Singular Minds
October 4, 2004 • Volume I, Issue 2
Laura Zink de Diaz
Prolinguistica Dyslexia Correction Center


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Good Stuff to Read

While You Were Sleeping

Nature.com
by Laura Nelson
Scientists have suspected for a long time that sleep enhances procedural learning. (Procedural learning is the kind that involves solving a problem or mastering a skill, as opposed to acquiring information.) Now there is evidence that "sleeping on it" isn't just an idle recommendation. It seems that "during training, the brain tags a task as something to be improved on later during sleep." It's even starting to look like the sleeping brain prioritizes those tasks according to difficulty, giving more attention to more challenging tasks as we snooze.
To read the full article go to:
http://news.nature.com//news/2004/040823//430962a.html

I've had a really hard time coming up with a succinct comment on this particular news item. Each time I start to write about its implications, I end up with pages and pages of stuff - and pretty soon I find myself so far afield, it's hard to find my way back! And the reason is that this information challenges us on so many levels to think about how we teach and how we live. It's already been pointed out that many Americans are sleep deprived. (Type the words "Americans sleep deprived" into Google and you'll get 45,000 hits; in Yahoo, 150,000!) Think for a minute about our sleep deprived lifestyle, how it may be affecting not just our work, but our relationships, our family life, our health, even our ability to make reasoned decisions. And consider the move in many schools to eliminate naps in Kindergarten, even in Pre-K classes
( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A58706-2004Mar14?language=printer ) And think for a minute about this:

There's been a move in this country away from instruction that is constructivist in nature, and back to the drill and practice mode. Away from the joy of the "aha" moment, away from experiential learning, and back to worksheets. Away from projects that lead to synthesis and cognitive growth, and back to analysis, and memorization. I've even heard people suggest that "rote" learning is what "kids these days need." Hang on a minute -- rote learning is by definition learning without understanding. I don't think that's really what we want. Is it? I've been watching school districts select reading programs that emphasize phonics, and test children not on their understanding of what they read, but simply on their ability to decode, and the speed with which they decode. Tests that measure how well children read nonsense words, not real words. Or how well they read lists of real words, but divorced from any text that communicates something meaningful. What is the point of reading anything, fast or slow, if not to understand what happened, what someone thought, what we want or believe?

All of these things represent to me a resurgence of belief that "drill and practice" (which some people call "drill and kill") is a highly effective and essential teaching strategy. I began teaching over 20 years ago. After just one year of teaching from the district adopted textbook, my students' performance made me question the effectiveness of drill, worksheets, and memorization in general. And I discovered what all good teachers learn - that there are indeed many far more effective ways to use instructional time, far more effective learning strategies that students of all ages can engage in, than repetitive drill.

This new information about the importance of simple sleep for procedural learning confirms what most of us know instinctively: that we are creatures designed for learning right down to the cellular level, and that therefore, learning is natural, not something we have to be coerced into accepting. And it challenges us to look again - to consider that notions like "back to basics" or "high standards," accountability," or "academics" might actually be the trees that prevent us from seeing the very dense and fertile forest around us. That the punitive and coercive tactics often employed to force us to learn on someone else's schedule, materials someone else thinks is important, cover up the real issues, some of which are:

• how divorced much instruction is from any real needs or interests of the learner,

• how artificial and therefore uninteresting and unmotivating such instruction is,

• how much we disagree on what skills are truly important and why, and

• whether or not we ultimately place any value on the autonomy of the individual learner.

I certainly would like to see just how MY brain prioritizes the day's learning during sleep!

I don't want to suggest that all practice (or schooling) is a waste of time - that would be beyond silly. I would suggest that we need to think a lot harder about what kind of practice and how much. And about whether a nap for kindergarteners is a waste of instructional time, or in fact, a valuable enhancement of instructional time. And I'm going to leave it at that for now, because I think I need a nap!

[Post script - after all that, in testing the links in the newsletter one last time, I find that there is a problem at Nature.com which prevents access to the article - for the moment. The link is correct, however, and I hope the internal problem at Nature.com will be cleared up by the time you receive this newsletter.]


Quackwatch Home Page
Eye Related Quackery
Russell S. Worrall, O.D.
Jacob Nevyas, Ph.D.
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
A number of people have asked me about various kinds of vision therapies, whether they can help with dyslexia, or why they haven't helped... Personally, I consider Davis Dyslexia Correction® to be the "cut to the chase" method of dealing with dyslexia-related vision issues. But I'm not at all qualified to comment on real, physiological vision problems. So, if you have heard about a particular kind of vision therapy and it sounds intriguing to you, I suggest you visit Quackwatch and see what they have to say about it. This website takes you on a stroll through the history of "eye related quackery" right up to some fairly current but un-proven treatments. It also gives you some information on "orthoptics" which the authors consider to be the "one rational method of eye training and eye exercises" for crossed eyes and amblyopic (lazy) eye. It's a very interesting read, even if you don't have any vision problems to resolve. Visit the page at:
http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/eyequack.html

Forget the Flashcards, Remember Imagination
It's said that play is the work of children. Now we're taking their jobs away.
By Mike Bowler
Baltimore Sun
2004-09-12
I quote just these lines:
"The fear, the guilt and the scientific sound bites have created a panic in parents and educators" ... "We need to let our children live their lives, rather than view each and every moment of their lives as part of a grand plan for their future." and:
"Parents, lighten up. Your child will probably grow up and succeed if you fail to engage in "fetal parenting" or to pipe Mozart into the bassinet. Relax. Take your children to play at a museum... Let your children enjoy childhood."
I urge you to read this wonderful article and think deeply about it -- just before you and your kids take a nap! You will find it at:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/education/bal-md.edbeat12sep12,0,5502883.column

Are you beginning to wonder...
about No Child Left Behind and our current mania for high stakes standardized testing?
You're not alone. Here's an interesting web site set up by concerned parents in Readington, New Jersey. Right, none of us have children in their schools. But their web site addresses many of the questions we all have about standardized testing across the country. You may consider your child "safe" for the moment... but whether your children are in public, private or home school, I wouldn't hold my breath! Visit the site at:
http://www.rationalamerican.com/rp.org/

PDCC News

The Website is Up!

