Should I Subject My Student/Child To Dyslexia Screening?

There’s a lot of mythology out there surrounding dyslexia. It’s hard to know what to believe. Some parents and teachers wonder whether they should subject their children and students to the discomfort of testing for a learning disability, when there’s so much conflicting information. And the peer pressure! UGH! There’s TONS of peer pressure among parents and teachers in relation to testing for learning disability. 

Here’s a smattering of what parents and mentors hear regarding testing for learning disability: 

“Parents who don’t have their children tested for learning disabilities are ignorant jerks. And ought to be thrown in jail for neglect!” 

“Teachers who encourage parents to have their children tested for LD are lazy and incompetent, and aren’t doing their job right. They just want to take our tax money, and blame their problems on the kids!”

“Doctors and scientists over diagnose learning disability to shut the parents and teachers up, and money grub from the drug manufacturers!”

“Kids fake a reading problem, because they’re just entitled and spoiled, and don’t want to do the work. They know their parents will take their side against the teacher and give them a crutch.”

“This entire argument is stupid, for, as everyone knows, homeschooling is the best option, and if you make your child learn to read before age 7, you’re just setting him up for failure.”

“China doesn’t seem to have this problem. We ought to require more hours of schooling, and increase discipline. We don’t have a reading problem! It’s a respect proble. In my day, you never heard about dyslexia, because we respected our teachers.”

Confused yet? Like all myths, each of these has a grain of truth. To navigate the minefield of public opinion, you may need a Marauder in order to get through in one piece. 

I see it this way: there are two reasons to get formal clinical testing and a diagnosis for dyslexia.

No. 1 You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your child is brilliant yet struggles to learn to read AND you need or want something from the government or a government-like agency.

No. 2 You know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your child is brilliant yet struggles to learn to read AND you need emotional closure.

Reason no. 1 accommodation: 

If you do want something special from the government or another strict organization, testing and diagnosis for your struggling reader with dyslexia are essential. Without formal diagnosis, the government and any agency or organization subject to government rules and regulations, is under no legal obligation to accommodate you or your student.

Where this may become an issue, even if you’re homeschooling, is if you want your child with a reading disability to take the SAT untimed. Another example would be if your child with a reading disability enters college, and wants permission to record a Professor’s lecture. Some of what they say is protected by copyright, and recording a lecture could be seen as unauthorized distribution, unless the student has permission from the university, on the basis of his learning disability, to record the lecture. Yet another example would be if you want your child to be able to have the driver education test read to him, so he can get his driver’s license. 

Reason no. 2 emotional closure:

Because dyslexia only affects 10% of us, it’s not exactly national headline news, (unless Charles Schwab or Sir Richard Branson are involved). So, the first time you or your student may hear of it is when your student presents with the symptoms of dyslexia. These symptoms, which you can read all about in this post, or excellent websites like, can be mistaken by the unobservant for stupidity, laziness, or disrespect. Can you imagine how your student must feel if these three words are allowed to pervade his self talk day in and day out? 

The diagnosis, for this student, while not a silver bullet or panacea, can be a liberating and empowering experience. From the diagnosis he can know, definitively, that he’s not stupid, lazy, or disrespectful, he just has a learning difference. He can point to it in his brain. More important than that, though, is that the diagnosis can be shown to others who will have to quickly change their tune if they’ve been applying the labels of stupid, lazy, or disrespectful. He’ll have proof that he’s smart, but learns in a different way. 

The diagnosis also lends accountability. If knowledge is power, then, in the hands of the student with dyslexia, the knowledge of his diagnosis makes him accountable for it. He’ll never be able to hide behind the labels of lazy, stupid, or disrespectful. He’ll know that he’s smart, and feel empowered to reach his goals, no matter what. 

So, what’s the bottom line:

Millions of dyslexics go undiagnosed, and they do fine. BUT! Things could be so much better. In a literate society, a person with dyslexia isn’t getting a fair shake. Unless you feel confident your student or child is remediated well enough to get through at least some of the barriers this literate society may present to her goals and aspirations, testing and diagnosis are a must-have. I’ve seen brilliant people barred from doing what they love, and are extremely talented at, because they couldn’t pass what was, to the rest of us, a trivial state-required exam. The simple accommodation of having the test read aloud to her could have solved that problem. 

In short, I’m proud to be, an American, because we believe in the following:

-An effort to be inclusive

-Encouraging equal treatment under the law

-A deep love and affection for children

-An effort to break up artificial and hurtful stratifications in our society

But we’re not perfect. Our special education philosophies and ideas have problems, and change is often slow in coming. As we continue working for change, the ultimate power rests with parents. Go with your gut when you’re thinking about whether to pursue testing. We teachers of struggling readers really admire you parents of struggling readers. There’s a lot of pressure to get kids reading, and we honor & respect your choice. Either way you go, were in this together and glad about it!

For more on dyslexia and how to make it work for your brilliant kid, read my other posts and follow my blog.

For resources on testing, check out these websites.


Why Crosswords May Be the Most Useless Comprehension/Vocabulary Building Activity You’re Giving Your Students (And What To Give Them Instead)

So, you all know I tutor kids with dyslexia and other print disabilities. 

Now, I want to share an experience I had the other day using the app One Minute Reader by Read Naturally, Inc. (an app that I absolutely LOVE, by the way. More on that later). 

