Dyslexia Style: use a special font

PREVIEW

Last November, I became increasingly interested in the topic of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a common learning disability. As per, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Children and adults with dyslexia simply have a neurological disorder that causes their brains to process and interpret information differently.

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I have been conducting some personal research into the topic of dyslexia. I am told that there is more dyslexia than ADHD in the population.

As a part-time night school, I teach a wide range of adult learners. Unless I develop a relationship with particular students over a semester, I can never know how many people in my class might have a specific learning disability (SLD) such as dyslexia.

But there are so many ways I improve my course materials and how I present written information. As just one example, type font and page layout play a big role in helping dyslexics to “see” what is on a page.

After doing a little research into typefonts, I am excited to have just received my order of a brand new presentation font for my computer called the “Dyslexie font”.

“Dyslexie” is a “text treatment plan” designed for people with dyslexia to read with less effort. The letters are designed to be quickly identified individually. I actually purchased my copy but I have since learned that it can be downloaded for free. http://www.dyslexiefont.com/en/order/home-use/step/3/download/54163c03ca34e/

Lexical thinker

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The Gift of Dyslexia…

PREVIEW

After I had attended the Quebec Teachers’ conference in November 2013, I was profoundly changed by one particular presentation on dyslexia and math. That speaker for that talk had delivered one of the most thought-provoking, practical and habit-changing presentations that I had ever attended.

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I cannot help but be fascinated at the prevalence of dyslexia in society (I recently heard that there are more dyslexic kids than children with ADHD). Although it is often referred to as a “gift”, I am not yet quite sure how. Here is what I do know…

Dyslexic are hard working, tenacious and intelligent people. They put in all kinds of extra efforts to interpret written text and decipher reading materials, tasks most of us take entirely for granted. Since they are accustomed to working 4-5 times harder than others, dyslexics often successfully go on to complete PhDs. I cannot help but imagine how hard it is to learn in a conventional system when your learning style is anything but conventional.

To satisfy my ongoing thirst for knowledge, I decided to download an audiobook written by Ben Foss called The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan.  Mr. Foss has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox Business News, ABC, CNN, HBO, and the BBC.

The publication promised to change my perceptions and it certainly did. I took particular notice when the author explained all the sequential steps required for his dyslexic brain to produce a book first, then an audio book. He did not do this alone. Dyslexics speak a slightly different language and, even as adults, often need coaching to follow the verbal and written cues of the non-dyslexic world.

Citing the research of Drs. Brock, Fernette Eide and Casanova, the audiobook explains that dyslexics are inclined to be better at big picture thinking and weaker with fine details and nuances. Dyslexics tend to see the forest with ease (big picture) but struggle to see the trees (the details).

For further information, download the dyslexia tool kit, available at from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Unbelievably, I am still reflecting on everything I learned that day at the Teachers Convention and I am excited to begin the process of changing how I teach math and science. Even if I am not teaching this semester, I am eager to practice ways to ease the burden and mental fatigue experienced by dyslexics.

exams are challenging for dyslexics

e-readers help dyslexics read

The Stull Telegram

Using an e-reader may help some dyslexicstudents understand what they read, researchers at Harvard University argue.

In a paper published in the journal PLOS One, the authors found that a group of dyslexic teenagers showed greater reading comprehension when using an iPod Touch e-reader than when reading  from regular paper based systems. The e-reader was formatted to display around nine lines of text on the screen at a time, with only two or three words in each line, leaving fewer visual distractions and obviously large margins. The authors concluded that this improvement  was because  reduced distractions and that the page was easier to scan.

The dominant theoretical explanation for dyslexia involves phonological processing, or understanding the sound structure of speech and since most people sound out their words as they read, this phonological processing interferes with their reading.   But there is growing evidence that dyslexia is caused…

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Brain neuroplasticity: speculation, sensationalism or significant promise?

PREVIEW

What if you could heal brain injury through intensive therapy? Or what if you could improve reading fluency of a dyslexic student, by two years in just two weeks? Can we overcome conditions as complex as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder with simple brain exercises?

Or if you are the parent of a struggling child, would it change anything in your life to find a method that could improve the academic performance and self-esteem?

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Until recently, all this talk had been fodder for speculation or even science fiction. Brain plasticity research had long been though of as being theoretical, academic and anecdotal.

But in 2013, neuroplasticity seemed to be a major and recurring theme in television documentaries, on bestseller book lists, in the medical literature, across articles in the lay press, at McGill teacher conferences and within the curricula of some progressive Canadian schools. Maybe it had always been there swirling around me and I had I neglected to notice.

Could anything be more exciting for teachers, tutors and trainers? What about for society as a whole?

The brain may always remain a mysterious entity not unlike an uncharted frontier town. I had once heard that the mysteries brain research are akin to the unknown explorations of outer space witnessed in my parent’s generation.

I had once been skeptical about the potential benefits of neuroplasticity – six months ago, to be precise. It was a warm May evening in 2013, when I had made my way to the back of the wrong room at the open-house of a local school. I ended up in a presentation about a new neuroplasticity program to launched that September.

