Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dyslexic Advantage, Part 2

[my apologies for not writing sooner--my excuse is that I had an eye operation. I'm better now.]

My emotions are all confused and I laugh at times and I cry at times.  I can report that while having breakfast at a restaurant and reading The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide, both MDs, I find it hard to cry when reading an important point in this book that has in the past effected me.  You just don't cry in a public restaurant.  

But this is a powerful book.  Based on it alone I think we need to make major changes in our education systems.  What I am finding is that I am not alone.  There are many people who have dyslexia and have become successful people in our society.  Indeed, some have done quite well if what the authors Eides have written.  But there are many who struggle with the problem and wonder why they are so dumb.  Of course, they are not but given our school systems, too many teachers do not recognize those that may and have dyslexia.  But there is nope in this textbook.

I am making a formal request to my old Woodring College of Education that every faculty member be given  a copy of this book.  I doubt if I could expect all to read it but enough will and I believe will see that the education system needs to be changed.   I also think that ALL teachers, from kindergarten to twelfth
 grade be required reading.

I have bought both the Kindle edition and a hard copy edition.  Easier to take notes on the hard copy


As you recall I was teaching in a grade school when I realized that I had dyslexia.  It certainly explained why I had so many problems in school while I was growing up. Interestingly enough I find that other people have used the same "coping" mechanisms that I always be polite to the teacher and look like you are trying your best.  Make your work neat.  Never turn in something scribbled.  And participate in class discussions.  Actually I think that became one of my fortes in high school was class discussions.  When you do all of these things then when your test doesn't measure up, the teacher comments that you are just a bad test taker.  Boy, were they correct.  Still, in spite of my problems in school I graduated from high school in the upper ranks of my class.  How come?

I took a lot of music and art and civics.  I stayed away from classes that had a lot of rote memory such as chemistry, mathematics and history.  I could never remember dates or names.  You see, dyslexic students by and large have a terrible memory for data.  Ask me the capitals of the states and I would flunk. But ask me about the western movement and I could go on for days explaining how our country was developed and how technology helped improved it.

According to the Eides there are two types of memory, data or facts and episodic    In my case it is indeed true that I can recite whole folk tales but if you ask me when it was written and by who, I couldn't tell you.    Most dyslexics have episodic  or declarative memory.  The facts are embedded in the telling.

The Eides tell of a young woman who wanted to be a geologist but she had a very difficult time in high school and in college.  She managed by sheer effort to graduate and to get a position with an oil company.  From there is was all success as she was able to look at the terrain, rocks and sub-soils and predict with great accuracy where the oil and gas would be located.  Her method in doing this was to recreate how the land had been formed, episodic if you will.  But she could not look at the data and make predictions from mere numbers.

One of the factors that has affected me in the reading of this book is that dyslexic people "see things in their head."  My oh my, that was scary when I read that but it is true I can visualize and predict.  

I've already told you that when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Washington I was given the task of playing with an IBM 360-40 computer that they put in my office.  Well, they put the teletype that connected to that computer.  That teletype became one of the most important episodes in my life.  From that moment on I knew that computers would become a powerful force in education.  My whole career has been centered on that epic moment.  I use to say that my predictions were intuition but I now realize that my brain was already looking at scenes  that contained computers.  

There were many problems I had during my time in studying for my doctorate.  Of course they want you to write in all your classes and I was a poor writer.  I have gotten better but i still consider myself a poor writer although I am considering writing a novel.  We'll see.  But in those classes where thinking outside the box was considered valuable, I did fairly well.  It was interesting that I did well in philosophy of education.  I couldn't write it but I could articulate it.  I could see where decisions in educational policy could affect the system and I speak to those points.  So like most dyslexic people I had strong point and weak points.  On the weak points, i coped.  That is what most dyslexic students do, cope.  Find ways to get around or how to dazzle so that the other person doesn't see your faults.  Or to hide in a group.  

One thing that I noticed in this book on Dyslexia and that I have read in other books on the same subject is that dyslexic people know they are smart but they are not sure how they are smart.  But many of us have this drive to succeed in spite of what the world thinks of us. 

