How Reading Changes the Brain

23 Sep

The Tentacles of Dyslexia

18 Apr

Political Correctness Gone Mad: Has School Become Too Hostile For Boys ?

23 Oct

Parents of boys should ask themselves this question as they enter the doors of their schools. A myriad of incidents suggests that the answer is yes. By the time they reach school, many boys are already lagging behind in literacy: at age five, there is a gap of 11 percentage points between boys’ and girls’ achievement in reading. More and more boys struggle with reading and literacy as they progress through the school system. Boys are also less likely to. enjoy reading and less likely to spend time reading outside of class. This literacy behaviors are becoming more severe because boys are not only underachieving in literacy, the gap between how much boys and girls enjoy reading or choose to spend time reading is widening.

So what is making boys more likely to struggle with reading? Not all boys struggle with reading and while the literacy gender gap is seen internationally, there are notable exceptions including Chile and the Netherlands. Something we are doing as a society is making boys more likely to fail at reading.. In school, what is taught and how it is taught and assessed all impacts on boys’ achievement, while boys’ gender identities, influenced by society’s expectations and reinforced by their peers, can negatively impact their attitudes toward reading, the amount of time they spend reading and ultimately their reading skills.

Many secondary school boys do not have the stamina to read beyond the 100th page of a book. Does his mean we need to toss out longer novels in favor of shorter books?  Since for many boys the cutoff point happens  within the first few pages  of a book, providing shorter books does not solve the problem . More needs to be done to engage boys’ and build on their own interests.

Texas Child Suspended After Hugging Aide
  WACO, Texas — School administrators gave a 4-year-old student an in-school   suspension for inappropriately touching a teacher’s aide after the pre-kindergartner   hugged the woman. A letter from La Vega school district administrators to the   student’s parents said that the boy was involved in “inappropriate   physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual   harassment” after he hugged the woman and he “rubbed his face in   the chest of the female employee” on Nov. 10. DaMarcus Blackwell, the   father of the boy who attends La Vega Primary School, said he filed a   complaint with the district. He said that his son doesn’t understand why he   was punished. “When I got that letter, my world flipped,” Blackwell   said in a story in Sunday’s editions of the Waco Tribune-Herald.  La Vega school district officials said   student privacy laws

prevented them from commenting. After   Blackwell filed a complaint, a subsequent letter from the district said the   offense had been changed to “inappropriate physical contact” and   removed references of sexual contact or sexual harassment from the boy’s   file. Administrators said the district’s student handbook contains no   specific guidelines referring to contact between teachers and students but   does state that inappropriate physical contact will result in a discipline   referral (Waco   Tribune-Herald, 2005).

Child   suspended from his Virginia school for picking up a pencil and using it to   “shoot” a “bad guy” — his friend, who was also suspended. A few months   earlier, Josh Welch, also 7, was sent home from his Maryland school for   nibbling off the corners of a strawberry Pop-Tart to shape it into a gun. At   about the same time, Colorado’s Alex Evans, age 7, was suspended for throwing   an imaginary hand grenade at “bad guys” in order to “save the world (Time,   2013).”

Forgotten is the reality that millions of boys are struggling academically. A large and ever-increasing male horde is falling behind in grades and disengaged from school. College has never been more important to a young person’s life prospects, and today boys are far less likely than girls to pursue education beyond high school..

Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys.. The obsession of upholding zero tolerance policies is creating hostile environments for young boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, “Because it’s fun.”

According to at least one study, such play rarely escalates into real aggression — only about 1% of the time. But when two researchers, Mary Ellin Logue and Hattie Harvey, surveyed classroom practices of 98 teachers of 4-year-olds, they found that this style of play was the least tolerated. Nearly half of teachers stopped or redirected boys’ dramatic play daily or several times a week — whereas less than a third reported stopping or redirecting girls’ dramatic play weekly.

