Here's a group shot of our camp counselors during lifeguard training, which began June 5th and continues with general camp training right up until the last minute, when the campers arrive on June 15th. From near and far, we're overjoyed to have a stellar team this summer and can't wait to kick things off!
We took a few minutes to ask Susie about "summer slide" and any tips she might have for our readers--be you fans and supporters from afar, grandparents checking on your child at camp, or one of our many local followers dedicated to providing well-rounded educational experiences for your children. Here's a quick note from our co-director:
Summer is a season when children can spend more time playing, learning their own limitations, and problem solving in areas they feel drawn to. Society doesn’t allow much time for imagining anymore, but that is an important skill and we need to encourage our kids to dream. We also need to provide opportunities for our kids to develop critical thinking. At Camp Spring Creek, we want to keep our childrens' academic skills from sliding during the summer, but we value our outdoor time as much as our tutoring time.
For those reading our blog from afar, if your child has a natural interest in something, summer is perfect for devoting time to developing that interest. Be it cooking, hiking, building, or dancing—whatever their passion, there’s always a way to incorporate basic educational skills and keep it fun. This interest need not be an expensive hobby or something that requires high-tech equipment. Whatever they choose, we need to encourage our kids to dream and then reach for those dreams.
At the end of every school year, I take our children to a bookstore and let them pick a book that interests them for summer reading. If you can’t afford to buy a book, go to your local library and borrow a book. Most libraries have books on CD, which you can listen to while you’re taking a trip in the car or while you are sitting by a brook in the shade.
During the early years (and also in adult life), is important to build meaningful relationships and reflect on those relationships. We have always encouraged our children to write to family and friends during summertime and, often, they get mail in return. If a friend has moved away or a grandparent or other relative lives far away, this is a wonderful way to stay connected while also getting writing practice. Journaling is a private way to keep writing active and kids can get very creative with their journals, pasting in items and photos from different activities they have enjoyed.
In short, our golden rule: Get outside, play with friends, learn a new skill, dream, and write to your grandparents; like summer, they won’t be around forever.
Today’s interview is with inspiring individual Rob Langston. Rob is a graduate of the University of West Georgia despite being functionally illiterate. He is a published author even though he toils to accomplish what many of us do with ease—read and write. He has conducted assemblies for more than 500,000 children in the United States, traveling 100,000 miles annually to present his powerful message. Rob is the author of For the Children: Redefining Success in School and Success in Life and The Power of Dyslexic Thinking. Since 1996, Rob has been a resource consultant to Vistage, an international organization of over fourteen thousand CEOs (many of whom also have dyslexia). Camp Spring Creek: For those of us who aren’t CEOs or likely to run into one of your professional development sessions, can you briefly tell us about the steps you used to overcome your personal battle with dyslexia?
Rob Langston: Anything smarter, faster, stronger, or that can overcome obstacles is what CEO’s want. That’s what the dyslexic mind wants, too. Being dyslexic, the majority of my problems had to do with getting through school in classrooms. I looked back and realized I was going through the same 5 steps every time and I turned those steps into a three-hour program. By the end of the program, people can help themselves think like a dyslexic, if they don’t already. A high percentage of CEO’s come up to me after each program and tell me they are also dyslexic or ADHD. It’s always refreshing to have something that had been a negative thing in school turn into a really positive thing in life.
The five steps are: First, set a goal and write it down. Second, get educated on your goal (what it will take to accomplish it). The third step is what really sets this program apart, because it has to do with how to set up reinforcement for the motivation for each goal. For example, your ringtone can be an affirmation or your screen saver can be a typed message of your goal, etc. Once you set that up, the fourth step is focus. You can see the path and get what you want when no one else does. Another name for that is leadership. The fifth step is the action initiative. We take action and get started.
CSC: How do you learn best?
RL: I’m an auditory/visual learner. Because I read so poorly, every member of my family read to me when it came time to study. I could listen and absorb for longer than they could stand to read. Today, I devour audio books. Sometimes I’ll listen to the same audio book two or three times until I’m learning at full capacity and taking it into my life as something that will impact me. The repetition of listening is a very strong learning tool for me and I think it works for many others. As far as visual learning, I observe and watch everything until I feel I have visual mastery of what I want to accomplish—whether watching sports or a social situation, etc. When I am ready, I join in and I usually find great success. Today, I use many YouTube videos for everything from work-related issues to learning how to build a chair. I repeat the watching until I have visual mastery and then I’ll go do it. My main weakness is that if you hand me a manual and say, “Read this, then do it,” that’s challenging for me.
CSC: You have spoken to hundreds of thousands of youth across the country. What commonalities amongst these children and young adults do you encounter? Is there one question they all seem to ask? A set of shared concerns or misunderstandings that they have in common?
RL: My observation is that kids are kids are kids. I have spoken in schools in Harlem that hadn’t had school assemblies in 15 years because they went so poorly and we’ve had great success. I’ve also spoken in private schools in San Francisco and had success. Dyslexia is not a place or race thing; it’s a brain thing. If you talk to kids about what they’re interested in, you’ll have them. I tell them about what it was like emotionally to hide, lie, and cheat in first grade and they can relate to that.
As far as the kids asking me something, for most of them it is more about feeling so relieved that someone is talking about this struggle out loud and in a positive light. The most common thing I get is when a kid will raise his/her hand and say, “I’m dyslexic too,” in front of all their peers. I always congratulate them. That’s a powerful event for them. Finally, they don’t feel alone and are held in a positive light. This also helps the unidentified dyslexics start thinking about things and getting help or being fearless and accepted. I also talk to teachers because they’re the first line of defense.
CSC: You published your first book, For the Children, using the author name “Rob Langston, LD.”We assume the “LD” stands for learning difference, and enjoy that you included it in your title where most people include a list of their educational degrees. Can you tell us a little more about this decision and what it says about your approach to life and work?
RL: That’s part of taking ownership of who you are. Having dyslexia is a part of who I am, no matter what. My struggles with reading make me who I am. My empathy with other people who struggle with any types of challenges is part of who I am, too. The strengths that come from the way my mind works in business and life are a part of me, too. When I first got out of college and started making money, I went out and bought a shiny, red, turbo sportscar and got a specialized tag. I had the tag say: ABLE LD. I’m a learning abled person with a difference. My son has dyslexia and I want him to see the benefits to the way his brain works, too. He had early intervention and is in 3rd grade and reading at a 3rd grade level, so he has a better jump on life than I had. His creative mind is still there, too, and I’m so glad for that. Everyday, I see him using his dysxleic mind right alongside his reading mind.
CSC: You’ve blogged for Psychology Today about being a “techno dyslexic” and, specifically, how your GPS unit saves you throughout your travels. Are there any other tools you “can’t live without,” technological or otherwise? If so, what are they and how have they become so important in your life?
RL: Today, we have voice recognition technology. You pick up any iPhone or Android phone and the little microphone is right there to press and tell what to do. It’s a more efficient way of working. I can also dictate into my phone while I’m driving and I’ve done that for entire books that I’ve written. Just recently, I started using the calendar function on Macs a lot. Dyslexics can be disorganized at times, to say the least. I switched everything over to Mac and iCloud and everything syncs no matter what device I have with me at the time. My son is involved in project-based learning in school and he’s used the iPad for that twice now. It’s really nice because there are so many apps that can help him with spelling and writing.
