Dyslexia: What Teachers (& Parents) Need To Know (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a series about Dyslexia. The author, Robin, is a mother of 4 boys, 2 of whom have dyslexia.  She has been taking her sons to private tutoring and researching as much as she can about dyslexia for the past 7 years.dyslexia series- sticker 2

What does Dyslexia look like?

Do you have a child struggling to read?  It might be Dyslexia.  It’s not just reversal of letters as most people think.  Dyslexia manifests itself in a variety of ways.  It has been estimated that one in five children of average or higher intelligence have this common learning difference.  Look at this list of symptoms.  If you have a child who exhibits a few of them, maybe it’s time to be tested.

* difficulty reading unfamiliar words

* slow, sound by sound reading

* headaches when reading

* words moving, shifting, or blurring on the page

* difficulty with handwriting

* unable to write alphabet in order or alphabetize

* reverses or flips letters or numbers

* writes from right to left or backwards

* unable to determine dexterity –  tries to use both hands

* difficulty of eyes following text on a line

* fixating on one word or area of text for longer than normal

* spells phonetically, often eliminating vowels (HND for hand)

* poor organizational skills – messy desk or backpack, forgets homework

* loses concentration and attention quickly

* makes many errors while reading

* re-reads text often

* mispronounces larger words – amblience for ambulance, pasketti for spaghetti

* has difficulty recalling a list of items when given the list verbally

* has difficulty remembering names or objects

* forgets or doesn’t follow instructions

* slower than most kids to complete work or tasks

* difficulty learning math facts, days of the week, months of the year

* lack of coordination, clumsy or bumps into things

* difficulty remembering left from right

* is very artistic, musically inclines, or athletic (right brained)

* seems to zone out

* learns best by hands-on activities

* knows material but doesn’t test well

* difficulty copying print

* writes in an upward or downward slant

* might be extremely orderly or line things up even if it’s not organized

* time management problems

* difficulty with large or fine motor skills

* difficulty telling time on a traditional face clock

* learning to type is difficult

It was a list similar to this one that helped me determine why my son was struggling to read and succeed in school.  His teacher had previously told me that she thought he was just lazy.  Look over the list and you’ll find that you too might recognize multiple symptoms in your struggling reader.  If you are a teacher, ask parents to look at this list.  Maybe they will recognize some of the symptoms that you don’t encounter at school.  If so, refer the child for testing.

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Stay tuned for more in our Dyslexia series (symptoms, tips & tricks for parents and teachers)!

DISCLAIMER: The medical information in this article is merely information – not advice. If you need medical advice, you should consult a doctor or other appropriate medical professional.

Dyslexia: What Teachers (& Parents) Need To Know (Part 1)

dyslexia series- sticker 1

I don’t know very much about Dyslexia, and as a teacher, I should. So I’ve asked my friend, Robin, for help.  Robin is a mother of 4 boys, 2 of whom have dyslexia.  She has been taking her sons to private tutoring and researching as much as she can about dyslexia for the past 7 years.

As a Mom, nothing hurts more than to see your child struggling at school.  As my first child entered Kindergarten, I had such high hopes for him.  I would send him off each day with visions of him making new friends, learning about the world, and learning how to read.  Unfortunately, that was not the reality for him.  He struggled to complete his work before he could go outside for recess.  He struggled to read.  He complained of headaches when it was time for homework.  And he even has a bit of trouble socializing with other kids.  As time went on, reading became more and more difficult for him until I finally realized that it was my right as a parent to ask to have him tested.  ADHD was my first thought since he would tap his pencil on the table and stood with one knee on his chair during homework time.  I was wrong.  He has dyslexia.

