Archive | November 2013

READING STRATEGIES

The arrival of a new grandchild has held up my writing progress over the last eight weeks in the nicest of ways. While the distance between us all is considerable, the two-hour train journey between Bournemouth and Brighton enables me to focus on my laptop screen.

Last month’s Writing Magazine also made the journey but, unfortunately, I did not dip into it. Imagine my horror then, on my return, to see the next edition sitting in a pile of post. I will have to start speed reading if I am to catch up. Tony Buzan’s book on Speed Reading is something I recommend to dyslexic students. Of course reading a book about ‘how to read’ is not easy but a tutor can dispense key points from this book and encourage practice such as moving a pen along the line ahead of the eyes as a means to ‘keep going’. Speeding up then happens quite naturally.

Skimming and scanning for essential points is another skill that benefits dyslexic students. Again running a pencil or other pointer down the page to locate key words is an effective method. Scanning reading material ahead of a more serious study read is something that dyslexic students have often not been encouraged to try. Dyslexic students frequently say they think ‘other students’ read word for word from beginning to end and that they take everything in without any re-reading. This is not true. Even non-dyslexics need to revisit parts of their reading material after the first read. Even they will find that scanning for keywords as a precursor to the actual read enables them to take in the material more quickly on the second read.

Dylexic students and pupils need to practise the following if they are to get the best out of their books and study materials.

1 Look at the Contents page. Find the relevant chapter.

2 Have a reason for reading – a question to answer. Reading for an assignment is an excellent reason. All other parts can be read later.

3 Look at the summary at the end of the chapter before reading to give your brain a ‘schema’ on to which the information gleaned on the second reading will attach itself.

4 Remember learning is about making new connections in the brain. The activity in 3 will pave the way.

5 Look at the first sentence in each paragraph and highlight it. This is the topic sentence and, again, gives you a preview of what you are about to read in the paragraph.

6 Use the margins to scribble notes. Do not be afraid to ‘mess up’ your handouts and textbooks. Not on library books of course!

Now back to Writing Magazine. The front cover tells me about the articles. The fast track to improve your writing definitely appeals as I am short of time on my nearly-completed novel. 10 projects to inspire you this month covers an introduction to NaNoWriMo and if you are a writer and don’t know what this is then google it and get involved. There is an article by Melvyn Bragg about completing your novel – a definite must for me at this point in time.

But what interests me most is an article on How to Fight Writers’ Bottom. Sitting for long periods is an occupational hazard. I intersperse my writing spurts with a quick walk to the shops or along the sea front. Strolling will not lift the pounds. One needs to put in some effort. The fresh air and some human interaction means that I return refreshed to attack whatever part of my WIP (Work in Progress) I am working on.

I have taken Writing Magazine for about eighteen months and it certainly makes my day when it lands on my doormat. It reminds me of why I get up in the morning, puts me in touch with ideas and success stories of other writers and provides numerous tips and valuable information.

Now I just need to find the time to read it!

In later posts I will deal with how parents can help their children with reading and writing about study skills that dyslexic students in Higher Education need to develop early on in their course.

The arrival of a new grandchild has held up my writing progress over the last week in the nicest of ways. While the distance between us all is considerable, the two-hour train journey between Bournemouth and Brighton enables me to focus on my laptop screen.

 

Last month’s Writing Magazine also made the journey but, unfortunately, I did not dip into it. Imagine my horror then, on my return, to see the next edition sitting in a pile of post. I will have to start speed reading if I am to catch up. Tony Buzan’s book on Speed Reading is something I recommend to dyslexic students. Of course reading a book about ‘how to read’ is not easy but a tutor can dispense key points from this book and encourage practice such as moving a pen along the line ahead of the eyes as a means to ‘keep going’. Speeding up then happens quite naturally.

 

Skimming and scanning for essential points is another skill that benefits dyslexic students. Again running a pencil or other pointer down the page to locate key words is an effective method. Scanning reading material ahead of a more serious study read is something that dyslexic students have often not been encouraged to try. Dyslexic students frequently say they think ‘other students’ read word for word from beginning to end and that they take everything in without any re-reading. This is not true. Even non-dyslexics need to revisit parts of their reading material after the first read. Even they will find that scanning for keywords as a precursor to the actual read enables them to take in the material more quickly on the second read.

 

Dylexic students and pupils need to practise the following if they are to get the best out of their books and study materials.

 

1                 Look at the Contents page. Find the relevant chapter.

 

2                 Have a reason for reading – a question to answer. Reading for an assignment is an excellent reason. All other parts can be read later.

