Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
What Is Authentic Assessment and Project-Based Learning?
With schools starting up, teachers might be looking to use new measures of student learning that are engaging and meaningful. Accurate assessment methods are especially important for students with dyslexia: they typically do better with multi-step projects that involve ample communication, collaboration, and creativity and that aren’t writing-centric.
Such project-based student learning overlaps with authentic assessment, a term coined in the 1980s by the late educational researcher Grant Wiggins. Wiggins insisted that an authentic task should be worth redoing—not just for rote memorization or a better grade, but for a better understanding. Authentic assessments typically involve four key areas:
- Meaningful Feedback
- Diverse Learning Objectives
Project-based learning is increasingly common in K-12 schools for teachers as a way for “students [to] learn content and skills while working collaboratively, thinking critically and often revising their work” over multiple weeks, as this U.S. News & World Report article notes. This approach connects students to the tasks and challenges they might eventually see in Humanities, STEM, and other fields.
Authentic Assessment and Project-Based Learning at Siena
As Siena’s Director of Technology Simon Kanter notes, “We’re always assessing a variety of skills, not just content knowledge, in our classes.” While students write some content for their summative projects, writing isn’t the centerpiece of such work. This approach is especially effective for our students because it both allows them to showcase their skills in ways that make the most sense to them and plays to their many strengths.
Here are some examples of authentic assessments at Siena:
- When discussing energy in middle school science, Jennifer Chambers presents her students with a real-world challenge to design, build, and test a roller coaster that works using a minimal amount of fossil fuel energy. After weeks of testing and collaborating, students then pitch their project to an imaginary CEO.
- Kristian Whipple’s high school visual arts students take the school photos each year on Picture Day, fitting their class work and photographic talents directly into the real-world production of our yearbook photos and other visual content.
- Nick Franson’s high school engineering students recently made outdoor easels and organizer boxes for a local nature preschool as a way to apply their knowledge of woodworking and engineering techniques and to provide a usable product. Franson’s students have also made set pieces for Siena’s theater department performances as part of the engineering curriculum.
Last school year, Middle School Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Megan Noyes had students create an amusement park based on their study of ancient civilizations in her social studies classes. Noyes assessed students on their content knowledge and ability to connect each attraction to ancient history, their presentation, and their creativity. Students used their artistic skills, science and reasoning skills, and writing skills to put together engaging, multisensory presentations.
After completing the project, they presented their amusement park to the class as if they were in a commercial. Some of the attractions included a ride called Artemis’s Aim where riders would shoot a bow and arrow at targets, Bath House Bistro where people ate in a jacuzzi like they were in a Roman bath house, and a ride called Fertile Crescent Water fight where riders have a water gun fight with the water from the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Students also designed maps of their parks’ attractions. Students demonstrated their depth of knowledge about ancient civilizations throughout their presentations.
For Noyes, “This project was a great way for students to demonstrate the overall knowledge of ancient history that they learned over the year, apply it by using higher-order thinking to connect it to a real world theme, and get to have fun as well.”
Resources for Authentic Assessment and Project-Based Learning
Across all divisions, Siena teachers design their projects to enable students to do what they’ve always been doing in a class, while also showcasing their strong analytical and creative skills. Siena’s Simon Kanter sums it up: “Since we’re strongly student-centered, we enable the students to learn and be assessed in the ways that work best for them. We value assessments that are engaging to our students and more meaningful to everyone involved, as well as those that match our multisensory teaching methods.”
See here for some additional materials and resources for authentic assessment:
- Edutopia has several pieces on authentic assessments and project-based learning;
- Boston University’s Project-Based Learning: Teaching Guide and Ask a Tech Teacher’s 7 Authentic Assessment Tools have numerous ideas for teachers; and,
- Indiana University Bloomington has a helpful overview of authentic assessment in its teacher resources, including a grid distinguishing typical tasks, authentic tasks, and indicators of authenticity.
The Siena School blog has ample material about Siena’s teaching methods and learning objectives, including multisensory math in our classrooms and dyslexia advocacy and accommodations for our students.