In another book, I'm not sure which one, there is a story of a young boy growing up in the prairies of central Canada in a strict environment.  Everytime he missed an answer or got something wrong he was told to hold out his hand, palm up,  and it was hit with a ruler a number of times according to the wrong answer.  I remember the person telling the tale saying that at times he had calluses on the palms of his hands.  But in spite of the hits with a ruler over the years he consistently knew he was smart.  He just didn't know the material they way they wanted him to know it.  Rote memory and he wasn't good at that.  

The more I read in The Dyslexic Advantage the more I know that the policy of "No Child Left Behind" and the testing that went on within that program was doomed to failure.  There isn't a dyslexic kid out there that could pass one of those tests.  I'm not sure I could even now.  Those tests are based on data  which we can't fathom.  Our memory doesn't work that way.


I did promise to tell you how "I came out" and explained that I was dyslexic to the world.  I was teaching at Western Washington University in the Woodring School of Education--very new to the position and wet behind the ears so to speak.  But I remember in one of my Instructional Technology courses showing how machines can help students learn.  I forget now what machines I was working on, it could have been an early computer but I said something like, "Since I have dyslexia, learning from this machines is much easier and helpful to me."  It wasn't anything important, just emphasizing a point.   However it was at my next office hours that two students showed up, not to talk about technology in the classroom but about being a dyslexic.  Both wanted to know how I got "this far" and what could I tell them that would be helpful.  We talked for quite awhile and I believe that all three of us felt better after the discussion but I'm not sure I gave them any succinct help.  But a curious thing happened.  From time to time I would get a student in my office that wanted to know about how to cope with dyslexia.  Some of these students weren't even in my class.  Word had gotten around that there was this prof who understood being a dyslexic.

In fact word had gotten around far enough that a librarian in education contacted me and said she, too, was a dyslexic and she was quite delighted that I had let the student know about it.  So the two of us formed a bond of friendship on being dyslexic.  We sometimes sent a student to the other for further counseling or help.

There were sad times in all of this.  A young female student came to me in tears one day saying she was flunking a basic mathematics course--required.  I wrote some numbers down on sheet of paper and asked her what they were and she couldn't tell me.  She really couldn't see numbers.  She could read the story problem but she quite often got the numbers either backwards or mixed up.  I then attempted to get the Mathematics department to allow this student to have a reader and/or to use a calculator. The Mathematics department was against all attempts to deviate from the norm. Either she did it the same way as other students or she would fail.

She didn't fail.  She dropped out of college.  I think she was smart but she didn't have enough coping mechanism to know what to do in math.  I still have problems wondering how we should teach mathematics to students.  I believe irt is a major problem in our society.  I wonder what ever became of that young female student--did she succeed at something?  Did she always feel bad about herself?  

This is an intense subject for discussion.  Those without dyslexia need to study it as much as those that have the thinking problem.  But if I am to believe what the authors Eides have written, this world needs dyslexic people to see things as they might be.  These are our entrepreneurs of the future.  As President Kennedy once said, "I see things that are and say why.  But I see things that are not and say why not."  (paraphrased) 

My best to you all and to all those teachers who saw something in me besides problems I give my heartfelt thank you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Dyslexic Advantage..Part 1

Over the holidays I have been reading, between wrapping packages, decorating the tree and visiting with friends and neighbors, the book, The Dyslexic Advantage:  Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain," by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide.  While reading this book I have yelled in enthusiasm, cried real tears, wondered what might have been, and have been sad and positive in the same moment.  It is a very positive book about dyslexia.  It's about hope and opportunities for those that have this type of brain.  I'll write more about this book in a future blog.  What i plan to write today is an individual's background being a dyslexic--me.  Problems, hopes, techniques, the sadness of it all...

The earliest I remember being in school was in second grade in Harrison, New York.  I knew early on I was different--I had troubles with spelling words, with reading and in doing "my numbers."  That's all I remember of the class except that the female teacher was big.  Not fat, but a large grandmotherly type who was not friendly.  That's what I remember.  I also remember wanting to do well.  

