Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Holiday Story

It was days before Christmas
And all through the town 
The lights were a-twinkle
Both uptown and down.

And here in the office 
We were working away
When outside our windows
There flew an old sleigh.

We couldn't believe it
But then we all jumped.
From the roof right above us
There came a loud thump.

We heard heavy footsteps
And then he was there,      
Red suit and red hat 
And long flowing white hair.

"I'm Santa," he said
As he entered the clinic.
We all rolled our eyes
Like good New York cynics.

"I've got gifts for all students
(you don't need to believe)
But let me bestow them 
Before I must leave.

"For the youngest I've got books
To read with mom and pop,
Since once they become readers, 
The habit won't stop.

"For older kids, games
That will help them learn math
And set them upon
A better school path.

"For high schoolers I've got smartpens
And a book filled with knowledge
About how kids who struggle
Can find the right college."

We said, "What about us?
We don't want to nag,
But don't you have something 
For us in your bag?"

Santa gave a big smile 
And packed up to go.
"You've all had the gift
Of the students you know.

"The great satisfaction
Of helping them grow
And making them realize 
Just how much they know

"With supports and good strategies,
Your gift's what you do...."
And as he departed,
We knew that was true!

The Yellin Center will close between Christmas and New Year's and will re-open on January 3, 2011. We wish you all a happy holiday and look forward to blogging again next year!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Just Ask the Kids

Preliminary findings from a study financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, looking at what makes an effective teacher, make it clear that students are excellent judges of their instructors. The study findings, reported in the New York Times, used gains on standardized tests to measure teachers' effectiveness. But it was not the teachers who spent the most classroom time on test preparation whose students did best on the tests. The teachers whose students scored higher were those who maintained order in their classrooms, helped students learn from their errors, and who explained the course material  in several different ways. And it was these same teachers who were higher ranked by their students.

As one teacher commented when we mentioned these findings, "It's no surprise. Students say they like classes where the teacher makes it easy, but what they really prefer is to learn how to think. Teaching can't be a popularity contest, but we need to give substantial weight to what students think about their teachers and the way they teach when we evaluate instruction."

This study focused on public school school students, but the idea of listening to students when evaluating their teachers has been around for a while on college campuses. Sites like "Ratemyprofessors.com" have long allowed college undergraduates to share their opinions about their professors, for better or for worse. Whether this is always a positive step and whether it should be used for students at all levels can be debated. But, as noted by the individual who developed the student questionnaires for the Gates Foundation study, "As a nation, we've wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school reform efforts."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Technology for Serious Communication Issues

Almost all of our blog posts are focused on educational issues for typical learners or students with learning difficulties. Sometimes, as we work our way through the myriad of journals, email newsletters, and other resources that provide much of our inspiration and material, we come across items beyond our regular scope, that we believe our readers will appreciate.

For example, we've written before about how technology can help many students with tasks like note-taking and with organizing materials for a writing project. But for students with serious disabilities, technology can make even more of a difference. A New York Times article on the use of the iPad to help profoundly disabled individuals communicate noted that this device was easier to use than a computer, in part because of the sensitivity of its touchpad,  and that it enabled students who could not previously express themselves to share their thoughts and needs with their caregivers. Ben Yellin, today's contributing blogger, shares his work experiences with technology and students with profound communication difficulties:

Contributing Blogger Ben

I encountered several situations like the one described in the New York Times article this past summer, when I worked at Ramapo For Children. Ramapo is a summer camp located in the Hudson Valley region of New York that works with kids who are struggling with autism or behavioral issues. I remember having one camper came up to me, iPod touch in hand, and we started having a full fledged conversation. I was amazed that this camper was able to do that. I was also amazed at the ability he had to write out full sentences and thoughts. For kids with serious speech related issues, the thoughts are there, they just don’t have a way to communicate that which they want to say. Devices like the iPad or iPod Touch help them with that.

On another occasion, I spent time having a conversation with a camper who was nonverbal;  however, we had a lengthy discussion about both of us being from New York City with me talking and him responding back on an iPhone that he had wrapped around his wrists. That interaction truly blew me away at the wonders of modern technology and how it is ever expanding to the point that people are finding new and creative uses for it.

You might end up being surprised at what some of the devices that are commonly used in everyday lives can do. 

There are also some interesting developments on the research front of assisted communication, including the awarding of the $100,000 Team prize of the Siemens Competition to two high school juniors from Oregon, who developed a computer algorithm to more accurately detect emotion in a human speech, which could assist individuals with autism who presently are unable to "read" the emotional aspect of conversations. We expect to learn of many more exciting new technology in this field and will keep you posted.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lynn University

Kenzie Maloney
Lynn University Student
We are delighted to welcome a guest blogger,  Lynn University student Kenzie Maloney, who shares her very positive experiences as a student at Lynn's Institute for Achievement and Learning. Lynn is located in Boca Raton, Florida.
After attending my first University for three semesters, I knew that I was not receiving the help and direction from the Learning Disabilities Department that I had been promised or that I had wished for. I made the decision not to return to that University for my fourth semester.  I took those five months to do a bit of everything.  I immersed myself in a college hunt, I was re-evaluated academically by the Yellin Center, and I worked.  Most of all, I did a lot of soul searching.  I had to decide for myself what I wanted from life and what I wanted to achieve.

