learning disabilities

The concept of learning styles may be a self-fulfilling prophesy

Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely

This is really interesting. Not sure I’m willing to toss out the concept just yet but this piece is worth taking seriously.

More on Learning Styles and Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences.

Hands-on learning

PBS NewsHour does Maker Faire: “Can DIY Movement Fix a Crisis in U.S. Science Education?”

Xeni Jardin, one of the tech contributors to boingboing has a great post and overview of a piece Miles O’Brien did the other night on the PBS NewsHour on the Maker Faire. Read her excellent post and watch the NewsHour segment, it’s very well produced.

I just commented on her piece, here’s my comment:

Great post Xeni. I too saw the NewsHour segment and have been following the movement for a long time. I’m of the age where we used John Muir’s How to Fix your Volkswagen for the complete idiot (me) as the bible and it worked by making car mechanics more accessible.

For at least one set of roots of the makers movement check out The Whole Earth Catalog and all of the associated publications Brand, Kahn, and others did.

The only thing that bothered me about Miles’ piece was that I think it was put together backwards: the case for making engineering more accessible should have been made first, then the makers movement shown as one possible way to help it happen for people with visual/hands on learning styles.

Hands on learning isn’t for everyone just like book learning isn’t for everyone. The problem with American education is that we design it for book learners so hands on types don’t do well (except in shop class). But, the answer isn’t to cater more to hands on types, the answer is to have many ways in and not rank them one better than another.

Apple updates iBooks app with ‘read aloud’ feature

Apple updates iBooks app with ‘read aloud’ feature

Help your children learn to read with the new read-aloud feature included in select children’s books from the iBookstore. The read-aloud feature uses a real narrator to read the book to you, and in some books, it will even highlight the words as you read along.

This is incredible news, not just for people who have a hard time with reading but also for people who are learning English as a second language and (hopefully in the future) for excellent readers who want to give their eyeballs a break.

[via Edward McKeown]

A Remembrance of Dorothy L. Peirce

Note: In 1985 I was asked to do a series of workshops on how computers could help students with learning disabilities at The Forman School, a small prep school in rural Connecticut. I liked the people I met there so much that I left the University of Oregon to start Forman’s computer program. The woman who helped me construct that program was Dr. Laurel Fais who ran Forman’s language training program. The woman who helped us integrate computers into the rest of the school was Forman’s academic dean who was also the wife of its headmaster, Dorothy Peirce. Dorothy had long since retired to rural Vermont when she passed away on February 28th. This past sunday Forman had a memorial service for Dorothy and Laurie wrote and read the eulogy below. There’s not much I can add, Laurie wrote and delivered a eulogy that would make Dorothy very proud. No doubt she is.

dorothy_peirceRemembrance of Dorothy L. Peirce
Alumni Weekend
The Forman School
May 8, 2011
Laurel Fais

I first met Dorothy in my final interview for a job at Forman in 1983. She slipped into her husband, Richard Peirce’s office as he and I chatted, made a few pleasant remarks that put me at my ease, and it wasn’t until later that I realized I had seen my first glimpse in action, of the incredible partnership of Richard and Dorothy Peirce that fueled the energy of the Forman School in those days. If I may be excused verging on blasphemy, though somehow for those of us who know them it doesn’t seem much like blasphemy, Richard proposeth, Dorothy disposeth. Richard lived the visions that they shared for this newly-turned college preparatory school for LD students, and Dorothy made them happen.

I arrived in June of 1983, a new Language Training teacher as it was called then. I was lucky to have the summer to get to know Dorothy, and to begin to understand the principles, the foundations and the motivations behind the sophisticated, comprehensive curriculum that she was in the process of building, a curriculum that reflected her passion to make it possible for these students to achieve to their utmost potential, and more personally for these students to perhaps realize even just a little, the same sort of love she felt for ideas, for language, for knowledge. I drank in her fervent explanations, learned from her profound understanding of the ways of both education and adolescents, marveled at her calm, matter-of-fact attention to every detail, and the long, long hours she selflessly devoted to her professional life as Academic Dean. She made me want to learn everything about helping these students that I could; she made me want to be like her. She had that effect on many of us, through the sheer magnetism of her being, and, I know I am not alone in this group to think that she changed my life, and made me a more worthy human being, by the very intensity of her own professionalism and integrity.

