Years from now, we will all remember the spring of 2020 as the days of Coronavirus and how we all learned and internalized the meaning of the new term, social distancing. This modern form of quarantine has affected all industries, including education. On March 12, when Governor Kemp announced that Georgia schools should close, our staff rallied and put togethera week of individualized instructional materials for our 39 students in less than 24 hours. The following week we created a Virtual Live School so that our students would be able to maintain consistent learning routines. Each day the teachers meet with each of their classes in person, except that each student and staff member is streaming live from a home computer. We felt that replicating the strategies and curriculums we use in our physical AOI classrooms would be the best approach. Our students with distinct learning differences who are not the best candidates for on-line instruction deserve the best instruction we can deliver, no matter what the challenges are. Parents picked up new curriculum books and activities for our students on Friday, then on Monday, March 23, we entered the brave new world of multisensory, explicit, diagnostic teaching using Google Meet. This was like another first day of school! Students greeted each other eagerly and enjoyed seeing pets, other family members and the rooms devoted to school activities. Our parents of the younger students participate in the classes by lending support and being a physical presence for these young learners. Older students have had to get back into a school routine by going to bed before 11, getting up, showering and eating breakfast before reporting to their computers. The first day of the Virtual Live School, several kids have come to class in their pajamas and one even tried to attend class from bed. Needless to say, each student is reporting to school, dressed appropriately and ready to work with their academic materials close by the computer.
Imagine the following:
Have you ever known a middle or high school student who has a wonderful speaking vocabulary, thinks out of the box? One who has outstanding abilities to visualize a new device or building, grasp difficult math concepts easily and quickly, yet struggles to read a simple paragraph written at an elementary school level?
If this sounds familiar, this person might have a language-based learning disability which is more commonly known as dyslexia. Generally speaking, these students have great difficulty learning how to read, write, and spell using traditional methods. This brain-based learning difference is hereditary, and amazingly enough, this structural difference in the brain can be seen using a Functional MRI. In fact, scientists have even identified the group of chromosomes where dyslexia is located.
For specific signs of dyslexia by age visit, https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/dyslexia-what-youre-seeing.
Some typical symptoms of dyslexia are:
So, what can be done?
The best way to remedy this problem is with early identification. The sooner this issue is found, the faster a treatment plan can be developed and implemented. Something to remember is that the older the student is, the more time is required for remediation. The opposite is also true, and that means a younger student will not have the memorizing and guessing habits ingrained like the older counterpart.
Preschool children who don’t understand the concept of rhyming and have problems remembering nursery rhymes or even new words might be at risk for dyslexia. If a parent sees this type of issue and suspects a reading problem, the first step is to take is to get a psychological evaluation. A thorough and comprehensive test will tell a student’s strengths and weaknesses. Using the evaluation as a sort of GPS for educators is the best way to create an individualized plan for the dyslexic student.
Dyslexic students have had the greatest success learning to read and write when they are taught using an intensive multisensory, structured, systematic, cumulative and explicit curriculum. These direct instructional curriculums are often referred to as Orton-Gillingham, and we use the Wilson Reading System, based on Orton-Gillingham, as our primary program. This research-based curriculum has a stellar track record for helping students with severe reading difficulties.
How Academy of Innovation tackles dyslexia
Here at the Academy of Innovation, or AOI, we address the needs of struggling readers by using the Wilson Reading System. Small pupil-teacher ratio makes individualized learning a successful endeavor for the student and the instructor. All the teachers have Wilson training to implement the lessons correctly and use the curriculum as it was written. Also, dedicated class time is provided five days a week to be sure students are receiving consistent reading instruction. Students are given individual reading tests and are placed in a class by their reading abilities, not by grade levels. Progress monitoring of each student happens weekly and in some classes on daily basis. Tracking progress visibly is critical so that everyone involved, teachers, parents, and students, can see if a student is working at an acceptable rate towards the predetermined reading goal. Finally, AOI promotes reading as the major form of homework. Even beginning readers can listen to, or “ear-read”, books as they gain the necessary skills for reading. As students become more proficient readers, they move to independent reading. Consequently, AOI has a strong culture of students who love to read, despite the fact that many of them enrolled as non-readers.
In 2007, when the Academy of Innovation began, we intentionally planned our release time for 3:00. Knowing that many of our students have short attention spans and their “gas tanks” are empty after a full morning of intense instruction, we decided that 3 o’clock was the best time to go home. In addition, we purposefully made an earlier time so that if students wanted to participate in athletics, scouts, art, music, martial arts, or any other activity of interest, they would have plenty of time to attend the activity of their choice.
Education should go beyond our four walls. Many of our students have talents that cannot be showcased in a classroom setting. So, if a student can draw, build a motor, do the butterfly stroke in a race, do a flip on a balance beam, chop a board with a kick, easily run a mile, sing, play an instrument or chess, or cook over a campfire, there should be time left in the school day for to pursue these skills.
What are the advantages of participating in extracurricular activities?
For more information about extracurricular activities go to https://www.theeducator.com/blog/role-extracurricular-activities-students-development/ or look in When kids call the shots by Sean Grover--an excellent book with great practical parenting tips.