learning disability

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!

Confusing Words

In 1990 my wife Anne came home from school and asked me if there was an easy way to collect the words that her students confused so that they might refer to their own lists on their own computers.

I put the question back to Anne: if you had such a list, what kinds of information about the confused words should be included, and how should the information look? I asked her to come up with some examples, the first few of which were effect and affect and there, their, and they’re.

We decided that we needed to show each set of confusables together so that an easy comparison could be made. We also thought that the list would include more confusables than just homonyms, words like aggravate and irritate, and good and well.

Each set of confusables would need:

– the two or more confused words

– definitions of each of the confused words

– multiple examples of usage in sentences of the confused words

Anne started collecting words, writing definitions, coming up with examples, and stored her collection in a text file until I could come up with another way.

My job was to think about how the information could be most accessible to writers using conventional word processing software like MS Word or AppleWorks (ClarisWorks back then).

A few things to consider in looking at the history of this project:

– We were (and still are) Macintosh users and the schools we were both working with were using Macs as well.

– I had little experience with databases, although FileMaker and others were out at the time.

– I had a lot of experience with HyperCard, the first user-friendly multimedia development tool, and even though its products only ran on the Macintosh, cross platform development wasn’t a concern since the audience we were building this for was mainly Mac users who could run HyperCard programs.

– There was no web at the time, and the idea of putting information like this online and having people use an online tool was unheard of except in the mainframe computer world.

So, I built a HyperCard “stack” that included:

– a field to hold the confused words

– a field to hold the definitions

– a field to hold examples of usage.

In time, Anne and I finished the stack and sold it as shareware for many years. It did well and thousands of people bought and hopefully used it. (Hopefully is correct if our users were hopeful about becoming less confused.)

Here’s a screen shot of an entry:


Many things have changed in the computer world since Anne and I first started thinking about this:

– The Macintosh has been marginalized in schools

– The HyperCard project died at Apple

– We have mixed feelings about making and buying shrink-wrapped reference software because it’s out of date almost immediately

– The web has evolved into an important part of using a computer as a tool

– We know how to build web sites

So, we put Confusing Words on the web where it existed for many years. The code and site became out of date over time and we lost interest and so, we took it down and let the domain go. It was a great run and we learned a lot, both in building the HyperCard stack and in building the web site.