Now, remember that this was the 80’s, and the 80’s for me was the time of the Wonder Woman—the woman who had family and children and was of course the perfect mother, but who also proudly had a successful career at which she excelled. And I had fashioned Dorothy in my mind as one of these Wonder Women already by the time that school started that fall. So I was completely unprepared for her introductory remarks at the first faculty meeting of the year. She walked up to the podium and said, “I am Dorothy Peirce and I am the Headmaster’s wife.” I was shocked, and at first disappointed in what I had taken to be a denigration of the important professional position she occupied at the school. And then I realized that Dorothy was teaching me again—she transcended those stereotypes—she was as devoted to her husband as she was to her career, and defined herself first by her partnership with him, a personal partnership to be sure, but one that defined the Forman vision in those days. She taught me a gracious balance—she taught me to value my role as wife and mother every bit as much as my role as LT teacher, and she was utterly supportive of all of us young mothers working at the school in those days. She smiled as I nursed babies in committee meetings, and held and burped those babies if I had my hands full. I gave birth to two of my three children on campus in Dobbins House—and Dorothy, who now that I think about it, had to have had many many other crucial things to do in her office, was the one who spent the hours of my labor playing with the two older children, keeping them happy and occupied until she could bring them in to meet their just-born youngest sster. Whereupon she promptly changed and took the birthing sheets off to her house to wash, and made me a cup of tea.

Her family was the entire school. I’m sure Forman is the same now as it was then in at least this respect—by June, everyone is exhausted, spent. I stood with Dorothy on one of the June days as the campus emptied of the last students, and together we waved goodbye to the final van carrying students to Brewster. I could feel my body go limp and I turned to share with her my vast relief and my plans to sleep for the next month, sure that Dorothy, who worked harder than anyone, had to have been as tired as I was, and was brought up short by the tears in her eyes. Yet she turned to me and said “I miss them already.”

I’ve already made three trips to the dictionary and thesaurus trying to avoid the overuse of the word that comes to my mind over and over when I think of Dorothy: grace. With her happy wit, her compassionate sensitivity, her sharp intelligence, and her deft cooking skills, Dorothy was a superb hostess. She had a way of dressing so that those of us/you who came to the Head’s parties looking rather scruffy (and you know who you are) felt just as comfortable standing next to her as those who were capable of slightly more upscale fashion. She herself was elegance mixed with spunk, tempered with a vast tolerance and affection for the vagaries of her Forman family. At the first such party I was invited to, I was completely nervous—how on time or how fashionably late should I be? What should I wear (I tended to the scruffy side)? Would there be drinking—should I bring wine? I settled for flowers, which I hurriedly picked from around Dobbins House I presented them to her when she opened the door and she accepted them with thanks and delight, and led me into the kitchen where she carefully placed them in a vase, and where they stayed. “You know,” she said confidentially, as she smiled and took my arm to introduce me to other faculty and staff members, “those flowers are actually endangered.” [But she accepted them in the spirit in which I had given them, and never let me feel bad or embarrassed about the gift.]

Everyone in this room who knew her could add many, many more stories to these, all of which would illuminate another aspect to this complex, remarkable, brightly vibrant, quietly powerful woman. I hope these words have helped evoke her integrity, her grace, her passion for education, her love of the students, her charm, though they are a poor tribute to such an exceptional woman. I think that she would think that the good that she radiated into this world, and that continues on in all the students she took care of, in the faculty she mentored, and in everyone she touched, is the finest tribute of all.

Do Books in the House Make Smarter Kids?

Patrick James over at GOOD found an old post on Salon and commented on it: Do Books in the House Make Smarter Kids?