Play is a critical basis for learning. And boys’ heroic play is no exception. Logue and Harvey found that “bad guy” play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative-play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to schoolSchools must enforce codes of discipline and maintain clear rules against incivility and malicious behavior. But that hardly requires abolishing tag, imposing games of tug of peace or banning superhero play. Efforts to re-engineer the young-male imagination are doomed to fail, but they will succeed spectacularly in at least one way. They will send a clear and unmistakable message to millions of schoolboys: You are not welcome in school.


Blaming the Victim….When will academia recognize their failure to teach teachers and teachers’ failures to teach boys.

23 Oct

Boys might claim it’s a simple matter of preferring to read magazines or the latest musings of their friends on social media rather than the classics. But two of the largest studies ever conducted into the reading habits of children in the UK have put those excuses to bed.

Boys, of every age, no matter the nature of the literature before them, typically read less thoroughly than girls.They take less time to process the words, lazily skipping parts with abandon. And they choose books that are too easy for them, meaning they fail to move on to tougher material, it is claimed.

A Profound Voice From Ausralia

19 Jan

(Adam Tate, 19th January 2016)  

Hello from Melbourne Australia. I would like to share my journey into working with children that have Dyslexia. I am in transition from engineering to middle school teaching, aiming to specialise in Dyslexia. I hope you enjoy reading of my “mid-life crisis” career change!

I became interested in Dyslexia in 2010. I was a parent-helper in my daughter’s junior class, and before lunchtime, I was working with a six year old girl, “Emma”. Emma was social and bright. The teacher had asked every student to write a sentence about what they learned today. I was about to help this young girl, but she just sat there and froze, then broke down and cried.

At first I thought did I upset her?, but the teacher came over and said don’t worry, that’s just Emma being Emma. Somehow, this did not make sense. I continued to help in that class, and did not yet pick up that Emma did very little reading or writing. Her talking expressed her intelligence. In 2011, I lost contact with her when I changed my daughters’ school. In 2012, that girl’s family also moved to the same school and class, and I got to do some more support work with Emma.

 In 2013 I decided to start a Teacher’s Aide course to support students with a disability. Early in the course we learned about Dyslexia, and one of the women in the class revealed she was Dyslexic, with a five year old daughter, also with Dyslexia. Slowly I was building an understanding about Dyslexia.

Back at my daughter’s school, I spoke with Emma’s mother, confirming in fact her daughter was recently diagnosed as 2e (twice exceptional), Gifted, and with Dyslexia.

My interest in Dyslexia was now official! The experiences I had seen observing this girl (and others) started to make sense.

 Across 2013, I spent time working in supporting students in one junior school, and also one senior school up to 16 year olds. I observed many mild disabilities and the complex impacts they have on students, both academically and emotionally. I also noted that fewer teachers openly understood these disabilities in how best to change the classroom to suit them. Funding in the Government schools also made it difficult for schools to provide higher levels of expertise and support.

 I also realised by now, that our schools barely teach children how to read!

 I saw Autism Spectrum Disorder had more presence in Aide training, but not Dyslexia. Aides lacked the explicit skills to teach reading and writing, and were legally not able to supervise children for some targeted explicit instruction anyway without a teacher. The teachers also lacked training on explicit intervention strategies. The Dyslexic student’s developmental needs were being missed.

 I decided that I would train as a teacher specialising in Dyslexia. I could then work in and out of the class to fill the gap, and help other teachers with professional development. The right practices were needed in the classrooms.

 From late 2013 to current times, I have seen many undiagnosed students with Dyslexia, even at 12 years old. Some had been diagnosed, but the teachers didn’t respond to change their teaching. I have witnessed the negative social and emotional effects. I have witnessed the let’s pretend I can read and do Math’s. In one case with a bright 11 year old girl who was a school captain, I offered to help with her story writing, but she panicked and became very anxious, avoiding showing me her paper at all costs. Later in different lesson, I stood back so I could discreetly read what was on her paper. In the class share time, she “read out” her answer to the class. It was a lot like previous answers spoken by other students, but not like what was written on her paper…

Late in 2014, I socially spoke with a mother and her 14 year old daughter at my daughters’ dance school. I think she saw me reading Why Can’t My Daughter Read. She explained that her daughter entered High School (Year 7) in 2013 – undiagnosed, with Dyslexia. Her daughter hit the academic environment, and was teased and bullied by her classmates because she couldn’t read. It nearly ended badly for that girl until the mother decided to home school her daughter instead.