YouTube is also a huge technological resource. I do lots of editing and I utilize that as a technology advantage everyday because it like the audio/visual way of taking in information as well. There’s a lot of other help out there, but it’s text-based. Now that I’m all Mac-based, I find myself using the text-to-voice reader a lot and that helps utilize those text-based sites. Social/visual media is also so accessible. What I do at dyslexia.com couldn’t have been done 3 years ago because the broadband wasn’t available. Now, we broadcast in 34 countries. I’m proud of reaching 500,000 kids live in the school system, but, online, things are unlimited and available on every SmartBoard for every teacher that wants it.
We're delighted to announce that this summer we're offering 5 scholarships to campers through our partnership with OpenDoors of Asheville. The 5 campers will have 4 weeks as boarding campers, fully funded. These scholarships will go to children living in multi-generational poverty as a joint effort between Camp Spring Creek and OpenDoors to make positive, life-altering learning experiences accessible to children of any economic means in Western North Carolina. Last year's scholarship recipients from this partnership had moving things to say after their camp experiences. You can read excerpts from their letters here. We were also able to offer 2 scholarships at 50% to local children and are aspiring to raise another $7700 to support one more scholarship to give a local child 4 weeks of boarding at camp.
If you missed our demographic breakdown by age, gender, and location for this summer season, you can check out who comes to Camp Spring Creek. Suffice it to say, we have a waiting list for the first time in 10 years and we're taking names for early registration for 2015 right now! Please be in touch if you have questions, would like to be considered for a scholarship, or feel inspired to donate money to help us bring one more local child to camp this season!
When Geraldine Ellis was passed the basketball during the final seconds of a game at Mitchell County’s then Bowman High School, she could fire off the winning shot. Not too many years later, when hired as an assistant for a local dentist’s office, she could remember patient names and faces with uncanny precision. Despite never earning her college degree, Ellis would go on to work in banking and customer relations for over twenty years, become Director of Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce, and eventually retire as Executive Director of United Way of Mitchell County in late 2013. But for all the things Ellis proved she could do, what she couldn’t do was easily spell or quickly comprehend large blocks of text.
“Connecting with people comes naturally to me…but if you hand me a folder and say, ‘There’s something interesting in here. Take a look at it and we’ll discuss it tomorrow,’ you can bet I’m not going to read it,” says Ellis, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in the early ‘70’s. Today, Ellis is speaking out in the community she dedicated her career to, with the hope that other children and adults who struggle with learning differences will have their needs met.
One in five children in the United States has dyslexia, along with more than 40 million adults, although very few are diagnosed during their education years, if ever. Parents and teachers are in the best position to notice early signs of dyslexia or other learning differences. In an atmosphere of support that is rich with resources and options, this potentially devastating setback can in fact be revealed as an exceptional gift.
Fourteen public school teachers in Yancey County and fifteen from Mitchell County have received Orton-Gillingham Associate Level certification. Five teachers from Mitchell have continued their training and mentorship, incorporating the strategies they have learned into their everyday teaching. Two feel so strongly about this training that they now present how to use these strategies in statewide teaching conferences sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction and Exceptional Children’s conference. This training and tutoring methodology uses a diagnostic and prescriptive, multi-sensory approach to teach the structure of language to children of all ages, abilities, and learning styles. “My great regret is that I did not go on to college,” says Ellis, who did not receive special assistance or tutoring of any kind during her education years. “I think the dyslexia held me back. I didn’t know my options at the time.” Although Orton-Gillingham, or OG as it is commonly called, provided successful remediation for children with dyslexia as early as the 1950s it is still a distant possibility in many education systems today.
“I remember one day working at the dentist’s office when my good friend Jane Brown brought her boys, Billy and Jerry, in for an appointment. She happened to be in the room when a supply salesman came in. The doctor told me to write a list down and place a supply order from that list. He said we needed ‘blue periphery wax,’” recalls Ellis. “I wrote ‘periphery’ and then I got stuck. I could not get the word ‘blue’ onto the page because of the ‘b.’ I asked, ‘What does blue start with?’ and they all looked at me. At that point, Jane asked me if I’d mind taking a few quick tests…come to find out, I had dyslexia.”
Dyslexia is a diagnosable learning difference under the umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities Act, guaranteeing equal access education through the public school system. “Dyslexia doesn’t necessarily mean you read backwards, as people often think,” says Susie van der Vorst, Co-Director of Camp Spring Creek and its Outreach Center and one of only 145 OG Fellows in the United States with almost 30 years experience.“People with dyslexia have difficulty processing language but they are often very gifted in analytical reasoning and creativity,” she explains, “which is why a high percentage of people with dyslexia become corporate CEO’s, engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, surgeons, and architects.”
Or community activists. Although Ellis is too humble to call herself as much, it’s difficult to take a look back at her career without noticing her gifted ability at viewing the big picture. While one common indicator of dyslexia is struggling with minute details or seemingly unconnected pieces of information, one strength of many dyslexics is their talent for thinking outside the box. When serving as Director of Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce, Ellis pinpointed a major local misconception that could potentially hinder growth and development. “It saddened me to hear local people—and I’m one of them—say, ‘Tourism doesn’t mean anything to us.’ In fact, the number of people our local craft artists attract is a huge part of Mitchell County tourism. We do have another industry besides mining and it’s been here all along, too. We can make both work for us and become aware of our unique offerings,” says Ellis.
Ellis applied this same creative thinking to get through challenging situations in school or, later in her professional life, business conferences and classes for professional development. “I’m a very visual person so I try to visualize success. It’s not helpful to look at some things as a negative; we need to look for the positive. I had to stop taking notes in class even though I was scolded for not paying attention. But I knew what I needed to do for myself in order to succeed and if I took notes, I got confused while trying to listen at the same time. I learned to rise above the confusion and I learned to worry about the resources that I had, instead of the ones I didn’t.” Furthermore, in her work for United Way, Ellis focused on “the big pool of people falling through the cracks.” She knew the support that local government and other organizations provided, but because of her longtime commitment to Mitchell County and her sense of vision, she also understood that huge numbers of people were being overlooked and were still in need. “At United Way the theme was ‘Taking care of our own,’ and I could really get behind that,” says Ellis.
Several months into retirement, Ellis says she is enjoying Bible Study and getting back to her walking routine. When asked what advice she has for those entering retirement themselves, she says, “Enjoy it!” When asked the key to a successful marriage, she advises: “The year that’s critical in your marriage is the year you’re in!” She and her husband, Kenneth, will celebrate 50 years of marriage this June.
Children who spend summer vacation with hours of unstructured activity per day might be gaining independence and exploring their imaginations, but they will also lose math, reading, and spelling skills as a result of “summer slide.” Many families are unaware that a few simple steps can integrate learning into their children’s daily lives, picking up where traditional teaching methods fail without sacrificing those wonderful “daydreaming hours” associated with summertime. One in five school-aged children has dyslexia, yet less than 1/3 of these students receives school services guaranteed to them by law for their reading disability. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the high school dropout rate for students with dyslexia or related learning disabilities is more than twice the national average for students who don’t have a learning disability. During the summer months, most students lose two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation, and low-income youths lose an additional two months in reading achievement. For children with dyslexia, the numbers are even worse.
