Tag Archives: Reading comprehension

Changing Our Thinking

I asked Emma for her permission to talk about language retrieval issues, and specifically to describe some of what occurred during her first session with Soma last week.  She said it was okay for me to do so.  I’m incredibly grateful to my daughter for being so generous with what is personal information.  She has given me her permission, but to leave it at that, would be wrong.  To not acknowledge what this means would be negligent at best.  She is unbelievably generous to allow me to share these things.  I do not know how many of us would be willing for another to share such personal things about ourselves, and the trust she has bestowed upon me, the trust that I will not betray her…  it is something I not only take very seriously, but need to acknowledge.  To say I am grateful does not come close to describing the feelings of appreciation and awe my daughter inspires.  If all human beings could take a page from Emma, both in her cheerful generosity in giving of herself so that others might benefit and her compassion and willingness to see the best in people, even when so many have said and done cruel things to her, this world would be a far better place for all of us.

I wrote about Emma’s first session with Soma ‘here‘.  What I didn’t write about was how after Emma pointed to a letter she was encouraged to say the name of the letter, just as her Proloquo2Go program does on her iPad.  She was able to do so without hesitation.  But when Soma put the stencil board down and asked Emma to say the next letter of the word she was writing, without pointing to it first, Emma would, more often than not, say a random letter.  Soma then picked up the stencil board and again without hesitation, Emma pointed to the correct letter and was able to identify it correctly out loud.  After Emma wrote a sentence she was invited to read the sentence aloud, but could not do so.  This is a sentence she’d just written, one letter at a time.  A sentence she’d created, yet was not able to read.  It is not then surprising that Emma is unable to read a random story out loud, even though she is perfectly capable of reading it silently to herself and fully comprehending it.  See related post about reading aloud, ‘here‘.

To see this broken down, to witness this at the level of single letter retrieval and not a whole word even, made it all even clearer to me.   Which isn’t to say that Emma will never be able to do this.  Perhaps at another point, perhaps once she is proficient in writing her thoughts and identifying a letter after pointing to it, one letter at a time, she will then be able to work slowly, patiently and without the anxiety of feeling expectations are being placed on her, perhaps then she will be able to come up with the next letter before she points to it and from there the next word and on it goes until verbal language can catch up to her written.  But for now, it is imperative that every single person who comes into contact with my daughter understand how detrimental it is for her to have these expectations placed on her and then to have the inevitable conclusions drawn about her comprehension and ability.

My daughter is nothing short of brilliant.  I am not saying this as a biased mother who is basing her thoughts on nothing more than some sort of convoluted tip of the hat to genetics, or a round about way of bolstering my own ego and intellect.  I am saying this because I have seen the evidence.  Since her diagnosis, Emma has been treated as though she were intellectually impaired when, in fact, she is intellectually gifted.  This is, I’m sorry to say, something I am hearing from others.  We have a growing population of children and people who are treated as though they are incapable, when in countless cases the opposite is true.  The onus is on us to change our current teaching methods and the therapies we are employing and to open our minds to the idea that we have gone about this all wrong.  This is what must change.

Soma & Em copy

The Pitfalls of Reading Out Loud

When Rosemary Crossley was here she spent several hours working with my daughter.  One of the many discoveries we made was that Emma can and does read very quickly, but if asked to read out loud, she will stumble and get so caught up in pronunciation I question whether she is able to comprehend what she’s reading at all.  I know I have trouble following the story.  Yet most schools ask children to read out loud, both as a way to assess what they are capable of, and also to make sure they are at the correct reading level.  If a child reads a first grade reader out loud with great difficulty, the impulse is to make the reading material simpler.  Except that if this is done with my daughter she will be stuck reading kindergarten and beginning level reading books for the foreseeable future.

