student at whiteboard

language-based learning disabilities

Just Effective Teaching

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Submitted by Bill Barrett

Although it is almost 16 years ago, I can still remember the feeling I had entering my first public school teaching job.  I was hired to teach four sections of 9th grade Civics classes and one section of an 11th grade honors US history class.  Mainstream regular ed and honors classes with a mix of students, some of which were on IEP’s.  This had been my goal at the time…to take my six years of Landmark experience and a graduate degree and attempt to effectively reach a wide audience of students while at the same time continue my work with students with language-based learning disabilities (LBLDs) in a mainstream public school setting. Approaching a class of 28 students, six of whom were on IEP’s (picture a Landmark class with an additional 22 students) made me immediately realize the importance of structuring my approach to make sure my students' skills and organization were up to par.  Content would absolutely have its place, but as a vehicle for critical thinking and most importantly, skill development.  Somewhat because of my inexperience in this setting, I began to fall back on some of the strategies I had learned in my six previous years at Landmark.  I will admit that I first used these strategies to buy myself some time as I began to get to know my students and gain a handle on the needs of my classes.  I had assumed during those first three weeks that I would move on from some of my tried and true Landmark strategies into a different realm of pedagogy more suited to a mainstream public school environment.

What I found out very quickly is that the strategies I had used during my time at Landmark were not just Landmark strategies…they were effective teaching and learning strategies for all student skill levels. As a teacher, the act of doing things such as putting an agenda on the board every day, using multi-modals as opposed to strict lecture, structuring writing through templates and outlines, giving credit for participation and organization, emphasizing test review as much as the test itself, teaching note taking as opposed to only dispensing “important” information, taking time to check on and reward notebook organization and break down specific tasks were strategies that benefited all of my students, not just the students with learning differences.

It remains my belief as an educator that when you assist in helping students acquire and learn the necessary skills with which they can access content knowledge on their own while also rewarding the attributes they bring such as cooperation and self-advocacy, you are providing them with a greater gift…the gift of control.  The ability to see themselves as a partner in the learning process engaged in the development of their own skills and not just an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge.  In the end that doesn’t just represent Landmark teaching – it represents effective teaching, and worthwhile learning.

bill barrett headshot

Bill Barrett is the director of Faculty Recruiting and Teacher at Landmark School

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Tags:  effective teaching IEP language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning strategies self-advocacy Teaching Strategies

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

Stress and Anxiety: An Overview and Strategies for Mitigation

Blog Type:  Social and Emotional Issues Date Posted:  Thursday, October 18, 2018

middle school aged boy showing stress

This is the first post in a five-part series about students, stress, and anxiety. The second article looks at a relaxation program for elementary and middle school students, the third discusses how a student learned to manage her anxiety, the fourth explores how mindfulness can reduce anxiety, and the fifth covers the relationship between language-based learning disabilities and anxiety.

By Jerome Schultz, Ph.D.

Most children will experience some form of stress or anxiety during childhood. Temporary stress and anxiety are normal and typically harmless, but more severe forms can have a lasting toll.

I’d like to use this blog as an opportunity to talk about what stress is, how it’s related to anxiety, and what happens to the brain and body during stress. I also want to differentiate between good stress and bad (or toxic) stress, how to use the former, and how to prevent or reduce the latter. Finally, I’ll offer simple but effective strategies that cost nothing, take little time, and have a powerful impact on mental health and learning in kids of all ages.

Most of my writing, webinars, and keynote addresses over the past decade have focused on the impact stress has on learning, emotions, and behavior in students from preschool (yes, unfortunately!) through college. I’ve come to believe that stress is one of the most important factors underlying efficient learning and also one of the most under-recognized impediments to successful and joyful learning (and teaching!). Teachers and parents both express their concern about an apparent increase in stress in children and young adults. This troubling observation is confirmed by recent research. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 32% of adolescents have been diagnosed with anxiety, and a little more than 8% have what’s regarded as a severe impairment. It has been my experience that when adults have a better understanding of this complex human reaction, they can teach kids how to recognize, reduce, and use stress as the fuel for success.

What is stress?

