Inspiring People

Teacher Brings O-G Training To Her Students at McDowell Tech

Bridget Burnette had no idea what she was getting into when her supervisor at McDowell 2015062795174248-1Technical Community College told her he had signed her up for Orton Gillingham Associate Level training with Susie van der Vorst. As she began looking through the training materials that had been forwarded her way, the English Language Learner teacher, who had recently been asked to take on GED classes as well, felt clearer. “When I took a look at the notebook we’d be working from, I was overwhelmed,” Bridget says. “Once we got started, though, I realized every teacher and every student should have this understanding of language.”

A new light flipped on for Bridget as she learned syllable division, spelling patterns and the breakdown of letter sounds. “Growing up,” she says, I could spell because I was good at memorization, not because I understood how words were spelled.

Part of what she has learned, too, is how to recognize learning differences, which she believes will allow her to meet individual student needs better. “Some of my students left school when they were young and started working. I have some students who read at only a fourth grade level. I believe having an understanding of things such as why words are spelled the way they are will be particularly helpful to my students as they learn new words and continue their education.”

An unexpected gift was the development of new empathy for her dyslexic brother as she watched her dyslexic training partner struggle through some of the lessons. “I watched him struggle growing up. At school, he was put in a slower learning group. So many people mistreated him because they thought he was dumb.”

Bridget knows nothing could be further from the truth. “He’s very intelligent, artistic and loves to see how things work.  I told him what I’m doing and he was interested in learning more, which is exciting to me.”

Since finishing the class, Bridget feels better equipped to teach. “I’m currently teaching phonics to my ESL students who are new to the English language. I want them to learn the correct way and help them understand the why’s behind our language. I also plan to use Orton-Gillingham with my other classes, whether dyslexia is the issue or not. I believe this multisensory approach is a great way to learn.”

She also believes it’s a good tool for her own future studies. “I want to take the GRE to go to grad school and I’m certain this training will help me have a better understanding when it comes to the vocabulary words I’ll encounter. I’m excited about the possibilities.”

 

Teacher Uses O-G to Reach New Heights with Students

profile picScott Fisher’s enthusiasm is contagious. "The thing I love most about teaching is that moment of discovery, when children make connections and their little brains explode," says Scott, who teaches kindergarten at Asheville’s Isaac Dixon Elementary. "You can see it in their faces.  It's priceless." Scott also believes the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) training he recently went through is priceless. "O-G training has had a huge impact on my understanding of both the English language and developmentally appropriate teaching practices for reading and writing."

On one hand, Scott uses it in the classroom in his small group work. "I’ve also been incorporating O-G principles and activities into my whole-class Fundations curriculum, which covers phonics and language development. I’ve got a much stronger grasp on the spelling patterns of our language, which makes me better prepared to answer students’ questions. O-G supplements make my lessons much more enjoyable for students."

He’s seen the O-G approach impact non-dyslexic students as well. "So far, the O-G additions I’ve made have really hit home with my high flyers who were sometimes bored with whole-class phonics instruction. I simply slip slightly more advanced rules and patterns to those students who are ready, while reinforcing basic phonetic instruction for the entire class."

All students seem to appreciate Scott’s daily warmup. "In our Fundations curriculum, we warm up daily with drill sounds, repeating the letter name and keyword and sound of many letters (it sounds like "K, kite, /k/!"),” he says. "Because O-G is a multisensory approach, our trainer and O-G Fellow Susie van der Vorst recommended I added a tactile element to the drill.  Now my children are all repeating the drills while simultaneously using two fingers to trace the letter on the carpet.  They are engaging their visual, auditory and kinesthetic/tactile senses, strengthening the pathway to the brain."

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Incorporating the O-G approach in the primary grades is critical according to Scott. “Everything about a student’s career hinges on those first few years."

Scott is thankful to OpenDoors of Asheville for inviting him to participate in O-G training. "For people like me, with a huge curiosity and thirst for understanding, it’s been a very rewarding experience. In my mind, every teacher should be given the option to learn the O-G approach."

 

 

OpenDoors Uses O-G Approach as Tool to Help Children Rise Above Poverty

Jen_3 Jen Ramming had no idea that volunteering in a third grade classroom would change her life. “The dynamics fascinated me,” she recalls. “I asked the teacher what I could do to help. One day, she asked me to take three boys, who were disruptive, out of the classroom. We went to the library for books and curled up in the hallway where we took turns reading. Although I realized they were clearly bright and capable, not a single one of these young boys, whose lives had been touched by multi-generational poverty, knew more than five words by sight. One knew the alphabet, but not the sounds. They were learning to read while other kids were reading to learn.”

Before long, Jen had taken one of the boys under her wing, signing him up to play soccer on her son’s team. Knowing his family’s precarious situation, she made sure Jamer always had enough to eat, and went out of her way to pick him up for games. “The soccer team embraced this young man and his family, offering rides, taking him on family outings and even vacations. Essentially, we became extended family.

Other children followed suit. “Suddenly, there were nine boys and girls, each from a family dealing with the challenges of multi-generational poverty. We were opening doors and the kids were walking through. I felt like we had something going that was replicable for other children.”

From that germ of an idea, Jen helped create a board of directors with a group of concerned parents and professionals from varied fields. Together, they founded OpenDoors of Asheville  to help local children reach their potential through individualized networks of support and a images[1]host of educational and enrichment opportunities. These opportunities, which range from tutoring to summer camp, are designed to help children begin to invest in themselves and ultimately break the cycle of multi-generational poverty. Jen is proud to serve as the organization’s executive director.

Having spent time observing Jamer, Jen’s friend Dr. Marcy Sirkin, who owns Arden Reading Clinic North, had a gut feeling he was dyslexic. She then asked colleague Dr. Deirdre Christy to evaluate him. As suspected, Dr. Christy confirmed he was bright and profoundly dyslexic.

With that knowledge in hand, Jen began learning about Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and how to navigate the system and advocate for him. “It didn’t take me long to realize how overlooked and underserved this child had been.”

With Jamer already so far behind in reading, Jen knew a remediation plan had to be put in place. Based on research and conversations with Dr. Sirkin, she believed the most effective solution would be to access an experienced Orton-Gillingham (O-G) tutor.

Jen likes to say she became an O-G groupie when she saw Jamer’s progress. “In one year, he jumped two full grade levels in reading. By the time he was in 8th grade, and being exclusively homeschooled in Orton, he was getting the equivalent of A’s and B’s. If you give children the tools, they become readers who want to learn.”

Jamer’s progress clearly illustrated the benefits of O-G’s multi-sensory approach to teaching reading and writing. Knowing O-G would help OpenDoors children achieve significant gains, the organization began laying the groundwork to fund teacher training within the Asheville City School District that served her young clients.

Drawing on general operating funds, OpenDoors hired O-G Fellow and Camp Spring Creek Co-Founder Susie van der Vorst to train a hand-picked group of Asheville City Schools’ teachers, Since then, OpenDoors has shared the training expenses with Asheville City Schools in addition to securing grants such as the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina “People in Need” grant.

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Asheville City Schools Teacher Scott Fisher is grateful to OpenDoors for helping him open a door of his own. “O-G training has had a huge impact on my understanding of the English language, and on developmentally appropriate practices for reading and writing. I now have a much stronger grasp on the spelling patterns of our language, and can accommodate more student inquiries than I was able to in the past. I am more capable of keeping my entire class engaged in our learning because I can slip slightly more advanced rules and patterns to those students who are ready, while still reinforcing basic phonetic instruction for the entire class.”

OpenDoors prioritizes training for kindergarten, first and second grade teachers. “Early intervention is critical, especially for children living in poverty,” Jen says. “Research has shown that teaching reading to children from multi-generational poverty is often like teaching them a second language because they’ve not had as many language enriched experiences as a child whose family has ample resources. They grasp so much more when the words are broken down using a multi-sensory approach.”

While OpenDoors is working to determine the best methods for capturing data to detail student and teachers success, of this they are certain – since incorporating O-G, there is a clear rise in reading levels, self-esteem, improved behavior and attendance among OpenDoors students.

“If you take away the financial barriers, parents throughout the country choose the O-G approach to help their children who struggle to read,” Jen says. “It’s one of the only research based  methods proven to meet children where they are and give them the tools they need to become confident readers and writers. It’s not just what children with financial means need; it’s what all children need.”

According to literacy experts like Dr. Sally Shaywitz, all children can learn to read. “We understand that 95% of our nation’s children can learn to read on grade level, and the other 5% can learn to be functionally literate with appropriate support,” Jen notes. “It’s important to set the bar at 100% literacy using proven strategies for teaching because illiteracy is akin to a life sentence.”

 

Yancey County Principal Believes Orton Gillingham Training Played Critical Role In School Turnaround

045Sherry Robinson realized Bald Creek Elementary had some serious gaps in their literacy program. The Exceptional Children’s (EC) population was the highest in the county. Math scores were unacceptably low. The recently hired principal had been told the school was identified for needing improvement given poor test scores. The question she found herself asking  - what was the problem and more importantly, how could she address the challenges? Although she recognized the path toward academic success was going to be an arduous one, she was still shocked when her newest hire, 4th grade reading teacher Lori McCourry, stepped into her office and told her 13 of her 27 students were reading at only a first grade level.

Prior to joining Bald Creek full-time, Lori let Sherry know she had committed to taking the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators Associate Level training with Susie van der Vorst. “I’d never heard of the organization or the training,” Sherry remembers. “Lori began explaining the Orton Gillingham (O-G) approach to me and let me know she was willing to pay for the training program herself given the expense.  I knew if she was willing to pay for it herself, it must be really good, but I could never have guessed the positive impact it would have on our school at that point. I let her know we weren’t going to let money keep us from having what our students needed.”

“At first, parents weren’t willing to admit something was wrong,” Lori says. “I was the new teacher, shaking things up.”

A little shaking up was exactly what the school needed. Lori began incorporating what she’d learned into her daily routine. “You can’t teach what you don’t know,” Lori says. “With the Orton-Gillingham training, I acquired greater knowledge of words and an understanding of how the brain has to work in order to read. I began breaking words into sounds and doing a lot of phonics with students. I found that I was much better at seeing where students struggled and had a greater knowledge of how to fix problems through targeted instruction.”

Having seen the immediate difference O-G made in Lori’s teaching, Sherry realized the school needed to have its kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade teachers trained as well. “In kindergarten, 1st and 2nd, you’re learning to read,” she says.  “In 3rd, 4th and 5th, you’re reading to learn.  Our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, for example, take math tests that contain only word problems. Students have to be able to comprehend what they’re reading in order to pass, which is why those first few years are so critical.”