Throughout my academic career I struggled to attain success.  I knew that acquiring a college education was something that was exceptionally important to me.  I knew I needed to place myself in the perfect environment.

In my search I found Lynn University.  I knew that Lynn was a perfect match as soon as I visited the campus.  It was very evident that Lynn prides itself on their Institute for Achievement and Learning.  Soon I was aware that the Institute and Lynn had all I was looking for academically.

I am just completing my first semester at Lynn University and I couldn't be happier with my choice.  Everyone here is routing for student success and will do anything to see it is achieved.

Within the Institute I have an advisor  (as all Institute students do) who oversees attendance if necessary. (The Institute is very serious about attendance, which is in everyone’s best interest). My advisor is there for any questions or concerns I might have, as well as keeping me in check. Every week I have three sessions of tutoring.  I have been assigned a tutor for each subject where help is needed.  I have had the same tutors all semester, which creates continuity.  All tutors are skilled in instructing students with learning disabilities and all possess either a masters or doctorate degree.  The environment at the Institute is comfortable and friendly. 

The "Testing Center” is where all LD students are welcome to take their tests. Students never have to schedule an appointment at the Center.  They consult with their instructor and the test is waiting there when needed.  It is a quiet, relaxing atmosphere that provides students in need with the accommodations that best fit their learning disability.

Lynn University has given me all the tools I need to succeed.  I am so grateful that I found Lynn.  It is nice to be at a university whose primary interest is academic achievement and student success!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

West End Day School

We sometimes encounter young children who struggle in school for reasons that go beyond learning differences. For children whose emotional needs require a more supportive, therapeutic setting than mainstream schools -- or even most schools focused on learning differences -- can provide, West End Day School offers an important alternative for New York families.

We had the opportunity yesterday to visit this oasis of calm and support on the upper West Side of Manhattan, and were impressed by the school's approach and by the way we observed it being put into practice. Carrie Catapano, a licensed social worker and Head of School, explained that the students who were served by the school were those dealing with emotional vulnerabilities, perhaps brought on by a family crisis, separation issues, school phobia, or simply an inability to manage in a more stressful school setting. The school features a very small student body -- around 40 to 50 students at maximum -- and a highly individualized program with support for both the student and family. West End Day has a policy of keeping places for new students open so that it can offer admission to students who need this special setting at any point in the school year. As Ms. Catapano and Katy Meyer, MSEd, Education Head of the school pointed out, a student who is in need of the supportive, therapeutic setting of West End Day can't wait for the beginning of a school year for the kind of help he or she requires.

This focus on emotional and social needs does not come at the expense of academics. Extremely small classes, broken down by both ability levels and student readiness to learn in a classroom setting, employ Smart Boards in every room, and follow New York State Standards. Scientifically proven instruction methods geared towards each child's specific learning needs are employed in all academic areas. Although West End Day School is not on the list of schools for which New York will provide direct payment, the school will help parents find assistance with Carter funding to help them with tuition expenses.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Children's Books 2010

The New York Public Library has released the 2010 edition of its annual list of reading recommendations for children. The fantastic list of newly published books, Children's Books 2010: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing, was compiled by a committee of librarians working in the branch libraries of the New York Public Library, and includes suggestions for a wide range of ages. 

View the complete list here, or as the NYPL says, "on-lion." 

Photo Credit: Luis Villa del Campo

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brain: The Inside Story at American Museum of Natural History

I just checked out the newest exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History here in New York, Brain: The Inside Story.

The exhibition is running now through August 14, 2011 and is definitely worth a visit. You enter the exhibition through a tunnel housing a stunning art installation of lights designed to replicate the firing neurons of a brain. This was definitely a “wow” moment that serves to pull you further into the exhibit. The exhibition includes images of brain scans, artistic interpretations of various elements of the brain, as well as a number of interactive components demonstrating how areas of the brain work. My family and I had fun attempting to trace a star while looking at our hands in a mirror, comparing our ability to read color words written in the same color as their meaning (e.g., “blue” written in blue) versus those that are not (e.g., “blue” written in red), and trying to replicate the pronunciation of words and phrases spoken in a variety of languages. The exhibition takes you through your “Sensing” brain, highlighting the 5 senses; the “Emotional” brain, comparing human emotions with those of other animals; the “Thinking” brain, examining language, memory, and problem-solving; the “Changing” brain, outlining human brain development from infancy though old age; and the “21st Century” brain, exploring where brain research and science are going. I was excited to find a number of connections to our work here at the Yellin Center, specifically, in their discussions of the various parts of memory, the links between memory and language, the role of attention and executive functioning, and the ability to actually strengthen areas of the brain, particularly memory.

