Archive for the 'Assessment' Category

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Free Current Practice Alerts

It’s sometimes hard to sort through the rhetoric about different methods used in teaching students with Learning Disabilities. However, two groups within the Council for Exceptional Children have made the task considerably easier. In a series of publications now numbering 16, the Division for Learning Disabilities and the Division for Research cut through the bologna to provide quick reviews about the effectiveness of current educational practices. These Current Practice Alerts, which are readily accessible for general readers, cover familiar topics including these:

  • Class-wide Peer Tutoring
  • Co-Teaching
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Direct Instruction
  • Fluency Instruction
  • Formative Evaluation
  • Functional Behavioral Assessment
  • Graphic Organizers
  • High-Stakes Assessment
  • Mnemonic Instruction
  • Phonics Instruction
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Reading Comprehension Instruction
  • Reading Recovery
  • Social Skills Instruction

They are succinct and faithful to the research evidence. They even make explicit recommendations about whether to use the practice. What’s the hitch? Well, they’re free, so see for yourselves.

Link to the Web page listing these resources.

Famous folks redux

Over on Atlanta Cures Dyslexia Bill Allen has a page headed “Rich and Famous Dyslexics: Dyslexic Talents Unleashed!” that I suspect he hopes will inspire people to work hard and achieve great things.

What talented dyslexic – your child? — is next in line for life success? Once overcome, dyslexia can be a creative gift. The dyslexic is predominantly a 3-dimensional thinker, “seeing” or, more accurately, “perceiving” a whole picture when processing the input of many senses. Called “Big Picture Thinking” by The Learning to Read Program, this ability makes the dyslexic a very creative person when working with three-dimensional objects or physical events.

Look who’s dyslexic!

This is followed by a two overlapping lists of at least 70 names. Most of them are celebrities of one sort or another (entertainment, sports) or historically important figures. People who are familiar with other sites that identify individuals who putatively have Learning Disabilities will recognize many of these names.

There were some new ones for me, though. I do not remember previously reading assertions that Loretta Young, Michael Faraday, Gustave Flaubert, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, or Robert Kennedy had dyslexia. Does anyone know where I learn about these individuals’ Learning Disabilities?

Sigh. Probably not.

I understand that people hope lists such as this one will prove inspiring to children and even adults who struggle with learning. But, do the lists serve that function? And, are they accurate? Who completed the diagnosis of, for example, Michael Faraday? In addition, what about all the people who definitely have dyslexia and have accomplished a lot, but who are not famous? And what about all the individuals who have dyslexia and are managing to make it without fame and fortune?

Link to Mr. Allen’s page. There’s also a reading program available there; that’s a post for another day.

Sigh–new content

Despite getting virtually no recommendations about future content (3 votes!), I’m starting to post some new content. The new content is, in my obviously biased view (else, why would I post it?), pretty important stuff. It’s about research, practice, knowledge, and all that sort of stuff as it connects to Learning Disabilities. In this page, I discuss big-idea concepts that recur in Learning Disabilities. These are the themes that one sees when one reads a diverse array of literature on the topic of LD.

I recommend it. What’s more, you won’t have to find this post each time you want to refer to the page; it will always be directly accessible under the “special content” link in the top navigation bar.

Simple pragmatics

Some students with Learning Disabilities have substantial problems with the pragmatic aspects of language. Pragmatics is one of the main aspects of language (others are phonemics, morphology, semantics, and syntax), and it refers to the social aspects of using language (e.g., taking turns; adapting vocabulary, sentence structure, and etc. according to listeners’ language skills; and so forth). The problems of some students with LD were famously described in the title of a study by Tanis Bryan and colleagues; they took their title from something that one one of their students with LD said when talking with other children: “‘Come on dummy’: An observational study of children’s communication.”

As one might guess, deficits in pragmatics are associated with social-behavioral problems. Students with LD who have problems with pragmatics—do not know how to take turns, how to adjust their talk to fit different social situations, how to interpret subtle implications, etc.—may quickly become social outcasts, for example. Sadly, I fear that this aspect of LD is too rarely examined in thoughtful and parsimonious way.

However, over on Language Fix, Paul Morris had a commentary on the topic that I recommend to both of you folks who routinely read LD Blog. Mr. Morris provides a starting place for thinking about assessing and teaching pragmatics in a very, well, pragmatic way.
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Poll 2 on RtI and LD

Here’s an announcement of the second in the series of polls to assess readers’ perspectives on response to intervention or response to instruction (RtI) and Learning Disabilities. RtI (which was expressly permitted in the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), is commonly considered to have multiple tiers of intensity with careful monitoring of students’ progress informing decisions about providing increasingly more intensive services. The mechanisms of RtI are the focus of this poll. Although they are being adopted broadly, the only RtI models that have been studied closely are in early literacy, so I’m limiting this discussion to those efforts.
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Hey, teacher, my child can’t read

Dean Geyer, who is a parent of a child who had difficulty learning to read, has launched a blog entitled “Hey, Teacher, My Child Can’t Read.” His daughter’s experience is, in part, a success story; after five years of special education in Delaware (US), he reports that she is on the honor roll and no longer eligible for special education.