Stress is the reaction of the body and brain to situations that put us in harm’s way. The stressor may be a physical threat (e.g., a baseball coming quickly toward you) or a psychological threat (e.g., a worry or fear that you will make a mistake delivering your lines in a play or write a passage that won’t make sense to the reader). Stress, or more specifically, the stress response, is our body’s attempt to keep us safe from harm. It’s a biological and psychological response. When we’re under stress, the chemistry of our body and our brain (and, therefore, our thinking) changes. A part of the brain called the amygdala does a great job learning and remembering what’s dangerous, and it tries to help us avoid those things as we move through life.

How can stress be good and bad?

All human and non-human animals have the built-in capacity to react to stress. You may have heard of a “fight or flight” response. This means that when faced with a threat, we have three basic ways of protecting ourselves. We can run away (flee), stand firm (freeze), or try to overcome or subdue the threat (fight). When we have a sense that we can control or influence the outcome of a stressful event, the stress reaction works to our advantage and gets our body and brain ready to take on the challenge. That’s good stress; at the most primitive level, it keeps us alive. It also allows us to return to a feeling of comfort and safety after we have been thrown off balance by some challenge and overcome it.

On the other hand, bad stress occurs in a situation in which we feel we have little or no control over the outcome. We have a sense that no matter what we do, we’ll be unable to make the stressor go away. Body and brain chemistry become over-reactive and get all out of balance. When that happens, it can give rise to another protective mechanism—to “freeze” (like a “deer in the headlights”). We can freeze physically (e.g., become immobilized) or we can freeze mentally (e.g., “shut down”). In these situations, the stressor wins and we lose because we’re incapacitated by the perceived threat. Think about it this way:

Navy SEALs face high-threat situations. They also have skills to deal with just about anything that comes along. As a result, these men and women don’t have a lot of anxiety. Their coping skills give them a sense that they can handle anything that comes along. This makes it easy to understand their motto: "The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday." Kids who do not have (or who don’t believe they have) sufficient coping skills are often highly anxious.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety comes in many forms. It can be situational (that is, specific to one kind or class of worry, like traveling or being in social situations). Kids who have not had a lot of success in school may experience marked anxiety in situations in which they feel they will make mistakes, be ridiculed, or made to feel foolish in front of others. Children and adults who have been exposed to early trauma, extreme neglect or abuse (sometimes referred to as Adverse Childhood Events, or ACEs) are more likely to experience anxiety.

When the anxiety is specific to or triggered by the demands of being with or interacting with people and is characterized by a strong fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed, it is known as social anxiety disorder (or social phobia). This fear can be so intense that it gets in the way of going to work or school or doing everyday activities. Children and adults with social phobia may worry about social events for weeks before they happen. For some people, social phobia is specific to specific situations, while others may feel anxious in a variety of social situations.

Anxiety can also be generalized (that is, a kind of free-floating sense of worry or impending trouble that doesn’t seem to be specific to one trigger or event). In its more serious form, this is considered a psychiatric disorder known as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

What’s the relationship between anxiety and stress?

Simply put, anxiety is a state of worry about what might be—as compared to stress, which is a reaction to what is. If you take the stressor (i.e., the threat) and subtract from that your coping skills, you get anxiety. Both stress and anxiety trigger the same chemical reactions in the brain, which does a really good job remembering negative experiences. If you worry all the time about something bad happening to you, that puts you in a state of chronic stress.

What’s the connection to stress and learning disabilities?

Stress and anxiety increase when we’re in situations over which we have little or no control (a car going off the road, tripping on the stairs, reading in public). All people, young and old, can experience overwhelming stress and exhibit signs of anxiety.

Children, adolescents, and adults with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, are particularly vulnerable to stress and anxiety. Often, it’s because they may not fully understand the nature of their learning disability. As a result, they may blame themselves for their own difficulties. Years of self-doubt and self-recrimination may erode a person’s self-esteem, making them less able to tolerate the challenges of school, work, or social interactions and more stressed and anxious.

