Hilda Coyne, Editor
IN THIS ISSUE
Now that the academic year has ended, many will have the
time to review the information in this issue, filled with
exciting new data in the field of learning differences. Since
20% of the population has a learning difference, this data
is beneficial to educators and allied professionals.
The latest research based definitions of dyslexia, overviews
and treatments as described in the first article have greatly
benefited professionals and students with learning differences.
With the information provided in the article below, professionals
will be able to understand, identify and assist students better
to make significant progress in alleviating their learning
differences and achieving their potential.
Next, Dr. Marcia Henry has provided a wonderful online service,
free to educators, offering valuable methods and lesson plans
to reading and language instructors of mainstream and learning
Chris Kolb provides some helpful suggestions for assisting
college students to maximize their experience, and there is
a delightful presentation by a young student who had struggled
for years with math deficits, and is replacing fear and failure
with optimism and success.
In addition, you may welcome information on upcoming conferences.
Please continue to share this newsletter with colleagues,
and your interesting information, photos, and articles with
the editor. Enjoy your summerr.
DYSLEXIA: NEW DEFINITIONS, A NEW OVERVIEW AND
Recent studies at the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (Lyon, 2003), Harvard Medical School (Rosen, 2003),
and elsewhere (Tomey, 2003), have redefined dyslexia. These new
definitions, when combined, state that dyslexia is a sensory and
cognitive processing disorder, with accompanying phonological deficits,
and slowed visual and auditory temporal processing of low level
stimuli, that affects reading, speech, writing, and math. Alleviating
these newly identified visual and auditory information processing
deficits allows dyslexic individuals to absorb information better.
Greater absorption tends to permit the individuals with dyslexia
to comprehend more easily and retain best that which they read and
learn, leading to an increase in their ability to paraphrase verbally
and express ideas more effectively in writing.
The interventions, strategies and techniques discussed here alleviating
these deficits are those I have developed in my practice as a learning
specialist. Practical application has demonstrated the value of
strengthening sensory pathways, and strengthening the visual and
auditory pathways simultaneously is especially beneficial, generally
allowing students to acquire a solid foundation, develop age appropriate
academic skill levels, become independent learners, and reach their
potential more easily than in the absence of these interventions.
Blakeslee (1991) reported that individuals with dyslexia may have
difficulty processing position, shape, motion and images in low
contrast colors, for instance, grey pencil on white paper, and tend
to process high contrast colored, still images most easily. Pollatsek
(1993) stated that individuals with learning deficits may superimpose
the images as they read a sentence from left to right.
To alleviate such difficulties, these students may use colored
transparencies to facilitate visual perception, and colored index
cards to track reading per line. These devices tend to improve visual
processing by facilitating accuracy per line, prevent line-skipping,
and increase comprehension and reading speed.
I have also noted that students with difficulty perceiving material
written in low contrast colors may read, take notes, highlight,
and copy best using their preferred colors when they contrast highly
to the background. Furthermore, flash cards for such students are
most effective when the instructor or student uses markers or inks
that contrast strongly with the color of the card. Another memory
aid is to write each syllable or letter of a particular word in
English or a foreign language in a different color.
In addition, I have found that the use of high contrast colors
may strengthen the perception of students with math deficits. These
students often fail to process a portion of the problem. For example,
one former student confused the signs of operation, while another
had difficulty processing diagonally when carrying or borrowing.
Yet another found the sum of 1 1/3 + 1 1/3, when written in a vertical
format, to be 2 1/3 because he was unable to process information
in the lower right quadrant of his visual field. Color coding the
signs of operation, or other portions of the problem which students
miss or misperceive, facilitates processing for some students, as
does outlining the computation in carrying, borrowing or double
In addition to color-coding, to stimulate and strengthen the visual
pathway, I may provide some students with manipulatives such as
a colorful maze enclosed in plastic that contains a ball the students
guide through the maze, or other manipulatives suitable for children
or adults, as needed. These objects often have three-dimensional
forms and high contrast colors, and generally have movable parts.
I may also suggest easy art or craft projects having these properties,
such as clay modeling, collages and simple mobiles.
After completing a number of these assignments, some students when
reading reported that their visual processing cleared, first from
left to right, next from the top to the bottom of the page, and
then diagonally when completing math problems that include carrying
or borrowing. My observation of student work corroborated those
reports of improvement. In reading and writing, reversals of letters
often cleared first, then superimpositions, transpositions, substitutions
and omissions. Finally, line-skipping within the paragraph decreased
in English and foreign language studies. Additionally, diagonal
processing improved in mathematical computations.