“Residential summer camps allow children to boost their self-confidence as they overcome homesickness. They spend time developing their interests and they can also focus on reading and writing while having fun,” says Susie van der Vorst, co-founder of Camp Spring Creek and one of only 145 actively training Orton-Gillingham Fellows in the United States.
van der Vorst recommends involving children in family plans, such as doing math to budget for the grocery store, organizing driving routes using maps for a family trip, or starting a family book club using self-selected material that everyone can enjoy. Citing nearly thirty years experience as an educational advocate for children with dyslexia and related learning differences, van der Vorst concludes that the most dynamic summer learning experiences for children happen in supportive social, outdoor, educational environments outside the home.
Camp Spring Creek’s day or boarding program offers the following opportunities to address summer slide and help create positive learning habits for children, so they become more dynamic, confident, curious learners:
- 1:1 Orton-Gillingham language tutorials using a proven diagnostic and prescriptive multi-sensory approach that teaches the structure of language.
- An hour of supervised oral reading at the camper’s independent reading level.
- Daily activities including art projects, swimming, wood shop, waterskiing, and outdoor education to encourage exploration and creative expression.
- Socialization with peers of different nationalities and socio-economic status through shared living spaces, teamwork opportunities, and memorable experiences such as campfire or singing.
- Math enrichment and math remediation as per the needs of each camper.
“We often see students make two to three years worth of progress during a six to eight week session at camp,” adds van der Vorst. “Our approach is designed to target a child’s individual strengths and weaknesses and help them excel, but we also recognize the value of keeping kids active throughout the day. Most campers grow as much in terms of ‘measurable’ skills as they do in self-confidence, communication skills, and their ability to take learning into their own hands.”
Camp Spring Creek is fully enrolled for the 2014 season, but welcomes names for its waiting list (you never know!) and early interest for 2015.
Today’s interview is with inspiring individual Wendy Welshans. Wendy has been a teacher at the Forman School for students with dyslexia and learning differences for 22 years. She is the director of the Outdoor Leadership Program and the Rain Forest Project. She teaches biology, anatomy and physiology, and the Tropical Ecology Seminar. Wendy is head of the Forman Boat Works, Forman's own wooden boat building program. She coaches the whitewater slalom team and leads weekend backpacking trips. The highlight of many students’ experience is the scientific research expedition to Costa Rica that Wendy leads each year. Wendy is also a Registered Maine Guide and a Wilderness First Responder. She and her daughter, Jorie, live in an alternative energy home in Sharon with their dog, Max, and 18 chickens.
Camp Spring Creek: From what I understand, The Rainforest Project that you founded at Forman School is open to students from area Connecticut public high schools as well as Forman School students. How do you find this blending aspect of the program and in what ways do the students surprise themselves when they work with others of different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses?
Wendy Welshans: That’s an interesting question. Many times it is the public school kids who learn and change attitudes—they have a completely different view of learning differences than is the reality. Many times you hear them say things like, “You guys are so smart” or “You’re so creative” or “How did you come up with that idea?” For our Forman students with learning differences, sometimes they feel inadequate initially, then after they get to know the public school kids they see how they themselves shine and how everyone’s strengths help the team.
CSC: At the end of the day, when all the testing, measuring, tagging, sorting, and hypothesizing are done, even the most gifted, fortunate, or enthusiastic science student needs to be able to articulate his or her findings in writing so that others can understand. Likewise, truly innovative research offers something new, implying that students must be well-read in their particular area of research in order to come up with a new finding. Do you encounter resistance to in-depth reading and writing from your students and, if so, how do you approach this?
WW: Good question. Because the students pick one of our 4 or 5 research projects to focus on, there is a sense of ownership from the beginning. It also helps that, for the most part each year’s Rainforest Project team is chosen by the previous team, as people that could take their research to the next level and start where they left off. Students on the team feel that sense of ownership and want to have that, too. We try and pair them in research teams where everyone has a certain affinity. Say Jon doesn’t like to write and Sam loves to write, but doesn’t like to read. They know that the key to scientific breakthroughs is knowing when you are witnessing one, and you can’t witness one if you don’t have background knowledge on your species.
CSC: Among many other accomplishments, The Rainforest Project and its working, learning, students and staff members have earned two patents. One is shown in Journey Into Dyslexia: the extraction method you use to extract spider silk from the Golden Orb Weaver for commercial use. How did you take your students through the patent process and, in particular for those students struggling with writing or reading, how did you find their experiences of these final steps?
WW: So…getting our patents on spider silk is quite a story unto itself. These webs are strong! In the mid 1990’s, we would play with these spiders after coming back to base camp from hiking to where we were collecting specimens. We would feed them in their webs and have contests between spiders on the speed it took them to capture their prey.
The more we read about the spider in the field, the more curious we became as to why the webs were so strong. We made funnel traps which were 4’ high to capture the insects drawn into the area of the web. This was to see if particular insects were giving the spiders the ability to produce strong silk. One day, a student of mine was holding one of these golden orb weavers and said, “Look!” As he let the spider fall, he spun a Coke bottle to collect the silk. It seemed to never run out of that silk. Since then, each year we would try and collect it in a more efficient manner. Because this method had not been tried in the field before, the patents were applied for as a protection for the people and the species not to be exploited. We obviously knew this could and will go somewhere.
The students and I wrote our scientific methodology for our extraction technique and a few years later another group of students and I wrote up the methodology of the spider farms. For the students, doing the illustrations or labeling the illustrations was just as much a gas as seeing our science paper turned into legalese!
The motivation for what is legit rivals most. Our kids want their creative juices to flow and for a reason. Seeing their names published or, better yet, hearing a professor ask their opinions on a subject they have immersed themselves in is quite a motivator. For some, it is the first expert advice they have ever given. The students like that feeling of knowing and understand that they have earned that knowing through their prior research. The hope is, they take that feeling, that success, to college with them and they immerse themselves into each class as they did studying spider silk at Forman. They have seen where immersion can go.
CSC: What was your own path of discovery like with dyslexia? How did you feel at first, where had you struggled most, and—following diagnosis—where did you find the most relief?
WW: I knew I was a little different from my friends, who walked through the academics like eating a bowl of cereal…effortless. I struggled with reading and writing and sitting in one place. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 12; after college, my testing showed dyslexia. My parents were very supportive and gave me a vast array of projects on our property. I have had a creative, scientific mind since the age of 3. My folks were so disappointed when I failed Biology and struggled with Ecology, which seemed to be what I had a propensity for. My teachers, though supportive at public school, had no faith in my ability to go to college, especially SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University. I attended Erie Community College and took every science course they had to offer. It was very hands-on and challenging. I received an Associate Degree in Applied Sciences and the Science Award at graduation and I matriculated to SUNY-ESF at Syracuse. I found college to be amazing because I was immersed in heavy science curriculum that was hands-on and rigorous.
Always, my relief or maybe my break from my LD has been building things, usually out of wood. Usually, I build something out of my head. When I was a child, it was small boats or game boards. Now, it is not much different. I teach wooden boatbuilding at Forman and am immersed in the Rainforest Project and in the species of that tropical forest just as I was as a child in our forest at home. I have always lost myself in the forest, exploring with a backpack of field guides.
Got 60 seconds? Use this Orton-Gillingham approach activity for a multi-sensory learning experience that improves sequencing!