For example, many individuals with learning disabilities have experienced years of frustration and limited success, despite countless hours spent in special programs or working with specialists. Their progress may have been agonizingly slow and frustrating, rendering them emotionally fragile and vulnerable. Some have been subjected to excessive pressure to succeed (or excel) without the proper support or training. Others have been continuously compared to siblings, classmates, or co-workers, making them embarrassed, cautious, and defensive. When students understand the nature of their learning disability, and how to use specialized strategies to experience success, stress and anxiety can take a back seat to competence.

How can students move from distress to DE-STRESS?

A little bit of stress is a good thing; it keeps us on our toes and gets us ready for the challenges that are a normal and helpful part of living in a complex world. Yoga, mindfulness activities, meditation, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and exercise are among the many ways that individuals (with and without dyslexia) can conquer excessive or debilitating stress. For the individual with a learning disability such as dyslexia, effectively managing and controlling stress must also involve learning more about the nature of the specific learning disability.

Competence instills confidence, and competence leads to success. When children, adolescents, and adults are able to develop a sense of mastery over their environments (school, work, and social interactions), they develop a feeling of being in control of their own destiny. Control through competence is the best way to minimize the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

What to DO?

Let me offer you a couple of simple, but effective strategies to minimize stress in school:

Hurdles and Helpers: Have students think of some task that they did well and examine the factors that got in the way (hurdles) and those that led to success (helpers).

Example: A student who successfully learned to scuba dive can be asked to think of the factors that got in the way, e.g., a fear of suffocation, and those that enhanced that learning, e.g. the thrill of seeing the wonders of undersea life. Have students apply that same analysis to the task at hand. What gets in the way and what will increase their chances for success?

stress meter

Difficulty and Competence Ratings: Have students rate (using a 1-5 scale) the perceived difficulty level of a task: 1= incredibly easy; 5 = “wicked hahd” (as they say up here in New England). Then have students rate their ability to do this task: 1 = “piece of cake”; 5 = “no way”. Enlightened teachers ask the student: “What can you or I do to make you think of this as a 'work zone' task?" (For example, level 3: a task on what I call “the cusp of their competence.”) This might mean putting pictures with the words, defining difficult words first, doing one math problem at a time, or having the information read to the student.

If a student says she has very little ability to do the task, but she has in fact done equally challenging tasks in the past, the teacher can pull out samples of similar, yet successfully completed work. By setting what I call “competence anchors” in this way, the student may approach the new task with an “I can” mindset. If so, this increases a sense of control, decreases anxiety and moves the student in the direction of success.

I hope that my comments here reflect both my concern about the impact of stress in the lives of kids, as well as my optimism that this “demon” can be tamed, its energy harnessed, and used to move kids from an “I can’t” frame of mind to “I can do this!”

 

About the Author

jerome schultz headshot

Jerome Schultz is a clinical neuropsychologist, author, and speaker who has provided clinical services to families, and consultation and staff development to hundreds of private and public schools in the U.S. and abroad during his 35 year career. He is the author of Nowhere to Hide: Why Kids with ADHD and LD Hate School and What We Can Do About It. Follow him on Twitter@docschultz.

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Tags:  anxiety dyslexia general anxiety disorder language-based learning disabilities learning disabilities social anxiety stress

Keeping Mathematics Accessible to All Students

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, June 9, 2015

kid looking at blackboard with long math formula

By: Mark Drago. This post was previoulsy published in Young Teachers Collective.   

I know this is an article about mathematics education, but let me start with a poem:

Zimmer’s Head Thudding Against the Blackboard, by Paul Zimmer

At the blackboard I had missed

Five number problems in a row,

And was about to foul a sixth

When the old exasperated nun

Began to pound my head against

My six mistakes. When I wept,

She threw me back into my seat,

Where I hid my head and swore

That very day I’d be a poet,

And curse her yellow teeth with this.

After reading Zimmer’s poem the image of the old exasperated nun who began to pound his head against the wall sticks in my mind, especially how Zimmer curses her in the last line of the poem. The reason why I think of the teacher is because I am a math teacher, and while I hope none of my students curse me, I wonder how they might describe my math class or me in a poem. The scene Zimmer sets is very familiar, standing in front of the whole class and being scolded for wrong answers. Math class can take on this nightmarish quality of a blackboard filled with confusing numbers, symbols, and letters. And yet, while math can be scary, mathematics is also a subject that is deeply valued in America.

