California Educator

September 2014

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Y O U R O P I N I O N S A N D L E T T E R S A R E W E L C O M E ! There is a 250-word limit, and all letters will be edited. If you send photos or other materials, identifications and permissions are required. Letters must include your name along with your address, daytime telephone number or email address. Email We need to do better on dyslexia I'm a teacher and parent with a child with dyslexia (and its companion dysgraphia) who recently graduated college with honors in biology. We have a tremendous amount of work to do as educators. Students with these issues are labeled lazy, disorganized, spoiled, and other labels by uneducated teachers and administrators. Advocating for my son was pain- ful and fraught with disrespect from colleagues. Even our special education teacher had no idea about dysgraphia. I learned because of my mom, a special education teacher, and a principal who directed me to the International Dyslexia Association. My son still struggles, but he has learned strategies that make the world work for him. He had exceptional teachers in high school — that made a huge difference. But our elementary teachers need help. If a student is acting out or walking around, it is not ADHD. It is probably dyslexia, dysgraphia, or another processing issue which makes school very painful. In my experience, there is really no good testing available, and the test out there is not given with fidelity, as in our case. Tight funds also cause the kids not to be served — it is put as behavior, so it doesn't qualify for help. If every teacher understood these kids, they wouldn't need to be qualified. Unfortunately, feedback as we encountered, even with an IEP in place, our son was labeled lazy, and the IEP not followed. We need to do better. KATHY SERVELLO Alameda Education Association Learning Learning Dyslexia: Myths and Facts Advice to help your students by David Futterman WHAT ARE THE COMMON SIGNS OF DYSLEXIA? Most students with dyslexia have persistent difficulties identifying and manipulating individual speech sounds as well as learning how these sounds are represented in print. As a result, they struggle to decode printed words. Their reading efforts are often slow and laborious, which can have an impact on their ability to comprehend text and develop a rich vocabulary. Students with dyslexia also are likely to have significant difficulties with spelling and written expression. Importantl y, the severity of dyslexia ma y var y from one student to the next and ma y manifest itself dif fer- entl y over time. Younger students ma y find it dif ficult to genera te rhymes, correctl y write letters of the alpha bet, memorize facts and lists, or pronounce pol ysylla bic words, while older students ma y find it troublesome to f ollow multistep directions, express themselves clearl y (both orall y and in writing), solve word problems in ma th, or learn a f oreign langua ge. WHAT STEPS SHOULD TEACHERS TAKE IF THEY NOTICE THESE SIGNS? There are times when different variables can be adjusted within the classroom or additional instruction can be provided, and students re- spond ver y well. For some, however, difficulties persist. A good next step would be to discuss with parents and other teachers whether they share your concerns and are obser ving similar signs. Many schools have student support teams that are designed to assist teachers in addressing the needs of their struggling students. Spe- cial education teachers, speech-language therapists and school psychologists can offer insight and guidance. Ultimately, when a student exhibits enduring signs of dyslexia, a more formal, comprehensive evaluation is essential. This evaluation can not only identify the source of a student's difficulties, but also help teachers plan instruction and provide a road map for remediation. The critical role of classroom teachers cannot be overstated because early intervention (or lack of intervention) can have long-term consequences. WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR TEACHING STUDENTS WITH DYSLEXIA? Students with dyslexia benefit greatly from systematic, intensive, explicit instruction that is focused on the structure of English. Multi- sensory teaching that combines visual, auditory and kinesthetic-tactile learning approaches is generally considered to be the most effective way to support their memory and learning. Teachers of both younger and older students with dyslexia should assist them in developing a greater awareness of English speech sounds (phonemes) and the ways in which sounds are represented with letters (phonics). Help students understand the meaningful parts of words (mor- phemes), including prefixes, roots and suffixes. Students may also need support in understanding how words are combined to create sentences (syntax), how words carry meanings (semantics), and how word meanings are affected by social context (pragmatics). Many students with dyslexia will benefit from directions and assign- ments in both oral and written form. For larger projects, break down information into manageable steps. Provide lesson notes or outlines, graphic organizers, and devices like audio books or tablets. Plan lessons that engage students through multiple pathways such as combining lectures with the use of visuals or hands-on activities. Provide assignment options that allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways. Some students may need extra time to complete their work or reduced homework. Finally, there should be frequent, individualized check-ins to provide clarifications and feedback, highlight key concepts, and review class- room material. WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT DYSLEXIA? Perhaps the most important misconception is that the learning dif- ficulties are due to lack of intelligence or effort. Dyslexia is, in fact, neurological in origin and heritable, and its prevalence is estimated to range from 5 to 20 percent of