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learning disabilities

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

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

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: 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

Tips for Parents: Working with Your LBLD Student, Part 3

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Sunday, May 15, 2016

mother and daughter at computer

By Gail Kent

Homework: Importance and Procedures for Success

Ever have difficulty figuring out how to help your child with homework? Why is homework so important anyway?

Homework is used to reinforce skills and information learned during class time. It is important for students because it allows them to further interact with material and repeat learned skills. In addition, it readies them to perform independent work after high school. Below are some best practices for homework completion:

Establish a consistent time and place for homework completion. Use a desk, the dining room/kitchen table, or someplace with a hard writing surface.

Set up the homework completion area for success:

  • Be consistent
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Maintain homework tools:
    • pencils, pens, colored pencils, highlighters
    • paper
    • tape, glue stick
    • hole punch, scissors
    • ruler, calculator
    • miscellaneous items that your student may need

Monitor but don't get involved in the routine completion of homework. The goal is for your student to become independent. While students may need more direct help to set up a routine at the beginning of the school year, slowly decrease your support.

Learn the work cycle of your student and when students need a break. Breaks can happen at certain time intervals or after certain goals are accomplished. Just make sure breaks are taken before students reach points of frustration.

Give positive feedback. Make a point to talk about the things your student is doing well and praise their effort not just their accomplishments.

Expectations. Talk to your student about getting to know their teachers' expectations. Each teacher may have a slight variation of their expectations. Make sure your student knows what these are. If a teacher does not provide a hand-out at the beginning of the year (or for each assignment) listing basic expectations, encourage your student to ask for one.

Use the notes. If your student doesn't understand something, encourage them to look in their notes. Notes are the best way to get information from what happened in class. Asking your student to reference their notes encourages them to take better notes, see potential places they could improve their note-taking, and become more independent learners.

It's still not working. If students still have questions, encourage them to email their teacher.

Don't do it for them! 

gail kent headshot

Gail Kent, an academic advisor, has been a teacher and tutor at Landmark for 20 years.

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Tags:  dyslexia education Executive Function homework homework help Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities learning style tips for parents

Tips for Parents: Working with Your LBLD Student, Part 2

Date Posted:  Thursday, April 14, 2016

smiling family using laptop

By Brett Hall

Landmark’s Six Teaching Principles™ give teachers guidelines to enrich their lessons and ultimately increase positive student outcomes. In my twelve years at Landmark High School, they have proved helpful time and time again when working with students in and out of the classroom. As a parent, they come in handy at home as well. Although I could reflect on all six, for now I would like to share principle number one:

Provide Opportunities for Success.

Many parents provide opportunities for success naturally at the initiation of a task or event. For example, they might prepare a child for a long car ride by bringing toys, activity books or an iPad. They might get a child ready for a doctor’s appointment by talking through the various tools that the doctor may use or help coach an older student for a college interview with practice questions. All these efforts are made with the hope of increasing the child’s ability to be successful. However, I would like to suggest going beyond the first step when thinking about how you can increase positive outcomes for your children. These following ideas may help your child who learns differently:

  1. Help your child think through all the steps of a process and provide cuing for each step of the task.  
  2. As you structure a day, event or activity, build in time for processing, reflection and rest.
  3. Give specific steps in order and one at a time to lessen working memory demands.
  4. Use visual reminders and technology.  

Don’t forget that day-to-day structure and routine are important constants in a child’s life; although there will naturally be disruptions to the schedule, it is important to balance these disruptions and prepare for them.

If your child learns differently, odds are they have had their fair share of disappointment academically or even at home. By providing them opportunities to genuinely experience success, they get a taste of it and dopamine releases in the brain. This chemical reaction feels good and they want more. That motivation for more success encourages growing independence and as parents, isn’t that our goal? You are the child’s primary teacher. Take every opportunity you can to “provide opportunities for success.”

brett hall headshot

Brett Hall is the Reading Department Head at Landmark High School. Since joining Landmark's faculty nearly twelve years ago, he has taught one-on-one tutorials, small group reading classes, worked as an Academic Advisor, and taught professional development workshops through Landmark's Outreach program. He is also the proud dad of two girls.