Today's inspiring individual is John R. “Jack” Horner, an esteemed paleontologist who was once a senior technical advisor (and part character inspiration) for the Jurassic Park films. Jack's story of struggle and triumph is especially powerful, as he moved from undergrad drop-out to the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship. Jack was born and raised in Shelby, Montana and attended the University of Montana for seven years majoring in geology and zoology. Although never completing a formal degree, the University of Montana awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Science in 1986. Jack and his students excavate and study dinosaurs, particularly their growth and behavior. Jack has published more than 180 professional papers, 9 popular books, and more than 100 popular articles. Jack is Regent’s Professor of Paleontology in the Department of Earth Sciences, and Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. He is also a Senior Adjunct Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution. Jack lectures on dinosaurs, evolution and dyslexia. He lives in Bozeman. Camp Spring Creek: In addition to your accomplishments in paleontology, you’re also an author. Which aspects of writing come naturally to you and which do you find you have to make accommodations for? Many writers are often told to “write the kind of book you’d love to read yourself.” Several of your books are for children. What were reading and writing like for you as a young child?
Jack Horner: Reading is the hardest thing I do in my life, so with regard to reading, nothing comes easy and I have to make accommodations for every part of it. Writing is also difficult, but I learned two things early in my life that have helped a great deal. One was learning how to type. My mother was a typist and spent much time teaching me how to type, and I also spent a great deal of time learning how to make letters so that I could write well enough that I could read what I wrote, even though I read one letter at a time. As a child and young person, K – 12, I didn’t read much of anything, but I loved to look at the pictures in books and did my best to read the captions. I didn’t write much either, but always liked the idea of writing.
CSC: It’s long been accepted that one thing people with dyslexia naturally excel at is thinking outside of the box. In your field in particular, you have to manage so many eons of historical information, manage teams of people on a dig, organize your thoughts for academic research, as well as constantly push for the “next big thing.” Are there ways in which you’ve noticed your own abilities to “think outside the box” in your line of work? Please tell us about one or two by way of example.
JH: I have no idea what or where this box is or what it's like to be in it! Managing eons of data, together with numerous teams of people on digs, in labs, or any place else, and thinking and writing about new ideas that come from many different sources is what I do best. It only requires spatial thinking.
CSC: Speaking of thinking outside the box, what’s this we read about a genetically created dinosaur chicken? (We had to ask…)
JH: It’s a long story, but basically I have a team of geneticists working on retro-engineering a bird back to a dinosaur, or at least some of their characteristics by modifying genes that have been dormant for many generations.
CSC: You spent seven years studying as an undergrad and did not earn your bachelor’s degree. Years later, all of that was moot, but there must have been moments when you considered giving up or feared the worst. What would you share with a student in a similar position right now? What could you tell that eager, smart learner to help him or her stick with it?
JH: Giving up never entered my mind, but there was always the chance that my dreams would have to be modified, and for some period of time they were. My profession is also my hobby so there is no way it can be taken from me or that I could not do it. For a few years I worked for my father in his gravel business, and on the weekends or my time off, I worked on my hobby. I was always striving to get a job in paleontology, but I always knew the chances were slim. But, what was the worst that could happen? Work as I was, and do my hobby on my own time? Not so bad! When you have nothing to lose, even the smallest of accomplishment is success!
We'd like to bring our readers' attentions to a very inspiring, informative, enjoyable feature-length documentary, The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia. Chock-full of everything you'd expect from a dyslexia documentary, what makes this film stand out are the visual graphics, animations, and revealing backgrounds that help your average viewer see, if only for a moment, what the world might literally look like through the eyes of someone with dyslexia. The artwork alone is reason enough to watch this film, but the information and inspiring stories will likewise not soon be forgotten. According to the synopsis on their website, this film "provides personal and uplifting accounts of the dyslexic experience from children, experts and iconic leaders, such as Sir Richard Branson and financier Charles Schwab. Directed by James Redford, the film not only clears up the misconceptions about the condition, but also paints a picture of hope for all who struggle with it. Shining a spotlight on the latest scientific and psychological research, the film also highlights the work of Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, co-founders and co-directors of the Yale Center of Dyslexia and Creativity to illuminate the hidden origins and implications of dyslexia. Proving that dyslexia is a neurological issue and not a character flaw, The Big Picture beautifully illustrates that while the condition is an obstacle, it also carries some unique advantages, and ultimately can be overcome." Here's the trailer, and if you're local you can come by our office and borrow a copy, or order one online for your own collection:
Today we are pleased to publish this message from author, artist, teacher, and inspiring individual Jeanne Betancourt. Jeanne has been honored by the Kildonan School and also received the 2004 Life Achievement Award from the Hamilton School at Wheeler. Jeanne has taught in junior and senior high schools and was on the graduate faculty of the Media Studies Program at the New School for Social Research. She has served as a consultant, speaker, and workshop leader on adolescents, writing, and the media, and is a past president of New York Women in Film and Television. Her website offers a wealth of resources and we encourage you to check it out.
I took my first tap class when I was six-years-old, the same year I was supposed to learn to read and spell. I loved my Saturday morning classes in Miss Irene’s studio above a storefront in downtown Rutland, Vermont. When Miss Irene realized I was having trouble following her right foot/left foot directions, she put a red ribbon on my right tap shoe. I am convinced that my 12 years of tap classes as a kid and the tap classes I take today help me with my dyslexia. My feet learn what to do and which foot does what. While the beat goes on, my brain easily identifies right and left as I learn dance steps and routines.
People are often surprised to learn that I am dyslexic. They think that being dyslexic would prevent me from being a successful writer. I believe that being dyslexic has helped me as a writer.
Since learning to read and write was difficult for me growing up, I paid more attention to the world around me. I took clues to what people were thinking and feeling from their speech and body language. Today, as an author, it is easy for me to imagine what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. Being able to put yourself in another person’s place and understand how they feel is a key to being a good writer. I also have strong visual memories and can easily imagine the places I’ve been as I describe them for the reader. These skills are more important for me as a storyteller than the skills I don’t have because I am dyslexic—like being a good speller and a speedy reader.
The story I wrote in MY NAME IS BRAIN BRIAN follows Brian’s adventures, friendships, and family life before and after he learns that he is dyslexic. By the end of the story, he realizes that the mistake he made spelling his name on the board the first day of sixth grade is true. He is a Brain.
Anna, in a series I wrote called The Pony Pals, is also dyslexic. In every book, I remind my readers about that. Anna doesn’t like school as much as Pam and Lulu. When they write their ideas for solving Pony Pal Problems, Anna draws hers. Like many dyslexics, she has artistic talent. Anna’s dyslexia is a big part of the plot for two of the Pony Pal books, #2: A PONY FOR KEEPS and #38: PONIES ON PARADE.
I hope that my personal story and novels help dyslexics of all ages recognize their own strengths. And that the people in their lives—teachers, parents, friends—acknowledge that we all have individual learning styles. Here is my twist on the American proverb: “You can’t tell a book by its cover.” You can’t tell a child’s potential by how easily they learn to read.
Today’s interview is with inspiring individual Dr. William Keeney. Bill is the English Department Chair and has taught English at Delaware Valley Friends School for over a decade. Bill has a strong interest in educational research and pedagogy and was featured in the HBO documentary, Journey Into Dyslexia. He has published poetry, plays, and scholarly articles in American Literature, and presents on reading at national conferences such as the IDA. He was awarded the West Chester Public Library's Literacy Hero Award in 2007. Bill earned his B.A. at Columbia University and his M.A. and Ph.D. at Boston University, where he studied with Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. Camp Spring Creek: We were so moved by your classroom demeanor and educational philosophy in the HBO documentary, Journey Into Dyslexia. For our readers who have not seen the video, would you mind summarizing your points?