My student and I got through the Read For One Minute and the Read Along sections beautifully, and then moved to the comprehension-checking activities at the end. One of the activities is a crossword puzzle using words from the story. The idea is the student reads the clue, or definition, then chooses the answer, or matching vocab word, from the word bank and fills in the corresponding blanks in the crossword. 

Sound familiar? That’s because almost every teacher uses crosswords for this very purpose (or just to keep kids busy while you do other stuff, like prep a lesson, or run to make some copies). I’ve subbed in hundreds of classrooms, and seen the vocabulary crossword many times.

This is all well and good for your typical reader. For the 10-20% of kids with a print disability, though, a crossword is pretty pointless. Here’s why.

As soon as we got to that section, my student, who is in fifth grade and has seen a few a lot of crosswords in his school career, immediately used the most effective strategy he knows: he counted the boxes in a an ‘across’ or ‘down’ space, and then counted the letters in the words from the word bank until he found one that had the same number of letters. He can easily get 100% of the words right using this strategy without actually decoding, or reading, a single word or knowing what it means. 

In other words, our well-meaning effort to provide exposure to vocabulary words and check comprehension has failed pathetically, at least for our kids with print disabilities. Some students with dyslexia may not even be able to decode effectively enough to read the clue, let alone the unknown vocabulary word.

The use of this counting strategy is further incentivized if your classroom culture is one of competition and hierarchy. Because your dyslexic students can finish in about the same amount of time and with the same accuracy as their typical-reading peers, and this seems to be your desired outcome, there’s no reason for them to seek any other strategy.


There are several words of the same length. 

At this point, the breakdown in decoding strategy becomes apparent, and our kids with dyslexia begin to hate crosswords. They might even feel resentful without knowing why. They may not even have enough letter recognition to use the strategy of “This one ends in s and there’s already an s on the crossword, so I’ll put it there.”

It’s our fault. Because we’ve failed to teach them effective decoding strategies, they’re a little pissed that we keep handing them ‘fun’ worksheets that highlight their weakness. I don’t blame them. I’d be annoyed, too.

So, if you think, because you’ve added a word bank and definition clues, that you’re teaching or reinforcing vocabulary and checking comprehension, you are losing 2 out of 10 of your kids. You’re wasting their time, and time is something dyslexic kids can never get enough of.

But don’t beat yourself up. We’ve all been there with too much to do and a classroom full of wiggly bodies that need something to direct their attention. In those situations, it can be comforting to have a drawer full of emergency worksheets. 

So, what can you do instead?

Great question! There’s a simple solution that serves both your typical and non-typical reading kids.

Stick to free response activities that ask the student to read a passage silently and then respond in their own words to questions about the passage and its vocabulary. Most dyslexic kids have big understood vocabularies, even if they don’t have big spoken or written vocabularies, as outlined in this post. Most of them are also excellent at gleaning meaning from context, even if they can’t decode some of the words.

And, if you have keyboarding capability in your classroom and spell-check or autocorrect, more power to you. Extra points if you can somehow use speech-to-text.

Using free response assessments of comprehension and vocabulary, combined with the power of keyboarding or speech-to-text WILL more accurately achieve your goal of giving exposure to new vocabulary and checking comprehension. 

All the dyslexic kids I know have GREAT ideas and love to write, so long as they’re not being criticized for their spelling and handwriting.

And let’s be real. If what you want to assess is how well they’re comprehending and gaining new vocabulary, you don’t need handwriting and spelling (save those for when you actually want to target them). Move your kids with dyslexia to keyboarding and speech-to-text asap so that the island of weakness that is their spelling and handwriting ability doesn’t impede the sea of strength that is their creativity and problem solving. 

For more on dyslexia, and how to support your students who have it, read my other posts and consider following this blog: (the mother lode of all dyslexia teaching strategies).

Follow my blog, or find me on Facebook to stay up-to-the-minute on all the cool stuff happening @thetransienttutor


Leadership and Peacemaking: A Course For Young Adults by Christine Heaton

Hi all! This post is the syllabus for an upcoming course I’m offering:

Leadership and Peacemaking for Young Adults (13-18 yrs. old)

July 6-31, 2015

Mentor: Christine Heaton

Phone 435-714-9240



About the mentor

Christine attended Brigham Young University’s college of arts and communications. She has worked for the North Carolina Outward Bound School, one of the nation’s foremost schools for leadership and peacemaking. Christine writes a blog about education and learning, especially learning differences and disabilities. She also tutors children in need of academic therapy due to dyslexia and other print disabilities. She is the seventh of eight children, and has 16 nieces and nephews.

Course outcomes

You will come away from this course better-equipped to deal with struggles in ALL of your relationships. You will also feel more empowered to solve conflicts and be a force for peace. You will begin to become more self-aware and more accountable for yourself and your actions (or lack of action). As a result, you will be better able to make (and keep) friends, heal family relationships, and gain confidence as a leader that others want to follow.

Course overview

Welcome! In this course, you will have your mind blown by powerful literature and discussion. It will take place over four weeks in July, with meetings Monday and Friday 9:00 am-noon (except Fri. The 24th), and Wednesday noon-2:00 pm. Class begins Monday the 6th. There are five required reading books in this course that you and I must read/listen to, using Kindle and Audible technology. We will also watch two films, and create a personal narrative or public service announcement using iPads and other technology.