In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address he called on creating more “classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math---the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.” Teaching mathematics poses the challenge of trying to create welcoming learning environments for a subject that can cause anxiety as well as ensuring that every student learns the skills they need to succeed. We as teachers have the capability to meet these challenges by focusing on our students’ strengths and inviting all students to quality mathematics discussions.

I teach at a high school that specializes in language-based learning disabilities (LBLD), such as dyslexia. While LBLD usually means that students struggle in reading and writing, their disabilities can affect the way they learn math as well. Mathematics is its own language with letters and symbols that hold meaning. By the time they enter my classroom they have often already had experiences similar to the one described in Zimmer’s poem and the mindset that they are “not a math person.” This mindset is often what is most detrimental in the math classroom. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, would call the mindset of “I’m not a math person” a fixed mindset, one where our intelligence is fixed and there is nothing we can do about it. Much of what we do as teachers is convincing students to believe in a growth mindset, one where our intelligence is malleable and controlled by our own effort. In making the math classroom more accessible, we should think about what aspects of our students we are focusing on. Are we just finding the ones who are quick to the right answer? Or are we looking at how the student went about solving the problem?

Dweck’s 2008 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, asks us to shift our focus from praising intelligence to praising effort. When going over a problem on the board, focus on the student’s process and what they did well. So instead of mathematics being a subject where you are right or wrong, we can shift our focus to math being a subject filled with strategies and problem solving that all students can be a part of. By praising students for the work they do, students are more likely to try a difficult problem because they believe they have the capability to do so.

In an interview with Education World, Carol Dweck said, “Psychologists who study creative geniuses point out that the single most important factor in creative achievement is willingness to put in tremendous amounts of effort and sustain this effort in face of obstacles.” We want our students to be creative and critical thinkers.  And the way we get there is by praising them for the talents that they have and for their willingness to succeed.

Ultimately, the goal of focusing on students’ strengths and praising them for their talents is to create an equitable math class in which all students can receive high levels of learning. Learning mathematics requires students to be actively involved in reasoning through problems and deriving their own answers. A math classroom should be filled with discussion on important concepts and different reasoning strategies, but frequently class time is filled with test answers and how well students scored. When students are worried about answering test questions correctly, they try to memorize routine procedures to quickly get to the right answer.

Part of the new common core standards calls for students to “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” The common core asks students to think about how the problem makes sense to them, to base the problem on facts they already know, and work towards their own way of solving. Asking students to make sense of a problem levels the playing field in a math classroom. The discussion is not a race to the right answer that only some students can do. Instead, students offer what they notice and their own way of thinking. No one is worried about being called to the board to try to remember a procedure for six number problems. Everyone feels like they are capable of solving complex problems and by their own effort, able to learn math.

 

 

Mark Drago is a faculty member at Landmark High School.  Article as seen in Young Teachers Collective.

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Tags:  Carol Dweck common core creative thinkers critical thinkers dyslexLandmark School Landmark School Outreach Program language based classrooms language-based learning disabilities LBLD math instruction mathematics

The Connection Between Executive Function and Social Communication Skills

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Monday, May 11, 2015

By Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP

Much has been written and discussed in recent years about Executive Function (EF) challenges faced by students diagnosed with a language-based learning disability (LBLD). Also in the forefront are conversations amongst educators, speech/language pathologists (SLPs), and neuropsychologists about interventions for students with social communication disorders (SCD). I have been privy to many of these discussions, and have read countless articles on these topics.  But my “real education” comes from my over 25 years of working with children and adolescents with both EF deficits and SCD.  Current research supports the notion that social communication skills can be impacted by EF deficits.

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift one’s thinking, is a component of EF. Consider the fast-paced nature of a social interaction that is filled with both verbal and non-verbal information. If a person has difficulty with cognitive flexibility, then social interactions may be compromised.