Bill Kenney: Not being able to read is not your fault. One in five people have trouble learning to read if they are not taught well. This is because of a specific part of your brain that is different from the “norm” but is NOT the same as a difference in intelligence. You can have superior intelligence and still not be able to read without effort. If you didn’t get taught well, that is the fault of the educational system that didn’t get you the help you need and deserve. (If you are at Camp Spring Creek, count your blessings because they will be able to teach you to read the right way.) Even if you were taught to read, reading still might be a struggle because of how your brain processes writing into oral language. Because our current society is so dependent on text, you do have to read well enough to get by. Fortunately, there are some pretty good technological aids that you can use that will help you get through, such as audio books (particularly Learning Ally, especially for schoolwork) and text-to-speech tools. However, even if reading remains a struggle for you, you can still live a productive, successful, and happy life using your other gifts and talents.
CSC: We understand that, despite stereotypes, many children with dyslexia come to love reading and stories. When teaching required texts in a mandatory education setting, we’re curious about what you see on “the front lines” and how you address that. As an English teacher at a school specializing in dynamic learning experiences for students with learning differences, some might think that you have “the hardest subject” to teach. What kinds of resistance do you face in the classroom and how do you work with that?
BK: The key to getting “buy-in” is hope. It begins by “de-mystifying” the problem by explaining its origin in scientific terms and re-assuring the students that reading and intelligence are two very different things, and the fact that they might be struggling to learn to read is not their fault. However, I also emphasize that learning to read is a very core skill, and that with effort and skilled instruction, they can learn to read better and with less effort. I am honest that it will take time and hard work, and that they may never become readers who “enjoy” reading, but they can become readers for whom the value of reading and what reading brings into their lives can be a reality. Finally, I provide audio (with variable speed playback so that they can listen along faster, if they can process it) so that they can have access to books that are at grade level even if their reading is not there yet.
CSC: As a lover of literature and writer yourself, can you tell us about a peak learning experience you had growing up—something that involved realizing how much you loved stories or how you discovered the power of literature? Feel free to share some of your favorite book titles with us from childhood to present day!
BK: I was blessed with the ability to read easily from a young age, so I began reading everything from a young age, so I don’t know if my story is going to resonate with people who struggle to read, but I am glad to share it. I remember the first time I “fell through a book.” I was sitting in an armchair and suddenly was just effortlessly reading. My memory is that the book was called Ab the Caveman, although I have looked for it since and have never been able to locate a copy. In my youth, I devoured comic books, sports stories, science fiction, horror, etc.
Then, in my senior year of high school, I read Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All the King’s Men. I remember thinking: This is a book that was not written for me, it is not about a world I know anything about, but it is absolutely compelling, rich, and insightful—this is what literature is all about. In college I began to enjoy poetry such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, WB Yeats, TS Eliot, and Wallace Stevens.
Some of the things I have read most recently that I love to recommend are: Paul Harding’s Tinkers, Annie Proulx’s short stories, and Charles Frazer’s Cold Mountain. However, I don’t think what I read is necessarily what someone decades younger than I should read! For young adults, I think The Hunger Games is the best of these kind of series, I always recommend To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye for high school students, and many students in my school love The Alchemist and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian.
But my final word would be: Find your own book recommenders. Read what your friends have read and liked. Read several books by the same author or in the same genre. Your teachers will probably introduce you to “classics” like The Great Gatsby, but on your own, explore. Read widely. It doesn’t matter nearly so much what you read as whether you read!
CSC: Camp Spring Creek feels strongly that the Orton-Gillingham approach can be beneficial to all types of learners, not just children with dyslexia or other learning differences. We also stand behind the belief that this approach can be integrated successfully into the public school and home learning environments, with proper training and information. For our parents or teachers with children at home, can you share a basic technique or skill that you teach in your English literature classroom? Perhaps something that could easily transfer into the home or public school learning environments such as a word game, a reading challenge, or some other exercise…whatever comes to mind.
BK: You are correct that good, systematic teaching is beneficial to everyone, particularly when it comes to the basic skill of reading. Research shows that there is only one pathway in the brain to efficient reading, and that everyone who learns to read builds those same neural networks—some just build them faster and with less effort, but the process is exactly the same. So, if we all teach all students in explicit, multi-sensory, structured and systematic ways, everyone will learn to read as quickly and as well as they possibly could! My motto is, this isn’t special education, it’s education by specialists—“It’s just good teaching.”
Since I teach in a high school and primarily with literature, I have two basic pieces of advice: If you still have difficulty reading, use audio as a support to help your speed, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension; and, for comprehension, re-read. This is what all readers do to improve their comprehension; it is just that “natural” or skilled readers can do this quickly and efficiently (as well as having the freed-up space in their minds to monitor their comprehension because the reading process has faded into automatic).
Check out this instructional video with clips from our most recent Classroom Educator Course. This includes sample Orton-Gillingham exercises teachers or parents can easily incorporate into their classrooms or home study plans:
Today’s interview features author and inspiring individual Amanda Kyle Williams. Amanda is the author of the The Stranger You Seek, Stranger In The Room and Don’t Talk To Strangers (July 1st). The Random House thriller series is set in Atlanta and features former FBI criminal analyst turned private investigator and police consultant, Keye Street. Williams was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 22 and read her first book at 23 years old. The journey from struggling to read to becoming a full time writer is one she now speaks about publicly in hopes her story will inspire others with learning differences. Camp Spring Creek: Many people hear the word “dyslexia” and the last thing they think is “accomplished writer.” How do you respond to this preconception? Are there tools or techniques you employ as a writer with dyslexia that you find especially assistive?
Amanda Kyle Williams: First of all, the perception that dyslexia is a disability creates more hurdles for a person with dyslexia than dyslexia itself. It’s a learning difference. That’s all. Apart from difficulties with the written word, we have learned that people with dyslexia are critical thinkers who think and perceive multi-dimensionally. Dyslexics have the gift of imagination, of intuition, of curiosity, and acute visual awareness and memory. Other writers sometimes ask me how I can write with dyslexia, and I always think; how can you write without it? Dyslexia isn’t a deal breaker. It comes with challenges, yes, but it comes with gifts as well. For me personally, dyslexia gave me a way of listening, of hearing, of finding the rhythm and music in the spoken word. Long before I had learned to read, I was a student of language, a mimic, a listener. This would serve me well as a writer of dialogue later in life. And when I was finally given the tools to learn to read, when I was told for the first time that it wasn’t intelligence I lacked, I began to discover literature and it was transformative. I had found that same music in books and words that I’d heard all my life.
Yes, I will always, always be a slow reader. Sometimes that means I’m a slow learner. But I’m a thorough one. And because I am so visual, I see my work in pictures as I write, in scenes—something else that serves me well. I want to be very clear. I wasn’t suffering from dyslexia before I was diagnosed. I was slamming into walls erected by a system that didn’t understand or accommodate for it. Dyslexia isn’t my burden. It’s my gift. All gifts come with responsibilities and challenges. What I want to say to everyone who has struggled to learn, struggled with the perception of others, watched their children struggle, is that the key for me has been to recognize the natural talents that set us apart as dyslexics and focus on developing them. So we’re slow readers. So what? Once we are able to read, we do it with the kind of clarity and absorbency that is another gift of dyslexia.