This is a graded course, but you will give yourself the grade. Each week you will rate your efforts for that week, relative to your efforts the previous week, assigning yourself an A, B, C, D, or F. At the end of the course, we will hold a celebration/film festival to which you may invite family members and/or close friends. At the festival we will view the PSAs and personal narratives you’ve created.

Money stuff

Tuition for the course is $325

$80 of which is a refundable Kindle deposit that will be returned to you upon the safe return of the Kindle that will be issued to you at the start of the course.

There will be no refunds for early termination of the course, on your part, nor pro ratings/refunds for missed classes.

Tech stuff

The first day of class, you will be issued a Kindle, a charging cord, and a Kindle sleeve. These are entrusted to you as tools for learning and should be treated with prudence and respect. There will be no print books in this course. It is understood that these items will be returned at the end of the course in the same condition they were issued in. Your $80 deposit WILL NOT be returned if these items are in any way damaged or inoperable. If you own a Kindle, you are welcome to use your own, if you choose.

My expectations for you

-Arrive on time and in learning mode

-Bring water and snacks

-Be prepared with discussion topics, questions, and notes or drawings from your reading, and topics for your student-led discussion

-Do ALL of the reading/listening


-Solve problems
Your expectations of me

To be determined by class
I have total faith and confidence that you can meet these HIGH expectations, and will never insult you by lowering them.

I do, however, take into consideration your learning differences, and expect you to self-advocate for accommodations that help you meet the HIGH expectations.

Reading list

How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Course schedule

Monday, July 6, 9:00 am-noon 

Welcome and Get-To-Know-You (20 minutes)

Discussion of course expectations (20 minutes)

Kindle and Audible issue and instructions (30 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Begin reading How To Win Friends and Influence People (30 minutes)

Define unfamiliar terms: Christine (30 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Continue reading HTWFandIP (30 minutes)

Discussion and role play (25 minutes)

Wrap up and assign student-led discussion days (5 minutes)

Reading to be completed before next class: Parts 1 & 2

Wednesday, July 8, noon-2:00 pm 

Follow up on last class (5 minutes)

Chart of useful terms and phrases to keep discussion flowing (20 minutes)

Student-led discussion: TBA (40 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Continue reading HTWFandIP (20 minutes)

Discussion and role play (20 minutes)

Wrap up (10 minutes)

Reading to be completed before next class: Parts 3 & 4
Friday, July 10, 9:00am-noon 
Recap from last class (5 minutes)

Student-led discussion and define unfamiliar terms: TBA (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Guest speaker TBA (60 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Discussion and HTWFandIP wrap-up (20 minutes)

Begin reading Siblings Without Rivalry (30 minutes)

Student-led discussion and role play: TBA (30 minutes)

Wrap-up and assign reading/self grade (5 minutes)

Reading to be completed by next class: Part 1 Brothers and Sisters Past and Present-Part 4 Equal Is Less

Monday, July 13

Recap last class (10 mins)

Student-led discussion from SWR: TBA (30 minutes)

Role play (30 minutes)

Break (5 mins)

Read/Discuss from SWR (60 minutes)

Wrap up SWR (45 minutes)

Reading/listening at home: Begin A Little Princess chapters 1-8

Wednesday, July 15 noon-2:00 pm

Recap last class (5 minutes)

Student-led discussion/unfamiliar terms: TBA ALP (30 minutes)

Continue reading ALP (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Guest speaker: TBA (55 minutes)

Wrap-up and assign reading

Reading/listening at home: finish ALP

Friday, July 17

Recap last class (10 minutes)

Student-led discussion of ALP: TBA (30 minutes)

Begin reading The Anatomy of Peace (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Discuss unfamiliar terms (20 minutes)

Continue reading AOP (30 minutes)

Guest speaker: TBA (50 minutes)

Wrap-up and assign reading, heads up on videos (10 minutes)

Reading/listening at home: Anatomy of Peace thru Helping Things Go Right

Monday, July 20, 9:00 am-noon

Recap last class (5 minutes)

Brainstorm videos (60 minutes)

Break (10 minutes)

Student-led discussion: TBA (30 minutes)

Continue reading AOP (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Discuss/define (25 minutes)

Storyboard videos (20 minutes)

Wrap-up/assign reading (5 minutes)

Home reading/listening: AOP thru TBA

Wednesday, July 22 noon to 2:00 pm

Recap last class (5 minutes)

Student-led discussion: TBA (30 minutes)

Continue reading AOP (25 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Student-led discussion: TBA (30 minutes)

Finish reading AOP (25 minutes)

Wrap-up (5 minutes)

Reading/listening at home: Ender’s Game chapters 1-15

Friday, July 24


Monday, July 27, 9:00 am-noon

Collect footage

Begin editing

Wednesday, July 29 noon-2:00 pm


Friday, July 31, 9:00 am-noon

Film festival

After party and course wind-up (dress: semi formal)

By signing below, you acknowledge you have received and read this syllabus, and agree to its terms


Passive and Sedentary Activities: Misnomers that Perpetuate Anti-Tech Bias and Punish Dyxlexic Learners

If something is passive or sedentary can it be an activity? I’ll let you parse that one. It’s probably better to call it a pastime. 

