“Boxing Words” to help Dyslexics Learn to Spell

Gen, my dyslexic daughter who started my search for answers.

Gen, my dyslexic daughter who started my search for answers to understand Dyslexia and how to manage it.

When my daughter Genevieve and my other two children were assessed as having Dyslexia back in the 1980’s I began a long journey to find ways to teach them. The school system in California did not have any programs for their learning difference so I had to look else where for ideas.

Not much was known about Dyslexia at the time but I was fortunate to meet many interesting people in the San Francisco area who were studying Dyslexia and working with children and adults to help them with their learning problems. We tried all kinds of therapy; some worked, some worked a little and others not so much.

One surprising and extremely simple idea was given to me by a teacher from a school called New Horizon School and Learning Center in Santa Rosa, northern California for kids with learning disabilities. I had heard good things about them so I gave them a call. The person I spoke to suggested I bring my daughter in and they would see what they could do to help her (New Horizon provided assistance that provided insight to help me understand my daughter and taught me how to teach her successfully!). One idea she told me over the phone along with some tweaks of my own over the years became one of my best tools working with Dyslexic children.

"Boxing Words" to help Dyslexics learn to Spell

“Boxing Words” to help Dyslexics learn to Spell

Gen, a fifth grader at the time,  was a very poor speller. The lady from the school suggested trying an experiment to show Gen a different way to remember spelling words. She told me to get a yellow piece of paper and print a word on it in large thick letters in felt pen she didn’t know how to spell. Then she told me to have Gen sit looking straight ahead and hold the yellow paper with the printed word up and to the left of her head. Then as she is staring forward she moves her eyes up to the piece of paper. As she is looking at the yellow paper with her body and head sitting straight and eyes up and to the left she looks at the word, says it, and then reads the letters out loud right to left and then left to right (frontwards and backwards). Gen repeats this process 3 times. Then closes her eyes, imagines the yellow paper and word printed on it. She says the word aloud again and says the letters she sees in her mind frontwards and then— backwards!

I kind of scoffed at this but I thought worth a try. I had tried a lot crazier things with my kids. I decided to pick a  long multi-syllabic word because of course I didn’t believe it could work. I put Gen through the process that had been described to me and she did it – frontwards and backwards – easily. There is extensive research on eye movement and what it means as far as  memories and imagining things. However I haven’t found any conclusive evidence on what eye movement means but lots of speculation such as this article: http://www.livescience.com/1473-moving-eyes-improves-memory-study-suggests.html.

The lady I talked to from the school said memory could be aided by looking up to the left. This was back in the 80’s and I don’t know if this is true but what I learned, in my opinion, it is important to have Dyslexics visualize something as a picture with parts in order to retain it. So a word is a complete picture with parts (the letters). The colored paper helps them create an image of the word in their mind by providing a background and the colour helps the word stand out.

Over the years through research and experimentation I have found a way to accomplish memorizing words effectively with this method with a few changes and additions. This method has been called “boxing words” or “word boxing” by some teachers I have talked to over the years. I have been trying to find some information on the net about boxing and this article is as close as I have gotten so far:   http://www.visualspatial.org/files/app2spell.pdf

I describe my method in one of our manuals called “14 Steps to Teach Dyslexics how to Spell and Read”. All the Dyslexic children I have worked with have been able to visualize words this way. Boxing words for DyslexicsThe image here of the word “dog” on the blue paper is how we create  flash cards for “boxing”. This type of practice will help a Dyslexic visualize words in their minds so they can start to retain them. The 14 Steps has 13 other practice methods to help Dyslexics improve their spelling  and reading fluency.

14 Steps to teach Dyslexics how to Spell & Read

14 Steps to teach Dyslexics how to Spell & Read

Try it. If you have difficulties trying to do this exercise, email me at khope@dyslexiavictoria.ca
Karey Hope
Co-founder Dyslexia Victoria Online
Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

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Help for Dyslexic Adults wanting to improve their Writing and Grammar

How to help Dyslexics improve their grammar and writing skills

How to help Dyslexics improve their grammar and writing skills

We are often asked for suggestions to help adult Dyslexics improve their writing skills such as spelling, grammar and organization of ideas. There are lots of helpful methods and accommodations. Here are a few ideas.