CSC: You and Camp Spring Creek co-director Susie van der Vorst recently met at the Georgia IDA Conference. Tell us a little bit about what you presented there regarding your own story with dyslexia:
AKW: It was a great honor to be asked to speak at IDA. For me, in a way, it felt like some far off mountaintop. There was a time in my life that I couldn’t have imagined myself doing anything beyond toiling to buy the groceries and protecting the biggest, darkest secret I’d ever had—that I couldn’t deal with long text. I could read you a sentence when I dropped out of school at 16. I could spell words. But string them together into paragraphs and pages and my recognition and comprehension went out the window. It was a kind of jigsaw puzzle for me, reading, and it was one that didn’t begin to piece itself together until I was diagnosed at 22 years old. I read my first book cover-to-cover at age 23.
CSC: You’ve held jobs in more than half a dozen different fields, from textiles to pets to private investigations. How did you find your way to writing, and at what point along that journey did you first identify as “a writer”?
AKW: [laughing] My resume is a great example of someone incapable of holding down a job, isn’t it? Well, let me first say that you have to work a lot to pay the rent when you don’t have a formal education. I did the kinds of jobs I could do without a diploma or a college education. I bluffed my way into some of them. We get good at bluffing when we’re hiding big secrets. Dyslexia wasn’t something I talked about for most of my life because it was surrounded by a lot of shame when I was a kid. I wasn’t performing the way my peers were performing. Words like "slow," "stupid," and "doesn’t apply herself" were the everyday norm for me. Takes a while to shake that. Even after I was diagnosed, I shared it only with my family. Most of my friends had no idea at all until I began to speak publicly about my experiences. I had a job as a courier in Atlanta for a time and they’d give you those huge street maps. There were days it was a complete jumble to me. I think I used more gas than anyone else on the team trying to find delivery addresses.
I actually started writing about 5 years after I learned to read. Inexplicably, words and sentences, the things that had turned my young life into a secretive little cave, just wouldn’t let me go. I wrote my first book at 28. It wasn’t very good. The next 3 weren’t any good at all. It would take me many years of nurturing the craft and working odd jobs to support my writing habit before my work was strong enough and honest enough to have some commercial success.
CSC: It can take years for writers to find and hone their own voice so that it becomes uniquely, undeniably theirs. The same might also be said for someone living with undiagnosed or unsupported dyslexia—it can take years for him or her to feel as though their individual voice has a place and audience in society. Why do you think that is and what advice do you have for someone in this situation?
AKW: I lived in that undiagnosed, unsupported world for many years. When you grow up feeling less than, feeling dumb, being told you’re not trying or not smart enough to do what is asked of you in school, it marks you. It just does. This is why it’s so important that educators understand and accommodate for the symptoms of dyslexia. Everything started to turn for me the day I was diagnosed, the day I learned there was a name for me, an explanation, and it wasn’t "slow" or "stupid." I was told for the first time I could learn, that I was smart even though I’d tested impossibly low on standardized testing in school. The diagnosis changed every way I felt about myself and every way I felt about my chances in the world. "Dyslexia" was about the most beautiful word I’d ever heard.
Recently, just for fun, I took another IQ test. Guess what? I scored impossibly low. I write police procedurals. I plot murder mysteries. I regularly speak to forensic scientists and pathologists and psychologists and physicians who consult on my books. But I’m somewhere in the idiot range on IQ tests. I guess I would say to anyone who struggles to learn and to read, to first remain calm. Because when you panic and you’re stressed out, the world turns into a giant crossword puzzle. It takes support, patience and persistence. Secondly, find the tools to tackle it. There are organizations now with systems for learning for children and adults that didn’t exist when I was a kid in school. I’m now 56 years old. Find those tools, use them, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and know that you have all the talent and intelligence of your peers.
So, you’re a square peg in a round hole. Embrace it and let yourself soar. I’m not diminishing the challenges. You have to want it. You have to be prepared to study and practice with the tools available. It can be frustrating and slow. It takes persistence. But the point is, you are no less capable than anyone else. It’s a matter of tapping it. And the truth is, all independently successful people have had to work their butts off in this world. All of them. And not all of them had the added gifts that come with dyslexia. So go for it.
CSC: If you have children of your own or young people in your life that you are close to, how have your experiences as a child influenced the role and influence you strive to have in their lives?
AKW: What I want every child and every adult who struggles to learn to know, is that not only is it possible to learn to read, to comprehend, to enjoy reading, to be a functioning contributor to society, and even to love literature, to get great jobs, to follow your bliss—it’s also possible to soar, to reach any height. You have as much opportunity and capability as everyone else. You walk through a different door to get there. That’s all. Just kick it open and get there.
And what I want to say to educators, especially those in the public school system, is if you have children who seem intelligent and are not performing, please look a little deeper and find out about learning differences, because sometimes all a child needs is opportunity and the accommodation of time to fully blossom.
Today's inspiring individual interview is with Mick Wilz, Director of Enterprise Excellence at the family owned and operated business, Sur-Seal. Mick is the Keynote Speaker at this week's American Society for Quality conference in the Carolinas, meeting Charlotte, NC. Mick is driving his large, Lego-built model of the Sur-Seal floor plan with him to talk about visual workplaces. He's also taking time out of his schedule to come visit us at Camp Spring Creek, for which we're very grateful. Read more to learn about Mick's inspiring take on life, which focuses on a wholistic approach to communication and setting people up for success.
Camp Spring Creek: Your email signature includes two thought-provoking tidbits. First, a cautionary tagline stating, “Please consider energy conservation before printing,” and second, a quote from Anthony Robbins: "The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives.” Can you explain your philosophy behind these two mottos?
Mick Wilz: The communication quote is how you communicate with yourself and with others. I include it so that people think about it, but when you’re communicating with yourself you have to be a whole person. You can’t be fake in this world anymore. When I’m communicating, especially as a leader, I can’t go into work and preach one thing and then live a different lifestyle outside. People can tell if you’re fake. You have to be honest with yourself and follow the Golden Rule. Communication is also very in depth. It’s about how you listen to people: Are you truly listening, or just blowing people off? This sums it up: “I am the message.” As a leader, everything I do is a message. People watch you for the positive things you do and the negative things you do. This just the same for parents; kids are always watching. Communication is not just talking: You have two ears for listening so you should be listening twice as much and giving people room and time to talk and process. You have just one mouth for talking. Great communication can save your life!
As far as energy conservation goes, I found that quote someplace and I added it because it reminded me of my mother. She passed away, but we were environmentalists when we were kids and my Mom was so far ahead of the times. Recyling was part of our lives. You have to take care of the Earth and of everything. It has to do with the whole person concept, and that works with communication as well as with the environment.
CSC: We love that your title at your family owned and operated business, Sur-Seal, is “Director of Enterprise Excellence.” Tell us a little about what that means to you as a successful businessman, but also as a successful life-long learner:
MW: We’re encouraged at work to "work yourself out of a job." Not everyone has heard that before but basically, if you’re a good leader and hold on to tribal knowledge, when you die you’re not going to help anyone. Some people are afraid to share or they’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they give away tribal knowledge. I’m not afraid to share.You have to share the tribal knowledge and make it public so everyone knows what’s going on. As Director of Enterprise Excellence, I’m looking for what knowledge is out there that we can use (in our external environment) but I’m also doing this in our internal environment. I’m interested in anything that will help our business, but I want to make it easier for everybody and step up the bar for everybody. It doesn’t make sense to accumulate knowledge for myself only. I accumulate it for the company as whole wherever I can find it, and that feels right. I want our company to be great and to have a great company you have to have great people, so we build ourselves strong, from the internal environment out.