 

3                 Look at the summary at the end of the chapter before reading to give your brain a ‘schema’ on to which the information gleaned on the second reading will attach itself.

 

4                 Remember learning is about making new connections in the brain. The activity in 3 will pave the way.

 

5                 Look at the first sentence in each paragraph and highlight it. This is the topic sentence and, again, gives you a preview of what you are about to read in the paragraph.

 

6                 Use the margins to scribble notes. Do not be afraid to ‘mess up’ your handouts and textbooks. Not on library books of course!

 

 

 

Now back to Writing Magazine. The front cover tells me about the articles. The fast track to improve your writing definitely appeals as I am short of time on my nearly-completed novel. 10 projects to inspire you this month covers an introduction to NaNoWriMo and if you are a writer and don’t know what this is then google it and get involved. There is an article by Melvyn Bragg about completing your novel – a definite must for me at this point in time.

 

But what interests me most is an article on How to Fight Writers’ Bottom. Sitting for long periods is an occupational hazard. I intersperse my writing spurts with a quick walk to the shops or along the sea front. Strolling will not lift the pounds. One needs to put in some effort. The fresh air and some human interaction means that I return refreshed to attack whatever part of my WIP (Work in Progress) I am working on.

 

I have taken Writing Magazine for about eighteen months and it certainly makes my day when it lands on my doormat. It reminds me of why I get up in the morning, puts me in touch with ideas and success stories of other writers and provides numerous tips and valuable information.

 

Now I just need to find the time to read it!

 

 

 

In later posts I will deal with how parents can help their children with reading and writing about study skills that dyslexic students in Higher Education need to develop early on in their course.

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DEPRESSION AND DYSLEXIA in students

There is no doubt that a link exists between dyslexia and depression. I spent many years between 1996 and 2007 assessing young people in Further Education for dyslexia. The language they used when describing their difficulties and school experience mirrors the language used by those who are clinically depressed. Self-descriptions such as ’I thought I was thick’ or even, worse, ‘I was treated as though I was thick’ and, yes, some teachers used the word. Unbelievable though this may seem there are still some teachers who lack a clear understanding about the difficulties the dyslexic student faces.

Then there are references to how they apply themselves to their work. Reports abound with ‘must try harder’, ‘need to work harder’. The bright youngster who can answer questions orally and take part in classroom debate fails to impress teachers when he or she does not produce written work which matches their oral knowledge. They are then so easily deemed lazy. But as I have frequently told students and teachers, ‘if you find something difficult you are not to keen to repeat the experience.’ After all how many of us have tried a hobby or activity and given up because ‘it’s just not me’ or ‘it was too hard’ or even ‘I am not cut out for that.’ Well the dyslexic pupil is ‘not cut out for academic work. They find it so hard – the different brain connections of the dyslexic brain mean they have to work four times harder than their peers and tire easily. Yet, they have a thirst for learning and perseverance to match.

Students report acute embarrassment when asked to read aloud. At school, my dyslexic partner would drop pencils to the floor and disappear beneath the desk to retrieve them in the hope his turn to read would be missed. Asking a dyslexic pupil to read aloud can lead to later taunting by his peers and the subsequent bullying can send the child into deep depression with sometimes disastrous results. Parents of children who are struggling at school need to be aware of problems that may occur at school.

Dyslexic children worry more than other children. They worry constantly they will make mistakes and this causes extreme stress, another pre-cursor to depression. They find school or college stressful, declare they never understand fully what they should be doing, do not have time to write down the homework and are often in trouble as a result. Negative emotions and anxiety make the dyslexic difficulties worse. Spelling deteriorates further, reading slows down and written output dwindles to a trickle. A vicious cycle follows of stress, anxiety and inefficiency. Unfortunately the dyslexic usually tends to do things the hard way. Negative emotions include confusion, embarrassment, lack of confidence, frustration, and anger.

What the student or pupil needs are coping strategies which will ease the learning load and awareness of their strengths which can compensate for their weaknesses.To reduce stress, encourage your child or teenager to relax. Teach them yogic breathing and encourage counting on the in breath and the out breath. This counting pushes negative thoughts out of the mind. Exercise also reduces stress so encouraging teenagers to take up active outside activities will help. When I hear of a child or teenager denied play or break time because of a poor result in an essay or spelling test I can feel only sadness. The very activity which can help them learn in the following lesson is being denied them. The dyslexic needs more, not fewer breaks and more, not less, exercise.

A negative term dyslexics face is ‘failure’. Failing does not have to be negative as long as it is seen as a temporary blip on the path to success. Even non-dyslexics fail sometimes at some tasks. There is always another chance, a new school, a new subject, a new teacher, a new-found interest and even a new academic year with work which may not be so challenging in some areas.