Dyslexia manifests itself in so many different ways in different children.  The only shared trait among dyslexics is that they all struggle to read at levels far below those of typical children of the same age.  For him, the biggest challenge is his processing speed.  For others, it might be the reversal of letters or numbers.  Many years later, and after thousands of dollars in private tutoring, I know that it is possible to learn to read with dyslexia.  It takes dedicated teachers who are willing to be patient and specialize a program to help these children.

visual connections

Dyslexia, particularly in relation to processing speed, prevents students from moving information from the frontal cortex where learning occurs, to the storage area in the brain which allows them to recall words upon sight (like so many reading programs teach).  For someone with dyslexia, a systematic multi-sensory kinesthetic approach is necessary.  The rules of the English language MUST be taught so that a reader can decode a word every time he sees the word.  This allows for only a small portion of the millions of words in our language to be put to memory – hence, sight words.  Although dyslexia is a neurological difference, it does not affect intelligence.  In fact, many kids with dyslexia test at average or higher than average intelligence.  Einstein had dyslexia.

The biggest problem I see as a parent of a child with dyslexia is lack of training and knowledge among our schools.  So many teachers do not know how to teach a student with dyslexia so these children are simply put in special ed and given more time to be taught to read in a method that is not conducive to the way that a dyslexic learns to read.  There are so many programs which are fairly inexpensive for teacher’s to use that are very effective.  Discover Intensive Phonics by Reading Horizons is one of them.  S.P.I.R.E. is another that is used by the private tutor I take my son to.  It is a bit more expensive but still much less costly than many of the programs already being used in schools and special ed classes.  There are also many kinesthetic approaches that are helpful for dyslexic students to train their brains to recognize words.

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My suggestion for teachers and administrators is to become more educated about dyslexia.   Here are just a few facts that might impress education professionals of the importance of learning more. It is estimated that 70-80% of children with poor reading skills are dyslexic, many of whom are undiagnosed.  One in every five students overall has dyslexia.  Less than one third of students with reading disabilities are receiving school services to address those disabilities.

Find out where the local chapter of the International Dyslexia Association meets in your area and attend their monthly meetings.  They often have specialists visit to teach methods of helping these struggling children.  Become more informed as a teacher so you can help keep these kids from falling through the cracks.  You never know, some day it may one of your own children or grandchildren.

Just for fun, click here to see one graphic designer’s take on dyslexia.

Stay tuned for more in our Dyslexia series (symptoms, tips & tricks for parents and teachers)!

DISCLAIMER: The medical information in this article is merely information – not advice. If you need medical advice, you should consult a doctor or other appropriate medical professional.

Classroom Calm: Understanding Kids With Special Needs (Guest Post)

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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 14 percent of American children aged three to 17 have some sort of developmental disability. Most teaching programs require at least one course on children with special needs (source). But dealing with students with developmental disorders is an ongoing and ever-changing task. Here are some tips to help educators deal with two common disabilities among American students.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

The prevalence of autism in America increased by an astounding 290 percent from 1997 to 2008, according to the CDC. WebMD points out that public schools are required by law to provide individualized education programs (IEPs) for students with an ASD. But some parents would rather not tell the school that their child has a developmental disability for fear of being stigmatized. It is up to the individual teacher to recognize certain behaviors and effectively communicate them to the parents.

Once you’re aware of the special needs of your students, make small modifications to your classroom to accommodate them properly. National Autism Resources recommends seating students with ASDs away from hallways, pencil sharpeners or anything else that produces background noise. Autistic students have difficulty filtering out this noise. The area around you while teaching should be as plain as possible. Large posters, globes and other visuals can easily distract them. Autistic students also have difficulty comprehending the concept of personal space. Draw borders between desks with white or black tape, and make sure desks are adequately spaced. There should also be some sort of quiet room available for children with ASD to take breaks from class.

Attention Defecit Hyperactivity Disorder

The CDC estimates 20 percent of high school boys and 11 percent of all U.S. school children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. About 65 percent of those diagnosed with ADHD are taking Ritalin or Adderall to control the behavior. It is not the teacher’s job to judge how families and medical personnel choose to deal with their children’s health.

Communicate with both parents and the school nurse to develop a plan of action. ADD and ADHD kids hear the word “no” all the time. Try and use positive reinforcement as opposed to being negative. Incorporate physical activities, such as moving to different desks during lessons. Through all this, keep in mind that you are a teacher and not a psychologist. Know your limits, but do all you can to help make school the best possible experience for the child.

