+ Cognitive Benefits of Handwriting

by Diana Hanbury King

I didn’t even have to think about the steps. You know, muscles have a memory and they took over.”
Paul Taylor

“Only three fingers write, but the whole body works.”
Medieval Scribe

The motor memory, the brain/hand connection, is the most powerful of our memories. It enables us to learn to swim, ski, ride horseback, play tennis, and dance. It is the way musicians learn their pieces, actors memorize their parts, and even how we drive our cars.

Before seatbelts were invented, we parents developed a powerful reflex: Put on the brakes and fling out the right hand to hold the child in the seat—useless, of course. But for many years, even after my children were in college, that hand would fly out and belt my passenger in the chest. Motor memory is persistent.

While the computer rules these days, there are crucial cognitive benefits that are lost when handwriting goes (Berninger, 2012; Zubrzycki, 2012). Forming letters by hand engages more networks (Berninger, 2012) within the brain than keyboarding. Children who learn letter formation learn to recognize letters more quickly (Berninger, 2013). Children generate ideas more easily when writing by hand (Berninger, 2012). Finally, it makes for better recall.

A study of 300 students at Princeton and at UCLA established that those who took notes by hand had significantly better recall and comprehension of the material than those who took notes with keyboards (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) curriculum has dropped cursive writing altogether and suggests that printing (i.e., manuscript letter formation) be taught only in kindergarten and first grade; thereafter, the stress is to be placed on developing keyboarding skills. Well, that’s bad enough. But worse is that teachers are not taught how to teach letter formation (Berninger, 2013; Graham, 2009-2010) even for printing (manuscript), and they are provided with no materials.

I have often asked an audience of teachers, “How many lower-case printed letters begin on the line?” I wait out the silence and watch them mentally scrolling through the alphabet. Finally, one of them says, ”None of them?”

The perception that children will pick up letter formation by osmosis is erroneous. Incorrect letter formations learned at home, in preschool, or in kindergarten are incredibly difficult to remediate.

Maria Montessori believed that writing of single letters could begin with three or four-year-olds. She noted that children try to write before they begin to read.

In Latvia, I watched some very young children practicing “tall grass” and “short grass,” always from the top down, and circles moving in a counter-clockwise direction. All this was in preparation for learning to form letters the following year.

At first, forget about lines. Mildred Plunkett wrote, “Alignment is necessary, but it is the final achievement. At the beginning of corrective work, limitation by lines would only increase tension because it would necessitate an added control.”

At first the young student should work in trays of rice, lentils, shaving cream, finger paint, or sand—don’t use sandpaper on those delicate fingertips. Tracing should be done with two fingers to provide the strongest feedback. Then move on to slates, or best of all, standing up at a whiteboard, chalkboard, or easel using colored markers or chalk.

While standing, the student should practice the four-step multisensory procedure known as “Trace. Copy. Cover. Closed.”

The teacher makes the model at least 8 inches tall, naming the letter aloud as it is formed. The student traces it several times, while naming it aloud.
The student copies it several times, while naming it.
The model is erased, and the student forms the letter from memory, while naming it.
Finally, the student forms and names the letter with eyes closed or averted. This is an essential step and one that children enjoy, often asking excitedly, “Can I do it now with my eyes closed?” or exclaiming, “Look! I did it without looking!”
One of the disadvantages of print (manuscript) letter formations is that some letters are easily reversed or inverted (e.g., b and d; p and q; and sometimes t and f). For these easily confused letters, it is important to teach students to use a mnemonic. If b and d are both started from the top, they are more likely to be reversed, so begin b at the top (“b is tall and has a ball.”) and begin d like a c (“d is the cd letter. Make the c, then go up and down to finish it.”). For p and q, we sometimes use a mnemonic that delights young children, “When you pee, you pee down.”

So “p goes down, bounces up and around.” Then “q starts like a, goes down and ends with a hook.”

Capitals, except for the capital letter I and the first letter of the child’s name, should be postponed until lower-case letter formations are firmly established. The practice of displaying lower-case and capital letters together above the board as Aa,Bb,Cc etc. may confuse young children. The upper-case and lower-case alphabets should be displayed separately; in kindergarten, the upper-case letters should be hidden until Spring.