I think one of the main fears people have in acknowledging the reality of dyslexia is then having to cope with the possibility that reading will never be an enjoyable activity for those who have it. And, as everyone, from Stephen R. Covey to President Truman, have noted, reading is one of the greatest keys to success. Well, if dyslexics can’t read, then they can’t become successful…right? Wrong!

That kind of illogical leap is what philosophers call a syllogism. It assumes success is only possible if reading is present, but the truth is folks with dyslexia can be successful without ever having read a book. 

“But won’t they have to rely on those nasty alternatives: music and videos?”


Even though we pay lip service to a well-rounded education, the messages we send with testing, curriculum, and other adult-created media is that reading well and testing well are the true measures of success. In other words, most gates to greater opportunity, are barred by some kind of written exam. 

In the meantime, there are national campaigns to promote reading. I see it on billboards, in commercials, and in public programming like Reading Rainbow, as if this will somehow fix the problem that millions of school-age children with dyslexia are performing way below grade-level. 

After years of hearing this stuff, it’s not too hard to imagine why people with dyslexia get the wrong idea about success and whether their contribution is valued. Given their difficulty in language processing, many turn to the arts or recreational endeavors as outlets for their intelligence, and in the U.S. we don’t place a particularly high level of praise on those pursuits as areas of personal and professional achievement. If you say you’re an artist people look at you like “Oh, you must be broke.” My husband is an outdoor educator, and when I tell people that, I get a blank stare. 

We’ve basically been told our entire lives that reading is an active pastime that stimulates the imagination, while other forms of media, or sources of information, are passive and sedentary and, therefore, not good. This is ridiculous to me, because I love to read, and if I gave free reign to my gluttonous reading habit, I’d never leave the house. How sedentary and passive is that?! 

On the other hand, my husband learns best by watching someone do something, and then trying to do it himself. He can’t simply read about it and then do it. I can’t even read about it and do it. I suck at a lot of stuff that he’s just naturally good at. But, if he can watch a YouTube video on how to fix an engine, he can go out into the garage and do it in real life…and he does. That doesn’t seem passive or sedentary. Maybe he’s had more time to develop the skills because he wasn’t reading and filled the gap with other stuff. Maybe he is gifted because his brain left out reading and made more space for other talents. I don’t know. 

“Well, isn’t he missing the rich emotional, intellectual, and spiritual landscape of literature?” 

I’m not so sure. I had to read books to understand basic things about compassion, equity, human nature, and other stuff literature is supposed to help us understand. Curtis already gets all that, because he’s out having relationships with people and the environment. He doesn’t need to read about it, because he’s experiencing it. He takes in so much more from his environment than I do. I get so stuck in the sequence of things and tune everything else out. 

This comes in handy when I need to focus in order to accomplish something, but it’s a real liability in a high-stakes setting where you have to be aware of a big stage with lots of players…you know…like in a marriage. I quickly get into hot water because I get too deeply focused on one detail. This is in spite of my being able to read well, a skill that supposedly makes me ‘smart’ and ‘successful’.

“Well, what if he changes his mind and wants to become a doctor, attorney, or engineer?”

No problem. With audiobooks, speech-to-text, FaceTime, and other technologies, he has enough support that his language processing deficit is manageable. 

In essence, what I’m saying is that all there is to experience in life is accessible to people with dyslexia so long as they have the proper accommodation. I think a good film adaptation is just as valid an experience as reading the book itself, and we needn’t privilege one over the other. Both can be active and imaginative endeavors, and are a small part of a well-balanced learning lifestyle that usually (at least in the U.S.) lacks far more in physical and creative activity such as people with dyslexia are capable of, and excel at. 

Here’s what I really don’t want to see happen: Parents and teachers abandoning helpful technologies because they’re afraid of the technology shaming of judgy moms and teachers who don’t understand that reading is so difficult it can’t be enjoyable for most people with profound dyslexia. My husband wishes desperately that he could read with ease and watches with envy when I plop down with a book and read for hours, but as much as he wants to read, reading is never enjoyable. It’s hard, hard work, a taxing neurological exercise that exhausts him by the end of the day even if he only had to respond to one email. 

I don’t worry about him using other aides to learning besides books. I don’t worry about anyone using alternatives, so long as they’re balanced.  Books and YouTube are both in the sedentary category, but if they’re balanced well with real-life activity, they can be an active part of learning.

So, before you toss your LeapPad or get rid of your Netflix subscription or put YouTube on the restricted website list, ask yourself these questions:

1) Are the media (books, videos, music,etc.) in direct conflict with our values?

2) Does he/she use these media to the exclusion of other healthy types of learning (like play, social interaction, and exercise)?

If you answered “yes”, the real problem here is content and quantity, not necessarily the media in and of themselves. 

In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the technological bath water. You’d be doing yourself the disservice of avoiding critical thinking and punishing students who learn differently. 

When the administration and the moms and the pseudoscience come at you with technology iconoclasm in their eyes, stand fast. Your students will thank you. And…in the meantime, foster a classroom culture of media balance, where reading and watching don’t come to have more value than getting out and actually doing stuff. 

Get out and do stuff! Our reading and watching are in vain if we never get up and apply what we learned.