For Dyslexics it is often important to see examples and reasons for learning any new information or skills rather than just following step by step instructions.

  • For spelling and grammar you could try going to a local college and take a course(s) on “technical writing”.  A technical writer is:

“a professional writer who engages in technical writing and produces technical documentation. The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators has defined the profession as preparing information which helps users…

“Technical writing involves the creation of useful documents that can be clearly understood by readers. Good technical writing clarifies “jargon” presenting useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience; poor technical writing may increase confusion by creating unnecessary jargon or failing to explain it. While grammar, spelling and punctuation are of the utmost importance to technical writing, style is not; it can be sacrificed if doing so increases clarity, which is considered more important to the genre.”  ~wikedpedia

Technical writing is geared for occupations such as online help, user guides/manuals, white papers, design specifications, system manuals, project plans, test plans. This type of writing is a great place for a Dyslexic to learn grammar and structure in writing because the style is very specific, concise and not “flowery”.

College level technical writing  courses  are a good resource for learning this writing style. I would suggest taking a least two or more of these courses to work towards proficiency in this writing technique. Creative writers will take repeat courses in creative writing to practice, be critiqued and develop good writing skills to improve their stories or poetry. Dyslexics can also take online courses but I think the classroom can be very beneficial for feedback and hands on attention which is important to Dyslexics.

Because technical writing is for documenting information and instructions it can also be good practice for a Dyslexic learning to create a sequence of steps leading to a conclusion which is very difficult for many “big picture to details” Dyslexics.

Before taking the course try to find a teacher who is a “big picture” thinker.  Interview them or talk to other students who have taken their courses. Questions to ask: Does the professor use “mindmaps” to lay out lessons, favour explaining the “whys, whats and how”, gives lots of examples of the writing assignments, and uses big picture teaching methods. REMEMBER:  if they teach in a step by step sequential manner a Dyslexic will often be lost and frustrated.

If a Dyslexic takes one course they might have found it somewhat or very confusing – unless they get a very right-brain thinking teacher who thinks like them. They shouldn’t give up. The first course will help with the big picture of the technical writing style and the next and maybe third course will probably work well for the Dyslexic student wanting to learn how to write well. I realize this is a lot of dedication and most people probably don’t want to do more school but it will help tremendously.

  • Another great way to practice good grammar and writing style is with public speaking. There is a website by a Dyslexic professor who discovered public speaking and it changed his life. I would check it out, maybe contact him for suggestions and find a course on public speaking. It will also help massively for a Dyslexic’s work in communications with people. His website is:http://publicspeakinglosangeles.net/
  • Learn to mind map which will help with all facets of a Dyslexic’s work life and help them  write better. Tony Buzan’s website is great for information:

http://www.tonybuzan.com/

  • There are computer programs available to help a Dyslexic improve their writing and spelling by using spell and grammar check software. For example:

http://www.ghotit.com/

http://www.gingersoftware.com

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking is speech recognition software. You speak, it records and prints the text on your computer screen. This program helps a Dyslexic turn their thoughts into text. Often Dyslexics are very articulate but cannot write because they lose their ideas in the effort of trying to remember proper spelling and employing the physical action of handwriting or typing.

One thing to remember – part of the process with speech recognition software is training it to a person’s voice. This is done by using a head set with mic and reading a passage out loud that the software provides in the program. There are a number of reading choices.

The problem with this method is Dyslexics have difficulty reading aloud so the program will not train properly to their voice. The program cannot recognize their words when the Dyslexic reader hesitates, mispronounces or says the wrong word. The answer is to download and print the reading sample they chose.  Make sure to increase the size of the font and double space it. Then practice reading it in a normal voice until they are not hesitating or mispronouncing words. I wish I had a quarter for every parent of a Dyslexic student or adult Dyslexic who told me the program doesn’t work for them and gave up on it. They don’t realize the need to practice saying the passage aloud so the program gets a clear impression of their voice.