Kindergarten children who have established a formation for each lower-case letter are more likely to succeed not only in first grade but also throughout elementary school.

Time spent in making this happen is time well invested.


Berninger, V.W. (March 2013). Educating Students in the Computer Age to Be Multilingual by Hand. Commentaries (National Association of State Boards of Education), 19 (1).

Berninger, V.W. (May-June 2012). Strengthening the Mind’s Eye: The Case for Continued Handwriting Instruction in the 21st Century. Principal, 28-31.

Graham.S. (Winter 2009-2010). Want to Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting. American Educator, 20-27, 40.

Mueller, P.A. & Oppenheimer, D.M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

Zubrzycki, J. (January 23, 2012). Summit to Make a Case for Teaching Handwriting. Education Week, 31 (Issue 18), 1,13.


Diana Hanbury King, Lit.hum.Dr.h.c., F/AOGPE, was the founder of Camp Dunnabeck in 1965 and co-founder of The Kildonan School in 1969. She was a Founding Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators(AOGPE). Her vision created cutting edge education for students with dyslexia, and she developed a program for training teachers at Kildonan that has become a model program. Dr. King has also published teaching materials, particularly in the area of written language skills, that have been used by thousands of educators throughout the world. The International Dyslexia Association awarded her the Samuel T. Orton Award in 1990 in recognition of her gifted teaching that “has enhanced beyond measure the quality of life for a myriad of dyslexic students and their families.” In 2013, she was awarded the Margaret Byrd Rawson Lifetime Achievement Award by IDA in recognition of her compassion, leadership, commitment to excellence, advocacy for people with dyslexia, and work nationally recognized as furthering the mission of IDA.

Copyright © 2015 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). We encourage sharing of Examiner articles. If portions are cited, please make appropriate reference. Articles may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale. Permission to republish this article is available from info@interdys.org.


Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Help Students Think — About Thinking

David Gooblar at Pedagogy Unbound has made some suggestions to help students think about their thinking.

Thinking about our thinking is called “metacognition.” When we begin to be aware that we are thinking, we can analyze, monitor and regulate the way we do it.  We think, as we struggle with a problem, “Hmmm, oh that’s what I’m doing here!”

That is metacognition.

Note: Gooblar’s piece is directed to instructors at the college level.  But these strategies can be adapted for even the youngest students, at the earliest stages of self-monitoring.


There are ways to help students recognize their ability to analyze, monitor, and improve their work.  For example, Gooblar shares a strategy called “exam wrappers.”  When students receive back their first graded exam, it comes with a “wrapper:” a brief questionnaire to help them review their performance.  They go over their exams, answering questions on the wrapper: how did you prepare for this; where did you make errors; what could you do differently next time.  These questions are all metacognitive in nature.


At the beginning of a school year (or a semester — or a unit) give students a questionnaire about study or learning habits. How do you study for tests; do you take notes; do you take noes by hand or on a laptop; how much do you already know about the subject matter?

At certain points during the term, review students’ answers to see if anything has changed as the course has progressed. In this way, students are encouraged to reflect on their progress and to be reminded both that they are responsible for it and that they can alter this trajectory.


The knowledge ratings approach asks students to rate their knowledge of today’s topic on a scale of of 0 to 3; 0 means absolutely no knowledge of it and 3 means very knowledgeable.  Tell them: our goal is to get everyone up to a three by the end of the class.

Take a time-out halfway through the class period and ask students to reassess their ratings. Have they improved? Then ask them to write down any questions they still have,  what is keeping them from that level 3 understanding.  They might voice their questions right then, if there’s time, so you have a chance to focus in on them during the last half of class.

At the end of class, do a final review: where do they now place themselves on that scale? The hope is they will be at 3 before tackling new homework.


These strategies force students to think about their own learning  practices.  Our goal is to make their own behavior visible to themselves.

We often assume students know enough about themselves that our suggestions and comments will be enough to set them on a path toward improvement.

But self-reflection is not a skill possessed by all students.  In the realm of self-assessment, as in all other areas, many students need direct instruction and scaffolding.