John (not his real name) is a student who teachers often refer to as “bright and readily shares his insights with his classmates”. However, teachers also describe him as “rigid and inflexible”.  He performs best with structure and predictable routinesJohn has been diagnosed with a LBLD, EF deficits, and a SCD. There are certain topics that John can provide a wealth of information about. He may come across as a “know it all” and does not recognize when others are disinterested. When a teacher or a peer provides an alternate view to his own, John may become argumentative. He often perseverates on his line of thinking and cannot shift gears. A student like John often perceives situations as black and white; he does not see the “gray.” 

This is an overly simplified example of a quite complex dynamic. Ultimately, we need to provide support with both executive function skills and social communication skills.  Rather than reacting in frustration to a “difficult” exchange, I encourage educators and parents to take a proactive approach. STRATEGIES (be sure to use specific language and provide clear expectations):

  • Teach cognitive flexibility and problem solving

“I understand that you didn’t edit your essay because I had asked you to make corrections in red and you didn’t have a red pen. What is one thing you could have done to get your homework done?” Help the student generate some possible solutions (e.g., borrow a red pen, use a different color pen and email the teacher about it, etc.). Use opportunities like these to teach/model problem solving. (Identify Problem->Generate 2-3 Possible Solutions->Consider Consequences->Make a Choice->Create a Plan)

  • Acknowledge, then redirect; avoid getting into a debate

“I know you want to keep talking about _____, but we have to move on.” “I know you are trying to be helpful, but Tim didn’t ask for your help.” “I know it bothers you that Jane is out of dress code, but you don’t need to comment on it. The adults will handle it.”

  • Tell the student how his words or actions make you/classmates feel

“I’m feeling frustrated because you’re not following my instructions?” “Jane felt embarrassed when you said she was out of dress code in front of everyone.”

  • Alert the student when there are going to be changes in the routine

“Tomorrow Mrs. Gross will be teaching this class so that I can attend a conference. She will collect your homework and help you edit your composition drafts.” “Friday’s class is going to be shortened due to an extended recess so we won’t be doing our usual warm-up activity.”

  • Identify and discuss the “gray”; not everything is “black and white” “I know that it’s officially springtime according to the calendar, but it is 30 degrees outside, so we need to wear our winter coats.”

To learn more about Linda Gross's work, check out the following links:

linda gross headshot

Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP – Landmark High School Speech-Language Pathologist/Consultant and Landmark Outreach Program Adjunct Faculty

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Tags:  cognitive flexibility education research Executive Function Executive Functioning Landmark Outreach Program Landmark School language-based learning disabilities learning disabilities social communication disorders speech and language speech and language pathologist speech pathologists

An Interview with Vanessa Rodriguez

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dr. Jessie Voigts from Wandering Educators recently reviewed Landmark360 expert blogger Vanessa Rodriguez’s latest release, The Teaching Brain: An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education. Below you will find a brief review and interview with the author.

“Let me tell you about “The Teaching Brain”. I picked it up, and couldn’t put it down. It delves deep into how teachers teach – and provides an interactive model for teaching – and learning. The process of teaching isn’t simple. There are myriad factors we need to think of and there are a plethora of teaching models that have been promoted over the years. And yet, there has still been something missing, a common-sense approach to teaching the same way we live our lives – thoughtfully, interactively, developmentally, and with purpose. This book, this exciting research, is that piece of the puzzle that has been missing.”  – Dr. Jessie Voigts

Interview with the author

Voigts: Please tell us about your new book, The Teaching Brain 

vanessa rodriquez headshotRodriguez: The Teaching Brain challenges widely accepted theories of teaching and offers a unique idea based on a simple yet empowering truth: we are all teachers. This book draws on the science of human development to redefine teaching as a social cognitive skill that develops in all people over time. The book marshals a wealth of research and experience to construct an entirely innovative framework for thinking about, talking about, and supporting this essential social endeavor.

Voigts: What inspired you to write this book?

