WHAT A DIFFERENCE!
Understanding, teaching, and empowering students with language-based learning differences such as dyslexia
Kendra McCuine, M.Ed, teacher and interim director of the Hope Graham Program (HGP) at Bancroft School, writes about the beautiful and amazing dyslexic brain. Read on and discover further proof of what Hope Graham students already know: Dyslexia is a difference, not a disability!
In my first blog entry, “The Business of Changing Brains,” I outlined the research on the proven impact that Orton-Gillingham (OG) instruction has on students’ reading abilities. In the Hope Graham Program, we live the results of this research every day; the OG-based instruction that we provide in our small literacy classes and individualized tutoring sessions has a profound impact on our students’ ability to read (and often their excitement for doing so). Thanks to that research, we in the field of educating students with language-based learning differences (LBLD) know exactly what works for teaching our students how to read. What’s more, researchers have discovered the changes in the brain that result from such instruction.
In the realm of LBLD, far more is currently known about reading than math. However, we do know a lot about the kind of instruction that is effective for our students.
Explicit Math Instruction
Many HGP students participate in our “explicit” math classes, which occur at the same time as our other math classes in Grades 2-8, but in a smaller group and with alternative instructional approaches. Many of the instructional practices that our explicit math classes use have the same underpinnings as the OG approach. These include:
- Direct and explicit instruction: Students know the goal of the day’s lesson. While math curricula often employ a “discovery method,” in which students intuit what they need to know from a series of examples, our explicit math classes provide students with the goal of the lesson right away.
- Gradual release of responsibility: We employ an “I do, we do, you do” framework, in which the responsibility for content and procedures shifts gradually from teacher to student, with frequent checks for student understanding along the way.
- Concrete to abstract instruction: Students work with hands-on or pictorial representations of abstract mathematical concepts in order to develop a solid understanding, gradually fading these out over time. This is something that all Bancroft math teachers do, but our explicit math teachers employ this practice for a longer period of time and with a wider array of manipulatives when necessary.
- Less focus on language: Most math curricula today have a heavy focus on language in addition to the math concepts taught. Students are expected to read lengthy explanations and express their understanding in written form. Our explicit math classes intentionally decrease both reading and writing loads during instruction, so that students can devote more cognitive energy to learning and playing with their mathematical understanding.
- Breaking down language tasks when necessary: Sometimes language tasks can’t be avoided in math class, such as when students learn math vocabulary or word problems. In these cases, our teachers directly introduce and frequently review math vocabulary. They also help students to break word problems down into their parts and translate each part into the language of math.
One researcher, Dr. Joanna Christodoulou, is currently working to develop a better understand of what the neurological crossover is between reading and math difficulties. Dr. Christodoulou is a research associate at MIT, Adjunct Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Assistant Professor at the MGH Institute of Health Professions. While her research is still underway, she has developed several theories regarding neurological factors that may cause students to struggle with both language and math. This is very exciting work, as it may help us to better target the factors that cause some of our Hope Graham Program students to struggle in both areas, and more importantly, how we can better target their needs.
I am pleased to announce that Dr. Christodoulou will be presenting her findings thus far, and her resulting theories, at our spring Bancroft Speaker Series on Thursday, April 26!
She will also discuss her completed work on the “summer slump” that students with LBLD often experience in reading, and ways to prevent reading regression during this time. Bancroft Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Stay tuned for registration information — coming soon!
I encourage you to reach out to your child’s teacher if you have questions about how to support your child’s math learning at home.
I hope to see you at our Speaker Series on April 26!
This past Thursday, Peggy Stern, Academy Award winner director and creator of Dyslexiaville, spent the afternoon with all of our Hope Graham Program students. Not only is Peggy a very successful filmmaker who credits her talent to her dyslexia, she is an immediately relatable and very candid speaker. So it was no surprise that she was able to spark deep thoughts and conversations among our students, focusing on their individual strengths.
Peggy met with our HGP Middle School and Lower School students separately, but both groups were equally interested in this concept of strengths. One Lower School student seemed to have a spark of epiphany as he answered one of her questions, wrestling to find the words to express the fact that while students with language-based differences (LBLD) have a hard time learning to read, they are able to some things much more easily than their non-LBLD peers. Both groups then went on to think about and express their own strengths, some of which included: drawing, computers, animals, curiosity, hockey, thinking creatively, writing short stories, science, combining two things into one thing, learning facts, understanding the feelings of others, math, and soccer.
The Learning Lab Method that Bancroft School teachers often employ offers all Bancroft students to learn through, practice, and showcase their strengths. A student might create a stop-motion Lego animation detailing their research on Myanmar’s educational system, compose and perform a song in the style popular during the Industrial Revolution, or research our school’s namesake and display their findings at Bancroft Tower for hundreds to see (all of these are actual projects). These projects, which offer student voice and choice and an authentic audience for student work, enable Hope Graham Program students to not only address their weaknesses, but to employ their strengths without limits.
We encourage every parent of a student with a language-based learning difference to keep up an ongoing conversation going around your child’s strengths. If your child has a hard time identifying what they are good at, taking a look at their interests is a great starting point (even as children, we tend to gravitate towards activities that suit our strengths).
This assessment from Headstrong Nation is also a fun way to map your child’s strengths.
And remember to share what comes out of these conversations with your child’s teacher so that they can keep up the encouragement at school!
Hope Graham Program teachers with Peggy Stern (center) before her Bancroft Speaker Series presentation to an audience of parents, educators, and students about encouraging students’ strengths.
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