The Power of Read-Alouds

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I am four years old. I am sitting on my mother’s bed, a large bellowing thing engulfed in a sea of pillows, sheets, covers. It’s night time, way past my bedtime, and I’m begging my mother to read me another story.

“But we’ve already read three books tonight Lindsey,” she says smiling.

“How about just this one?” I say, grasping a book with a yellow cover and silly looking pictures I’ve found tucked next to my bed, a story I’ve read countless times but can’t get enough of.

She smiles, “This one is one of your favorites, isn’t it?”onefishtwofish

I nod.

“Ok, Lindsey, we can read it, but after this, it’s time for bed.”

The book I am clutching in my tiny fingers is Dr Suess’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  A book I adore for how my mother reads in a sing-songy voice, the pictures dancing on the page; her voice a musical rhythm in the background.

Emilie Buchwald once wrote,  “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” For me that was so true. With each book read to me as a young child, I became intrigued with the way authors could magically weave stories together; a tapestry woven by endless imagination.

As an educator I am often struck by how much parents or guardians reading to their children means for development in the classroom.  I can say that, without a doubt, my students whose guardians read to them consistently at home came to me with enhanced vocabulary, fluency, and literacy skills; but above all else, a more naturally ingrained curiosity and love of storytelling.

According to Read Aloud 15 Mins, a national non-profit working to help make 15 minutes of reading aloud daily to children a reality, “Reading aloud is the single most important thing a parent or caregiver can do to improve a child’s readiness to read and learn.”

In fact, research has shown us that when parents read-aloud to their children, even if just for 15 minutes a day, it can  help spark invaluable comprehension skills, vocabulary development, fluency, and help instill a life-long love of reading. Reading aloud to young children has even been thought to help spark brain development.

As a special education teacher for grades K-8, and then for high school, one thing each of my students had in common was a love of read-alouds. Since so many of my students struggled to interpret and decode text on their own, they loved when I would engage with them in books, articles, short stories and more; my voice helping capture their interest and satiate a desire for text that may otherwise have been inaccessible.

Indeed, reading aloud to both children and students of all ages is a powerful form of literacy instruction. For some great tips for parents, guardians, and educators for creating engaging read-alouds, read this article “Reading Aloud to Build Comprehension” by Reading Rockets, a wonderful national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources to help both parents and teachers with literacy skills for struggling readers.

This past Monday, March 2nd, we celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which was also Read Across America Day. As someone who has a huge love of Dr. Seuss and all things reading, I was honored to be able to read aloud to several classrooms at Doug Robertson’s elementary school in Oregon. (You can read all about the awesome event here on Doug’s  blog or follow him on twitter @theWeirdTeacher.)

Thank you to the students at Mr. Robertson’s elementary school; It was so wonderful being able to share my love of Dr. Seuss and reading aloud with you! I hope we can help spread the message of how powerful reading to students can be across the country!

#DontLimitMe- Amazing Message by a Student with Down Syndrome

By Lindsey Lipsky, MEd

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I am a huge fan of Twitter for the personal and professional growth it provides educators and communities across the globe (as outlined in my previous posts here and here), so it’s no wonder that this blog post is inspired by a Twitter conversation.

Recently the amazing Beth Foraker @InclusionChick, posted a hand-written note by Emily, a 15 year old student with Down Syndrome. Emily wrote this note in response to a question about her hopes and dreams for life after high school.  Here is the first tweet below:

In case you can’t read the picture, let me transcribe Emily’s letter below. She starts with a list of amazing goals for her future:

1. Go to college

2. Keep learning

3. Graduate like normal kids

(Yes, #3 on that list really touched me.)

Further down on the page Emily says something else that, as a teacher, really struck me:

“I want the teachers to treat me kind. Don’t act like you are frustrated with me. I have Down Syndrome and need help. I want the teachers to see how smart I am.”

Amazing.

Just like everyone else, Emily is asking us, begging us, to not get frustrated with her. To be kind. To help her. To see how smart she is. To never give up. A message that all teachers; former, current and future need to hear. #DontLimitMe

Just when I thought the message couldn’t get anymore inspiring, @InclusionChick posted something else: a message Emily had written on the very back of her note. (See tweet below.)

In case you can’t read it.  Here is what Emily wrote below:

“Time to see what I can do to test the limits and break through. Don’t limit me.”

