In my last blog, I talked about how dyslexia is defined, as well as risk factors to look for in the birth to pre-school years. In this blog I will discuss the risk factors to look for in the early schooling years (K-2) as well as some research based interventions that can be used with ALL students, but are especially important for those who struggle to learn to read and write.
I like to think of the cover of a book as a doorway and a computer screen a potential window, into knowledge, understanding, discovery, adventure and insight.
I watch as my grandchildren are constantly pulled to the computer screen to play games. They love the challenge. They seem driven to accomplish the next level and, at times, become frustrated when they do not succeed. They are 100% engaged in this seemingly all or nothing contest. It is sometimes a challenge to move them from the game to a book, although once they do, their face transforms.
I have been in a classroom in one capacity or another since 1971. (I prefer to think of myself as experienced as opposed to old.) For 33 years I have been a reading specialist, a Reading Recovery teacher, a reading coach, and a reading interventionist. I’ve seen the reading pendulum swing from phonics to whole language to balanced literacy. What hasn’t changed in all those years is that some children, no matter what reading program is thrown at them, have great difficulty learning to read and write. My fascination and passion has always been with these particular children.
Jazz historian, activist and author Nat Hentoff died January 7, 2016. Hentoff was an extraordinary chronicler of jazz and the men and women who created the music. He also wrote several novels, most notably two books for young adults, This School is Driving Me Crazy and Does This School Have Capital Punishment? They follow the misadventures of a fairly normal seventh grade boy and have the ring of authenticity about things like bullies, fitting in, and the inexplicable terrors of junior high. They’re not my favorite YA books – Hentoff is prone to preach from time to time – but they’re worth a read.
Hentoff’s passing, though, also put me in mind of the YA novels that have stuck with me through the decades– Sarah, Plain and Tall, A Chance Wild Apple, Tuck Everlasting, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Ramona Quimby, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMN, A Smart Kid Like You, The Secret Garden, Jacob I Have Loved, and so many others. So much so, the next day I Netflixed the Disney movie version of one of the best, A Bridge to Terabithia (2007). If you haven’t read the original by the great Katherine Paterson (a Newbery Prize-winner in 1978), the movie is pretty darn close. Treat yourself.
It’s the story of Jesse (played by Josh Hutcherson), a 5th grader with lots of problems: three bossy sisters, a brooding distant father (the great Robert Patrick), and a school full of bullies. Jesse escapes into his one love – art. Suddenly, there is a new kid in his class, Leslie (the heart-breakingly good AnnaSophia Robb), who has problems of her own (not the least of which is that she’s an outsider in this close-knit rural school). They become inseparable and, together, create the world of Terabithia.
No spoilers here, but you will love this little movie. It is full of magic and love and courage and – because the real world isn’t Terabithia – tragedy.
It also reminded me of the hardest time in my life and, from an informal poll of friends through the years, the hardest time in most people’s lives: junior high. From about 5th grade through 9th grade, nothing make sense. And your body and your emotions make the least sense of all. If you’re a guy, strange hormones are unexpectedly surging through your body. Girls become infinitely complex, unendingly mysterious alien life-forms. Teachers suddenly become authority figures. Someone has taken away recess. Mom and dad go from being your favorite people to slightly … embarrassing.
I would never, ever want to be 10 or 12 or 14 again. For the first time – I was experiencing adult emotions in a kid’s brain, and my kid’s body was turning into a teen-ager’s body. It was baffling. It was scary. And – geez louise – it’s just not fair! No one should have to endure all of that.
After watching A Bridge to Terabithia (and yes, I cried – but it was a manly sort of tears), I was swept for time back into my own junior high days. As a Military Brat, I went to different schools in my fifth, sixth and seventh grade years. It was a long time ago, but through the fog of hazy memory, I remember a mostly upbeat kid with Coke-bottle glasses, buck teeth, and a crew cut reading voraciously, dreaming of playing first baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, and torturously finding my way through this scary new world.
I remember that the feelings I had at the time were as real to me then as they are now. First love! First loss! First bully! First argument with my parents! But because I was a kid, the adults in my life thought I was still feeling a kid’s emotions.
A Bridge to Terabithia reminded me, yet again, that junior high kids really do feel. The loss of a friend or loved one is no less real because you’re only 11. The crazy-quilt of emotions, including something like love or infatuation, that follow when you meet That First Girl or That First Guy are no less real to the junior high kid who experiences them the first time.
When our children went through those years, our emotions careened with theirs. During those days, they were a blur of long arms and longer legs, loveable one minute, infuriating the next. They couldn’t help it any more than I could have when I was that age. I wish I had been more understanding during my kids’ junior high years. Perhaps I will be when the grandkids turn that awful/wonderful age.
God bless those of you who teach junior high. You’re doing God’s work. You may never meet a more confusing, enduring group of people in your life. But those who teach junior high year after year tell me it is worth it.
As students move closer to high school graduation, many are questioning not only what path to take – college, job, military, but even within each of the options, there are so many choices. It can be overwhelming.
The New York Times ran an article recently about three high school seniors in Topeka, Kansas, who were struggling with these options. In many ways, these students appeared to be a good small sample of cross-section of various student types.
One student in the Times‘ story was worried about taking on a large amount of debt and still not having a job upon college graduation. I suspect he’s not alone. Parents are worried about this, too. With the high visibility recently of so many stories on crippling student debt, this is an understandable concern.
Of course, in a perfect world, students would like to focus on a college education that is both affordable and prepares students for jobs that are plentiful in the market. The trouble is that it is difficult for the average 17- or 18-year-old be able to discern and compare all of this information on their own. It’s tough enough for adults!
There are 4000 colleges in the U.S. and many hundreds of degree programs. The job market is pivoting faster than ever before. We do not yet know what all of the many new employment areas of the future will be.
Despite the fact that the last census showed that average income still correlates strongly with level of education, we know that there are no guarantees. Higher education remains a frightening proposition for many, yet so many jobs require a college degree.
Many school counselors have so many students assigned to them that it is virtually impossible to spend much significant time with any of them.
How do we help high school students to navigate these continually changing future options? How can we build a process that is more predictable, affordable, stable and less frightening? That’s one of the main issues I’d like to address in the weeks ahead on this site. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of joint discovery!