Friday, December 21, 2012
No one can ever prepare a parent for two things: the immeasurable love that comes with having a child; and the sorrow and confusion that comes when your child appears to learn in a different way from other children. I am an educator and neuroscientist, who studies how the brain learns to read and what happens when a young brain can't learn to read easily, as in the childhood learning challenge, developmental dyslexia.
Yet, despite this knowledge, I was unprepared to realise that my first son, Ben, was dyslexic. He was five years old when I put all the pieces together, and I wept as soundlessly and deeply as every other parent. I wept not because of his dyslexia, which I understood very well, but because I knew the long, difficult road Ben faced in an educational system ill-prepared then to meet his needs. That was the first thing I did 16 years and eight schools ago.
The second thing was to concentrate my work on ways to help our society understand two huge things: first, the complex, unnatural miracle that takes place every time a brain learns to read; and second, the fact that many children with dyslexia have a different brain organisation – one that poises them for greatness in many areas; but makes them inefficient at learning written language.
Helping every child meet his or her potential, not only children with challenges, is the underlying goal of this letter, my new book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, and the work of my entire field.
It all begins with understanding that reading does not come naturally to human beings. We humans invented literacy, which means it doesn't come for free with our genes like speech and vision. Every brain has to learn it afresh. Learning to read for the brain is a lot like an amateur ringmaster first learning how to organise a three-ring circus. He wants to begin individually and then synchronise all the performances. It only happens after all the separate acts are learned and practised long and well. In childhood, there are three, critical "ring acts" that go into the development of reading: learning about the world of letters; learning about the individual sounds inside of words (which linguists call phonemes); and learning a very great deal about words.
Many things help each of these three areas develop, and parents and loved ones can foster them all. The most important contribution appears deceptively simple: speaking and reading to your child from infancy onwards. Children who spend the first five years of their lives exposed to a great deal of oral language with others (and not from a television or other media) and listening to a great many books being read to them enter kindergarten with advantages that prepare them to read. In one well-known study, children in more privileged language- and book-rich environments heard 32m more spoken words than children raised in disadvantaged environments. It was not economic poverty, but "linguistic poverty" that put these children at profound risk for failure before they entered the kindergarten door.
In dyslexia, the reasons for reading difficulties aren't that simple, or as easy to prevent. Somewhere between five and seven years of age, most young brains are readied to become their own ringmasters and bring all their knowledge about letters, sounds and words together to read. For children learning the alphabet, they must learn that a particular sound corresponds to a particular letter, which in English isn't always as straightforward as in other languages. Thus, programmes that emphasise the principles of phoneme awareness and decoding (that is, systematic phonics programmes) represent an important foundation for all children first learning to read. There are, of course, other linguistic areas that must also be emphasised, including vocabulary knowledge, familiarity with how words work grammatically, and also knowledge about the smallest units of meaning in English, called morphemes. Ideally, our children need all of these emphases when learning to read.
In dyslexia, many children have particular difficulties distinguishing the phonemes or sounds within words. That makes it very difficult for them to learn the rules for which particular letters go with which sounds. Other children with dyslexia aren't able to acquire the speed necessary to get the different parts in the reading system together; they never learn to read fast or fluently enough to comprehend what they read.
Brain imaging studies are beginning to suggest that these difficulties may emerge in part because many children with dyslexia are endowed with a very strong right hemisphere that they use to read. In most people the left hemisphere is largely used in reading. The right hemisphere, which is involved in many spatial, artistic, and creative functions, is, however, very inefficient for reading, which would explain why it takes so long to learn to read. If this research proves correct, it also helps explain why so many great, creative figures have a history of dyslexia: artists like Picasso, Gaudi, and Rodin; writers like Yeats and Agatha Christie; and entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, and Michael Heseltine.
The problem is that no one tells children or their parents, teachers, and classmates that some of the world's most creative and brilliant minds had similar difficulties learning to read. Most children with dyslexia do not easily learn to read, spell, or write, and they believe this means they must be "dumb" (their classmates' description), or "lazy" (what many parents think) or "not working up to their potential" (many teachers' description). Not all children with dyslexia have extraordinary talents, but everyone has a unique potential that is being daily whittled away by this lack of understanding.
Source: Maryanne Wolf is the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University. She will be speaking at The Reader Organisation's Reading for Wellbeing conference on Tuesday 17 May, at the Floral Pavilion in the Wirral.
Original Article :
In a letter to parents of children with reading problems, Maryanne Wolf explains how dyslexic children's brains are organised differently.
Is your child halfway through first grade and still unable to read? Is your preschooler bored with coloring and ready for reading? Do you want to help your child read, but are afraid you'll do something wrong?