If you have something to share that you have found works for Dyslexics improving their spelling, grammar and writing I hope you will add it the comment section.

Thanks for your interest!
Karey Hope deGraaf
Dyslexia Victoria Online

Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

How do Dyslexics go from having a Learning Difference to a Learning Disability

When I talk to parents with children who they suspect have Dyslexia I generally hear the same story. Problems with letters, numbers, counting and words when they were four or five. They couldn’t print well but often very artistic especially for their age. Sometimes they started talking later than other children and had speech difficulties such as lisps, mispronunciation of words more than other children, couldn’t remember simple words so would say “thing-a-ma-jig”, “whatcha-ma-callit” or use the wrong word. But they were also intelligent and quick learners with other skills and knowledge such as building things with legos, athletics, art projects, singing, dancing, telling stories, remembering events or movies in extensive detail or making observations about things that is way beyond their years. They loved to learn, asked endless questions about everything and were excited about going to school.

When they enter school they continue to have problems with letters, phonics, words, numbers, arithmetic, and other linear sequential skills such as memorizing the alphabet or counting in the right order. They also have difficulties with instructions so they don’t always understand what the teacher wants. As each year passes there is less and less emphasis on singing, dancing, drawing, painting, making things and physically demonstrating all new concepts. Their excitement to be in school begins to dissolve and is replaced with frustration, confusion, fear, anger, sadness and physical distress such as headaches, stomach aches and throwing up. Their self-esteem drops and they begin to doubt themselves.

Teachers become frustrated with them not understanding what they need and their classmates start to tease them because they can’t spell or read and they print poorly.  Right brain dominant children ask the same questions over and over and when they read out loud they can take forever, mispronounce everything, and can’t sound the words out.

School becomes a scary place and they will often feign sickness to stay home. Some children will have anxiety attacks at the mere thought of going to school.

As each grade passes, their problems and anxiety deepen. Dyslexics as right brain dominant thinkers are generally very empathetic and intuitive so they become keenly aware of the distress and fear their parents are feeling for them and  the frustration or outright hostility their teachers and classmates are expressing towards them in the classroom. They get farther and farther behind the class, convinced they are stupid and eventually shut down when learning things in class they are really good at such as science, math, building things or making up a story orally.

By grade four or five their learning difference has become a learning disability and these students are can be experiencing depression and other psychological issues.  I have had several parents tell me their children were saying they wanted to kill themselves when they were in the third or fourth grade.   Junior and high school is a nightmare as the school work becomes more difficult and demanding and they don’t have the ability to read a lot of  books for their school subjects. Less and less of their schooling uses concrete real examples – the emphasis is on abstract learning and requires students to do endless worksheets, written tests, reports and essays. Little of their schoolwork requires or allows a physical demonstration of the subject (3 dimensional structures, posters, drawings, play, dance or videos),  to show understanding and knowledge – mostly writing.  Eventually these students become a large percentage of our school’s dropouts.

So can this picture be different for a Dyslexic student? Of course it can. Let’s rewind this story back to the beginning.

  • When our right brain student enters the school system the school tests them and other children  for reading readiness.  Some children, especially Dyslexics are not mature or developed enough for reading in kindergarten or grade one. When children are significantly younger than other students in their grade, a difference of six months or more in age is enough to severely affect a child being able to keep up with the class.
  • Then determine the students who learn letters, phonics, words, numbers and sequences easily (word to image thinkers or left brain dominant) from the visual students. Visual or right brain dominant thinkers are image to word thinkers. They need to learn in whole complete and concrete concepts (images)and connect them to words. Complete understanding of letters, words and numbers comes more slowly for them.