Also in 2014, I did an additional course for teachers focusing specifically on working with 2e students. I could see the emotional sides, the learned silent helplessness feeling, the anxieties, and the internal confusion of being above average intelligence and yet not being able to read. School was a psychological prison to some of these children. You might have heard of the term “Dysteachia”. I realised this was “Dyschoolia”.

In 2015, I did two teacher training placements in primary schools (age 8-12). My teacher course had nothing on Dyslexia in it, and nothing on teaching us how to teach reading. It vaguely theorised about the whole word top down type approach with some reference to bottom up theory, leaving us students to debate on our own what was best. I knew top down techniques weren’t effective, and I mentioned on the course discussion board that explicit aural teaching of phonemic awareness should precede teaching reading. Some other pre-service teachers on the course loved me raising this, but the tutors on my course were not enthused.

Students with Dyslexia in schools need explicit daily intervention with their reading and writing skills, and also with being taught differently in the class to meet their strengths. They often thrive in collaborative roles where their strengths can work together with other students’ different strengths, and so keep up with their learning without the strain of reading. We need to reduce the industrial “everyone must learn to prove they can do the same things as independent learners” approach.

I have found in class, teachers usually don’t model good speech or correct students’ mistakes either. This lowers language and communication skills acquisition, let alone if you have Dyslexia. I have copies of old English, American and Australian dictionaries to help stop the drift in language skills.

Teachers let Reading to Learn take over Learning to Read too early, and some students just can’t read…yet.

In one school I was in, the teacher thought they don’t have any students with Dyslexia. I had news for them. In another school, the teacher was aware of an issue with a 10 year old, and I gently suggested Dyslexia as a possibility. I showed the teacher a phonics training resources I had, and phonics training was introduced for that student with a reading specialist aide. This is how it should be. I don’t have the training to diagnose Dyslexia, but at least I can promote an awareness and interventions.

I have almost finished my training. Hopefully, I am helping to push that positive wave of change along. Keep persisting!

Adam Tate

(Adam Tate has given permission for Ellen Burns Hurst to post this).


Recognizing Reading Difficulties 

6 Dec

Lucy was five and moved to Lynchburg, Virginia. She entered kindergarten for the first time and didn’t remember anything remarkable about that first school experience. She changed schools in the first grade and she remembered having trouble with what she called “some pronunciations.” By the time she was in the third grade and reading Dick, Jane and Sally, she realized that anything “that started in a /wh/, I had no idea. I couldn’t do a what, when, why, or where” Her father could not figure it out, in his words, “Honey, what the hell is wrong with you?” Her mother, oddly enough, was a kindergarten teacher,  and she saw that her daughter was having some trouble reading. She encouraged her to read. Sadly, Lucy didn’t like it. Reading was a chore. The outcome of these efforts was poor decoding and essentially no comprehension. Lucy’s mother desperately looked for help and for some reason decided Lucy needed piano lessons. Lucy’s response was “like I could read those notes and I couldn’t read Dick, Jane and Sally? What I remember particularly about learning to play the piano was that if you would play it for me, I could pick out the notes with my fingers. If I could hear it I could learn it. And taking piano lessons was the first time I realized if you would read it to me I could get it.”

My years of working as a reading specialist have been filled with conversations with parents in which they report they have been told that their daughter’s reading delay was due to nothing more than a developmental lag. They are told to give it some time and their daughter will eventually catch up. When a kindergartener confuses letters, associates the wrong sound with a letter, or cannot distinguish a rhyme, it usually has nothing to do with social maturity. Please do not accept the developmental lag excuse. If your intuition tells you something is not right, do not wait to seek help. 
The National Institutes of Health state that ninety-five percent of poor readers can be brought up to grade level if they receive appropriate early intervention. Of course it is still possible to help an older child with reading, but children beyond third grade require much more frequent and intensive help. The longer you wait to get help for a child with reading difficulties, the harder it will be for the child to catch up. Seventy-five percent of children receiving intervention at age nine or later continue to struggle throughout their school careers. Waiting until fourth grade, rather than taking action in kindergarten, will only make the task of remediation more complex and time intensive. It will take four times as long to obtain equivalent results. Awareness of the red flags of reading disability is the first step to an early and accurate diagnosis.

