Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peninsula Daily News Article: On The Fast Track

On the Fast Track: Innovative ways help overcome reading disability
By Jennifer Jackson
Peninsula Daily News April 4, 2005

PORT TOWNSEND---Anthony Short has been on the fast track all his life.

He races hydroplanes as a hobby. He goes "4 bying"---4 by 4 trucking on back roads. He rides motorbikes, and enters and wins mud bog competitions in vehicles he repairs and maintains.

Now 21, he has taken engines apart and put them back together since he was 9 years old.

But in school, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get off the mark in reading. Read More

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Binocular Teaming affects READING and Attention

clipped from

Experts estimate that 5 percent of school-age children have convergence insufficiency. They can suffer headaches, dizziness and nausea, which can lead to irritability, low self-esteem and inability to concentrate.

Interesting article---Convergence can be quickly screened using the string and bead test. Convergence most often improves using the Belgau Balance Board activities--Melinda
blog it

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Why do physical activities affect reading, writing or attention?

The June 2003 Volume 24, Number 6 issue of Discover magazine includes an interesting article outlining neuroscientist Paul Back-y-Rita’s current research into the plasticity of our senses. His thesis is that our brain is so adaptable that any of the five senses can be rewired. Read More

Saturday, September 08, 2007

PT Project Won't Quit on Learning Problems

Advisor Shows how to cope with disabilities over the long run By Philip Watness Peninsula Daily News
January 2000
Port Townsend

Letters have a life of their own when Shelley Wolff looks at them. "P's become q's because Wollf has dyslexia. Shana Cannavaro learns from images rather than words on a page. Both women have learning disabilities and both of them somehow got through Port Townsend High School. Read More

Friday, September 07, 2007

Output Failure: The Myth of Laziness

We naturally understand other individuals from inside our own experiences. From the outside looking in, learning disabilities are difficult to comprehend, especially when you live or work with children or adults who do not perform as you do. For example, failure to produce organized, written work is difficult to understand for those of us who manage to generate written materials. "If only he'd apply himself....If only she'd work a little harder....He just isn't living up to his potential....She can do it, I've seen her do it..." Today, schools are under increased pressure to have students perform. Now, instead of filling in bubbles and blanks, much of performance is measured by constructing written responses. Indeed, the current Washington State Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) requires students to write cogently about their thinking.

In his book, The Myth of Laziness, Mel Levine, M.D. argues that low productivity is almost always a product of a neurodevelopmental bottleneck. So, when writing output is minimal, haphazard, or inconsistently produced, Dr. Levine checks for possible breakdowns in the motor system. He uses a seven step Motor Chain----looking at sports coordination (gross-motor), arts/crafts/repair work (fine-motor), and writing (graphomotor). Using his model, there are 21 possible points of "breakdown" for motor performance!

But the cause of output failure might not lie in the complexities of the motor system. Dr. Levine identifies seven other neurodevelopmental areas where output failure can occur: weak production control, social distractibility, low mental energy, disorganization, language delays, impoverished ideation, and insufficient memory. Of course, an individual might have a combination of the above affecting performance! The first step in understanding output failures, is to examine the individual's performance across different types of motor, attention, and language tasks to determine their unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. Then,
effective remediation and appropriate instruction can be designed so that hard work leads to successful outcomes.

Back to School: Support Your Child's Learning

What can you do?
Students with learning disabilities/differences typically begin the school year with a bang, yet somehow, mid-way through the year, find that they are behind and struggling despite every one's hard work. Here are a few tips to make sure your student makes steady progress during the school year.

  • Listen and Observe
People learn differently. Understand as much as you can about your child's learning. Naturally, we expect our children to do the things that we can do, well. So, as parents, we are puzzled when our children struggle with tasks that came easily to us. Alternately, sometimes parents were able to "power through" their learning difficulties, and so expect their children to be able to do the same. Many children do, but some cannot.

Learning Disabilities are common, affecting between 20 - 30% of the population. Learning differences reflect unique patterns of strengths and weaknesses. MOST IMPORTANTLY,

Intelligence can be developed and trained with the appropriate tools!

So, the first step to successful learning is to be a careful observer of your child's performance. What activities and skills are improving? Where does "trying harder" only lead to frustration? What does your child tell you? For instance, a student having trouble writing, exclaimed, "I hate it when your pencil gets stuck! All the words I want to say jam up in the pencil point!" I never noticed my pencil getting stuck! Yet, as I thought about his comments, and realized that this student experiences grapho-motor delays in addition to language delays, I realized that his exclamation described this perfectly! Another student asked, "Why are the letters moving around on the page?" I never had letters move on the page, but now I know that this is fairly common among students who have difficulty learning to read.

  • Get Informed
Learning differences are everywhere! In fact, learning difficulties arise when we are asked to do a task in a way that we cannot! For example, if an individual is gifted spatially, and everything you ask them to do is in two-dimensions (for instance, reading and writing), they may not excel until they can make connections from the 3-D world into the 2-D world of print. Find out all you can about any areas that seem difficult for your child. Do they have fine or gross motor delays? How is their language system? Do they know the meaning of words? Do they express themselves well when speaking? writing? Do they process sounds accurately? Can they interpret what they see accurately--i.e. do letters stay still on the page, or do they frequently reverse letters or words like b's and d's or was and saw? The more you learn about learning, the better observer you become.

Fair does not mean the same route for everyone - Fair means appropriate
and perhaps, different paths for each learner!

