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self-esteem

Painted Yellow Lines

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

road with yellow lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A-Pramas2

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

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

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

The Power of Self-Expression

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

drawing of girl holding her ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

drawing of three young adults

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

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

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

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