The Red Flag List

Pre K/Kindergarten Grades (Kaufman and Hook, 1998)

  •  Delay in Talking
  • Difficulty recognizing and producing rhymes
  • Difficulty remembering rote information, such as letter names
  • Difficulty remembering or following directions

Grades 1-3

  • Difficulty with sound/symbol correspondence (/a/, as in apple)
  • Confusion with letters that look alike ( b/d/p, w/m, h/n, f/t)
  • Confusion with letters that have similar sounds ( d/t, b/p, f/v)
  • Difficulty remembering common sight words (was, the, and, she)
  • Problems segmenting words into sounds (cat – /k/ /a/ /t/)
  • Difficulty blending individual sounds to make words
  • Reading and spelling errors that indicate difficulty sequencing sounds ( blast -> blats)
  • Omission of grammatical endings when reading and writing ( -s, -ed, -ing)
  • Difficulty remembering spelling of words over time
  • Slow rate of letter, object and number naming

Grades 4-8 

  • Significant difficulty reading and spelling multisyllabic/longer words (Ex. Omits whole syllables)
  • Reduced awareness of word structure (prefix, roots, and suffixes)
  • Frequent misreading of common sight words
  • Difficulty learning new information from text because of word reading errors
  • Difficulty understanding text because of underlying oral language problems with vocabulary and/or grammar
  • Significant difficulty writing, due to spelling and organization problems
  • Slow rate of reading

Grades 9-12 and adult

  • Continued difficulty with word recognition that significantly affects acquisition of knowledge and ability to analyze written material
  • Slow rate of reading
  • Continued difficulty with spelling and written composition
  • Difficulty taking notes in class
  • Trouble learning a foreign language

The awareness of these red flags makes it imperative for schools to implement systematic screening plans. The best plan is to begin screening children in early-kindergarten and continue screening at least three times a year until the end of third grade. The rationale is that it is better to slightly over-identify the number of children who may be “at risk” of reading difficulty than to miss some who may need help. The worst outcome of over-identification is that a child who would eventually have caught on receives some additional help. 

Baddeley, Allen (2003). Working Memory: Looking Back and Looking Forward, volume 4. Retreived from

Carlisle, Joanne F. & Rice, Melinda S. (2002). Improving Reading Comprehension: Research-Based Principles and Practices. Timonium, Maryland: York Press, Inc.

Hurst, E.B. (2013). Why Can’t My Daughter Read? Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.h

National Research Council (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Pugh, K. & McCardle, P. (2009). How Children Learn to Read: Current Issues and New Directions in the Integration of Cognition, Neurobiology and Genetics of Reading and Dyslexia Research and Practice. New York, NY: Psychological Press.


Vision Therapy Smoke and Mirrors

5 Dec​
Reprinted from above link

I had just returned from the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) annual conference, which was excellent. One of the talks I attended was on the topic of the use of Vision Therapy (VT) as a treatment for dyslexia. That same day I had a question from a parent on VT pop into my DyslexiaHelp 

To cut to the chase—there is absolutely no evidence to support VT as a therapy option for the treatment of dyslexia. None. Zero. Zilch. I could end this piece right there, but let me highlight some of the evidence (or lack thereof). In 2011, the IDA published a piece in Perspectives on Language by Drs. Jack Fletcher and Debra Currie titled “Vision Efficiency Interventions and Reading Disability” that concluded, “Referral for color overlays, tinted lenses, eye tracking, and visual information processing interventions are not supported by research.” Now, that seems pretty clear, but these therapies are still being pushed at parents as a treatment for dyslexia. They are expensive and time-consuming.

