student at whiteboard

confidence

Debate = Empowerment

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Thursday, May 14, 2015

Submitted by Caleb Koufman

landmark high school debate

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus. ​

Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this. ​ ​

The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There's no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

caleb koufman headshot

Caleb Koufman is a faculty member at Landmark High School.

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Tags:  Caleb Koufman compelling public speech confidence debate debate club disabilities dread public speaking dyslexia empowerment exciting tradition extracurricular activities Landmark School language-based learning disabilities learning differences logical reasoning persuasive cases

Painted Yellow Lines

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, June 9, 2016

road with yellow lines

At Landmark School's recent commencement ceremony, graduate Matthew Pramas '16 sheds light on what it means to learn differently and reminds his classmates that it can have its advantages. 

I remember sitting on the swings, 11 years ago, on a beautiful spring day. My teacher let my class out to recess for the last 20 minutes of school, and we were allowed to use the entirety of the playground and field. I was minding my own business and then I looked over to my left to see, only 30 feet away, the resource room kids. They weren’t allowed to play with us; they couldn’t reach me on the swings. They were restricted to a small fire lane by the back door of the resource room. They were trapped, penned in by some painted yellow lines outlined on the ground. And I looked around the entire playground where my class was running on the field, playing on the jungle-gym, filling the air with their laughter; and then back at that tiny, quiet box the resource room kids were left in. Even then, I knew this was wrong.

In a way, I wasn’t with my usual classmates at all; I was with those resource room students. I knew what those kids were going through because, for several times a day, I was one of them. I too was restricted; I was trapped by my school and put in confining places like the resource room. My possibilities were decided by my school, and they were very narrowly defined, just like those resource room students. And just like them, my classmates and I have been defined. We’ve had decisions made for us, things chosen for us; but now, as we graduate, it’s time to make our own decisions, to be in control of our own lives. That is why we all need to find something-whatever it may be-that speaks to us, that leads us on our own journey.

We just need to know that this label we bear is not a disability, but a great ABILITY.

We have an ability to succeed in what we want to do like few others. I wouldn’t dare say that to any other group of seniors, but we do things differently. We have always done things our own way because we have language-based learning disabilities and we have needed to find different ways of doing routine activities in order to survive in the classroom. I know that many of us would trade our disability if we had the chance because we have gone through so much, and we’re even still advised to conform to a world created by other people. People who aren’t like us. Remember, we haven't been seen as outsiders for the things we have done, we have been seen as outsiders for who we are as people. But none of that defines us now.

We just need to know that this label we bear is not a disability, but a great ABILITY. The ability to think differently and take our own path. It is our strength.

Malcolm Gladwell argues this very point in his book David and Goliath. Gladwell talks about how people’s weaknesses can actually be strengths, and he mentions one lawyer, David Boies, who is severely dyslexic, but who turns his disability around to be an asset by memorizing every case. This has made him one of the most respected lawyers in the United States. Gladwell chose this title “David and Goliath” because in the old story, David is the young, weak boy who challenges Goliath, the strongest fighter on the enemy side, to a duel. Everyone assumes David will be easily killed as they gear the boy up with soldiers’ armor, like everyone before him. Only for David, the usual armor won’t work for him because David doesn’t fight the normal way, he uses his slingshot, which is unusual. So he takes his armor off, leaving himself completely vulnerable. We know what that feels like. Except this supposed vulnerability isn’t a weakness for David because no armor meant increased mobility, and when it came time to fight, David shot a rock in between Goliath’s eyes and won. He won because he turned his supposed weakness into his strength — into a force no one else expected.

This is our story. We are the David who can dare to think differently.

He won because he turned his supposed weakness into his strength.

Don’t lose this ability to see different sides, think of new solutions, and use creativity to solve the difficult problems.

And as I look back in on those resource room kids, after all these years as my fellow peers and I prepare graduate, I know that this spring day liberates me to live; it no longer confines me. It motivates me to see how far things need to be taken, how much better things can be — that it isn’t pointless to make the world a better place or try to advance something just a little more for the sake of humanity. We all have this motivation, this passion somewhere. Some of us have already found it, some of us haven’t, but we all have it. For me, living means becoming a writer. It means waking up every day to channel that passion to work for justice, to fight ignorance, to do something great. We can all do great things. Because for me living means taking every opportunity, seizing every moment. It means that if I ever have the chance to grow old, that I will look back on my life and regret nothing. It means for me, at this time, being satisfied with what I did with my life and deciding to choose a way of life over a job, and a vocation over a career.

