Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dyslexia Checklist Book Review by ChristineMM

The Dyslexia Checklist Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: The Dyslexia Checklist: A Practical Reference for Parents and Teachers
Authors: Sandra F. Rief MA and Judith M. Stern MA
Genre: Nonfiction, education
Publication: Wiley, January 12, 2010
Full Retail Price: $15.95

My Star Rating: 3 stars out of 5 = It’s Okay

Summary Statement: Could Have Used a Bit More Editing and Better Organization of Content; Unsure That These Recommendations are Enough

This book was written by two special education school teachers who seem to care very much about children with dyslexia and who have very good intentions. You cannot get away from the fact that in the present American public education system, the students with dyslexia are square pegs trying to be shoved through the round hole. The ideas in this book try to help but I fear they truly cannot help enough, for reasons which I’ll explain.

First, readers of this book should not be upset that this is a book of lists when that fact is right in the title. Sometimes the lists are not detailed enough—the reader (whether they are a teacher or a parent) will have to do more research to fully understand the recommendation let alone put it into practice.

The list format is not ideal. Although it is a fast and easy read, sometimes the information was too sketchy.

1. I felt at times they read like notes from a brainstorming session let’s “list everything you think might help with writing composition”. You could compare this to a doctor saying a patient is iron deficient and the patient buying a shopping cart full of different foods and saying to themselves, “Something in here might resolve the anemia” rather than the doctor helping by giving a list of iron-rich foods.

2. Many of the ideas pertain only to early elementary grades or elementary grades but are not labeled as such. One example is why does the spelling list stop at grade five (pg. 168)?

3. There seems to be little information or encouragement for the student in grade six and up. Perhaps this is because the authors feel these students just have to use their time at home to do special study skills? Perhaps this is where the IEP band-aids are used the most?

4. The authors mention learning styles but the teaching strategies and study methods are not labeled or listed with the learning style for ease of use.

Besides my issues with the list format either being too brief or not organized well enough, there are some larger issues that may cause the reader to feel the information in this book is unhelpful. The authors give (enthusiastic, motivated, and open-minded) integrated classroom teachers many, many ideas for making changes in the classroom and therein lies some problems.

1. Regarding early elementary reading instruction the authors push for systematic phonics approach. The fact is that even if a classroom teacher agrees with these authors, they are not always empowered by the school to put this plan into action. Some classroom teachers are controlled by the school or district’s ‘curriculum specialists’ who have already made the decision on how that teacher will instruct the students. So the teacher’s hands are tied. Now what?

2. Many ideas are not small easy fixes, they are teaching strategies that would be hard to do with the dyslexic students while teaching the others in a different way. It was not stated to just change the whole class to learn the way that matched the dyslexic students. I can’t see how teachers can do the ‘regular plan’ plus give specialized work to the dyslexic students. This seems like a gargantuan task to me. I pity the teachers; I don’t know how they can do what these authors suggest. It’s as if the teachers on the front lines are trying to take action without the full support of the school system. Schools who push teachers to do extra prep for standardized tests for NCLB are taking important teaching time away from all students and are not helping the LD students either!

3. The IEP can only be minimally helpful if the foundational teaching principals recommended by these authors are not used! In this scenario the IEP provides band-aid fixes while keeping the student in teaching systems that are a poor fit. If the student learns content by listening to an audio book but they still can’t read that same text on a page is that a learning success, content mastery or is the fact that they still can’t read text will proof of a failed reading remediation? How do you perceive it?

4. With the system of moving kids to new teachers every year this presents a problem. Was last year’s teacher on board with ideas in THE DYSLEXIA CHECKLIST? Will next year’s teacher be? Inconsistency in the child’s education is almost inevitable even with an IEP in place. And again the overall choice of curriculum matters (sometimes chosen by a curriculum specialist, so the teacher has no flexibility).

Early in the book the authors discuss that dyslexic people are often strong in visual spatial senses (aka “right brained” learner). I was disappointed that other learning strategies for the visual spatial learner were missing from this book. See the book VISUAL SPATIAL LEARNERS by Alexandra Shires Gordon—a must read!

As to whether parents will like this book, it is hard to gauge. This book with its lists does not provide enough information to a newbie. The parent who has already taught themselves a fair amount about dyslexia and has been dealing with the school system may know a lot of this already. Or maybe for this low price, if the reader can glean something from this book that will be ‘good enough’?

Unlike Jeffrey Freed PhD writes in RIGHT BRAINED CHILDREN IN A LEFT BRAINED WORLD (another must read), these authors do not really empower the parents very much.