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Sherry is grateful to 1st grade teacher Laura Davis who also jumped on board, became O-G trained, and took on the task of aligning O-G principles with the school’s newly implemented Letterland program. “It gave us a powerful phonics program.”  Over the years, each teacher who’s gone through the training has incorporated elements of the multisensory approach as they suit their classroom needs. “My goal is to have all Bald Creek teachers O-G trained," Sherry says.

 

Fast forward eight years. The majority of Bald Creek’s teachers have been O-G trained. Now that students are getting what they need, the school’s EC numbers are no longer the county’s highest. In fact, they have been cut in half. Lori, who’s now teaching 3rd grade reading, says only one student of 31 is reading slightly below third grade level.  The school was honored in 2014/15 and 2015/16 as a Title 1 National Distinguished School Nominee.  They received $100,000 NC Title 1 Grant for sustaining the highest performance of school achievement over a number of years.

 

Sherry believes O-G training played a critical role in the turnaround. “Our teachers continually tell us they had no idea how much they didn’t know until they went through Susie’s training. The more they know; the better they teach and the better our students do. Today, the entire school takes great pride in being able to say we are an Orton school.”

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Interview: Artist Rebecca Kamen

RK 2jpgToday’s interview features inspiring individual Rebecca Kamen, whose artwork we first read about in this article via PBS. Continuing our conversation with artists who are dyslexic, we’d like to introduce you to her work and share the following interview. “Rebecca Kamen’s work explores the nexus of art and science informed by wide ranging research into cosmology, history, philosophy, and various scientific fields…Ms. Kamen has exhibited and lectured in China, Chile, Korea, Egypt, and Spain. She has been the recipient of a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Fellowship, a Pollack Krasner Foundation Fellowship, two Strauss Fellowships, and more.” She is currently a professor emeritus of art at Northern Virginia Community College. Camp Spring Creek: “Divining Nature: An Elemental Garden” is awe-inspiring! So many of us stared at that Periodic Table of Elements for hours on end in high school. Not nearly as many went on to actually understand what it was all about, or how to apply that knowledge in applicable ways. Can you tell us about what sparked this art installation? 

Rebecca Kamen: This idea for the project came to me when I returned home from a lecture trip to Santiago, Chile. I literally walked through my front door and had a vision that I needed to create something inspired by the Periodic Table. I had no idea why that struck me at that point, but the research took me to the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia to research the beginning of chemistry, which was alchemy. I didn’t know what form the installation would take at that stage. I was just researching.

In the library there, the alchemy manuscripts I looked at were breathtaking. I happened to be on sabbatical that year and decided to travel to the Himalyas in Bhutan. I had seen a print of mandala inspired by that place and wanted to see it in person. Standing there in the mountains, I realized that the Periodic Table was Western cosmology in the same way that the mandala I had seen represented Eastern cosmology. If you study the Periodic Table, you know that all the letters and numbers represent things in the world above us, below, and everything in between. I knew I needed to create something beautiful and compelling enough that people would want to learn more. The concept of using a garden inspired by the orbital patterns of the 83 naturally occurring elements in the Periodic Table seemed like a natural leap, because gardens are beautiful and inviting spaces and I knew people would be able to engage with that. As it turned out, the orbital patterns also looked like flowers, so things started to click into place from there.

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One of the bridges between art and science is math, which creates a universal language between both fields. When I was creating Divining Nature, I knew I wanted a sound component. I found Susan Alexjander in Portland, Oregon who was investigating the Period Table like I was, but with sound. She and I have now worked on three or four projects—the latest is called “Portal” at the National Academy of Sciences—and it is inspired by gravitational wave physics and black holes. I think it’s important to remember this connection of music, too, because it can really enhance our understanding of something. Sound is simply another way knowing. [View the video of "Portal" here.]

CSC: What is your dyslexia discovery story?

RK: I grew up before the word “dyslexia, was part of the vocabulary. ” I was bright and loved science but did poorly in math, reading comprehension, and on my SATs. I knew I wanted to teach and go to college. My parents knew this as well, but no college would accept me. My parents went to the principal who wrote a letter of recommendation for me, and Penn State eventually said they’d accept me on probation. If I didn’t make it through the first semester, I was out. I looked at the catalog and found that art education was the only major that didn’t require math and that was the route I was going to go. Working with my hands, I was able to excel. I graduated and later received a full fellowship for a master’s degree, finished that, and then received another full fellowship for an additional master’s degree in the arts. My parents’ advocacy really held a light for me to do what I wanted to do.

I didn’t learn that I was dyslexic until I became a college professor. I was visiting an acquaintance at the beach and she happened to be head of the Special Education program at University of Maryland. Through conversation about my path and my career, she realized I was dyslexic and told me. It was a revelation, but even without knowing that for most of my educational years, I think on a subconscious level I had already intuited I learned differently than others and figured out strategies to get through. Reading long pages of text still causes fatigue and some anxiety, but give me a book with images and I can tell you so much about them and how they relate to other things.

CSC: We’re especially interested in your projects that deal with rare books or scientific documents. Your interest in this material seems both ironic and intriguing. What’s the lure?

RK: The lures for me are the beautiful diagrams and visuals that express complex scientific thoughts and theories. At the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia, I was invited to examine the notebooks of Lewis and Clark. They had text, but they were also beautiful objects that contained drawings of Lewis and Clark’s observations. I also saw Robert Hooke’s book called Micrographia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation and it includes engravings that he created. He was the first to develop the compound microscope. Hooke also created the word “cell” that we use to describe the cells in our bodies. He was looking at a piece of cork under magnification and he observed forms that reminded him of monastery cells. To me, that’s such a fascinating story. Narrative is what connects me to science and expands my mind.

Another epiphany I had as I went through many incredible books is that, before the advent of the camera, scientists also had to be artists. It was the only way they could record their observations. Before the 19th Century, the books have beautiful drawings not done by artists, but by the scientists themselves. I was invited to research inMadrid in archives that included a painting that Nobel Laureate and neuro-anatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal did when he was just 8 years old. Observing the way that Cajal saw at a young age, I could understand how his ability to see and record details planted seeds for his discovery of neurons.

Manuscript as Muse

As an artist looking at this specific scientific collection, I realized the significance of Cajal spending hours drawing his observations directly from the microscope. Looking through a microscope at one of his slide, it occurred to me that the process of drawing enables scientists a unique understanding that, compared to today’s world of the digital image, is more comprehensive on a certain level.  I think drawing enabled scientists at the time to really process and become more intimate with their material. This lead to a kind of understanding that can only be achieved when someone really takes the time to slowly investigate.

I was also able to explore special collections at the National Library of Medicine, which has an amazing selection of the Vesalius books. Vesalius was an anatomist from the 16th Century and he’s also considered the founder of modern human anatomy. Several copies of his book De humani corporis fabrica (“On the Fabric of the Human Body”) are there, hand printed, each with different nuances and notes from previous owners. The images are breathtaking. Dissection had been illegal for a long time, but when these books were printed, it was one of the first times that human dissection was documented.

CSC: We read that you believe artists and scientists have similar missions to search for meaningful patterns. Do you “see” your finished piece in your mind’s eye, then make it? Give us a little window into that moment of making when immaterial meets material.

RK:  My ideas come to me as visions, a lot of times when I wake in the morning, a word or an idea will come into my consciousness. When that happens, I know I need to research and then use my findings to create work giving the ideas tangible form. The work becomes a vehicle for my own understanding, and a way to share these insights with other people. Much of my work is collaborative in nature, so communicating with others is a big part of the process as well.

For example, I am currently working on a collaborative project with a British poet.  We’re exploring the relationship of art and neuroscience. Writing has always been a challenge for me, but for some reason I’ve been able to experience “flow” with my words around science and art because of this collaboration. The poet I’m working with interprets my ideas and thoughts into his medium and what he creates then further helps me understand my own original vision. I struggle a great deal with sitting down and actually writing, so this has been a revelation for me—it feels like magic. For the sculptural or installation component, I am starting to envision some ideas that might include words literally “coming off the page” so that viewers can experience his poetry in three-dimensional form. I get sparks of seeing how that might be possible and will keep exploring until our work is complete.

In order to understand just about anything, I have to be able to understand it in relation to something else. That enables me to make connections that others may not have made before. When I work with scientists, they get excited because I can show them things through a new lens. For years, I thought this was the way that everyone in the world thought! It’s validating to find this appreciation from others, and of course I grow and benefit from the learning experience as well.

Interview: Artist David Chatt

  "If She Knew You Were Coming" (work in progress) (c) David Chatt, 2015.

Today’s interview continues our conversation with artists who also have dyslexia, and we’re proud to be featuring inspiring individual David Chatt. David has spent the second half of his life stitching tiny bits of glass one to the next, laboring to express himself in a medium that is tedious and time-consuming beyond reason. For his efforts, he has been called a “Visionary,” a “Lunatic,” and a “Beadwork Subversive.” His career was honored with a one-person show at the Bellevue Art Museum in Seattle, Washington, which was commemorated in an accompanying catalog. More recently, he received a North Carolina Artist Fellowship, one of the highest grant awards given by the state and supported by the NEA. View astonishing slideshows of his work here.

Camp Spring Creek: Can you tell us a little about you and your family’s relationship with dyslImage 1exia over the years? How has this shaped your experience of the world?

David Chatt: I am number five of six children, two girls and four boys. My father and all of the boys had dyslexia, but not to the same degree. Mine was less debilitating comparatively, but it did influence how I grew up. We were none of us very good at sports, and English classes were an exercise in humiliation. We all had similar experiences in school and not being good at these things in an odd way bound us together. Also, I think because we were not those kinds of people, we shared other interests. We built things and made things with our hands. We played games where imagination was more important than coordination.

CSC: The physical process of stitching beads together requires a sophisticated understanding of spatial relationships so that the beaded “skin” fits perfectly over the object you are working with. Superior spatial thinking is a common skill found in people with varying degrees of dyslexia. What can you tell us about your decision-making process as you set out to start stitching these skins?

DC: The technique I employ is a way of building on a three dimensional grid. A loop of four beads can be thought of as a square, one square shares a side with its neighbors and a grid forms. If one can make squares, then one can make cubes…this is how my mind works. I tend to imagine shapes broken down into squares, triangles, pentagons or trapeziums. I have always been good with numbers and math-y kinds of things…spelling no…math yes.  

CSC: How does your work as an artist and your family experiences with dyslexia influence your style as a teacher?

DC: I understand that everyone learns differently. I hope and believe that schools are better at dealing with different learning styles but I have certainly been made to feel “less-than” by overworked and under-inspired teachers who wanted nothing more than for this square peg to fit into their dang round hole. As a teacher, I make it a point to let my students know that I understand learning differences and that I count on them to let me know if we need to revisit some instruction with a different approach. Some need to hear the technique described, others need to see directions written out, others need to watch my hands and others still need to have guidance while their hands make the work. I also make it ok to ask me to repeat things because repetition is one of the ways we learn. Being a non-traditional learner has made me a better teacher, and it has also made me understand some of the frustrations my teachers had with me.