The Museum also offers a number of upcoming programs to accompany the exhibition. We’re excited to check out “Brain Fest” on January 14!

Watch a video preview of the exhibition below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Historical Anniversaries

Today is the 55th anniversary of Rosa Parks' historic refusal to "move to the back of the bus" as directed by a City bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest for violating state segregation laws that required, among other things, for blacks to give up their seats to white passengers, led to a boycott of the Montgomery City buses that lasted more than a year and culminated in a U.S Supreme Court decision declaring that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional.

What does this important event in the civil rights movement have to do with educating students with learning and other difficulties? Plenty. It was the civil rights movement and the court cases that grew out of the movement, such as Brown v. Board of Education  that established the principles that all individuals were entitled to equal access to public services, including schools and transportation. Once that basic rule of law was settled, it laid the foundation for literally opening the doors of school houses to other victims of discrimination -- children with disabilities, who had often been denied access to public education.

It took way too many years for Congress to pass the predecessor legislation to what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which was called Education for All Handicapped Children Act when it was passed in 1975. In the records of Congressional findings leading up to the 1975 law, it was determined that of the eight million children in the United States with disabilities (of all kinds), more than half were not receiving appropriate educational services and at least one million were excluded from school completely. From its earliest incarnation, 35 years ago this past week, the IDEA established the standards that must be applied to all children with disabilities -- the right to a Free, Appropriate, Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), based upon a student's individual needs (IEP).

So, the next time you are sitting at an IEP meeting, arranging the support services your child requires to help him or her deal with learning or other difficulties, take a moment to remember the people and events that led to a national realization that discrimination and exclusion of any of our citizens from public services is not permissible under our Constitution.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Learning and the Brain

I recently returned from the Learning and the Brain: No Brain Left Behind Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I had a chance to hear about the rapidly expanding research findings in the fields of neuroscience, evaluation, and education. Applied imaging techniques like functional MRI and other technologies to measure brain activity are providing a great deal of insight in the fields of brain development, brain maturation, development of academic skills, normal variations, and learning differences/disabilities. I also had a chance to spend a full day focusing on the latest developments in reading diagnostics and dyslexia.

One clear message that emerged from the Conference is that traditional testing of students' abilities or achievement is not specific or sensitive enough to get at the kinds of variations we need to be appreciating to decide on appropriate interventions for individual students. Assessments that identify strengths as well as specific weaknesses will be critical in making treatment decisions as well as allowing for the kinds of research that has to happen so that we can move toward research based decisions in determining which strategies are most effective.

The many attendees at the Conference included a number of Learning Specialists and Clinicians who worked with me when I served as National Director of the All Kinds of Minds Clinical Programs, which were the predecessor to The Yellin Center.

AKOM Alumini: Paul Yellin, Molly Warner, Sarah Eskin-Drake, Hollis Dannaham, Craig Pohlman, and Jennifer Bitner

Much of so-called brain based interventions or educational strategies often grow out of personal agendas, individual points of view, or marketing initiatives, rather than unbiased peer reviewed research. But I was pleased to leave the Conference with the strong sense that interest in doing rigorous study of educational practice and interventions and linking these to the newest findings in neuroscience is increasing. As pockets of research collaborations between scientists and educators are appearing around the world, those of us in the field will have a richer, more vigorously derived body of knowledge to draw from as we make day-to-day decisions to best serve the children and families in our schools and clinics.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

We're Thankful

The eve of Thanksgiving is a perfect time to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have had this past year. We know that times are still tough for many people and that there is much amiss in our local and national education systems. Still, we are grateful for many things.

We are thankful for the amazing Yellin Center team, who share their knowledge, enthusiasm, and professionalism with the families we see and whose insight into children and young adults helps hundreds of struggling students every year.

We are thankful for the schools we have had a chance to work with this year, including the Hamilton Central School District, the New York Insitute for Special Education, the Kildonan School, and countless private and public schools in New York, New Jersey, and throughout the country.

We are thankful for the many organizations with which we have worked, including Cornerstone Literacy, New York Foundling, and New York University's School of Medicine and Department of Pediatrics.

We are thankful for the schools and colleges that have hosted us for visits and presentations, including American University, George Washington University, Mount Ida College, Northeastern University, and Lesley College, to name a few. It is always enjoyable to speak to educators and parents who are interested in learning differences.

Most of all, we are thankful for the families and students that come to us with their academic struggles and who emerge from their experience here with an understanding of how they learn, strategies to address their areas of difficulty and to enhance their strengths, and a plan to move forward towards success. We get countless thank you notes, emails, and telephone calls that report that the experience at the Yellin Center has "changed my child's life," "created a sense of optimism we never had before," and "made the difference" to the students we see. We feel privileged to have such an impact on students and families.

We wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving! We are taking the holiday weekend off to appreciate our families and watch some football..See you next week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Supportive College with a Real World Focus

We had the opportunity last week to visit Northeastern University in Boston and to meet with the dynamic Director of The Learning Disabilities Program, Mary Barrows. We had known about and were particularly interested in Northeastern because of the co-op program that is key to a Northeastern education. The co-op program had long been a five year curriculum that integrated periods of employment with semesters of classes. More recently, the program has been modified so that students can elect to participate in fewer co-op experiences and graduate in only four years.

As might be imagined, the focus on real-world work experience has an impact on Northeastern students' ability to enter the job market when they graduate and the school's successful placement figures reflect this. Furthermore, almost all Northeastern graduates who are out in the working world have indicated that they were better prepared for working because of their co-op experience.

Northeastern is very much an urban school and outdoor spaces are not extensive. The campus buildings range from drab and utilitarian to soaring and modern. The campus spreads out over 73 acres and has 37 residence halls, 26 dining places, and almost 16,000 full time undergraduates. Campus spirit is enriched by the University's 18 division one sports teams and a stroll around the campus offers constant reminders of student support for the Husky teams.

In this large, urban setting, students with learning and attention issues can really benefit from the personalized attention and individual support offered by the Learning Disabilities Program.

Mary Barrows explained that the Learning Disabilities Program is an intensive support program requiring a separate application and fee. Students are accepted after submitting documentation about their learning or attention difficulties and are personally interviewed before a determination is made about whether they would be a good fit with the program. Ms. Barrows noted that the students in the program are assigned a learning specialist that they meet with two hours each week. They receive support from their learning specialist in the academic aspects of their courses, plus such more general learning related issues as time management, writing, organization, study skills, and self-advocacy.

Students who are not accepted to the Learning Disabilities Program, or who choose not to apply, are still entitled to accommodations through the campus Disability Resource Center, which assists students with appropriate documentation receive such accommodations and services as extended time on exams or note-taking services. The Disabilities Resource Center follows the legal standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Milestone

On the occasion of our 200th blog post, we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at some of the topics that we have written about most frequently since we began this blog in August of 2009. 

Since then, we've spent much time explaining how services are provided for students in grades K through 12 under the IDEA and Section 504. We've looked at how these laws require students to be "labeled" or to fall within a defined category of "disability" and lamented the fact that these labels are often both too broad and insufficient to describe the challenges -- and strengths -- of particular students.

We've written extensively about college issues for students with learning challenges, ranging from transition issues in high schools to the college selection process and accommodations for college classes. We've discussed schools we have visited, and explained what they can offer students who learn differently. We've celebrated the publication of Susan Yellin's new book about Life After High School and informed our readers about conferences featuring college representatives.

We've spent a good deal of time on issues specific to New York City, ranging from new initiatives for public high schools to resources and programs designed specifically for families dealing with the New York City Department of Education. Although we see students and families from all over the globe (and have written about this fact, too) we need only to look out of our office windows to be reminded that we are in the middle of the amazing City of New York -- with all of its benefits and challenges -- and we are very much observers of the local educational scene.

We've shared educational research and trends from the numerous journals, newsblasts, and other resources that cross our desk and flow into our inbox, and from conferences and programs we attend. In fact, we are heading up to Cambridge, Massachusetts this very afternoon to visit the Learning Disabilities Program at Northeastern University and to attend the Learning and the Brain Conference and will write about these visits in future blogs.

We've particularly enjoyed when our blogs elicit reader comments. One of our purposes is to engage our readers, to bring them information they may find helpful, and to get them thinking about learning and education in a new way. We haven't run out of things to write about over these 200 blog entries -- but if we've not yet covered a subject you would like to read about, we'd love to hear from you. You can add your comment below or email us directly at info@yellincenter.com.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Activities and Achievement

It turns out that all those clubs and activities you got involved in during
high school may have done more than just burnish your college applications. A new study by graduate students from the University of Nebraska looked at the impact of student involvement in extracurricular activities during high school. "Adolescents' expectations about their occupational and educational attainment as adults predict their eventual educational attainment, and these expectations seem to shape and be shaped by extracurricular activities -- which, in turn, contribute to young adult educational attainment," noted Sarah Beale, the lead author of the study.

Surprisingly, neither volunteer work nor holding a job during high school seemed to have the same impact as involvement in clubs and sports. As might have been expected, students who were involved with drugs or who had brushes with the law had lower levels of education and achievement.

So, what can we learn from this study? Thinking about the future is shaped by experiences. A student who is involved in the French club, or the math team, or plays on a sports team, learns about a new subject, or about teamwork and leadership. This kind of learning can impact educational achievement which can, in turn, have a positive impact on careers and adulthood. The benefit goes beyond the well known positive impact of high school activities on college admission officers. So, join a club or play a sport -- or urge your student to do so. It can be a helpful step in helping to plan for adulthood.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Uncertain Times in New York City

The announcement this week that the New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, would be leaving and would be replaced by Cathleen Black, a publishing executive with no educational experience as a teacher or administrator (and who attended private schools and sent her children to private schools as well), left parents and professionals feeling uncertain about what would happen to them, their children, and education in New York City.