About the Author: Amanda enjoys helping children learn and achieve their dreams in elementary classrooms. In her free time, she loves learning about science, technology and taking her rescued dachshund to the park. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaRichter7

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: Any medical information presented on this website is merely information – not advice. If you need medical advice, you should consult a doctor or other appropriate medical professional. Squarehead Teachers accepts no responsibility for actions of readers regarding medical information shared on this blog.

What You Need To Know About Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo

No, Cinco de Mayo isn’t Mexico’s independence day. That’s on September 16. Here’s a free worksheet to help kids learn about Cinco de Mayo. Comprehension questions at the bottom.

Click here for the free printable PDF: Cinco de Mayo

Explaining English Can Give You A Headache

When I read this for the first time, it reminded me of all the crazy things I had to try to explain to my Chinese students when teaching them English.  It makes me so grateful that English was my first language. I don’t think I’m smart enough to learn it otherwise!

UP. This two-letter word in English has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is ‘UP.’ It is listed in the dictionary as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?

At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polishUP the silver, warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lockUP the house and fix UP the old car.

At other times, this little word has real special meaning. People stir UPtrouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.
We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP, look UP the word UPin the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UPis used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don’t give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it soaks UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP. One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it UP, for now . . . My time is UP!

Oh . . . One more thing: What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night?


Did that one crack you UP?

Don’t screw UP. Send this on to everyone you look UP in your address book . . . Or not . . . it’s UP to you.

Now I’ll shut UP!

Past Tense Verbs Practice

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Here’s a free worksheet to help kids practice past tense verbs. Most of the verbs in this worksheet are irregular verbs (e.g. “feel” becomes “felt”), which are especially hard for ESL kids. Enjoy!

Click here for the free printable PDFs: Past Tense Verbs PDF   Past Tense Verbs – More!

Movement Maps (Lesson Plan)

Art can be a great way to incorporate culture into a classroom. Check out this lesson that you can incorporate a bit of Polynesian culture into your classroom…

Movement Maps

Lesson Overview:

Students learn to make connections between visual art and movement. They will learn about basic art distinctions of line, create guided movement that simulates different types of lines, create gesture drawings, and make movement maps based on their gesture drawings.

Length of Lesson:

Three 45-minute class periods


This lesson is particularly suitable for Grade 5, but can be used with some adaptation for Grades 3-4.

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • learn about line as an element of art.
  • learn about line as an element of form and movement.
  • create gesture drawings using different types of lines.
  • create movement maps, based upon their gesture drawings, that use a combination of lines and different levels.
  • perform their movement maps in small groups.


  • Pencils
  • 18″ x 12″ newsprint paper
  • Chalk board and chalk
  • Paper
  • Video of traditional hula dancing

Instructional Plan:

Warm Up

Draw a straight line on the board. Ask for examples of things that move in a straight line (sidewalks, streets, skateboards, cars, bicycles, etc.). Draw a curvy line and ask students for examples of things that move in a curving manner (sea shells, jet skis, waves, trick planes, roller coasters, etc.) Engage students in discussion about different types of lines – straight, curved, angular, etc. Point out straight and curved lines in the space. (Not necessarily inside a classroom).

Guided Activity:
Have students stand and move in straight, curved, and angular pathways as you call out, using music  (5 minutes). Add changing directions (forward, sideways, backwards). Tell students that there should be clear contrasts between straight, curved, and angular pathways. Students should be aware of how much space they are using. Engage students in brief discussion about their movement pathways.
Explain the meaning of “gesture drawing” to students. Basically, gesture drawing is a method of training the hand to capture overall form, not the details; a quick (only 15-30 seconds), focused approach is best. Explain to students that erasing is not allowed; it breaks focus and is a waste of time. Distribute 3-4 sheets of 18″ X 12″ newsprint paper and pencils to each student. Explain to students that they will do several brief exercises about gesture drawing.
Exercise #1: Straight Lines

  • Have students fill one 18″ x 12″ paper with straight lines only. The lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal. Encourage students to fill the entire piece of paper.
  • Play 1 minutes of traditional hula dancing. Have students look for straight lines the dancer makes with her body. Ask students to demonstrate the straight lines with their own bodies and explain to a partner how there are straight lines in the movements.