Class of 2016, we escaped from our confining places a long time ago, but there are those who never got the chance to leave. Let us prove that we are not bound by some painted yellow lines.

A-Pramas2

Matthew Pramas was a part of the 2016 Landmark School graduating class and was a student speaker at our recent commencement ceremony. Matt is headed to St. Michael's College this fall.

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Tags:  ability class of 2016 confidence dyslexia graduation Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities Malcolm Gladwell self-esteem

A Letter From a Girl With a Language Based Learning Disability (LBLD)

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, December 7, 2016 Byline:  By Brooke Williams

girl holding books in field

Being dyslexic is part of who I am. I don't hide it or neglect it. I embrace it.

The academic life people with language-based learning disabilities endure and how we fight back.

In second grade, I started to realize I was a pretty bad reader. I watched my friends breeze through chapter books, while I was still struggling with picture books. I felt so discouraged and dumb. It was the absolute worst feeling I have ever felt. Knowing this, my mom would help out in class and we would practice my reading, but I wasn't getting better. Why wasn't I reading just as well as my friends? Why did I struggle so much with understanding the story? Why was I taken out of class three times a week to work on my reading? What was making me different from everyone else?

I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was third grade. For those who don't know, dyslexia is a language-based learning disability (LBLD). It can be different for everyone. And no, I don't read upside down or backwards. Here is an example of my dyslexia. When reading, I tend mix up similar looking letters such as d, b, and p. Also when reading or writing, I tend to mix up words that look and sound similar, such as their, there, and they're. Luckily for me, my parents knew I needed help academically in order to conquer and accept this disability. They fought for me, harder than anyone I know.

I am so fortunate that I got to go to one of the best private schools for children who have language-based learning disabilities. Landmark School is one of the best LBLD schools in the United States. Kids from all around the world try to go to that school. The teachers and programs are incredible. This school did more than just get me through high school. It made me the hard working, determined student I am today.

Landmark gave me confidence in myself and confidence in my difference. At the end of the day, that's what it is. It's a learning difference. I'm not getting a leg up in class, I'm leveling the playing field. Being dyslexic is part of who I am. I don't hide it or neglect it. I embrace it. Don't let anyone ever tell you that you are stupid. Because you aren't. You actually are highly intelligent.

Going into third grade, my teachers were saying "this girl will never make it to college". Well here I am in my sophomore year at a university. And ready for this: your girl is dyslexic, majoring in English.

About the Author:

Brooke WilliamsBrooke Williams is a graduate of Landmark School. She's currently majoring in English at Salem State University.
This post previously appeared in https://www.theodysseyonline.com.

 

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Tags:  confidence determination dyslexia English Landmark School LBLD mixing up letters struggling reader

Dyslexia: Learning Disability or Entrepreneurial Advantage?

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, October 13, 2016 Byline:  By Elliot S. Weissbluth

typewriter

Having dyslexia doesn't mean you can't learn or be successful, but you may have to go about it a little differently.

I was first diagnosed with dyslexia as a child, and then again 20 years later as an adult law school student.

Dyslexia affects each individual a little differently, but generally creates difficulties for processing written language. It is often characterized as a “learning disability.”

Early on, I struggled to keep up in grade school, especially with reading and studying. My parents purchased a Smith Corona typewriter, and every day I typed my notes from class onto onionskin paper. The process of deciphering my own handwriting (not easy even today!) and then typing the words onto a page I could read later was critical to helping me learn. Imagine my delight later in life when computers came along and I was already so comfortable on the keyboard.

Having dyslexia doesn’t mean you can’t learn or be successful, but you may have to go about it a little differently.

In fact, people with dyslexia are often highly creative thinkers, likely because in compensating for or overcoming the challenges of dyslexia we develop a strategic intelligence, as well as a stubborn persistence. It is no surprise to me that entrepreneurs exhibit higher rates of dyslexia than the general population. We’re wired to approach challenges in new ways, to work around obstacles, and to solve problems.

And we’re in pretty good company: Woodrow Wilson, Andy Warhol, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, Steven Spielberg, Agatha Christie, and Cher, are just a few examples of dyslexics who have achieved amazing things.