If this post reaches even one person who’s struggling to make a decision about how or if to use screen technology in the teacher/student relationship, I’ll count my day successful. SO! Please share.


Part Four of The iPad in Mentoring: FaceTime

Like you, I strive to serve my students with the latest and greatest in ideas and technology, but not at the expense of wisdom. This continues a series on conquering the fear of technology and embracing it for use by students in the classroom.

In part one, we explored the wonders of speech-to-text. In part two I went over the organizational benefits of the iPad, and part three was all about video tutorials and learning by teaching.

Today’s post is on FaceTime and other videoconferencing platforms, and how you can use them to accommodate your dyslexic students.

Here’s why:

Being able to see as well as be seen by the person they’re talking to, is extremely important to dyslexic students. 

If you do anything with your mentees/students that requires talking to someone remotely, a phone call isn’t enough. Forcing them to read and write letters may as well be a punishment, and you know how I hate punishment. Maybe you have pen pals in other states or countries. Maybe you do video chats with professionals in different fields on career day. Maybe you do remote field trips, where a person with an iPad can take you on a tour of a park, museum, school, or even a whole country! FaceTime can also be useful for parent-teacher conference, grandparent day (maybe grandma is in a nursing home and can’t come to school, or lives out of state), job interviews, admissions interviews, whatever!

Now, your dyslexic student, who previously hated pen pal time, because he could neither read his pen pal’s letter, nor write him a letter in which he felt fully expressed and understood, can engage with his FacePal (I should totally trademark that), and get a wonderful cultural exchange (which is the whole point, by the way).

There are a few critical factors at play, in videoconferencing, for a kid with dyslexia.

One: Because of a deficit in the ability to retrieve words (spoken and written), she compensates by attending to the parts of communication she can observe without needing the faculties of language processing.

In a nutshell: because of a difference in brain wiring, a student with dyslexia may ‘lose’ a word as its on its way from a meaning in her head to a sound in her mouth. Along the way, it may even transmorgify into a completely different word that sounds similar, but has a totally different meaning.

You can imagine the frustration of having a brilliant thought, but, as its being processed into language, it gets all muddled. Magnify that by being unable to see the person she’s communicating with, and you’ve got a pretty big mess.

To compensate, she begins to attend more intensely to body language, gesture, facial expression, tone, and inflection in order to communicate and understand. Since these modes of communication exist outside of the realm of language, and more in the sphere of emotion, the dyslexic child becomes highly ‘versed’ in recognizing them. It is, therefore critical that she be able to see the person she’s talking to.

Two: The child with dyslexia needs the multisensory feedback of seeing the effect of her communication on the listener.

Since the student with dyslexia doesn’t have the tool of easy spoken and written word smithing, she must rely on her sight.

FaceTime allows her to gauge the emotional climate her words are creating in the listener in real time. She can see the furrowing of a brow, crossing of arms, leaning away, frowns of confusion, eye rolling, or squinted eyes.

These clues give her an indication of whether her point is coming across since she can never be certain if the words are coming out right. She can try to adjust her words or rephrase them until the desired emotional climate is reached in the listener: a nod of understanding, a tilting of the head and rubbing of the chin that shows interest, or a smile of enjoyment.

An analogy: Remember the physicists who ‘discovered’ dark matter? They couldnt see it or touch it. They could only observe its effects on the universe and make an informed guess as to its shape, origins, or behavior. 

For dyslexics, language is kind of like dark matter. It’s accessible, but not through the usual channels.

Three: A student with dyslexia needs to be seen in order to be fully expressed and ensure maximum understanding.

I bet you know a kid who starts explaining something to you, but immediately begins to retrace the words and repeat them over and over. With each repetition, his tone and inflection become more and more expressive, he’s flailing his arms and acting out the drama of the story adding (highly realistic) sound effects and endless side stories and tangents. He’s seemingly heedless of how long he’s taking to tell the story, except you can see him wildly glancing at you out of the side of his eye to try and gauge your reaction. He knows he’s wearing on your patience, so he tries to wrap it up, but he’s not sure if he said the right thing or whether you understood what he really wanted to say. He seems a little dazed and introverted for a moment afterward trying to figure out what just happened.

Ring any bells?

I call this symptom of dyslexia the Double Dose.

Because word retrieval is an issue, students with dyslexia may compensate for loss of communication in language by exaggerating their body language, inflection, and other kinesthetic communication.

Imagine, for instance, that you’re hosting a birthday party. You realize, suddenly that you have no cake. Panic sets in. You know Julia Child said “A party without cake is just a meeting”.

Now what?

Well, you know people love ice cream almost as much as they love cake, so, you make up for the lack of cake, by serving everyone a double (or triple, or quadruple) dose of ice cream. You know the double down on the ice cream isn’t quite the same as having cake, but it’s close.

This is why some students with dyslexia seem so flamboyant and exaggerated in their speech and manner. Instead of saying “It was an exciting weekend.” they have to resort to a full blow-by-blow of what happened to them, complete with a foley artist and lying on the floor to act out being dead from exhaustion. The problem was, they couldn’t pull out the words “exciting weekend”.

But you still get the point that it, indeed, was an exciting weekend.

That’s why FaceTime is so important. All of these expressive gestures and mannerisms are critical for their process of making themselves understood.