In their excellent talk on October 30, 2015, “Dyslexia: The Eyes Don’t have it,” pediatric ophthalmologists Drs. Sheryl Handler, Walter Fierson, and Melinda Rainey laid out the evidence relative to reading, dyslexia, and vision therapies. They included controversial topics such as Magnocellular Deficit Theory and Behavioral Optometric Theories, as well as therapies such as colored lenses and vision therapy. They cited, among many other sources, two joint statements (2009, 2011) from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Ophthalmology, Council on Children with Disabilities; American Academy of Ophthalmology; American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus; and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists, and here is what they concluded in the 2011 report:
“Visual problems do not cause dyslexia. Scientific evidence does not support the efficacy of eye exercises, behavioral/perceptual vision therapy, training glasses, or special tinted filters or lenses in improving the long-term educational performance in these complex pediatric neurocognitive conditions.” Again, quite clear (no pun intended).
During the talk, a parent asked, “What about my daughter complaining that the text moves around when she reads?” A developmental ophthalmologist in the audience who has a dyslexic daughter responded that the movement, fuzziness, etc. experienced by the child is “a symptom of the effort that’s involved in reading,” not the cause. In other words, because reading is so challenging, laborious, and fatiguing, the child experiences or perceives the print to be moving or jumping. But, no amount of VT is going to teach her to decode and read fluently. (Of course, the presenters acknowledge the importance of visual exams to determine visual acuity.) Instead, she needs systematic and explicit instruction in the skills that are directly related to reading.
What are those skills and what does intervention look like for dyslexia? The research is clear. Intervention should be research-based, multisensory, individualized, systematic, direct, and explicit. It should incorporate all aspects of spoken and written language—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Therapy should target phonology (i.e., the sound system of our language), sound-symbol (letter) correspondences, orthographic knowledge and awareness, syllable instruction, morphology (e.g., base words, inflectional endings (past tense, third person, and plural suffixes), Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, and suffixes), semantics (i.e., word meanings), and syntax (i.e., word order). And, it should be cumulative—it should build on underlying skills over time.
So, what to do as a parent? To quote Drs. Handler, Fierson, and Rainey, “become a wise consumer.” I have posted a lot of information about intervention of the DyslexiaHelp site. Know that there is no quick fix for dyslexia. Carefully evaluate the claims that are being made with a treatment approach. Be wary of “testimonials” because you’ve no guarantee who wrote them. Ensure that the intervention is targeted at those skills I listed above that underlie learning to read, spell, and write. The practitioner should provide data that shows how your child is improving in reading, spelling, and writing. Invest your precious dollars and time into what works—for dyslexia that means research-based language/literacy intervention.
In addition to providing the leadership to DyslexiaHelp, Dr. Pierson is a founding partner in the Literacy, Language, and Learning Institute (3LI)

Is this book too hard (or easy) for my child?

19 Aug

If you are having trouble selecting appropriate books for your child, having the ability to measure the text readability  scores of any text might make your life easier. First, visit the Coh-Metrix Text Easability Assessor website at Create a login and password. It is free and easy to sign up. Once you have created an account and signed in, you will be taken to a page with an empty, white text box. Copy and paste the text from any text source into the empty, white text box. Make sure you are only copying and pasting the body of the passage. Do not include the title, date, or any of the resources present in the passage. When you have pasted the passage into the text box, click on the red button beneath the text box that says “Analyze.” There will be a short delay and after a few seconds, you will see a bar graph appear to the right of the screen. The bar graph will give you the percentages for several text characteristics including: narrativity, syntactic simplicity, word concreteness, referential cohesion, and deep cohesion. Below the bar graph, the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level is also included for your benefit. Lastly, a paragraph is provided that explains the meaning of the measurements of the text characteristics for your particular passage. Once you have completed measuring your passage, you can click on the “Clear” button below the text box and measure another passage, if you so wish. I hope this helps you make better book  choices for you child.

Decatur Book Festival

30 Aug
Image 30 Aug