These students are then broken into classrooms that teach to these two very different groups of learners  –  classes for strong left brain learners and right brain learners. Multi-sensory, hands on physical demonstration style teaching would be high priority in both classes but mandatory for all subjects for the right brainers throughout their school years.

The right brain/dyslexic students would be given more time to learn how to spell and read utilizing teaching methods appropriate for right brain learners such as colour to learn letters, numbers and arithmetic and making letters and numbers with modelling clay
(Ron Davis – The Gift of Dyslexia).

There would be emphasis on starting with sight reading and syllables (word families) which right brain dominant students learn more easily at the beginning.

Teachers would  encourage these students to ask their questions and use stories and pictures to explain everything. They would respect their need to not just learn information in a rote manner such as the steps to solving a division problem but would prioritize making a concept real by demonstrating what division is (subtracting in groups as opposed to multiplication which is adding in groups). This can be done with groups of candy, objects, pies, etc) so they understand what division is before doing the steps. This gives the big picture and meaning behind division.

Special attention would be paid to giving extensive practice learning to print to help address Dysgraphia, a common issue for Dyslexics, screening to see if they have Irlen Syndrome (distablized text) and learning style (auditory, kinesthetic or visual). Once these issues are determined then accommodations would be put in place.

Computers would be given them in the early grades with the use of the many programs available that would help them with their schoolwork. Some teachers will say this is unfair to other students in a class who don’t have a computer. If the Dyslexic student is not able to complete school work in the same fashion as other students who don’t have problems with reading and writing then the Dyslexic student is simply “leveling the playing field”.

____________________________________________________________

There are many different ways to make a right brain dominant and Dyslexic student’s school experience successful and exciting to prepare them for their future.

For more ideas I have provided some links:
Dyslexia Victoria Online
http://www.dyslexiavictoriaonline.com

Gifted Children (Visual Spatial Learners)
http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/Visual_Spatial_Learner/vsl.htm

4D program in New Zealand
http://www.4d.org.nz/school/

Neil MacKay (noted Dyslexia expert)
http://www.actiondyslexia.co.uk/

Chat with Sally Shaywitz (another Dyslexia specialist)
http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/LD-ADHD/859-overcoming-dyslexia-a-chat.gs?page=1#2

British Dyslexia Association
http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Also you might want to check out the page on our website about suggested books to read:
http://www.dyslexiavictoriaonline.com/otbowere.html

And our blog is:
https://dyslexiavictoria.wordpress.com/
You can sign up to receive new blog entries on the left side of the main page of the blog at the top where it says “Email Subscription Rants and Raves from the Right Side”

Cheers!
Karey Hope deGraaf
Dyslexia Victoria Online Co-founder
Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Open-Dyslexic Font – free download

I had a recent post on my facebook about fonts that are becoming available that have been developed for the Dyslexic reader. Wow! Like we used to say in the 70’s -“What a concept!”

These fonts could be used in so many ways: books, computer screens, worksheets and tests at school, with Word for doing schoolwork, business documents, reports, manuals, legal documents, advertising, writing of any kind – anything that requires text. The reader who posted the information about the fonts on my facebook attached a blog that talks about Kindle using these fonts – http://www.somethingoneverything.com/1/post/2012/09/dyslexia-friendly-fonts-and-open-dyslexic.html

Your brain can sometimes do funny things to letters. OpenDyslexic tries to help prevent some of these things from happening. Letters have heavy weighted bottoms to add a kind of gravity to each letter, helping to keep your brain from rotating them around in ways that can make them look like other letters. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent flipping and swapping.                                                  ~Open-Dyslexic~dyslexicfonts.com    

You might want to go to the website, download the fonts and experiment with them. I am going to try the fonts with the kids we work with and the people I test for Irlen Syndrome (difficulty reading text on a white background) – a common problem for Dyslexics.

I will let you know what my results are.
Cheers!
Karey Hope deGraaf
Dyslexia Victoria Online Co-founder
Karey Hope deGraaf of Dyslexia Victoria Online

Helping Dyslexics do their Homework

School is starting and for parents of Dyslexic students all the worries for their children’s education become a daily concern again. Homework is always a big one.