Source: David Gooblar’s blog piece; he is an adjunct, a writer, and the website proprietor at PedagogyUnbound.com  


Orton-Gillingham instruction in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Tool: Interactive Map of the World’s Languages

Arika Okrent says:

You know about French, Spanish, and Russian, but what about Tohono Oodham, Karaim, and Iu Mien? There are thousands of languages in the world, and the Language Science Center at the University of Maryland has created a tool that makes it fun and easy to explore them.

Langscape is an interactive map of the locations of 6400 of the world’s languages. The map lets you easily view detailed information about each language and listen to sound recordings of them. It’s kind of hard to explain what makes it so cool, so I made a video to give you a taste of the kind of things you can discover with it. (It’s my first screenshot video, so bear with me on the fuzzy production values. I’ll try to do better next time!)


Linguist, author of In the Land of Invented Languages, Arika Okrent lives in Chicago, doing her part to fight off the cot-caught merger and keep “gym shoes” alive.

Orton Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Modern Toys Don’t Develop a Child’s Handwriting Skills

 source: Meaghan at Blue Mango Blog (see link below)

Unstructured outdoor play  improves handwriting skills. Meaghan from Blue Mango Blog offers  other simple changes you can make in your child’s daily routine and indoor environment to promote the development of fine motor skills.

In years past, toys and daily life provided lots opportunities for children’s fine motor growth.   But today experts find a large number of children are lacking the adequate core, upper body,  finger strength and dexterity to successfully pick up a pencil and write with ease.

Has home life really changed that much in the last 25 years to affect children’s fine motor development? How?

Think about paper dolls and jacks. We’ve replaced toys that involved a lot of loose parts and manipulating with your hands with ones that require just a push of a button to make a sound or light up.

Meaghan, blogging at Blue Mango LLC,  spoke to some experts in pediatric occupational therapy.  Consistently the message was that modern electronic toys  deprive children of practice using the necessary skills for fine motor and handwriting.

Toys are, of course, meant to entertain, but the purpose of play in early childhood is to learn about manipulating objects,  performing experiments and examining the world. Many toys today may keep a child busy, but they are doing nothing to actually enhance their development.

Rachel Coley, OT and founder of CanDo Kiddo,  was asked  if anything has changed in the last 25 years in regards to kids’ activities that develop fine motor skills. She said

Through the materials and toys we choose for our kids and the way they spend their time…we over-emphasize the skills of pushing buttons with their thumbs and pointing, dragging and clicking with their index fingers.

Because there aren’t any more hours in the day than there use to be, these activities come at the expense of our kids learning to cut, glue, pinch, put together, pull apart, squeeze, twist, hammer and screw, lace, string and other important fine motor skills.

Take a moment to remember and think about the toys you — and your parents and grandparents –played with as a child.

Modern Convenience = Lazy Fingers

Mom’s life got easier: Click Connect car seats & strollers,  Bumbo chairs.  But it was at the expense of  babies’ gross motor skills development. Modern convenience also strips  children of everyday fine motor skills practice.  Childhood is now really convenient and easy with velcro and slip on shoes, food that can be slurped from pouches and zippered lunch boxes.  It is also true that in the course of a parent’s busy day, he or she will often do things for a child that they should be learning to do on their own…

What are fine motor skills? Why are they so important?

Writing expectations for early elementary students have increased significantly. Some kindergartners have writing workshop for as long as an hour every day. At the same time more academic demands are being placed on children,  activities and tools that naturally promote the development of fine motor skills are being replaced by those that are less demanding of them.

Once adults  understand what fine motor skills are, they are able to seek out and promote experiences for children that will help develop these important muscles and skills.

And the great news is that you don’t need to learn and prep a lot of fancy activities. Once you understand the basics of fine motor skills, you can prioritize the materials in your house or classroom to facilitate this development in your kids.

Understanding the pincer grasp: the pincer grasp is the ability to pick up small objects using the thumb and forefinger. This is developed by age one (and continues to mature);  babies move from a raking grasp with all fingers to picking up individual cheerios with just the two fingers.

