Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: Overcoming Dyslexia

by Sally Shaywitz

At the end of a book like this, the question I always come to is, "Would I recommend this book? And if so, to whom?"

If you want to find out what dyslexia is and what to do about it, then yes. If you're looking for encouragement as a homeschooling parent of a child with dyslexia, not so much.

I loved the first 15 chapters. I am new to the world of dyslexia and needed a detailed, practical explanation. She gave me that, along with a step by step plan to help Raccoon become a fast and fluent reader. But towards the end of the book, I was very put off by one paragraph meant for parents of children who attend regular school. It bothered me because what she says is at the heart of my insecurities about teaching Raccoon at home, which is: can I teach him well? I felt especially discouraged because it came as such a surprise. In the beginning of the book she says, "I strongly believe that behind the success of every disabled child is a passionately committed, intensely engaged, and totally empowered parent, usually but not always the child’s mother." This is the paragraph from Chapter 16 (bold is mine):

"While a parent should not become her child’s primary teacher, she can become her child’s biggest helper. With a light hand, good humor, and the suggestions found here, you can help accelerate your child’s progress. In most instances I strongly caution parents against setting out to teach their child all of the phonics rules or a complete reading curriculum. Teaching reading is a complex task and one that should be left to a professional. Keep in mind that your child is in class for perhaps six hours a day. You will see him after school when he is tired and less receptive to learning and when you, too, are not at your most energetic or patient. I recommend that you work with your child fifteen or twenty minutes a few evenings a week; it should remain fun and not a chore for either of you. For the most part, weekends should be left for enjoyment and not to play catch-up. Focus on reinforcement. School is where new learning should take place; home is ideal for practice and reinforcement."

Later, she shares her low opinion of public schools, "...in general, public school programs for children with reading disability are failures" and "On balance, public schools are generally slow to identify a reading problem, provide too little instruction, and, worst of all, often use unproven and incomplete programs taught by teachers who may know little about teaching reading."

She also says that private schools often aren't a good fit for children with dyslexia: "In contrast to most public school settings, I have found that the children in private schools are more likely to be in lockstep with one another. Such schools pride themselves on uniformity, which often extends to the curriculum and to reading instruction. The lack of student diversity in this setting does not usually serve the interests of a student with a reading disability; the opportunities for innovation and for creating special programs are limited."

So I'm not sure which "professionals" she's referring to who aren't parents and apparently aren't public or private school teachers either.

But this point of contention aside, she did provide me with a clear plan of what to do, along with much applicable advice. I cannot compare it to other dyslexia books, having only read this one, but it felt complete enough to me that I haven't done any more research at this point.

From her explanation, I realized that Raccoon and I jumped into phonics last year, but he is missing some of the foundational pre-reading skills. From now until October, we will be focusing on one skill a month: rhyming, sound matching, segmenting, and blending. Once he has mastered these, we will move back into phonics. I expect a totally different and positive outcome for his first grade reading skills.

Many children don't receive remediation until third grade, so I am glad that we are starting now. Our goal is 90 minutes of reading and related activities 5 days a week. So far we're averaging about 30 minutes of reading a day.

Favorite quotes:

"On the other hand, dyslexics appear to be disproportionately represented in the upper echelons of creativity and the people who, whether in business, finance, medicine, writing, law, or science, have broken through a boundary and have made a real difference to society."

"Above all, do not keep the child back a year in school."

"In addition to providing the loving and nurturing that comes naturally with parenting, parents (and teachers, too) of children with reading problems should make their number one goal the preservation of their child’s self-esteem."

"Early on it is critical to help your child identify an interest or a hobby, an area in which he can have a positive experience, whether it be pure enjoyment or perhaps the ability to stand out or excel..."

"Encourage your child to view himself as a person who has something to say and whom people should respect. Discuss important decisions with him. ...As he gets older, there will be many occasions when he needs to speak up and be an advocate for himself. Getting into the habit of speaking out and being heard is invaluable preparation for that."

"...Boies’s life experience reinforces the dictum that it is not how fast you read but how well you think that counts."

I might just frame that last quote.

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