I was disinterested and skeptical at the claims being made that evening. But with time, research and exposure, I became thoroughly captivated by the notion that a brain has power to change. L’idée a fait son chemin, as they say in French.

I would like to mention that brain plasticity is not actually a new concept. The learning psychology field began at least 100 years ago with the observational work of Alexander Luria, a Russian neuropsychologist associated with early documentation about brain and injury.

At the time of Luria, there were no available therapeutic treatment options but the work of these early scientists is credited with inspiring all modern day plasticity practitioners. A brain can be re-wired to overcome its own challenges – any claim to the contrary is becoming quickly outdated and impractical. And now more than a year later, I am now hearing about plasticity in the corporate setting!

At the risk of producing an overly long blog, here is a list of resources to help teachers, tutors, trainers, therapists and parents understand and even tackle the issue of neuroplasticity:

    • Arrowsmith schools have been challenging neural weaknesses for more than twenty years in Canada. The program begins with a thorough intake period to evaluate as many as 19 different cognitive parameters and students are prescribed daily, repetitive exercises such as tracing symbols, speed writing, journaling, memorizing fast-moving words and summarizing one-paragraph stories. This repetitive, targeted work seems to strengthen or re-wire neural pathways needed for academic success. Performance is tracked very closely each school day and the program is constantly changed to reflect progress. Students can eliminate cognitive deficits and emerge performing at an above-average grade level.
    • Montessori-style and Rudolph Steiner schools present an interesting alternative to Arrowsmith, for younger students. Based on the learning theories and educational approaches of an Italian physician and educator, such schools emphasize independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural physical, and social development.
    • The Cellfield reading program can induce changes to reading performance for dyslexic students. It claims to be a patented intervention designed to create conditions of accelerated brain plasticity. It also promises improved reading literacy by two years in two weeks. I am acquainted with their product, which is available world-wide, and I have been impressed by its efficacy. I would even consider administering the program to adults or a non-dyslexic child just to improve fluency, speed and overall love of reading.
    • Software programs such as Fast ForWord can have a major impact on brain agility and learning ability. I learned a little more while watching the CBC’s The Nature of Things during which David Suzuki presented the topic of neuroplasticity. Part 1 of the broadcast was an introduction to the research and case studies which prove that brain research is taking a more practical approach.
    • Part two of the CBC episode introduced its audience to some of the American and Canadian plasticity scientists who are proving that increases to cognitive capacity are possible.
    • Norman Doidge MD, FRCP is a Canadian-born psychiatrist and author who wrote a best-selling book about the implications of the changing brain. It offers principles to use to overcome brain limitations. The publication is available as an audio book, which I recently downloaded.
    • A range of captivating TED talks can shed light on the evolution of the theory of neuroplasticity.

Educational psychologists, academic counselors, support agencies and my local school boards are starting to recognize neuroplasticity. It is critical to shop around to find the right type of plasticity training.

2013 tool kit photo

Mathematics and Dyslexia

QPAT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PREVIEW

After a few consecutive years of scheduling conflicts, I finally got to attend the Quebec Teacher’s Association convention.

My first workshop of the day was “Success in math with dyslexia (and other visually-based learning differences)” by Lori Kiteala. The syllabus promised to expose how math is perceived by the dyslexic brain and I was definitely not disappointed.

I recently became more curious about dyslexia, having once thought the issue was restricted to problems with b’s and d’s and a tendency toward mental fatigue. Thanks to Lori Kiteala, I now know differently.

A very long list of potential symptoms can signal dyslexia.

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Today’s conference opened my eyes to a learning disability of which I knew very little. I will feel far more capable of teaching a dyslexic once I fully understand how they perceive spoken language, written communication and mathematical concepts.

For now, here are the critical elements that I will retain:

1- Dyslexics transition well to high school because they have spent all of primary school acquiring learning strategies
2- Dyslexics tend to show great strength of character
3 -Dyslexics are hard-working and tenacious, so much so that they often go on to complete advanced degrees.

This list makes me want to work with them even more!

As the speaker continued her presentation, I was captivated by her intentionally dramatic and color-accented slides. She offered many visual examples of how dyslexics “misinterpret” mathematical situations.

At the risk of writing an overly long blog, I share some of my new learnings here:

1. Dyslexics are literal thinkers. As one example, I remember a friend teaching young kids how to interpret idioms such as “raining cats and dogs”. In a similar way, math tutors and teachers need to be conscientious about the words they choose to teach procedures. Something as simple as “re-copy the algebra on each line” or “the left side is for positives” can be interpreted unexpectedly.

2. Previewing content. This accommodation is very helpful to dyslexics. A teacher who sends out pre-reading material can greatly help a dyslexic student. Admittedly, this can be difficult for a busy or novice teacher.

3. Peer-teaching.  When two students work together at the white board, it helps the learning. Allow dyslexics to move around and stand up.

4. Sub vocalizations.  Quietly talking through math or science problems is an accommodation frequently allowed on examinations and it can make a huge impact on marks. Students are moved to a separate room so as not to disturb others with murmuring sounds.