As in all things, you have to use something you do understand in order to figure out something you don’t understand. That’s probably why dyslexics are famous for their ability to problem solve and see the big picture. They’re getting lots of practice day in and day out.

It seems like a weakness, but, in many ways, it’s also a strength. When language barriers are initially a problem for the rest of us sequential thinkers, a child with dyslexia is already carrying on a beautiful, warm relationship with the natives. She’s attending to their mannerisms and facial expressions and can already tell who’s friend and foe. She can note and mimic their body language and gain acceptance.

So, FaceTime! Use it early and often.

There’s really no greater tool (okay except maybe teleportation and mind reading, but those are still a few years out:) for helping a kid with dyslexia engage with the world, short of actually going there.

If you enjoyed this, and want more on how to improve your mentoring, follow my blog! You’ll get an email every time there’s a new post. I’ll also be posting the video tutorial I promised on building your own iPad case.

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Embracing the iPad: Technology in Mentoring and Why You Need to Get Over Your Fear of This Deeply Engaging and Massively Useful Tool, Part 3: Video Tutorials

Video Tutorials and Learning by Teaching 

You never truly learn a thing until you have to teach it, and app developers have come up with some real treasures to help your students do just that. 

Powerful apps like Keynote, Explain Everything, and Educreations are all visual lesson platforms that allow the user to upload videos and pictures. Then, you can draw on top of them (think NFL replays), record audio, and compress it all into a video that can easily be shared via email, YouTube, Vine, Vimeo, Facebook, whatever. 

This is key for visual and kinesthetic learners and expressers (expressors?), for whom gesture, body language, and bodily involvement in a task are vital for full understanding.

To see how this type of learn-by-teaching app works, check out this video by hcsedtech.

Somehow, drawing arrows to and around things lends a magical solidity to ideas previously elusive. 

I use video tutorials to assess whether concepts are sticking. I teach it to my mentees, then they teach it to someone else using a video tutorial. 

The rough draft of this video lesson platform is usually when the learning crystallizes, as the students are forced to frame the information in a way they can communicate to someone else. The final, then, is usually awesome. When a student who needs upwards of 70-80% kinesthetic learning can get up, move around, act it out, show someone else, build something, or what have you, she’ll be able to express her genius. 

 In a sense, then, video lessons are a useful assessment, as well as teaching tool for everything from foundations to full-blown content. In this medium, it quickly becomes clear if the student doesn’t understand, so you can pinpoint exactly where the gaps are. 

 This especially works with kids who have dyslexia, because it’s like a big free response, and even if they don’t present the exact right words, they can demonstrate, through their strengths of creativity and big picture thinking, that they’ve mastered the material.

I’ll post a video tutorial one of my students made to more fully illustrate my point. 

So, that’s it for this one. Help your students learn by teaching with some of the super user-friendly apps out there. My favorites are Educreations, Keynote, and ExplainEverything. 

 Next up on the iPadnIn Mentoring series: the wonders of FaceTime and and the advent of videoconferencing, MOOCs, and other web-based interactions. 

 Keep up with all the sweet mentoring tips by following my blog. If you read something you especially like, pin it or share it on Facebook, so your friends and colleagues can find it. 

 Hasta mañana!



Embracing the iPad: Technology in Mentoring and Why You Need to Get Over Your Fear of This Deeply Engaging and Massively Useful Tool, Part 2: Organization

For those following along, this is part 2 of a series on iPads and similar devices in teaching, tutoring, and mentoring. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there is a sort of formula for getting this right. I say that, because I see it at work in my interactions with students, everyday.

All-In-One Organization:

As the mentor, this all-in-one Organization is fabulous, because it’s like a Mary Poppins bag. You can put so much stuff in it! I’ve got apps for everything (heaven bless the app developers). I really like having students grade their own work, so I have an app for that. We do a lot of coding and diagramming, so I’ve got an app for drawing on top of documents (Notability $2.99 in the App Store). There’s an interactive kids’ news app called News-O-Matic (an awesome free version) that has a letter-to-the-editor function, and folks actually write back! I’ll post a list of all my favorites later.

As a student or mentee, having one place to keep all your stuff is literally a Godsend. Imagine a future where no one has to drag around a nerdy wheelie backpack, because she can download all her books onto a device. No back injuries! No need for binders and paper either. We can put those things back in the fun category instead of the burden/hassle category. I love pretty paper, but didn’t know it until I was an adult, because I just stocked up on boring old college-ruled. 

For those with learning differences:

Some of my students have executive functioning deficits. That means they have difficulty making plans that account for lots of variables, then figuring out the steps in order to accomplish the plans, and actually executing them. If you’re thinking “Oh, I have that trouble all the time. Everyone does. If I didn’t I’d be rich and famous by now”.

It’s not really the same thing. To give an example, you probably know a kid who constantly forgets his backpack, or his pencil, or to brush his teeth, or when listening to a list of long complicated instructions, he checks out after the first or second item. This kid’s bedroom is probably a disaster. You’ve probably heard lots of tips on how to help this kid be more mindful, or to remember things more often. You’ve probably also been discouraged, if not disgusted by this kid. Well, I hate to break it to ya, but many of those cases are due to a disability. They really can’t help it when they tearfully try to explain why they lost yet another box of crayons or homework assignment. As a great lover of agency and freedom, I am extremely careful in using the word ‘can’t’. But I use it here, and I mean it seriously. If you are dealing with a student who fits this description, and you’ve been having feelings of discouragement and disgust, I invite you to try for compassion, and dig deep for understanding.