Excuse me while I go wipe the tears off my face…

This letter is an amazing example of why we, as teachers, parents and community members, do what we do each day. Why we work so tirelessly to ensure our students with special needs get what they need and deserve. After all, isn’t it really all about how we can help our students become successful citizens and human beings, no matter the ability or circumstance?

Please join us in sharing this message on Twitter by using the hashtag #DontLimitMe – our new battle cry thanks to @InclusionChick.  Here is the tweet that inspired it all:

I hope this letter and subsequent messages on Twitter will help ignite a revolution, a revolution to help change how we treat and work with our students who have learning differences. Remember: When we change the way we think about learning for our students with special needs, we help change learning for ALL. #DontLimitMe

UPDATE: Please also check out this amazing post by Beth Foraker, @InclusionChick here on the power of Emily’s letter. 


Want more on the powerful message of #DontLimitMe?

Be sure to check out this amazing video by Megan Bomgaars, an inspirational young woman with Down Syndrome. It’s an inspiring four minute watch that you won’t be sorry you missed!

Big thanks to Beth Foraker, @InclusionChick for this amazing share; you are an inspiration to all of us!  #DontLimitMe

What the Tests Don’t Tell us

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Qualities Not Measured by Most Tests, Image via DyslexicKids.net

By Lindsey Lipsky, M.Ed.
It is no secret that today’s youth are tested and re-tested at astounding rates.  Ever since the implementation of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) which mandated annual yearly testing for students in all 50 states as a means for measuring progress; teachers, parents, and students have been inundated with a kind of testing mania.Clara Hemphill in her op-ed piece Too Much for Testing to Bear states, “Parents, teachers, and certainly the children are weary of the standardized tests that have sapped so much of the joy from the classroom and pushed so many teachers to replace creative, imaginative lessons with timid and defensive ones.”If you read the messages coming out of public schools today, more emphasis is placed on a child’s reading and mathematics score than on his or her own character, personality, and talents, despite a growing body of evidence that these characteristics are what truly count for life-long success. Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District in Florida states, “Right now, this year, we’re facing about 32 different assessments, different tests that our students will have to take, in addition to about 1,200 different end-of-course assessments mandated by both state and federal entities,” (Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour).

With such laser focus on high-stakes testing around the country, educators and non-educators alike continue to echo a feeling that adoption of these assessments in schools leads to less time for actual, engaging instruction and has, for many, drained the joy out of teaching. Even worse is how all this testing affects our students with learning disabilities and special needs. (I get test anxiety just thinking about it!)

As many educators go into this new year prepping for our mandated state and national assessments, how can we help reverse the negative effects of over-testing in our classroom?

Watch this video by @TakePart and @Jennyinglee, in Kids Tell All: I Am More Than a Standardized Test and this hilarious video post by Doug Robertson, @TheWeirdTeacher on “THE TEST” (duhn,duhn, duhhhhn!) His message is sure to inspire both you and your students. 

What do you think about high-stakes standardized testing in your classroom?  How do you relay to students that there is more to learning than just what’s on the test? Leave your comments below, or let’s discuss on Twitter @LindseyLipsky

Ten Accommodations for Student Success

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Accommodations are like ladders.  Not always necessary for some, but for those who can’t quite “reach,” are indispensable in helping level the playing field.
As teachers, we are always thinking to ourselves:  How can I help my students be successful in the least restrictive environment?  The answer? Accommodations!
Individualized accommodations are the number one way we can help students be successful in school and beyond. Below is a list of some of the most common accommodations used for students with learning disabilities like Dyslexia or other reading impairments:

  1. Use of graphic organizers for writing and organizational help
  2. Use of audio and eBooks for help reading grade-level textbooks, fiction, literature and more. Check out the resources of Learning Ally and Bookshare.
  3. Use of assistive technology including screen readers, text-to-speech software, typing programs, and apps to support students with special needs
  4. Ability to have material, including tests/quizzes/assignments, read aloud
  5. Allow for assignments to be typed
  6. For writing: grade on content, not spelling or grammar
  7. Enlarged text or print when necessary
  8. Limit text on assignments; utilize picture clues
  9. Do not require a student to read-aloud unless he/she volunteers
  10. Provide extended time on assignments, quizzes, tests and projects

For a list of some other great accommodations, check out this Special Education Accommodations Infographic by e-Learning Infographics, also, check out this list of Common Accommodations for Dyslexia Support by Learning Ally.