Here’s Laura Miller’s post at Salon: Book owners have smarter kids.

While I’m not sure I see how being exposed to books can make one smarter, exposure to books can certainly make one more literate, worldly, comfortable with print material and seemingly if not actually educated (different from smarter).

If you happen to be comfortable in bookstores or libraries — if you’ve been to them many times before and know what to expect, what you want and where to find it, or if you know whom and how to ask and feel entitled to bother the staff with your questions — it can be difficult to appreciate how intimidating these institutions of print culture can seem to someone who has little or no acquaintance with them.

This is very true and as someone with a reading disability I can tell you that the thought of walking into a library and not understanding the card catalog and having to ask for help kept me out of libraries. However, once card catalogs went electronic and I could use them on my own I started to use libraries more. I still had a hard time reading, but at least I could find what I then struggled to read.

I think there’s also a class issue built into this that is self-perpetuating: people with education have books, TV, computers, and lots of ways of dealing with information in the house for kids to use. People with less education might have fewer tools available relying more on TV than books.

At the end of his comment Patrick asks:

I wonder how electronic books and iPads would factor in to a future study like this. Does being surrounded, physically, by walls with shelves of books play any role in shaping a child’s perspective? Or is it simply the access to literature that’s important?

One needs both: the physical World Book to thumb through and an iPad with an electronic version along with wikipedia. It’s a matter of familiarity: if one is familiar with books, how they work and how to use them then they’re one more tool for finding things out and when the iPad doesn’t cough up what one wants one can go to the book shelf, or, the iBook shelf.

Dan Malloy, Connecticut Governor, Opens Up About Dyslexia Troubles

Dan Malloy, Connecticut Governor, Opens Up About Dyslexia Troubles

“I have to tell you, I’ll be right up front about it: I’m the governor of the state of Connecticut and I can’t write anything well,” Malloy told the rapt students. “This is who we are. I can’t write things. I’m embarrassed all the time about that, particularly if people don’t know that about me.”

I knew there was a reason I voted for him (other than that he’s a Democrat).

You go Dan!

Maine laptop in schools program ten years later

Would a Laptop for Every Student Help? In Maine It Certainly Did

One of the many reasons Angus King and others in Maine chose Macs was the more mature “universal access” features on Macs. What Maine did with laptops remains one of the best implementations of computers in schools to date.

Given that writing is a large component of what these laptops are used for and a high percentage of students learn to touch type, iPads probably won’t be folded into the mix any time soon.

Tips and Advice for Students, Teachers, and Parents

Note: This list was compiled in 1990 by me and originally posted in 1995 on LD Resources. The ideas still make good sense and may be even more useful in our TV and smartphone obsessed world. With thanks to the now defunct Whole Earth Catalog, CoEvolution Quarterly, and The Whole Earth Review.


Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students. Pull everything out of yourself. Work hard. Then work harder.

Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.

Learn by trial and error, and don’t avoid the errors. Consider everything an experiment.

Learning doesn’t happen in class, it happens when you get home and look at the wall. Don’t forget to make time for looking at walls.

Be self-disciplined.

Be a self-advocate.

Learn from your mistakes. There is no win and no fail, there’s only honest effort.

Assume that others are always doing their best.

Work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. Worrying about work doesn’t get it done, it only makes getting started harder.

Get good at something other than school-related work (like skateboarding or cooking).

Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes. Continue reading

It really is a small world

Jai Vakeel School

The Jai Vakeel School

In 1999 I went to India to do a series of lectures and some consulting on the use of technology in classrooms to help students with learning difficulties. I made this trip with a good friend and colleague Bart Pisha who is also an expert on the use of technology in classrooms. Neither of us had been to India before so this was a very big trip and experience for both of us. One of the schools we visited in Bombay was the Jai Vakeel School for young people with severe cognitive disabilities. In this school students learned various skills: academic, social, and crafts like weaving, sewing, and other handicrafts.