Pincer grasp is very important in handwriting. It enables children to hold a pencil correctly and develop a mature tripod grip around a pencil.  Why is something that ought to be simple so important?

Children with nonfunctional pencil grips can’t  keep up with the demand expected of them in school. They begin to avoid writing tasks.  Not only academic accomplishment, but also self-confidence, is diminished.

The importance of hand and arm muscles:  writing uses many different muscles in the hand and wrist. In addition to developing a good pincer grasp, children need to make sure their hand and arm muscles are also strong.

Meaghan spoke with Christie Kiley, and OT who blogs at Mama OT.  Kiley explained how complex and important these hand muscles are.

There are all sorts of small muscles in our hands that make up three main arches around our hands. These arches work together to help our hands accurately form around objects as we hold and manipulate them, such as when we hold a ball, build with blocks, or brush our teeth or hair. These palmar arches are also responsible for helping kids develop in-hand manipulation skills and dissociation of the two sides of the hand.

Christie advocates for weight bearing activities on kids’ hands — such as crawling through tunnels, doing crab walks down the hallway, yoga (downward dog) and gymnastics (handstands) — in order to properly develop these arches.

Strategies to improve handwriting skills.   Rachel Coley:

The biggest things that parents can do to promote their kids’ fine motor skills is to evaluate the toys and materials in their homes and evaluate their family schedule.

Many parents are surprised to find that Occupational Therapists don’t have much specialized equipment for treating their children’s fine motor delays or handwriting difficulties.

What we have are toys and time  [for] being fully present with a child.

Five tips for improving handwriting skills in your own home or classroom, with ideas for materials and toys to stock.

1. Give time for independence in daily routines

Build independence by scheduling time for children to “do it yourself.” Meal times, grooming and getting dressed are great opportunities to let kids take charge and strengthen those little hands and fingers! They can be

  • peeling fruit (oranges, bananas)
  • pouring drinks
  • using knives to cut food
  • using knives to spread butter (or jam, cream cheese, PB) on bread
  • opening & closing lunch containers, snack bags and water bottles

Encourage self-feeding as soon as possible. Toddlers should be using forks and spoons on their own and drinking from real cups.

Toddlers definitely still need some help getting dressed, but older children can learn to be be doing this independently; only a little support and adult encouragement needed. You can add finishing touches, but have children participate in their own grooming.

Kids can:

  • put on & take off socks and shoes
  • do zippers, snaps and buttons
  • learn to tie their shoes
  • brush their hair
  • squeeze their toothpaste
  • begin to learn to floss

2. Help out around the house

Having young children at home – especially if they aren’t in school yet – makes it difficult to get anything done around the house. But you can provide kids with lots of great fine motor experiences by having them help you out.

They can tear lettuce for salads, smash avocados for guacamole, grate cheese, scrub potatoes, mix  batters.  They can knead & roll dough. Doing laundry, kids can help pull clothes out of the hamper, washer and dryer. Even young children can fold socks while older children can help with shirts and pants.

3. Buy the right toys

Meaghan at Blue Mango uses these simple guidelines when purchasing toys to promote fine motor skills:

  • Avoid anything with batteries if it lights up, moves on its own or makes noise count it out
  • Stick with natural materials it’s much harder to go wrong with toys made out of wood
  • Look for toys with “loose parts” check Etsy or DIY – sometimes the best toys are not really “toys”
    Look to Reggio Emilia and Montessori schools for inspiration

Need some more ideas? Here are some examples of great toys to buy:

  • Mancala
  • Traditional wooden blocks
  • Legos – opt for loose blocks and not themed sets
  • Guidecraft construction blocks
  • Tool sets
  • Pegboards – buy one from Etsy, Amazon or DIY
  • Geoboards – buy from Etsy, Amazon or DIY
  • Build & paint car kits
  • Rainbow Loom
  • Perler beads

4. Make use of everyday objects

Consider having these available for play:

Christie Kiley often tells parents of children receiving OT services they can provide the same type of therapeutic practice in their own homes:

Some examples include pinching toothpicks and dropping them into an empty spice container, squeezing chip clips onto the edge of a box, playing with a squirt bottle, and pushing pipe cleaners into the holes of a colander.

