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Note to teachers:
First, I would like to thank you for making the sacrifice and having the patience it takes to be a teacher, and especially for caring enough to come here to better understand learning differences.
If a student does what they've been taught and looks up the word "disability", they may understand the word to be literal, as I did. A fourteen-year-old student once asked me, "why do they call it a disability?" I understood her question. Why do they say I have learning "disability" when I don't feel disabled? [Worse case scenario - click] Even if my dyslexia was more severe, my thought pattern is not the same, which makes my mind different. Different is not bad, it's different. I would rather be refereed to as a FreeThinkers. What people believe themselves to be, they are. If you tell your students that there has been a new discovery about dyslexia, that the mysterious "they" people discovered that it is a form of "free thinking", you will have a much more motivated student on your hands. Change your language & change your mind.
I am not an expert on dyslexia, but I do know what helps me, a "text book dyslexic". In my personal story, I detail the many steps I took through school; you can examine the truth for yourself. I also realize through all of this that the educational system limits teachers for many reasons. I hope that I can shed new light to help & support your effort as teachers.
The HAAN Foundation For Children reported in 2001 that 98% of dyslexic students will not complete a 4-year college program. I am one of them. However, I did struggle to finally receive my 2-year degree in 9 years. (That's only 1.5555555556 dog years, so I actually finished early.) HAAN also reported that 1 in 5 children have a "learning difference". In a class of 30 students, 6 of them will learn differently. If you teach 5 classes a day, you'll come in contact with 30 students a day with learning differences. For one teacher in Switzerland, one of those students was Einstein; for another, it was John F. Kennedy.
Like in the movie "Ants", many people believe you should sacrifice the weakest link "for the good of the colony"; in all cases, this leaves people like me out of the picture. When you look out into your classroom, look at the student who is your weakest link, the least successful student academically. That was me, but I believe that, out of the approximate 6,000 students I sat next to for at least 3 months at a time, I was one of the strongest. I have more determination, compassion, vision and gumption than anyone I have come across.
In the end, remember that one student may turn out to be Einstein. As much as they might be a challenge, all students are worth it. Your compassion may be the seed of great things.
Imagine your free thinking students are old-fashioned television sets with antenna ears. Your challenge is to tune those antennas to your channel. The problem is that FreeThinkers have a lot on their minds. I'm sure you've witnessed them looking your way, when their minds are clearly somewhere else. Often, their minds are on a journey on which you have sent them without even knowing it. The section of this site for students offers suggestions on "grounding" to help those antennas stay focused.
Any student can be inspired by tasks that you know will build their self-esteem. Many teachers have asked students to do reports on celebrities or other well-known people with learning differences, like the FreeThinkers on my list. Knowing that others struggled & succeeded, helps ease students' feeling that there is something wrong with them.
FreeThinkers need to visualize what they learn. Math is somewhat easy to illustrate, except when it comes to algebra. When I learned Algebra, I had a hard time accepting that a negative number multiplied by a negative number equals a positive number. I imagined a hole representing a negative number. Multiplying a hole would make it deeper, or more negative. But multiplying a negative number by another negative number does not make it more negative; it makes it a positive number. No one figured out how to illustrate that for me. I never passed algebra but I passed statistics, because I could visualize the numbers & what they represented.
History is a tough subject to teach FreeThinkers, who can be easily distracted by a story or idea of particular interest to them. I was frustrated by trying to remember dates and names. But during my last year in college, I had a teacher who kept my antenna tuned for the entire semester. He made the information relevant by relating the past to the present, like comparing Cleopatra going down the Nile to Elizabeth Taylor going down Hollywood Blvd. He added human elements when teaching about historical figures. For example, he taught us what was in General Grant's pocket when he died. (A lemon; he liked to suck on lemons.) He kept my attention by passing around a bullet from the civil war or holding up a dollar bill and announcing that he would give it to whoever knew the answer to his question. Most importantly, he taught that history is only changed by one or more of five elements (communication, transportation, the need for power, religion, and sex). This offered a standard by which I could analyze events, and made every lesson in history interesting. I bought an 18-foot-long poster with a historical timeline from the beginning of time to the present. Using the skills that teacher taught me, and the poster for visualization, I could see history in perspective for the first time. Here is one similar on line. I think this would help any student. They also have a likable time line.
Reading is hard for those who learn differently. Some students are color sensitive. I get frustrated and tired when I cannot pronounce a word. My frustration becomes a bullet hole in the meaning of what is to be read, and it progresses to the point of being overwhelming. I also found that I am self-conscious and can just scream on the inside when I think people are watching me read. This may also be true for some of your students. Charles Schwab puts out a free book "25 Fun Ways to Encourage Reading".
Spelling is important when spelling is the task, but a student's self-esteem and motivation are affected when spelling is an issue on everything. Nearly every assignment given to students requires writing. Focusing on spelling errors in a FreeThinkers's work devalues the effort itself. As adults, we have many tools to ensure that our work is presented with few errors, and we generally laugh at our mistakes. As children, this type of constant recognition of a flaw breaks down any confidence there may have been in the work and teaches that spelling is more important than ideas.
Science is an awesome and fun thing to learn for all students. It is visual and three-dimensional. FreeThinkers may struggle with the long & complicated words. It can help to emphasize the meaning of the word by breaking them down (for example, "bi" meaning "two" and "ology" meaning "the study of").
Physical Education is often a much-needed respite for FreeThinkers in an academic situation. When I was a child, PE allowed me to let out my frustrations. It also provided me an opportunity to be good at something and feel that there was something people liked about me. It can be a valuable investment to foster this type of feeling in FreeThinkers and all students. Once a person feels they can accomplish something or do something well, they will strive for that in other areas.
Even if it's is simple, students are motivated to keep learning when they feel they can learn successfully. When I taught how to make a commercial for summer school, I wanted the students to gain the ability to hold a camera still and focus it, but I also wanted them to learn to identify the appeal of an advertisement. Parents reported that their children pointed out the emotional or functional advertising technique for every commercial they saw at home. All of the students left the class with that knowledge, and by that, many were inspired to continue learning. They learned that they can learn something well, and that gave them confidence.
A friend once told me that she got a "B" on a test, but since the teacher graded on a curve, she got bumped up to an "A"! If I was in her class, I would most likely have been the one to bump up everyone's grade. In a casino, I would be like an ace up the sleeve for everyone else! To me, it makes more sense to apply the rules of bowling or golf & give those with lower skill levels an advantage over the others. Then to use the disadvantaged students to make the already advantaged students look better, makes no sense to me.
Change your language:
It would be rude for me to say that a teacher had a "teaching disability" or that the Board of Education has an "educating disability", but children are often referred to as having "learning disabilities". No one likes to be referred to as being disabled. I am dyslexic, but I am certainly not learning disabled. I do not have an inability to learn. I am very capable of learning and I have learned many things; I just learn differently. Labels are more disabling than "disabilities" themselves. Explaining to a child they are a FreeThinkers who learns differently is much better than telling them they have a learning disability.
Below is an email from a news group. Here a teacher makes some suggestions. You can also learn more about the group here.