A special education attorney who works with families of children with substantial disabilities expressed concern about how children needing special educational settings would be treated under a new regime. "It used to be," our colleague reported yesterday, "that even though the City often fought these families over what services and placement their children would be entitled to receive, there was a genuine concern for the child. Department of Education attorneys understood that these children needed to be in school and getting services somewhere, even if they argued the details of arrangements. Now, that has changed and in more and more cases the interests of the child are just ignored. Kids with profound needs are being kept at home because the City is digging in its heels about providing services. And that is a tragedy. I am deeply worried about what message the new Chancellor will be sending to her legal troops."

A teacher we know was concerned about what would happen to the new initiatives put in place by departing Chancellor Klein. "I finally got set in a terrific school that was opened under one of Klein's programs. I wonder if I will have a teaching job next year -- or the year after that," he said.

Of course, before a new Chancellor takes the reins, she will have to be granted a waiver from the New York State Department of Education, which must waive the legal requirement that the New York City Chancellor have a certificate in educational leadership and at least three years experience in schools, neither of which Ms. Black has. Chancellor Klein had been granted such a waiver before he took office.

While we are looking at the change happening around the City, one change that is good for everyone is the movement of the terrific website Inside Schools to the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. Inside Schools is an excellent, independent resource for families looking for information about public schools in New York City and it had been experiencing serious financial difficulties. A new grant has enabled it to move to its new home and secures its future. We are delighted!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Kildonan School

The Kildonan School, a day and boarding school for students with dyslexia and language based learning differences, located about two hours north of New York City, welcomed Dr. Paul Yellin and Susan Yellin, Esq. (who directs the Yellin Center Advocacy and Transition Services) for a day-long visit yesterday.

Our team had a chance to meet with several members of the school's leadership, from the Headmaster to the heads of the middle and elementary programs, and to sit in on a number of one-on-one instructional sessions in which students worked intensively with skilled instructors, who employed Orton-Gillingham methodology as well as amazingly creative visual and computer based tools to assist students who clearly had significant issues with reading and language. The Yellin Center visitors also got to sit in on a middle school math class and watch how the school's seventh graders were taught about decimals.

The beautiful rural setting of the school includes stables (horseback riding is part of the program from the earliest grades) and views of rolling hills and trees. A new athletic facility greets visitors entering the grounds, and separate buildings house each level of the school -- elementary, middle, and upper.

The students our team met were most impressive. They were mature for their years, serious about learning, and enthusiastic about their school and all it had done for them. Over a delicious lunch in the school dining room, a group of juniors and seniors talked about their difficult experiences before they came to Kildonan and how  their Kildonan education had helped bring about a transformation in their academics, their self-esteem, and their confidence about their future. The Kildonan staff believes that by focusing on students with dyslexia and language based learning issues, they can best serve those students who will benefit from their approach. They actively seek sources of scholarships to help offset tuition for those who need it but remain concerned that the cost of a Kildonan education is an issue for many families.

The day finished with a terrific dinner with the heads of the middle and elementary divisions, as well as the Academic Dean and one of the teachers. Much of the school's leadership and staff reside on the school grounds, and the dedication of the staff was clear, both throughout the day and into the evening discussions about ways to assist Kildonan graduates with their transition to college and the adult world.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Focusing on College Issues

Yesterday's New York Times was a rich source of information for college bound students and their families.

An essay by Caren Osten Gerszberg, originally appearing in the Times Choice Blog, an ongoing feature dedicated to college admissions and financial aid, was included in the print edition along with comments from readers. Gerszberg wrote about the problems with the Common Application and the difficulty uploading essays and fitting them into the strict format and limits of the online forms. Her daughter had neglected to take all necessary steps to make sure her information was accepted by the Common Application and it went out to a college with part of her short essay missing. Commentators included the Director of Outreach of The Common Application, who noted that the difficulty could have been avoided by using the "preview" feature before pushing the "send" button. Both the essay and the comments provide important guidance to any student working on applications -- online or on paper -- this fall.

Even more informative was an entire special section of Sunday's paper -- which appears regularly several times a year -- called Education Life. This issue included a terrific piece by Abigail Sullivan Moore, titled Accommodations Angst which looked at an issue that we often encounter with the students with whom we work -- when and how to apply for accommodations, particularly extended time, on SAT and ACT exams. The article includes information from a number of experts in the field of education and disabilities, including our esteemed colleagues Matt Cohen, Esq. and Jo Anne Simon, Esq. Matt Cohen is the author of the excellent book, A Guide to Special Education Advocacy, from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Jo Anne Simon is nationally recognized as an expert in disability discrimination in high stakes standardized testing and higher education. She was also a generous source of guidance for your blogger's new book, with Christina Bertsch, Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families, which contains a complete explanation of the history and administration of the SAT and ACT tests and the laws governing the accommodation process.

Some of the issues covered in the article by Abigail Moore include differences between the College Board, which administers the SAT exam, and the ACT exam, both of which are accepted by virtually all colleges as part of their admissions process. The article notes something we find all the time in practice: students who have been diagnosed or first received accommodations only a year or two before first taking the SAT or ACT exams have a far more difficult time making their case to the testing companies.

