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.

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Why Dyslexia scared me, and how I got over my fear.

A while back, a dear friend of mine said “Hey! You’re a tutor. I know a gal who runs a business tutoring dyslexic kids. That would be right up your alley.”

My immediate reaction was surprise. Not only do I have no special education experience, but I’d only been tutoring for three months. How was I supposed to help a kid with Dyslexia?

Then, my follow-up reaction was fear.

What I knew of dyslexia was a murky mix of hearsay and anecdotes about brilliant college dropouts. I’d known people throughout my life who had trouble reading, but being an excellent and intuitive reader myself, I found their struggle incomprehensible. I figured, if you put in the practice, you’d become a good reader, no problem.

In other words, I basically didn’t know anything about Dyslexia. At all.

Part of me didn’t want to know. I was between a fear of the unknown and afraid that once I did know, I’d be powerless to do anything about it.

Well, the financial beast reared its head, and I needed more income. So, I took a leap of faith and applied for the job. My fears were almost immediately laid to rest. I was given a very broad but satisfying training and receive lots of ongoing support.

I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned and explain how it’s dispelled my fears.

1) People with Dyslexia CAN and DO learn to read…eventually.

One way or another most dyslexic people will receive remediation or they’ll remediate themselves. That is to say, they will find ways to read when they absolutely have to, and can become highly accurate, if slow, readers. I’ve talked to many dyslexic men and women who came up with all kinds of coping strategies, such as: counting the number of people ahead of them in the class reading group then counting down to the paragraph he/she is expected to read and prereading it several times before it gets to his/her turn. Others listened to audiobooks while reading along, memorizing a very specific vocabulary, such as for their particular job or interest. I know one dyslexic, in particular, who has trouble pronouncing and remembering the simplest of street names, but knows the names of hundreds of car parts, makes, models, and years.

It can be a long, hard slog, but it reading can happen for people who have it. I see it happening before my very eyes with my students. It’s incredible.

2) Dyslexia is a thing.

It’s not laziness and it’s not lack of motivation or effort. Dyslexia arises from a difference in brain wiring that disrupts the gradual processing of words from manual decoding to automatic recognition. For them, without specialized training, the process never becomes automatic. Awesome! I can totally let go of all that anger and frustration I had toward kids who didn’t understand after I’d tried so hard to teach them. It wasn’t because they were spiting me. It was because I wasn’t teaching them in the way that they learn. Guess what? I can change the way I teach:) That means there’s hope!

3) You don’t have to lower the standard for a person who has Dyslexia.

Based on my denial of No. 2 above, I figured people with Dyslexia were really just lazy and didn’t want to put in the effort to learn. They just wanted a pass for underachieving. Do I sound like a bigoted jerk yet? Trust me. I’m repenting. The total opposite is true. People with Dyslexia often have high IQs, and represent some of the hardest-working people I know. They offer a vital contribution to any kind of big picture problem. The people I know who have Dyslexia are invariably quick to the solution of complex problems involving many players. It might just be me, but I also kinda think they’re more fun to be around. I think I’ll do an informal study on that at some point.

4) The real mark of education and success is how well you live in the world and make it a better place.

That typically has absolutely nothing to do with how well you read and write. In other words, I don’t feel hopeless anymore about how many people have Dyslexia — estimates place the number at 1-in-5 Americans. There are people with Dyslexia in every field of work, and, just like the rest of us, their performance is all over the spectrum. Maybe they don’t read well or fluently, but I bet a lot of the rest of us get so stuck in the details of a problem that we never get to a solution. If you think about it, that’s a kind of disability, too. I’m relieved and glad that there are so many people out there who are naturally excellent problem solvers. When they build on that talent, boy do they achieve wonders.

5) Dyslexia is a bonified disability, though.

By that I mean that it can profoundly disrupt normal, everyday existence. Consider this. You wake up tomorrow morning and inexplicably cannot quickly decode words any longer. Reading the instructions on the back of the prescription bottle is suddenly a gargantuan task. So many medical terms! The waitress at your favorite restaurant hands you a menu and the letters may as well be swimming across the page, so you just say “I’ll have what he’s having.” even though  you hate what he’s having! Better a gross burger than the embarrassment of taking all day to read the menu. You get to work and have to face the Internet. Oh, the Internet. If not for YouTube it may as well be a useless rabbit warren of text starting with the keyboard. Need to turn in a resume? Nightmare. You can never be quite sure if you got all the spellings right. Don’t even get me started on punctuation. I hope the boss can see through it to my sparkling personality and high skills. College entrance exams are the worst. They’re timed. Yeah. Disability. Here, I just want to make it clear that, in a literate society (which we have), people with Dyslexia are entitled to accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

6) Dyslexia isn’t a childhood problem that you grow out of.

IMG_1197Dyslexia ranges from mild to profound, but if you have it, you have it for life. Like I said earlier, many adults with Dyslexia have found ways to remediate themselves, and can become highly accurate readers. The problem is, they usually remain slow readers, and take twice as long, if not longer, to read as other adults. That means for every hour you spend at your job reading, your dyslexic counterpart spends two. Over a lifetime, that’s a lot of lost time. Beyond that, Dyslexia isn’t who you are. It’s just something that you have. It’s not a disease, but it is highly heritable. A person with Dyslexia has a high probability of passing it on to his or her children. So, does that mean people with Dyslexia shouldn’t have kids? I surely hope no dyslexic person ever thinks that or has it preached to him. My students have such full, amazing lives, Dyslexia notwithstanding. I know terrific parents who have Dyslexia. Their kids are lucky to have them.

I’ll add more posts on this later. For now, though, I’ll just put it out there that learning about Dyslexia humbled me deeply. I had a lot of erroneous notions about how learning works, when it happens, and for whom. Some of those I held long and passionately. That was part of my fear, letting go. The funny thing is, I feel very free as I’ve let those notions go. I feel a deep compassion for the kids I tutor, and for the adults that have always been around me without my knowledge. Dyslexia has made their lives really really hard, though they’d never admit it because they’re usually hard-working and humble. I have so much admiration and respect for them, because they do what the rest of us do, except it’s so much more difficult for them. In fact, I have been gently mentored and provided so much warmth and love during my tough times by people with Dyslexia I feel like I just need to shut up and quit complaining about the little things that bug me in life. I should be the one offering them solace given how difficult “simple” tasks are for them. It must be a dyslexic thing. Maybe they just understand pain better than other people because they’re so closely-acquainted with it from being unable to read well in our literate society. It seems to make them especially good at recognizing pain in others and offering the balm of friendship and support. Maybe I’m going too far now and applying labels too generally, but my experience really has been that people with Dyslexia tend to be very warm and caring. They’re emotionally literate.



About My Tutoring

My name is Christine, and I’m a private tutor and mentor for children and young adults. My teaching philosophy is that an inspired child will educate him or herself. I take great pains to speak respectfully to children, no matter their age, and listen with compassion. This helps create strong habits of good citizenship, compassionate service, and honest self-awareness along with critical thinking. A respected student is a respectful student.

I don’t ascribe to any one tutoring strategy, curriculum, or program. If it’s helpful and ennobling to the student, I employ it. There’s a world of excellent resources out there, and each has something to offer.

I have a BA in art history and curatorial studies from BYU, and now run my own mentoring service for young adults. I also work for a company that provides academic therapy to children with learning disabilities. I have eight siblings, and 29 nieces and nephews. I love family, and I love people.

My husband and I enjoy adventures, and try to have one as often as possible. Sometimes I cry, because my canoe won’t track straight, or because I hate the wind. But that’s all part of it.