Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Week 3 “Co-morbidity”, and psychological and social aspects

Summary of Week 3 of the Coursera Course Helping Students with Dyslexia
Supporting children with difficulties in reading and writing
University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International

Dr. Jenny Thomson discussed auditory and visual issues, stressing the difference between pitch (frequency) and loudness (amplitude), and how that can affect dyslexic students. She mentioned that the visual stress of reading is an issue discussed in the UK and Europe, perhaps more than elsewhere.

The balance between attention issues and dyslexia can sometimes give contradictory recommendations. For example, a dyslexic child can often perform better in comprehension when read to, because he doesn't have to alott all of his attention to decoding. On the other hand, if the child has attention issues, she might need the reading to be in front of her, so she has someplace to anchor her comprehension. A child who is both dyslexic and has attention issues might do best with simultaneously the oral and the visual input, but individual differences should be considered. 

Areas of strength in dyslexic individuals often include spatial representation, often stronger relative to their peers. However, oral numeracy can sometimes be affected. For example, the word “thirteen” has to be converted into the concepts of “three” and “ten”, but “eleven” and “twelve” are even more distant from a transparent connection to “11” and “12”.

Dr. Goetry explained the concept of the “dys-constellation”. This is the comorbidity idea that dyspraxia (a difficulty with fine motor control) can often appear in the same individual as dysgraphia (difficulty in writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with number manipulation), and dyslexia (a reading specific difficulty). 

He recommends the use of the computer for dysgraphic and dyspraxic children to help preserve their self esteem, allowing others to be able to read their writing. He mentioned free software such as GeoGebra, found on Google, to teach algebra, geometry, statistics and calculus interactively.

Dr. Goetry discussed early diagnosis, citing French neurologist Michel Habib in saying that half of dyslexic learners showed spoken language delays. Heiki Lyttinen and his team used a test 6 months after birth that pretty accurately predicted future dyslexia.

The emotional fallout of academic stress was emphasized. French psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik points to 40% or more of learners 10 to 24 years old think about death at school, because of anxiety or depression. The Belgian Fondation Dyslexie asserts that dyslexics are three times more likely to commit suicide, and six times more likely to drop out of school. 

Professor Linda Siegel of the University of British Columbia, in Canada, provided the course with a slide lecture that cited the relationship between illiteracy and incarceration. In addition, she gave the horrifying statistic she herself gathered in her studies: “All the adolescent suicides in a three year period in Ontario had undetected and unremediated learning disabilities.” 

Dr Goetry referred to a concept labeled “cognitive death”, where a learner who has lost all self-esteem can no longer learn anything academic, due to a complete loss of motivation. H points out that dyslexic learners' strengths need to be overtly, publicly valorized. 

Dr Jenny Thomson points out that some companies, such as architectural companies, go out of their way to recruit people with dyslexia and other learning differences, because of their interest in 3D representational skills. 

Professor Stein, reminding us that reading is an extremely recent acquisition for human development, talks about the differences between forms the brain is programmed to recognize, versus shapes that wouldn't normally matter. For example, the brain wouldn't need to remember if a branch or leaf poked out on the left or right, but it's critical for reading to know on which side you should see an “a” or “o”, or on which side the stalk of a “p” or “q” lies. The left hemisphere is normally where we train the brain to do all this required linear sequencing. In the normal brain, this forces the left hemisphere to lose holistic processing, whereas dyslexics retain the holistic processing – an advantage for visual-spatial processing for dyslexics, and a disadvantage for reading. 

Week 2 Definitions and identification of dyslexia

Below is a summary of information I found most useful from the University of London's Coursera course, 

Reading capabilities can be represented in simplified form by quadrants, where one axis represents language comprehension, and another represents decoding. 

This gives four general categories: 
  • children who have no difficulty at all
  • children with difficulty decoding, but not comprehending (“dyslexia”)
  • those with difficulty comprehending, but who can read the text on a mechanical level (“specific comprehension deficit”)
  • and those who struggle both with comprehension and with decoding.

Dr. Goetry talked about the importance of asking parents and grandparents about their own relationships with reading, because dyslexia and its diagnosis were less common than they are today.

How well does the child distinguish left from right? Is she ambidextrous? Are rhymes difficult to provide? Are multiple directions difficult to follow? Is time difficult to estimate? Does the child say “disonaur” instead of “dinosaur”?