5. Have great arts & crafts materials on hand

Promote fine motor skills by encouraging kids to make art or create inventions by cutting & pasting, threading & beading, working with small objects and building with clay or cardboard.  Have your own family “Creation Station,” as some classrooms do. Here are materials to have on hand at home or in the classroom.

Build: cardboard, recycled cardboard boxes, recycled plastic containers & bottles,glue, masking tape.

Sculpt: clay,  play dough (make your own!), Wikki Stix

Meaghan adds kid-friendly knives and scissors for working with play dough, and sometimes hides plastic “jewels” in the clay for kids to find. Use any of these materials to help build letters or sight words in the classroom.

Sew & Make Jewelry: plastic needles (real ones for older kids!); thread, yarn, string; wire; pipe cleaners; beads;  noodles

According to Meaghan, boys love this too! In her class kids made “pattern bracelets” with beads and pipe cleaners at a math center. They made necklaces with fruit loops (arrange by color in groups of 10s) for the 100th day of school.

Sewing can be just putting yarn through punched holes in construction paper to actually sewing real things. Don’t just make beaded necklaces:  teach kids how to braid friendship bracelets.

Cut, Paste & Fasten:   scissors; hole puncher; glue, glue sticks or paste (all use different muscles); scotch tape, colored masking tape; paper with assorted thickness (tissue, construction, card stock); fabric squares; brads (brass fasteners); stamps & ink.

Improve handwriting skills by adding small objects to art area to work on pincer grasp:

  • buttons
  • pom poms
  • jewels
  • stickers
  • toothpicks

Use your whole body, she advises: any activity done in a standing or prone position will also help with overall core and upper body strength. Use sidewalk chalk outside, have clipboard available for work on the floor and use easels for drawing and painting.

Meaghan asks “What will you implement today?”

Thanks to the source blog by Meaghan at Blue Mango LLC . I  edited for clarification since text imported without photos got confusing. Read her intact post at http://www.bluemangollc.com/the-unconventional-guide-to-improving-handwriting-skills-part-iii/

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Exercise Is ADHD Medication

By James Hamblin (from The Atlantic)

Mental exercises to build (or rebuild) attention span have shown promise recently as adjuncts or alternatives to amphetamines in addressing symptoms common to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Building cognitive control, to be better able to focus on just one thing, or single-task, might involve regular practice with a specialized video game that reinforces “top-down” cognitive modulation, as was the case in a popular paper in Nature last year. Cool but still notional. More insipid but also more clearly critical to addressing what’s being called the ADHD epidemic is plain old physical activity.

This morning the medical journal Pediatrics published research that found kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings, according to University of Illinois professor Charles Hillman and colleagues, “demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.”

If it seems odd that this is something that still needs support, that’s because it is odd, yes. Physical activity is clearly a high, high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those attentive or hyperactive. This brand of research is still published and written about as though it were a novel finding, in part because exercise programs for kids remain underfunded and underprioritized in many school curricula, even though exercise is clearly integral to maximizing the utility of time spent in class.

The improvements in this case came in executive control, which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks). The images above show the brain activity in the group of kids who did the program as opposed to the group that didn’t. It’s the kind of difference that’s so dramatic it’s a little unsettling. The study only lasted nine months, but when you’re only seven years old, nine months is a long time to be sitting in class with a blue head.

Earlier this month, another study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD. (Executive functioning is impaired in ADHD, and tied to performance in math and reading.) Lead researcher Alan Smith, chair of the department of kinesiology at Michigan State, went out on no limb at all in a press statement at the time, saying, “Early studies suggest that physical activity can have a positive effect on children who suffer from ADHD.”

Last year a very similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids. The modest conclusion of the study was that “physical activity shows promise for addressing ADHD symptoms in young children.” The researchers went on to write that this finding should be “carefully explored with further studies.”

