No 600



If you have ever heard those old stories about why “Little Johnny” couldn’t read, you will really appreciate what I am going to share with you.
As you may know, for the past several years I have been deeply involved in a literacy project called “A Bookcase for Every Child.” Our goal is to provide a quality, personalized oak bookcase, along with a starter set of books, to children in low-income families. Here in our community, we also read to these young children, ages 3, 4 and 5, each week at our local Head Start centers.
The bottom line is that, for the most part, our volunteers are not educators. We love these children and want to help them grow up to be happy, successful and productive human beings. However, if a child develops a serious reading problem later in school, we have not been trained to detect it. If a reading problem goes undetected long enough, real problems may develop that will greatly affect this child's long-term future.
I was made aware of a learning disability recently, and though it’s been around for a very long time it goes undetected in the lives of many students in our nation’s schools. Several months ago I received a letter from Paul J. Fleming, PE, who lives in Marion, Ill., and is a regular reader of my column. Here is what Paul had to say, “As a retired civil engineer, émigré to Southern Illinois, and literacy volunteer, I have tutored one-on-one in a local GED program and have assisted in their classroom for about three years.
"It quickly became apparent to me that many (about 50 percent) of our students have dyslexia. When I asked the GED program staff about materials and training methods with which to help these students, I only received blank stares, so I did my own research.”
In case you do not know, the word “dyslexia” means that words are seen backwards, right to left, instead of the normal left to right. Would you believe that I could not find this word in either of my two dictionaries? This fact alone should tell us something.
Paul goes on to say, “I’ve read several books and purchased training materials on my own, and some of my work has been used in training new literacy volunteers. Some of my students were able to make very significant strides in reading and comprehension and most of them were able to make noticeable improvement. I might add that in discussions with a number of local grade and middle school teachers, I found none of them were familiar with dyslexia, its warning signs, or what to do about it. One middle school teacher of some 30 years' experience told me that she had students who could not read, but that she had never had a dyslexic student.”
Now, granted this is just the experience of one educated person, though not a teacher, who has spent considerable time tutoring students one-on-one, and who is deeply conscientious about helping them acquire reading skills. At the very least, his experience should raise some red flags when it comes to helping students who have difficulty in learning to read.
After I wrote Paul back, he was kind enough to furnish some information regarding dyslexia resource literature, notably: "Overcoming Dyslexia," by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003; "Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities," by Dale R. Jordan, Krieger Publishing Co., 1996; and "The Gift of Dyslexia," by Ronald D. Davis, Perigee Books, 1994.
When Dr. Shaywitz was doing research to write “Overcoming Dyslexia,” the results were shocking. About one in five students, boys and girls equally, have some level of learning disability — ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and all similar conditions are all related. There is also considerable information just by going to Google and typing in the word “Dyslexia.” As a teacher or a parent dealing with reading problems, you may want to check this out.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, Ark. 72034. To support literacy, buy his book, “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)