 

Some well-adjusted students with dyslexia I have met as an assessor in Further and Higher Education are those whose parents arranged an assessment during their primary school years followed by either extra help at school or a specialist private tutor. These students have been aware early on in their education of their strengths and weaknesses and the true nature of their difficulties. Those who have gone undetected have no understanding of why they are struggling and live with constant nagging doubts as to their abilities. An assessment at sixteen can be an enlightening experience and change the student’s attitude to study and life in general, especially when an IQ test has shown that they are actually very bright. If a student appears depressed and is falling behind, it might be advisable to screen for dyslexia just to be sure. 

 When teaching a dyslexic student some aspects of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can be employed by re-framing some of the more negative language with alternatives thus reducing damaging self-talk.

 

For example the student who says

I am always making lots of mistakes’ can be encouraged to say instead

I do make more mistakes than other students but I can learn to check my work.’

 

Rather than say

I’m hopeless at spelling’ say

I am not that good at spelling but I am better than I was and keeping a personal spelling dictionary will help me improve.

 

Rather than

I can’t do exams’

say

‘I am learning revision and exam strategies which will help me in exams and I will learn to use my extra time for reading through my work and checking.’

 

Modifying language can bring about a change in self-perception and raise confidence. With sympathetic and constructive approaches by both tutors and parents, the dyslexic teenager can begin to produce work which reflects his true ability. There is no cure for dyslexia and students will need to use strategies throughout their education and working life. However, with understanding on the part of parents and teachers, the demons of depression can be kept well at bay.

 

Further Reading

Dyslexia: A Teenager’s Guide, Dr Sylvia Moody

 

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST – SHEER DOGGED DETERMINATION

I have learnt a bitter lesson in the last few days about how easy it is to lose contact with an agent who likes your work. Let’s face it, to find an agent who likes your writing is an achievement. To lose contact is disappointing. How could I be so careless? But a variety of reasons can bring about this situation from the agent disappearing on to maternity leave, retirement, moving to another agency or long term illness. When at a writers’ conference in June I heard the words ‘I’d love to see more’ my hopes lifted – well, actually I went WOW!  I thought perhaps now someone would look further into my book about two sisters growing up in the fifties – one deaf, the other, the narrator, hearing.

But, over the next few months, I became distracted by a brilliantly hot summer, a seaside home town with the nearby sea swimming, a constant stream of school holiday visitors and the lure of the beach, cliff walks, ice creams and coffees in local cafes with friends. Recovering from a serious illness I put quality of life ahead of tapping away on the laptop polishing the next few chapters. All this ensured I did not work as hard on producing ‘more’ at a required standard as perhaps I should. The interested agent was covering someone’s maternity leave but had she assured me she would be at the agency until October and would then talk to the returning agent when she had seen the ‘extra’. She had seen the synopsis, first two chapters and assured me, when I asked, that I was ‘doing it right’ and that she loved the voice of the child narrator which she found strong and engaging.

How time flies. When in late October I did eventually send the first third of the ms off I received a short reply from the other agent now back from maternity leave saying that she would read it when she had caught up on everything. Her later response did not echo the first agent in any way other than her use of the word ‘engaging’.  She cited a lack of narrative thrust, the problem that it fell between memoir and fiction and that it read more like memoir whereas I had sent it as a novel. In fact, I am not sure I had called it that. Imaginative memoir is more like it. Everything in the book has been experienced by myself or others related to deaf people and even by deaf people themselves. To add these dimensions gives the book more depth and covers more issues about the lack of deaf awareness in society and the rift between the oral education favoured in the 1950s and the schools that used signing as a medium of learning. This great divide has lessened in recent years while cochlea implants cause young literati some bemusement at the concept of profound deafness and the devastation caused to the person and their family.

So I was heartened to read Melissa Benn’s article Survival of the Fittest (SOF) in the current MsLexia, Issue 59 that she has, in the past, similarly lost her champion.  To quote her ‘the most significant difference between a writer and a would-be writer is simple bloody-minded persistence.’

Benn’s words have reaped results. I have, at the moment, three of her books borrowed from my local library. Her latest, What Should We Tell Our Daughters, is so popular that I shall not be able to renew it so must fire away with my reading specs. Not that it will be difficult to do. She writes fluently about topics close to my heart and her style is easy to read.