CSC: After building a Lego-based layout of your building and involving workers in planning the redesign, you incorporated more changes in the work environment to make it a “visual workplace.” In the New York Times, you wrote that these changes “send a message to anyone who might be struggling because they’re different: not only can they measure up in the workplace, but they can exceed expectations.” Respecting the anonymity of your employees, can you tell us an anecdote about how you have seen these changes create positive results in one individual who was struggling before those changes were made?
MW: It’s hard to focus on just one. Making these changes have helped so many people—I keep notepads full of positive notes that people have sent about the changes we made. I feel everyone has some form of learning disability. Dyslexia is just one that is in the media now and that everyone talks about. When I look back at school, there was always someone who couldn’t do math or couldn’t do sports, etc. There are just some learning differences that are more transparent in people than others. That’s just part of life. When you find your weakness, you focus on it and then move forward.
We have one mother of three children that works for us and her husband does construction work. She worked at McDonald’s and then came to work for us. She went there just for a job based on money to help the family out. She didn’t think she had much value but she came to us and was doing everything she could to make ends meet in her family. She probably struggled through school. She never went to college. Right now, she’s the first female manager on the floor at our company and she leads a team of 38 people. She’s our largest team leader and her group today just announced that they have made $460,000 worth of improvements for her department. What that means is that, last year, her team of 38 people improved processes and saved the company that much money. She’s a total hero. She walked into our plant and understood me.
What I'm trying to get at is somewhat like this YouTube video. I’m the lone wolf dancing; I’m that first guy dancing in the video. That’s the role I play. I encourage people to run and follow and I’m always looking for that first follower. This employee was a first follower and those people are the most important. She understood me and got everyone else to follow. Let people take that idea and make it their own and be proud of it. Never tear down. You have to build, build, build. As a dyslexic, I was torn down a lot so I learned that you never do that. I could tell you ten stories like this, but that one stands out today.
CSC: How have you learned to operate in the business world or what tricks of the trade have you used as a successful entrepreneur with dyslexia?
MW: I’m visual, so to get my ideas across sometimes I say, “Watch this video.” I have a bank of 40-50 videos that I refer to often to help get my ideas across. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in 1964. Temple Grandin had an HBO movie and she was autistic. She’s one of the most amazing people I met. She told me that when you’re diagnosed with something, you just guess at it. She encouraged me to always go back and get re-tested. At age 55, I went back and got myself re-tested and I came up dyslexic but also “twice exceptional.” I wish I had known that earlier. I had a high IQ and my visualizing was off the charts. I took that information and learned from it. I’m very aware of that now and I made our entire factory visual. You can come in there and see how to run a piece of equipment without even having to read a manual. You’d be surprised how many people in the world really can’t read or who will benefit from these visual aids. I was public about struggling with reading and wasn’t afraid of it, but there are a lot of people who are afraid of that. I had reading issues and I never dealt with them. They do the same thing at McDonald’s in their work environment. It’s all done with pictures now and that’s helpful. Also, with new technology such as Audiobooks and iPads, things are changing. If that had been around when I was a child, I would not have had a problem. I feel like I’m ahead of the curve now because of technology. So, did I have a learning disability or was the world just not ready for us? I think the world just wasn’t ready for us yet. ☺
Susie just finished reading this book and highly recommends it. Check out author Todd Rose's page at Harvard or read this from Amazon and see for yourself: "In the seventh grade, Todd Rose was suspended--not for the first time--for throwing six stink bombs at the blackboard, where his art teacher stood with his back to the class. At eighteen, he was a high school dropout, stocking shelves at a department store for $4.25 an hour. Today, Rose is a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Square Peg illuminates the struggles of millions of bright young children--and their frustrated parents and teachers--who are stuck in a one-size-fits-all school system that fails to approach the student as an individual. Rose shares his own incredible journey from troubled childhood to Harvard, seamlessly integrating cutting-edge research in neuroscience and psychology along with advances in the field of education, to ultimately provide a roadmap for parents and teachers of kids who are the casualties of America's antiquated school system. With a distinguished blend of humor, humility, and practical advice for nurturing children who are a poor fit in conventional schools, Square Peg is a game-changing manifesto that provides groundbreaking insight into how we can get the most out of all the students in our classrooms, and why today's dropouts could be tomorrow's innovators."
We reached out to John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, and received appreciation for our efforts at camp and a few words about John's success. Read below to hear what his executive assistant shared with us: "John has personally asked me to relay to you his appreciation for extending this invitation to participate in your [blog] project. It certainly is a worthy cause. We would like to extend these notes: John is just one of many individuals who have been able to have a successful career even with a disability such as dyslexia. One attribute which has led to John’s success is his infectious attitude about life. From a young age, John had a very optimistic outlook on everything. He had a wonderful teacher in his early years who recognized his challenges and worked with him to overcome it. His parents, both being doctors, also supported and encouraged him throughout his childhood. John’s attitude and emotional insight has proved to be one of his most powerful tools, coupled with his perseverance, John has not let his learning disability be an excuse. He hopes the campers will find his words and suggestions encouraging."
John Chambers is Chairman and CEO of Cisco. He has helped grow the company from $70 million when he joined Cisco in January 1991, to $1.2 billion when he assumed the role of CEO, to record revenues of $48.6 billion in FY13. In 2006, Chambers was named Chairman of the Board, in addition to his CEO role. Chambers has received numerous awards for his leadership over his past 18 years at the helm of Cisco, including the 2012 Bower Award for Business Leadership from the Franklin Institute, Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People," one of Barron's' "World's Best CEOs," the "Best Boss in America" by 20/20, one ofBusinessWeek's "Top 25 Executives Worldwide," "CEO of the Year" by Chief Executive Magazine, the Business Council's "Award for Corporate Leadership," and "Best Investor Relations by a CEO" from Investor Relations Magazine three times. Read more.
This post is a reprint of a press release from the Georgetown University Medical Center website, which owns all rights to this text. WASHINGTON — Using MRI, neuroscientists at Georgetown University Medical Center found significant differences in brain anatomy when comparing men and women with dyslexia to their non-dyslexic control groups, suggesting that the disorder may have a different brain-based manifestation based on sex.
Their study, investigating dyslexia in both males and females, is the first to directly compare brain anatomy of females with and without dyslexia (in children and adults). Their findings were published online in the journal Brain Structure and Function.
Because dyslexia is two to three times more prevalent in males compared with females, “females have been overlooked,” says senior author Guinevere Eden, PhD, director for the Center for the Study of Learning and past-president of the International Dyslexia Association.
“It has been assumed that results of studies conducted in men are generalizable to both sexes. But our research suggests that researchers need to tackle dyslexia in each sex separately to address questions about its origin and potentially, treatment,” Eden says.
Previous work outside of dyslexia demonstrates that male and female brains are different in general, adds the study’s lead author, Tanya Evans, PhD.
“There is sex-specific variance in brain anatomy and females tend to use both hemispheres for language tasks, while males just the left,” Evans says. “It is also known that sex hormones are related to brain anatomy and that female sex hormones such as estrogen can be protective after brain injury, suggesting another avenue that might lead to the sex-specific findings reported in this study.”