Fatigability can allow primary children to begin with correct sentences, and slowly have their writing or reading fall into additions, ommissions, and substitutions.

70% of dyslexic children have difficulties manipulating the sounds of language.

Phonemic tasks for detection of dyslexia: generation, detection, blending, segmentation, deletion, substitution, fusion, inversion.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Week 1 An overview of Supporting children with difficulties in reading in writing

Week 1 An Overview

Dr. Vincent Goetry went through the Uta Frith model of reading development: the LOGOGRAPHIC stage, the ALPHABETIC stage, and the ORTHOGRAPHIC stage.

The logographic stage means children can recognize words as pictures, such as STOP on a red stop sign, or the shape of their name.

The alphabetic stage requires that children understand that words can be broken up into smaller phonemic units. The child also needs to understand that the language spoken relates to the language written, and that the link as from oral phonemes to written graphemes.

The orthographic stage [look up definition of orthographic stage] allows the child to see the written symbols (graphemes) and immediately and automatically, wholistically, recode them in her brain as sounds (phonemes). After maybe the 10th or 20th time seeing the word “school,” for example, she might know without going through the several step process of recognizing the letters, recognizing the grapheme groupings, turning them into phonemes, then grouping the phonemes accurately into a word.

One entire lecture focused on the importance of automatization, and the importance of speed and accuracy. The recognition of the word needs to access phonological and orthographic representations immediately for fluent reading, and this is the part that is missing for individuals with dyslexia. This, Dr. Goetry said, is called a “double task”.

Dr. Goetry spent some time with the unique issues around bilingualism. For example, in an interesting study on the rejection of pseudowords by English-German bilinguals, researchers noticed that these individuals had two distinct groupings of orthographic sequences that could slow down how quickly they rejected the pseudorword. Specifically, if they saw a word that would be allowed in German that began with the legal “pf” combination, or a word legal in English but not in German – “tw” combination, for example – they had to take a moment to eliminate two sets of rules, instead of only the time monolinguals had to use. The difference in time was linear, though, which makes me think bilinguals should simply be given another moment to sift through a greater deck of possibilities. 

Summary of the Coursera Course Helping Students with Dyslexia

University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International

This course, offered by Dr Jenny Thomson and Dr Vincent Goetry with the University of London, gave me a semester's worth of actionable information on dyslexia and learners with dyslexia. 

I encourage everyone to attend this course. But it can be a sizable commitment, so I am writing a series of blog posts summarizing the contents of each week.

Brief description of what it took to complete this course: It took me approximately four months to complete. I had several policy texts, and one or two academic texts, to read as pdfs, as well as a short film re-enacting the experiences of dyslexic children in school in Europe (including the UK), an hour long discourse about the neurology of reading by Dr Dahaene, and a couple dozen hours of informative lectures by Dr Jenny Thomson and Dr Vincent Goetry of the University of London, UCL Institute of Education & Dyslexia International.

The course was broken up into five weeks, each with a theme:




Weeks 4 and 5 Practical teaching approaches

Week 6 Study skills, aids and accommodations

Monday, April 29, 2019

Apple Painting Lesson

Recently, I had an interview for an art teacher position at Upward Bound in Utah. I asked the internet for a lesson plan, and Mr. Matt Christenson supplied. Thank you, Matt! Here is my painting:




I used these materials:
  • 1 spray bottle
  • 3 brushes (1.5 inch boar hair student brush, .3 cm mink hair square brush, 1 cm acrylic chisel edged brush)
  • 1 flat metal palette knife
  • 1 gallon ziplock bag for my palette
  • 1 plastic picnic plate
  • 2 old socks
  • 1 glass jam jar
  • acrylic paints: cadmium red hue, cadmium orange hue, cadmium yellow hue, dark cobalt blue, titanium white, vivid lime green
  • Strathmore mixed media vellum finish paper notebook
  • 4 sturdy rubber bands
  • 1 apple
  • Ultramarine blue pastel crayon


A word about brushes: wipe them on the old sock in the direction of the brush – metal to tip, away from the handle – pretty thoroughly before cleaning them in water. Before you use them, put your brush in clean water (a drop of soap in the cup of water won't hurt) and then gently fold the cloth over the paintbrush, and wipe it slightly dry. This will give you just enough humidity to keep the acrylic happy, and just enough dryness to keep it from running. Never leave them for more than a couple (2) minutes dry while you are using them.