Dyslexic children use more areas of the brain to process language tasks than the average reader therefore they expend more energy – 5 times more! 

“…according to a new study by an interdisciplinary team of University of Washington researchers…to explore the metabolic brain activity of six dyslexic and seven non-dyslexic boys during oral language tasks..
~The dyslexics were using 4.6 times as much area of the brain to do the same language task as the controls,” said Richards, a professor of radiology. “This means their brains were working a lot harder and using more energy than the normal children.”~  ScienceDaily (Oct. 6, 1999)

So when a Dyslexic child comes home from school the last thing they want to do is homework. They are mentally and physically exhausted from 5 times the exertion as a other students, frustrated with not understanding what they are learning and humiliated by impatient teachers and cruel classmates. If they have Irlen Syndrome which is common with Dyslexics (see info on our website: Irlen Syndrome and Dyslexia – Dyslexia Victoria Online) they can be further drained  experiencing stomach and head aches, dizziness, irritated eyes and other physical ailments of Irlen. Dyslexics can also experience a lot of discomfort from sitting in a desk all day and other issues that torment Dyslexics.

Parents of Dyslexic students will often set up a homework environment that they believe will help their child focus on their homework. Their good intentions however can actually make it more difficult for their child to get their homework done. Some considerations to think about to create a “dyslexia friendly” atmosphere:

        • Let them have a break before starting homework after school – exercise is a great relaxer and way to de-stress rather than sitting down in front of the TV. They could ride a bike, go for a walk, play some kind of sport, play with their friends, etc. before settling down to their homework. The break can work wonders.
        • Give them a protein snack after school to give them energy – protein bar or drink, raw nuts, peanut butter crackers, boiled eggs for example. No sugar as it can make them over-stimulated and then they crash when the sugar wears off.
        • Make sure they have all their homework. Dyslexics tend to have difficulty organizing themselves. They will forget to bring their homework home. Ask the teacher if they could have a handout with the assignments listed and remind the student before school is out to gather their work to take home. Dyslexics often forget even with the best of intentions. This is not deliberate or lazy.
        • Make an arrangement with the teacher to let you know about big projects and their dates for completion. Dyslexics often have a terrible time keeping this information together also. My Dyslexic son had great difficulty remembering his homework. The teachers and I tried everything. Finally I got one teacher to communicate with my son’s other teachers and send home a list of all his homework for me. It worked and eventually as he grew up he got better at organizing his work. Of course this was a very thoughtful teacher. Teachers generally don’t have time for helping a student this way but it can’t hurt to try to get cooperation.
        • Help them with a list of what they have to do. Remind them what to do next. As I mentioned before – organization is tough for Dyslexics and needs to be understood, tolerated and supported. Write the list on a whiteboard or big piece of paper.
        • Create star charts for homework assignments, chores and tasks that need to be done such as getting ready for school. Rewards for completing these charts is a great incentive for a reluctant, disorganized child. You can even take photos of them doing the chore or task and adding them to the poster. A picture is always “worth a thousand words” – which is the Dyslexic way. Here are a couple of examples – one you can purchase from amazon – the other is a free download.

Homework Chart

          • Another reason to have the teacher make a homework handout for the Dyslexic student is they often cannot copy notes from the whiteboard easily and cannot get it all written down.
          • Establish their learning style (auditory, visual or kinesthetic). Everyone generally has a dominant sense for learning and processing new information but Dyslexics especially respond well to teaching approaches and environments that take their best learning sense into consideration.
          • A multi-sensory teaching program strongly based on physical  hands-on demonstrations for all lessons is effective for all children  but especially Dyslexics. They think in images first and then words therefore they need a concrete example of what they are learning to understand and process new information.  They do not learn sequential step by step methods easily if at all so everything should make sense to them first.                                                                  If they are visual learners you also want to use movies, posters, painting, drawing, etc. Auditory students like to be read to along with a demonstration and kinesthetics do best using movement.
          • To go along with learning style consider the physical environment.
            • Do they need the room dead quiet or music, TV or white noise (beach or jungle noises for example)? A set of headphones with the right background music or white noise works great at home or school. I have parents get teachers permission for this accommodation and usually they get their approval.
            • Do they need no one including animals in the room or do they prefer the activity?
            • Do they need to stand a lot, walk around and work on a white board or lay down and roll around on the floor while doing their school work?
            • Do they need something in their hand(s) like a worry ball or  playdoh? Some kids do well with tossing beanbags around while practicing spelling words or facts for tests.
            • Keep their working area clear of objects. Dyslexics tend to get distracted by stuff on the table or desk they are working on.

