Saturday, September 1, 2018


Welcome to a new school year! I am currently procrastinating studying for my reading test next Saturday by posting information for you about reading.  It seems fitting. 
      This summer I completed a two year reading endorsement program through Portland State and coordinated by our district.  Thirty teachers in our district chose to do 24 graduate level college credits to expand their expertise in reading instruction.  I have learned even more to help your child become a better reader.  In our class we use something called The Daily Five.Put simply, the Daily Five is a way of structuring the reading block so every student is independentlyengaged in meaningful literacy tasks. These research based tasks are ones that will have the biggestimpact on student reading and writing achievement, as well as help foster children who love to readand write. During the reading block hour, students receive explicit whole group instruction, work in small groups with the teacher focusing on the specific needs of each group, practice their new skills during independent reading time and then work on word development or what we call word work.  Prior to the reading block we have writers workshop.  The final part of the Daily Five model is allowing students time to read to someone and listen to reading. 
     These are sprinkled through out the day.  The goal is that each day students will be engaged in:

Kids Sitting on Books       Reading to Self Working on Writing Reading to Someone Listening to Reading Word Wor


There are very specific behavior expectations that go with each Daily 5 component. We will spend our first weeks working intensely on building our reading and writing stamina, learning the
behaviors of the Daily 5 and fostering our classroom community. I will also spend time learning about your child’s strengths through writing samples, a decoding and reading comprehension assessment called the BAS (Benchmark Assessment System) as well as diagnostic assessments with Dibels and high frequency words. Once I have had an opportunity to read with your student I will share their reading level with you so that you can shop for books at their level, if you so choose.   Also, for those who want to know what can I do to help my student, please check out the Google Slides presentation I made just for you. 

I hope to see you at back to school night where we can talk more and I can answer any questions you
may have.

Math Stations: How I Teach Math

Image result for clip art math stations
         By the end of the first week of school, students have been given a beginning of year math test, a math fact test and a pretest for Ch.1.  They are then grouped into small groups for math instruction based on their needs.  The goal at first grade is to ensure that each student knows the foundations of mathematical computation skills.  There are many strategies to teach them and the goal is to have each student be able to problem solve using at least two strategies and be able to verify their answers are correct.  I also work on articulation of math strategies, specifically explaining their thinking and reasoning verbally and for some even in written format.  Having small group instruction ensures that those students who needs more hands on work to master a skill, are given the time and opportunity, while those who are working on solving more complex problems also have opportunities to work on their areas of growth.  Math facts is an easy example of how we differentiate.  The goal at first grade is to master math facts under 10, (9-1, 8+2).  Once they master these, as diagnosed in a time 2 1/2 minute test, they will move on the mastering math facts up to 20 (13+7, 12-5).   For skill practice they can be matched with those who are at the same level to ensure they are challenged appropriately.   I work hard to ensure that each student is grouped or paired with other students whose skills and needs match their own.  I adjust groups for each unit using their chapter pretests.  During math each day students move through three stations.  In their small groups, students meet with the teacher, practice the skill on their own and play math games that also help build their mathematical skills.  

Friday, July 20, 2018

Student and Family Perspectives on Dyslexia

Perspectives about dyslexia and why it matters:

In a movie called Read Me, a student, in an effort to avoid reading in front of the class, asks to go the bathroom, where he alternates psyching himself up and wasting time at the sink. When he returns to class he is pleased to note that the reading selection progression has moved well passed his seat and he has avoided reading to the class from the front of the room. When the teacher loops back to him so he "has a chance to read" other students snicker and laugh. The teacher tells the students to stop laughing and reminds the reader to sound out the words. The student, who looks to be in 4th or 5th grade, cannot sound out the first word on the page. He is embarrassed and ashamed. As an adult he continues to be embarrassed about his lack of skills reading, describes himself as an idiot, has low self-esteem and is looking for work where he doesn’t have to read. As the story unfolds we also see that he has developed amazing social awareness skills, musical talent and interpersonal skills as well as coping techniques to hide his lack of ability to read.