It's prime time for applying to college. Most high school seniors have pretty much decided where to apply and are (or should be!) working on applications. Sophomores are watching their older classmates engage in the process of application preparation and juniors are thinking about ways to burnish their records and considering issues relating to standardized tests. Students with and without learning and attention difficulties should find the Education Life section of the Times helpful -- and will also find much information applicable to all students in your blogger's new book.

This is also a good time to remind our readers that consultations with Susan Yellin, Esq. to assist students with learning and other challenges to navigate the college process, are available at The Yellin Center. Contact Mrs. Yellin directly at syellin@yellincenter.com or call our office at 646-775-6646.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Link Roundup

Teens are Still Reading for Fun (Washington Post)
Death to the SAT (Fortune)
White House Takes Stand Against School Bullying (NPR)
Skip Parent-Teacher Conference, Go to Jail? (Time Healthland)
How to Raise a Creative Genius (CNN)

Photo Credit

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vocabulary in Middle School

Researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have looked at the teaching of vocabulary in middle schools and have noted what parents have also observed -- that while elementary students routinely learn vocabulary words as part of their spelling lessons, and high school students drill intensively in vocabulary as part of their preparation for standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, there is not much direct vocabulary instruction given to middle school students.

The authors of an article in the October issue of the journal Educational Leadership look at existing research and conclude that " a system of cross-content, whole-school vocabulary instruction can result in better reading comprehension." What do they mean by that? Words that students encounter frequently, in various academic settings, and in somewhat different formats, need to be not just familiar to students, but thoroughly understood. They recommend The Academic Word List as one source of these words - such words as "distribute," "perceive" and "contrast," which students may encounter in such diverse subjects as literature, science, and history. They go on to note that it is important to consider the difficulty and frequency of specific words in an academic context and suggest such online tools as Word Count to help select those words which students might most benefit from studying and understanding. The authors found that students need multiple exposures in these important words, across content areas, to fully understand their meaning. They suggest that vocabulary instruction be limited to only a few words each week, with teachers of different subject matters using the same words (hence the "whole school" aspect of this instruction) and demonstrating that they can take on different meaning from one area of academic study to another.

 For situations where teachers may have difficulty with defining specfic words in a clear enough manner to instruct their classes, the authors suggest such resources as the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. The authors conclude their article with lists of resources to support the instruction of vocabulary in middle schools. Even where schools may not adopt this type of program, parents can implement some of its elements at home.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday News

The annual Life After High School Conference sponsored by our colleagues at The Center for Learning Differences, will be held this coming Sunday, October 31st, on the campus of C.W. Post College in Brookville, New York. Representatives from local colleges and national schools such as American University, the University of Arizona SALT Center, and Mitchell College, all with strong supports for students who learn differently, will speak to the audience and be available for individual consultations with students and families. Our own Susan Yellin, Esq. will speak about financial issues for students headed to college and their families, and Dr. Lynda Geller will discuss executive function and organizational issues. More details and registration information are available in the program brochure.

Both Dr. Paul Yellin and Susan Yellin, Esq. (who serves as Director of Advocacy and Transition Services at the Yellin Center) have had proposals accepted by the New York Branch of the International Dyslexia Association for presentation at 38th Annual Conference on Dyslexia and Related Learning Disabilities to be held in March, 2011 in New York City. Dr. Yellin will be speaking on Learning Differences in High Achieving Students. Mrs. Yellin will be speaking with Christina Bertsch, her co-author of  the new book, Life After High School: A Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families. They will be discussing some of the topics covered in their book. 

Apple fans -- the computer kind, not the fall fruit -- might want to check out the new applications for its products that focus on skills for special education. These range from programs on Mac Computers to new applications for iPods and iPhones.

Tomorrow is the wedding day of our Clinic Manager, Jeremy, and former Yellin Center Learning Specialist Meghan, (now a school Principal in New York City). We are delighted to have two of our favorite people getting married and wish them both a lifetime of happiness together!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Teens and Driving

There is no easy way to discuss this topic. Auto accidents are the leading cause of death of American teenagers, killing nearly 6,000 each year. Anything that can reduce this number, and the anguish it represents, is welcome news for parents.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has long been concerned with the dangers posed by new drivers, who often lack both  judgment and experience. Making things even more difficult is the social aspect of driving, which prompts teens to want to drive with friends in the car, sometimes with music blasting and with other distractions that add to the inherent dangers of operating an almost two ton machine on a road with other vehicles. The AAA has recently launched a new website to provide information to parents to help their children through every step of the driving process, from pre-permit education, through getting a learner's permit, to becoming ready to drive solo. The website is state specific; when you go to the web address it will provide the specific information on the state you are searching from and let you look at information from other states as well. This is particularly useful, because states have taken many steps to make teen driving safer, including graduated licensing and restrictions on when and with whom teens may drive. Of course, state laws are only a minimum standard. Parents can always impose their own rules and restrictions. We know parents who won't give their teens the car keys until they pass Mom's (or Dad's) Road Test, a far tougher test than any state examiner will provide.