school-aged children. Research has shown that there are real differences in how the brains of people with dyslexia develop and function compared with typical readers. Dyslexia also cannot be determined on the basis of a student's letter and word reversals, such as confusing the letters b and d or writing was instead of saw. Dyslexia is not caused by vision prob- lems and does not cause people to see things backward. People with dyslexia do, however, have language processing prob- lems, and their misspellings are typically the result of difficulties with identifying speech sounds (pat for past ), remember- ing orthographic representations (lit for light ), or representing morphological units (musishun for musician ). Dyslexia occurs in people of all back- grounds. It is not related to race, family income, or a student's ability to speak English, and while male students are more commonly diagnosed with reading disabil- ities in schools than females, studies indicate no actual differences in the prevalence of dyslexia in boys and girls. Although dyslexia is not something that can be cured or outgrown, students with dyslexia do learn to read and write with the help of knowledgeable teachers and effective intervention programs. More- over, people with dyslexia often are highly skilled in a wide range of disciplines and go on to lead very successful lives. HOW CAN I HELP A STUDENT WITH DYSLEXIA COPE WITH STRESS OR ANXIETY? The social and emotional implications of dyslexia are indeed sig- nificant. Along with stress and anxiety, students may experience depression, shame, poor self-image, and very low motivation to attend school. Teachers can ensure that these students are valued and successful in the classroom. Rather than focusing primarily on what students with dyslexia aren't able to do well, teachers can provide am- ple opportunities for their students' personal interests, strengths and experiences to be highlighted. What do Orlando Bloom, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Keira Knightley, Albert Einstein and Patrick Dempsey have in common in addition to being famous? All of them have dyslexia. In fact, over 40 million American adults have dyslexia — and only 2 million know it. Students sitting in your classroom may have the condition and also be undiagnosed. CTA member David Futterman spoke with us to shed light on this learning disability and clear up some common myths and misconceptions. He is a special education teacher at California High School in San Ramon, a board member of the Northern California Branch, International Dyslexia Association, and a lecturer for the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. Left: Dyslexia can't be determined based on a student's letter reversals, such as confusing the letters b and d or writing was instead of saw, says David Futterman, here helping Prasilla Nasrat. Below: A student counts phonemes in words. P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y S C O T T B U S C H M A N Education trend 39 V O L U M E 1 9 I S S U E 1 38 Like a growing number of charter colleagues around California, Bay Area charter school teacher Molly Fenn is strengthening schools by unionizing them. Students and the teaching profession benefit from the process, they say, and so do traditional schools as more charter educators join the CTA family, making us stronger for battles ahead. Story and photos by Mike Myslinski Feature C harter school teachers' and regular school teachers' fates are balanced together," Fenn says. "If our working conditions are changing or if we're being exploited in our jobs, that's going to affect teachers everywhere." That's why CTA and NEA are supporting charter school employees. Having a union helps charter teach- ers reclaim the spirit and mission of their unique schools, the innovative collaborations that all public schools can learn from, says CTA President Dean E. Vogel. "As more charter management companies put profits before stu- d e n t l e a r n i n g , t h e e d u c a t o r s a t these schools are seeing that CTA re s o u rc e s c a n h e l p t h e m re s to re their school cultures by leveling the playing field," Vogel says. "Collec- tive bargaining means a more stable workforce, a greater say in decisions affecting classrooms, and getting more respect for the teaching pro- fession. The well-funded charter school movement is growing. These are our colleagues and we are all stronger together." Vo ge l s ay s t h e s t a t e w i d e p u s h t o u n i o n i z e c h a r t e r s i s a l s o p a r t o f C TA' s n e w s t r a t e g i c p l a n , w h i c h c o m m i t s t h e u n i o n t o r e b u i l d i n g a c u l t u r e o f o r g a n i z i n g a n d t o s u p p o r t unrepresented educators. There are many charter educators who want to have more of a voice in their schools. Only about 180 of Cali- fornia's 1,100 public charter schools are unionized. The state has about 10,000 public schools overall. Nationwide, about 12 percent of the estimated 6,000 charter schools are unionized, according to the National Alliance for Pub- lic Charter Schools. Bay Area Victory Fenn and her colleagues at Alameda's Community Learn- ing Center Schools, Inc., saw how management actions were hurting the employees and students. Teachers were kicked off the nonelected governing board. Gradually, her 60 colleagues at their two schools — te a c h e rs , co u n s e l o rs , psychologists, education support professionals — had to work longer hours f o r l e s s p ay. T h e s a l a r y schedule was eliminated. Te a c h e r t u r n o v e r r a t e s soared, which disrupted student learning. So last year, she joined the orga- nizing committee. This year, the schools are bargaining their first contract after the Public Employment Relations Board certified in November 2013 that a majority of teachers had signed petitions to unionize. The victory is restoring Fenn's voice in how her school runs, she says, and her faith in the power of the union movement. Colleague Carrie Blanche, another Alameda