"Bedside Table" (c) 2011, David Chatt.

CSC: Your more recent work explores the power of everyday objects in their domestic setting, with an emphasis on narrative, memory, and emotion. In some pieces, you’re effectively taking objects people ignore (for example, we don’t pay attention to our eyeglasses unless a lens pops out) and re-invigorating them with story and a sense of the three-dimensional through your beads and stitching. That’s quite unusual, yet immediately resonate. What’s the lure for you?

DC: Most artists are a wee bit narcissistic. I am always trying to tell my story through the images I choose to engage. My best work finds the place where my personal story touches on something more universal, something that allows my audience to participate. Most of us remember someone who had those glasses. I grew up at a time when women of a certain age wore cat-eye glasses, a strand of pearls and a sweater set. Even if you have only seen that look in old movies, most of us have an association with these items. I seek iconic objects that trigger memory. By covering an object with countless tiny glass beads and meticulous needle-work, I encourage my audience to see these items in a different way. It becomes less that object and more like the place where the object once was, like a memory.

Finding a way to tell your own story is a universal human pursuit. I sometimes wonder if being a kid who was embarrassed about my penmanship and spelling made visual art more of a lure for me. With the advent of the personal computer and spellcheck, I have gradually become less intimidated, and even attracted to the process of writing. This is a surprise to me given my early experiences. In the end, I think it is important to understand that things that are labeled as “disabilities” are often just differences. I am good at this while someone else is good at that. Part of being a creative person is being able to figure out the less obvious ways to get around obstacles. What I have learned from my differences has certainly been more of an advantage than a hinderance.

Interview: Artist Melisa Cadell

100_4386lowres Today's interview features inspiring individual Melisa Cadel. Melisa has an MFA from East Tennessee State University, with an emphasis on Sculpture and Studio Art, as well as a BFA in Drawing and Painting from University of North Texas. She serves as an adjunct professor at Appalachian State University and leads workshops at craft centers across the United States. She did not realize she was dyslexic until her son Ben was diagnosed in 4th grade. Similar to artist Courtney Dodd's insights about art, perception, and making, Melisa shared a story with us that is moving, compassionate, and vulnerable. Please join us in celebrating her accomplishments and aspirations for the future!

Camp Spring Creek: When did you first suspect that you had dyslexia and how did that realization affect you?

Melisa Cadell: I always tested poorly when it came to standardized tests. I could not spell and reading comprehension was non-existent. I always compensated by listening to what people said about things. I hung out with the intelligent people and soaked up their discussions. I made good marks but was always doing more work than the others to make up for my difficulties. When I applied to colleges there was no problem until they received my horrible SATs and ACTs. I had to be interviewed at the college institution that offered me a basketball scholarship because the scores were so low; I think they just wanted to see if I had an IQ at all. I always thought it was some type of test anxiety or something. I could do just about anything if I had enough time and studied harder than the others. I never dreamed that I was dyslexic.In college, I took classes that were more hands on, after I clomped through remedial English twice, and developed really great study skills. I enjoyed my Literature classes because the instructor I had (for both sections) walked us through each passage. I took copious notes and made great scores on the long essay tests. If someone explained the texts to me I could read multiple meanings into passages. It was like a playground. I graduated with honors in my BFA and a K-12 teaching certification in Art Ed. It took me 6 years. Art was the first thing I did not struggle with. It was a field where there wasn’t a right or wrong as long as you found a non-cliché way to do it. It was about problem solving so the more problems you had the more possibilities existed.

I did not put a label on my inability to be a functional reader until after I completed my MFA with a 4.0. Again I struggled more than my peers but I accomplished what I wanted to. Ben, my oldest child, was diagnosed in the middle of his 4th grade year. Now, I know we are both dyslexic. Why didn’t someone figure this out before Ben’s fourth grade year? Was it because of me? He had all the same struggles. He gets words confused. He has to read things very slowly, more than once. He has difficulty copying things down from the board. Spelling is problematic. He forgets words in the middle of a sentence. He is confused about social interaction. He is terribly forgetful and his organization is very poor. He thinks backwards, like me.

The knowledge of my own disability is wrapped up with the diagnosis of my son and his difficulties. It is not easy for me; it will not be easy for him. I am pleased Ben received his diagnosis and is getting help from an Orton Gillingham tutor. I worry though; at least I was not pegged with low scores and a stigma until I was older. I was not kept from the things I loved because of the struggles. I was always placed in class with my peers and allowed to study any subject I wanted. I just want Ben to hold onto his desire to learn about this amazing world. I am pleased with the ability to see things this way, but it puts me on the outside. Sometimes, that is a lonely place to be. It is because of this solitude that I found myself through art. It communicates all the things I have never been able to voice in any other way. It is only my art that makes me feel like I might have a small understanding of what it means to be a part of this amazing world.

CSC: You're an artist, working primarily in sculptural ceramics. Many studies have shown that people with dyslexia have strong spatial thinking skills and can also "think outside the box." In what ways do you see that dyslexic advantage manifest in your work as an artist?

MC: I think that because it takes me so long to process things, I spend more time thinking. I work at it. I try to see a human side of events. I pay attention to struggles. In a way, I think my artwork is about my effort to comprehend how others see things. As an artist, I use my perception to turn something it on its ear. I do not see struggles in black and white, rather; I see in grey, in a light that is not easily understood.I think much of society is spoiled by the perceived apparent. It seems that people want a right way and a wrong way…but this leaves out the complexity. Complexity is rich and colorful, it is messy, it is beautiful and it is haunting. My work honors something in us all; it is about who we are as humans, that which is good and that which is not. I have not figured it out and do not expect to…and because I learn differently, I have learned to embrace the struggle, as well as, the fact that it does not make sense.

CSC: How has realizing your own dyslexia shaped your relationship with your son, who also has dyslexia?

MC: We are still working through it. It is difficult. I feel very upset about how he has to struggle through things while others do not. In the end, I know it will be a benefit. If he can learn to embrace it for what it can show him, difficult as it may be, he will become a success in whatever it is he wants to do. It is sometimes heartbreaking and I just have to have faith in him that he will find his way. Because of dyslexia, I think he will become a more compassionate person.

I push my son to do his personal best because I know how bright and compassionate he is. I am sympathetic and it makes me a passionate advocate, but that can complicate matters if I don’t step back and problem solve first. Teachers that do not understand the hours it takes to do what others do in a matter of minutes frustrate me, but they do not know what we (dyslexics) know and experience. I have begun to piece together ideas for parents and for teachers. My goal is to make a roadmap that benefits the student. I have built a real relationship with Ben’s teachers this year and believe we are all making progress to make the path easier for those to come.

CSC: Did you have any teachers or relatives throughout your upbringing who you felt most keenly understood your strengths and challenges? Tell us about that individual, and how they made an impression on you.

MC: My parents were always there to let me know that if I wanted it I had the power to achieve it…I know they had to work hard, and it was an encouragement to me. I believe that my mother is dyslexic; it seems she has been crippled by her inability to read and write well. She is a brilliant thinker. Yet her self-confidence was terribly damaged in her youth and she has spent her entire adult life building, it tearing it down, and building it again. I think she often lives through the accomplishments of the ones she has supported. She has felt inferior to those who finished college and made careers for themselves. She is so creatively intelligent and I just wish I could sit within her mind and look at the wonder of it all. I have a feeling that Ben’s diagnosis is helping her see there was a reason she had it so difficult. Knowing why something is the way it is, sometimes, is the first part of healing and the first step to believing.

Interview: Esteemed Designer, Madalyne Marie

MadalyneToday’s interview features inspiring individual Madalyne Marie. The bio on her website offers a delightful introduction: “Madalyne didn't discover her artistic talent until her freshman year of college, however, she always found ways to cultivate her creativity. She grew up dancing, drumming, canyoneering and river rafting. She always had an interest in learning new things, traveling to new places, and helping others to find strength in their challenges. Her proudest accomplishments include having a piece on exhibit at the Smithsonian…Madalyne lives by the firm belief that good design and creative expression should be applied to everything she does, including cooking, rearranging her furniture, or singing car karaoke at the top of her lungs. She and her husband, Dustin, have been married for five years, live in New York City and have exactly zero children.” Camp Spring Creek: So much of the design and logo work you have created for companies like Avon, Mark, Coach, and Four & Twenty Sailors involves unique interpretations and layout of letters and symbols. As professional with the dyslexic advantage, we find this especially intriguing. In what ways do you think being dyslexic informs your creative decisions with letters and symbols, specifically?

Madalyne Marie: I see words and letters as shapes. This helps me see how the letter-forms interact with each other, as well as the space and the environment that they’re in. That environment might be a website or magazine cover for instance. Being dyslexic also helps me see connections between things and solve visual problems quickly because I can bring my intuitive sense for consistency, evolution, and difference into the brainstorming process. When I work with others, this helps me make the visual connections needed to get the job done, as well as to work efficiently.

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CSC: As a graphic designer, your mediums are color and light—two intangible substances. In what ways does being dyslexic inform your ability to manipulate color and light in markedly stunning ways?

MM: Being dyslexic helps me visualize things more clearly and naturally, so I can visualize before I execute ideas. I can see the outcome beforehand and I can see the potential problems as well, so—all around—the work is quicker. For instance, I might decide that I can’t make a background one color and a design feature another color because, in my mind, I can see beforehand that it’s not going to be visually compelling in the way that I want it to be. This is a really positive and empowering tool and I’m still experiencing how useful and important it is, both artistically and professionally.

Growing up, no one shared a message with me about dyslexia that was positive. No one said to me, “I’m dyslexic, I did ok. You’re going to be ok, too.” I’m so passionate about this message now, because there are kids in schools that still think there’s something wrong with them. We need to let them know they’re not attached to a label or an expectation and they’re not attached to shame. They have really positive and empowering tools within themselves, just like I had to discover, as well.

It’s so much easier to label a child “bad” instead of “good.” That kind of thinking isn’t working well for today’s kids. We have to get in on the ground level and reach out to the younger generation. They’re the ones who will change the conversation going forward. If we can get them through school, the more they understand that they’re capable and that they’re needed, the better the world will be.

CSC: What can you tell us about the interactive Dyslexic Advantage traveling installation?

MM: It’s a large, interactive installation that combines three components—the experience of someone growing up being dyslexic, juxtaposed with what dyslexia really is, along with an interactive activity that helps someone experience what it could be like for people who are dyslexic. The installation is fairly large and you can pick up letters and interact with it and move things around to complete your experience.