Exercise #2: Curved Lines

  • Have students fill one paper with curved lines only. The lines can be positioned vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Encourage students to fill the entire sheet of paper.
  • Play 1 minutes of traditional hula dancing. Have students look for straight lines the dancer makes with her body. Ask students to demonstrate the curved lines with their own bodies and explain to a partner how there are curved lines in the movements.
Independent Activity

Have students display their drawings in front of them. Ask students what types of lines they see in their drawings – broken or intermittent, zig-zag, spiral, etc.? Are some lines thick, while others are thin? Explain to students that they will now create a drawing, using straight and curved lines, that will be a design for their next activity, a “movement map”. As students work, walk around the room offering feedback and suggestions. Encourage students to incorporate types of lines previously discussed in class.
Once students have completed their movement maps, put them in small groups of 4-6 students each. Students in each group should share their maps with the group. Ask each group to use their maps to move through the space. Give each group about 5 minutes to try their maps.
Explain to students that they will now add levels – high, middle, and low – to their maps. Encourage them to discuss within their groups the logistics of performing their maps with levels. Allow students some time to decide on what level to use, and to discuss their maps with their group. Give each group about 5 minutes to try out their movement maps.


Have each student label their map with their name, and collect the maps. Engage students in discussion about the connections between the element of line in art and the element of line in movement. Ask students about their movement maps – what levels were more difficult to travel through? Did the type of lines in a map affect the level of movement? Why or why not? Did they discover some ways to travel with their bodies that they had not discovered before?


You may use the Assessment Rubric to evaluate student learning. Evaluation in movement curriculum is primarily based on participation. You may wish to evaluate students’ attitude and participation as separate areas. 

Lesson Planning with Multicultural Students in Mind

Diversity  makes classrooms beautiful. This diversity, however, requires careful thought and attention in lesson planning. Here’s an example of planning a lesson with a multicultural student (Erica) in mind…

Name: XXXXXXX                            Date: March 18, 2009                      Grade level: 3rd           
Subject/topic: Contractions                 Length/minutes: 20-30 minutes          Group size: whole class
Sequence: ongoing
Standard/core: Utah Standard 8, objective 4, indicator a
Standard 8 Writing-Students write daily to communicate effectively for a variety of purposes and audiences.
Objective 4. Edit written draft for conventions.
a. Edit writing for correct capitalization and punctuation (i.e., capitals in holidays, titles, dates, greetings and closings of letters, personal titles, contractions, abbreviations).
Learning goal: Students will understand how to form contractions with the word not.
Erica is a high energy student who is constantly moving in her seat. Her family speaks Spanish at home, making English her second language (ELL student). Her English language skills are basic and her verbal language is stronger than her written. Knowing where the apostrophe belongs in contractions may pose a problem. In addition, she learns best with kinesthetic activities. Her favorite part of school is PE and is always the first one in line for recess. This lesson deals with contractions, a requirement for the Utah3rd grade state core.
Major concepts:
Contraction: a shortened form of two words; making two words into one.
Apostrophe: shows where letters have been taken out (in most contractions with not, it takes the place of O.) (Make sure to review what the word “contraction” means and what it looks like.)
Contractions:  is not – isn’t                       are not – aren’t                    was not – wasn’t         
were not – weren’t                        have not – haven’t               has not – hasn’t
had not – hadn’t                do not – don’t                      does not – doesn’t            did not – didn’t            
will not – won’t   apostrophe takes out two letters: n and o.
cannot – can’t      apostrophe- three letters disappear an the o changes position
Given a worksheet, students will be able to write the correct contraction form of the word with 80% accuracy.  
Self starter: none
Expectations: Sit and raise hands (no calling out) even when on the carpet; Students will focus on the topic; No sharpening pencils, getting out of seats going to the bathroom during the lesson.
Procedures: work with your table buddy; raise hands to speak.
Fast finisher: write a story using contractions on the back of your paper.
Instructional Strategies (contractions indicate speech)

Attitude OrientationYou probably already use contractions more than you realize. What are some common phrases that use contractions? (example: Don’t do that!) Put up a word card that says “contraction.” This will help Erica see the word I keep using. She will know how to spell it, and when she sees it in the future, she will remember this lesson.