Dyslexics are individuals who struggle to read due to problems in their brains ability to process phonological constructs. They are not stupid or lazy but need additional support to help address their specific learning challenge. Those who are challenged with dyslexia may be gifted athletes, scientists or artists. They may excel at problem solving and visual spatial tasks. Their inability to match sounds and letters, store or retrieve the information or create the visual representation of sounds through words has challenged them not their thinking. Their brain scans show while there is a deficiency in the phonemic processing part of the brain on the left, there is more development on the right side in numerous areas. These brain scans show what many dyslexics and family members have known for a long time: Those with dyslexia are not stupid but they are gifted in other ways. Many have adapted around their deficiencies, developed their creative problem solving parts of the brain and mastered many other skills at which they excel. There are some dyslexics however, who don’t thrive. One statistic show that while 35% of dyslexics are entrepreneurs another 35% are criminals serving time. What creates the difference? Is the shame as seen by the student at the beginning of the film? Their perceived lack of self worth and shame that comes from not being able to read? Maybe.

Some of the struggles include: 

  • working hard but perceived as a slacker or slow 
  • constantly trying to catch up 
  • school is not fun when reading is everywhere 
  • some have physical reactions: panic attacks, stomach aches 
  • desire to be “normal” 
  • parental despair, disappointment, denial then relief

Impact on our classrooms and system of education:

As students struggle and persevere with dyslexia and have parental and teacher support, they can find that these deficiencies may enable them to become better problem solvers, better at creative writing, better at studying as they learn to master studying skills to master their learning challenge. Perseverance is critical.

What if we as teachers and ensure our classroom environment fosters creativity, skill building and one of support so that each student felt valued for something they created, built, wrote, did, said. So that regardless of our math, reading, and writing skills students looked to others as a beacon of inspiration and someone they could learn from or teach or help. While we may all be equal, we are not the same in what we look like or are able to do. Our innate skill sets are not fixed either. We can grow and develop skills as readers, writers, thinkers, poets, athletes. It is through perseverance that we improve and thrive. In order to grow we sometimes need to make ourselves vulnerable, to seek help and guidance to grow in those areas we struggle. Is this what life is about? Isn’t that what school is about?

Works Cited:
Zara, F. (Writer), & Zara, F. (Director). (2016). Read Me [Sketchbook Productions]. Christie, A. & Sullivan, J. (Producers). Sketchbook Productions.