15 Education Acronyms to Know for 2015

By Lindsey Lipsky, M.Ed.
Ten points if you can decipher the following paragraph!

Veronica is a 3rd grader who has ADHD. Veronica qualified for a 504 in 2nd grade under the category of OHI.  After being in RTI for two months this school year without progress, the IEP team is looking at beginning testing for SLD and possibly creating an IEP. In line with IDEA, ADA, and FAPE, Veronica needs to be taught in the LRE.  Veronica’s teacher, Mrs. L, is excellent and engages learners with UDL, DI, and PBL principals in the classroom, but now has to shift focus towards CCSS. Mom is hoping to get Veronica AT to help her be successful in the classroom.

How’d you do?? Not great? Don’t fret–you’re not alone!  Public education today is filled with enough technical jargon to confuse even the most learned scholar. But, have no fear, help is here! 

Check out this list of 15 Education Acronyms to Know for 2015 :

1.  ADHD: This stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Students with ADHD may have a hard time focusing, be overactive, not able control behavior, or a combination of these. Some great support and articles are available at www.understood.org.

2. 504: This stands for a Section 504 Plan of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against public school students with disabilities. A 504 Plan is designed to help students with learning and/or attention issues participate with accommodations they need for school.

3. OHI: Other Health Impairment, or OHI, is a special education eligibility category for students who have “limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli… that is due to chronic or acute health problems.” Some examples include Epilepsy, Diabetes, ADD/ADHD, heart condition, Tourette’s Syndrome, and more. Read this article for more information.

4. RtI: Response to Intervention (RtI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with varying learning/emotional needs within the general education classroom.  Check out the RtI Action Network for more information at http://www.rtinetwork.org/.

5.  IEP: Perhaps the most commonly used special education acronym, the Individual Education Plan, or IEP, is a legal document created by a team of professionals and parents for a student which outlines a student’s disability category, present levels of educational performance, accommodations, modifications, annual goals, and more. Check out this IEP Checklist from the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center for help.

6.  SLD: Specific Learning Disability or Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) is one of the 13 disability categories outlined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). SLD is an umbrella term and can be further specified by difficulties in reading, writing, spelling, mathematics, reasoning, recalling, organizing information, and more. Check out the National Center for Learning Disabilities website at http://www.ncld.org/ or read this article from the Learning Disabilities Association of America for a wealth of information on this topic.

7. IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, outlines 13 special education disability categories for students to qualify for special education services.  IDEA was originally passed in 1975 to ensure that students with disabilities would have access to the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers, and was last amended in 2004.  For information about IDEA 2004, visit http://idea.ed.gov/.

8.  ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a civil disability law that “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.”  Visit www.ada.gov for more information.

9.  FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, refers to the provision that schools must meet the educational needs of individuals with disabilities to the same extent that the needs of non-disabled individuals are met. Check out this great infographic on FAPE by Understood.org.

10.  LRE: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), is a federal mandate under IDEA calling for students with disabilities to be served in special classes, separate schools, or other positions only when deemed necessary by the severity or nature of a child’s disability. By and large, LRE states that students must be educated in the same environment as their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible.

11.  UDL: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for teaching that identifies the needs of diverse learners first in terms of teaching environment, accessibility, curriculum design, and learning styles. The principal of UDL is that there is no “one size fits all approach” to teaching, and that doing what is best for students with special needs, can often benefit all. Check out http://www.cast.org/udl/ for more information.

12.  DI: Differentiated Instruction (DI) is the way in which a teacher anticipates, modifies, and responds to a variety of individualized student needs in the classroom. Under DI, teachers create varying content (what is being taught), process (how it is taught) and product (how students demonstrate their learning) within the classroom. Visit http://www.caroltomlinson.com/ for more information on DI.

13.  PBL: Project or Problem Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching methodology that allows students to investigate, analyze and examine a problem or project for an extended period of time. Within PBL, educators often use hands-on experiments, outside classroom experiences, and more to help students acquire deeper knowledge of a specified learning objective. Check out this great website by Jerry Blumengarten, @Cybraryman, on PBL.

14.  CCSS: In 2010, a number of states across the nation adopted the same standards for English and Math called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Since that time, 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core.  Visit www.corestandards.org for more information.