In case you haven't seen it, yet, our web site is up and running! The URL is:

http://www.pdcc-read.com

I'm working on a Spanish language version of the site - but that will take a while yet...

Support Group Starting Up!

The Support Group for those dealing with a corrected or uncorrected dyslexic friend, relative or loved one will meet the third Thursday of each month at 7:00 pm. For now, our designated meeting place will be the conference room at our office in Mount Vernon. If you haven't been to the office yet, it's easy to find, and there are directions and a map on the website at:

http://www.pdcc-read.com/WhereAreWe.html

Or give me a call at 360-848-9792 for verbal directions. Mark your calendar: the first meeting will take place October 21, 7:00 pm. The purpose of the meeting is to exchange information, provide mutual support, and have a relaxing time. Please remember that this will be an informal support group, a place to find people who are dealing with issues that may be similar to yours, whose experiences you may or may not find helpful. There is no fee to attend, although contributions to help cover the cost of coffee and snacks are always appreciated. As always, if you feel you need counseling, I encourage you to consult a qualified counselor. Although we'll start meeting at the PDCC office, if the members want to schedule future meetings somewhere more comfortable, we can discuss it and I'll announce future locations in this newsletter.

Clay Clinics Starting Up!

Clay nights will begin October 14 and will meet the second Thursday of each month in the conference room at our office in Mount Vernon. We'll begin at 5:30 pm with PIZZA! and conversation. Maybe you've gotten off track and need to jump start your commitment to completing your symbol mastery. Or perhaps there are some words on the trigger list you've been putting off. Maybe you'd just like to work on clay in a different environment and see who else is doing symbol mastery... Just bring a beverage, some clay, even your support person, and we'll work on words from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. Please call (360-848-9792) or email (dyslexia@prolinguistica.com) to let us know you plan to attend -- so we can be sure we have enough pizza on hand! Cost: $15/person.

Tutoring Services
You may notice at the website that tutoring services are available through PDCC, but that no details are given. Here is a list of the types of tutoring currently available:

• general academic tutoring for elementary age students
• reading, all levels
• expository writing for middle, high school, or college students
• general language arts for middle and high school students
• Spanish, all levels, including college level Spanish
• French, all levels, including college level French
• Study- and organizational skills

The following individualized classes are available in the following areas:

• Conversational Spanish for adults
• Spanish for home schooled students, all ages

Substitute support:
• If your support person ever has to leave town temporarily and you need a "sub" to help you with symbol mastery or any other activity on your Mastery Schedule, we can provide that service as well.

If you're interested in tutoring or private classes in an area you don't see listed here, just ask -- if we have or can find the expertise, we'll design a class for you! Give me a call at 360-848-9792, or send me an email (dyslexia@prolinguistica.com) for rates and to discuss your unique needs.

Invitation to brainstorm

In August I attended a training in Davis Learning Strategies®. DLS is a very successful program for beginning readers. It's implemented in school settings starting in Kindergarten, and the results are exciting. In schools where DLS is begun in Kindergarten and implemented correctly and consistently, by the end of the third grade no children who have gone through the program display symptoms of the dyslexic learning style. Even more exciting, more students than usual are referred to gifted programs. Children benefitted from the DLS program whether they had difficulty with reading or not - those who were good readers, excelled; those who struggled, became good readers. DLS is not a language arts curriculum - but it can be used with any appropriate reading/language arts curriculum to help children become good readers, and give them learning skills that will serve them for a lifetime.

With my teaching background and training in DLS, I'd be interested in exploring the possibility of organizing a small DLS class for kindergarteners. If you have a child of Kindergarten age and would like to be involved in brainstorming how we might structure such a class, please do two things. First visit http://www.davislearn.com, to read more about DLS. Then, if what you read gets your creative juices flowing, give me a call (360-848-9792) or send me an email (dyslexia@prolinguistica.com) and we'll arrange a time to get together and exchange ideas. Since DLS is designed for use in schools, this may not work. On the other hand, put a bunch of creative people in a room... you never know, do you? I think it's worth a conversation - at the very least!

Public Talk on Dyslexia

This talk, is titled simply, The Gift of Dyslexia. It will be open to the public and free of charge from 7 pm to 8 pm on October 28, in the downstairs conference room (101D) at the Tridex Building, location of our office. The talk will be a straightforward one, about the symptoms of dyslexia, verbal and non-verbal thinking, the "gift" part of dyslexia, why clay, and how parents (or friends) can help. If you know anyone for whom this information would be helpful, I hope you'll pass on the information and my phone number or email address.
Have a glorious month!
Laura

Next Issue of Singular Minds: November 1, 2004

Got a topic you’d like to see addressed in Singular Minds? E-mail questions, proposals, letters, and/or stories to: singularminds@prolinguistica.com
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