Singular Minds
March 3, 2005 • Volume I, Issue 7
Prolinguistica Dyslexia Correction Center
Laura Zink de Diaz

Quote(s) of the month:

As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take the examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment were contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one would be a penny the stupider. E. M. Forster

Prolinguistica Mini-Workshops

PDCC is a division of Prolinguistica, a company I developed in the early l990s with a colleague who has since retired. Prolinguistica provides teacher training in Total Physical Response (TPR), a very effective method of teaching language (and other subjects) and comprehension-based teaching strategies in general. By comprehension-based, I mean, teaching that focuses on understanding, as a primary requirement for learning to take place. (That may seem obvious to you, but not all instruction is designed from the comprehension perspective.)

Over the years, Prolinguistica has provided and continues to provide schools, districts, universities, and tribal organizations training on site, as well as offering internationally attended week-long workshops in TPR. Much of that training I provide, but I also work with a group of outstanding and exciting educators, from whom I've learned a great deal over the years.
This year, Prolinguistica is piloting a new format, the mini-workshop. We've designed ten short courses for teachers and parents. They will be of interest to public or private school teachers, and home-schooling parents looking for energizing ideas, but also to parents who simply want to know more about learning and teaching, to enhance their activities with their kids. The mini-workshops will be held in Mount Vernon, at PDCC (which is also the office of Prolinguistica). Here's a list of offerings for this spring followed by some registration information. I hope some of you who live within driving distance will sign up for a class or two!

Creativity – What is it? and Where can I Get Some?!
Dates: Wednesday, March 23, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, March 26, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Who’s creative? What’s creativity, really? Does it have anything to do with learning the times tables or is it just about music and art? We’ll put the concept under a magnifying glass, and consider how we can encourage children (and adults!) to power up their creative engines for learning anything and everything! (This is a more in depth look at the topic of my public talk on creativity in January.)

A Place to Learn
Dates: Wednesday, March 30, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, April 2, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
We don’t want learning to be a “drag” – we want students of all ages to develop a love of learning. What kind of environment in the home or classroom is most likely to create that love? It’s not as simple – or as complicated - as you might think. Join us to examine the characteristics of an optimal learning environment.

Could it be dyslexia?
Dates: Wednesday, April 6, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, April 6, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Learn what’s really going on in the brain of these often brilliant learners, what to look for, and some simple ways to shape an environment at home or in the classroom that builds on their many strengths and frees them to become all they imagine.

Studying better, not harder
Dates: Wednesday, April 13, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, April 16, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Things getting a little strained around the subject of homework? Come learn some strategies for studying and learning that will cut down on time, effort, and conflict – and show the student at your house, you really aren’t the enemy after all!

Cheap -- but educational -- thrills
Dates: Wednesday, April 20, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, April 23, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Don’t you just love tricking students into learning? Prepare to have fun. This class is all about learning games - games you don’t have to buy or download but can make for next to nothing. Or better yet, your kids can make and then play them – and hardly notice they’re actually learning something…teehee!

Drawing out Learning
Dates: Wednesday, April 27, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, April 30, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Drawing is a great way to engage the whole brain in learning – and you don’t have to be able to “draw a straight line” to get your kids to use this strategy to learn! Artistic talent not a requirement, just come ready to enjoy yourself and discover the many ways to use this simple, but effective strategy.

Raising a Reader
Dates: Wednesday, May 4, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, May 7, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
We’ve been fighting about how to teach reading for over a century, but there IS a lot of intriguing research out there that offers better strategies than most of us use – a lot of which we never hear about. You will in this class! And for when we’ve got them eager to read, let’s look at some really great books. (We'll have a guest instructor for this one, to show us those really great books!)

Writing Projects Kids Go For
Dates: Wednesday, May 11, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, May 14, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Kids not motivated to write? Let’s create some writing activities they’ll ask for! And while we’re at it, let’s figure out how to make grading them a breeze, too!

What Can I Leave for My Sub?
Dates: Wednesday, May 18, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, May 21, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
This one’s especially for teachers! How to quickly produce and maintain a collection of assignments and activities for when some "bug" has you flat on your back! Not just busywork, but assignments your students can enjoy, complete and learn from, with minimal direction from a substitute.

Pick a language and teach it- with TPR!
Dates: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 • 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Saturday, May 28, 2005 • 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Want to give your child an introduction to another language? You don’t have to be fluent – learn how to teach another language the way that’s as much fun and as effective for you, as it is for your kids! TPR – the fast and fun way to teach and learn using your body and a few props around the house or classroom!

