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My good friend Dr. M. is on a Quest to get this book better known, specifically to get enough grassroots support behind it that the program it describes can be expanded to the Ann Arbor area.

Roots of EmpathyRoots of Empathy by Mary Gordon. The book describes the long-running school program of the same name (, which Mary Gordon started in Toronto in the mid-nineties, after over a decade of inner city teaching. It is her solution to the problem of how to help those children that come to school clearly never having been taught how to have a real, healthy relationship, and are thus handicapped for learning for the rest of their school career. In the program, trained parent/baby dyads (ok, the parent is the trained one) visit a school program about once a month over the course of a year. A trained instructor comes along, too, and talks to the kids beforehand about baby development and safety. The babies are carefully screened by age – starting at 4 to 6 months old - so that the children will see the great leaps of development that take place during the first year. Because schools must meet standards, there’s also curriculum around it, supporting math and reading standards at several different grade levels. But the amazing thing is how well the program works at creating empathy, and how helpful that skill is in the classroom. Bullying in Roots of Empathy classes decreases to zero or close to it. There’s measurable increase in prosocial/helping behavior, active stopping of bullying in other classes. The kids are able to suggest lots of reasons why a baby might be upset and how to help it. Watching how hard the baby works to meet its milestones makes them more patient and persistent with their own goals, while learning about temperament regarding the baby also gives them understanding about themselves and their classmates. While my account here is filled with dry facts, the book itself is filled with lots of anecdotes of babies gravitating towards the toughest kid in the class and melting the hard outer shell, of foster kids holding the baby and asking if kids who had never been loved could be good parents. There’s also the sad cautionary tales of teen parents who think, for example, that babies are wimps if they cry for their mothers. As Dr. M said, we can train our own children not to be bullies and to stand up for others, but what about the rest of the people they will run into? And as Gordon says, empathy is not taught but caught. Three phrases: enlightening, heartwarming, change the world.
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I have stacks of books waiting to be reviewed and even bigger stacks at home waiting to be read. Onwards!

The Gift of DyslexiaThe Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M. Braun. This is the dyslexia theory that my son’s school espouses, and at least per, seems to be among the top three dyslexia books currently out. Davis’s theories are based on his own experiences as a dyslexic, and the results from helping dyslexics in the clinics he founded. That’s a lot of experience, but as there are no scientifically based studies behind it, it’s more like a very large body of subjective evidence than truly scientific. Anyway, Davis’s theory is that dyslexics are visual learners. They think in pictures, and are used to being able to rotate, explode and reassemble objects in their minds without knowing they’re doing it. This is great for art and engineering, but really unhelpful for reading, where the letters need to stay two-dimensional and in the right order. The more words in a text that don’t make pictures, the more the brain tries to use its unhelpful skills to solve the problem, and the worse it gets. Davis has a test to see if this is the case with the person in question, and then a couple of methods (based primarily on age) for teaching them to be conscious about controlling their mind’s eye and its focus. Once they can do this, the program calls for hands-on work with making letters out of clay and working intensively with the toughest words to read – those that don’t easily translate to pictures. This, Davis says, will effectively cure dyslexia, while still preserving the gifts that caused it in the first place. I’m not sure how much of this really applies to my son, though some of it clearly does. I don’t know whether the school is using their treatment method or just subscribes to the theory that dyslexia stems from a gift rather than a disability. This book does some things very well, though. It has good descriptions of typical symptoms, good and bad, that go along with dyslexia. It is relatively short, printed in larger type with a minimum of hyphenated words to make it easier for dyslexics to read.

I find I have some problems with calling dyslexia a gift that maybe have more to do with the limitations of a title than with Davis’s actual theories. I think Davis finds the abilities that cause the dyslexia the gift, but I don’t think that having a hard time reading is a gift, flat-out. Readers of this blog might guess that I’m somewhat passionate about reading, and I don’t like anything that makes reading harder for people. I would not have read this book for that reason if my son’s team hadn’t recommended it. Now that I have, I’m recommending it for purchase to my library. It might not have all the answers to dyslexia – but no one seems to, despite their claims, and it is the easiest book about dyslexia for an adult dyslexic to read that I’ve found. The need for this was recently brought home as I ran into someone who said (paraphrasing) “I don’t have dyslexia. I just don’t read so much because it’s hard to make the words into pictures.” How many more people with dyslexia could be helped if the myth of dyslexia as seeing twisted letters weren’t still so rampant?

