Archive for the 'News' Category

S. A. Kirk, 1904-1996

Sam Kirk

Twenty years ago I posted a message to a mailing list named “SpedTalk” that Samuel A. Kirk had died. Along with William Cruickshank (and a few others), Professor Kirk was instrumental in helping a group of parents establish what we now call “the field” of learning disabilities. I preserved a copy of the content of that message on a Web site I was managing at the time, so you can read it in its entirety if you wish.

Samuel Alexander Kirk, one of the most influential figures in the history of special education, died 21 July 1996. He is survived by his wife and long-time collaborator Winifred D. Kirk, his son Jerry, daughter Lorraine, and sister Hannah.

Kirk, who was born in Rugby, ND, in 1904, obtained bachelors and masters degrees in psychology from the University of Chicago and a PhD in physiological and clinical pscyhology from the University of Michigan. He began his career in 1929 with children with disabilities through employment at the Oaks School in Chicago, working with boys who were delinquent and had mental retardation. During this time, he recalled, “I arranged to tutor [a] boy at nine o’clock in the evening, after the boys were supposed to be asleep. This boy, who was eager to learn, sneaked quietly out of bed at the appointed time each night and met me in a small space between the two dromintory rooms and, actually, in the doorway of the boy’s toilet….I often state that my first experience in tutoring a case of reading disability was not in a school, was not in a clinic, was not in an experimental laboratory, but in a boy’s lavatory” (1976, pp. 242-243).

Link for the copy of that message.

Yet another “learning disability” as the generic

In an otherwise very important and impressive story, reporter Perry Stein of the Washington (DC, US) Post mis-uses “learning disability” as a generic term. Ms. Stein’s article is about a judge holding that the Washington DC public schools have failed to conduct appropriate child find efforts for preschool children with disabilities. Near the end of the article Ms. Stein added this paragraph about an expert’s commentary:

Judith Sandalow, the executive director of the Children’s Law Center, celebrated the decision and said she constantly sees children who are several grades behind in school whom the city has not yet identified as having a learning disability.

There’s that too-familiar confusion of the category of learning disability with the superordinate group of individuals with disabilities who need special education, a group that includes autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, mental retardation (i.e., intellectual disabilities), multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments, specific learning disability, speech or language impairments, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment including blindness (Code of Federal Regulations 34 B III 300 A §300.8.)

Was it Ms. Sandalow who used “learning disability” as a generic or did Ms. Stein attribute it to her? Either way, it’s a mistake.

Nevertheless, if one is concerned about special education, I recommend this article. It appears to me to show another example of how schools are failing to provide appropriate and needed services. There is an irony that the case about which Ms. Stein wrote continues to be heard that in the same city where Mills v. Board of Education was contested. In 1972, Mills was one of the cases that led to the founding of the very laws that this judge is seeking to enforce almost 45 years later.

Janet W. Lerner

Janet Weiss Lerner, author of one of the first and most enduring texts about Learning Disabilities, died 25 May 2015. She was 88 years old. She began her career studying under Sam Kirk, Alfred Strauss, and Laura Lehtinen; having learned from the pioneers in the history of special education, Professor Lerner went on to exert giant influence, herself, especially in the area of Learning Disabilities.

Professor Lerner completed a Bachelors of Arts at Milwaukee State Teachers College (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) when Professor Kirk chaired the special education department there; later she took a Masters of Education from National Louis University and a Doctor of Philosophy from New York University. She taught at multiple grade levels in both general and special education in New York and Chicago, often focusing on helping children with reading problems.
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Function-based interventions for LD?

Most readers are likely familiar with the idea that one can, by carefully assessing the antecedents and consequences of a problem behavior, essentially determine what is causing that problem behavior to occur. Given that at least some—many?—students with Learning Disabilities (LD) have some problem-some behaviors, wouldn’t it be cool if there was an evidence base about using functional analysis techniques to document development of procedures for addressing the problem behaviors of students with LD?

In “A Systematic Review of Function-Based Interventions for Students with Learning Disabilities,” Professor John McKenna and his colleagues examined the research literature in search of that very evidence base. They were able to locate only a few studies that met the most rigorous standards, but those studies allowed them to conclude that this idea is a promising one. Here’s the source and the abstract with a hot DOI. I think the publisher (Wiley) may be allowing public access to the entire article, so try clicking on the PDF to download it. (I can’t tell, ’cause I’m working from my office, which has free access anyway; drop a comment to let me know.)

McKenna, J. W., Flower, A., Kim, M. K., Ciullo, S., & Haring, C. (2015). A systematic review of function-based interventions for students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 30, 15-28. DOI:10.1111/ldrp.12049

Students with learning disabilities (LD) experience pervasive academic deficits requiring extensive academic intervention; however, they may also engage in problem behaviors that adversely affect teaching and learning, thus lessening the potential impact of specialized instruction and supports. The learning deficits of students with LD are prevalent in the extant research, but behavioral needs appear to receive less attention. The authors report the results of a systematic review investigating the evidence-base for function-based interventions for students with LD using the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) criteria for evaluating single-case studies. Fourteen studies with 17 participants met inclusion criteria, with the majority occurring in elementary settings. Although interventions tended to be effective, few included maintenance and generalization measures. Because of the small number of studies (n = 4) that met WWC design and effectiveness standards, the authors conclude that function-based interventions, although promising, cannot currently be considered an evidence-based practice for students with LD. Implications for practice, areas for future research, and study limitations are reported.