So these are several tips and info that can be useful to try.
Building blocks of reading
Reading skills are like building blocks. To learn to read well, children need the blocks of knowing the sounds of letters and the blocks of knowing the meanings of words (vocabulary), word parts (grammatical markers) and groups of words (overall meaning or semantics). To build these foundations of reading, children need effective reading instruction.
The best ways for parents to learn about the kinds of reading instruction at their child's school is to talk with teachers, listen to him or her talk about what they do during the day, and examine homework assignments. Knowing the differences between phonics and whole language - the two main approaches to teaching reading - can help parents determine what methods their child's school is using to teach reading.
Phonics focuses on the sounds of letters and words
A phonics approach focuses instruction on learning to associate printed letters and combinations of letters with their corresponding sounds. Phonics instruction gives students strategies to unlock or decode words.
- "Sounding out" words as a way of figuring out new words. For example, in a phonics lesson, "moon" would be sounded out as "mm-oo-nn."
- Practice worksheets or exercises on letter sounds, matching pictures with spoken words, short vowel/long vowel or letter of the week.
Whole language focuses on comprehension
A whole language approach to teaching reading can include:
- Teaching reading and writing throughout the day in the context of the lesson topics
- Teachers emphasizing storybooks rather than worksheets as well as multiple writing opportunities
A balanced approach can help all children learn to read
A decade of research shows us that there is no one best way to build students' literacy skills. A balanced approach to teaching reading combines a strong foundation in phonics with whole language methods. Only through more than one kind of instruction can students gain the skills to recognize and manipulate the sounds of letters and words and the skills to understand what they read. Since all children learn differently, only a balanced approach to teaching reading can give all children the skills they need to read well.
An effective reading program
- Recognize that students learn to read in a certain order: first they must understand that words are made up of different sounds, then associate sounds with written words, and finally they can decode words and read groups of words.
- Students who have trouble learning to read need to be specifically taught the relationships of letters, words and sounds. (Awareness of letter/sound relationships is the main tool good readers use to decode unfamiliar words.)
- Each child needs a different amount of practice to be a fluent reader.
- Phonics instruction should be based on individual student needs and taught as part of a comprehensive, literature-based reading program.
- Abundant opportunities for children to read at their own reading level help them to learn to read for meaning and enjoy reading.
- Highly trained teachers can help children develop good, overall literacy skills: good vocabularies, knowledge of correct syntax and spelling, reasoning skills and questioning skills.
Reading instruction for children with learning disabilities
For children with language-based learning disabilities, learning to read is especially difficult because they have a harder time with sounds of letters and words than their peers. Research indicates that because phonics instruction focuses on recognizing and manipulating sounds of letters and words, more intense phonics instruction may be beneficial for children with learning disabilities.
Early warning signs of learning disabilities
- Slow to learn the connection between letters and sounds
- Difficulty "sounding out" unknown words
- Repeatedly misidentifying known words
- Makes consistent reading and spelling errors including letter reversals (b/d), inversions (m/w), transpositions (felt/left), and substitutions (house/home)
- Transposes number sequences and confuses arithmetic signs (+, -, x, /, =)
- Difficulty understanding or remembering what is read because so much time and effort is spent figuring each word
If a child regularly displays one or more of these behaviors, he or she may have a learning disability and parents should seek appropriate testing and intervention from their child's school.
With diagnostic tests, it can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy which students in kindergarten and first grade will have difficulty learning to read. Identifying reading difficulties early means children have more time to learn to be successful readers. Since reading is learned more easily and effectively during the early years, identifying language-based learning disabilities and providing appropriate interventions give children more time to learn to read well.
As the holiday season moves into full swing and kids are home from school, it's easy to get lost in the preparation and forget to keep children on a regular reading schedule. Unfortunately, in many states, assessment tests are right around the corner.
One of the things kids look forward to in December is the academic downtime, but there's no reason why they can't keep their minds sharp during the holidays. And, believe it or not, they can have fun while doing it. “Reading doesn't have to mean sitting at a table with a boring school book for a set amount of time each day,” says Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president of the bookstore chain, Half Price Books. “You can easily 'sneak' reading into daily activities.” Here are her tips for sneaking learning into holidays at home:
- Have your children read holiday cards when they are received in the mail, and let them write a message in outgoing cards.
- Let children read ingredients from holiday recipes while you bake together. It's a great way for them to learn measurements and temperatures.
- Set aside time for kids to "show off" their new reading skills to visiting relatives. Children love being the focus of attention, and grandparents are usually more than willing to see their progress.