Brain Gym

May. 7th, 2012 11:45 am
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Brain GymBrain Gym by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison This book was recommended to us by a friend, who had great success with both of her children using the exercises in it. I had to have it sent via ILL, and was rather surprised when I got it. It’s a small paperback only 48 pages long with amateurish drawings. The theory behind it is both simple and not much talked about: problems with reading, math, concentration, etc., can be helped by physical exercises, particularly ones that require crossing the body’s midline. For what we were looking at, drawing sideways figure eights in the air, first with just one hand and then with both held together. I think the theory is that problems like these can be caused by lack of communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, and doing physical integration can prime the pump, as it were, making the academic exercises easier. If you or someone you’re helping has difficulty, you can just flip to the appropriate page, where the exercise is drawn out with text descriptions of how to do it and what it should accomplish. I’m not sure we’ve remembered to do this quite as often as we ought, but it has seemed helpful when we do. In order to up the interest quotient, my brilliant husband had the idea of having our son do the exercises holding a foam sword, rather than just tracing the pattern in the air with his hands. It worked. For those more interested in the theory (which, come to think of it, would probably be me), there’s also a teacher’s guide, which has more detailed notes on everything.
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OK, so probably most of my readers don’t have a need for dyslexia books. I’m posting these notes here to jog my memory in the future, and just in case anyone who needs such information drops by.

Overcoming DyslexiaOvercoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. Shaywitz is a Yale doctor who has been involved in dyslexia research for decades, including writing an article about dyslexia that was published in Smithsonian magazine in the mid-1990s. This is a thick and comprehensive book about the history, nature and treatment of dyslexia. On the one hand, very good information, at least considering that it’s now nearly a decade old. On the other hand, the text was so dense, with tiny type and frequent fillers about the marvels of modern science, that I found myself wanting to hurl the book across the room and tell Shaywitz to get to the point already. The revolutionary teaching method promised in the subtitle was not introduced until page 172, especially amazing given that dyslexia is often inherited, making it very likely that a dyslexic parent would be trying to muddle through this. /end rant

Facts about dyslexia that I did not know: According to Shaywitz, current research indicates that the root of dyslexia is phonological, not visual as is still commonly assumed. The brain just doesn’t want to convert sounds to symbols and back. Brain scans show activity in very different parts for dyslexics and non-dyslexics, so the they are learning to read in very different ways. Dyslexia affects just as many girls as boys, and lower class as middle class, though girls and lower class kids tend to be underidentified – because girls are quiet and lower class are sadly just not expected to succeed academically. Though in general dyslexia is highly underdiagnosed, she cites research showing that about 20% of people have dyslexia. Maybe I shouldn’t be so concerned about no one else needing this information.

Read more... )
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Uniquely GiftedUniquely Gifted by Keisa Kay and Beverly A. Trail “Twice exceptional” is a term I’ve newly become acquainted with. It refers to people (often specifically children) who are both gifted and have some sort of disability like a learning disability, ADD or ADHD, or sensory integration issues… among many other possibilities. My friend Dr. M. actually told me to look for the term. You can Google lots, of course, but sometimes a book is nice, and this is the book that I found that I could interloan easily. It’s divided into three sections, with lots of essays from parents and kids, teachers, and administrators each talking about their experience with (or as) twice exceptional students. This book came out a dozen years ago, and that 2000 copyright makes a big difference when it comes to things like finding resources on the Internet. However, educational systems change at a glacial pace, so the stories of struggles by families for support still sadly ring true, and effective methods for support will still be the same. I came to the happy conclusion that my boy is much closer to the normal range than most of the children described in this book, so that the extreme adaptations sometimes described won’t be necessary for him. Also unlike some of the horror stories here, the teachers and administrators at his school are all very supportive so far and commited to helping him reach his full potential. However, I have quite a few friends whose kids do fall into the twice exceptional spectrum, for whom this book might be useful.

I’ve also found a newer (2010) book titled Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children by Trail alone, but this seems geared just towards teachers, rather than the triple focus of Uniquely Gifted

Cross-posted to and .