Rodriguez: I spent over a decade in a classroom trying to defend my teaching decisions. I often found that the language I was using was not what administrators, researchers, and policy makers felt was appropriate evidence. I thought that a doctoral degree would help me to do this. What I found instead was that we don't have an understanding of teaching as we do learning – we don't understand the natural development of teaching in all humans. It suddenly made perfect sense to me that for all of those years I struggled to describe my teaching because we have a very limited vocabulary and overall framework for what it is! I wanted to open the door to a new way of defining teaching.

Voigts: Your theory of teaching takes into account real life interactions — and the growth of teachers. Can you give us a few examples as to how you developed your theory?

Rodriguez: It's hard to identify a specific example within the development of this theory since this theory is just how I see the world.  Teaching is a human interaction. Any time something involves an interaction with another human you have to take into account the complex nature of the brain. Our brains are complex dynamic systems.  Because they are dependent on our personal context they are forever changing. I would also note that most theories of teaching are actually stemming from theories of learning which is why they don't account for real life interactions or the growth of teachers. They are learner-centric and not about how humans teach but how humans learn. My theory is specifically about how we all develop our ability to teach.

Voigts: Why do teachers need to read this book?

Rodriguez: We are all teachers from as early as age one, we have the ability to teach and we teach without any prompting. However, we've never considered why we naturally teach nor how that natural ability shifts when we teach in the artificial setting of a classroom. By understanding the natural development of teaching, you'll become enlightened on your personal development.  Rather than being told how to teach based on a one-size-fits-all approach, you can discover your own teaching awarenesses; and therefore how you can more effectively interact with your learners.

Voigts: What's up next for you?

Rodriguez: The book highlights the overall theory I've developed on teaching but there's actually a side of my research that it doesn't delve into much. I'm currently designing and conducting studies to further understand the development of how humans teach.  In the fall, I'll be looking at teachers and students brain activity as they interact. I hypothesize that when they feel like the interaction has been successful, we'll likely see their patterns of brain activity synchronize. So rather than just saying "when it's working you can feel it," we'll actually be able to say you can also see our brain activity synchronize and act as a cohesive system rather than individual parts!

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Tags:  classroom practice education policy makers education research education technology interactive model for teaching Landmark School Landmark School Outreach Program language-based learning disabilities learner-centric student assessment teacher evaluation teaching styles teaching theories

Adventure Is Out There

Blog Type:  Learning Date Posted:  Wednesday, February 11, 2015

By Tristan Whitehouse

Not all classrooms need walls — or proper floors for that matter. What they do need is people willing to learn together through exploration.

Over the past decade, outdoor education programs have grown in prevalence throughout the country, because the interpersonal skills that students develop in the woods directly influence performance in schools.

Three years ago, Landmark School began the Outdoor Leadership class with hopes of improving the lives of our students with comprehensive leadership and wilderness training. When most people think of schools designed to meet the needs of students with language-based learning disabilities, they may be surprised to find some of our students learning various communication techniques seventy five feet up a rock wall or a hundred feet below in caves. We've found that not only do these students succeed, but they thrive when presented with the challenge.

field journalsAt the beginning of the course my co-teacher, Zachary Fisher, and I, encouraged students to meditate on the word “Leadership” and come up with a series of adjectives to describe it. Common candidates included trustworthy, amicable, knowledgeable, and considerate. They then categorized these words into three key criteria for leadership: interpersonal skills, judgment skills, and technical skills. In any setting, whether it be the wilderness or the board room, these skills must always be present and balanced. The Leadership Triangle, became the theme for the program. Every skill students learned would relate in some way to a side of the triangle.

While the students learned a slew of outdoor skills such as outdoor cooking, fire building, knots, gear repair, survival, and first aid, they were encouraged to write in their field journals. We expected these journals to be simple notebooks with periodic visitation by students but we were amazed to see that these journals have become prideful works of art for many. Intricate diagrams and drawings have complimented student’s notes on every subject from fitting a backpack to their body, to maps and landscapes of places we've visited as a class. We've learned that if you give your students the opportunity, they will surprise you with superior quality and craftsmanship.