- Make special holiday readings a tradition. Find a special book for Hanukkah or Christmas, and have each member of the family read from it at the same time each year.
- Even if no books make your child's wish list, make sure you give at least one as a gift, and encourage them to read it.
- Find books that focus on an interest your child has. For example if they ask for a bike, find a book on Lance Armstrong, or a children's book that includes a bicycle adventure. There are books out there to suit every interest under the sun – it just takes a little browsing.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
Although holidays are a good time to experience a change of pace, it’s still important to fit in some bookwork, too. After all, a little bit of effort now can generate a lot of benefit in a month or so.
Whether it’s researching information for a paper, actually composing or revising that paper, or studying for exams that are looming ahead, small but steady progress can definitely help you achieve more than a proverbial cram session the night before you resume coursework ever could.
Consider the following tips:
1. Figure out how to eat an elephant.
How do you eat an elephant? Yup–one bite at a time. Even the best study intentions can quickly go out the window when faced with a large task that will be accomplished “oh, in a couple of days.” Set up a manageable framework of systematic effort, and then start on this plan the very first day of break. It’s just as important that you study on a regular basis, as it is what you study. Remember to plan on study breaks during this time, so that your brain can retain more information, and so that studying doesn’t become an unproductive chore.
2. Set up a reward system for yourself.
Figure out what will motivate you, and then plan out rewards ahead of time for accomplishing daily progress. Follow through on those rewards; it will help to keep you interested in this effort, and will help you maintain your momentum. Write down your goal for this timeframe on an index card, and keep it in plain sight at your study station.
3. What, when, and where
You don’t have to be a journalist to answer these questions.
What: Define exactly what you need to achieve each day of the break, and then write it down. You can see at a glance what you’ve already got done, and it can serve as a spur to keep you on track.
When: Holiday break can be a tricky time for schedules. After all, friends are probably home for break, too, which can mean long stretches of unbudgeted time that can chew into your study plans. Late nights and spontaneous parties can also weaken your ability to focus on necessary schoolwork during this time. But consider this: you wouldn’t forget to eat, would you? Think about studying as food for your brain, and be firm on giving this priority, too.
Chances are very good that your friends need to fit in some holiday studying, too. If you’re the kind of student who learns better with others, propose holding a holiday study session together: you’re still spending time together, but you aren’t aimlessly wandering the mall, either. If you’re the kind of student who learns better while flying solo, propose spending time together in the afternoons–and then hit the books in the mornings. Your brain retains information better when you study at roughly the same time of day each day. Take advantage of this natural aptitude, and maximize your study time.
Also remember to get a decent amount of sleep at night. A tired brain is unproductive and unmotivated. And try physical exercise for a study break; you’ll come back recharged and ready to work.
Where: Claim a calm space free of distractions to complete academic work. This is your study space, and you can condition yourself to “learn in this location.” Give yourself a set time, and don’t allow interruptions to carve it up. There will be plenty of time for everything else when you’re done. Have healthy snacks on hand, if need be, to help your brain stay focused and to reduce the temptation to wander.
These Information might be useful for a teacher who wnt teach a good manner for their pupils (just shared useful information).
Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in great measure, the laws depend. Manners are what vex or smooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us . . . . According to their quality, they aid morals, or they destroy them.
-- Edmund Burke, British Statesman
-- Katherine Pipin
- Nearly 60% of Americans say they often encounter reckless and aggressive drivers on the road.
- Almost half say they are of ten subjected to loud and annoying phone conversations.
- Almost half say bad service has driven them out of a store in the past year.
- Three-quarters say they often see customers treating salespeople rudely.
- 79% say that "the lack of respect and courte sy should be regarded as a serious national problem."
Commented Public Agenda's president, Deborah Wadsworth: "Lack of manners for Americans is not about whether you confuse the salad fork with the dinner fork. It's about the daily assault of selfish, inconsiderate behavior on the highways, in the office, in stores, and in myriad other places . . . ."
"In the long decline of the civilized West," observes one social historian, "there has been nothing so grating as the gradual disappearance of manners."
Manners are minor morals. They are the everyday ways we respect other people and facilitate social relations. They make up the moral fabric of our shared lives.
Saying please when we'd like something, thanking people (waitresses and clerks, for example) when they do us a service, holding a door for the person behind us, not talking in movie theaters, turning off our cell phones when we're in a group setting, covering our mouth when we yawn or cough, using language that doesn't offend -- all these are small but meaningful ways of trying to make life a little more pleasant for the people around us.