Dyslexia Debate

Image result for dyslexia debate
Rachel Gabriel, in her article Preparing Literacy Professionals (2018), address the conflict surrounding dyslexia, particularly the open disagreements between the International Dyslexia Association and International Reading Association.  Although they both want to improve reading around the word, their positions demonstrate the discrepancy in the definition and causes for dyslexia.   I agree with Gabriel (2018) that it “is the responsibility of reading researchers and teacher educators to understand the nature of debates within the field, not just to understand their own side” (p. 267).
Gabriel (p. 264) analyzes is the argument of how many people have dyslexia.  “Reading Rockets archived a “study” alert claiming that “the definitive resource on dyslexia” (i.e., IDA) has reported that 1 in 5 children may be dyslexic (Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2015)”.  They keyword to focus on is the word may.  There lacks statistical evidence to say these individuals have dyslexia and not some other reading challenge.  While many of the challenges faced by those who struggle to read may be addressed in similar manners, there is not enough research or data to make the assertion that they all have dyslexia and not another underlying issue.  Elliot and Grigorinko, in their Dyslexia Debate (2014) also address this discrepancy.  “While many people assume that specialists agree about what is meant by the term, dyslexia, the reality is that it is understood in many different ways. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that estimates of dyslexia often range from 5% - 20% of the population” (p.2). 
One important point Gabriel (2018) makes is that although there is a dearth of agreement and accurate studies affirming the number of people who have dyslexia, the quantity of studies around this issue combined with neurological studies that show additional right brain development promote the idea that dyslexic individuals may be gifted in other ways.  This is also supported by the Creative Brilliance of Dyslexia by Kate Griggs as well as the True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind by Dean Bragonier.   All of the above, have helped “spur a legislative and social agenda that while not based on irrefutable evidence has the advantage of elevating the perception of dyslexics” (Gabriel, p. 265).  The debate will hopefully spur additional research and allow teachers additional access to research based best practices and strategies to address the needs of not only dyslexic students but all students who struggle with reading. Identifying individuals with dyslexia stems from conflicting definitions of dyslexia.  “Beyond an agreed focus upon decoding, it begins to get complicated (Elliot and Grigorinko, p. 2).  “The basis for determining a dyslexic subgroup from a wider pool of poor readers is highly problematic” (p.2).  For some, it is a serious mistake to associate dyslexia 'narrowly' with poor decoding as this discounts problems with a range of everyday academic, organizational and self-regulatory skills” (p.2). Conversely, there are poor readers who are not necessarily dyslexic.  
“One of the biggest myths associated with dyslexia is that it should be defined in relation to intelligence. The so called ‘discrepancy definition’ of dyslexia recognizes as genuine dyslexics only those whose level of reading is significantly worse than would be expected on the basis of their intelligence (typically measured by an IQ test). Research over the past twenty years has demonstrated the folly of this belief “(Elliot and Grigorinko, p. 3).  Although they do not cite the research to support this, a similar statement was made also by other articles we have read.  I would be interested in reading the studies that refute this.  Unfortunately for many dyslexic students it is only those who test well on the IQ tests and struggle two grade levels below reading who are able to get additional services in our state.  
Another aspect of the debate as outlined by Elliot and Grigorinko (2014)is around “appropriate forms of educational intervention. This is wholly incorrect. There is no effective treatment for those who are adjudged to have dyslexia that differs from accepted practices for all children who struggle to decode. What is clearly evident is that the extensive use of so-called "whole language" approaches which downplay the role of structured and targeted phonics teaching as a key element of a broader literacy program is inappropriate for poor readers. A wealth of research evidence has clearly shown that, in comparison with normally reading peers. those who struggle to acquire reading skills typically require more individualized, more structured, more explicit, more systematic, and more intense reading inputs.” So aside from arguments about defining dyslexia is how to address the needs of these students.  Sometimes the arguments for a structure approach are supported by for profit institutions.  In fact in the Gabriel (2018) article, I was particularly struck however by this quote:  ‘In a press release introducing the term (dylexia), Malchow (2012) explains, “This term will help us simplify our message and connect our successes. ‘Structured Literacy’ will help us sell what we do so well”(n.p.)” (p. 264).’  There are several programs that are associated with dyslexia reading support.  Is the goal to sell a program or an idea?  Scripted dyslexic programs are expensive.  If defining the term is all about sales for scripted programs then it doesn’t seem like defining the term is child driven but a financially driven decision.  Elliott & Grigorenko recommend students would be better served with an RTI model based on a failure to master specific skills than to misdiagnose students or eliminate students from additional support due to a lack of diagnoses (p. 5).  
Works Cited
Gabriel, R. (2018). Preparing Literacy Professionals: The Case of Dyslexia. Journal of Literacy Research, 50(2), 262-270. 
Kate Griggs.  (2018, January 23). TEDx Talks: The Creative Brilliance of Dyslexia |  .... Retrieved July 8, 2018, from
 Dean Bragonier. (2015, November 24). The True Gifts of a Dyslexic Mind | -  YouTube. Retrieved July 8, 2018, from