The Outdoor Leadership class at Landmark School is still relatively new, but already it has shown that the woods can have a dramatic effect on our students for several reasons:

First, outdoor learning can provide opportunities for students to immediately see the fruits of their labors:  Lashing together two saplings and hanging a tarp between them can provide instantaneous relief from the elements. Toiling over twigs and bark to make the perfect tinder results in flame. Helping a peer get to the top of a twenty foot wall builds trust and friendship. The outdoors provide instant feedback for a job well done.

Second, solving problems presented by hiking, camping, and leadership initiatives, develop creative minds and more versatile learners.  Problem-solving tasks such as group games, challenge students to think critically about their surroundings and make good judgment calls.

Lastly, studying leadership results in a greater sense of citizenship, connection, and responsibility. Sharing common experiences builds togetherness and encourages fraternity. Wilderness Education gives students the ultimate gift: the gift of adventure. It allows teens to lace their boots, strap on their pack, and head out their doorstep with the knowledge and skills to succeed anywhere the road takes them.

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Tags:  alternative classrooms education trends Interpersonal skills journaling judgement skills Landmark School language-based learning disabilities leadership initiatives Leadership Triangle outdoor education outdoor skills problem solving technical skills Wilderness Education

Lessons Learned While on the Road with Landmark Outreach

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Thursday, January 15, 2015

By Adam Hickey, Ed.M, M.S. Ed.

The Landmark School Outreach Program has a long and storied history of extending Landmark School’s influence beyond the campuses of Manchester and Prides Crossing. Although charged through its mission to empower children and adolescents with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) by offering their teachers a program of applied research and professional development, more and more we are intersecting with general educators, who are committed to differentiating their instruction to meet the needs of all students in their classrooms.

Landmark Outreach provides consulting, graduate courses, seminars, and online learning to help educators finesse their own instructional approaches. To that end we reject delivering pre-packaged programs or telling teachers to instruct a particular way; instead, we challenge teachers to think differently about language instruction for all students. We ask teachers to consider ways to incorporate evidence-based instruction into their daily practice. Moreover, we embrace the paradigm of practice itself. We want to create a partnership with schools and gain traction over time. Practice is essential to a teacher’s success. As educational psychologist, Dr. Peter Doolittle states, “We all start as novices. Everything we do is an approximation of sophistication. We should expect it to change over time. We need to process our life immediately and repeatedly.” We challenge teachers to see their work with children as an approximation of sophistication and embrace opportunities to play with the erudition we present.

In the context of the school consult model, creating a change in instructional practices works best from a bottom-up approach. We have found that partnering with teachers who are supported by an administrative team creates a foundation upon which remodeling can occur. We respect the culture of each school we work with and honor their challenges while offering instructional approaches grounded in both theory and forty-plus years of Landmark School’s experience.

pencil sketch of learning process

Each time I drive away from a consultation where I have presented to faculty, strategized with an administrative team, or debriefed with a teacher after observing her class, I am struck by the passion, dedication, and energy each educator brings to her work. While On the Road, I am fortunate to work with those who Jack Kerouac embraced, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”

In spite of the negative reports about the state of education presented in the papers or heard in the media, the teachers, instructional leadership teams, and administrators who I intersect with are visionaries; they think purposefully, keep their students at the forefront of their decision-making lens, and implement approaches that will meet their students’ needs even when those perspectives challenge their previous beliefs. Teachers actively take their prior knowledge and wrap their arms around the thinking-about-teaching that Landmark Outreach presents, and consequently, we all benefit from the embrace.

Learn more about the Landmark Outreach Program.

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Tags:  Adam Hickey applied research differentiated instruction Dr. Peter Dolittle general educators Jack Kerouac Landmark School Landmark School Outreach Program language-based learning disabilities on the road school partnerships state of education

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.

A-Pramas2

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. 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

Dyslexia: Making Learning Relevant

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Recently, we spoke to Dean Bragonier, founder of Noticeability, a nonprofit enabling students with dyslexia to cultivate their strengths and providing tools to the adults that serve them. Dean will also be addressing our graduates and families at Landmark's 2016 commencement.

What was the inspiration for starting Noticeability?

I have an 8-year old son who has dyslexia. Both my wife and I are dyslexic so we knew there was an 80-100% chance that our son would be dyslexic as well. Having personally struggled in school, I knew our boy would require social and emotional support to help maintain his confidence. I had no idea that through Noticeability I could possibly address the needs of millions of other dyslexic students.