organizing team member, agrees. "We came to the conclusion that the only way to reclaim democratic decision-making — the core of our model — and to rebuild the culture of our school, was to organize the union." Fenn knows about unions. Her father was a postal worker union activist who handled grievances, but she didn't feel connected to the movement as she does now. "When I came to CTA meetings, I felt they listened and understood what we needed and why it was important." In San Jose July 11-13, she took part in an energizing CTA charter mobilizing training involving more than 80 people, including charter school teachers, CTA staff, and five members of the CTA Board of Directors. (Watch pas- sionate video clips of solidarity from Fenn and other charter teachers at the San Jose training, along with Bay Area CTA Board member Terri Jackson, at Two Los Angeles Wins Two recent organizing efforts in Los Angeles led to a pair of charter school victories as teachers joined the ranks of the 35,000-member United Teachers Los Angeles. I n m i d - J u ly, 5 5 m e m b e rs o f t h e newly unionized Ivy Academia School in the San Fernando Valley ratified a first contract that means raises of about 15 percent for most, putting them on a par with other UTLA members. Class size caps and layoff lan- guage were also won. There will be a mentor teaching program and binding arbitration of griev- ances, and teacher evaluations w i l l n o t b e b a s e d o n s t u d e n t test scores. Says Katrina Daneshmand, an Ivy high school science teacher: "We now have a voice, a 'just cause' con- tract with equal pay, and a way to help our students to be truly successful." Ivy educators organized together with parents of their 1,000 students, held rallies and did informational picketing to forge their victory. Another recent win was at the Apple Academy Public Charter Schools, where about 16 teachers serve K-5 students at two campuses. In May, these teachers submitted a statement to the Apple Academy board of directors declaring their intention to unionize to ensure "the quality of our stu- dents' education, provisions for a safe environment, full transparency and accountability from our leadership team and Board of Directors, fair and just practices, and equity in decision-making." Teacher Karla Tobar declared in the statement: "I want a union at Apple Academy because I believe in collective action to actively organize, educate, mobilize, empower and transform communities. It takes a village to educate a child and it's important we all have a voice in the daily learning conditions of our students." Apple colleague Andrea Clawson added: "To be an even stronger and more effective charter school, we need to take this step. A union that gives teachers a voice and a stronger involvement in the school is a positive step." San Diego Triumph Clarisa Mondejar remembers too well how the principal at her Harriet Tubman Village Charter School made life miserable for educators with a campaign of disrespect and harassment. One teacher was required to write out by hand 15 full-length lesson plans every weekend, due on Monday. When she missed one deadline due to a health emergency, she was fired the next day, Mondejar recalls. Tubman became unionized about three years ago, so teachers could fight back this year with- out the fear of retaliation that hangs over many nonunion charters. After Mondejar joined several colleagues in speaking out in March at the San Diego Unified school board meeting about the abuses, the board launched an investiga- tion. The principal was dismissed May 29, and the nonelected board of Tubman was ousted. More charter school educators joining CTA family Charter educators, from left, Lynn Kameny, Molly Fenn and Carrie Blanche of the Alameda Community Learning Center Schools, Inc., attend a CTA Organizing Academy in San Jose. "Solidarity has to go beyond our district and beyond our schools to charter schools, because our fates are all linked," says Rickeena Boyd, a San Diego teacher and charter organizer. P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y S C O T T B U S C H M A N Charter school teachers picket in the effort to unionize Ivy Academia School in Los Angeles in May. Photo by Jessica Foster. 44 45 V O L U M E 1 9 I S S U E 1 Charter members should be CalSTRS members It's all well and good that charter school teachers gain rights with their CTA member- ship (August). If charter school teachers do become members of CalSTRS, I am all for their joining CTA. However, if they are not required to become members of CalSTRS as well, we are degrading our public school pension security. As I understand it, as more charter schools open, these teachers will pay into Social Security, not CALSTRS. We need teachers to pay into CalSTRS to be solvent. Even after the recent legislative boost. ELIZABETH NESCI San Juan Teachers Association (Sacramento) Editor's Note: According to state statute, charter schools have a choice about wheth- er or not they will participate. Currently 80 percent of charter schools in California participate in CalSTRS. Certainly, if a charter unionizes, retirement issues can be addressed through the collective bargaining process. More on Common Core I appreciated Bill Younglove's letter, "Common Core History," in your August magazine. Diane Ravitch was right on in Death and Life of the American Public School System. Diane's book did stop short of one idea we need to decide on in this country: Does financial might make right? Are the rich (like Bill Gates) really smarter than us? If so, the answer is simple: Raise teacher pay so that rascals like me can't even pass the paper screening. I went to community college and then state college. Right now, if "they" are right, there are only two types in the classroom: Monks who have taken a vow of semi-poverty, and clowns who simply can't do anything else but stumble through four years of college. MIKE CHIVERS Tracy (retired) 3 V O L U M E 1 9 I S S U E 2

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