Multisensory Monday- Pool Noodle Blending

As summer draws to an end, rather than throwing away those beat-up pool noodles, grab them for this fun Multisensory Monday activity that your students will love!  Blending is an essential skill in reading.  This Pool Noodle Blending activity is a cheap, interactive option to help students practice the essential skill of blending.  This activity can also be adapted to include a variety of skills including blends, vowel teams and diphthongs!

Pool Noodle Blending Activity

Pool noodles are easy to cut with a box-cutter – just be careful not to cut yourself! Cut your old pool noodles into 1-2″ sections. I like to use different colors for the consonants and vowels. Once you’ve cut the noodles into small pieces, use a sharpie to draw on different letters. Alternately, you can stick or clue pre-cut foam letters onto your noodles.

Once you have your pieces ready to go, slide a pencil through the center of the pool noodle pieces. I like to set up simple consonant-vowel-consonant patterns, but you could easily adapt this activity to include vowel teams, diphthongs, r-controlled vowels, or whatever your students need extra practice with.

Once you’ve got your pool noodles placed onto the pencil, your students can simply twist the beginning, middle, or ending sound to create a variety of real and pseudo words.

 

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP
Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

How a Mother’s Survival Led to a Teacher’s Revival

I have been a teacher for the past 26 years. I am also the mother of two wonderful and amazing children. My daughter, Lauren, is 20 years old and completing her senior year at the University of Arkansas, majoring in Information Systems.  My son, Zane, is 16 years old and about to start his junior year in high school.

On November 30, 2000, I was in my classroom teaching, just returning from Thanksgiving break. I was 7 months pregnant with my second child.  It was third trimester, and I was feeling fatigued.  Like many other dedicated teachers, I was trying to “do it all” while carrying a baby.

That afternoon, I started getting dizzy spells, shortness of breath, and blurred vision, so I went to the school nurse to check my blood pressure.  I really thought I just needed bed-rest. Boy, was I wrong! The school nurse immediately sent me to the hospital; my blood-pressure reading was extremely high. When I got to the hospital, tests were run and the doctor came in and informed us that I had a stroke.  I was only 31 years old.

They prepped me for a C-Section to save the life of my 29-week old baby boy. My son, Zane Harrison Brooks, was born 11 weeks early weighing a mere 3 pounds.

My health took a declining turn. The blood clot that traveled to my brain came from my placenta. Another blood clot traveled to my left arm. This left me paralyzed on my left side. I could not see, sit up, walk, or swallow (as my left side vocal fold was also paralyzed). My prognosis of survival was very poor.

The part of my brain that was damaged was the brain stem—an area that has very little room for error. After a few weeks of amazing care by the doctors and nurses, I was eventually able to breathe and swallow. The rest would hopefully return with the help of intensive physical therapy.

Once my executive functioning skills returned, I had to endure several months of rehabilitation to learn to walk again.  My daughter was in kindergarten at this time and when asked what her parents did, she said, “My daddy is a stock-broker, and my mommy is in rehab.”  I had to teach her to say Physical Therapy!  I am thankful now to be able to find humor in this sad situation.

Anyway, by this time, my son was learning to walk too, but the WAY we learned to walk was very different.

Zane learned to walk like most babies do through trial and error—get up, take a few steps, fall down, get back up, repeat. My husband would scoot back and beckon him to “come to daddy.” While this was very typical for new walkers, it did not work for me in my situation at all!

Because the stroke damaged the part of my brain that controls my motor functions, these messages had to learn to re-route to other areas that are functioning normally.  Those messages needed to travel to my legs and arm in coordinated synchronicity, so I could take steps or pick up an object with my left hand. In order to execute these movements, messages in my brain had to re-route. I had to learn these seemingly innate procedures step by step. The process of taking a step forward has several interlocking procedural actions that have to work in a systematic way in order to allow me to take just one successful step forward. To do this, I had to practice A LOT!

So in between helping Zane with walking, my husband had to help me too. His practice with me was much different. We would go to the track near our house. He would push my wheelchair to the starting line, pull me out of the chair, and help me stand up so that we would be face to face. Then he would repeat those procedural steps to me as I executed each movement. “Move your foot forward, weight-shift to your left, bend your knee, pull your hip forward, weight-shift to your right, repeat.” This took incredible patience and perseverance. It usually took me at least 30 minutes to go around the track one time. I was exhausted. Of course, eventually those 30 minutes got shorter, and with more and more purposeful practice, I was able to walk on my own again.

Because of the stroke, the area of my brain that coordinated motor messages was no longer functioning correctly.  Consequently, other parts of my brain had to learn to do that job through a step by step procedure. This experience has shown me what it is like for a struggling reader learning to read, especially when the part of the brain that controls reading is not working properly.  In order for other areas of the brain to successfully take over, step-by-step procedural skills must be taught in a systematic, repetitive way. Even then, it will not be effortless.