STRENGTHENING AUDITORY PROCESSING
Rosen (2003) has listed difficulties that students with auditory
processing problems encountered, and Oglethorpe (1996) has described
similarities in the effect of these deficits in both speech and
music. In addition to standard techniques of remediation, such as
multi-sensory instruction, I may recommend listening to various
forms of music, for example, classical, New Age, or in some cases,
the SAT words in Rap, depending on the age, interests and requirements
of the student. I also may suggest interactive musical exercises,
for instance, listening to Music Maestro, a game that assists students
in identifying instruments by sound. Some students may sing or learn
to play instruments such as keyboards by using booklets that accompany
those instruments or by engaging in formal music studies. The instruments
students play, however, need not be complex; they may be percussion
instruments played along with tapes, records, CD¹s, or the radio.
Alternatively or in addition to the above, clapping or dancing to
the beat of the music also seems to improve auditory processing
and auditory motor integration. I have observed that students who
learn to recognize their mistakes in music often identify and correct
their mistakes in language faster than students not engaged in these
Once pathways for learning are stronger and students process information
more accurately, they are able to fill in gaps in linguistic and
mathematical basics, such as phonics and times tables, which had
previously eluded them. To further develop their listening comprehension,
I encourage older students to take notes from documentaries or other
videos as such students can control the flow of information. With
practice, they not only take more detailed notes in class, but generally
improve their scores on auditory perception tests as well as on
tests of academic subjects.
Johnson (2000) stressed the value of critical thinking and described
ways it can be taught, for example, by organizing and applying data.
To develop critical thinking skills, I encourage students to analyze
a given subject from multiple spatial and chronological perspectives.
For instance, some students analyze the elements and compositions
of paintings, comparing them to others with similar subject matter.
Older students study the social sciences and/or current events in
relation to comparable historic situations or possible future developments.
I have observed that these exercises in thinking help students process
information more quickly than those who do not do them.
SEQUENCING AND MEMORY
Relating new information to what the student learned previously
is often necessary both for understanding concepts and remembering
them. Levine (1990) shared helpful suggestions for improving memory
in students with learning differences, for example, categorizing,
pairing and linking data. I have found, for instance, that presenting
definitions and examples of parts of speech one at a time, in sequence,
demonstrating their relationships to one another, with frequent
repetition and review, tends to strengthen memory. Reading and sequencing
events in a paragraph is also useful. I have observed that most
students who complete these exercises are able to recall and sequence
entire paragraph content where they were unable to do so before.
COMBINING PROCESSING STRATEGIES
Hashimoto (2002) indicated that the pathways may be mutually reinforcing.
In fact, I have noticed that students who practice reading orally
and silently, and listen to material read to them progress more
quickly both in reading comprehension and in listening comprehension
than those who practice reading in only one style. More generally,
I have found in my research that it is the mutual reinforcement
of all of the above strategies that seems to be especially effective.
ACQUIRING A SOLID FOUNDATION
FACILITATING LEARNING WITH
According to the International Dyslexia Association, the more common
characteristics of dyslexia include difficulties with reading, speech,
writing, and math. While some learning different students struggle
to recall the elements of basic skills, for instance, phonics and
times tables, many often learn best when clinicians and instructors
present information in more than one stage. Generally, students
who follow such strategies acquire the ability to process information
better with or without those strategies.
Vail (1992), stated that many individuals who succeed in the three-dimensional
sphere, e.g., architecture, experience difficulty with two-dimensional
tasks. I have observed that students with learning differences who
relate letter sounds first to three-dimensional, colorful objects,
then to colorful pictorial representations, and finally to flash
cards with letters only are able to master symbol to sound relationships
they found difficult previously.
For another example, many educators teach reading fluency and spelling
by segmenting a word into syllables, then reconnecting them. One
method is to write each syllable in a different color, alternating
the hot colors of red and orange with the cool colors of blue, purple,
and green. Some students find syllables easier to read and remember
better when the instructor writes them in contrasting hot and cool
colors, while other students learn best from a three-stage presentation.
The instructor may begin with a word written in contrasting colored
syllables, next write the word in a single color, and finally write
the word in a color with a low contrast to the background (Figure
1). In a like manner, a student may learn to spell and to write
with greater accuracy by following a similar three-stage strategy
when writing a word (Figure 2).