In his entries, Mr. Geyer frequently refers to “auditory processing disorder.” Although I am very glad to learn that Mr. Geyer’s daughter is succeeding, I am wary of attributing much to the diagnosis of auditory processing disorder. I’ve been hearing about this disorder for most of my career, but I have as yet not found a satisfactorily rigorous or substantiated account of it.

If someone could point me to a definitive resource on this disorder, we could examine it systematically. I fear, however, that a close examination of the resource will reveal that it is simply hypothesizing some hidden process that can’t be precisely tested and is pretty readily reduced to not having learned some pretty specific skills.

Here are some of the questions one should ask:

  1. How does one distinguish a child with auditory processing disorder from another child who doesn’t have the disorder?
  2. How trustworthy (psychometrically sound) are any instruments used in making the diagnosis of auditory processing disorder?
  3. What specific tasks would a child with auditory processing disorder fail? If the child was taught how to pass those tasks, would she still have auditory processing disorder?

By the way, I think there’s a similar case to be made for “non-verbal learning disability.”

Regardless of the outcomes of an investigation of auditory processing disorder, it’s still quite wonderful to know that Mr. Geyer’s daughter is succeeding. I encourage readers to jump over to Hey, Teacher, My Child Can’t Read and read his posts. I’m adding his site to LD Blog’s blog roll.

Update: It seems this domain name is no longer being maintained. More when I can get in touch with Mr. Geyer. 11 September 2009.

Graduation stories

It is the season of graduations from high schools and colleges, and with them will come a rash of stories about individuals with Learning Disabilities reaching those milestones in education. I came upon one of them in John Schumacher’s story, “Payne’s basketball dream now a reality:The former Sac State player will graduate today, against some tall odds,” that appeared in the Sacramento (CA) Bee. This graduation story, however, raises questions about the competence of educators.
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Brain Gym (Skeptic’s Dictionary)

Wheeeheee! Over on the Skeptic’s Dictionary, Robert T. Carroll has a take-down and pin of Brain Gym. The contemporary incarnation of some ideas that were thoroughly discredited in Learning Disabilities in the 1970s, Brain Gym is making something of a splash. Shoot, it even appeared in one of my Curry School colleague’s classes for a while, as I understand.

Professor Carroll’s indictment of Brain Gym presents a good opportunity to make an important point. The problem with Brain Gym and many of its siblings is not that the activities might not be worthwhile, it’s that the advocates over-reach so substantially. Shoot, I’m glad to advocate that we teach kids who might fit the clumsy category how to walk, move, dance, play basketball, and etc. I just don’t want people to be sold a bill of goods about how doing so will improve those children’s reading, etc.

Read Professor Carroll’s analysis. Need info on the research about the benefits of perceptual-motor training? Here’s a link to a meta-analysis.

Reading fluency

Among the fab five components of reading—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—different aspects have seemed to be in the spotlight at different times. Of course, this is just my subjective view, but it seems to me that there was disproportionate focus on comprehension in the ’80s and early ’90s, then on decoding in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Recently, it seems that everyone’s talking about fluency.

Although I think that a disproportional focus on fluency is a mistake (more on that in a later paragraph), I thought it would be beneficial to have some resources here on LD Blog about reading fluency. So, I’ve assembled a few recommended links here:

  1. Oregon’s Big Ideas resources on fluency by E. Kame’enui and D. Simmons (n.d.);
  2. Reading Fluency Assessment and Instruction: What, Why, and How? by R. Hudson, H. Lane, and P. C. Pullen (2005).
  3. Reading Fluency by N. Mather and S. Goldstein (2001);
  4. Assessing Reading Fluency by T. V. Rasinski (n.d.);
  5. Secondary Students with Learning Disabilities in Reading: Developing Reading Fluency (PDF) by D. P. Bryant, J. Engelhard, & L. Reetz (n.d.; note that I am republishing the document here because I can no longer find it on the Council for Learning Disabilities site);
  6. Reading Rockets has a slew of resources; this link will get you a listing of them;
  7. Screening, Diagnosing and Progress Monitoring for Fluency by J. Hasbrouck (2006);
  8. Reading Fluency: What, Why, and How? by M. Dunn (PDF) (2007).

One of the reasons that we have to be careful about a disproportional emphasis on fluency is that we don’t want to communicate to learners that reading speed and accuracy, even including prosody, are all there is to reading. That is, fluency is just a means to the end of finding the ideas that the text conveys. This should be the idea of “balanced reading,” in my view. To be sure, fluent decoding is critical, but teacher have to shift the emphasis from the early stages when they are showing students how to unlock the coded material to the should-come-soon stages of comprehending the coded content.

Although it may sound like I’m playing with words, I am not. As strongly as I advocate for teaching early decoding skills efficiently and effectively, I don’t want readers to think that I consider decoding the end in itself. More on this another time… it probably deserves a page and perhaps it belongs on Teach Effectively rather than here on LD Blog.

NCLD panel on early early intervening services

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has scheduled a panel discussion about prevention of Learning Disabilities. Entitled “RTI Goes to Pre-K: A Comprehensive System for Early Intervention to Promote School Readiness,” the discussion is slated for 11-noon on Wed. 30 January 2008 in HC-6 U.S. Capitol Building, Washington (DC, US).

Participants will discuss the most recent data that supports [sic] the need for universal early literacy screening and supportive services before children enter kindergarten and will specifically discuss the impact of a new program — Recognition and Response — on students in preschool and will highlight key policy recommendations.

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