Jan. 30th, 2008 02:28 pm
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Thank you for all the positive comments on Stardust! I'm finding distinct advantages to writing up things my friends already know. Moving on, I’ve been fascinated by Waldorf education recently, despite the fact that my son attends a Montessori school and I myself went to Montessori for preschool. So I thought I’d read a little about it.

Montessori: The Science behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard I have this feeling, which other people might share, that the American educational system is broken and dysfunctional. There are whole books about this, which you could also read. Even though not everyone may be interested in Montessori in particular, this book has the advantage of being somewhat less depressing than a book focused only on mainstream education because it contains a positive solution to the problem. This is a dream nonfiction book for me (and I feel so librarianish talking about a dream nonfiction book) because Lillard is down with her research. The basic structure is looking at an issue in education or parenting, seeing what the research says about it, and comparing the research to standard education and Montessori education. She is quite explicit about pointing out potential flaws in the studies, even when doing so is not in favor of Montessori. Lillard also explains areas where traditional educators often disagree with the Montessori method (which is not quite the same as how the system is broken, as educators often agree that it is.) I’ve put lots of details behind the cut, but I had a hard time putting the book down, and am now sold on a Montessori education. Using the expertise of a highly intelligent woman who spent 50 years observing children and fine-tuning an system of education seems like a fine alternative to either trying to develop one myself by home-schooling, or relying on the aforementioned broken system.

This is a long book in small type, so here, for those who might not get to it all, is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. )
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Teach Your Own by John Holt & Pat Farenga This is the latest edition of one of the great classics of homeschooling, but it has valuable ideas for anyone with children, even if you send them to school. From extensive work with children and schools, Holt challenges the popular idea that children need to do work they don’t like to be educated, and that schools are the only places that know how to teach. Children will retain what they learn best when they explore what they are interested in most, and when they learn things because the knowledge is necessary in their social group – he gives the examples of Gypsy children who learn to play in the family band not by being taught but by being given an instrument and being put on stage with the rest of the family. Teaching to a test rewards those students who forget what they’ve learned only after the test. If you’re short on time and not planning on homeschooling, reading the preface, introduction and the chapter “Living with Children.” This has sections on the nature of children and moving beyond the popular “savages vs. precious innocents” dichotomy; parents tendency to add “okay?” to statements that are not choices; tantrums, and alternatives to gold stars. Other chapters cover reasons to take children out of school, quite good retorts to standard objections to homeschooling, dealing with learning disabilities, and how to begin homeschooling yourself. I'm still not convinced that kids will explore everything they need to know on their own if given guidance, but, sadly, his premise that what schools do best is to take kids' joy out of learning seems spot-on.

If you are even vaguely concerned about putting your child in school but worried about your ability to teach your children, this is very empowering. If you are an educator yourself, you might also be interested in Holt’s previous two books How Children Learn and Why Children Fail. And, as even parents of regularly schooled children will have to help with homework, parts of this book will be valuable for any parent.
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Here are two books about women who don’t fit in with the way society tells them to be – one who rejoices to be different, and one who desperately wants to fit in.

Bitch Goddess by Robert Rodi This book chronicles the career of Hollywood B movie icon Viola Chute. She’s had a long and colorful career, involving not only some gloriously bad acting but numerous scandals. Now (1997) she’s decided that it’s time to write her memoirs. But when she fires her ghostwriter, he decides to probe deeper into her secrets to write an unauthorized tell-all biography. Intriguingly, this book is told only through interview transcripts, articles and emails – no two-sided conversations, no narrative text. It’s as enjoyable, and requires not quite so much suspension of disbelief, as one of those notorious B movies.

For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani Anju is dutiful Indian girl, on the Quest for the Perfect Indian Boy. She believes in arranged marriage, and that the boy intended for her has already been born – but how will she find him? Her search takes her from Bombay to New York and even Paris, as chick lit meets traditional Indian culture. One sad note: the best I can say about the audio version is that the narrator was really good at imitating a voice over the phone. Please, just read the book.

And one extra:
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell I talked about this book earlier on the board, and it’s even better now that I’ve finished it. More than just talking enthusiastically about books, “Madame Esme” gets down and dirty with hundreds of ways to have fun with kids, including the appropriate books. Yeah, they’ll probably gain some reading skills in the process – but the focus is on fun, and lots of it.


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