For a small portion of the population, executive functioning deficits are serious and lingering problems that don’t go away. If you’ve been struggling in vain through many teary school days, take heart. Your student isn’t doing it on purpose to make your life hard. He may just have an executive functioning deficit, something that often piggy backs on other learning differences, such as dyslexia. Short of a full diagnostic analysis, you’re looking for a kid who has the above-mentioned problems, but is emotionally warm toward others, has artistic and expressive talent, and genuinely doesn’t seem to know that he’s forgetting things, or lagging behind.

I had a student who wrote so painfully slow, and was yet so pleased with his work, and completely oblivious to the fact that he was several words behind everyone else. His handwriting didn’t account for the extra time and apparent carefulness he had to use. It was still barely legible. He was also warm and caring toward everyone, had a flair for drama, and was a terrific storyteller with a great imagination. But he needs an accommodation if he’s expected to do all that’s required in school and expand his talents.

One of the best ways to accommodate this child is to teach him how to simplify. The iPad is one way to do that. If most of his work can be completed on the iPad, there’s no more need for a pencil, binders, backpacks, folders, stacks of paper, worksheets, or crayons, or handwriting. By combining all of that into one device, you free the student to explore his strengths. The executive functioning energy he was previously spending on all of this stuff, is now liberated to be used on drama, or art, or storytelling, or any of the other various talents the child has.

Maybe you’re thinking that the device is an easy way out, and that this kid just has to learn how to manage lots of stuff. “How will he survive at college? Or on his own as an adult”?

This kid will survive better at college knowing how to simplify his life. He will have learned that it’s okay to not have a ton of stuff. His accommodation may be that he only has three shirts instead of 15, because managing those three shirts exacts only as much energy as he’s willing to sacrifice to stuff. Being able to take all of his notes on a device, and keep track of them by date, time or location, as one can with Apple and Android devices, will make it easier for him to find stuff, than if he were searching across six different binders, textbooks, and stacks of notes.

“But what if he forgets or loses his iPad?”

It could happen. But the kid who knows himself well, and has been taught early how to deal with his executive functioning deficits, can protect himself against this by using one of many useful functions offered by these devices. For example: Apple offers a service whereby your iPad can constantly be sending a GPS signal with a unique signature that can be found by another device. You can also back up all of your data to the cloud so if your iPad is lost, your school assignments, photos, music, notes and browsing history are still there for you.

I hope this was useful, and would love to hear other ways devices are helping your students with executive functioning trouble.

Stay tuned for the next post on the iPad in mentoring!


Embracing the iPad: Technology in Mentoring and Why You Need to Get Over Your Fear of This Deeply Engaging and Massively Useful Tool, Part 1

“The children!” “They’re addicted to these devices!” 

So the old-schoolers (and a bunch of the new homeschoolers) lament. They’re absolutely right, of course. We do get addicted to devices. Like heroin, alcohol, tobacco, porn, and any other practice or substance that provides instant gratification for our desires, electronics that feed our craving for affirmation and feedback can become a platform for destruction.

I am totally on board with the concerned adults who think of The Island and Brave New World when we see kids just consuming—glutting themselves, really—on devices. 

BUT! Plot twist!

My tune started to change dramatically when I realized what a powerful accommodation these tools are for people with learning differences. 

So, this is not a how-to for deaddicting your kids from electronics, nor will I seek to justify parents and teachers who allow totally unstructured and unsupervised tech time. Where you fall on that issue is your own affair and others have treated the subject more eloquently than I ever could. This talk by Elder Ridd is an excellent guidebook for how to maintain balance with technology in young lives.

What I would like to talk about is the specific good that technology can do for children (or anyone who wants to learn). In later posts I will also address overcoming the obstacles of cost and safety (nobody likes a cracked, dog-eared iPad).

This is a post about how much I love the iPad and personal, portable devices, and what they can do. I hope it gives you comfort and helps you incorporate technology into your mentoring in healthy ways.

Let’s jump in.


The first time my husband really became aware of punctuation, and how it operates in language (in spite of 12 years in school) was when using the microphone button in a text. He started talking into his phone and saw words appearing on the screen. Then, he came to the end of a thought and paused. Referring to the pause, he asked, “Hey, is this a comma”? It was like a lightbulb switching on. 

Suddenly, freed from the burden of processing the sounds into letters by typing, his attention could absorb how a comma works. He could notice, for the first time, that his lungs stopped pushing out air, and his vocal chords ceased vibrating, and boom! That’s a comma.

When our lips are rounded, and tongue/palate muscles tense, and the vocal chords vibrate, we call that the letter u. 

He’d never had a good name for, or other sensory schema or iteration of the concept of a comma until he was free, in that moment, to form one. 

Previously, his attention was so taken up with finding the right letters, trying to hold in memory the idea he was communicating, while manipulating a pen or pencil, that punctuation fell by the wayside. He had to make energy choices, because the amount he could devote to language processing is limited. Whew! It’s a tall order, when you think about it, for our brains to do all that at once. Add to it that the dyslexic brain is not hard wired for automatic word-processing, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. 