15. AT: Assistive Technology, or AT, is any item, equipment, product, software or system, that is used to increase, maintain, and improve the functional capabilities of a student with a disability. Check out the SETT Framework by Dr. Joy Zabala or the Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) for more information on AT and its implementation.

Want to save a copy of this list for your for your files? Download a copy of it here.

Have any other educational acronyms you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments below or contact me on twitter @LindseyLipsky.

The Three Types of Reading

By Lindsey Lipsky, M.Ed.

“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.”  – A C Grayling, Financial Times (in a review of A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel)

As educators, one of our biggest jobs is to help our students develop a love of reading. After all, without reading, as A.C. Grayling describes above, one cannot engage fully in the world.  But what if our learners have trouble accessing or reading print in the normal way?

You see, 1 in 5 students in America has Dyslexia, a Learning Disability which is largely characterized by deficits in language and phonological processing that hinders a person’s ability to decode, process and read fluently on level despite normal IQ.  What can we do for them?

Over ninety percent of what we teach as educators is through traditional “eye” reading; decoding and analyzing text and word patterns on a page with your eyes, which are then interpreted back into comprehension. However, there are two other types of reading that we, as educators, need to be aware of for incorporation into best teaching practices for all.

Three Types of Reading: Because there is more than just reading with your “eyes!”

1. Eye Reading
This is what 90% of us think of as true “reading.”  It is what we are most tested on, trained for, and taught in schools.  Eye reading includes taking in words, sentences, and phrases through our eyes to develop meaning, which is the basis for almost all reading and ultimately comprehension for a majority of people.  Without a doubt, eye reading must be taught and focused on throughout school, especially in terms of developing phonemic awareness, fluency, and decoding skills at the elementary level.  But what happens when a child still cannot “break the code” well beyond the elementary years and hasn’t gotten proper interventions yet?

2. Ear Reading
This is where ear reading can come into play.  When you have a student who can’t “decode” the text but is reading/comprehending on or above grade level, they can still “read” with their ears. Although sometimes stigmatized as “not true reading,”  for some of our students who are lacking decoding and phonological skills to interpret grade level text fluently, “ear reading” is an extremely necessary accommodation to help foster continuous growth.

As Jennifer A., a Reading Specialist outside of Chicago, states to students, “You might learn better through your ears than you do taking in information through your eyes, and that’s totally fine because your brain is still doing the work with it.”

Watch this video by Dr. Sally Shaywitz at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity here on the power of audiobooks and ear reading.

3. Finger Reading
Finger reading, better known as“Braille Reading,” is how students with blindness and visual impairments engage with the written word.  We would never say to a student with blindness or vision impairment that, when reading braille, they are not actually reading, would we?  Then why do we say to students with Dyslexia and/or Learning Disability that “ear reading” is not really reading? Just like ear and eye reading, finger reading helps unlock doors for students, adults and learners who cannot access print in the normal way.

For students with a learning disability like Dyslexia, research has shown us that allowing students to “ear read” may make the difference between helping advance a student’s comprehension growth or hinder it.  For support, check out some of the resources from accessible instructional material providers like Learning Ally (human-voice) and Book Share (digitized voice) which have hundreds of thousands of PK-12 and college accessible textbooks, popular fiction, and more for students with a qualifying print-disability.


Download this poster for your classroom by Learning Ally on the Three Types of Reading.
types of reading poster

We all read differently…and that’s OK!


 To Fully Support All Learners:

Remember, to fully support all students with reading disabilities and challenges like Dyslexia, along with acknowledging the different types of reading, you must also incorporate an evidence-based Multi-Sensory Structured Language (MSL) Program into your classroom. For more information on these programs, read a list of some recommended MSL programs from the International Dyslexia Association, as well as information about the Orton-Gillingham Multisensory Method (article by the Schenck School); an extensive approach to language, reading, spelling, and writing instruction incorporated by most reading and language specialists.

The combination of MSL program instruction and audiobooks are a powerful combination for all learners to keep up with their same age peers.

What do you think about this list? Do you incorporate the three types of reading and MSL instruction in your classroom? Let’s discuss on twitter @LindseyLipsky or leave a comment below.