  • Set and Review Goals
Have your child set their learning goals for the new school year. What skills to they want to improve? Reading chapter books? Writing reports? Learning study strategies for tests? Passing algebra? Goals that are personal and set by the child are meaningful to note and post. I like using a 1 - 10 scale, and noting improvement toward a ten for each goal. Check in monthly. How does your child feel they are progressing? Celebrate your progress! When you reach your goals you can set new ones!
  • Be Your Child's Best Advocate
If you note that your child is not progressing despite their efforts, avoid the "just try harder" myth and search out other ways to approach the task. Discuss your observations and concerns with teachers, use the parenting resource section of the library, and check out info on the net. Consider professional support when you feel that you are not making progress, but "hitting the wall" repeatedly. With the appropriate instruction and tools, students make progress!
  • Quantity vs Quality
Monitor your child's homework, especially if your child works slowly. Check with teachers to see if doing less work may be appropriate. Sometimes you can agree on a time limit for homework, 15 - 30 minutes in the evening for younger grades, and perhaps 60 - 90 minutes for upper grades. Remember that if a student takes longer to complete work, they are almost always working harder---and have been working harder all day at school. For instance, for math problems, I might pick out 10 out of 30 problems that reflect the learning objective for the day for a student who works slowly.

Another strategy is to ask your child to do the number of problems they feel they can complete within a reasonable amount of time. Let your child increase their goal as they feel empowered. Feeling like you can complete the task successfully is important!

Success motivates!
  • Accommodations and Assistive Technologies
In addition to providing appropriate accommodations, students need instruction and practice in how and when to use specific learning strategies and assistive technology. For example, books on tape are wonderful tools to develop fluency, ease reading fatigue, and provide multi-sensory input when the student reads the book while listening to the tape. Being able to adjust the speed is important, as well as learning to stop the tape and note the important information in a given section.

Be a scribe for a student who has trouble producing written work. Part of writing is learning to develop one's expressive language. Student's language development can suffer when they are not able to produce the quantity or types of print expected. Add voice recognition software so students can begin to "write" independently and gain experience manipulating written language.

Look for the gifts in learning differently! The more I work with students and learning, the more I appreciate individual complexity. We can learn from each other. Each of us is unique in how we makes sense of the world around us!

Don Winkler uses his thinking outside the box to lead corporations. Read his story at

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Don't Miss Out on Strategies!

Strategies for Success is an invaluable introductory course that puts the tools of Educational Therapy into your hands! Useful for:

  • Parents trying to understand their child's learning
  • Teachers trying to understand how to differentiate instruction effectively
  • Home school parents working to keep learning fun
  • Tutors or professionals working with children with learning struggles

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Learning Channel

Saturday, September 01, 2007

PT Project Won't Quit on Learning Problems

Advisor Shows how to cope with disabilities over the long run By Philip Watness Peninsula Daily News
January 2000
Port Townsend

Letters have a life of their own when Shelley Wolff looks at them. "P's become q's because Wollf has dyslexia. Shana Cannavaro learns from images rather than words on a page.
Both women have learning disabilities and both of them somehow got through Port Townsend High School.

They have since learned that they can compensate for their learning limitations. Wolff, Cannavaro and two other individuals will share their experience as part of "Success Stories: Living with Learning Disabilities<' from 3:30 - 5 pm at The Upstage Restaurant, 903 Washington St.

The two women and John Vass of Port Angeles and Melody Haugen of Chimacum are clients of SISIUTL: New Paradigms in Learning, operated by Melinda Pongrey of Port Townsend, who counsels people with learning disabilities.

Wolff, 25, said she felt depressed a year ago because her dyslexia barred her from studying to be a veterinarian. She sought out Pongrey and discovered that she could overcome the disability. She also had to overcome self-esteem issues after years in a school system which failed to help her, even after the dyslexia was discovered.

"I told one teacher the letters were switching back and forth and she just told me to make them turn back," Wolff said. "It wasn't until my sophomore year that I was tested and they figured out I had dyslexia, but the problem was they had no clue how to deal with it. Nobody taught me how to go through the problem."

Cannavaro, 22, also experienced learning problems throughout high school, though she got into the Mar Vista Alternative High School as a junior where she received more individualized attention. But she still needed effective learning tools when she began attending Peninsula College.

"I learn in a totally different way than most people," Cannavaro said. "I learn really well doing hand's on work. I also have to put things in my own words to really understand something."

Pongrey said many people have similar experiences as Wolff and Cannavaro but won't seek help because they either don't know help is available or they have been shamed into not revealing their disability.

"I talked with a lady who had taught herself to read in her 20's" Pongrey said. "When I told her she was working 100 times more than others (to learn to read) she said thank you and began crying. She had been told she was lazy or not trying hard enough. I've never worked that hard at anything!"

Wolff begins study at Peninsula College this week and she feels confident she will earn an associate in arts degree. She hopes to go on to Washington State University and enter its veterinarian technician program.

Cannavaro said she hopes people who come to the talk Saturday will come away with a better understanding of learning disabilities and the reassurance that they're not alone.

"There are tons of kids I'm sure who have learning disabilities and the school district isn't taking the time and taking the care of their needs," Cannavaro said. "It's going to create a problem for them later in their life."

Wolff also hoped people would learn about the tools available to them to overcome learning disabilities.

The talk at the Upstage is free. For more information about Pongrey and SISIUTL, call her at 379-1223.