If we fail to teach these everyday habits of courtesy and consideration to our children, we will not prepare them to be socially competent and likeable people. When society in general fails to teach manners to the young, it coarsens human relations and paves the way for the gross violations of civility that are ever more common. One example of the latter: Funeral directors and police, especially in metropolitan areas, increasingly report blatant disrespect for funeral processions. One Virginia funeral director says drivers regularly cut off his hearse and often give him an obscene gesture as they go by.
What can we do in our classrooms and schools to restore the habits of civilized conduct known as good manners?
1. Get kids to think about why matters matter
One year, Hal Urban put up a sign in his high school classroom: "No one ever went wrong by being polite." He had always enjoyed a good rapport with his students, who were college-bound and typically from affluent families. But he was troubled by what he saw as a decline of basic courtesy. He decided to hit this issue head-on by devoting the first class of the new school year to a discussion of manners.
He began by making two points:
In my experience, most people are capable of courtesy when they know clearly what is expected of them. Moreover, the classroom is a more positive place when everyone treats everyone else with courtesy and consideration.
He then distributed a handout titled, "Whatever Happened to Good Manners?" At the top was a quote from George Bernard Shaw: "Without good manners, human society becomes intolerable." Below that, under the heading "How Things Were Different Not Too Many Years Ago," were ten changes he'd seen in student behavior over his 20-plus years of high school teaching. He walked his class through these observations. For example:
- Students rarely came late to class. When they did, they apologized. Today many come late. Only rarely does one apologize.
- Students didn't get up, walk across the room, throw something in the wastebasket, then walk back across the room while the teacher is talking. Today this is done often, and nothing is thought about it.
- Students used to listen when the teacher was talking. Today many students feel they have a right to ignore the teacher and have a private conversation with their friends.
- Students didn't swear in classrooms or the hallways. Today some students can't talk without swearing.
- Students used to say "Please" and "Thank you." Today only a few students use those words.
Under this list of observations were several questions:
- Why is this happening?
- Is society better when people treat each other with respect? If so, why?
- Is a classroom better when both students and teacher show mutual respect?
- Why does Henry Rogers say, "Good manners are one of the most important keys to success in life"?
- What is the "Golden Rule"? If it's so simple, why do more people today have difficulty practicing it?
- Which impresses people more -- being "cool" or being courteous?
His instructions to the class: "Please take out a sheet of paper and answer these questions. Don't sign your name. I'll collect your papers and read them aloud to the class."
He then collected students' written responses, read them aloud, and used them as a springboard for a discussion of manners. This took the rest of the period.
Urban comments: "This activity made a noticeable difference in students' behavior. In the weeks that followed, several told me they wished their other teachers would discuss good manners." An exchange student from Germany told him, "I enjoy your class not just because I'm learning a lot of American history but also because of how polite everyone is." At the end of the semester a boy said: "That manners page you handed out really made me think. Sometimes we do rude things and aren't even aware that we're being rude."
What were the features of this lesson that made it an effective character education experience for these high school students?
First, Urban took a whole class period to discuss good manners. That sent an unmistakable message: Manners matter.
He exercised directive leadership. He didn't ask students, as a values clarification approach might, "How many people think manners are important?" Rather, he designed the whole structure of the lesson to guide students to the conclusion that manners are important in school and life.
He started positively by stating his belief that most people are capable of courtesy if they know clearly what's expected.
He involved students actively. He recruited and respected them as thinkers by seeking their input.
He succeeded in getting all of his students to think about this issue by posing good questions and having them write anonymously. Anonymity gave them the freedom to be candid. About the importance of writing, Urban says:
If I want quality thinking and quality discussion, I almost always have students write first. Writing gets everyone involved. I get a much richer range of responses than if I simply posed the questions to the whole group -- in which case only a few students carry the class.
Finally, he taught this lesson on day one. Students could reflect on manners without feeling defensive, since they hadn't yet had a chance to commit the kinds of lapses he was describing. One of the hallmarks of character education is that it's proactive: It teaches what's right before something goes wrong.
Things will still go wrong, of course. It takes time to change habits:
By the end of the first month, I'm usually exhausted. It takes me that long to persuade all of my students that I really do expect them to abide by these standards. This past semester I had one kid who thought he could go to sleep in my class because that's what he did in other classes. I just kept walking over to his desk and saying matter-of-factly, "I'm sorry, Dan, but you can't sleep in this class." He eventually got the message.
Character education doesn't eliminate human nature. But by being proactive, the teacher puts a framework of expectations in place. Then the teachable moments -- the inevitable times when students fall short of the expectations -- are more fruitful, because there's an established standard of behavior to refer to and a shared commitment to honor that standard.
2. Teach the hello-goodbye rule
All across the country, teachers say that many students today do not return adults' greetings. "You say hello to a kid in the hall," says one elementary school teacher, "and they don't say anything back."