“If physical activity is established as an effective intervention for ADHD,” they continued, “it will also be important to address possible complementary effects of physical activity and existing treatment strategies …” Which is a kind of phenomenal degree of reservation compared to the haste with which millions of kids have been introduced to amphetamines and other stimulants to address said ADHD. The number of prescriptions increased from 34.8 to 48.4 million between 2007 and 2011 alone. The pharmaceutical market around the disorder has grown to several billion dollars in recent years while school exercise initiatives have enjoyed no such spoils of entrepreneurialism. But, you know, once there is more research, it may potentially be advisable to consider possibly implementing more exercise opportunities for kids.

Over all, the pandemic of physical inactivity, as Hillman and colleagues put it in their Pediatrics journal article today, is “a serious threat to global health” responsible for around 10 percent of premature deaths from noncommunincable diseases. But it clearly manifests in ways more subtle than deaths, including scholastic performance, which we’re continuously learning. I talked last week with Paul Nystedt, an associate professor of economics and finance at Jönköping University in Sweden, who just published a multi-country study that found that obese teenagers go on to earn 18 percent less money as adults than their peers, even if they are no longer obese. He believes that’s most likely because of the adversity that obese kids experience from classmates and teachers, which leads to both cognitive and noncognitive disparities between obese and non-obese kids. Because obese children are more likely to come from low-income homes to begin with, that only perpetuates wealth gaps and stifles mobility. Nystedt and his coauthors conclude, “The rapid increase in childhood and adolescent obesity could have long-lasting effects on the economic growth and productivity of nations.”

John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do. In a 2012 TED talk, Ratey argued that physical exercise “is really for our brains.” He likened it to taking “a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.” As a rule, I say never trust anyone who has given a TED talk. But maybe in this case that’s a constructive way to think about moving one’s body. But not the inverse, where taking Ritalin counts as exercise.

Copyright © 2015 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

This article available online at: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/exercise-is-adhd-medication/380844/

Orton Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Notre Dame College-Ohio Endorsed by IDA

February 2015

By Kathleen M. Oliverio, Ed.D, Reading Program Coordinator

Notre Dame College Photo
Q: Why did you participate in the IDA Review process?

A: Notre Dame College offers strong programs in teacher education. In addition, we have a mission of serving underserved populations of college-capable students, such as those with learning disabilities. Having IDA review our dyslexia coursework seemed natural and appropriate.

IDA accredited the Reading Endorsement Program at the graduate level. This program appeals to teachers with varied job requirements. Some are interested in adding the Reading Endorsement to their current teaching license. Others are interested in a program that can result in a Master’s Degree with a minor in reading along with the Reading Endorsement. Adding a dyslexia component to the Reading Endorsement curriculum was a logical way to support teachers who work with struggling readers.

Q: How was the experience of preparing for and participating in the review?

A: The preparation process was arduous, but the results are more than worth the effort. We spent a lot of time on alignment of syllabi, supplemental readings, assignments, textbooks, quizzes, and activities. Additional assignments were created to meet both the IDA and Reading Endorsement standards for Ohio. The whole process took about six months to complete. An added benefit was that this process provided the impetus to revamp the Reading Endorsement Program to make it even more valuable to our students. The end result puts us in a better position to serve our education students and the students they will teach. As a result of the IDA review process, our professional education program is now stronger and more responsive to teachers who want to increase their knowledge and ability to recognize and teach students with dyslexia.

Q: What does IDA Recognition (now Accreditation) mean to your university?

A: We are proud to be one of the four colleges and universities in Ohio with IDA accreditation. We view this accreditation as a gauge of the quality of our division of education. We believe that IDA accreditation puts us in a leadership role for serving students with special needs by providing expert teachers to educate them.

Q: Describe some of the innovative ideas you have implemented to give students a richer practicum experience.

A: Due to the fact that the program is online, we had to come up with a way for instructors to work one-on-one with students. As a result, students videotape teaching lessons for the instructor to review. Individualized feedback is provided through a tele-conference. To better meet the demands of the course, it was extended to fifteen weeks instead of the regular eight weeks for our typical online courses to give teachers more instructional time with their students.

Throughout all of the courses in the program, lessons are videotaped so that the instructor can monitor performance of course participants as they teach the major areas of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, comprehension, and writing. By the time course participants are ready for the practicum course, they have taught numerous lessons with feedback from not only the instructor but other students in the class as well. They have also received instruction in all of the elements included in the IDA Knowledge and Practice Standards.