The title of the installation is Dyslexic Advantage, named after the book and research by Brock and Fernette Eide, because it’s such an incredible resource and inspiration to me. They focus on the struggles, but also the achievements of people with dyslexia. That message was important for me to hear.

I made the installation for the capstone of my BFA project at Brigham Young and it was really life changing. The project let everyone know I was dyslexic. I hadn’t really told people before because I didn’t want people to hold me to different standards. I entered the installation into a few exhibition contests, including the Smithsonian, and a few months later I was accepted into their show called “In/finite Earth,” that toured around the world in 2013.

CSC: In brief, what is your dyslexia discovery story? How and when were you identified and in what ways did that influence your life as you moved forward?

MM: I didn’t actually learn what it means to be dyslexic until my senior year of college. I was identified as dyslexic in 2nd grade and was put in special education my entire childhood. My teachers never sat me or my parents down and told us what it all meant. So for many years, I just thought “dyslexic” was a nicer way to say someone was really stupid or unintelligent.

That’s a really hard way to grow up—believing that you’re never going to be as smart as anyone else. I could always tell that the expectations weren’t as high for me and I didn’t like that. When I got to college, I was able to take my first art class. Growing up, I had extra reading and writing classes, so I was never allowed to take art. But in college, at the end of my first semester, my teacher asked me what I was going to major in and I told him Communications. He told me I was crazy if I didn’t major in Art. To make a long story short, I went with art and, in particular, graphic design, and won an award pretty early on. My capstone project was about dyslexia and traveled around the world through the Smithsonian. Finally, I really, truly, started to understand what dyslexia was—and all the positive things it entails.

Interview: Alison Awes, Montessori/OG Connection

AwesToday’s interview is with inspiring individual Alison Awes. She directs the AMI Elementary training course at the Montessori Center of Minnesota and at Assoziation Montessori Schweiz in Lucerne, Switzerland. She is also the Co-Director of Elementary Training at the Maria Montessori Institute in London. Alison holds AMI diplomas for Primary and Elementary levels, a B.A. in Art History from Smith College, an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, and a M.Ed. in Montessori Education from Loyola University in Maryland. She has taught in both six-to-nine and nine-to-twelve classrooms. Alison is an AMI examiner and has served on the boards of private and charter Montessori schools, as well as other organizations including the AMI Elementary Alumni Association. Ms. Awes attended Montessori school until the age of twelve.  Camp Spring Creek: How did you find your way into this particular niche area of overlap between OG and Montessori?

Alison Awes: I’m dyslexic and I went to Montessori school as a child in the 70’s and 80’s, when there wasn’t much awareness about dyslexia or processing disorders. It wasn’t until I was in college and my younger brother was in middle school and he was diagnosed with dyslexia, that I made the connection. A lot of things came together for me at that time and I went and got tested as well. So much opened up for us as a family at that point and the pieces fell into place.

I moved on to art history and eventually art education, but I felt my specialization was too narrow. I went home and had lunch with my old Montessori schoolteacher in Minneapolis, and he suggested Montessori training. Once I got into the classroom, my own experience with my own learning was finally able to support the psychology and development of the children I was teaching.

I didn’t take OG training until much later. As you know, Montessori started in many ways with special needs children. So much of what she discovered was born from this idea of different learning styles. Eventually, when I took OG training, I saw that the principles there were the principles I was already using in Montessori—for example, multi-sensory work. I saw very clearly that the vast majority of the principles in both of these systems were working together.

CSC: How have you integrated OG principles into your Montessori classrooms?

AA: Because I work mostly with adults who are training to be Montessori teachers now, I’ll share how I’ve worked with them. When I teach trainees, I teach that we need to remember that every child is a learner and we’re there to nurture that. We can’t make them learn, but we can create the psychological and physical environment for their optimum development. That’s true for children with dyslexia as much as it is true for any other learner--a child with a physical impairment, a child with no hindrances at all, etc.

My hope now is that my trainees take those principles and use that to support all of what they do. If 3-year-old children aren’t attracted to rhymes, that’s something a teacher needs to take note of. Just because a child isn’t reading yet, doesn’t mean a teacher can’t have his/her eyes open to see who is at risk. It’s the awareness piece that I’m able to bring to my trainees.

CSC: You wrote a phenomenal article about dyslexia and the Montessori classroom that details Congress’ National Reading Panel results, which in large part included recommendations that are very Montessori or OG related. Yet the results were sometimes criticized, and other times what they suggest has been hard to actually implement in the public school system. Why is that?

AA: This speaks to the bigger question about education in the United States right now. Over and over, we see this newfangled something that’s supposed to be the save-all in education. For example, “Oh let’s all be multi-sensory!” or “Let’s arrange our classrooms in tables instead of desks!” and this one trick will fix everything. It’s very difficult to get people to shift their thinking about how children learn.

There are also financial and political factors—textbook companies, taxes. For Montessorians and OG folks who are so passionate about what we do, there’s also a lot of “buyer beware” in the marketplace. Anyone can throw a Montessori sign on their door, but it may not have anything to do with the true, certified Montessori principles. OG has to face that somewhat as well. But if the neighborhood school with the Montessori/OG sign on its door does a poor job, that can lead to misconceptions.

Our educational system is rooted in the factory model. It was designed to help children who only went to school if they couldn’t find work on the farm. They were told that “children are seen, not heard.” None of that had to do with the child as his/her own person. Trying to break those molds is really tricky. What it boils down to is respect for the child and we’re not very good at that as a society. We’re good at putting a child in a playpen or in front of technology so the parents aren’t bothered. These things are really ingrained, even in the most well-intentioned parents. As a society, we have to look at that, too.

CSC: For our readers who may not be familiar with Maria Montessori's training methodology, your article offers a quick glance: "Teachers study observation theory and practice specific observation techniques so that once leading their own classroom, they are prepared to consider different learners’ approaches in context and devise strategies based on their knowledge of the different ways in which learning can work. Teachers learn about the nature of the child, including her sensitive periods, psychological characteristics, and human tendencies. In this manner, Montessori teachers already have preparation for noticing, and then meeting, the specific needs of any individual learner in their charge." Are there ways in which this method, proven to meet the needs of children of all learning styles--and dyslexic children in particular--can be integrated into the traditional university teacher training programs? How, specifically, and who is at the forefront of this integration right now?

AA: Integration is a tough one. Our early university classes (Intro to Education, Intro to Psychology) don’t often mention Maria Montessori. I think just having a mention in those kinds of survey courses would be a great place to start.

There are some universities where you can get an AMI certification and a master’s at the same time—Loyola University Maryland, Saint Catherine University in Saint Paul, and I believe in San Diego and Hartford as well—but it’s still two separate things. You have a Montessori certificate and you have a Master’s in Education. There are also other places where folks are trying to get AMI training count towards a teaching degree for the public education system.

One of the things our students at Saint Catherine’s do is actual research. This addresses an area as Montessorians that is really lacking—and that is published, credible research. We need more documentation for society to start to make advances. That’s what people respond to and if we want to see change, we’ve got to start there.

I do think that whenever the day comes that a person can get their Montessori training and their state license to teach in a way that doesn’t require two master’s degrees, that’s when we’re really going to open doors.

Interview: Artist Courtney Dodd

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Today's interview features inspiring individual Courtney Dodd. Courtney is a conceptual artist living in Asheville, North Carolina. She earned an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, completed a two-year Core Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts, and has been honored with several artist residencies across the United States. She makes work that intimately explores the "psychological and emotional effects of shifting visual phenomena." In this interview, she shares the personal explorations of her own dyslexia story, as well as the advantages she experiences as an artist living and making with dyslexia.

Camp Spring Creek: Can you tell us when and how you first learned that you were dyslexic? How did this knowledge change your understanding of yourself and how you experience the world?

Courtney Dodd: I remember having to stay in during recess in preschool to practice tying knots. I was the only kid in my class that couldn’t tie my own shoes. Then, the challenge moved on to reading clocks. Far into elementary, it was difficult for me to read clocks and tell my right hand from my left. All of these are supposedly early signs of being dyslexic. I went to a private tutor for reading and memorized tricks for spelling. I thought of myself as trying to fit into a world that wasn’t personally, easily accessible.

Although I excelled at school, growing up I had a strong sense of embarrassment about my dyslexia. Handwritten notes were hidden and have long sense merged to spell-checked computer documents. But it has become apparent that anxiety is the true negative, rather than dyslexia, as the one thing that can hold me back. I learn and grow exponentially more when I am open, honest, and unafraid.

Being a dyslexic student has made be a better teacher. Being a dyslexic person has made me a more sympathetic friend. I am better in many ways for being dyslexic.

CSC: You make work that explores the duality of seeing and not seeing. We find that parallel with your dyslexia diagnosis fascinating, because so much of living with dyslexia has to do with "seeing" the world differently. Tell us a little bit more about the unique vision you bring to your work when you enter the studio--what is your goal, what is your desire, what is your attitude as you explore, etc.?

CD: An artist is essentially a filter for their environment. I absorb, filter and translate my surrounding atmosphere. My ultimate goal is to begin a thread of communication between my work and the viewer, which acts as a link between the audience and myself. In a fast-paced world, I hope to slow the tempo of the conversation and let the viewer marinate with my work. By searching for meaning in the artwork, we start an exchange between the work and the viewer, and back again—much like the washing of the ocean on the beach. There are no wrong answers, nor inaccurate translations. Just as in life, we each act as our own filters, deciphering the codes adjoining us.

Being dyslexic has at times been challenging, frustrating, and embarrassing. The complications of life are what help us understand ourselves more deeply and, most importantly, relate to those around us. Our happiest moments are always measured in relation to our most heartbreaking. There is forever a duality and paradox within the ebb and flow of life. Dyslexia is one of my struggles and yet, it is one of my accomplishments.

CSC: Your career has led to many successes--from artist residencies to solo exhibitions to teaching opportunities. Details and planning are sometimes a challenge for those gifted with what we like to call the "dyslexic advantage." Has this been your experience? If so, have any of your career successes presented you with challenges specific to dyslexia and how did you work with that?

CD: An artist has to constantly speak, write, and explain their work. Being dyslexic has at times proven difficult. I often hide my handwritten notes or journals because of my spelling and shorthand explanations. Some people misconstrue spelling mistakes or the confusion of numbers or letters as ignorance. Because I frequently jumble letters and numbers, I have a personal system of reviewing myself. Slowing down and checking and rechecking has become habitual. Calendars, electronic reminders, prompts, and apps all keep me on track and on-point for my goals, priorities, and schedules.

I often multitask between two different jobs during a day. I keep an electronic list of to-do notes and try to prepare all work before it is due to give time to make sure it is correct. Planning is helpful, preparation is constructive, but when I’m having a hard day and things aren’t lining up correctly in my mind, I find that patience with myself is most effective.