One of the subjects was spelling where we would get a number of new words on Monday.  I forgot what we did during the week but there would be a test on the words on Friday with special paper, a thin strip with lines big enough for each word.  We would write our name on the top and then print the words as the teacher spoke them.  I guess most kids did well--I didn't and I would get "D's" and "F's".    I remember asking my Dad to help me learn the words.  He helped me each night for a week to write my words and he would make games of how to spell each word.  I think there were twenty words.

On Friday I was ready.  During that week I probably wrote those words at least a hundred times each!  So when the teacher passed out those slips of paper for our spelling words, I was ready.  She would say the word and I would write it down.  When the test was over the teacher who had been walking around the class reciting the spelling words, looked at my paper and said that I had cheated.   Then she had me clean out my desk looking for how I had cheated.  There was nothing of course, but she was sure I had cheated.  I don't know if Mom or Dad ever came to the school about this -- I doubt it.  But at that point spelling became the bane of my existence.

It may have been in that same grade that I began to know I was different.  Everyday some lady came for me, took me out of class and we went to some small room where she worked with me to learn how to read.  I don't remember what she did with me but I did learn to read but differently from the rest of the class.  I could not "sound out a word" but I could skim it and get the meaning from its relationship in the sentence.  I will always be grateful for whatever that person did with me to get me to read.

But life did not get better even though I began to read a lot.  With the help of my dad I did learn my multiplication tables up to the 9's.  He made a Ferris wheel which he spun and I would have to give the answer of eight times ??? whatever the wheel would select.  But the effort that we put into memorizing the numbers was astronomical as to what other kids did.  I could see that.  Maybe I was born without a complete brain!

On the other hand there were times when I could shine.  Other kids had troubles with maps, I didn't.  I loved maps and made up stories about the places on the maps.  And I could draw better then most kids.  I would illustrate my papers with drawings.

I was already a member of the boys choir at church and could sing in tune.  And I could read music so that in the public school I did well in music--better then my peers.  I figured I just had more practice then the other kids but I did like music and art.

So a quick summary at this point in my school career--I could read reasonably well except when the teacher asked me to sound out a word.  Phonetic reading was beyond me...I couldn't see the letters by themselves.  I was terrible at numbers except for the times tables.  I had troubles adding large sums but if I took my time I could do them.  But a time test was my undoing.  Spelling was also terrible but I learned to use a dictionary fairly well.  But well into my early college days I could not spell.  Papers I had written for my music professors would come back with rather nasty comments.

However, it was World War II and my family moved many times to adjust to war work.  I had eight different schools by the eighth grade.  So I suspect some things got over looked during my grade school days (up to the eighth grade--no middle school)

I ended up in the sixth grade in Richland, Washington, a war town.  I would impress the teachers by my reading abilities and I would escape by being quiet and not causing problems.....just read about far away places.  But I had problems with left and right.  We learned to march but I was always turning the wrong way.  One day we had physical education outdoors by playing softball.  As usual I would be one of the last to be chosen, a horrible fate for a sixth grader.  My side was up to bat and it was my turn.  I remembering almost begging in my mind, "let me hit the ball well..please!"  AND I DID!  I was thrilled and ran to third base, then on to second--when the teacher stopped the game and took me by my hand and in front of the entire class, walked me to the first base, then the second and finally the third and then home...saying something to me about not paying attention or not being serious about playing the game.  I don't remember playing before this time and first and third looked the same to me.  It probably was the reversal feature that dyslexics have that caused me to "go wrong."  To this day, this is probably the most humiliating and embarrassing moment in my life.  In front of the whole class.  I still remember it with great detail even though it was sixty eight years ago.  Sad.

I got through high school by taking mostly music and art courses.  I don't know how I got through two years of Spanish--it was a memory course.  And I stayed away from courses that I realized would take much memory like chemistry.  Algebra was difficult for two reasons, left and right and my eyes were going bad.  At the end of algebra I got glasses which pretty much have not been off me since.  One thing I did in high school was to take courses in which memory was not crucial.  So I took typing I and II and machine equipment.  It was for girls wanting to become secretaries.  Because there was no rule I got registered in those classes.  Strange because those skills have become my most important muscular skills that i have.  Who would have know that keyboarding would be important.