Effective coping strategies vary from person to person, but here are a few I’ve learned:

  • Take your time. In school, dyslexic students are often allotted extra time to complete assignments. In the real world, the best way to avoid the sensation of not having enough time is to start things early. I’ve always been an early riser, so I usually get up at 4:30 in the morning so I can have an hour or so to myself before the kids wake up and the day begins in earnest. This allows me to look at my calendar, slowly read important e-mails, and think through everything ahead of me that day. My habit of extensive and early preparation developed out of my need to not feel rushed to “keep up” with my non-dyslexic peers.
  • Be purposefully attentive. Attention requires effort. Try “active listening,” a technique used in conflict resolution, in which the listener paraphrases and repeats back the speaker’s message to ensure mutual understanding (you can keep this feedback silent and write down what you think they mean). Look for clues about what the speaker FEELS rather than just hearing what they SAY. I’ve found that journaling helps me stay in the present.
  • Reject the myth of multitasking.If you are trying to listen to someone speak or you are reading something important, you can’t text, talk, tweet, check your email, or perform some other function without degrading your attention.
  • Recognize your strengths and develop them rather than improve a weakness. Turn your compensatory tactics, whatever works for you, into assets. I could type 30 words per minute in seventh grade, and by the time the Internet caught on, I was naturally composing on the keyboard, able to transcribe spoken words and typing nearly as fast as a professional typist.

About the Author:

Elliot Weissbluth

Elliot Weissbluth is the Founder and CEO of HighTower Advisors, a financial services company that serves high-net-worth clients. He's also a LinkedIn Influencer. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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Tags:  Agatha Christie Albert Einstein Cher confidence dyslexia dyslexia awareness Elliot Weissbluth entrepreneurs with dyslexia Executive Function executive function strategies language-based learning disabilities learning disabilities learning style multitasking Richard Branson Steven Spielberg Woodrow Wilson

The Power of Self-Expression

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Thursday, March 24, 2016

drawing of girl holding her ears

By Kimberly Hildebrandt as the summation of an interview with Beth Jamieson

In March, the Boston Globe announced its Scholastic Art Awards.  I was blown away by the technical skill and visual expression, but even more so for the depth conveyed through the art. I was particularly struck by an emotional series of charcoal pieces inspired by the phrase, “Something You Hide” (check out a few of the images in this post) from Landmark High School students, a school for students with language-based learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Landmark had again won 22 “keys” and 20 honorable mentions. It made me wonder,“What about art makes these students come alive?”

Students with learning differences have, for most of their lives, been picked on, labeled, pulled apart, and made to feel so much worse than “different” in the place where they spend most of their waking hours: school. All the time, school is focused on how to fix them, not just their learning but their selves. The students often build a wall of self-protection, a wall that hides their real self.

The thing I love about art, and in particular the Landmark Art Department, is the powerful place it holds for those who struggle with feeling pulled apart. Art at Landmark is not only a safe place for students to explore themselves, it is one in which students are encouraged to take back ownership of and cultivate their self...and from that place, express.

So how is it done? How is this depth of self-expression and skill cultivated in students? And what can every school room learn through these student’s success?

When students walk through the doors of the Landmark art room, they are not only accepted as themselves, but encouraged to be themselves.  They are no longer labeled as someone with a learning difference who needs to be fixed. They are viewed as highly skilled and intelligent (a la Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences). The art room is a place of learning about both visual and self expression, and further learning how to critique not criticize. Students and teachers alike must work hard and give lots of helpful feedback.

drawing of three young adults

In speaking with Beth Jamieson, the co-chair of the art department at Landmark High School, I learned more about their teaching process. The staff must be knowledgeable, not only in their profession, but also in working with students with learning differences. They employ Landmark’s Six Teaching Principles in working with students. While art teachers don’t explicitly focus on the students learning differences, staff know how to break skill work into smaller, more manageable units, ask questions that are directed and not too open ended, push just the right amount so as to help students reach their pinnacle without breaking apart. Teachers cultivate an environment where mistakes are expected and are encouraged as part of the process; where struggle is healthy and is the path to a tangibly better product. 

While art is certainly not everyone’s strong suit, even for students with learning differences, this notion of healthy struggles, self acceptance, and “learning difference as strength” is key to building any students self-efficacy and love for learning. As an institution, Landmark celebrates and lifts up the creative brains of their students so students see how they matter beyond their difference and even because of it.

Kimberly Hildebrandt is the Social Media Coordinator for Landmark School. She joined Landmark in 2005 as a high school math teacher and taught Algebra and Pre-Calculus until 2015. She also worked for two years teaching math at New England Academy. She holds a Masters in Moderate Special Education from Simmons.

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Tags:  art art education boston globe confidence creativity dyslexia Howard Gardner Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities Multiple Intelligences Scholastic Art Awards self expression self-esteem Six Teaching Principles
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