Learning Ally National Achievement Awards
- He was told he should leave a school with a dual curriculum, since he would not be able to handle the work
- He was made to stay in from recess to rewrite spelling words he had misspelled
- He was told he should not attempt geometry
Eddie was one of three top award recipients Learning Ally chose to honor for incredible achievement by a student with dyslexia. The award weekend took place in Washington, D.C., and on Friday, Eddie and the two other awardees -- Dustin Henderson and Maia Schumacher -- addressed congressional aides about their learning difference.
|Maia Schumacher, Eddie Maza, Tracy Johnson -- a college and graduate school graduate --|
as well as Dustin Henderson present at a meeting with congressional aides
Dustin had a similar experience. He started being pulled out of classes in about fifth grade, at which time he was taunted for being stupid and going to the classroom where the "dumb kids" were.
Eddie added, "School was a scary place to be. Spelling test day was a really scary day in school. When the other kids were outside playing, I was writing my misspelled words over and over again."
That image is a particularly heartbreaking one for me; Eddie is one of the most gentle people I know, and the idea of his enduring the humiliation of the "recess excommunication," to do a task he had no chance in succeeding in, is really painful.
Maia also made a poignant comment: "Schools are not set up in a way to help kids with learning disabilities. They hold us back."
The Power of Audio Books
|Learning Ally -- which used to be called|
Recording for the Blind and then
Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic --
has seen many changes in the technology they use.
Eddie's acceptance into Yale is an obvious sign that no type of academic achievement is off limits to a dyslexic. Maia is now in college, studying to be a nurse, and Dustin, who excelled throughout his school career in math and science and was valedictorian in high school, is now studying mechanical engineering in college.
Dustin's journey to college was not without obstacles, however. He discovered that no two colleges have the same set of standards when addressing the needs of dyslexic students, and so he had to pass up a few schools he was interested in because it didn't seem like he could be accommodated there.
Equal Access in a Least Restrictive Environment
|It was a gorgeous day on Capitol Hill when the student award winners,|
disabilities advocate and education experts presented to congressional aides
The three student panelists at the Capitol Hill meeting were followed by three experts in learning differences and dyslexia. The first was Lindsay Jones, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. Emphasizing the importance of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) in granting those with learning differences equal access to education, she explained the need for early identification for dyslexics -- before the child has fallen behind his classmates -- and for an environment that's "least restrictive" for learning. Dyslexics shouldn't be automatically pulled out of a regular classroom because of their learning difference. Doing so denies them, as we saw with the awardees, the equal access to education they're entitled to.
Next up on the panel was Deardra Rosenberg, Director of Education at The Newgrange School, a school for children 8-18 with learning differences. She revealed that the majority of teachers trained today get little to no instruction on how to teach dyslexic students, who are grouped together with other learning disabled students who might require additional or different instructional materials than the ones dyslexics need. Ms. Rosenberg stressed the importance of professional development (PD) in giving teachers across America the tools they need to identify and work with dyslexics.
Dyslexia Simulation Session
Ms. Rosenberg's ability to provide this kind of meaningful and informative PD about dyslexia was on display over the course of the award weekend, when she led a Dyslexia Simulation Session. Adults in the room were told they were a class of Kindergartners who had to read a primer. Only the primer had symbols instead of words. Ms. Rosenberg's charming facilitation as the "teacher" didn't prevent the adults from feeling, when called on to read, "angry," "stupid," "hopeless," and "humiliated." One woman, who hadn't heard Maia at the congressional meeting, almost verbatim echoed her words, saying, "I know I'm smart, but I couldn't decipher the words and felt so frustrated."
|Here's another type of dyslexia simulation|
|This famous cartoon reminds us why we need individualized instruction|
The session, which included a slide showing about thirty young male brains that were all different, made the group aware of the importance of individualizing instruction and making sure all types of learners are accommodated in the classroom. In fact, Ms. Jones of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, is also advocating for a different type of standard in the classroom. She calls them Competency-Based Standards, which the US government discusses on a website:
Transitioning away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, allows students to progress as they demonstrate mastery of academic content, regardless of time, pace, or place of learning. Competency-based strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online or blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.
To read more about these standards, visit the US Department of Education site here.
My Own Impressions
|In my soon-to-be-released ELI Talk on passion-based learning,|
I share my hope that one day my grandchildren will ask me what this is.
My answer will be "Oh, just something we used to use in education
in the 20th century!"
|Eddie accepting his award|
I was struck over the course of the award celebration by the fact that the parents of the awardees -- and no doubt parents of many dyslexics -- faced an uphill battle in gaining the services their children needed. A Learning Ally staff member pointed out that when they need to advocate for their children, many parents resign themselves to having to "armor up" to deal with school administrators and teachers, but that's a really tough thing to have to do whenever your child needs something. Some parents may not have the strength to keep fighting, and that leaves their children at a disadvantage. Eddie, Maia, and Dustin made it clear over the course of the celebration that if it hadn't been for the tireless efforts of their parents, they wouldn't have achieved all they had.
But the truth is we're all parents, teachers, students, learners, and so we've all got to work together to make sure our students are enriched by us, by each other, and by what they're learning. Learning Ally feted its winners in a wonderfully meaningful and simply beautiful manner this past weekend. One winner put it well when he said, "I know Learning Ally was great, but I didn't know how well they could throw a party." So our duty now is to take what they've generously offered -- in its army of volunteer readers, its committed staff, its accomplished awardees, and its elegant and warm celebration -- and start truly appreciating what's unique about all our children, so that they can be educated and then shine in a way that's best for them.
- The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia, a documentary, can launch discussion at home or in school about the learning disability.
- Decoding Dyslexia is a grassroots movement by families in New Jersey advocating for more awareness of and educational resources for children with dyslexia.
- The International Dyslexia Association is another good resource to learn about dyslexia.
- I love that Yale's dyslexia center is called The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. I think we need much more creative learning in education in general.
- Read about this unique adult dyslexic's experience "painting a Jewish conference."
And . . .
- Did you know that at iJED, the Jewish education conference organized by the Schechter and Yeshiva University Networks this past February, participants could attend a Diverse Learners lab, which provided them with a deep dive into addressing the needs of diverse learners?
- Shelley Cohen [full disclosure: we're related] has founded and runs The Jewish Inclusion Project, which, according to its mission, is "aimed at educating and inspiring rabbinical students and rabbis on the obligation, need, and methodology for leading the creation of more inclusive synagogues, schools, and summer camps that fully embrace the communal, social, and religious needs of people with disabilities and their families."
We know there are tons more resources out there and that many educators are doing great work in this area.