Benn reminds us of how long it can take to get published. She cites Kerry Young who struggled for a decade to get Pao published. Young described her novel as a gift for her father of a better life than the one he had. This resonates with me. My own novel Deaf not Daft is a gift to my long-since dead mother who was a founder member of the Deaf Children’s Society, a charity formed by a handful of parents in a meeting in Westminster in 1944. The parents present refused to accept that their deaf children could only aspire to manual, boring work. In fact it was difficult in the 1950s to get these young adults into rewarding and satisfying occupations. Telephones and face-to-face communication were essential in any career. These days, internet, twitter, facebook, blogging, websites and email have made a difference to opportunities. As well as the technology, attitudes and legislation ensure that many deaf school-leavers can work in the field of deaf education as support assistants and interpreters. However, there is still much ignorance about deafness and what deaf people can achieve. This is the essence of my book. As I believed I was emailing the agent who had, of all the submissions she received prior to the conference, selected mine and two others for further consideration, I did not attach the synopsis as she already had that. This may have been my biggest mistake. Without the synopsis the returning agent had no idea about the problems caused when an oral deaf girl falls in love with a signer, the rift that would arise between two families and why this would occur. Another writer mentoring would-be published writers at the same conference also read a chapter of the book and the synopsis and heralded it as a wonderful idea and very much suited to the YA market. My other work, a nearer the truth memoir of growing up in the fifties in a working class background without the benefit of private education, was also heralded by another publisher as ‘worthy of readership’. So, I tell myself, I must be doing something right.

I am not deterred, although my Facebook status did read ‘two declines in one day. I shall sulk for a while and  move on. Like falling off a horse I will get back on. Pity the keen agent had finished her maternity cover.’

Which is exactly what happened to Melissa Benn. She lost her champions on more than one occasion through retirement and maternity leave, agents moving jobs and other reasons. She describes the agent who inherited her two-book deal as a chicklit agent who was not interested in the slightest in her books and gave them scant attention or marketing opportunities.

So perhaps this is a good sign. I really didn’t want an agent who inherited what someone else liked and who would only give half her attention to my work. Now I think I would rather self-publish and market my own work.

I know that out there somewhere is someone who is interested enough in disability and particularly in deafness to see that this book shows both how devastating and isolating this sensory loss can be and how a family can be affected. In the 1950s people stared without any remorse at my sister. These days there is more awareness and politically correct behaviour where disability is concerned but there is still a stigma and much prejudice when it comes to getting deaf people accepted in the hearing world of work and in society as a whole. Neighbours agree to have a phone number of a relative but rarely pop their heads out of their own front door to pass the time of day and find out how their deaf neighbours are faring. Most are frightened they will not be understood or that they will not understand the deaf speech. People still refer to my sister as ‘deaf and dumb’ regardless of her oral education, the fact that she can speak and that she makes appropriate tonal expressions such as surprise, anger and sorrow. My mother would be furious.

The book is almost finished. The first three chapters will be winging their way to another agent and then another and then another until someone sees that this could be a popular read – one that reading groups will choose for discussion on the ‘Cinderella’ of disabilities, the little-known deaf experience and how to relate to deaf people. Hopefully they will then have some understanding of how different life is for someone brought up with a sibling with disabilities. Because there is one difference, above all. Those of us who are brought up with disabled siblings are more sensitive to those both with and without disabilities. We make good teachers, especially teachers of those with special needs. We are more caring and we listen – something many hearing people seem to have forgotten how to do. We don’t need to go to church to profess our faith. We do it each and every day when we interact with our siblings, their friends and relations. We interpret badly-worded official letters and can fire-fight the advertising material that these relatives receive and believe.

Hopefully, in time to come, people won’t look so surprised when I say ‘I faxed my sister.’ Amazingly, many I know cannot understand this.  Aren’t there special phones? Well yes, but I actually don’t need a minicom as I only deal with one deaf person and others are on the email these days.

Doesn’t she wear a hearing aid? They’re wonderful these days. Yes hmmmm but you don’t understand profound deafness. Here the nerves are completely dead and older people who have lived with such profound silence are not suited to a cochlear implant so

 …………….. don’t suggest that either!

 

You can follow Melissa Benn on @Melissa_Benn or visit her website www.melissabenn.com

You can also donate to the NDCS on their website.

 

 

 

STUDENT ORGANISATION CHART

Students are welcome to print the chart below, save to their computer and print as often as they need. Use them to list what you have to do to keep ahead of work at college or university. WIP stands for Work in Progress and ticking this column indicates you are moving towards completion. Tick the URG column if the task is urgent and complete the ticked items first. I would welcome comments on how helpful this resource is  for those struggling to keep up with the massive demands in further and higher education.