Q: How has your program leveraged outside partnerships to increase students’ learning experience?

A: Notre Dame College works collaboratively with schools in the greater Cleveland area and surrounding districts. To provide a range of field experiences for our students, we partner with public and private schools in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

Since becoming accredited by IDA, we are actively promoting the program on our college website; in the fall/winter issue of the College Magazine, Notre Dame Today; in monthly newsletters sent by our president to trustees of the college; and other communications we send to alumni, media, local business and community leaders, and supporters of and potential donors to the college.

Calls are starting to come in from people who are becoming aware of IDA and its accreditation of the College. I look forward to more people hearing about the program and future collaboration.

Kathleen M. Oliverio, Ed.D., is assistant professor of education and coordinator of the reading program at Notre Dame College.

Copyright © 2015 International Dyslexia Association (IDA). We encourage sharing of Examiner articles. If portions are cited, please make appropriate reference. Articles may not be reprinted for the purpose of resale. Permission to republish this article is available from info@interdys.org.

Orton Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Dyslexia and the Brain: IDA Fact Sheet

from the IDA Website:

The role of the brain in developmental dyslexia has been studied in the context of brain anatomy, brain chemistry, and brain function—and in combination with interventions to improve reading and information about genetic influences. Together with results of behavioral studies, this information will help researchers to identify the causes of dyslexia, continue to explore early identification of dyslexia, and determine the best avenues for its treatment.

Researchers are continually conducting studies to learn more about the causes of dyslexia, early identification of dyslexia, and the most effective treatments for dyslexia.

Developmental dyslexia is associated with difficulty in processing the orthography (the written form) and phonology (the sound structure) of language. As a way to understand the origin of these problems, neuroimaging studies have examined brain anatomy and function of people with and without dyslexia. These studies are also contributing to our understanding of the role of the brain in dyslexia, which can provide useful information for developing successful reading interventions and pinpointing certain genes that may also be involved.

What is brain imaging?

A number of techniques are available to visualize brain anatomy and function. A commonly used tool is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which creates images that can reveal information about brain anatomy (e.g., the amount of gray and white matter, the integrity of white matter), brain metabolites (chemicals used in the brain for communication between brain cells), and brain function (where large pools of neurons are active). Functional MRI (fMRI) is based on the physiological principle that activity in the brain (where neurons are “firing”) is associated with an increase of blood flow to that specific part of the brain. The MRI signal bears indirect information about increases in blood flow. From this signal, researchers infer the location and amount of activity that is associated with a task, such as reading single words, that the research participants are performing in the scanner. Data from these studies are typically collected on groups of people rather than individuals for research purposes only—not to diagnose individuals with dyslexia.

Which brain areas are involved in reading?

Since reading is a cultural invention that arose after the evolution of modern humans, no single location within the brain serves as a reading center. Instead, brain regions that sub serve other functions, such as spoken language and object recognition, are redirected (rather than innately specified) for the purpose of reading (Dehaene & Cohen, 2007). Reading involves multiple cognitive processes, two of which have been of particular interest to researchers:                   1) grapheme-phoneme mapping in which combinations of letters (graphemes) are mapped onto their corresponding sounds (phonemes) and the words are thus “decoded,” and 2) visual word form recognition for mapping of familiar words onto their mental representations. Together, these processes allow us to pronounce words and gain access to meaning. In accordance with these cognitive processes, studies in adults and children have demonstrated that reading is supported by a network of regions in the left hemisphere (Price, 2012), including the occipito-temporal, temporo-parietal, and inferior frontal cortices. The occipito-temporal cortex holds the “visual word form area.” Both the temporo-parietal and inferior frontal cortices play a role in phonological and semantic processing of words, with inferior frontal cortex also involved in the formation of speech sounds. These areas have been shown to change as we age (Turkeltaub, et al., 2003) and are altered in people with dyslexia (Richlan et al., 2011).

What have brain images revealed about brain structure in dyslexia?

Evidence of a connection between dyslexia and the structure of the brain was first discovered by examining the anatomy of brains of deceased adults who had dyslexia during their lifetimes.

