The alarm goes off. It’s late August or early September. It goes like this:
“Good morning, students!”
and, then, I hear: “Parents, welcome back to another year of engagement.”
Educational care – paying attention as parents and educators — matters to the long-term health and success of all students.
“Parents, are you ready for the school year?”
The first week of school ended, another is about to begin and I am still looking for that perfect agenda for recording homework. In my kid’s case, it is all about color.
I offered one in red, but that got vetoed, loudly. Everything needs to be just so.
I’ve decided that school supplies must actually reflect something else.
Remember choosing school supplies to suit, carefully selecting the things that would see you through?
I think we, as parents, need tools to help us navigate a new school year in support of our children with dyslexia.
We hope when we send our kids off each fall. We want success, and happy times. From this spot-of-earth that consumes most of their waking hours, we want growth and mastery. We want to see progress. So, whether your student is just starting out with reading, or entering a dyslexia program, or launching from remediation to middle school, or to college, or to work, here are some universal tips, encompassing the alphabet from A to G.
A. Check in With Yourself and Your Partner:
How do you feel the previous year went for your child? Classroom? Homework? Testing?
If working in a program or intervention with a trained dyslexia professional, privately or in school, did your child make progress?
If your child exited a dyslexia intervention or program, were gains sustained and built upon?
Try to identify what you think were pluses and minuses from the previous school year.
List the good results. Draw out areas of concern for follow-up.
B. Check in With Your Child:
Talk to your child about what seemed to go well, or what seemed to be difficult, last year (again, classroom, homework, testing).
(adjust conversation for age and grade). Consider this is just a conversation, a check-in, and be positive about the year to come, and the school and teachers in the presence of your child.
Keep in mind that your child has to walk through the doors of school each day and needs to believe in his educators, that they are on his side. Staying positive will help her to believe in herself.
C. Check in With Your Child’s School:
Inquire about plans for the year with your child’s school:
What kinds of classes is your child enrolled in?
What are the demands for reading, producing written material? Homework length and expectations?
What kinds of testing will your child undergo this year? What part of your child’s grade or future depends on these tests?
Inquire about timelines for homework, testing, units of study.
What other important activities or milestones are coming up this year?
Investigate format and teaching styles per subject or teacher/school. (flipped classroom, differentiation and intervention strategies, project based approaches, multi-sensory teaching methods, use of technology for learning).
Inquire about progress and concerns from last year.
List these responses. Compare A-C, and mark areas of concern for follow-up.
You will need to see how things are looking, given the initial discussions you have had with yourself, and partner, student and school.
Ask yourself what might need adjustment, clarification or who might need to become better educated about dyslexia. (and this can include everyone on your child’s team — parents — you!
classroom teachers, science teachers, counselors).
If you have a concern, begin with the classroom teacher when she has a moment to catch her breath, through e-mail or conference time.
It can be helpful to begin the school year with an introduction to your child’s learning difference and struggle, and how they learn best. Send a friendly e-mail, or arrange a time to talk with teachers, and also, encourage your child to speak to their teachers, or send an email, about what she needs.
D. What does your child love to do? When can he/she do it?
How does homework fit in?
This is important to consider because dyslexia exhausts our kids and they need time to do what gives them positive feedback.
Work with the school and your child to find that balance whether it is rowing, soccer or dance.
High interest areas drive enthusiasm, confidence, self-esteem and learning, reducing the interference of having a learning difference.
It is difficult to ask our students to work in their area of greatest struggle all day, so balance interests with homework time.
E. Reading and General Academic Progress:
If you son or daughter is starting or continuing in a reading program designed specifically for dyslexic students, you need to be aware of the following:
___ask about progress monitoring as well as any curriculum based measures within the program and general reading curriculum that help determine if your child is absorbing concepts and utilizing them for reading and learning.
___ask the teacher/school what percentage of concepts learned thus far have been learned to mastery, or a stated, prior goal (as perhaps within an IEP).
___ ask about fluency, specifically.
Children should gain in fluency, according to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, (see Chapter 19 from Overcoming Dyslexia). This will vary per student and may take longer to come “on-line,” but look for it.
The main point to understand is — what is the assessment of current progress through the program for your child?
Initially, you will see change in your non-reader as they begin to click with new learning. You may see a slow-down as the intensity increases but your child should be making slow, but steady, progress. Moreover, your child should be working toward feeling more proficient as a reader. You should see your son or daughter begin to read “in passing,” being able to read environmental print, using print to learn and drive academic success.