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Tags:  cuing dyslexia Landmark School Landmark’s Six Teaching Principles language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities Opportunities for success Parent tip routine self-esteem structure Success at home teaching principles tips for parents

Tips for Parents: Working with Your Student with LBLD, Part 1

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Friday, April 8, 2016

How to get your child chatting: beyond “How was your day?”

By Linda Gross, M.A., CCC-SLP

It’s a fact: parents want to know about their child’s day. We want to know about their classes, their social life, and what they ate for lunch. Children with language-based learning disabilities (LBLD) often have trouble answering the usual flood of questions that parents so lovingly ask. This can turn the ride home into a painstaking exchange. Students with LBLD may have language formulation difficulties or an auditory processing disorder that makes it challenging to respond to parents’ questions.

I bet this dialogue sounds familiar.

Parent: “How was your day?”
Child: “Okay.”
Parent: “What did you do today?”
Child: “Nothing.”
Parent: “Did you ask Mr. Smith about the Algebra homework that you didn’t understand and did you sign up for soccer?”  
Child: “Huh?”
Parent: “Do you want to play a sport this season?”
Child: “I don’t know.” How can you get your child to share more about their day?

Try these four tips:

  1. Find out about their day by doing your own investigation. Perhaps your child’s school posts activities, events, or course links on their website or in a weekly newsletter.  Armed with this information, you can fine-tune your conversation and questions.  Maybe it could go something like this: “Who did you vote for in today’s student council election?”
  2. Avoid open ended and yes/no questions. The type of question you ask is key! Ask specific "Wh"-questions. For example, you could ask, “Who was your lab partner in science class today?” or “What kind of sandwich did you make for lunch?” Check out this link to Bloom’s Taxonomy for a hierarchy of questions.
  3. Allow time for your child to process the question and formulate a response.  Small moments of silence may mean that your child is thinking, even though it may appear that he’s ignoring you or didn’t hear you. Also, ask one question at a time; too much language at once can be difficult for your child to process.
  4. Use a multiple-choice format.  Some children have trouble sharing information due to word retrieval or memory difficulties.  For these children, a multiple-choice format works best.  For example, rather than asking, “Which sport do you want to play this fall?” You can ask, “Do you want to run cross country or play soccer?”

So, on your next ride home or at the dinner table, try following these tips. You may be surprised by the more meaningful conversations you’ll have with your children.

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

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Tags:  auditory processing communication techniques dyslexia Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities tips for parents

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

The Flipped Classroom for the LBLD Student

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Friday, February 26, 2016

flipped classroom graphic

By Kimberly Hildebrandt

If you are an educator, you have probably heard of the Flipped Classroom. It is all the rage right now, and for good reason. The concept is simple, though the implementation can be quite varied. Here’s the big idea: Students learn content at home then come into class to practice, workshop, discuss, or work one-on-one with the teacher.

The flipped classroom isn’t really a new thing. Plenty of teachers have sent students home to learn new content from reading a text and then come to class to discuss. But, as people with language-based learning disabilities know, reading from a text is not accessible to all people and certainly does not always capture the essence of a lesson.

Technology has made the flipped classroom accessible to many more people. Today, “flipped classroom” has become synonymous with short video lectures or online manipulatives. Students then come to class to discuss the ideas they discovered in the lecture, practice new concepts with peer and teacher support, or further a project. The flipped classroom allows for more peer-to- peer and student-to-teacher interaction, something helpful to all students but particularly those who struggle in school. And making short videos lectures has never been easier. As long as you don’t mind the lectures being a little rough around the edges, a lecture takes hardly any more time to record than it does to actually give. Edutopia has a series of great videos (much more polished than my own) explaining the Flipped Classroom and the tech you need to do it. But remember, the flipped classroom is not the same as technology. As Edutopia would say, “We think the flipped classroom is a pedagogical solution with a technological component.”

While making your own videos ensures that students get consistent vocabulary and seamless instruction, you don’t have to make your own videos to start using the flipped classroom. Nor do you have to employ a flipped classroom ALL the time. START SMALL. Do a short unit using carefully curated videos or even just one lesson. And remember, if something goes wrong the first time around, give it a second chance.

So go ahead, give it a try! I think you’ll like it. Want to know more about the flipped classroom? Take a look at these resources:

(Note: ALWAYS preview a video before assigning it to students.)