The left-greater-than-right asymmetry typically seen in the left hemisphere temporal lobe (planum temporale) was not found in these brains (Galaburda & Kemper, 1979), and ectopias (a displacement of brain tissue to the surface of the brain) were noted (Galaburda, et al., 1985). Then investigators began to use MRI to search for structural images in the brains of research volunteers with and without dyslexia. Current imaging techniques have revealed less gray and white matter volume and altered white matter integrity in left hemisphere occipito-temporal and temporo-parietal areas. Researchers are still investigating how these findings are influenced by a person’s language and writing systems.

What have brain images revealed about brain function in dyslexia?

Early functional studies were limited to adults because they employed invasive techniques that require radioactive materials. The field of human brain mapping greatly benefited from the invention of fMRI. fMRI does not require the use of radioactive tracers, so it is safe for children and adults and can be used repeatedly which facilitates longitudinal studies of development and intervention. First used to study dyslexia in 1996 (Eden et al., 1996), fMRI has since been widely used to study the brain’s role in reading and its components (phonology, orthography, and semantics). Studies from different countries have converged in findings of altered left-hemisphere areas (Richlan et al., 2011), including ventral occipito-temporal, temporo-parietal, and inferior frontal cortices (and their connections). Results of these studies confirm the universality of dyslexia across different world languages.

What about genes, brain chemistry, and brain function?

Several genetic variants are associated with dyslexia, and their impact on the brain has been investigated in people and mice. Using animals that have been bred to have genes associated with dyslexia, researchers are investigating how these genes might affect development of and communication among brain regions (Che, et. al., 2014; Galaburda, et al., 2006).

These investigations dove-tail with studies in humans. Differences in brain anatomy (Darki, et al., 2012; Meda et al., 2008) and brain function (Cope et al., 2012; Pinel et al., 2012) have been observed in people who carry dyslexia-associated genes, even those people who have good reading skills. In addition to these investigations at the anatomical, physiological, and molecular levels, researchers are trying to pinpoint the chemical connection to dyslexia. For example, brain metabolites that play a role in allowing neurons to communicate can be visualized using another MRI-based technique called spectroscopy.

Several metabolites (for example, choline) are thought to be different in people with dyslexia (Pugh et al., 2014). Researchers continue to explore the connections between these findings and are hopeful that what they learn will help to determine the causes of dyslexia. This is a difficult aspect of research because differences in the brains of people with dyslexia are not necessarily the cause of their reading difficulties (for example, it could also be a consequence of reading less).

Changes in Reading, Changes in the Brain

Brain imaging research has revealed anatomical and functional changes in typically developing readers as they learn to read (e.g. Turkeltaub et al., 2003), and in children and adults with dyslexia following effective reading instruction (Krafnick, et al., 2011; Eden et al., 2004). Such studies also shed light onto the brain-based differences of those children with dyslexia who benefit from reading instruction compared to those who fail to make gains (Davis et al., 2011; Odegard, et al., 2008). Neuroimaging data have also been used to predict long-term reading success for children with and without dyslexia (Hoeft et al., 2011).

Cause versus Consequence

An important aspect of research on the brain and reading is to determine whether the findings are the cause or the consequence of dyslexia. Some of the brain regions known to be involved in dyslexia are also altered by learning to read, as demonstrated by comparisons of adults who were illiterate but then learned to read (Carreiras et al., 2009). Longitudinal studies in typical readers reveal anatomical changes with age, some of which are related to development (Giedd et al., 1999) and others to the firming up of language skills (Sowell et al., 2004) in correlation with improvements in phonological skills (Lu et al., 2007). As such, researchers are teasing apart the brain-based differences that can be observed before children begin to learn to read from differences that may occur as a consequence of less reading by people with dyslexia. For example, researchers have found altered brain anatomy (Raschle, et al., 2011) and function (Raschle, et al., 2012) in pre-reading children with a family history of dyslexia. Future studies using longitudinal designs (i.e., long term), will inform the timeline of these changes and clarify cause and consequences of anatomical and functional differences in dyslexia.


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