Furthermore, reading comprehension generally increases when the
instructor gives the student a high level of interest, low level
of language text that parallels the information in the required
text. Additionally, the student may use a three-stage strategy,
reading in three styles. He or she may read a portion aloud, next
read a portion silently, then listen to a portion someone reads
to him or to her. Reading comprehension also tends to increase when
the student paraphrases the text verbally and in writing, and answers
review questions periodically rather than waiting until he or she
has read the entire book.
In addition, some students may not copy accurately when the instructor
writes the word in a color with a low contrast to the background.
For example, the student may not process well a word written in
grey pencil, or black or blue ink on white paper when trying to
connect bridge letters such as "w" or "v". (Figure
3). Once the example is written in a brilliant color that provides
a high contrast to the color of the paper, the student appears to
perceive the example better and to copy it more easily (Figure 4).
The color tends to be more important than the size of the letters
as illustrated above. Some students, however, may not process information
visually well enough to copy from a high contrast colored example
when the instructor presents it in only one stage. These students
seem to benefit most from instruction offered in multi-stage presentations.
In the following example, the student tried to copy the word "most."
He was not able to form the letter "s" after the bridge
letter "o", although the instructor provided the writing
sample in a brilliant color that had a high contrast to the background
(Figure 5). When the student first traced the cool color (purple)
writing sample with a hot color (red) marker and next copied it
using the same marker, he was able to copy the word in grey pencil
on white paper with greater proficiency (Figure 6).
Furthermore, some students who reviewed addition, subtraction,
multiplication, and division tables in a color-coded review were
better able to commit them to memory. Those students generally learned
these operations in basic and more advanced math (for example, fractions)
best when instruction began with three-dimensional, high contrast
colored models; was followed by high contrast colored, two-dimensional
presentations written in colored ink, marker, or chalk; and concluded
with low contrast colored, two-dimensional forms. Using high contrast
colored, three-dimensional models and shapes cut from high contrast
colored transparencies to represent math problems pictorially, as
well as color coding that portion the students did not perceive,
assisted them in alleviating these problems in both one to one and
Learning different students also may have difficulty when studying
art if they follow a traditional approach, first sketching with
grey pencil on white paper, next using color, and then adding the
third dimension in ceramics and sculpture. For instance, S.P., a
13 year old learning different student, using acrylic paints, first
portrayed a low contrast colored model of purple flowers with only
two stems in a blue, primarily straight-sided, narrow vase (Figures
7 and 8). Within an hour, she portrayed her second subject more
accurately from a high contrast colored model (Figures 9 and 10).
Many of those students seem to overcome these tendencies when they
begin art instruction with three-dimensional, high contrast colored
subjects and media. They next progress in art studies by using high
contrast colors in a two-dimensional format. They may then advance
to two-dimensional presentations using low contrast color combinations,
e.g. gray pencil on white paper.
Students who incorporate art and music activities in their studies
generally acquire a solid foundation in basic skills and tend to
progress more rapidly than those who do not incorporate these activities.
Students with learning differences often experience chronic academic
failure. Listening to music which relaxes or uplifts the students
tends to alleviate anxiety and attention deficits, and facilitate
learning, respectively (Balthazar 1998; Campbell 2000).
In addition, some students might need more guidance to achieve
independence. They may qualify for accommodations such as untimed
testing or specialized academic placement, require course substitutions
or waivers, need direction in organizing time and materials, or
benefit from referrals for treatment of medical and/or emotional-social
INCREASED RATES OF PROGRESS
The study consisted of 13 middle and high school students with
learning differences in 1997, and 14 in 2003. The students in 2003
were assigned an integrated system of interventions that incorporated
techniques to strengthen visual and auditory processing to develop
a strong foundation and skills in academic subjects, acquired through
data presented in three-stage strategies. All students received
the Reading, Spelling, and Arithmetic subtests of the Revised Wide
Range Achievement Test, and the Oral, Silent, and Listening Comprehension
subtests of the Spadafore Diagnostic Reading Test at two-month intervals.
Figure 11 shows the greater increase in improvement that the students
in 2003 achieved in basic skills and comprehension as compared to
the students in 1997.
As students strengthen their visual and auditory pathways, process
information more accurately, and acquire linguistic and mathematical
foundations, they attain more age appropriate test scores in academic
achievement. When I began assisting students with learning differences,
the majority of them made steady progress although I used few interventions
to strengthen sensory pathways, and seldom introduced information
in multi-stage presentations, appropriate for students with learning
differences. Once I assembled and applied the integrated system
of interventions described above, many of my students experienced
significant increases in their rates of progress.
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© 2004 Hilda Coyne All rights reserved