ah, ah, you know, the bright flipper thingy", so I handed her the red spatula. Had I asked her to hand me the "red spatula", she would have had no hesitation in handing me the item in question. It's a question of effortless, accurate language production, not comprehension.

You can see how this would affect her performance on, for example, an in-class essay, or some other time-limited performance. Groping for a the precise word for a concept you know, but cannot produce quickly, uses up both time and brain space to get your point across. She writes pretty well, but what would take me one or two iterations takes her three or four.

Another example: although she had the times tables to 12 to automaticity by the end of fourth grade, even now a problem as simple such as 7*5 can make her pause -- the ah, ah phenomenon. While it is true that she gets more rapid if she does many sequential calculations,

It's as if she has an excellent filing system, and maintains it perfectly... but all the drawers in the filing cabinets are rusty, sticky and recalcitrant.

What is the true incidence of dyslexia? --meaning, kids like my daughter who have had effective, intensive instruction, can read fluently and accurately, but still struggle with written language. That is a puzzler. It is surely not as high as 20% (a figure some folks bandy about), but not as rare as 3% (another figure I've seen).

I do not understand why Zig Engelmann is so hostile to the International Dyslexia Association (who advocate effective instruction as in the Orton-Gillingham approach).

I've studied Carnine et al's Teaching Struggling and At-Risk Students: A Direct Instruction Approach It is not at all incompatible with OG, but lacks the multi-sensory element that seems so key for truly dyslexic kids.

I think that both the Orton -Gillingham practitioners and the Direct Instruction practitioners could learn things from each other.