“What is Dyslexia?” – Video by Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley

If you have five minutes to spare–this is an excellent video about Dyslexia by Dr. Kelli Sandman Hurley from the Dyslexia Training Institute: Basic information on Dyslexia, common misconceptions, supports and more.
How do you like this video? Leave a comment below, or let’s discuss on twitter! Use the hashtag #CallitDyslexia, and follow me @LindseyLipsky

5 Reasons We Should Call it Dyslexia

By Lindsey Lipsky, M.Ed.

Teachers: Have you ever heard these statements at your school?

  • Dyslexia is just another name for Learning Disability or LD.
  • Dyslexia is a name used by the private sector, we do not use that here.
  • We’ve never called it Dyslexia, so we’re not going to start now.

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As a Special Education Teacher for over five years, I often experienced reluctance by my school to use the term “Dyslexia.” The dreaded “D” word (as we teachers would lovingly call it), was for all intents and purposes, taboo.  After talking to countless teachers around the country, I’ve found that my experience is, sadly, less than rare. But why?

Research shows us that nearly 1 in 5 students in America have Dyslexia. It is one of the most studied and examined disabilities in the nation, yet the most under-diagnosed in schools. If nearly 20 percent of America’s youth have some form of Dyslexia, isn’t it time we start calling Dyslexia by its name?

Let’s take a look at the 5 top reasons why we should call it Dyslexia:

  1. Using the term “Dyslexia” is more specific: 

When we say that a child has a Learning Disability, LD, or Specific Learning Disorder, this may mean several things and can signify a multitude of different learning challenges. A Specific Learning Disorder can be in reading, writing, or math. Within a Specific LD in Reading, the diagnosis can further be varied into a disability of reading decoding, fluency, or comprehension.  In a nutshell, saying “Learning Disability” or “Specific Learning Disorder” is just not specific enough! When we use the term Dyslexia it makes it easier for teachers, parents, and even students themselves, to learn about, identify, and accommodate their needs in the classroom.

  1. The word Dyslexia has been around for a long time:

The term “Dyslexia” was first coined in 1887, by a German opthalmologist, Rudolf Berlin.  He used it to replace the commonly used term of the day, “Word-Blindness.” However, the term Dyslexia did not come into full use until the 1900s.  Today, it has become much less popular to say Dyslexia in public education, despite a large field of research to support its existence, and a plethora of evidence-based studies that identify successful interventions.  The multitude of studies and research over the last century will mean nothing if we do not begin calling Dyslexia by its proper name.

  1. Students often feel empowered when told they have Dyslexia:

Dyslexia can be a challenge for the 20 percent of school-aged children who suffer in silence.  However, time and time again, I’ve found that when a child is finally diagnosedwith Dyslexia they feel a sudden sense of relief, and sometimes even pride. “I’m not slow, or impaired, or lazy; I’m Dyslexic!” is a comment oft heard from students first diagnosed. Using the term “Dyslexia” allows a student not only to learn more about how his or her brain works best and how to self-advocate, but also provides entrance into a huge community of learners with Dyslexia; something extremely powerful for boosting self- confidence and development.

  1. Many, many famous people have Dyslexia:

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability or disorder that includes poor word reading, word decoding, oral reading fluency and spelling.  However, along with these impediments comes amazing gifts!  Many Dyslexics excel in areas of spatial recognition, creativity, athleticism, entrepreneurialism, and much more.  It is no surprise then that so many famous and successful people have Dyslexia.  Don’t believe me? Check out this list of some famous people with Dyslexia: http://www.dyslexia.com/famous.htm

  1. In some states, Dyslexia is the law:

While not the case everywhere, many states have new or ongoing legislation about Dyslexia. Some states like Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and New Jersey, have enacted various laws supporting, assessing, identifying and naming Dyslexia in the classroom. To see where your state stands, contact your local Decoding Dyslexia state group.

There are several identified, targeted interventions, accommodations, and supports for students with Dyslexia. However, the biggest and most successful intervention for learners with Dyslexia includes adaptation of multi-sensory structured language programs into the classroom, which, when implemented with fidelity, can significantly reduce reading problems and help bring children up to grade-level reading. Questions on that? Visit the International Dyslexia Association or the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity to learn more.

What do you think about this list?  Do you agree that we need to start calling Dyslexia by its name?

Let’s talk on twitter via @LindseyLipsky or leave a comment below. To help support awareness and the need to use the term “Dyslexia” in schools, please share this post and use the hashtag #CallitDyslexia.

Original post on Weebly: http://lindseylipsky.weebly.com/blog/november-09th-2014