Returning a greeting, like all manners, must be learned. Gary Robinson made it a point to teach his 4th- and 6th-grade students the courtesy of greeting another person and saying goodbye. After establishing the Golden Rule as his "most important classroom rule," Mr. Robinson said:
My other rule is my Hello-Goodbye Rule. When you come into the classroom, I'd like you to say, "Hello, Mr. Robinson." I will, of course, return your greeting and say hello back to you. And when you leave the classroom, I'd like you to say, "Goodbye, Mr. Robinson."
When you enter somebody's space, it's common courtesy to greet them. You should do the same thing with your parents whenever you come into your house. And when you leave a person's space, you should always say goodbye. That's just the polite thing to do. Besides, when 24 of you guys walk through that door and say, "Hello, Mr. Robinson," it makes me feel great.
3. Teach alphabet manners
Susan Skinner teaches kindergarten in Columbia, South Carolina. She has a bulletin board displaying a different manner for each letter of the alphabet. When she teaches a letter of the alphabet during a given week, she teaches the corresponding manner at the same time.
A -- Accept a compliment graciously.
B -- Be on time.
C -- Clean your hands.
D -- Do chew with your mouth closed.
E -- Elbows off the table.
F -- Friendliness to others.
G -- Good grooming shows self-respect.
H -- Hang up your clothes.
I -- Interrupt only for a very important reason.
J -- Join in and include everybody.
K -- Kindness to all living things.
L -- Lend a helping hand.
M -- Magic words: "Please" and "Thank you."
N -- Never point or laugh at others.
O -- Obey the rules.
P -- Pleasant tone of voice is a plus.
Q -- Quiet when others are working or sleeping.
R -- Remember others on special occasions.
S -- Sit up straight.
T -- Thank the host or hostess.
U -- Use your beautiful smile.
V -- Visit a friend who is lonely or sick.
W -- Watch out for little ones.
X -- "X" out bad habits.
Y -- Yawn if you must but cover your mouth.
Z -- Zip your zipper.
She says: "I've probably gotten more positive parent feedback on my Alphabet Manners than any other thing I do. Parents are very happy that their children are learning these manners in school." And by sending home a copy of the alphabet manners she's teaching in her classroom, she gives parents an unspoken invitation to do the same at home.
4. Implement a manners curriculum
Implementing a formal curriculum on manners is a way to ensure that all students in a school, not just those in a particular teacher's classroom, get instruction in basic courtesies.
Jill Rigby is a mother-turned-educator who got drawn into creating such a curriculum. An interior designer by training, she was asked in 1992 to volunteer at her twin sons' school -- St. James Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She soon found herself in conversations with other parents about students' unruly cafeteria behavior. She said, "Why don't we come into the cafeteria once a week and talk to the children about manners?"
They drafted her for the job. Soon she was doing weekly, often humorous lessons on putting your napkin in your lap, chewing with your mouth closed, and the like.
Other schools began calling the school asking, "Where can we get this program?" In response, Rigby developed her lessons into a K-5 curriculum guide titled Manners of the Heart (www.mannersoftheheart.com), now used by hundreds of schools around the country. There's also a companion guide for parents, Manners of the Heart at Home. The school curriculum has three parts: (1) Everyday Courtesies (such as smiling, saying please and thank you, playing by the rules, and saying I'm sorry); (2) Communication Skills (such as introducing someone, telephone manners, and writing thank you notes); and (3) Table Manners (such as asking for something to be passed, sitting up straight, table talk, and manners for eating out). Rigby comments:
I define manners as an attitude of the heart that is self-giving, not self-serving. The objective of our curriculum is to teach children that manners come from the heart, not from memorizing a set of rules. If respect is the foundation of how we treat each other, manners and etiquette will come easily.
Rigby has had graduates of her curriculum come back to her with stories of how her lessons in manners helped them in high school and even on dates.
When our children act with good manners, they will elicit a positive response from other people. They will be happier themselves -- more secure, confident, and poised -- when they know how to behave. They will be more likely to teach manners to their own children someday if they become parents. By their courteous behavior, they can help to create a more considerate, gracious, and well-mannered society. These are all good reasons to make the teaching of manners part of every character education program.
An excellent resource for getting kids to reflect on manners is George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviours in Company and Conversation, 110 guides to good conduct that he wrote out for himself when he was fourteen years old (available from Applewood Books, Box 365, Bedford, MA 01730).
Thomas Lickona "Teach Manners." Chapter 8 in Character Matters: How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues (New York: Touchstone, 2004): 165-172.
Reprinted with permission of Thomas Lickona.
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