Monday, February 13, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Dyslexia, Part 3

[My eye after the operation is coming along.  I may get the stitches out in two weeks--can you imagine stitches in your eye?  And don't rub it if it itches. Yeah, !]

I'm almost through the book, "The Dyslexic Advantage" by Eide and Eide, MDs, (2011).  In quite the same way when I read John Dewey's book on Education and Democracy, I read several paragraphs in the Dyslexic Advantage and then have to stop, recollect and ponder what might have been in my life.

It has become increasing clear that we have to teach our wanna-be teachers in new methods of dealing with children and students that have different learning styles.  Phonics is not the only answer to teaching of reading although I have taught phonics, I did teach other methods of reading.  And I believe we are on the brink of a new education in our society.  The iPad (regardless of the make) will revolutionize our teaching whether we want it to change or not.  It just will and we teachers will have to catch up.  

For example, I've been reading some children's stories on my iPad.  Now remember some Dyslexics can see better off a screen then on regular paper.  Let us imagine a second grade student reading in a grade level reading book.  The assignment by the teacher is for the class (or reading group) to read the stories and answer the questions written on the blackboard.  Sound familiar?    So our young student does just that--she/he likes to read.  However she comes to a word which she/he tries to sound out phonetically which she/he does but still doesn't understand the meaning of the word.  Seeing in context also doesn't help this student.  What to do?  In an ordinary traditional class, the proper behavior is for the student to raise their hand in the air, indicating a need for teacher's help.  However, teacher has a few other hands to assist before getting to our young student.

Now consider this same student reading the same story on an ipad.  Same sentence and same stumbling block--same word.  Only this time the student places her index finger on the word and holds it there for a short moment.  Quickly a dictionary explanation of the word is popped up over the reading page. It will even say the word out loud if requested.  Still don't understand?  Here is another pop-up frame showing, doing or examples of the word in action.  It is better then a hassled teacher.  Hey, this even works for us adults.  There are a lot of words I just don't understand--some of which have been invented by the younger crowd.  I want to stay connected.  

Decording words and then understanding their meaning is the basis for reading.  If you can't read well you are in trouble in this society.  I can attest to this fact personally.  

When I entered the doctoral program at the University of Washington my mode of operation was to write all my papers on a small electric typewriter.  [side bar: did you know when they first invented the typing machine, the people, mostly women, who learn to type were called Typewriters.  Over the years the name has moved from person to machine] I would rough out my paper on paper and then sit at the typewriter and begin to compose my paper for whatever class i was taking.  After the first draft, I would go back and redefine it and smooth it out the best I could.  Then I would hand it to my wife who would mark it up--primarily with two types of markings, one for understanding (this sentence doesn't make sense) or spelling errors.  The latter were numerous.  She would put in the correct spelling for me.  I then re-typed the paper and returned it to her for final checking.  Once approved, I would then use 26 pound water marked paper for my final work.  Yes, yes, it had white ink on it as my typing was not always that good.  Lynn would do a final reading and then I'd used the  three holed punch and put it a hard folder.  

I had done some simple research during my masters program.  I handed a stack of student papers and asked a number of professors to grade them without reading the material in them. They (the professors) were to look at the papers but not read them for content.   Papers in folders consistently got higher marks, probably because they were easier to write on the paper--hard material behind them.

So that was my modus operandi.  You with me so far?  Writing papers was time consuming operation.  Fast forward with me to the early eighties and I'm now a professor at Western Washington University in media communications (in education).  I was the preverbal audio-visual guy.  But I was still fascinated by computers and had already bought a 16K Processor Technology computer.  Very, very simple, it didn't even have a form of saving your work.  I basically learned to program on it--and not very well at that.  We gave it to the university and they in turn gave me a letter saying we donated this machine and it was worth so much money in kind.  But that gave me some saving on my income tax and Lynn and I went to Seattle to buy our second computer.

I remember driving down I-5 quite excited.  We were going to buy a Osborn 1 computer that had good write-ups and was a next generation microcomputer.  The shop and it indeed was a small shop was just outside the university district had a stack of these computers in the store window.  They came in a case that looked much like a sewing machine but when the top was folded back it looked more like a World War II radio, black with a little green screen perhaps five inches.  It had two slots on either side and a keyboard.  

Osborne 1 open.jpg

I remember the salesman saying we should buy a large screen since if you used the little screen on the computer you could write half a sentence and then would  have scroll to the other side to type the rest of your sentence.  Weird.  He also had us buy ten floppy disks for a rather expensive price.

We got the computer home to Bellingham and set it up in the living room on the coffee table in front of the couch and Lynn proceeded to read me the instructions.  We first made copies of the software, the first time I've ever done that task.  

We then loaded "WordStar" one of the first word processing programs ever written.   One could write a paper, make corrections, cut and paste, check spelling, change the size of the font and do many other tasks not available on a typewriter.  At one point I typed something in the computer and then had the spell checker go over it.  It blinked on the screen that I misspelled fifty four percent of the words and it included the exact number of words misspelled.  It was humiliating. And yet, I saw something else--freedom.  And I started to cry.  Really hard.  I was letting go of some of my dyslexia although at the time I didn't realize it.  I HAD a spellchecker!  As some teens today would say, "OMG!"

Gentle reader--this is one of the major points in my life, right behind getting married and getting drafted.  I saw instantly how my life was going to change.  I now could write papers for presentations, for publications, for internal reviews.  There was just one problem.  We had nothing to print on.

So the very next day we returned to Seattle, went to the store and the salesman was waiting for us.  "Need a printer?"  And we acquired our first Epson Dot-Matrix printer.  Compared with today's ink jet printers it was horrible--noisy, not very good looking, with a ragged top and bottom.  "Besides the printer, you'll need a carton of fan fold paper."  Gee, thanks, anything else we've forgotten? 

We came home with our "extras" and that evening I wrote my first grant request for the College of Education for our first computer laboratory.  I proposed my idea, justified it and wrote it up on my new Osborn 1.  I handed to the head of the committee on computers at Western.  It was accepted--almost.  They didn't give us all the money for the first Apple computer lab for the College of Education, but most of it.  They also "copied" my request, changed the word Apple to IBM and gave the first laboratory to the College of Arts and Science.  
Politics as seen within a university.

I still have the Osborn 1 computer and that dot-matrix Epson printer.  I'm emotionally attached to them and they sit dust covered in a closet in my office here at home.  My iPhone is far more powerful and useful but I still love that old Osborn.  Some day in the future someone will be cleaning out this house and wonder why I kept that old computer and printer.  A dyslexic person might understand, then again if they are young, they might not.

I think this is the end of my discussions on dyslexia in the schools.  We've come at least a short way into understanding that learning style.  And we've come a long way in the use of technology to accommodate different learning styles for a lot of students--but not far enough.  We need to do more

I am interested that as I continue to read John Dewey's Democracy and Education, written so many years ago in that he favored different teaching methods to accommodate individual students. All students are different--one size doesn't fit all.  Unfortunately because of budget cuts, we're trying to fit all humans into the same box.  And dyslexics tend to think outside the box.

Thanks for those teachers that try to accommodate the different ways children and young adults want to learn.