The way to determine what the best working environment is talking to your child about what feels right for them and observe when they are on task and when they are not. Everybody learns differently so the conditions that compliments their thinking style is going to be much more beneficial than just sitting at a table in total quiet – unless of course that works for your child.

I often work with a Dyslexic students moving or playing with objects in their hands. The parent wants them to stop. The student however will be understanding and remembering everything we are talking about. The parent  generally says they have noticed that despite this behavior their child has been learning in the past. The parent thought however they should be sitting at a table or desk and still.

Think about your own situation when learning, concentrating or doing work – what is your best scenario? I bet it is different from other family members.

If you have found any great ideas for doing homework with a Dyslexic child, let me know. Much of what we have learned about Dyslexics is not just from the experts but from adult Dyslexics, parents of Dyslexics and of course Dyslexic children. Dyslexics are after all incredible problem solvers and always have amazing solutions or observations.

Cheers!
Karey Hope
Founder of Dyslexia Victoria Online

How to Teach Dyslexic Students Fractions

My husband, Howie and I were tutoring a Dyslexic 9 year old girl a few months ago. She was having difficulty understanding fractions.  The method her teacher was using confused her. The exercises our student was working with set problems up this way:

The problem with these two dimensional diagrams is they are as abstract as the numerical image 1/4. For a Dyslexic student including the little girl we were working with these both meant nothing to her. They are symbols for something real – portions or parts but the child does not know that.

My husband, Howie is the math person between the two of us and went to work showing her physically what these two dimensional abstract images meant. He started with oranges. When demonstrating math concepts with real objects always make sure you have one whole of the object being used as you show the parts. If there is no complete object in view a Dyslexic child tends to lose the concept being taught.

Use several examples of fractions of things until they start to understand what the concept of a fraction is. They need to connect the abstract language of math with the concrete ideas it represents.

Now let’s go back to the exercise with the squares. Once Howie had our student understanding he was talking about parts he took two pieces of paper and drew a four part  rectangle on both of them. One piece of paper was coloured yellow. He cut this rectangle into four pieces. The first piece of paper was blue ( she had Irlen Syndrome and blue was the best colour for paper and acetates for her – see our website for informationIRLEN SYNDROME & DYSLEXICS ) so that her ability to see the paper clearly was not an issue – text on white paper is hard to see for those with Irlen compounding problems with learning fractions. Then he started to put one or more of the yellow pieces on the blue squares talking about whether they were one, two, three or four quarters. She got it immediately and actually moved onto adding fractions that session. She left with a smile on her face and her mom felt relieved. She was also able to do the exercises using  two dimensional squares for school and understand what she was doing so her answers were correct and not guesses.

What was accomplished with this process was filling the needs of a Dyslexic requiring meaning and connection to what is real. Dyslexics don’t easily follow sequences well and anything they learn has to be fully understood. They will generally not follow how a square divided up in portions on a flat piece of paper means because it doesn’t connect to anything real to them. Provide physical demonstrations, connect them to the diagram and now you have meaning.

So when you are having difficulty teaching Dyslexics to connect the dots of a concept make it real and then connect it to abstract written languages such as words, arithmetic and math. We have also found this helps kids who do not have Dyslexia.

Cheers!
Karey Hope
Dyslexia Victoria Online