Sometimes, I tutor students whose verbal linguistic skills, especially as they relate to reading and writing, are profoundly impaired.

They’re totally brilliant.

But, the privileged medium of writing inhibits their ability to demonstrate their brilliance. Hand that kid an iPad though, with the Pages app and speech-to-text enabled, and prepare to be amazed. I’ve heard a kid just like that: profoundly dysgraphic, couldn’t spell to save his life, compose a salient and insightful essay on playground rules and etiquette. There were facts and details, anecdotes, quotes, the works. It was funny and entertaining, too. If the goal of writing is to be persuasive, that kid hit the student-outcome nail squarely on its proverbial head.

If you’re working with a child or young adult who struggles to express him or herself through writing, I highly recommend and support the use of a speech-to-text-enabled device.

If what we want to teach is how to be a persuasive (witty, entertaining, accurate, well-researched) communicator, then forcing a child with learning differences, such as dyslexia and dysgraphia, to slog it out in traditional handwriting or typing is tantamount to throwing a wet blanket over a kindling fire.

I used to think you just had to slog it out in order to become a good writer. Then, I learned that Agatha Christie’s manuscripts were almost illegible, she was so dysgraphic. I get the feeling she would’ve jumped all over the idea of a tool that would allow her to privately dictate her novels. 

What’s worse, I used to think speech-to-text and other ‘shortcuts’ were laziness if not cheating. Oh, how harmful toward those with learning differences this attitude is. Having witnessed the real and intense struggle to read and write by many gifted and hard-working people, I’m sure I’ve earned more than a few stripes. 

In fact, I think everyone should be able to use speech-to-text if they want to, especially as we grow through the young adult years. Once A rudimentary grasp of manual reading and handwriting is obtained, I see no reason that speech to text capability should be withheld from students. As I said before, I will address the obstacles of cost and safety in later posts. For now, I will simply tell you that I have seen children as young as seven years old have sole responsibility for an iPad without ever breaking them or abusing their use of them.

I know what some of you are thinking. They’ll never learn handwriting, that sacred art of calligraphy. The wonder of the handwritten note or letter will quietly pass away.

Folks have been saying this since the first computers became available decades ago, and yet if you troll the trendy websites of the blogosphere and communications/marketing realm, you will see that typography, hand lettering and beautiful script have never been more popular or highly-in-demand.

What’s more, these beautiful configurations of our written language are so florid as to be completely accessible to the dyslexic mind. It’s lettering as art, an area dyslexics tend to excel at.

So, if you are a mentor, tutor, teacher, or parent, and you fear that speech-to-text will bar your child from the world of artful letters, take heart. This is a myth. What the child with learning differences does with letters is to turn them into art. They do this intuitively. They notice the unified harmonious design of things, even letters. It’s just in trying to assign those letters to spoken sounds of the trouble arises. Free them from the burden of making those assignments, with speech to text, so that they will actually have time to be creative. 

Stay tuned for more on ways technology can help you in your mentoring. I’ll go over FaceTime and Skype, video-making, and other cool stuff. In forthcoming posts I’ll also compare and contrast different protective cases and even share a video tutorial on how to make your own (almost) kid proof case on the cheap!


Memorable Teachers: Jakob Kahn

PotokPosterToday’s memorable teacher is the mercurial Jakob Kahn from My Name Is Asher Lev. A man of uncompromising principle, though not in a way you would expect from an Orthodox Jew. A man of fascinating contradictions, and yet a powerful and loving mentor.

This guy is what makes Chaim Potok an interesting writer to read. He builds characters that are so real and flawed, yet admirable.

I like the relationship between Jakob Kahn and Asher. Asher was very young when he was introduced to Jakob, but Jakob never dismisses him as a child in the negative sense. You know. We tend to brush children off as nuisances and unsophisticated. Jakob looked at Asher, though, and just saw a person.

Granted, his character is a bit gruff, and he’s generally humbug toward most people. Maybe not the Mary Poppins we all wish for. That’s what I liked about him, though. He didn’t paste on a fake smile for Asher, nor did he push him away. He avoided both extremes and kept his treatment of Asher in line with how he treated everyone (even if that meant being a bit of a stoneface). The same long measuring stick he used for others, he applied in equal force to Asher. As a result, Asher quickly rose to meet the high expectations Jakob had for him, and was better for it.

I know this principle of high expectations that honor the student bears real fruit in the classroom or the mentor/mentee relationship.

I witness it everyday in my mentoring experiences. When my expectations are low, my students fall to meet them. It’s so easy to lose heart when the person mentoring you has no real faith in what you can achieve.

On the other hand, there are no limits on the heights that can be reached when you feel truly supported and challenged by an inspirational mentor.

Jakob Kahn was certainly that. Perfect he was not, but his uncompromising thought process and quality work are easy to admire. When you see your mentor holding himself to such a high standard it seems unthinkable to hold yourself to anything less. I guess that’s what being inspiring really is. It’s doing whatever you do to the best of your ability. It’s a type of integrity you have toward your work that other people can’t help but notice. Then, they strive to reach those heights with you.

In the comments, tell me about your inspirational mentors. Who do you respect and admire, and why?