Literacy and Dyslexia

Literacy, or the ability to read and write, is a challenge for those individuals who have dyslexia.  While there are many statistical and defining disagreements about how many people have dyslexia and what dyslexia actually is there is the acknowledgement that those with dyslexia find literacy more difficult to learn. How to approach addressing the needs of those with dyslexia is much debated as well.  Rachel Gabriel’s article Preparing Literacy Professionals: The Case of Dyslexia (2018)  focus’ on the concern that many educator programs are specifically training their teachers to teach a scripted commercial program.  Gabriel believes “that the premise of such programs, sometimes offered by or in partnership with schools of education, raises questions about the purpose, location, and nature of graduate study, professional knowledge, and the role of commercial interests in the preparation of literacy professionals. It also signals a dangerous narrowing of both the focus and scope of preparation for literacy professionals” (p. 266).  To this I wholeheartedly agree.  There should be needs assessment done with those who struggle with reading and a systematic approach to teaching them the phonemic rules and skills needed to better decode the English language.
The nature of the English language, as it has integrated thousands of words from other languages, has a multitude of features which make teaching reading and writing more challenging that other native languages.   The 26 letters of the English alphabet are combined to make the 44 sounds, by listing, for example, that there are 28 initial blends, 48 final blends and so on. Consider that there are no less than six ways to make the /ew/ sound; blue, blew, moon, suit, flu, cute.  One implication for teaching must be to teach what is consistent and where ‘rules’ can be applied rather than to emphasize irregularities, though dealing with these when they arise (Kelly & Phillips p.51)  While sounds blends is something I have begun to study I am always fascinated to learn even more about the nuances of our language.  I was particularly fascinated to learn about and think about assimilation which “occurs when a phoneme changes according to the following sound because it simplifies the movements involved in articulation. It is not ‘sloppy’ or ‘lazy’ speech, it is due to efficient movement to articulate the sounds. It is noted that /n/ is affected, for example, when followed by /b/ or /p/ e.g., ‘He is in prison’ will usually be formed as ‘im prison’. (Over centuries, the prefix ‘in’ has become ‘im’ in words where the base or root begins with a ‘b’ or ‘p’ e.g., impossible, imbibe.) (Kelly & Phillips p.51) ”  I read the prison sentence several times noting how I pronounced it when reading.   When asked I asked my son to repeat the phrase however he said “in prison”.  When I asked him to read it and say it aloud he said “im prison”.   Fascinating!  Other challenges to literacy instruction are with elision in which occurs when sounds disappear from words e.g., ‘castle’ becomes ‘cassle’ (Kelly & Phillips p.51).  Making it more difficult for those learning to match the sounds with the letters.  
Although Kelly and Phillips end their chapter about phonemic instruction with a sales pitch for a particular literacy program, their argument for including a multi sensory approach to instruction on phonemic awareness is echoed by other researches.  They sum up their arguments by recommending that “reading and spelling can be improved by intervention which links reading with phonological awareness training incorporating phonemic awareness and attention to prosodic/rhythmic aspects. It is important to recognize that learners with dyslexia need systematic teaching to establish sound-symbol relationships (phoneme-grapheme) and this will require practice and over learning. Strategies should aim to develop learners’ short-term verbal memory” (Kelly & Phillips, p. 56). 
Works Cited
Gabriel, R. (2018). Preparing Literacy Professionals: The Case of Dyslexia. Journal of Literacy Research, 50(2), 262-270.
Kelly, K., & Phillips, S. (2014). Phonological skills, literacy and dyslexia. In Teaching literacy to learners with dyslexia: A multi-sensory approach (pp. 47-57). Sage.