CSC: Tell us about what you are most excited about with regard to your artwork right now. What do you have coming up and what concepts are you exploring? How does that initial exploring begin for you--in your head, in a journal/sketchbook, in the studio, or something else?

CD: I am currently creating a body of work that revolves around the idea of seeing and the distortion of what is seen. I make blown glass filters, alter them by sanding their surface, and then take photographs through them. Water and condensation is also another media that I am taking images through. I consider myself a conceptual artist, which simply means that I am driven by my ideas. I begin with a thought and build from there. My material and form are shaped by my concept. Over time, my personal aesthetic has developed—but again, this has been shaped by my concepts and ideas.

The most fruitful moments in making for me have been during the creative process. I might have an idea, be working through a piece, or think I’m almost done. But there is an essential point, as an artist, that I have to be observant of during the development of a piece. This essential point is a selective and transient moment when an idea that originated in my head is transformed through working with my hands. This has the potential to become more than the original thought. This is the objective that I keep working towards; these ideas that are smarter than I am, that are a balance of thoughtfulness and hard work.

Courtney's work is driven by a genuine desire to explore the limits of what we see as it relates to what is actually there--both literally and metaphorically. What initiates doubt? What forms beliefs? How do we behave as a society if the act of revealing is simultaneously paired with the act of concealing? These are questions Courtney deeply considers, and some of her "answers" can be viewed here.

Interview: James Banister

220x126-jamesbanisterToday's interview is with inspiring individual James Banister, the CEO of FXecosystem, a company that provides services to global money exchange markets. James is an entrepreneur with dyslexia who also spreads a message of empowerment with those he meets along the way.  Camp Spring Creek: We first learned about your work through this Guardian article, and were moved by your belief that "The most important thing dyslexic people want to prove is that there’s something else they can bring to the table." What is that "something else" for you and how did you find your way to that point in your life?

James Banister: For me the “something else” is the skills I have cultivated that don’t depend on reading quickly, such as creative thinking, problem solving and considering things from more than one perspective. I always wanted to work in the City of London (home to the UK’s hugely successful financial industry) and I was determined that the difficulties I faced during my education and my lack of formal qualifications were not going to stop me from getting there.

CSC: You talk about focusing on the wider picture of a business, enabling you to forsee problems before they occur and head them off "at the pass," as they say. It's been shown that many people with dyslexia have strong spatial thinking and analytical thinking skills. Can you tell us briefly about an example of these skills working in your favor, either professionally or personally?

JB: This has been central in formulating my business strategy and considering the future of the business, which is one of the most important aspects of running a company. I can picture a range of “what if?” scenarios and this helps me to anticipate (hopefully accurately!) how circumstances might evolve.

CSC: One thing you've done that makes your business stand apart is "develop innovative and cost effective FX connectivity." For those of us outside the business and trade worlds, what does this mean? Or perhaps most pertinently, what specific problem existed that you solved, and how do you think dyslexia might have played a hand in that solution?

JB: I have over 20 years’ experience in foreign exchange and my deep understanding of the industry enabled me to see how technology could be used to increase speed. For banks and other financial institutions, speed of pricing is crucial. FXecosystem provides access to high tech lines, over which FX prices travel and we can help to transmit this data to our clients much faster than the blink of an eye. Like many things which sound complex, it’s actually quite simple. My dyslexia helped me to bring a direct and analytical approach to where and how an improvement could be made in this market. When it comes to running the firm and gaining new clients, it helps that I enjoy developing and maintaining business relationships. However, it’s not enough just to have a successful meeting; it’s the follow up afterwards which really counts. Early in my career I honed my skills in taking notes (no one remembers everything they discussed), reviewing them straight afterwards and following through.

CSC: One thing we make a point to focus on at Camp Spring Creek is empowering our campers, giving them confidence in their abilities (rather than labeling a "disability"), and teaching them how to self-advocate. In all your travel, professional interactions, and meetings, have you met or worked with others who you believe might be dyslexic? Have you had occasion to discuss dyslexia with other adults and/or assist someone in identifying his/her learning differences and seeing those differences as an advantage?

JB: I have several friends who are dyslexic and they have fulfilling careers. Each of them has focused on where their strengths lie to achieve their goals. I often discuss dyslexia with family, friends and colleagues. Lots of children have dyslexia. I want to help young people get what they want and need from education as a route to a rewarding life. You are not alone in these challenges and the huge effort is worthwhile. Be confident and believe in your abilities and others will too.

Interview: Max'Is Creations

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Today's interview is with an inspiring young man named Max J. Ash. Max is a budding entrepreneur with dyslexia who created a slam-dunk mug design at just eight years old. When asked by his 2nd grade art teacher to make a mug, Max had the ingenious idea to add a hoop for tossing marshmallows into hot cocoa.  Max’s parents helped him submit The Mug With A HoopTM to a product innovation contest held at Fenway Park and he was named a top ten finalist and winner of the community vote.  A full court press put the mug into production and with over 18,000 units sold (approximately $400,000 in retail sales) in the first few months on the market, it now serves as a model success story that raises support and awareness for the upside of kids who learn and think differently.  Max was recently issued his first patent from the U.S. Patent office and he has additional patents pending.  He is Chief Creator and Chairman of the Board of MAX’IS Creations, Inc., the family business he now runs with the help of his parents and brother Sam.  He is currently in 4th grade at The Carroll School in Waltham, Massachusetts, a school for children with language-based learning disabilities. He is an avid baseball and basketball player and connoisseur of basketball shoes and socks. Max's full story and Max'Is Creations business are worth checking out. We're delighted to publish his interview, below:

Cam Spring Creek: Your idea was born out of two passions--food and sports. Tell us a little more about your favorite teams and some of your favorite versions of games to play with your mugs.
Max: Well, my favorite basketball team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.  I have two favorite baseball teams:  the Red Sox and the A’s (Athletics). For games to play with my mugs, I like to toss marshmallows into hot chocolate. Kids can play H-O-R-S-E with my mugs. 
Max's older brother Sam, who helped him with the interview, adds: And if they have two mugs they can play against each other.

Max with Mug.

CSC: Out of all the steps you've taken to go from your initial assignment in school to a successful business with multiple patents (or patents pending), we're most curious about the manufacturing. How did you decide on MudShark Studios in Oregon and are the white mugs still made there? How did you decide on the manufacturer in Thailand?

Max: It was hard to find a place to manufacture in the USA.  My dad found Brett Binford of Mudshark Studios in Portland Oregon and he offered to help me make my mugs.  We sent him 3D printed pieces that he could use to make the molds.  And then he made my first edition white mugs. The mugs made at Mudshark Studios cost too much to sell them.  So we tried to have my mugs made in China but the factory did it horribly.  So then we found another factory in China but it looked bad. The color was bad and the rims were crooked.  So then my dad searched up people and found Ed Weiner at Maryland China Company. Ed works with a great factory in Thailand and he has become our sourcing agent and manufacturing partner. He does the factory visits and tells people what to do to make the mugs right and they ship them on a boat to us.

CSC: Part of your path has involved presenting to large groups of people, sometimes reading a speech. Because reading, in particular, is often a notable challenge for people with dyslexia, we always like to ask folks what special tricks or techniques they employ as they practice and prepare for important presentations. Can you fill us in?

Max: I have a hard time answering questions and do better reading off a script.  Sometimes my parents help me create a powerpoint and I read that and in some interviews they have a teleprompter.

CSC: We're curious about what advice you would give to a creative, young person like yourself who also has dyslexia...maybe this person is full of innovative ideas, but doesn't have a support network in place (like your awesome parents!) or feels that nothing they do is good enough. What might you say to this person?

Max: Keep trying to work harder and try your best.

Camp Spring Creek: Our campers come from all over the world to spend 4-8 weeks with other creative thinkers and make friends for life. But many have had experiences before they arrive that don't sit well--feeling misunderstood at school, experiencing low self-esteem, unexplained challenges, or constant comparison to their peers. What is your "dyslexia discovery story," including some highs and lows?

Max's older brother Sam answered this question: When Max was little, he didn't learn at the same pace as everyone else in his classroom so he had a hard time learning to read. My parents found The Carroll School, which is a school for kids with learning disabilities. Since going to Carroll, Max's reading has improved gigantically and he has improved on his writing. Max has learned that he's as smart as everyone else he just needs different kind of teaching.

In Their Own Words: Mother & Son Spark Giving

Ben at camp, 2014. Ben’s full story is posted here. We’re using today’s blog post to further help Ben in his self-motivated, self-organized fundraising efforts to send one if his friends in need to camp this summer. Big Heart Ben's online campaign is here.

“Ben’s really excited about trying to be part of something that will help other kids out in the area,” says his mother, Melisa Cadell. “It can be very hard to locate and expensive to have OG tutors in the classroom. It’s out of reach for many people in Mitchell County. Any awareness raising that we can do feels really important.”

Ben wrote a letter to hand-deliver to local businesses, which has gotten the ball rolling. Although the funds will go directly to help a Mitchell County child, he’s accepting donations from around the globe and would be delighted if any blog readers want to help out.

“Toward the end of last summer, Ben kept talking about his friends from school who would benefit from Camp Spring Creek,” says Cadell. “He realized he was experiencing and amazing transformation and realized that if other students had that opportunity it would also be beneficial.”

Any amount—from $10 to $100—will help Ben reach is goal to raise $3350 (with Camp Spring Creek providing matching funds). Here is his letter:

Dear Community,

My name is Ben. I am a student in Mitchell County. I was tested for dyslexia last year. I was tutored and went to Camp Spring Creek.

I learned to read better. I met people from all over the world. They were dyslexic like me. I want to help other kids like me. Please help me raise money for their camp.

Thank you,

Ben

 

His mother’s also wrote a letter, to accompany Ben’s:

Dear Community Leader,

Enclosed you will find a letter from my eleven-year-old son discussing the challenges of a condition called dyslexia. It affects about 15-20 % of any population. About 5% are severely limited in their education if the problem is not addressed.

There are limited opportunities for the public schools in our area to assist these students due to the lack of public funding and properly trained tutors. Dyslexia is neurologically based and creates difficulties in processing of information. It is not a sign of poor intelligence; rather, many dyslexics go on to become successful because of their innate ability to find inventive ways to solve problems. They are often gifted in areas such as math, science, engineering, art, and technology. That being said, too many fall between the cracks and are limited because of their failure in our education system.

The stigma that my son and other dyslexic students are finding the most difficult to maneuver is that they are often categorized as unable to learn at the normal classroom pace. Reading is such an important component in testing and, because of this, they are often retained and or placed in classes that do not expect much from them.  