Step one: make a wash with 1 part ultramarine (or cobalt) and a hint of the red, 6 parts water. Mark off a rectangle on your paper, leaving a centimeter border on all sides. Secure pages to the rest of the notebook with rubber bands, to avoid too much buckling. With your boar hair brush, fill in the page with broad, linear strokes, letting the color pool and play. Let dry flat for a couple of hours.

Step two: cut the apple in thirds, arrange them on a plate or other surface. With your pastel, begin drawing.

Step three: with your .3 cm brush, go over the lines you liked with your blue acrylic paint.


Step four: mix blue and red to make a dark magenta, and, with your chisel edge, touch paint along the edges of your apple. Don't brush. Then mix a quarter teaspoon white, a nail clipping of vivid lime green, a hint of orange, and begin drawing your edging brush from the dark outer rim toward the center core. Don't forget to mist your palette every 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the air's humidity level.



Step five: work outward from the center. Consider every plane. Try to use only the original colors on your palette.



For a fantastic apple painting, here's something from (I kid you not) Linda Apple!

 Apple from Linda Apple


This lesson teaches value scales, unmediated artistic trust in your eyes, materials use, and understanding color interactions (how a blue background changes our perception of the colors we use).

Have fun! Point us to your results in the comments, if you like :)



Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Saga of the Beginning Violinist

The first part of Emile's nightly violin lesson is the easiest, though least fruitful: asking him to go get his violin to start the lesson. It's easy, because I only have to repeat the request a few dozen times, without any further work on my part. It's fruitless for the same reason – at least until the moment when I hit the sticking point, and he finally goes to get the instrument.

I tune it.

Then comes the struggle to get him to stand straight, hold the violin correctly. He has a tendency to want to melt. Getting his bow arm not to flap out behind him like a chicken wing is a struggle, as well, because it bugs him to have his elbow touched. As a violinist myself, I can sympathize; I hate having my bow arm touched while I'm playing. He's fairly good about correcting his pitch when I point it out, though “up” and “down” and “flat” and “sharp” are still fuzzy terms for him. 

The real trouble comes in getting him to repeat a section, play it differently. He wants to charge on. If he repeats, he wants only to repeat from the beginning, never midway. One of the adults in the Suzuki class was the same way, so I guess it isn't only little kids who are stubborn and resistant about such things. 

Get him to read the music sheet, count the beats, be attentive to sound quality, stand up straight, play staccato when that's what's written, hold a note for five beats, keep his elbows in line …. It's a lot, and I know it. 

The real meltdown comes when I ask him to play a new piece, and he doesn't want to. Then, oh boy, better hope that fiddle doesn't get crushed in the melodramatic flop. “Don't let the violin go bridge down, ever!” “No, the bow isn't a cane.” “The bow can only be an epee if it doesn't touch anything.” “Don't put the bow between your toes!” Reminders of things that seem obvious.

Two old pieces, and one new, every night. It seems unreasonable to him. It can take as much as ten minutes to scrape him back up off the floor. And if I get to play one piece along with him, I'm happy. 

In spite of the drama, he's improving. His sound is good, and he's making real music. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

VA Fails

My father was in the Air Force for the Vietnam War, stationed in Juno, Alaska. He was a very handsome man, with a huge smile. I always adored the silver edging on his teeth, a testament to a hard life as a farm boy who'd had no childhood to speak of.

Two years ago, he needed hip surgery on both hips. He was told he couldn't get it until he got all his imperfect teeth pulled out. 

He was left with four.

Now, my father's face isn't the same. The lower lids of his eyes droop, his face is caved in some, and he is shy about going out in public. Given that he lives in the far reaches of Northern Minnesota, his Disability payments from a hard life of literally back breaking work sometimes falls short of covering his heating. He receives assistance for an insufficient amount of food. 


The man can't afford dentures, let alone the implants that would restore his face and sense of pride, and the VA says there's no money to help him.

The hip surgery was barely worth it. The hospital rammed him into the door frame on the way out of surgery, and now he is scheduling the fourth attempt at getting two functioning hips. In the meantime, his right hip feels like it's burning its way out of his body. 

He had been planning on applying for a job as a Walmart greeter, to try to help cover costs – at 74 years old.

Can his elected officials help? I can't help feeling that John McCain would have been enraged by his treatment. It brings tears to my eyes to think about it.