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 the Hope Graham Program (HGP), we believe that enabling students to name their challenges empowers them to understand when and why they struggle. A student who can confidently say, “I am dyslexic” knows that he or she is a bright student whose brain is not optimally wired for reading, not a student who is dumb. Students who know that they have expressive language challenges understand that they need some time to think before responding, some sentence starters to get the words flowing, or the opportunity to talk around the idea they’re trying to express — and that these are just tools to help them express what they already know.
Most importantly, by naming their challenges, our students have the opportunity to realize that those challenges are only a sliver of their overall identities. At Bancroft, a student might see himself as a student who is great at robotics, a quick math problem-solver, a kind friend, dyslexic, and a strong lacrosse player. Or she could be a curious scientist, member of the Lower School Leadership team, dyscalculic and ADHD, and star of the fifth grade play.
Earlier this year, one of our new HGP students decided to write a letter to the President after realizing the freedom that comes from being in a school where differences are named, celebrated, and recognized as just a small aspect of our extremely multidimensional students. Portions of this letter are shared with the student’s permission:
“I am in 5th grade and am 11 years old, like your son Barron. I am Dyslexic and have ADHD. I want to explain how I struggled in public school from kindergarten through 4th grade. While in school, I was struggling with reading, writing, and math. I was so frustrated that I tried to cover my confusion by making jokes. I had no confidence and thought that I was dumb.
“My parents were told that the school does not use the word Dyslexia. I googled and found in October of 2015 The United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Service produced a memo that ‘encourages States to review the policies procedures and practices to ensure they do not prohibit the use of the terms of Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia in evaluations eligibility and IEP documents.’
“I finally had some answers when a psychologist diagnosed me. After we received the test results, the psychologist recommended Bancroft School in Worcester MA. So now I am at Bancroft in the Hope Graham Program for Dyslexia and ADHD. I feel so much more confident and comfortable. There are 7 kids in my class and I'm getting the right tools I need and learning how my brain works.
“How can you as our President help kids like me get the right tools so they don’t get left behind? Lastly, Mr. President, if public schools do not even acknowledge the word dyslexia how are kids going to get the help they need?”
Names hold a lot of power. We encourage you to help your child acknowledge and perhaps even celebrate the sliver of their identity that has made HGP a good fit for them.
Much of the time, kids are able to articulate what needs to be said even better than the adults in their lives. For this post and the next, I’m going to let HGP student voices dominate. The following is a speech written by a student for the 8th grade Forum. Forums are a very special tradition in which each 8th grader writes and presents a speech to the entire Middle School on any topic of their choosing. One of our HGP students recently delivered this speech with confidence and poise, and was met with enthusiastic applause upon its completion! I share it with the student’s permission:
“Mom, I have all these ideas in my head, but I can't get them on paper.” I remember saying that when I was in fourth grade. I never wanted to go to school in 4th and 5th grade. I was bullied and I struggled in most of my classes. I never felt like I was good enough. Then I was tested and learned that I have dyslexia. This is my journey through dyslexia.
“You may be wondering what is dyslexia? According to Merriam-Webster, “Dyslexia is a learning disability involving difficulties in acquiring and processing language.” In basic English what this means is that my brain learns differently when it comes to reading, writing and spelling.
“I also learned that I am not alone. An estimated 20% of the population has dyslexia including some people you may have heard of.
“Just because someone is diagnosed with dyslexia does not mean all dyslexics are the same. It doesn’t mean we read letters backwards, that we don’t know our right from our left and most importantly, it doesn’t mean that we are slow or not trying hard enough!
“For me personally, dyslexia makes reading, writing, spelling and time management a challenge.
“Reading had been the easiest of the 4 for me which is different from other dyslexics. In elementary school I was about 1-2 grade levels behind in reading up until 6th grade. That is when I came to Bancroft and the Hope Graham Program and learned specific strategies and skills.
“Tools like active reading, ear reading, which is the ability to listen to books read aloud electronically, and Orton Gillingham tutoring have helped me to have a better understanding of what I am reading and how to be a better writer. Orton Gillingham is a unique approach intended to help individuals with reading, writing, and spelling. It teaches you spelling rules, syllable division, vowel teams, Latin roots, suffixes, prefixes, and what they all mean. Writing and spelling are still a challenge for me, but not nearly so difficult as before.
“Before I came to Bancroft I was very determined to do school work on my own without any help which is a crazy idea. Because of my determination, it took me two weeks to write a memoir in 5th grade that took other kids only 4 days to write. Of course, if I had gotten help I would've gotten it done much faster and it would have been the same quality. It was difficult for me to understand my learning then because I would do really well on work but it would take me excessively long times and a lot more effort compared to others in my class. My teacher would even use my work as examples which always made it seem worth spending that amount of time on.
“I would also spell things extremely phonetically and still do. Words that had the same letters in different orders confused me a lot too. The best examples are who, how, and why which do not have all of the same letters but are very similar. I don't think I could truly 100 percent always know which was which until 6th grade.
“I have been in HGP since 6th grade and it has helped me grow so much as a learner and in my overall confidence. HGP has helped me realize that everyone learns best a different way and that what works for me is not always going to work for someone else. Dyslexia is something you will never grow out of and it means that reading and writing assignments may always take me a bit longer to complete, but with hard work, determination and specific strategies and tools, the sky's the limit!
“And finally I will end with a classic quote:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live it's whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein
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