At the Jai Vakeel School

Tehmi, Richard, and others at The Jai Vakeel School

We toured the school with it’s director, Tehmi Schroff and the head of their occupational therapy group who’s name I don’t remember. Tehmi explained not only what was going on in each classroom but what it meant in terms of the lives of these students. She also explained the research they were doing there.

Jai Vakeel School

Richard speaking with staff at The Jai Vakeel School

After touring the school Bart and I did a presentation for members of the faculty and administration, mostly about our own experiences growing up with learning disabilities and how we had managed to work through problems and find our individual ways but we also gave them an overview of what was going on back in the US in special education. Frankly, in retrospect, this relatively poor sheltered workshop was miles ahead of what might go on at an equivalent institution in the US.

Bart and I bid Tehmi and her school farewell and pushed on to many other schools in Bombay and Delhi over the next two weeks. We came home overwhelmed by the experience and to this day we both feel it was the best trip of our lives. We never heard from Tehmi again.

Note: These images are photos I took in India with my Olympus Stylus point and shoot film camera. They weren’t great images and they’re even worse as I shot them this morning with my 5D.

Fast Forward Ten Years
We live in the town of Warren, Connecticut, population 1300. About a year ago, some good friends of ours invited us for dinner and invited another couple who live in Warren who they had just met, Adil and Zarinna Mulla. The Mullas are wonderful, down to earth people who were born in Bombay but have lived in the US for most of their adult lives. Our conversation was wonderfully wide ranging, from US politics (we’re all Obama supporters) to my trip to India.

Morning Fog on the Shepaug Reservoir (color)

The view from the Mulla’s deck, Warren, Connecticut

When the Mulla’s found out I was a photographer they invited me over to check out the views at their place and ever since that first visit Zarinna has been calling me on mornings when there is fog on the Shepaug reservoir for me to photograph. We’ve become good friends of both Adil and Zarinna.

Zarinna Mulla at her daughter's wedding

Zarinna Mulla at her daughter’s wedding

Knowing that I’d never shot a wedding before, Zarinna and Adil’s daughter and her fiance asked me to photograph their wedding. While I was flattered I was also quite nervous. They had 200 people come from all over the world and they wanted photographs of the event. Thank god the images turned out well and shooting the wedding was a lot of fun as was meeting such a diverse group of people.

The evening before the wedding I was at Zarinna’s house for a rehearsal and her immediate family who had flown in from India was there staying at the house. There was a lot of excitement in the air about the wedding but also a bit of jet lag and exhaustion.

I got myself out of the way and stood over by the kitchen sink next to an older woman who was washing dishes. We glanced at each other politely and she went back to work. A while later I asked her where she’d come from and she said Bombay and that she was Zarinna’s mother. She asked me where I lived and I said down the road in the same town and that I was a friend of her daughter’s. I asked her what she did in Bombay and she said she ran a school. I said that I’d been to Bombay and had been to some schools nine years ago, which school did she run.

She said: “I run the Jai Vakeel School.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard it right so I asked her to repeat it.

“I run the Jai Vakeel School. My name is Tehmi Schroff.”

My jaw dropped. This was the same woman I’d met almost ten years earlier in India. The same woman who did the research on sheltered workshops and occupational therapy for young people with mental retardation and the same woman I had the pictures of in an album at home.

Tehmi and Richard in Warren

Tehmi and Richard in Warren, Connecticut

She said I’d looked familiar; she asked me if I was “Richard” or “Bart” as time had conflated the names and we had a long look at one another as we realized the odds of this happening.

Later I drove home and picked up the album from my India trip just to make sure it was real and in fact it was: the mother of my good friend Zarinna Mulla is the same person who I’d met randomly in India while touring dozens of schools.

If that doesn’t make you believe the world is small, nothing will.

Postscript, 2013: Tehmi Schroff passed away this year. She affected the lives of thousands of children in India and I will remember the time we spent together, both in India and here in Warren, Connecticut fondly for the rest of my life.