By using interactive features and including sections for both parents (on teaching teens to drive) and young people (with lots of bells and whistles to keep the information on driving safely interesting), the website is one more tool in  helping to keep our children safe. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Implementing RTI - One District's Experience

This past Saturday, Dr. Paul Yellin and two representatives from the Hamilton Central School District in upstate New York, presented to attendees of the New York State School Boards Association Annual Convention in New York City.

Diana Bowers, Superintendent of the Hamilton Schools, outlined the steps her district took together with The Yellin Center and our colleagues at All Kinds of Minds, to move to a Response to Intervention model of addressing students' learning needs well in advance of the New York State deadline for implementing such a program. Response to Intervention, often called RTI, is one way that states such as New York are moving away from such concepts as "normal learner" vs. "learning disabled" and from offering support services only to students whose academic performance is not in line with their scores on standardized tests, such as IQ tests. Instead of the older model of intervention, often called the discrepency or "wait to fail" model, RTI looks at how children who are struggling respond to various academic interventions. If an initial array of classroom supports (Tier I) is shown to be insufficient, the student will move up to Tier II, small group instruction in the areas in which he or she is struggling. If that does not work, the student will be evaluated for a more complete understanding of his or her learning needs and implementation of additional supports and services (Tier III) .

Although many of the initial steps in determining which children are not responding to the general classroom curriculum and differentiating instruction for these children "are what good teachers are doing all the time," Dr. Bowers noted, she also spoke about the need for a unifying approach throughout each school and the entire district. That led her to seek training for her staff from All Kinds of Minds, and eventually led her to inviting Dr. Yellin to work with some of the most complex students in the district, first at our New York City offices and later in Hamilton as part of a week long training of Hamilton staff by The Yellin Center. Dr. Bower's presentation was followed by remarks by Peggy O'Connor, District Coordinator of Special Education, and by a discussion by Dr. Yellin of how the use of the shared vocabulary of learning and an understanding of the ability of the brain to change with appropriate interventions made early recognition of learning challenges so important.

The audience of school superintendents, building principals, and guidance staff was deeply engaged, with lots of discussion, questions and follow-up, many of which were focused on how they can bring the same effective techniques to their own districts.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Radio Resource

We had the chance earlier today to participate in a Satellite Radio broadcast on Doctor Radio, a project of NYU Langone Medical Center that brings NYU physicians and their expert medical guests from around the country and the world together to provide information and answer questions from listeners. Available on Sirius Channel 114 and XM Channel 119, Doctor Radio is broadcast live from a studio in the lobby of the Medical Center.

The hour-long appearance of Dr. Paul Yellin and Susan Yellin, Esq. focused on learning difficulties and school advocacy and featured caller inquiries from places ranging from Utah, to North Carolina, to Connecticut and New Jersey. It was hosted by Dr. Benard Dreyer, who is the Director of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Medical Center and a Professor at the NYU School of Medicine. A look at the line-up of other shows on Doctor Radio reads like a list of medical specialites, and includes daily shows focusing on pediatric issues, as well as issues such as children's mental health, sports medicine, and a wide arrange of medical topics of interest to parents and families. In addition to sharing information, the doctor hosts and their knowledgable guests take the time to address the specific questions of their callers.

If you already subscribe to Satellite Radio you might want to give Doctor Radio a try. If you aren't a subscriber, you can check out the schedule of shows and sign up for a free trial of Sirius or XM to let you hear a show dealing with the specific concerns you may have. It certainly does not take the place of your pediatrician or other physician, but it can be a helpful source of information and point you in the right direction.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October is Bully Prevention Month

We've all heard about tragic results that can occur when students are bullied or harassed by classmates. Whether bullying is prompted by race, religion, sexual orientation, or occurs because of mean or thoughtless young people seek to hurt or demean others, it is a problem that has been made all the more complicated to solve because of the instant information world in which we live.  

The Pacer Center in Minnesota has created an array of resources for young children, teens, schools, and parents to help educate children about bullying. The key is not just to encourage kids not to be bullies, but to educate them to speak out and take appropriate actions if they are the subject or bullying or if they observe bullying taking place. 

More locally, CAPS, Child Abuse Prevention Services, based on Long Island, is building on its long time work on this issue and establishing a Bully Prevention Center to provide a place for parents to turn for education and support and helplines for children and parents faced with bullying. The Helpline is staffed by professionals with expertise in bullying and cyberbullying. Contact numbers are 516-621-0552 and 631-289-3240 (ext 109).The email address is bullyhelpline@capsli.org. All inquiries are confidential.