Tell objective: “Today, are going to see how many contractions we can make. At the end, you’ll have to show me you can make contractions, so pay attention!”
Schema Orientation:
Invite students to come sit on the rug. Let Erica sit in the back of the group where she can sit on her knees or wiggle a little bit and not get in anybody’s way. Because she is a high energy student, this will help her be comfortable even though she has to pay attention to the lesson.
There are times when we do not want to say two whole words, so we shorten them and make a contraction.
Explain definition of contraction (making two words into one). Refer to the word cards to reinforce the new vocabulary.
Explain that an apostrophe (takes the place of missing letters) is used to shorten the words. Put up another word card that says “apostrophe.”
Let’s go over some of the most common contractions and see what they mean. Place word card pairs on the board. State two words and see if students can name the contraction before you put the card on the board. Have them think about the answer for a few seconds and then call on someone to give their answer. Instead of going over these common contractions orally, allow students to see the word cards. This will be especially helpful for ELL students like Erica. Be sure to give enough time for Erica to think. Since she is an ELL student she may need the extra time to think about it and make sure she knows how to communicate it effectively. By writing these on the board, Erica can see how they come together; she can see the pattern that the apostrophe takes place of missing letters.
Now let’s see if we can find some in this paragraph. Read the paragraph out loud (taking turns reading aloud). This will help Erica stay with the group when reading and help her hear how to pronounce the words she may not know how to say. Be sure it is clear how to say the contractions (Helpful for ELL kids).  Have students raise their hands when they think they see/hear a contraction. Then discuss what the contraction means/how to say it without using a contraction.
Now we have a game to play. Contraction Bases: Place signs with contractions around the room. Use the word cards from the beginning of the lesson to help you choose bases. Give students 5 seconds 5 seconds to choose a base to stand by. Then call out a few contractions. Students standing at that contraction base are out. Be sure to review what the contractions mean when you call them (example: can’t means cannot). Students who are out can help you choose the next bases to call.
This game will be especially appealing for high energy students like Erica. They can move around the room within the rules of the game. By adding movement like PE to the required content, Erica will enjoy the activity and be more motivated to participate. She will focus on the base she wants to run to, thus reinforcing the contractions. She can learn contractions while getting out some energy.
Model/Explain: Now that we understand contractions, let’s play our game. I have put contraction signs up around the room. By the time I count to 5, find a contraction base to stand by. Don’t move until I start counting. You must be frozen at a base by the time I’m done counting.  
            Check for understanding:
            As you call out words that form contractions (to get student out of the game), check to make sure students know the corresponding contraction. Have students point to the contraction that goes with the set of words.
Then play the game! Have students who are out sit at their desks and be “Freeze Police” that make sure everyone is at a base when you get to 5. You can also have students help choose the base. Start over after calling a few bases to let everyone participate. When students get out, they can help you choose a contraction to call. By letting Erica help choose a contraction when she gets out, she will have to find the contraction pair that goes with the one she picked. This can be a type of informal assessment and a way to keep her involved even though she can’t run from base to base.
Independent practice:
Have students go back to their worksheet and ask students to write the contraction that goes with each set of words. This assessment reinforces the content just taught. By having the words printed, Erica can more easily connect it to the word cards and bases signs we just used. Remind them about the fast finisher (write a story using contractions on the back of your paper). Be sure to give Erica and the other ELL students enough time to complete the worksheet. Be patient and encourage the other students to do the fast finisher so Erica has ample time to do the work.
Closure: Lead a class discussion about why people use contractions. When would you choose to use a contraction over a formal set of words?  
            Visual learners- word cards (ELL)
            Kinesthetic learners- active game (Erica’s high energy)
            ELL students- word cards with oral language (ELL)
Word cards
Large writing paper
Signs for game
Step 1: (Instruction and Management) What went well? What should be improved?
Step 2: (Student Learning) What did the children learn? How do you know?
Step 3: (INTASC and/or Moral Dimensions) Make a connection to INTASC and/or a Moral Dimension.