We have a culture that uses text as the principle medium in education. People with dyslexia, of course, are tremendously burdened by this. Noticeability harnesses technology to make learning interactive and relevant. The key is accessibility. It's vitally important to develop phonemic awareness and build reading skills but technology should be used to support and augment reading, not bypass it.

Our focus at Noticeability is to reach students, mostly in public schools and juvenile justice facilities, who have been conditioned to think that they are broken or stupid because of their dyslexia. Our goal is to expose these students to the professions where dyslexics find the most success (entrepreneurship, arts, engineering, and architecture) while providing them with an accessible, meaningful, and rewarding moment in their education.

NoticeAbility offers teachers a one-day training session where they learn about the neuroscientific advantages of dyslexia and gain the essential skills of social emotional instruction. Once their training is complete, teachers are awarded professional development points and their students are given access to NoticeAbility’s online learning platform. Our curricula, which is comprised of 10 online modules and 10 classroom sessions, enables students to access lesson plan content through a variety of modalities (video, audio, graphics and pictures). The intention, of course, is to enable students to work at their own pace and through a medium that resonates with their specific learning preferences.

When students come together in the classroom, they begin the project based learning component of the curriculum. Students are divided into teams and work, as groups, in SOUL centers: Self-Organized, Unbridled Learning Centers. In our entrepreneurship course, for example, students generate entrepreneurial ideas and build a business plan and prototypes for their ideas. Teachers, meanwhile, provide students with the appropriate scaffolding to facilitate teamwork and emotional development. When the course is complete, SOUL Center teams presentation their creations to their parents, teachers, and student body.

How can we raise awareness about dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities? Responsibility rests on the many people who have dyslexia who live, work, and contribute to society in a positive way—despite their disability. Landmark graduates should be the spokespeople for this learning difference. They know what it feels like, first hand, to be completely misunderstood in a classroom despite being extraordinary problem solvers and critical thinkers. As successful dyslexics like Charles Schwab, Steven Spielberg, and Richard Branson speak often and openly about their experience with dyslexia, the paradigm will inevitably shift from a deficiency-based narrative to a strength-based perspective.

We have Noticeability t-shirts that say "dyslexia is cool". The more dyslexics come out and talk about the nuances of their learning difference, the more the stigma will be reversed. My hope is that one day people will add "dyslexic" to their resume to give themselves a competitive advantage. Sure, there will always be professions where dyslexia is a liability (I doubt there are many of us in proof reading departments), but there are so many careers for which having dyslexia can be a huge advantage.

Responsibility rests on the many people who have dyslexia who live, work, and contribute to society in a positive way—despite their disability.

What are you most excited about in preparing to speak to our graduates? Even though I don't know these students personally yet, I feel like I know so much about them. I want to remind them that their perseverance was forged from adversity. They must understand that they have just completed one of the most challenging periods of their lives. If they can have confidence in who they are and maintain their determination, these students will have remarkable lives.

Check out Dean's TED talk.
dean bragonier headshot
Dean Bragonier is the Founder and Executive Dyslexic of NoticeAbility. Shaped by the challenges associated with his dyslexia, Dean became a diligent and successful college student after struggling through the traditional secondary education system. It wasn’t until he enrolled at Bates College that he developed a true love of learning, fostered in large part by the institution’s unique approach to education and its support of students with learning differences. Upon graduation from Bates, Dean embraced his entrepreneurial instincts and acquired a small seasonal restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard Island that he transformed into a successful full-scale enterprise (see Boston Magazine, July 2001).  It was through this endeavor that he was able to contextualize his years of laborious academic learning and discover the true gifts of his dyslexic mind. As a social entrepreneur, Dean has founded his own nonprofit organizations and served as board member and advisor to a number of others.  NoticeAbility is the culmination of Dean’s passion for education and his conviction that the advantages of dyslexia far outweigh its associated challenges.

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Tags:  dean bragonier dyslexia Noticeabilit language-based learning disabilities

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