Research has shown that interventions aimed at raising awareness, establishing rules, and counseling individual students about bullying can have meaningful results. Learn what your child's school is doing about all kinds of bullying. Speak to your child about how to avoid being a bully or a passive by-stander to bullying, or a silent  victim of bullying. And check out these websites for more important information.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just announced a new $1 million grant to Cornell University, along with smaller grants totaling another $1 million to other institutions, to look at how behavioral economics can be used to encourage kids to eat healthier meals at school and elsewhere. The program has been nicknamed BEN, since it involves Behavioral Economics and Nutrition.

The USDA is already in the school breakfast and lunch business in a big way; some 11 million children eat breakfast at school each day and 31 million participate in the National School Lunch Program. This new grant is designed to establish a new, research focused center at Cornell, the Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. The other grants look at how small changes in schools can impact changes in how children eat. For example, the Baylor College of Medicine will work with Houston, Texas schools where cafeteria staff will "nudge" children towards healthier choices and families will get information on school menus and recommended foods via a website, Facebook, and Twitter.

In Utah, researchers at Brigham Young University will look at how placement of healthy foods on lunch lines, replacing vending machine choices with healthy foods, and providing small incentives to eat fruits and vegetables will change the way children eat in several local schools.

Every parent has his or her own rules -- or tricks -- to get kids to eat healthier. It's good to see that schools are being encouraged to try some behavioral interventions to improve nutrition and to investigate what can effect change. Children need adequate nutrition for maximum learning. And they need to eat healthier to help turn around our national crisis of obesity. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Broadening Post High School Options

A federal grant, announced earlier this month, will provide almost $10.9 million for grants to 27 two and four year colleges in 23 different states to transition students with "cognitive" or "intellectual" disabilities to higher education. The grants are aimed at creating new programs or expanding existing programs  that focus on "academics and instruction, social activities, employment experiences through work-based learning and internships, and independent living. Grantees will provide individualized supports for students and opportunities to be involved in college experiences with their peers without disabilities. Evaluating what works and does not work is a key component of each grant."

It is not clear from the grant announcement if these students will be on track to get a college degree, or if they will obtain an alternate certificate or credential. We think this program is a terrific idea, but wish it went further. Students with learning differences, attention difficulties, executive function issues, and high functioning forms of autism all can need significant support to become successful members of a college community and to graduate with a degree. These students would not qualify for this program because they have average or above average intelligence.

We know that all students with any kind of disability are entitled to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But those protections only "level the playing field." They don't require individual supports, employment preparation, or assistance with independent living skills. We'd love to see all students who need them get this level of support. In our increasingly complex world, helping students to broaden their experiences and education, with the goal of making them more productive individuals, can only help us all.

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's a Small World

Two recent events reminded us of the international reach of our work. On one day this week, we chatted with parents on three different continents, via Skype, about school options for their children here in the U.S.

The next day we received a note from a Japanese educator, Harue Kaneko, who has visited our Center in the past to learn more about how we conduct our comprehensive assessment. Dr. Yellin had also introduced her to his colleagues at CAST, The Center for Applied Special Technology, (where Dr. Yellin is a member of the Board of Directors) which is a leader in introducing Universal Design for Learning to schools across the United States. Now, through this introduction, Harue Kaneko is working with CAST to translate its work into Japanese and to consider how  to introduce the concept of Universal Design for Learning to Japan. In a recent email, she shared an entry into her Blog for Teachers:


Life After High School: A Guide for Students With Disabilities and Their Families Life After High School: A Guide for Students With Disabilities and Their Families
価格:¥ 1,806(税込)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Some Favorite Things

It's time to take another look at books, websites, and programs that families whose children struggle in school may find helpful. 

A Guide to Special Education Advocacy, by Matthew Cohen, an attorney and disability rights expert, "describes a complicated and sometimes adversarial process as clearly as is humanly possible," according to a reviewer. We think this is a terrific guide for families seeking to navigate the special education process and like its information about the "alphabet soup" language parents will encounter and its "how to" advice with practical examples.

Advocates for Children of New York, which we have mentioned a number of times for the important  work they do to "promote access to the best education New York can provide for all students, especially students of color and students from low-income backgrounds," is offering a series of free programs at their Manhattan offices this fall on topics such as Attention, Transitioning From High School, and How to Develop and Read an IEP. Space is limited.

We like to check out the website LD Online for articles for parents, educators, and students on all sorts of issues relating to education and learning differences. We are never quite sure what we will find, but it is a worthwhile visit. Educators may find the extensive list of resources on learning differences on the website of The Center for Learning Differences to be helpful. This same website contains lots of information for parents on the basic steps in the special education process.

Parents interested in a specific topic relating to advocacy or working with their school may find the website Wrightslaw.com helpful. We love their information, including the full text of important court cases and solid explanations of important laws and principles, but wish this site were easier to navigate and search. Still, it remains an important resource for those with the patience to sort through the clutter.

For families of high school or college students, the website of the Heath Center at George Washington University lives up to its description as a clearinghouse of information for post secondary education for individuals with disabilities. Not all of its information will be relevant for students with learning differences, since they deal with all sorts of disability issues, but they have so many resources to recommend, that it is a worthwhile starting point for your college search.