You'll find more information on the content and learning outcomes at the Prolinguistica website: Cost per person is just $39.95 per workshop. Class size is limited to 12 participants, a good size for comfortably sharing ideas and asking questions. You can choose from a weekday evening class or a Saturday morning. And, if you're a certificated teacher you can even receive three Washington clock hours from The Heritage Institute ( for each workshop you attend.

There is additional information about the mini-workshops and clock hours, registration instructions, and a downloadable registration form at:

Please share this information with friends and colleagues, with anyone you think might be interested in attending. And feel free to give me a call or send me an email if you have questions about any of the workshops.

Support Group Meeting
This month's Support Group meeting is cancelled. I apologize for the inconvenience. In April we'll get back on track.

Clay Clinic
Our next clay night will be March 10. We'll begin at 5:30 pm with PIZZA! and conversation.  After the really important part - eating - we'll work on words from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. Please call (360-848-9792) or email ( to let me know you plan to attend -- so I can be sure we have enough pizza on hand! Cost: $15/client.

Good Stuff to Read

Report reveals sound method of learning
Polly Curtis, education correspondent
Friday February 11, 2005
Eleven-year-olds who have been taught to read and write by learning to recognise the sounds of words are up to three years ahead of other pupils, a major study of Scottish children showed today. Every primary school in Clackmannanshire - 19 in total - adopted the "synthesised phonic" style of teaching, which teaches children to recognise the different components within a word so they learn to blend the word from the beginning. By the end of the seven-year study, conducted by St Andrews and Hull universities, the 11 and 12-year-olds were reading at the rate of 15-year-olds and spelling as if they were 13 or 14. The findings, presented to the Scottish executive, suggest that schools should take up the technique, which involves pupils spending 20 minutes a day learning letter sounds and building up a recognition of words, which helps them apply their knowledge to completely new words.
Read more about it at:,11146,1410889,00.html (Long URL alert! You may have to cut and paste this URL into the address line in your browser.)

I find this very interesting, but I'm not ready to jump on another reading war-wagon. The intensive, systematic phonics often used in direct instruction in reading in the U.S. has yet to prove its value. This sounds like an improvement - and frankly, 20 minutes a day is a lot easier to stomach than the hours of phonics training some children are forced to endure here. Some interesting things are happening in education in Scotland - for instance, they appear to be making a systematic and system-wide effort to increase the amount of intentional teaching for creativity in their schools. I'll be interested to see how much play synthetic phonics gets in the U.S., where the textbook companies have such a strong investment in intensive phonics - and quite a strong hold on reading instruction.

Here's one to watch...
High Court to Hear Md. Special-Ed Case
Schools Must Prove Adherence to Disabilities Law, Couple's Suit Asserts

By Tim Craig and Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writers
The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear the case of a Montgomery County couple who contend that school officials, if challenged, must prove they are meeting their legal obligations to special education students. The justices will try to decide whether lower courts should place the burden of proof on schools or the plaintiff -- presumably the parents -- when a party sues under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law requires that public schools grant every disabled child a "free appropriate special education" tailored to the child's specific needs. The case, which has taken a tortuous, seven-year path through the educational and legal systems, could have a major impact on millions of parents and their children with special needs.
Read the rest at:
The case involves a child with ADHD whose parents placed him in a private school because they felt the Special Education program offered him in the public system was inadequate. They want reimbursement for the cost of the private school tuition, which of course, the public schools have declined to pay, because they did offer him a program - just not one the parents were satisfied with, and because ordinarily the burden of proof of inadequacy of the program would fall on the plaintiffs, the parents. Aha. With endearing legalistic understatement, the parents' attorney says "We believe the implications are very large." No kidding. In some places a couple of cases like this one could break a school district's financial back. While the justices are at it, perhaps they should revisit the issue of how Special Ed has been funded -- or, ahem, not been funded, over the years...

Revenge of the Right Brain
Logical and precise, left-brain thinking gave us the Information Age.
Now comes the Conceptual Age - ruled by artistry, empathy, and emotion.