I know Emma is able to read much more complicated texts than beginning readers.  I know this because I have seen her read with Rosemary and me very quickly.  I have witnessed her ability to read, not only faster than I can, but her ability to accurately answer multiple choice questions related to the text with ease when  given some resistance.  In other words, if she is asked to wait a beat, instead of being allowed to immediately point to an answer, her accuracy goes way up.  Without the pause she is just as likely to randomly pick any answer.  From Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, “The resistance I provided slowed her down very substantially, and the quality of her output increased as her speed fell.  I gave Jan a picture of a cow and asked her to write me a sentence about it.  Instead she typed, THIS TYPING IS HARD.  I HAVE TO THINK.  That was, of course, the aim of the exercise.

This idea of providing resistance is a tricky one to explain to people.  I have had some people say they just cannot understand why this would be necessary.  The only way I know of to better explain, is by comparing it to the way many, who are like my daughter, will perseverate on a word, or will rely on favorite scripts.  It is not that these scripts have no meaning, it is more that they are often difficult for others to understand.  If I hand Emma her iPad and ask her to type me a story, she will most likely write something like, “rollercoaster, kiteflyer, greenride, hurricane harbor, waterslide” which is also in keeping with what she might say out loud.

These words are powerful to her, they hold a great deal of meaning, but to most people, they are seen as gibberish.  If this then is used to assess her capabilities she will not be well served.  However if I ask her to type me a story and then hold one end of a rod while she holds the other end with her typing hand and types with one finger while I pull her hand back after each letter is typed, she might type, ““One day there was a boy called george. He had been in afight can’t tell you how he got into the fight but he was bruised all over.  He fought a lot and his teacher was very angry.  The next day he was all purple and his mother said you can’t go to school looking like that.  The very clever boy covered himself in flower and his teacher thought he was sick and sent him home.  The end.”  

Incidentally, that story is one Emma wrote when Rosemary was here working with her and is typical of the sorts of things she can and does type when given the kind of resistance I’ve described.  (You can read the entire post I wrote about her session with Rosie, ‘here‘.)  However, ask Emma to read out loud a story similar to the one she typed and she will have a great deal of trouble.  What she is capable of is far greater than what one might assume from what she verbalizes, whether that means reading out loud or with spontaneous speech.  Ask Emma to sing the lyrics of a song, in Greek no less, and she will get much of it right, but that’s a whole other post.

But how does one convince others that this is so?  Particularly when many are trained and told that reading out loud is a good indicator of ability.  There is surprisingly little written on the topic of the problems with reading out loud for those who have spoken language and word retrieval issues.  Again, in Rosemary Crossley’s book, Speechless, she writes, “her reading aloud was bedeviled by the same word-finding problems which affected her spontaneous speech, preventing her reading with any fluency.”

Obviously there needs to be more written about all of this.  The closest I have found, other than Rosemary’s book, Speechless, is a blog, The Right Side of Normal,  that concentrates on “right brained children”.  And on that blog, this post specifically, Silent Reading versus Reading Aloud, which deals with, at least some of what I’m discussing here. If others know of other resources discussing any of this, please do leave me links in the comments section.

Rosemarie Crossley

Rosie

The Snowball Effect

The snowball effect began with, what I now think of as, a leap of faith.  Richard and I leapt into that great abyss better known as the unknown.  It turns out this was actually not true, it would be more accurate to say we chose to neither believe nor disbelieve, but instead began to examine all we were being told.  Perhaps it’s better to say that instead of leaping into we jumped out of.  From there it was more of a hop to begin presuming competence.  However, as a commenter on this blog said, “presuming competence isn’t enough.” And knowing what we now know, I have to agree.  It’s the starting point.  It’s like that initial leaping off point, it’s just the beginning.

At the moment we are experiencing something akin to being in free fall.  It’s the feeling of discovery, limitlessness, surprise, and pure ecstasy that comes with being present without expectation or preconceived ideas about what should or will happen.  Our perspective continues to change as we move along.  Like any great adventure, the path is at times rocky, but the triumphs are exquisite.  As we move deeper into this process it becomes easier and more familiar to be solidly in the discomfort of the unknown.  There is bliss in that.  True bliss.