In general, extra drill or mandated reading or home practice that is not specifically requested as support from their teachers, should be avoided. A child with dyslexia is working twice as hard, working within their remediation and general reading programs. They need and should receive plenty of instructional time, but at the end of the day — they are tired. Also, research endorses down time for the learning brain. Much processing happens while busy doing other things (like sleeping!)
Instruction for dyslexia remediation is cumulative, intense, sequential and best done with rigor and fidelity. It is a process and takes time for the gears to start moving in unison. If you don’t see growth happening within three months (some progress), check in,
You will learn a lot by reading for pleasure with your student, observing literacy related work, and creating opportunities for them to feel safe, nurtured and loved while reading. Continue to read to your student as long as she appreciates it. Take turns in reading in an area of interest. Have them read labels at the grocery store, or a magazine or book about something they care about. Again, you should be able to catch them reading in some way.
Generalized difficulties with school should even out, but pay attention to the need for accommodations as expectations or kinds of classwork changes year-to-year.
A persistent difficulty in the face of good, appropriate intervention for dyslexia is a red flag that something is amiss. Inadequate response to instruction or continued struggle is a clue to check in with the school, and ask further questions. You may find something else is going on with your child, or the program is not being implemented optimally.
Your child should not stagnate. This does not mean your child will want to tackle Tolstoy or the obligatory summer reading list. It does mean that he CAN read. He is becoming a reader – the skill is being used.
(Reading is lifelong project at its best – but it is a full fledged four alarm fire if stagnating).
Ask questions about the teaching, the environment, the accommodations and the curriculum. Remember, our kids need multi-sensory instruction. They need information presented so they can learn, and this applies to ALL content areas (even foreign language instruction). You may need to help teachers to understand that if your child struggles or falls behind, they need reteaching, an opportunity to be taught through tutoring or differentiated instruction in those missed concepts.
Help your child to “check-in” with themselves, and develop an attitude that propels them to ask questions,
and seek help if they are missing a concept — and to do so early when they first begin to feel they are slipping, especially in secondary grades.
F. Technology – Access:
Assess whether or not technology can be a support for your child. Research options. There’s a method to matching need to technology for students, and not all students will require technology above what is generally available, so partner with your child’s school, and explore what is going on in the world of free assistive technology tools. Explore your computer or word processor first, and other for-profit tools. Remember that technology can aid with study skills, organization, writing and spelling.
I already am. Experiencing dyslexia is a long dance with your child around and into the very thing that makes us so different as human beings, the brain that directs and organizes us, our intellectual and emotional growth, and our heart — their future.
Stay positive. Be encouraging of your child not just as a student but as a unique and special person.
Let them know that they can succeed.
Be kind to yourself. Wait, and ask again, check in again.
Alternate periods of watchful waiting — while instruction works its cumulative “magic” and kids learn to do things all by themselves -
with stepping up your game if the above process of “checking-in” is telling you that you should.
Go through this list a few times a year. Meet with the school, and with your child’s counselor to track progress as needed.
Attend all required annual meetings to update everyone, and to stay on track for college transition.
Get ready to release this list to your semi-adult, dyslexic son or daughter.
Help them to own their lifelong learning difference, and experience.
Because the last letter on this list is
G, for Good Job, Mom and Dad, “You Taught Me How to Advocate for Myself.”
The Orton-Gillingham Academy http://www.ortonacademy.org/approach.php
(see Approach tab)
Overview of dyslexia:
An interview with Dr. Sally Shaywitz http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/LD-ADHD/836-a-conversation-with-sally-shaywitz-m-d-author-of-overcoming-dyslexia.gs
Guidance for districts (and parents) on dyslexia in Texas:
Technology Integration Students With Dyslexia:
This is specific to Texas but the resources and tools (largely without cost) can apply to all.
The Big Picture Movie: Rethinking Dyslexia is a great resource for sharing information about dyslexia with everyone, especially using these videos.
Progress monitoring resources:
Parent’s should investigate applying for college board (SAT), standardized testing accommodations for their child beginning in 9th grade, and depending on the goals of the student, aim for having accommodations approved and in place by the time any Advanced Placement exams are taken, as well as the PSAT. Note that current or additional testing (at your expense) may be required.
Be aware also that colleges often require updated testing when conducting reviews for accommodations (upon admission to the college). Develop a relationship with the disabilities service at college as soon as possible, before the first semester.