5. Exam coaching. Dyslexics use considerably more brain energy and are usually wiped out (exhausted) after a three-hour exam. A coach can keep them going. Trained coaches can motivate a student to remain focussed. This is even more necessary when extra time is allocated for disability (3 + 1 = 4 hours!).

6. Color coding. Using colored, fine-point, felt pens can make note-taking smoother and more visually organized in a copybook. Using up to 6 different colors can help learners locate various notes (e.g. black for titles, blue for notes, red for formulas, purple for examples, etc). Boys, as much as girls, should use a variety of bright fuchsia highlighters from Staples (green, mauve, yellow, pink, orange).

7. Exam Strategies. Having only one question per exam page will reduce visual clutter, mental fatigue and discouragement. Letting dyslexics separate their exam sheets into two piles (remove the staple) can help. In one pile go the problems they can confidently solve. In the other pile go the questions that may be challenging or discouraging. After students have finished the first pile, let them get up, change desks, stretch or drink water. They may need the change of scenery to tackle the second pile.

9. Different perception. Let us not assume that a dyslexic sees exactly what we do. As one example, most of us take for granted a visual display of two similar triangles. Teachers often draw them  juxtaposed to show the ratio of their sides. A dyslexic may actually see a small triangle and a trapezoid. (refer to image). This difficulty may explain why some students struggle to learn trigonometry. dsylexic similar triangles

10. Fractions may be erroneously interpreted as a number less than zero (a<0). This may explain why my science students struggle with operations on fractions (ex.: ½ divided by ½).

Dyslexics are particularly astute and can excel at higher math. They just need the right support, a few accommodations to ease the burden of note-taking and many mental breaks during long exams.

I left the conference with so many tricks that can help tutoring but I should mention that, through no fault of their own, dyslexics can be resistant to the benefits of tutoring. Tutors need to be extra patient, creative and empathetic to this reality.

Thanks to my colleagues who let me photograph them at the conference.
2013-11 Science math and language teachers

 

Love at First Sight: Prezi Software

prezi

You may know Prezi. It is a free, open-source software which has revolutionized the communications industry. I had heard of it a year ago, at teachers’ staff meeting. I was captivated. I could easily see Prezi being used in the business sector where PowerPoint is still the go-to-software for marketing presentations and continuing medical education.

With a PPT deck, the audience sees (and reads) slide after slide in a very linear and predictable format. While links and embedded videos are always a possibility, the default flow remains sequential and pre-determined. It can be easy for the mind to wander (especially the busy minds of technologically driven youth). It is practically impossible to zoom in on any aspects of a slide.

With Prezi, the flow is not linear. The presentation is based on a complex canvas of ideas which are posted and grouped within a simple, thematic background. The software does all the work of introducing flair, design, imbedded videos and royalty-free images. At any point, the viewer can take steps to zoom into or enlarge portions of the slide contents. I have begun to see youthful and upbeat television commercials that use this “zooming” approach.

Sounds technical and artsy? Not at all. Okay, well maybe just a little. However, the free online platform is very user-friendly. I made my first two “rookie” Prezi attempts last evening at midnight (I was committing to learning Prezi the same day as the conference).

I selected personal, timely and low-risk topics that required no research. I practiced making a presentation that I could use with my kids (e.g. How to make a Science Fair Project). Note that I am still working on adding the audio (music or narration is essential in my opinion) and I will get more proficient with each presentation that I  ‘throw’ together. In the name of extra practice, I may make a digital birthday card for a friend or a digital compilation of my child’s artwork. Or maybe I could make a virtual “business card” to attach in my emails.

I may also take a friend’s uber-serious literature review on cancer and see how his medical PowerPOint slides transfer over into a Prezi. There is lots of opportunity for me to practice and I can see endless reasons to use this technique for personal branding, professional portfolios, corporate marketing and, of course, for medical meetings.

http://prezi.com/6p5meeppnawc/how-to-make-a-science-fair-project-in-four-days-or-less/?utm_source=prezi-view&utm_medium=ending-bar&utm_content=Title-link&utm_campaign=ending-bar-tryout


2013-11-22 13.28.36

Annual Parents Conference – Technology?

I attended a stimulating conference last weekend for parents of school-age children. You may be wondering why a parenting conference should appear on a blog for Teachers, Tutors and Corporate Trainers.

Well, that’s because I actually avoided all the traditional parenting (I can find those subjects in a parenting magazine). Instead, I signed up for all the technology topics – anything related to trending social and digital media.

I was expecting a good day of learning and boy was I NOT disappointed. I was so captivated and filled with intellectual joy that I could hardly sit still. You know you are in a great conference, job, marriage or friendship when you experience a spontaneous and steady surge of creativity, endorphins and adrenaline.

In fact, as the last presentation ended at 3 pm, I sat in the hallway dazed and still reeling from the high calibre of the talks. I was actually annoyed when the conference was over!

I have much to share.

My very next blog posting will focus on Prezi software. The speaker, Tanya Avrith, had expertly used Prezi for her talk “Harnessing the Power of Social Media”. I was so blown away by her zooming “slides” that I waited after the talk and begged to know what software had been used.

Stay tuned for my next posting!