TO   DO   LIST

Date

To do

WIP*

URG*

DONE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EXTRA NOTES BELOW

 

  • PRIORITISE BY TICKING THIS COLUMN              * TICK WHEN FINISHED

STUDENT REMINDER LIST FOR COLLEGE OR UNI

SELF ORGANISATION

LIST OF THINGS TO TAKE TO COLLEGE OR UNI

1               memory stick containing all current and past work

2               Laptop (if relevant)

3               folder containing other  information related to my present task or lectures

4               printout of lecture notes (if these are given ahead of the lecture)

5               list of questions to ask tutor re current assignment)

6               something to eat and drink (between lectures or support sessions)

7               relevant text book for work being undertaken

8               printouts of e-journal papers related to the present piece of work

9               printout of current brief – although this can be accessed via the college/uni intra-net

10         diary with all other appointments

11         notebook for making short notes, to do lists and reminders

12         post-its – some small for use on handouts or for marking pages in textbook.

13         highlighter pens, coloured pens,

14         mobile/smart phone for using as a calendar/alert/notes and to record lectures or 1-1 advice from tutor

 

You should print this list and put it where you will see it before you leave the house.

Bi-polar and anti-depressants – a bad mix?

A couple of weeks ago in my blog on mental health and my challenging bi-polar I mentioned that I was not on anti-depressants any more. A friend emailed and expressed surprise ….. and …… admiration.

The truth is that I now know I should never have been taking anti-depressants in the first place and the fact that I have been on them almost continuously since 1992 is down to the medical profession.

I am not sure when I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar II. It was either 1989 or 1992, the dates of my two mid-life breakdowns. I spent two years on Lithium along with anti-depressants but the Lithium stunted my emotions so much that eventually I was taken off the drug with the phrase ‘ok you have been well for a time now.’  That was in 1994. I was left on the antidepressants – Lofepramine – but, after making a big decision to take early retirement in 1996, I broke down again. At one point during this episode, I was at home, newly discharged, with no-one around and a few glasses of wine sent me ‘high’. When I took myself back into the Mental Health unit I was taken off the anti-depressants until I ‘came down’. I was ignorant of the effects of the drug on bi-polar patients and, at that time, little information was given to patients.

For years I struggled with horrendous, puzzling mood swings despite being on anti-depressants. A casual remark from an acquaintance that anti-depressants make someone with bi-polar go manic sat in the recesses of my lack of understanding but never left my mind.

Once or twice I asked my GP if I could be weaned off the anti-depressants but was told that after a few episodes a recurrence is highly likely and therefore it was necessary to remain on the drugs. I was even allowed to ‘manage my illness’ taking an extra tablet if low but never told to cut them down when high. I did eventually work this out for myself but this inadequate medical advice meant that I lived a rollercoaster life and some rash decisions, made in manic states, almost ruined my life.

Earlier this year I suffered kidney failure following a severe infection and the build up of the drugs in my system caused a manic episode. I sang so loudly in hospital staff reckoned they could hear me in town. Along with a few other ‘high’ patients I laughed myself silly when a fellow patient, who would have been better suited to Live at the Apollo, described his raucous and fairly dangerous behaviour prior to admission. Even his description of his attempted suicide didn’t stem our giggles. That night we thought staff and relatives were all idiots and that we in-patients, sat in various strange states of dress and unkempt hair were actually the sane ones in a mad mad world.

I was familiar with the ‘queuing for drugs’ routine twice a day and noticed that the Lofepramine no longer appeared in my little pot. I always question my medication but over a period of 3-4 weeks never really found out why I had been taken off them.

I was still fairly upbeat in my first month at home and then a few upsetting events sent me plummeting. I asked the CPN and the registrar if I could be put back on the anti-depressants and then saw the top man in the community team. He said he was sure I had been taken off the Lofepramine because I was ‘manic’. He suggested I continue attending the support group and go on a refresher course on coping with bi-polar and my medication could then be reviewed.

Soon after returning to my support group, a local GP came to talk to us about the medical perspective and the Practice procedures for dealing with depression. (see later post). I asked him about this issue at the end of the evening and he explained how the anti-depressants can kick your mood higher when the bi-polar naturally takes you to a higher mood. He also explained that, when my kidneys failed, the drugs in my system would have built up and not been excreted which is why I went manic after the kidney failure.

This short conversation alleviated my concerns and put in plain words how physical illness can interact with bi-polar. Also, I now know why the anti-depressants were discontinued.

After 24 years! Why couldn’t this have been explained years ago?

And …… seven months on, I am still off the anti-depressants and, far from being low, I’m happy, sociable and motivated.

Finally, a warning. Of course, everyone is individual and it was the medics who discontinued the drug. If you have mental health problems you should never stop taking your medication unless under medical supervision.