We are fortunate in this small community to have a special camp that serves an international dyslexic community with tutors and counselors that come from all over the United States and abroad. Camp Spring Creek offers and opportunity for these underserved students to learn and thrive. Specially trained tutors help campers organize time, learn how to decode language, understand vocabulary and improve fluency.

The cost of the camp is very expensive because of the specially trained staff and the extracurricular activities they offer. Many young people in our area cannot afford the tuition, but through a generous opportunity granted by their Board of Directors last year, my son  was allowed to attend as a day camper. In a four-week span he improved his reading by two grade levels. He is now attempting to make this possible for other students by helping raise awareness and speaking to public groups who could help fund the opportunity for others.

If you can contribute by having him speak at your organization or by financially donating funds to this cause, you would be making a difference in the life of a student who has struggled so hard to gain an education within a system that is often unable to help because of limited funding.

Thank You,

Melisa Cadell

Donations for Ben's cause can be made by calling camp at 828-766-5032 or giving online right here.

Interview: David Flink Thinks Differently

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday’s interview is with inspiring individual David Flink. According to his website, “David, like so many of the kids on whose behalf he serves today, struggled through much of his pre-college education, feeling marginalized by his education as a whole. Although his parents and teachers frequently reassured him that college was in the cards, he would have found that message more actionable, and useful, if it had come from a peer, a person with a learning difference who had finished college. With that in mind, David co-founded Eye to Eye in 1998 while a student at Brown University. Eye to Eye is the only national mentoring movement that is empowering young people with LD by giving them a mentor who shares that experience.” Last month, we recommended David’s book, titled Thinking Differently, and this month we caught up with him by phone for the following interview. Camp Spring Creek: We’ve seen your video for the Dyslexic Advantage Conference and appreciated your take on life. Can you briefly tell us your dyslexia discovery or diagnosis story?

David Flink: I was pretty shy as a kid. I had moments of feeling gregarious, especially in things unrelated to academics. If you asked me to pull a quarter out of someone’s ear, you would see a different person than you saw in school. Things really came to a head for me in fifth grade when I went to a Jewish day school, with half the day in English and half the day in Hebrew. I was pulled aside because I was struggling and had all English all day. But it wasn’t that I needed more English, it was how my brain worked. It was not the fault of the teachers, of course, they just didn’t really know about dyslexia in the same ways that we do now. That school actually now has a program for dyslexia with better options. At any rate, at that point in my life I was completely bankrupt in terms of my self-esteem. Thankfully, my parents understood and I was tested and diagnosed.

In some ways, that diagnosis was a relief because I had a word to describe my problem. But in other ways, the words “dyslexia” and “ADHD” and “diagnosis” are not words that inspire a lot of hope for a 5th grader. Because of that, the real “discovery” and optimism happened for me when I was invited to leave the Jewish day school and transferred to the Schenck School in Atlanta. Over the course of two years, I became a square peg with a square hole. My diagnosis finally felt like a discovery and a community, not a condition.

CSC: You're currently touring and speaking due to the success of your book, which we recommended to our readers. Have you faced any surprising challenges on the road that are specific to your dyslexia--perhaps expectations from people managing or organizing events--that have provided a chance for you to creatively problem solve and come at things a different way?

DF: I’ve had some really unusual experiences specific to my dyslexia. If I could point to one that really fleshed out what it means to be a dyslexic author and the goals of Eye to Eye, as well as what it means to be an empowered learner, it would be the interview that I did for a particular radio show. Things were moving so quickly this year that I didn’t have a lot of time to prep. I just sort of showed up. I figured the show would want me to do a reading and I had a passage of my book memorized. I showed up, but they had selected their own parts of the book that created a cohesive message of its own. I didn’t have any of that memorized.

I said I couldn’t do it that way. They said, “What do you mean, you wrote it?”

It turns out, the show was pre-recorded and I had time, so I used my own advocacy skills—the same skills I pinpoint in the book—and I asked for double time to do the recording. Eventually, I memorized their selected passages and read it with the passion that they wanted. It went on the air and it all went over fine. I liked that the experience, in the end, probably taught them a little bit about the scope of all learners and opened them up to being more prepared for hosting dyslexic authors in the future.

CSC: Along the same lines, as a public speaker, is there something you wish other people knew about that experience for someone with dyslexia that doesn’t often come up?

DF: You can’t look at me and know I have ADHD or dyslexia at first glance. In many ways, I think my goal is to normalize that and help underscore that the way I learn is the same for 1 in 5 people in America—literally one of the largest minority groups in the country. I’m hopeful that people who come and hear me speak will understand that I can be an example of the potential for all learners, not just 1 in 5. The key to embracing that potential is unlocking how individuals learn best. Highlighting my two deficits and turning them into strengths, while acknowledging that there are things that will always be hard for me, is still okay. If you embrace the idea that our diversity as learners is a good thing, you can see that it essentially makes us more productive citizens, friends, spouses, brothers, sisters, workers, etc. At our Eye to Eye offices, 80% of our staff has a diagnosed learning difference. We show up with our strengths and our deficits on our sleeves. We can work better that way.

CSC: You seem to have a great sense of humor and welcoming energy. Often times, a gregarious personality is the result of overcoming an inner struggle, private confusion, or loss. Have you always been outgoing, or did you have to teach that to yourself? Did you meet or learn about any role models along the way who informed you about the best way to present yourself?

DF: I think I’m probably naturally a people person, even though I’m more of an introvert. The thing that I taught myself was how to use my story and the story of Eye to Eye as a way to help the world. I like telling stories and I grew up hearing stories. My grandfather was a barber, so if you’ve ever been to an old barber shop, you know that half of it is about how you cut hair and the other half is about what you hear while you’re there. I was always out to do what my grandfather did—the storytelling part—and I had to teach myself that, particularly the public speaking aspect. My general feeling is that you should be whoever you want to be. My ideal evening is often just sitting with my wife and a cup of tea and reading the newspaper quietly.

CSC: Let's talk about this idea that dyslexia is this ability rather than a disability. We agree, and we tell our campers that every single day. Can you give us a real-life example of experiencing your ability in a way that let you think outside the box, creatively respond, or solve a problem when your peers without dyslexia were still "stuck" trying to find their way through?

DF: I like to think that probably happens on some level everyday, because you never grow out of your dyslexia. I would say that best idea that ever came out of my dyslexia and seeing the world differently is Eye to Eye. So many people in this world want to help kids with LD and dyslexia and that’s wonderful, but it’s still not enough. In addition to caring parents and caring teachers, I came to understand that I could play a role that no one else had seen before. I could go meet with a child and tell them what my experience was with LD and listen to their experiences and be a support. In some cases, those kids didn’t have a supportive parent or a place like Camp Spring Creek, so I was the only outlet. In other cases, what I offered enhanced the trajectory for that kid. My ability is my story and only I have that. Seeing that, for me, changed everything.

One of the most exciting things I’ve seen in Eye to Eye is that after our mentees get mentored, they often become mentors. Now, they’ve become so engaged in learning, that many of them are staying in education. That impact is huge. That’s taking a disability and turning it into this ability to think differently.

Interview: Sheneen Daniels

20140407_005Today's blog features inspiring individual Sheneen Daniels. Dr. Sheneen Daniels is the Director of the Clinical Division for CReATE, a unique private practice specializing in the provision of evidenced-based evaluations and the implementation of applied clinical research. At CReATE, she manages all clinical, administrative, programmatic, supervision, and training for a team of doctoral-level psychologists, graduate students, and other clinicians. She is a licensed psychologist with over 15 years experience in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders and conditions. Dr. Daniels currently holds a position as Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with primary duties as Consulting Psychologist to the UNC TEACCH Autism Program (Asheville Center). Camp Spring Creek: You have conducted thousands of psychological evaluations, many for children with learning differences such as dyslexia. Based on your experience, if there was a message you could give to others about how these children experience the world, what message would that be?

Sheneen Daniels: Well, I think the main message would be that children with dyslexia are as unique and diverse as children without dyslexia, and although it is very important to identify dyslexia early in development, I think it is just as important to identify the strengths and gifts of children early as well. I have seen children with dyslexia who are socially gifted,  masters at constructing things with their hands, unbelievably musically talented, stellar math students, or athletically gifted; the list goes on and on. Every child has a gift and it is important to identify and build upon these strengths, particularly as you are addressing the child’s challenges with reading and/or school in general. The second most important message is to instill hope with understanding. When parents first receive a diagnosis of dyslexia for their child, sometimes it can be overwhelming and they may believe the diagnosis will be a barrier to their child’s long-term success. The child may have started to feel demoralized as school is a big part of a child’s life and receiving a diagnosis may make them feel as if something is inherently “wrong” with them, rather than understanding that his/her brain may just process information differently. However, with the right intervention, support, and a focus on the child’s strengths, children with dyslexia can be quite successful and the possibilities are truly endless!

CSC: Your career demonstrates an admirable commitment to both research and meeting the needs of people with neurodevelopmental conditions and disorders. Those of us who don't work in the sciences often carry an image of the researcher as an inaccessible scientist, dressed in lab whites, holding a clipboard, and sternly overlooking his/her case studies. Can you tell us a little bit about how you balance the emotion and the science of your work? Do they have to be separate? Or perhaps more keenly stated, how do you negotiate the balance between passionate interest and emotional investment, with the objectivity that clinical research requires?

SD: I firmly believe that psychological testing is both a science and an art. Science in that it requires hypothesis testing, data collection and interpretation, as well as a strong, understanding of evaluation instruments, statistics, and current research. However, it is also an art, because it requires creativity, experience, and compassion in order to translate the science in a way that will be helpful for a particular child or family. It really doesn’t matter how much knowledge you have about statistics or research if you can’t present the information in a way that makes sense for the ones who need to understand it. On the flip side, you can have a lot of compassion but if you do not really understand how the science informs clinical practice, then your ability to help the child or family is limited. Every clinician will talk about cringe-worthy cases early in their career, largely related to their inexperience, self doubt, or refusal to think creatively or flexibly. For me, the cases where I was unable to effectively communicate and instill hope, encourage exploration, and ultimately inspire the family (or child) to move forward, tend to be my greatest regrets. At this point in my career, I can share so many wonderful success stories with parents and children who are receiving the diagnosis for the first time, and this can be very inspiring for them as well.

CSC: There are many barriers to early intervention, not the least of which is simply awareness of the fact that early intervention is important and can yield successful outcomes for children with learning differences. But I'm thinking about some of the families in our neck of the woods--many of whom would struggle to get a day off of work (losing pay) to take their child to Asheville (gas money) for an assessment they can't afford. What options do these families have or where might your refer them?