What supports do parents of students with LD consider important?

Linsey Silverstein, who is a doctoral student at Alliant International University in San Diego (CA, US), is hoping parents of children with learning disabilities can help her to ascertain what type support parents need from professionals, whether they’re interested in support groups, and what difficulties they encounter. Ms. Silverstein is inviting parents to participate in an anonymous, on-line survey that she estimates will require 15-30 minutes and has been approved by her institutions research review board.

People interested in learning more may download an accompanying flyer or go directly to the survey Web site.

Could digital devices make attention worse?

Ever wondered if using digital devices is harmful to kids?

For those who just popped into this century, it is obvious that the education press is ripe with discussion of digital devices in classrooms. For the rest of us, the number of stories about the promise of tablets, games, and all their brothers, sisters, and cousins has just grown greater every year.

All this growth of technology has led people to voice reservations about technology in education, including education for students with learning disabilities. Some people probably needlessly fret that digital devices might deter children from learning to read and write (as noted at # 10 in “10 Big Concerns about Tablets in the Classroom”), and common complaints are that the devices are inherently distracting, that multi-tasking will reduce productivity, and that students will use them to do things other than assigned tasks (e.g., messaging each other). Probably most of these are overstated.

In fact, psychologist (and friend of LD Blog) Dan Willingham published an opinion piece in the New York (NY, US) Times entitled “Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb” that debunked the idea that devices disrupt attention, if not promoting inattention.

AS much as we love our digital devices, many of us have an uneasy sense that they are destroying our attention spans. We skitter from app to app, seldom alighting for long. Our ability to concentrate is shot, right?

Research shows that our intuition is wrong.

You should read Dan’s entire column (see link at the title), however, to get his full take on these ideas. You’ll have to concentrate, of course. (Also, watch for his forthcoming book, Raising Kids Who Read. I bet it’s going to be a good one.)

LD misrepresented again

In a recent installment of “Stephanie’s Heroes,” Stephanie Satchell, a local TV reporter, tells the story of Lauren Baetsen, Emily Nemec, and Amanda Halacy who are undergraduates at the University of Virginia and who will spend their summer working with children who have moderate to severe intellectual disabilities and other disabilities in Lusaka, Zambia. The effort by these young women makes for a marvelous story, and I’m very glad Ms. Stachell covered it. It’s too bad she does not know “learning disabilities” from this host of other problems, though.
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Virginia CEC for 2014 to feature Lavoie

When the Virginia Federation of the Council for Exceptional Children holds its annual conference in the fall of 2014, it will feature widely known speaker Rick Lavoie. The conference, which will be held in Virginia Beach at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, is slated for 17 and 18 October 2014. Learn more by visiting the Virginia Federation’s Web page.

ResearchILD conference 2014

The annual conference of the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD) will be held 14 and 15 March 2014. The theme of the conference for this year is “Myths and Realities in Education: Executive Function, Attention, and Learning Differences.”

Ably led for many years by Lynn Meltzer and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the conference features an extensive series of sessions. Go to the ResearchILD Website to learn more or simply download a PDF copy of the brochure.

The House should support Resolution 456

U.S. Representative Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, with the support of Representative Julia Brownley of California, introduced a resolution to the U.S. House of Representatives 10 January 2014 calling on “State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.” The resolution, which was foreshadowed by a kick-off event by the Congressional Dyslexia Caucus in November of 2013, is drawing support around the Internet, as it should, from diverse sources:

  • Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, noted advocates and researchers on dyslexia, posted a notice on their site, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, and published a guest editorial in the influential political news source, The Hill calling for support of the resolution.
  • Pete and Pam Wright of Wrightslaw, the widely esteemed site for legal information about students with disabilities, lent their support to the effort, recommending constituents contact their representatives.
  • Over on Barto’s World (long-time connection with LD Blog), Amy Barto posted an entry pointing to the Yale Center’s and Wrightslaw’s pages.
  • Over on High Expectations Advocacy, Sandra Fitzpatrick posted a blog entry pointing to the Yale Center post and recommending that people contact their own representatives to encourage those legislators to support the resolution.
  • Joan Brennan, at Help for Struggling Readers provided a message of support including some useful links (along with some links to her own product).

Dyslexia is the most common reason that students are identified as having learning disabilities in the US. It is, indeed, a problem that deserves very careful consideration and systematic, evidence-based treatment. Even though some may glamorize it and others may ignore it, I agree that the most appropriate course of action is to recognize it and empower schools (and others) to address it effectively and humanely.

Readers interested in obtaining a PDF copy of the full resolution can download one.