  • Hardware and Software to make a video tutorial
    • I used an iPad and bContext app (though there are many interactive whiteboard apps available, I like bContext’s ability to upload documents from Google Drive and then upload videos directly to YouTube, which is where I shared videos with students)
    • My colleague used a document camera or an iPad as a document camera (with iPad stand like this one and iPevo app).
  • Always have students do something while watching a video:
    • Fill out a template
    • Answer questions
    • Take two-column notes
    • Play Posit - Online software which allows a teacher to upload a video and create pauses with a question for students to answer before moving on in the video. This is a super cool site!

What are your experiences with the flipped classroom? Have specific questions? Want to know more about how the flipped classroom plays out with students with language-based learning disabilities? Respond to this post and join the conversation!

Hildebrandt 800 wide

Kimberly Hildebrandt was a math teacher for 10 years at the Landmark School and is currently their social media coordinator.

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Tags:  edutopia flipped classroom Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities Teaching Strategies two-column notes video lecture

New Guidelines, Standardized Test Accommodations

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, January 12, 2016

boy struggling with text

By Janet Thibeau

For years, students with disabilities have been denied accommodations when taking the LSAT exam, even when they’ve submitted the proper paperwork. This year, that’s changed, and not just for the LSAT, but for all national standardized tests. This ruling has far-reaching implications for any student who will be taking a standardized test and requesting accommodations. If you are student or the parent of a student who will be taking a standardized test, it’s important to understand these guidelines, each testing entities’ process for requesting accommodations, and the appeal process to use if your request for accommodations is denied.

Background

In 2010, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) began an investigation into the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the group that administers the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). In 2012, the Department of Justice intervened in the class action. They alleged widespread failure to accommodate exam takers with disabilities, even in cases where applicants had submitted proper paperwork and demonstrated a history of testing accommodations. In 2014, the lawsuit was settled, and on September 8, 2015, the Justice Department issued a technical advisory about standardized testing accommodations that applies to many of the most popular national tests.

What standardized tests are covered?

The advisory applies to exams administered by any private, state, or local government entity, including:

  • High school equivalency exams (such as the GED)
  • High school entrance exams (such as the SSAT or ISEE)
  • College entrance exams (such as the SAT or ACT)
  • Exams for admission to professional schools (such as the LSAT or MCAT)
  • Admissions exams for graduate schools (such as the GRE or GMAT); and
  • Licensing exams for trade purposes (such as cosmetology) or professional purposes (such as bar exams or medical licensing exams, including clinical assessments.)

Key points

Key points in the new advisory include:

  • Students who receive testing accommodations in school based on an IEP or Section 504 Plan should generally receive the same accommodations on standardized tests.
  • Students who receive informal accommodations should not be considered ineligible for accommodations on standardized tests.
  • Students who receive testing accommodations in a private school, without an IEP or Section 504, should generally receive the same accommodations on standardized tests.
  • High grades should not prevent a student from receiving accommodations. Students who perform well academically may still be entitled to test accommodations.
  • Students who receive accommodations on similar standardized and high-stakes tests should generally receive the same accommodations for additional tests. Documentation of previous accommodations should be sufficient.
  • Documentation used to support a request for testing accommodations must be reasonable and limited to what is needed to determine diagnosis and the need for accommodations. Acceptable documentation should include recommendations from medical professionals, proof of previous accommodations, and observations of educators.
  • Testing entities should defer to documentation from a qualified professional who has made an individualized assessment of the candidate that supports the need for the requested testing accommodations.
  • A testing entity must respond in a timely manner to requests for testing accommodations so as to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.
  • Testing entities should report accommodated scores in the same way they report scores generally. Flagging policies that impede individuals with disabilities from fairly competing for and pursuing educational and employment opportunities are prohibited.

ADA Testing Accommodations

head shot 1

About the Author

Janet Thibeau works for Barlow Thibeau & Associates Education as a college consultant and educational advocate. She is the President-elect of MABIDA, the Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Janet and her husband Jim have five children, four who have dyslexia. One of her children is a Landmark School alum and another is a current Landmark student.  

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Tags:  Accommodations ACT dyslexia GED Landmark School language-based learning disabilities LBLD learning differences learning disabilities SAT standardized testing testing accommodations

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