By Daniel H. Pink
When I was a kid ... parents dished out a familiar plate of advice to their children: Get good grades, go to college, and pursue a profession that offers a decent standard of living and perhaps a dollop of prestige. ... What distinguished members of this group and enabled them to reap society's greatest rewards, was their "ability to acquire and to apply theoretical and analytic knowledge." ... But a funny thing happened while we were pressing our noses to the grindstone: The world changed. The future no longer belongs to people who can reason with computer-like logic, speed, and precision. It belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind. Today - amid the uncertainties of an economy that has gone from boom to bust to blah - there's a metaphor that explains what's going on. And it's right inside our heads. Scientists have long known that a neurological Mason-Dixon line cleaves our brains into two regions ... The left hemisphere handles sequence, literalness, and analysis. The right hemisphere, meanwhile, takes care of context, emotional expression, and synthesis. ... Want to get ahead today? Forget what your parents told you. Instead, do something foreigners can't do cheaper. Something computers can't do faster. And something that fills one of the nonmaterial, transcendent desires of an abundant age. In other words, go right, young man and woman, go right.
Read the rest of this fascinating article at:

Why Stevie Can't Spell
After more than three decades of mangling words,
a mortified writer sets out to get some answers

By Steve Hendrix
February 20, 2005
On a chilly December morning, I joined the ranks of little kids filing into Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park. They waddled under oversize backpacks and tugged Dora the Explorer rollaboard book bags through the double doors. I carried a black briefcase. We were all a few minutes late, and we all stopped like statues in the hallway for the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, first in English, then in Spanish. Then the kids melted into their classrooms, and I went into an office near the second-floor water fountains for my first spelling test since Donald Rumsfeld was the secretary of defense . . . under Gerald Ford. I didn't do very well. Melissa Salvesen, Rolling Terrace's reading specialist, quizzed me on a list of 27 words I chronically misspell. I had e-mailed the list to her myself. Even knowing what to expect, I botched 13 of them on a test featuring such grade-school softballs as elephant, piece, refrigerator, forest, towel, jewelry and trailer. "Okay," she said, nodding her head slowly as she scanned the wreckage on my notebook paper. "You really can't spell." That I knew. What I wanted to find out was why.
Find out why at:
(Hint: It starts with "d"...)

File under "Divergent Thinker"...
Origami as the Shape of Things to Come

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - "Some people don't even think this exists," says Dr. Erik Demaine, turning in his hands an elaborately folded paper structure. The intricately pleated sail-like form swooshes gracefully in a compound curve and certainly looks real enough - if decidedly tricky to make. Dr. Demaine, an assistant professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading theoretician in the emerging field of origami mathematics, the formal study of what can be done with a folded sheet of paper. ... Origami may seem an unusual route to a prestigious university job, but most things about Dr. Demaine defy academic norms.
Just in case your child has unusual interests and you wonder where he's coming from, where he's going, and what will become of him, read the rest here:
(Another cut and paste candidate - very long URL! Plus, NYTimes may ask you to register in order to read this article - but it's free!)

I referenced this in the October issue of SM, but the article wasn’t out yet on line. Now it is, so here it is:
A Nation of Wimps
By: Hara Estroff Marano
Summary: Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they're breaking down in record numbers.
Read it at:

For Your Consideration...
The British Department for Skills and Education has a web page that describes the Davis approach to dyslexia. It's articulate and accurate and includes two case studies, and interviews with the clients and their facilitators.

On TPR Foreign Language Instruction

Because I'm a former language teacher and consultant in TPR and language instruction in general, I'm asked with some regularity about appropriate foreign language instruction for students with a dyslexic learning or thinking style. I'm quick to recommend finding a school or program that includes - or even better - relies on TPR, Total Physical Response, as its principal instructional strategy. I taught in a TPR program for a number of years, in a school where all students (and I do mean ALL) were required to take a foreign language. In order to make what has traditionally been considered an elective class, a required one, you need to ensure that your instruction is accessible to all students. TPR is.

I didn't originally adopt TPR as a major component of my instructional bag of tricks with dyslexic students in mind. I adopted it with ALL students in mind. Americans are famous for not learning other languages and for believing, not so much that they shouldn't have to, but that they are not capable. For language teachers, this accepted presumption of incapacity is a huge hurdle, because it keeps many children and adults from even dipping a toe into the language pool! TPR was and is a wonderful way to turn that presumption on its head and show the learner that, not only can we learn, but under the right circumstances, it's fun!

The research base for TPR dates back to the l960s, and experiments performed with epileptic volunteers whose right and left brain hemispheres were surgically severed. (The idea was that epileptic seizures began on one side of the brain and migrated to the other, so if they could isolate the event to one side of the brain, the seizures might be less extreme.) After their surgery the volunteers underwent a large number of tests, that began to reveal the different functions of the right and left hemispheres. Among the researchers was a psychologist, Dr. James J. Asher, who began to investigate some interesting relationships between language and movement. His work led him to formulate the theory known today as Total Physical Response, or TPR. Here's the basic idea.

