Written by Jenna Kisor
Development & Events Coordinator, Park Academy
The Blosser Center
Decoding Dyslexia, Oregon
Oregon Branch of the International Dyslexia Association
On Friday, October 14, 2016, over 120 educators from around the state of Oregon and SW Washington attended the What Oregon Teachers Need to Know About Dyslexia “Conference”. Some traveled from as far as Bend, The Dalles, even Enterprise! Registration for the event filled up within only 2 weeks of being published – a sign that Oregon teachers are hungry for knowledge of dyslexia interventions. The room was filled with teachers, tutors, and college students, eager to learn from the presenters.
The morning was kicked off with Craig Lowery, Park Academy Head of School, welcoming the guests and commending them for braving the storm that had rolled in from the Oregon coast that week. The day was filled with learning and reflection. Below is a brief account of their presentations and some key takeaways that Park Academy staff and other attendees had.
Presentation 1: “Dyslexia Legislation Update”
Carrie Thomas Beck, Ph.D., Dyslexia Specialist, Oregon Department of Education
Senate Bill 612 is a step in the direction towards revolutionizing Oregon’s educational system. Prior to this bill, the definition and diagnosis of dyslexia has been highly debated, and obtaining interventions has been a challenge. Now, however, the Oregon Department of Education is taking a few big steps towards ensuring students with dyslexia get the education they need. Dr. Beck is now the Dyslexia Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, fulfilling one of the objectives in SB 612. Her presentation summarized the progress of the bill, and provided the following:
- A summary of the requirements for Oregon districts regarding the newly passed dyslexia legislation
- Information on the type of screening measures and teacher training outlined in the legislation
- An overview of the plan for universal screening and instructional support that was presented to the Oregon legislature
- A summary of the work to date on developing a list of dyslexia-related training opportunities
- Timelines for districts to implement the requirements of the new dyslexia legislation
Dr. Beck’s in-depth review of the legislature provided attendees with a firm knowledge of what to expect in the coming months from the Department of Education. It also provided a source of relief to many, like Maddy Roach, a Lower School Teacher at Park Academy, who shared:
“After listening to Carrie Thomas Beck from the Oregon Department of Education, I felt a wave of happiness to know that every Kindergartner and 1st grade student enrolled in a public school will receive a screening for risk factors of dyslexia… This law will provide so many students with early interventions and will allow these students to be more successful starting from an earlier age.”
Presentation 2: “Screening, Progress Monitoring, and Instructional Support for Students At-Risk for Dyslexia”
Dr. Gina Biancarosa, University of Oregon
Cathy Wyrick, The Blosser Center
Identifying a student as dyslexic is the first step towards helping them. Dr. Biancarosa and Ms. Wyrick helped attendees understand the different types of screenings that are available for identifying dyslexia, how to select screening processes that will best suit your students. Full of examples and resources, this presentation proved a wealth of knowledge and insight to attendees regarding screening assessments. One teacher in particular appreciated their unique perspective on the evolution of reading and letters:
“Dr. Gina Biancarosa’s statement regarding human history’s relatively new experience with reading words was eye opening and humbling as it reminded one of how little time the human brain has actually been given to deal with the evolutionary challenge of reading… as opposed to say pictographs or as Dr. Biancarosa pointed out, hieroglyphs.” – Chris Morrison, Park Academy History Teacher
Presentation 3: “The Social and Emotional Needs of Students with Learning Differences, Specifically Dyslexia”
Ann Childers, M.D., Psychiatrist, LifeBalance NW
This presentation was a favorite among attendees, with many referencing the unique challenges they face in handling delicate and potentially stressful situations in the classroom.
“Dr. Childers’ presentation reminded me that learning begins in a safe environment and my job as a teacher is to figure out how to extend the olive branch of trust to my students.” – Melissa Carroll, Park Academy Music Teacher
At Park Academy, this is one of our top priorities with students; providing a safe learning environment where students can explore their unique talents and unlock their true potential. Awareness of students’ social and emotional needs are the foundation of empowering students to thrive. Park Academy Teacher Dan Kimbro felt a strong connection to this presentation:
“The presentation by Dr. Ann Childers about the social and emotional needs of children with dyslexia resonated strongly with me. Children compensate for difficulties in their academic world in different ways, but all too often we see them manifest as depression or erratic behaviors at home or in the classroom. Dr. Childers reminded us that with compassionate, clear-eyed interventions, we can guide these children away from those troublesome futures.”
Presentation 4: “Interventions in the Classroom”
Kate Franken, MAT., AOGPE Certified, Director of Education Services, Blackbird Dyslexia Specialists, LLC.
Ms. Franken spoke about interventions in the classroom, particularly around ways to support literacy, and accommodations for students with learning differences. These accommodations can include time (increasing the allotted time for a project), technology (see our post about assistive technology in the classroom), and the use of alternative methods to access content or demonstrate mastery. Kate also talked at length about the importance of foundational skills in literacy for students, and shared how teachers can help students overcome the barriers that are unique to their learning styles.
Another key takeaway from this presentation was the importance of empathy. Kate used metaphors to describe what a learning challenge looks like, and focused on how teachers can support their students through seeing through the lens of the student. By understanding how children view their own learning differences, teachers can focus on unique classroom interventions that work around some of the challenges students face in traditional settings.
“One thing she said that stuck with me was thinking about if while a student is struggling in my class, to ask myself if the struggle is productive. It can be good for a student to struggle, but I need to ensure they are getting some sort of progress out of the struggle.“ – Christine Sills, Park Academy Science Teacher
“Kate was engaging, I appreciate the practical knowledge, passion, and humor.” – Anonymous Attendee
Feedback from the conference attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Over 92% of survey respondents felt that the topics were relevant and useful, and over 84% felt that they can put what they learned to immediate use. Here’s what some conference attendees were saying:
“Knowledgeable and informative speakers with experience in this field.” – Anonymous Attendee
“It’s an important topic… thank you for bringing attention and awareness to dyslexia.” – Anonymous Attendee
“I liked learning/reviewing about screeners and signs of my struggling readers.” – Anonymous Attendee
“What an amazing conference! The guest speakers provided much needed insight into the world of students who learn differently. I think for every professional who attended, there were so many useful takeaways.” – Sandy Nemer, Park Academy Lower School Teacher
The need for training and information around dyslexia in the classroom is evident. Over 96% of survey respondents stated that they would attend conferences on the topic dyslexia in the future. As our state continues to pave the way through alternative education regarding dyslexic screenings and interventions, more and more trainings and information will need to be available to Oregon teachers.
“It’s interesting to watch Oregon go through the process of initiating appropriate levels of service for students with dyslexia… I think the direction is positive and will make an enormous impact for students once everything is in place.” – Jill Ramos, Park Academy Theater Teacher
The Center for Excellence at Park Academy looks forward to continued collaboration with partners in the dyslexic education community and hopes to provide more learning opportunities for educators and families in the future.
A special thanks to the sponsors of this event:
And to the members of the planning committee:
Jen Cappalonga Piper Park
Dr. Keith Cheng Betsy Ramsey
Dr. Paula Kinney Dr. Kathleen Vincent
Craig Lowery Cathy Wyrick
And to our friends at GroundWork Coffee for keeping our attendees and presenters caffeinated.
And finally, to all the educators who attended and provided feedback. We hope you enjoyed your learning experience, and will keep an eye out for future conferences presented by the Center for Excellence.
Follow us on Twitter for updates on upcoming conferences. For more pictures from the conference, search #Tools4Dyslexia.