Strangely enough I graduated near the top of my class but it was a large class.  Other kids made me look good.  Sometime during my junior year I remember "talking" to myself.  Taking stock so to speak.  I knew I was good but in what I didn't know.  I knew I could think but then again, why couldn't I do math?  I knew memory was a big fault of mine.  I could remember strange things in my past but I couldn't remember a phone number.  I could write down the first three numbers but then I would have go back and look at the final four before I could write them down.  I could memorize a complete musical phrase on my trumpet but I couldn't memorize the capitals of the states.  I could tell the story of Lewis and Clark, the problems and help they got but I couldn't remember the years they did it.  I was sure my brain was defective in some manner.

But I liked people and thought for a while about becoming an Episcopal priest.  But I was not sure about religion.  I then turned to becoming a music teacher.  I felt that I could have done just as well as the teachers that I had in high school.  My goal then was to become a high school music teacher.   

College had it's ups and downs.  I had a lot more required courses such as geology, biology, psychology, history, and.....math.    But I also had band, jazz band, marching band, choir, music composition, directing....and individual music lessons on different instruments.  My favorite courses were in education.  I was home!   I know now it was not the greatest education but it fitted me well.  Of those earlier courses I learned much on how to study.

In one Education course an assignment during the Thanksgiving break was to visit a school and write a report about it.  I visited a brand new school and took black and white pictures of all the new ideas the district and the architect had designed into the school building to improve learning.  Back at college I pasted the pictures on sheets of paper and then wrote about what each picture was about.  An intro and ending and I was done.  Lot less words then were required for the assignment but I took a chance.  It paid off.  The prof was delighted with my report and spent an entire class presentation talking about the importance of the building to learning.  I "A" that assignment and learned that I could report without words all the time.  I continued with that trend.

This was in 1951 to 1955.  Dyslexia was not know at that time and universities and colleges really didn't care if you were a handicapped person.  You were on your own.  So I learn to cope.  One of the things I did was to type all my papers.  Most everyone else at the time were hand writing their papers.  

Let's jump ahead here to the early 1960s.  I had gone to war  (Korean) and had returned.  The district was going to fire the music teacher who replace me but I negotiated with them to keep me as a fifth grade teacher as we would need two elementary music teachers in the near future.  They were happy with this arrangement and so I began my elementary classroom career.  

During the spring of that first year I elected to go to a workshop for several weeks in the late afternoons after school in the Renton School District.  In those days teachers had to acquire some many "credits" within five years to gain their fifth year certification.  I was trying to pick up a credit by going to a workshop on Dyslexia.  All I knew about this new word was that it had to do with a learning disability that some students had.  In the workshop we would learn to recognize the symptoms and develop some strategies  on helping students overcome their deficiencies.

I don't remember much of the workshop however, I do remember the speaker listing the characteristics of children with dyslexia:  poor readers, terrible spellers, bad in math, poor memory, appear to be lazy workers, talk a lot, do not write well.  Shoot, that speaker was almost talking about me.  Later on she passed out a test to identify dyslexics  which we all took.  Except I scored high on the test.

I went home that night quite upset.  Although what I had learned that day at the workshop confirmed that I did learn differently they made it sound like I had a major problem.  I wondered if they would allow me to continue to teach if I were a dyslexic?  As research reports slowly were published on dyslexia I read everything that came my way.  Most school districts really didn't know much about the learning problem so my job was safe.  And we really didn't do anything for those students who like had dyslexia.  It took several years to establish a policy of just recognizing the learning style and then scare the hell out of parents by telling them their child was dyslexic.

My personal feelings is that the elementary teachers tried different teaching/learning styles to see what they could do with a dyslexic child and passed that on their colleagues.  I'm not sure if the high school contingent of teachers make any changes in their teaching behavior.  If they did I didn't hear of those changes.

Part 2 will deal with my coming to terms with dyslexia, admitting that I had the learning style and being surprised at the result from others around me.