The Questions: How Can I….

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quickly recognize reading disabilities?    identify my child’s exact reading problems?

get a quality reading evaluation?    develop high but realistic reading goals?

evaluate the quality of my child’s reading program?     work effectively with schools?

monitor my child’s progress?       ensure my child makes important progress?

resolve conflicts with school districts?     use federal laws to advocate for my child?

improve my child’s reading without provoking fights?

How Can Emotional Reactions Affect the Learning and Adjustment of Children with Reading Disabilities?

We all worry and get angry, but we don’t realize how much these emotions affect us. Even relatively minor concerns can compete for our attention, occupy our thoughts, and distract us from our purpose.

For most of us, the worry and anger is not intense. It’s short lived. But many chilren with reading disabilities and other learning disabilities don’t get over it. The intensity increases. This, in turn, adds to the difficulties they have attending, concentrating, and remembering. They waste valuable time and energy on nonproductive thoughts, impeding their learning.

Some children with reading disabilities, for example, dwell on past failures; they tell themselves they’ll never stop failing. Others focus on what they think is the unfairness of their situation, the poor treatment they get, and the likelihood that these injustices will only get worse. Still others worry about disappointing their parents and teachers, as well as the shame and embarrassment they feel when they compare themselves to classmates, siblings, and friends.

So, a pattern develops: failure, worry, poorer attention and concentration, lower productivity, continued failure, increased worry. Over time, a fatalistic attitude characterized by helplessness, hopelessness, and despair may result.

To reverse the situation, schools and parents must do three things. First, examine how the instructional situation can be modified to ensure success. Second, provide highly skilled counseling. And third, make sure that each day children with reading disabilities have ample opportunity to do something they absolutely enjoy. It can be playing with their DS for 20-minutes, playing ball with friends, or helping their parents paint the kids’ rooms.

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Is My Child At-Risk For Dyslexia Or Reading Disabilities?

We’re often asked, “Are early intervention programs likely to help pre-schoolers, kindergartners, or first graders at risk for reading disabilities?” Before we describe some of the signs we look for, let’s focus on the definition of “at risk.” Our definition is simple: Is the child likely to have difficulties learning to read? Likely means that we can’t be certain, but we’d better work hard to prevent the problem. And carefully and frequently we’d better monitor the child’s progress to ensure that we adjust the program to meet his needs.

In 2003, J. Ron Nelson and his colleagues published an excellent review of the research that sheds light on the characteristics of young children that influence their success in early literacy instruction.  Nelson and his colleagues concluded that the most important factors, “in order of magnitude, [were] rapid naming {e.g., letters}, phonological awareness, problem behavior, alphabetic principle, memory, and IQ.” These difficulties “appeared to predict the treatment effectiveness of early literacy interventions” (p. 261). If you think your child has one or a combination of these difficulties, have him evaluated for special programs that his school may offer to pre-school, kindergarten, or first-grade students or for special education eligibility. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), the public school has an obligation to assess your child if you register him with the school, suspect a disability, and submit a written referral.  Don’t wait. If problems are found, your child needs extra instruction that focuses on improving his areas of need, that is systematic, explicit, and intensive, that carefully monitors his progress, and that makes learning fun.

For further information about the technical terms in this post (e.g., phonological awareness, alphabetic principle), we recommended that you search these terms on-line and/or review chapters 2 and 3 of our book, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. These chapters and our new e-book discuss other important factors, including family factors and language development, and give you suggestions on how you can help your child at home and through his school.

References

Margolis, H., & Brannigan, G. G. (2009). Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. Voorhees, NJ: Reading2008 & Beyond (www.reading2008.com).

Margolis, H., & Brannigan, G. G. (2013). Reading And Learning Disabilities: Five Ways To Help Your Child. [Kindle] Amazon.com.

Nelson, J. R., Benner, J., & Gonzalez (2003). Learner characteristics that influence the treatment effectiveness of early literacy interventions: a meta-analytic review. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18(4), 255-267.

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COPING WITH ACADEMIC DEMANDS

Many children suffer emotionally because they cannot cope with academic demands. But they can develop specific skills to help them cope effectively. By doing so, they increase their motivation for learning and decrease their emotional distress.

 

These skills form the basis of “self-regulation,” which Lyn Corno and Ellen Mandinach (1983) broadly defined as the effort put forth by students to deepen, monitor, manipulate, and improve their own learning. Clearly, such activities are important for learning, which in the final analysis depends on the learners’ willingness and skill to meet the demands placed on them. Moreover, self-regulated learners understand the important links underlying what they think, what they feel, and what they do or don’t do.

 

Let’s begin with cognitive skills or thinking, because this drives self-regulation.

Generally speaking, when self-regulated learners are presented with an academic task, they’re aware of their thoughts. They think about thinking! Their awareness allows them to:

  • Analyze a task
  • Assess their abilities—strengths and weaknesses—relative to the task
  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals for completing the task
  • Monitor their progress toward reaching these goals
  • Make changes, if needed
  • Evaluate the results

This self-regulatory sequence is a strategy that can be applied to different situations. Yet many children, especially struggling learners, are unaware of this and similar learning strategies. Some who are aware cannot implement the components. Both groups of struggling learners—those who are unaware of or are unskilled in using the strategy—need structured, explicit, reinforcing instruction to master it. As part of their instruction, teachers should use “think-alouds” to demonstrate the various components of the strategy. In “think-alouds,” teachers talk about what they’re doing as they grapple with a task. For example, if a struggling learner is using the RAP strategy, the teacher might use this think-aloud:

  • I’m using the RAP strategy.
  • The three steps are “R” for Read a paragraph, “A” for Ask myself what the paragraph was about, and “P” for Put the main idea and two details in my own words.
  • I read the paragraph. I’ll check the “R” on my checklist.

To help struggling learners master a strategy, teachers and parents should systematically encourage learners to practice the strategy—starting with easy tasks that are gradually replaced by increasingly more challenging tasks on which learners can succeed. In addition to sequencing tasks from easy to more challenging, teachers and parents should give the learners corrective and encouraging feedback on their performance. In other words, they should tell them why they succeeded or, if they’re having difficulty, what they need to do differently. If the tasks match the learners’ abilities, feedback will usually stress why they succeeded.

 

Teaching children to apply a self-regulatory strategy to many different situations is essential. But it’s also difficult. An excellent, practical book that can help is Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s Smart and Scattered. Here are three of its many how-to “plans for teaching your child to complete daily routines”:

  • Use a template for a five-paragraph essay.
  • Before studying, choose from a menu of study strategies.
  • Use a bedroom-cleaning checklist.

Because self-regulation is complicated and, in many respects, invisible, here are five resources. You may want to read and share one or two of these with your child’s teachers:

  • Corno, L., & Mandinach, E. B. (1983). The role of cognitive engagement in classroom learning and motivation. Educational Psychologist, 18, 88–108.
  • Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2009). Smart and Scattered. NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Margolis, H. (2005). Increasing struggling learners’ motivation: What tutors can do and say. Mentoring and Tutoring, 13(2), 223-240.
  • Margolis, H., & McCabe, P. P. (2003). Self-efficacy: A key to improving the motivation of struggling learners. The Clearing House (2004, July/August), 77(6), 241-249.
  • McCabe, P. P., & Margolis, H. (2001). Enhancing the self efficacy of struggling readers. The Clearing House, 75(1), 45-49.

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