Last fall I wrote a post about how I was worried Emma was not comprehending a story that had been sent home in her back pack from school.  It was a simple story, perhaps 1st grade level reading with some questions that she seemed unable to answer.  In the post I write how I am trying to find ways to help her reading comprehension.  I talk about presuming competence.  What I am struck by now is not Emma’s level of supposed incomprehension, but by my own.  I reread all the comments just now and am amazed, amazed that though I thought I was presuming competence, I was only able to go so far with my presumptions and, as it turns out, wasn’t going far enough.  I could only presume as much as my limited thinking would allow me.  The idea that she was not only comprehending this story, but was so far beyond it, was not something I was capable of fully understanding, let alone considering.  I was much more stuck, as it turns out, than my daughter was.

Now jump forward to yesterday afternoon, almost nine months after I wrote the post I refer to in the above paragraph.  Emma chose to talk about adjectives.  We watched the BrainPop movie about adjectives and then she took the quiz.  I copied what Rosie had done, asked her to read the questions silently to herself while using a laminated card to direct her visually and then quickly guided her to read each of the four multiple choice answers.  She only hesitated once, on a question about a possessive adjective, but otherwise breezed through the quiz with 90% accuracy.  Not only was Emma reading faster than I was able to, but she was accurately answering the questions faster than I could read them, let alone answer them.

The snowball effect:  “The basic workings of a literal snowball effect can be illustrated by taking one’s average baseball-sized snowball and dropping it down the side of a snowy hill. As it descends it gathers more snow and whatever leaves, sticks, etc. are in its way. The snowball accumulates not only size, but speed.” ~ From the Urban Dictionary

Self Portrait

photo

Reading and Reading Comprehension

Emma’s teacher and I have been brainstorming new ways to increase Emma’s reading comprehension.  We have tried the standard reading comprehension questions, which, as my friend Ibby pointed out, are typically filled with inconsistencies and problems.  We’ve tried the more standard reading comprehension questions such as a story about a boy named Peter who takes a taxi to the airport.  He gets on an airplane, buckles his seat belt and the plane takes off.  The questions are then, “Who took a taxi?” The answer, obviously is Peter took a taxi.  But the second question, “Where was he going?” is tougher to answer because we aren’t given the destination other than he took a taxi to the airplane and that isn’t actually accurate as he took the taxi to the airport, but the airport isn’t part of the story.  It tells us he took a taxi and then got onto the airplane where he buckled his seat belt, so Emma answered, “Going to visit Granma in Aspen!”  And while this isn’t the answer the creators of the questions were presumably looking for, it demonstrates that Emma certainly understands what the story is about and she is adding her own personal experience to the gaping holes the story provides.  In addition, the story has been dumbed down so completely, if we are “presuming competence” then Emma must be going out of her mind with boredom.

So this is the question I come up against almost constantly – how do we make the material interesting and engaging, but not so difficult it becomes frustrating.  How do we set Emma up to succeed and not fail without boring her?  How do we deal with her resistance to reading and writing?  I’ve made some headway by trying to do some playacting and using some of her favorite songs, but reading itself remains difficult for Em and she certainly doesn’t enjoy it.  Maybe I am making it too complicated. Maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing.  Maybe it’s better to just present reading material and have her read it silently.  Then type questions that she types the answers to.  Maybe having her read aloud is causing problems.

What I am seeing over and over is that when she has trouble with a text we make the text easier, but I don’t believe that’s the answer.  I’m not sure making it “simpler” is better.  My biggest challenge with all of this is that this is not my area of expertise and I have no idea how to proceed.  Emma’s teacher continues to try different things, but we haven’t found anything that seems to captivate, motivate or particularly interest her.  I have to think about this more.  I’ve printed out some of her favorite song lyrics, but there were too many words she couldn’t read and so much slang, I quickly abandoned the idea.  I need to find reading material that isn’t so easy it’s boring and not so difficult it makes her frustrated.  Looking back  over the past year, I can see how well she was doing and how so much of that progress has stopped.  I need to revisit those earlier concepts and see if I can find material that will pick up where we left off.