Causes of Dyslexia

Studies show there may be some genetic tie to dyslexia.  According to Julia Wilde the reporter to DNews Channel (2015), some dyslexics with the deletion of the DCDC2 gene have trouble detecting certain types of visual movement.  Others studies have found that some dyslexics, who have a mutation of the ROBO1 gene, have a weakening of the auditory pathways between the two parts of the brain, the visual center and prefrontal lobe.  Other environmental contributors could be less reading by individuals means less grey matter in those areas of the brain that are involved in reading. Others argue it is a phonological deficit or more precisely, difficulty processing phonemes. To sum up the report, there seem to be numerous causations and issues for what we generally describe as dyslexia.
Watch What Causes Dyslexia:  
The Sage Journal article Teaching Literacy with a Multisensory Approach, written by Kelly and Phillips (2014) provides more in depth analysis.  I took pause at this particular aspect.
“Screening undertaken as part of the ‘No to Failure’ Project in England (Dyslexia–SpLD Trust, 2009) found that 21 percent of children of primary school age may have literacy difficulties which could be described as dyslexia. This is similar to the figures reported in the USA (Shaywitz et al., 2008), although these may include other ‘poor readers’”. My concern is that Kelly and Phillips both acknowledge the importance of having this data and attest that these numbers are “valuable information for policy makers, schools, and local authorities when planning teaching and resource allocation” (p.9).  Yet the authors then site the flaws in the data particularly when citing China’s variance in 2 studies done showing either 1% or 10% of the population has dyslexia. The authors then cite a research report by the Dyslexia SpLD trust that uses the word may all of which demonstrate the lack of statistical and accurate data about the numbers of individuals with dyslexia and not just those with reading difficulties.   
Kelly and Phillips demonstrate that there is much more consensus about the causes of dyslexia.  “Olson and Byrne (2005) suggested that at least 50 per cent of the variance could be explained by genetic factors and the remainder by environmental factors. Snowling (2013) supports the view that dyslexia is the outcome of multiple risk factors both genetic and environmental and also Van Bergen et al. (2014) suggest that we should consider the cognitive profile children inherit from their parents” (p. 13).  The genetic causes show variances in several genes that affect different parts of the brain as well as the neural transmitters. This would corroborate the assertion that dyslexia may be a catch all phrase for several types of cerebral variances. These variances in causes show how dyslexics are all challenged in different ways and while each variance makes reading harder they may each come with a boost in one cerebral area.
While we wait for science to prove the diversity of causes there are two area in which we as teachers can focus.  Lack of access to reading, an environmental factor that inhibits the growth of gray and white matter needed to foster reading.  The second is to focus our efforts on the strategic implementation of reading instruction that would meet their needs.
Works Cited:
DNewsChannel. “What Causes Dyslexia?” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Nov. 2015,
Kelly, K., & Phillips, S. (2014). The contributions of dyslexia research to the development of a multisensory teaching programme. In Teaching literacy to learners with dyslexia: A multi-sensory approach (pp. 7-34). Sage.

Strategies to Support Dyslexic Students

What are strategies that can be used to support students with dyslexia? What are resources that can be utilized?

“Research also suggests that these feelings of inferiority develop by the age of 10. After this age, it becomes extremely difficult to help the child develop a positive self-image” (IDA, p. 7). Clearly early intervention is key. So what can teachers do? The IDA (2017, p.8-9) recommends teachers:
  •  Clarify or simplify written directions by underlining or highlighting the significant parts of the directions. When giving assignments teachers should present the work in smaller portions to reduce anxiety.  
  • Help students block out extraneous written stimuli on a page using tools to cover text or problems not needed. In reading this may look like a long strip of construction paper that gets moved under the text line being read. In math this may be a cover sheet with a hole cut out that only shows one problem at a time.  I have modified this strategy and cut up the math fact fluency tests into strips that students complete and trade for another in the 2.5 minutes. For several students this modification helped them improve their score by 200%. Some students scores were not significantly affected.  For next year the iPads assistive touch tools to enlarge text with a tap may also help dyslexic students.  
  • Highlighting essential information can also help in a sea of text. Interestingly some suggestions are simple organizational tools like use a placeholder in workbook or journal so students can easily find the current page. Another strategy is to cut the corners.  This best practice helps everyone including the teacher. 
  • Sometimes students need additional practice activities for these student to achieve mastery. This may involve math stations with games on the same skill, IXL practice, extra worksheets although the later I suggest with hesitancy as it does not meet the recommendation of multiple modalities.   
  • Glossaries also help dyslexic students. In our class we have a word wall of high frequency words that students can remove and bring back to their desk to copy. We have another similar wall with academic vocabulary with visual images that students create to show the word. Students have a similar sheet that they create at their desk. The latter also benefit ELL students.   
  • Reading guides or questions can also help students guide their reading. In high school we used a feature called Multipass beginning with TISOPT, when prereading text. This strategy developed at the University of Kansas Research Center helps all students.  Prior to reading a textbook or academic piece students should read the Title, Introductions, Summary, Observe the Outline or Headings, Pictures and Table of Contents. When they dive in to read each section they should make the heading into a question. Causes of the Civil War becomes what were the causes of the civil war.  
  •  Audio recording features on devices such as the iPad or Chromebooks, where directions, stories, and specific lessons can be recorded and also help.  The student can replay the recording to clarify understanding of directions or concepts. Students can also read the printed words and record themselves using Seesaw or any other recording app.  Use of assistive technology such as books on tape, EPIC!, Tumblebooks and the assistive technology features available on iPads, text to speech features on new apps including Book Creator and typing in Google Docs are also ways to help these students read and write. A word of caution on the writing portion is that students who struggle with reading will need further help to edit their voice to text typing.  Dyslexic students who can read but struggle with creating the letters do much better at self editing.  
  • To further support these students teachers should continue to use:
    •  outlines
    • graphic organizers
    • typed notes for those who need them and 
    • use step by step instructions 
    • a consistent daily routine that reviews prior learning (IDA, p. 10).  
    • use mnemonic devices as they are effective 