SD: The child’s school system can be the best place to start, though there admittedly are barriers in this environment as well.  There can be long timelines and the school is not required to test a child just because the parents request it, although making the request is the first step and should be done in writing. Parents should remember that they are their child's best advocate and communicating regarding their concerns and/or their child's progress can be instrumental. Regarding private evaluations, insurance and Medicaid do not cover psychological testing solely for educational purposes or to determine if a child has dyslexia specifically. However, if there is also concern about ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder or other “medical” disorders, then sometimes the testing can be covered to investigate those conditions. Other diagnoses identified during the evaluation process, including dyslexia, could be documented in the process. Another great resource is a university psychology clinic, where graduate students may administer the tests but are closely supervised by licensed psychologists. Western Carolina University, for example, has a great Psychological Services Clinic and comprehensive evaluations are available for a very low price and may even be discounted based on a family’s ability to pay.

CSC: With your degrees, many areas of research were possible for you. What inspired you to focus your career on neurodevelopmental conditions and disorders, or specifically, learning differences?

SD: I have always really liked math and the sciences always appealed to me; however, I also was drawn to pursuing a discipline where I could make a difference in some way. My first semester of graduate school in clinical psychology included both assessment and statistics courses, which I thought were fascinating, though this was not the case for many in my graduate class! I was intrigued by the variability that I saw in how individuals approached certain tasks and what that might tell us about how their brain processed information or where their strengths might lie. I became especially interested in dyslexia after studying Sally Shaywitz’s work, as she was really able to pinpoint brain functioning through functional MRI’s, and helped to clarify a disorder that was previously misunderstood. And not only did her work bring understanding to dyslexia, but the research also showed that with the right intervention (and early!), individuals could actually modify their brain functioning in ways that could help them to become more fluent readers. I felt that her research brought so much understanding and hope and was able to experience this first hand with a young family member of mine. This particular individual was diagnosed at a young age with a reading disability, though dyslexia was never explained to him. He was quite determined, however, and worked hours on his homework every night for years, though he still struggled. By late high school, however, he was quite discouraged and perceived himself to be not very smart (despite having a superior IQ!). He was conditionally accepted to a local university but had no intention of seeking out support services due to self consciousness and very low expectations for success (he did not believe he would make it past the conditional enrollment period). Around this time, I was nearing the end of my graduate studies and encouraged him to get an updated evaluation with a clinician who had an understanding of dyslexia. The result was truly remarkable. Once he understood that dyslexia meant he had isolated weaknesses in phonemic awareness, spelling, and a slow reading speed -- but that he was quite bright and capable of succeeding in college, his motivation, determination, and expectation for success returned. He subsequently took advantage of support services and accommodations in college and went on to graduate and become a successful professional in the financial field, earning prestigious credentials. This experience highlighted for me, firsthand,  the importance of understanding both limitations (i.e., disorders, such as dyslexia) BUT ALSO strengths and how to apply this knowledge towards developing a success-oriented plan for the future.

Interview: Dr. Nora S. Newcombe

Newcombe-at Infant LabToday's interview features inspiring individual Nora S. Newcombe. Dr. Newcombe is Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology and James H. Glackin Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Temple University. Her Ph.D. was received in 1976 from Harvard University, where she worked with Jerome Kagan. Her research focuses on spatial cognition and development, as well as the development of autobiographical and episodic memory. A recent emphasis is on understanding the nature, development and malleability of spatial skills that facilitate learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). She is currently Principal Investigator of the NSF-funded Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) and co-directs the Temple Infant and Child Laboratory (TICL) on Temple’s Ambler Campus and the Research in Spatial Cognition (RISC) Lab on Main Campus. Dr. Newcombe is the author of numerous chapters, articles, and books, including Making Space with Janellen Huttenlocher (published by the MIT Press, 2000). Her work has been recognized by numerous awards and publications. We're delighted to feature her wisdom in this interview. Camp Spring Creek: We came across your essay published in American Educator titled “Picture This: Increasing Math and Science Learning by Improving Spatial Thinking” and agreed wholeheartedly with your observations. Thank you so much for providing teachers with concrete, age-appropriate ideas about incorporating spatial learning opportunities in their classrooms. We were struck by the idea that “learning styles” (ex. kinesthetic, auditory, visual) are a relative myth, and depend more on what a child is exposed to rather than any innate skills. Can you tell our readership, many of whom were trained under that philosophy of learning styles, a little more about this myth?

Dr. Nora S. Newcombe: Many people feel strongly that they like to learn some ways more than other ways. I think they may be right sometimes about what works for them, but not always. A particularly dangerous idea is that if you don’t like something or think you aren’t good at it, you should avoid it. Now that we know you can improve, it is sensible to say that we should all at least try to be well-rounded. It’s like eating. You may really and truly not like vinegar or artichokes, but you don’t really know until you’ve tried them. You might become an artichoke lover!

CSC: Is there one publication above all others that you might recommend for an enthusiastic education advocate or parent interested in learning differences? We’d like to know about something that isn’t wholly academic, but is still solid in its research and selection of content.

Dr. Newcombe: I would recommend another article in the American Educator. It’s by Dr. Daniel Willingham at the University of Virginia, whose Ask the Cognitive Scientist columns provide a wonderfully accurate and accessible account of what educators should know about cognitive science research. See http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2005/ask-cognitive-scientist.

CSC: What advice would you give to a new elementary teacher who feels determined to “do it all,” yet likewise overwhelmed by the diverse needs presented by the children in any one given classroom?

Dr. Newcombe: I have never been a classroom teacher, but the teachers I know and admire all seem to me to be good at setting goals for themselves, starting with the basics of simple and solid and engaging classes and sensitive interaction with young children. In the longer run, they work on adding nuances and wrinkles. As with many things, it’s good to keep things simple at first, and proceed day by day.

CSC: We’re curious about your personal interest in education advocacy and spatial learning in particular. What draws you to focus on these things and how have you seen children in your own family struggle or succeed in today’s educational environments?

Dr. Newcombe: My interests are based on my love of science and math. I like to look at maps and graphs and diagrams, and I love visual art too. I just want to spread my passion because I think other people may enjoy (and benefit from) this way of thinking too.

Interview: Dr. Mimi Koehl

Mimi Koehl portrait, (c) Edward Caldwell. Continuing our series of interviews with inspiring individuals, we reached out to Mimi Koehl. Professor Koehl didn't learn she was dyslexic until age 45, when the locks to her lab at UC Berkley were changed from a standard lock and key to a coded keypad. She tried and tried to get into her lab and was routinely locked out. Friend and fellow scientist Jack Horner (also interviewed by Camp Spring Creek, right here), had previously suggested Professor Koehl might be dyslexic. After testing, Dr. Koehl found out that, indeed, she was dyslexic.

Mimi Koehl, a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, earned her Ph.D. in Zoology at Duke University. Professor Koehl is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her awards include a MacArthur “genius grant,” a Presidential Young Investigator Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Martin Award, the Borelli Award, the Rachel Carson Award, and the Muybridge Award. She studies the physics of how organisms interact with their environments, focusing on how microscopic creatures swim and capture food in turbulent water flow, how organisms glide in turbulent wind, how wave-battered marine organisms avoid being washed away, and how olfactory antennae catch odors from water or air moving around them.

Camp Spring Creek: When young college students are asked to choose a path in life, art and science are often perceived at opposite ends of the spectrum. As a young woman, you were pushed to pursue art and education, but quickly learned your passion lay with the sciences. But when you speak about the micro marine organisms that you study, your passion and imagination shine forth--often with vivid, visual descriptions that could easily translate into artwork. Do you still pursue the arts? Can you speak a little bit about the connections you find between these two seemingly opposite fields?

Dr. Koehl: I see two similaritities between what artists and scientists do. One is that we are all careful observers of the world around us. Scientists, however, have invented special instruments that enable us to observe things that we could not see just with our eyes. The other similarity is that both scientists and artists deal with abstractions that capture and simplify the important essence of something. Artists do this with paintings and sculptures, while scientists do this with theories and mathematical equations about how things work. Although both artists and scientists can be passionate about their work, scientists have to follow rules of evidence and hypothesis testing to make sure that the answers to their questions are objective. In contrast, art is very subjective. I have poured all of my creative energy into science, so I no longer do art...but maybe I will pick up art again in the future if I ever retire from doing science.

CSC: When you asked the folks at UC Berkley to provide you with a metal lock and key to your lab, after you proved you were dyslexic, how did they respond?

Dr. Koehl: The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to those of us with "learning disabilities" as well as to people with physical diabilities. Therefore, the university had to give me a metal key to my lab. That key for me is like a wheelchair ramp for people who can't walk.

CSC: You taught yourself many "survival skills" to get through the education system as a young girl. Your father shared many tips and techniques with you as well. Knowing what you know now, are there any everyday habits or "go-to" tools you use to make your work as a scientist and teacher more efficient?

Dr. Koehl: There are many, but I will just share a few simple ones…If you can't read things on a computer screen, print them out and then use the bookmark to help you read them. When writing equations, always leave lots of space around them so you can see what terms are in the numerator or denominator, which things are in parentheses, and which things are exponents. Then, use a different color to write the units for each term of the equation. Then, cancel the units and make sure when you are done that the units for the right side of the equation are the same as for the left side of the equation. If they are not, start over rather than getting muddled by the equation you have written that is wrong. Use lots of colored pens and highlighters and Post-Its to color-code your folders, notes, etc., so that you can find what you are looking for on a page or in a pile of papers without having to re-read them (which can take forever). Do not be messy. Keep all your papers and notes organized so you don't have to try to re-read them whenever you need to find something. Allow yourself LOTS of time to get something done. We dyslexics are very slow if reading is involved in a task. It is easier to understand a scientific principle and then use it to answer questions on an exam (or in real life) than it is to try to memorize all those words in the textbook.

CSC: Has learning about your own dyslexia changed the way you instruct others? If so, please share a specific example with us.

Dr. Koehl: Dyslexics are very good at visualizing things in 3-D and in seeing how they change over time. I have tried to use this ability to design visuals (diagrams, videos) to use in my teaching to explain scientific concepts to my students. I have also found that if I organize my slides, blackboard notes, and handouts so that they are easy to sort out by a dyslexic, then they are also easier to use for normal students as well.

Want more? Check out this creative interview with Mimi at I Was Wondering and her inspiring presentation at Dyslexic Advantage.