When we are infants our exposure to language is virtually inseparable from physical activities. People talk to us while tickling us, feeding us, changing our diapers... We are immersed in a language we don't speak, in an environment that we explore with every part of our body. Our parents and caregivers literally walk and talk us through activities - for example, we learn lots of vocabulary while someone stands behind us at the bathroom sink, soaping our hands until they're slippery, holding them under warm water, rubbing or scrubbing, all the while talking about what we're doing and what it feels like. In this way, movement and feeling are intimately tied to the process of internalizing the language.

In the 40 or so years since Dr. Asher began experimenting with foreign language students, TPR has been shown over and over again, to be an effective and very natural way to approach language teaching and learning. All students, adults and children, with or without the dyslexic learning style, thrive in a language class that includes TPR. Classes are active - you are not in your seat all period. The focus for the first weeks is on listening and moving in response to what the teacher says. There is heavy emphasis on listening comprehension, because the larger your listening comprehension vocabulary is, the larger your speaking vocabulary will become. The environment is one in which things happen and are talked about. It is also an environment which is purposely kept very free of stress, because we know that language is not acquired under stressful circumstances. Lots of language is learned in happy circumstances, especially while you're having fun.

In most traditional foreign language classes, the underlying organization of the course is a progression through the grammar and syntax rules of the language, from simple to complex. In a TPR class, grammar and syntax are not taught directly. Rather, the teacher designs activities that expose the student to language in context, especially in the context of some kind of movement. With enough exposure, the grammar and syntax of any language will be internalized by the students through synthesis, not analysis.

Typically, the initial TPR lessons are commands involving the whole body - stand up, sit down, turn around, walk, stop. Those actions are demonstrated by the teacher, who then invites students to participate with her as she continues to say the words. Fairly soon, the teacher quietly stops demonstrating, and the students realize that they somehow just know what to do in response to the words. There is no translation. There is no such thing as cheating - you're encouraged to look at what others are doing if you're not sure what to do. You're also encouraged to trust your body, because sometimes it knows what to do before your brain does! As class proceeds, nouns, adverbs, prepositions are added until before you know it, students are performing commands like, 'Stand up, walk to the door, open it, stick your tongue out, close the door, turn around, hop to Jessica's desk, kiss your right knee four times, and lie down on Jessica's desk." In fairly short order, students begin to create their own commands and order one another around the room. There's a lot of laughter, and a lot of learning taking place. It's not always and forever commands. An expert TPR teacher can teach the indicative, all tenses, idiomatic expressions - everything covered in a traditional class, using these techniques and others that dovetail nicely with them. It's just that the instruction is designed to facilitate language acquisition, not learning a language through analysis, memorization and application of rules.

There are two points I'd like to make about TPR before closing. The first is that in a TPR classroom, the focus is not on analysis of linguistic structures, but on internalizing those structures for unconscious use. Traditional foreign language instruction starts with the assumption that we can learn to understand, speak, read and write by analyzing the grammar and syntax of the target language. But consider your native language: you did not need to learn the grammar and syntax of your native language in order to learn to speak it. You learned those structures, unconsciously as you learned to speak. Likewise, we do not consciously use grammar or syntax in understanding, speaking or reading - grammar and syntax are both structures that we study AFTER we have become fluent speakers of our native language. We are more likely to make conscious use of this information to write or in situations where we must speak in a formal register, but day to day, for most of us, the grammar we have internalized is just that, an internalized framework that we do not access consciously in order to communicate. When we use TPR strategies to teach, our goal is truly to be able to understand, speak, read and write the language, not "about" the language. So analysis of language, learning terminology and all the many rules of a language form little or no part of a TPR-based curriculum. To my mind, that is as it should be. Those individuals who have a strong desire to know the language of grammarians, the rules and exceptions, can always find a class to satisfy that urge.

The other point I'd like to make is that TPR instruction is highly creative, for both the teacher and the students. And in this sense it bears a relationship to parts of what we do in a Davis program. The teacher must overcome her training in the structure of the language and design activities that the learning brain perceives as real and interesting. Within these real experiences, students are free to generate all kinds of expressions using the language they're studying, and to lead instruction in unique directions. Often students don't realize how much they are learning while they are engaged in a TPR activity. They think they're just having fun creating all kinds of new utterances and situations in the active environment in the room. I think this creativity, the synthetic rather than analytic experience, the low stress, and generally accepting environment engineered by the teacher, are a large part of the reason so many students, including students with learning challenges, find TPR classes so effective and enjoyable. There are few other places in most school curriculums where the students themselves get to generate the speech and adapt the activities in the classroom to support their own needs and goals.

Next time, a little more on TPR and the needs of students with a dyslexic learning style.
Have a wonderful month!

Next Issue of Singular Minds: April 1, 2005 (approximately...)

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