Still today, 16 years later, I have to be mindful of every step I take. I must wear shoes to support my balance and use hand rails going up and down stairs. I cannot run and I have to take precaution when walking on certain surface.  I must have accommodations to help me walk safely, just like a struggling reader needs classroom accommodations like extra time to read.

It is amazing what the Brain can do, and learn to “re-do,” especially, how it works to execute everything we do. My experience really opened my eyes to what struggling readers face every day.

Difficulty reading is often a hidden and misunderstood condition.  There is an acceptable reason for my struggles and rarely am I blamed or chastised for walking slowly or taking extra time to go down a flight of stairs, but sometimes people are not as patient with struggling readers.  Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. It is my sincere hope that I was able to put you in their shoes, if only for a few minutes.

Samantha Brooks, MSE, Dyslexia Therapist

Samantha Brooks is an Intern Instructor with Brainspring Educator Academy.

For more information on Brainspring Educator Academy, visit us at http://www.brainspring.com.

 

Multisensory Monday: B and D Letter Reversals

Many students, especially those with  dyslexia, struggle with reversing letters.  While problems with letter reversals will never completely end for a truly dyslexic student, there are strategies that may lessen the frequency of reversals. One technique that has been beneficial for students is visualizing lowercase b and d on the back of the hand.

Right-handed Students

For a right-handed student, have the student get into writing position, as shown below.2

Assign a letter of the alphabet (a-d) to each finger on the student’s left hand, as illustrated.1

To form the lowercase letter b, the student should look at the b-finger (For the right-handed student, this is the ring finger of the left hand), visualize a line straight down the finger, and then visualize a circle on the back of the hand. There is only one place for the circle to fit, thereby correctly forming the letter b.1

To form a lowercase d, the student uses the same technique, this time visualizing the line coming down the d-finger (for the right-handed student, the index or pointer finger). Again, the circle must fit onto the back of the hand; there is only room for the circle to go one direction.2

Left-handed Students

For left-handed students, we simply begin labeling the fingers of the right hand with the thumb.3
To form a lowercase b, visualize a line going down the b-finger (for the left-handed student, this is the index finger), and a circle on the back of the hand. As with the right-handed student, there is                                       only one place for the circle to fit.            4

To form a lowercase d, visualize a line traveling down the d-finger (for the left-handed student, this is the ring finger), and a circle on the back of the hand.5

Unlike many other techniques, this technique can be done without disrupting the flow of writing. The student does not have to look around the room to find an alphabet strip or poster, nor does the student have to move his or her hands to form the letters or use hand motions. All of my students have experienced great success with this technique.

Tammi

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP

Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

The Power of Confidence

Stress and anxiety typically go hand-in-hand with learning disabilities.  In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, we will share blog articles about the this important topic throughout the month.

Brainsmith_InClass_120815-301

Stress and anxiety are common emotions in my students as they begin their tutoring journey at Brainspring. Many of these students, especially those in upper grades, have struggled with reading and writing for a long time. They feel like they have failed over and over. The feeling of failure becomes a coat they bring with them into every situation where they are asked to read or write.

As they sit down across from me at the tutoring center, I can almost see them tugging the coat of failure closer and tucking it up under their chin. It shows up as indifference (You can’t make me care about this), defensiveness (This is dumb. Why do we have to?), anxiety, hostility (No, I won’t!), or sometimes a student just completely shuts down.

The emotions running across their faces break my heart. These young people have already had so many difficulties to deal with. Is it any wonder that they often hate reading and writing?

I let them hang on to their protective coat as hard as they need to while still trying to motivate them to “give things a try”. One student needed motivation at every step of the lesson, especially during oral reading. To help motivate him, he could earn a game or a sticker for trying his best. Another fought me about syllabication every step of the way with “this is dumb!” and “I don’t want to.” Recognizing the fear of failure, I gently encouraged him to keep practicing the steps and assured him it would help him read larger words.

What I love about the Phonics First® Orton-Gillingham program is how it provides constant opportunities for students to succeed. Instead of starting instruction where the school system says the students should be, we start instruction right where they need it, working to fill in the gaps in their phonics knowledge. Although still challenging for the student, the lessons are no longer impossible. The instruction follows a predictable pattern, all new concepts are clearly taught and the continual review helps students to remember previous skills. I can confidently say to my students, “Yes, you really can read this. You know all the skills in this story.”

Brainsmith_InClass_120815-113Watching students slowly releasing their grip on the label of failure is exciting. As they begin to succeed in reading and writing, a quiet confidence starts to show up. The student who needed continual motivation starts to not need it any longer. He enjoys the successes he is experiencing and jumps into reading with more energy. The complaints about syllabication lessen and then disappear. Students realize the method works, and are pleased to be able to read bigger words. I am grateful to be part of the process of students learning to let go of the coat of failure and instead slowly replacing it with confidence and success.

Audrey Bon, A.B.Ed.

Audrey is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Plymouth.