Sadly in THE DYSLEXIA CHECKLIST the parents are demoted to a lower class. Besides going to the PPT meeting and being their child’s advocate, they are encouraged to hire private tutors if the school is not doing enough for the student. They are told to see that homework gets done but not to help teach the child, to let them fail on the homework so the teacher can keep aware of the student’s struggle to learn. I would ask: IS THE GOAL OF A CHILD’S EDUCATION TO TRACK FAILURE OR TO HELP THE CHILD LEARN? Why can’t a parent help a child with homework but they recommend that a private tutor can?

Also ridiculous is the suggestion that a major role a parent can play is in helping children organize their school papers, teach the child to tell time, and (get this) to make sure the clocks in the home are set at the right time! They add that the parent should help the child by boosting their self-esteem (not an easy task when the LD student is reminded daily of their inadequacy at school).

This book does not do enough portray a person with dyslexia as having a different mind that can be a gift—the book focuses on the child having a malfunctioning brain and in need of special adaptations and accommodations to push them through the system. You’ll have to look to other sources if you are seeking that perspective. (Look up Temple Grandin, Linda Silverman, and All Kinds of Minds.)

Is there a cure or not?

In the beginning of the book the authors state there is no cure for dyslexia. Yet later, they state with certain phonics instruction the child can be prevented from developmental dyslexia. So which is it? And what of the other parts, the disorganization, the slow visual or auditory processing, or the dysgraphia? Can those be cured? They don’t write about that (a disappointment).

It bothered me that professional academic tutoring was recommended for study skills but no mention was made of therapies to help with dysgraphia, visual processing disorders or auditory processing disorders. There are professionals who believe that learning can be helped by solving the root cause of the problem through use of various therapies such as occupational therapy, vision therapy, or neurodevelopmental therapies. (Look up Dianne Craft, Brain Integration Therapy and Neurodevelopmental therapy.)

No specific mention was made to correct brain-based ‘vision’ problems such as convergence insufficiency and other eye tracking or field of vision problems—things that can be greatly improved with certain treatment if not cured. Yet for the teaching strategies they sometimes tell band-aid solutions that allow the student to get by without being remediated (i.e. read with a card under the line of text, read in phrase clusters—these are crutches for kids with untreated eye tracking problems).

In the end I felt this was too much about the child being defective and is about getting labeled and then pushed through a school system. The fact of the matter is that trying to have one educational system with equal outcomes for all kinds of minds is just impossible and there are no quick, easy, or inexpensive fixes that can be doled out in a generalized fashion. Helping a child with what we label as a learning disability is a customized, complicated process, often requiring the use of expert professionals that only exist outside the school system. Using only fixes inside the system with the student in a traditional school, parents helping organize the homework papers, and throwing in a private reading tutor or a math tutor and teaching them some different study skills is probably not good enough. And even armed with the myriad of ideas and resources listed in the book, even the most caring teacher may feel informed but powerless to “save them all”.

I rate this book 3 stars = “It’s Okay” because it does deliver lists of ideas and information and because the price is low. I’ve given example of why I am disappointed in the book but note that I have not assigned a 2 star = I Don’t Like It or a 1 star = I Hate It rating. It is what it is and maybe something here will be of use to some readers.

A personal note: I am a homeschooling mother to a child who was diagnosed with a visual processing disorder which has been cured through vision therapy and occupational therapy techniques. Despite that child having many dyslexia symptoms he was taught with a systematic phonics method and does not struggle to decode and to read. I know first hand about working with a child who struggles to learn and the importance of customized instruction and counsel of outside experts.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the Amazon Vine program. I was not paid to write this review. I am under no obligation to blog this review. For my blog's full disclosure statement see the link near the top of my blog's sidebar.


christinemm said...

After I posted on Twitter about this book review and a thought that I wondered if some might think I was being too harsh I got this comment.

"lizditz "too critical and harsh" -- guess those folks have never been to a scientific meeting where hammers & tongs can reign."

christinemm said...

Also "lizditz I know you struggled with the review and I thought it was fair & accurate. I thought it was one of the less-helpful books"

She had read the book also.

Liz Ditz said...

I also meant to post this but I forgot:

One third of prospective teachers in Connecticut cannot pass an exam testing "knowledge of teaching methods that reflect a rigorous, systematic approach to reading instruction" that includes phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle (grapheme-phoneme correspondence), the importance of underlying oral vocabulary for reading fluency and comprehension.