Interview: Dr. Moskal on Dyslexia & STEM

35c3659We came across this article by Dr. Barbara Moskal via LinkedIn and decided to reach out to her for an interview. We're delighted that she replied! Dr. Barbara M. Moskal is a Professor of Applied Mathematics and Statistics and the Director of the Trefny Institute for Educational Innovation at the Colorado School of Mines. She is also an associate editor for the Journal of Engineering Education. The opinions expressed herein are hers and do not necessarily reflect that of her colleagues or affiliations. Her passions and her work lie in changing the equation for attracting and training students of all ages to STEM. Camp Spring Creek: In your article about dyslexia and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics), you explained the following: "According to Davis and Braun (2010), in 'The Gift of Dyslexia,' many dyslexic students naturally use three-dimensional reasoning as a technique for problem solving. When dyslexic students encounter a problem solving situation, they naturally change their three-dimensional perspective and examine the problem from various angles without shifting their observation point." But a typical classroom doesn't necessarily engage students with spatial learning opportunities, or the chance to creatively solve something through a student's own best means. How would you advise professionals to create lasting change in our education system that encourages acceptance of creative problem solving?

Dr. Moskal: Realistically, scientists and engineers use spatial reasoning everyday. The jobs available in these areas are very rewarding from both a intellectual and financial perspective. All students should have the opportunity to understand science and engineering through the manipulation of their physical world. Not only would this build on the natural abilities that some dyslexic students have but also it is likely to inspire more students’ interests in these lucrative and necessary fields.

Science and engineering were developed using three dimensional reasoning, physical manipulation and experimentation; it is not natural or inspiring to teach these subjects void of these features. If we want students to think like scientists and engineers, then we must allow them to experience science and engineering as the professionals do— through curiosity, experimentation and physical manipulations. Scientists and engineers do use the knowledge of the past and this often requires reading— but this reading is inspired by curiosity and a desire to learn and understand.

In order to implement such a change in the classroom, teachers— especially those who teach science, engineering and mathematics— need to experience science. They need professional development opportunities that allow them to experiment and explore — driven by curiosity and experimentation. What teachers do not need is more text based assignments to give to their students. Science is hands-on. We need to teach it that way.

CSC: Like you, we believe in the importance of early intervention. Can you tell us about one or two organizations or schools that you think are addressing this in compelling, successful ways?

Camper with her robot.

Dr. Moskal: Currently, I am the Director of the Trefny Institute for Educational Innovation at the Colorado School of Mines. Each summer, this institute participates in the Rocky Mountain Camp for Dyslexic Youth (Director: Joyce Bilgrave). We participate in this effort because we believe in the scientific capabilities of these students. Students who struggle to read need to have the opportunity to participate in activities in which they can be successful. Science and engineering offer such activities.  For two weeks of this five week camp, we provide hands-on activities that allow students to experience hands-on scientific and engineering learning. Most of the students are excited to come to their one-hour science unit. For many of them, after a challenging morning of reading, science is just plain fun. My graduate students and I have a blast too, because we know science is fun.

CSC: Playing devil's advocate, there are many reasons people might argue in favor of our current education system, which emphasizes literacy above STEM. For example, in order to drive a car and read directions, it's best if you can read. In order to earn a license, in fact, you have to read the laws and pass the test. You don't have to understand mechanical engineering or how your car works in order to drive it from point A to point B...and you don't have to know how the photocopier works that made copies of the test you took, in order to take it. Help us understand the argument in favor of "more STEM" a little bit more, as though you were explaining it to a skeptical parent.

Dr. Moskal: Students do have to learn to read. However, they also need STEM literacy and many of our young dyslexic students can succeed, and succeed at a very high level, in STEM. Yes, please keep teaching our kids to read, but please also let them experience the joy of science, engineering and mathematics. When I was young, children were permitted to have talents in different areas and to develop these talents at different rates. Some students were excellent in English while others were excellent in mathematics. We need to allow all of our children to develop their talents— whether it be English, science, mathematics or the arts. Please stop removing dyslexic students from science, an area in which they may be able to flourish. Mathematical and scientific curiosity can motivate students to read. It is a different type of reading— reading to learn, something scientists and engineers do everyday.

I want to emphasize that reading is very important and our dyslexic students need to learn to read. They also need to experience success and maybe that success will be in STEM. These students aren’t failing, they are failing to learn to read at the pace that society currently demands. Let’s give them school based subjects in which they can succeed (and that are known to be intellectually challenging)— science and mathematics. Based on our experiences at the Rocky Mountain Camp, when given the chance, these students can succeed in STEM.

I recently wrote an article which will appear in Prism, a magazine that is produced by the American Society for Engineering Education. I was asked to write about students with disabilities and I decided to focus on dyslexia. For that article, I decided to seek out colleagues who are scientists and who had been diagnosed with dyslexia. I wanted to offer success stories as examples of what dyslexic students can achieve. The idea to focus on colleagues occurred to me in the morning and I found a match for my article by that afternoon. I hadn’t officially started my search; I just mentioned the article during one of my meetings and an attendee of that meeting spoke to me afterwards. He shared  his success and his childhood diagnosis. I can’t help but wonder how many scientists struggled to learn to read, and once they succeeded, forgot about or denied that struggle. It is not a popular thing in the scientific world to admit that learning was once difficult, but I suspect that for many it was.

How many dyslexic children can become successful scientists and engineers if only they were told that they can succeed (and better still— experience that success)?  How many children with dyslexia can succeed if they had a role model with the same disability who has succeeded? Let’s set the bar high for all of our children, including those with dyslexia.

CSC: We're really big fans of the Orton-Gillingham approach to learning about the structure of language and find that it is immensely helpful for students with dyslexia--the same students, of course, who more often than not will prove to be very talented in other subject areas, such as STEM. For those of us who don't take naturally to the STEM subject areas, however, what would be the "OG of STEM," so to speak? In other words, for those who show little talent or gifts in the STEM areas (which is different than having a learning difference, we know), what approach or technique might "unlock" these areas?

Dr. Moskal: We all learned through play when we are young; play is instinctual. I play every single day— and it is called science. The OG of science is experimentation and hands-on learning. Unlock the toolkit and allow children to do what they do well— play. Our children need to experience play that is directed to scientific and engineering learning. Play with purpose. Play with enthusiasm. This requires hands-on, physical manipulation and curiosity driven learning. I want all of our children to play.

Interview: The Esteemed Diana Hanbury King

DK 7Eager for camp photos? Check out our Facebook page while you stay tuned for Week One in Photos coming this Tuesday.

Today's inspiring individual is Diana King, one of the topmost influential Orton Gillingham practitioners in history, friend and mentor to the van der Vorsts, and all-around lifetime inspiration. In the course of her 54 years as a teacher, she has transformed the lives of countless young people with dyslexia by giving them hope for a normal and successful future. King has been working with dyslexic children almost longer than anyone else in the field. She is the recipient of the International Dyslexia Association Lifetime Achievement Award, among other recognitions, and continues to support and guide Steve and Susie in their dream to grow Camp Spring Creek.

Camp Spring Creek: You’re known for teaching and inspiring so many others—from students, to parents, to administrators, to today’s top teachers. But you’re also a student of life and were once in school yourself. Please share an "ah-hah" moment that you’ve had as a “learner,” inside or outside the classroom. What were you attempting to do, how did someone help you see it differently, and what did it feel like to succeed?

Diana King: What I remember best were those few moments when someone expressed confidence in me and in my ability to learn. When I was about nine, Alan Brown, a neighbor and Air Force pilot, taught me long division in a way that I understood it. He also gave me a test of digit recall and was impressed with how many I remember—I still have a high score on digit span. Then, when I was ten, I was in a classroom where the other students were learning Latin, which I had never done. I was supposed to be studying something else on my own, but then I blurted out an answer to one of the questions the teacher posed. Immediately, I was invited to join the Latin class. Finally, when I was about thirteen at school in Bermuda, Charles Violet, who also taught me to sail, asked me if I would like to be the school meteorologist. I had no idea what the word meant, but he explained that I would make daily observations of temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and wind speed, and that those results would be sent into the weather bureau in Hamilton.

CSC: You’ve gone on record stating that it is possible to determine whether or not a child has a learning difference by age 4. What are the telltale signs parents and teachers can look for, even in the face of being told by many others that it is “too early to tell”?

DK: First of all, it is important to learn, not just which family members are or were dyslexic, or had difficulty with reading or speaking, but what they are or were good at. If Dad is an architect and Mom is a watercolor artist, or grandfather was an inventor, a surgeon, or an engineer, the dyslexic trait is likely to be in the family. Pay attention to handedness, not just in the immediate family, but in relatives. Does the child show signs of mixed dominance or of being late in establishing dominance? Dyslexia is more common in families where there is a history of mixed dominance. Then of course, one would like to know what the child is good at. Does he enjoy skateboarding or skiing—dyslexic individuals have an enhanced sense of balance. Does he spend hours building elaborate constructions out of Legos? Finally, what about his or her speech? Little reversals such as washerdisher or flutterby may be cute, but they are also symptomatic. Can he rhyme, or does he notice rhyme? The time to diagnose dyslexia is before the child has a chance to fail at reading.

CSC: You co-founded Camp Dunnerback and Kildonan, which have changed the lives of so many people. But despite scholarships that are available, these experiences are not available to the vast majority of children with dyslexia. What would you say to a parent who does not have extra time, energy, finances, or community resources…but has a hunch that “something’s up” with their child’s learning style? How can this parent get his or her child what is needed within the family’s means?

DK: One possibility is to investigate services that may be free. Teachers trained at the Scottish Rite Centers are well qualified, for example. Sometimes members of the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators have members willing to tutor at no cost, or students under training who need a student for their practicum. If all else fails, the best bet might be home schooling. Mothers can work under supervision and work successfully, especially at the beginning stages.

CSC: Please tell our readership about the first time you met Susie and Steve, and how your lives have criss-crossed over the years:

DK: I first remember Steve and Susie as fixtures in the summer program, long before they married. Steve, a quiet and rather shy Dutchman, was a reliable member of our counseling staff and taught swimming and life-saving skills. Susie was vibrant, flirtatious, impulsive, and energetic and an enthusiastic tutor. Their marriage seemed an unlikely combination. In later years, I was able to watch them develop their dream into what became Camp Spring Creek, and raise their three wonderful children. It has been a long and meaningful friendship.

CSC: Congratulations on retiring! How are you spending your days and what’s been the most surprising about this next phase of your life?

DK: The days are never long enough for all I want to do. I garden, cook, enjoy friends, attend local concerts and art shows, watch Netflix movies, read every day—finally time for War and Peace—and try to learn as much as I can about subjects I had never studied. Since my learning has been in languages (French, German, Italian, and Russian), and I never took a science course except for botany as a requirement for my master’s degree, I have become passionate about making up for the deficit. I relish the Great Courses programs and have delved into geology, oceanography, astronomy, anthropology, and am now tackling chemistry and hope to go on to physics and calculus. I am hoping for another ten years.

We’re hoping for at least that many, Diana. Thank you for everything you do!

Interview: Rob Langston, Author & Inspiration

tn_rob-headshot22Todays 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 easeread 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.