  • Two suggestions for math are having students:
    •  turn lined paper vertically to keep numbers aligned 
    • creating pages with easier problems first and building to harder to help build confidence.   
  • The most effective in class strategies that I use in first grade is what IDA calls pair peers; when students are organized by different ability levels to review their notes, study, read aloud to each other, write stories, or conduct science experiments (IDA, p.10). 
  • Additional adaptive resources can be found at the Universal Design for Learning at

The IDA also recommends a structured literacy program which is essentially a systematic and cumulative instructional format. Material is taught in a logical order starting with the easiest and most basic concepts and elements and progress methodically to more difficult concepts and elements (IDA, p. 11). The ILA Reading Addendum (2016) supports the idea that systematic phonics instruction yielded an effect size of 0.51 on reading comprehension for first graders but only 0.32 for disabled readers above first grade and 0.12 for older low-achieving readers (p.3). Our phonemic curriculum with National Geographic does go through this progression in a methodical manner. The problem however, is that Nat Geo curriculum has two sounds, blends or digraphs on some weeks with worksheets that take 5 minutes to reinforce. Modifying the plans with a slower more explicit and deliberate instruction including rules about open and closed syllables and why VCCV words are divided between the consonants along with activities reinforcing these skills ensure students are better able to show mastery of sounds and skills.

According to Williams and Sharon (2010), "a successful instructional program for students with dyslexia focuses not only on students’ weakness, but also on their strengths. Identifying students’ strengths in thinking and reasoning is a key to success. Concentrating only on the phonological weakness will result in an imbalance in instruction (Shaywitz 2003).  It is important to consider critical thinking and problem solving as assets for dyslexics. Shaywitz (2003) described these thinking skills as a “sea of strengths” surrounding a weakness in decoding. The strengths include reasoning, concept formation, comprehension, general knowledge, problem solving, vocabulary, and critical thinking.  Effective instruction for students with dyslexia also uses multisensory instruction to present sequential and cumulative language concepts and skills. Providing information that is auditory, tactile, kinetic, and visual
sends information along multiple pathways to the brain (Wadlington, Jacob, and Bailey 1996).

International Dyslexia Association. (2017). Dyslexia in the Classroom. Retrieved July 20, 2018.

International Literacy Association. (2016). Research Advisory Addendum: Dyslexia. Retrieved July 18, 2018, from

Joan A. Williams & Sharon A. Lynch (2010) Dyslexia: What Teachers Need to
Know, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 46:2, 66-70, DOI: 10.1080/00228958.2010.10516696

Reading Rockets. (2013, November 07). Top 10 Resources on Dyslexia. Retrieved July 18, 2018, from