The study of 118 participants compared the brain structure of people with dyslexia to those without and was conducted separately in men, women, boys and girls. In the males, less gray matter volume is found in dyslexics in areas of the brain used to process language, consistent with previous work. In the females, less gray matter volume is found in dyslexics in areas involved in sensory and motor processing.
The results have important implications for understanding the origin of dyslexia and the relationship between language and sensory processing, says Evans.
The research funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P50HD40095 and R01HD05610701), by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (UL1TR000101) and the National Science Foundation (SBE0541953 Science of Learning Center).
The authors report having no personal financial interests related to the study.
About Georgetown University Medical Center: Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown’s affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.
Today's interview is with inspiring individual Steve Walker. We're not even going to introduce you to him. We're just going to let him speak for himself. Read on...you'll see why... Camp Spring Creek: We enjoyed your interview on HBO’s Journey Into Dyslexia. Your story is very moving. For our readers who have not seen the documentary, could you briefly tell us about the positive learning experience you had working in the machine shop in high school?
Steve Walker: It was the only thing as a young adult that I could get a result from that was positive and also created something that had immediate, tangible purpose. I had one teacher, Joe Pasenka, and he saw me checking out from life in general and I think it was a really honorable thing he did by letting me play in that machine shop. The school was shutting the machine shop down, so you weren’t technically supposed to be there. He really let me do my thing which, as it turns out, is the correct way to think. He knew I pushed back against traditional learning, so he didn’t push instructions at me. He let me work until I came across a problem and then I’d ask a question. If you think about it, a person is much more motivated to learn when they have a need to understand.
SW: I went on an educational tour of my own recently, because I wanted to understand education. I was a little horrified by how everything was going. I felt shameful about what had happened to me as a child--being made to feel stupid, being so misunderstood--and I felt despair about how little people know about learning. There are places where great things are happening, of course, but the general system is really antiquated and needs spiffing up. So I went on this tour...I talked to some teachers who were threatened with getting fired if they used the word “dyslexia.” It was quite an eye-opener and frustrating enough that I’ve joined a number of university boards and have met with leaders of schools or superintendents and tried to have exchanges about about how we can make changes in the system.
On my end of things, I hire a lot of engineers and so I've been talking to engineering schools about what they teach. Teachers are teaching math...but you don’t do math in engineering. Computers do the math. It’s creative thinking that needs to be taught and that’s what employers like me look for. I’m trying to tell people that if you back off on the math a little, which is so automated, the engineers don’t need it and they will be fine. I don’t discourage people from learning math, of course. But we need to look at the content that we’re teaching as well as the way we teach it. It's great if you can spell correctly. But some things have pretty limited applications to a job and I’m having conversations with people, especially in engineering schools, about this. These conversations are powerful; sometimes people are blown away by my perspective. After thinking about it, they’re usually quite open. Look at the TED Talk on self-teaching. It’s about a global initiative to examine how we teach and it’s a little extreme, but it’s also very enjoyable and funny. I just like to try and challenge people’s minds a little. I don’t know all the solutions but I do know that a lot of what we’re doing right now doesn’t make sense.
CSC: You built a successful, multi-million dollar business by solving a simple problem: Certain wood stoves being sold in the United States required wood pellets for fuel. At the time, the pellets were only available overseas. From scratch, you built the machines and designed the company—starting in your own basement—that is now New England Wood Pellet, the largest manufacturer and distributor of clean, renewable wood pellet fuel in the Northeastern United States. What is it about the “dyslexic brain,” as they say, that enables you to think outside the box more effectively than others?
SW: I think there are two things. First, if you’ve had to struggle a little or if you’re dealt some challenges or if you’re not “normal," especially when you're younger, then you automatically get a different perspective and I think that perspective is extremely helpful. What seems daunting and impossible as a kid going through school, possibly turns out to be the best lesson you’re going to get.
Second, there's neurology and the physics of the brain. Dyslexics do think differently and in my own experience and research, the dyslexic mind in general is lacking in reading. Not always, but often. Some of society’s most pressing issues have been solved by dyslexic brains. There are some true, honest to goodness, neurological differences that make us better at certain things than the majority of other people. Of course, running or starting a business requires you to be the ultimate multi-tasker and synthesizer. We can do that. We have very cluttered files in our brains, which makes it very difficult to organize, but that can work out okay in the end. Think about solving crimes: It’s all these little things that seem completely irrelevant and we’re used to that. We can work with that. We’re constantly being bombarded by things that seem irrelevant so, eventually, we find things we weren’t even looking for…and solve the crime. The military is especially looking for dyslexics for this exact reason.
I know I’m a little jaded because I had such a profoundly tough time in school, so I understand that. I’m only now linking a lot of challenges in my life back to those challenges in school. Dyslexia was not commonly identified then. It was not a familiar term. Kids today aren’t alone, at least. This is where I see that places like Camp Spring Creek are just great. You can get these kids together and they all feel it, it’s a good thing. Everyone’s got their head around it and they’re working together. What you’re doing at camp is probably an exception to the rule, because so many people still get lost in the system and don’t get help. Let’s keep the pressure on people and say that our work isn’t done yet. We need more of this, we need people who really do get it.
CSC: Can you tell us your personal story of embracing dyslexia?
SW: Four or five years ago, if you had asked me if I was dyslexic I wouldn’t have gone there. It reminded me of school and I was done with that. I wasn’t going down that route and I wasn't talking about it. Later on, what changed is that there was an in-depth study by the Kauffman Foundation done on entrepreneurs. They found there was an earth-shattering number of dyslexics who succeeded as entrepreneurs. Then, they wanted to find more people to study from around the world and all kinds of professions. The Kauffman Foundation called and said, “We heard you’re dyslexic,” and I had to stop. The call had to do with my brother, who has a dyslexic child. The Kauffman Foundation was studying my nephew and they got to talking. I met the profile and they placed the call.
I agreed to the study and I got over the shame because they’d already “found me out” anyway. Besides, it was the Kauffman Foundation, which has an incredible reputation. As it turns out, it was life-altering. It led to the HBO documentary Journey Into Dyslexia and numerous speaking events. You name it. It was all very good...but quite frankly, it’d probably be more fun to hang out with you guys at Camp Spring Creek for a week.
Once I learned how screwed up our education system was, there was a lot of anger that came out of that. Anger is a great motivator, unfortunately, but steered in the right way it can do great things. I came out, I talked about it, I told the world. I realized that it was important for kids and other adults to see that and I got fan letters from both. Appropriately, there’s a huge emphasis on kids, but I also think that our whole society would do well knowing that this is in your DNA. It is what it is. You are who you are. It doesn’t go away for adults and so many of them need to hear that, too. People don’t like talking about it. It’s very, very hard. I’ve had to learn to be gentle when I’m talking to people I don’t know very well because you have to treat these things delicately.
At the end of the day, once we get our education system figured out, I don’t think the word “dyslexia” will even be necessary. It’s about recreating how people learn, but ultimately it’s no different than remembering that we’re all physically different. We’re tall, we’re short, we’re fit, we’re not. Our brains are different from one to the next to the next, too. The beauty of all of this is that there’s just so, so, so much that can be done and that’s inspiring. Places like Camp Spring Creek are what need to happen now, until someday in the future we can just make education work for everybody.