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Books of Interest

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Posted: Dec 20, 2007 07:43


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Don McCabe
Clio, Mich: AVKO Dyslexia Research Foundation: 2002,1995
ISBN: 1-56400-004-4

(A Dyslexic Tells How Luck Enabled Him to Learn to Read & How His Blissful Ignorance & Stubbornness Enabled Him to Discover an Easy, Common Sense Way to Teach Other Dyslexics to Read and Write)

Review by: Lon Woodbury

Born in 1932, dealing with personal dyslexic symptoms long before the term became popular, with a career of teaching most of his adult life, this book is part autobiographical and part what he learned during his years as a teacher. He states several times how fortunate he is that he was raised before the era of Learning Disability specialists. "If I had been born in 1972 instead of 1932, there's no doubt in my mind I would be illiterate today."

Written in an easy to read style, with engaging personal stories, he attributes his learning how to read, and to succeed in general, from high family expectations (confidence building), continuous attention and play from an extended family (physical therapy), an older sister who loved playing teacher (personal tutoring) and his own innate stubbornness and desire to excel. Most of these are the attributes that used to be very common in the era of family based life before careers became everyone's major preoccupation, and before the development of scientific specialization regarding families and education. Several times he describes professional child development concepts and how in his childhood experience he received exactly that from normal family relations. For example, what is now called "intensive stimulation" was exactly what all family members playing with the baby were actually doing, if you had to put a scientific term onto it.

In Part II, he discusses his experience as a teacher whose first priority was to help children succeed, primarily by helping them to learn to read. Anyone who has been a teacher and been frustrated by "main office" bureaucracy, or tired teachers focused on one method only or teacher union priorities, will relate to and sympathize with his experiences. It boils down to his frustration in wanting to help kids but being given different directions by administrators who thought it more important he conform with accepted techniques, or as it is commonly referred to "team player."

In Part III, he explains that his founding of AVKO Dyslexia Research Foundation came from his learning that most education research is studying the wrong things and wanting to research what he had found worked and offer it to help people.

I'm not a learning or reading specialist, but as I understood his approach, he starts with the observation that our brains, whether dyslexic or not, are programmed to change what our senses detect to fit our inner map of reality. If a student doesn't understand common patterns of how the written word is presented, then the brain will interpret what the senses bring to it into a pattern that does make sense. Dyslexia, according to the author, is the result of the brain mal-adapting the sensual information by not knowing common patterns. Based on the author's observation that the problem is missing understanding of patterns, the author has developed several techniques to teach those patterns to students. Phonics is part of it, but the author insists phonics as it is usually taught doesn't go far enough and explains in detail exactly what he does to help students learn to read.

The author is proud of being an independent thinker, working out his own answers to problems and avoiding parroting what he is told by authority. He claims that that is a common attribute of dyslexic thinkers, along with a logical streak that is a little slow to pick cues from the mainstream as to what he should think. Actually, that streak of independent thinking, a strong sense of what's right or insistence on doing it in one's own way, seems to describe many of the students we work with in the residential struggling teens industry. Perhaps he is not describing dyslexics as much as he is describing students "listening to a different drummer" which would include students labeled as dyslexic along with ADD, ADHD or even milder conduct disorder students, many of whom have had troubles learning to read.

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