“I wanted my children to see examples of real Mexican heroes, since I grew up thinking Mexicans could only wash dishes and work in the fields.” —Victor Villaseñor, on his book Rain of Gold
National Hispanic Heritage Month 2022
As part of National Hispanic Heritage Month this year, Siena is honoring Victor Villaseñor for his decades of successful work as a writer, speaker, and activist with dyslexia.
The National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM) chose Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation as the theme for National Hispanic Heritage Month 2022. Since 1988, National Hispanic Heritage Month has spanned September 15–October 15 each year. The September 15 start date coincides with the independence day anniversaries for several Latin American countries, including Chile, Honduras, Mexico, and Costa Rica.
A Latin Writer with Dyslexia
Born in Carlsbad, California, in 1940, Villaseñor has been a prolific author of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s works since publishing his first books, Macho! and Rain of Gold, in 1991.
Perhaps unusually, Villaseñor was an avid reader and writer well into adulthood before he realized he’s dyslexic.
Villaseñor was diagnosed with dyslexia in his mid-40s, when his sons were also being tested. As he remembers his conversation with the learning specialist who diagnosed his sons and him,
“Do you see rivers between the words?” she asked.
“All the time,” I said. “I look at a page and I have to take a big breath to stop the rivers from coming down the page between the words from the left up high to the right down low. And you mean other people don’t see these rivers moving on the page?”
She shook her head, “No, they don’t. Oh, I’ve never had someone so far off the charts. It’s incredible, it’s a miracle that you ever learned to speak or read. And to write, to become a professional writer, is beyond my comprehension. How did you do it?”
I couldn’t talk anymore. Finally somebody understood what I’d gone through to become a writer.
Since then, Villaseñor has published numerous other books, including the memoirs Burro Genius and Crazy Loco Love and Mexican folktales for children such as The Stranger and the Red Rooster and Goodnight, Papito Dios. (See here for his bibliography.)
In addition to his prolific writing and public speaking, Villaseñor has also done a lot of advocacy and community building through such efforts as Snow Goose Global Thanksgiving, an annual music festival with shared food that takes place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Villaseñor also runs workshops for teacher training, Indigenous history, and biographical/autobiographical writing.
What makes me a special kind of author and public speaker is that I didn’t learn how to read until the age of 20. And because of that, I didn’t get educated into Western civilization and so I was able to retain my grandmother’s Indigenous Native American Sacred Knowledge. —Victor Villaseñor
National Hispanic Heritage Month Resources
There are ample online resources to learn more about National Hispanic Heritage Month and upcoming events and exhibitions commemorating it:
- Learn more here about National Hispanic Heritage Month from the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The website includes resources for teachers and information about past and present exhibits of interest.
- See the United States Census Bureau’s overview of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
- Visit the National Archives website for a wealth of information about National Hispanic Heritage Month, including video resources, online exhibits, and digitized materials from Presidential Libraries.
- While the National Museum of the American Latino is still under construction, visit their website to learn more and watch a video message from Museum Director Jorge Zamanillo. In the meantime, the Molina Family Gallery at the National Museum of American History is open to the public and features multimedia storytelling and physical relics. Take a virtual tour here.
Resources from Siena’s Blog
Learn about Siena’s commitments and ongoing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. And, see Siena’s blog for related material from earlier this year, including spotlights on filmmaker Ann Hu from AAPI Heritage Month, poet Amanda Gorman from Black History Month, and Olympian and activist Meryl Davis from Women’s History Month.
“The beginning of all wisdom is to understand that you don't know. To know is the enemy of all learning. To be sure is the enemy of wisdom.” —Victor Villaseñor, Burro Genius
“The brains of some people are just wired differently. They just need a different system of teaching”—so says a character in Ann Hu’s independent film Confetti (2020), which tells the story of a mother and her daughter traveling from China to New York in search of a school that meets her learning needs.
To commemorate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Siena is spotlighting independent film Director Ann Hu. Her most recent film is the partly autobiographical Confetti, which combines issues surrounding dyslexia and immigration with the diverse identities and experiences related to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Confetti continues the cultural contributions Hu has made through her other films, Shadow Magic (2000) and Beauty Remains (2005). Her work has gotten awards and nominations at film festivals in China, Taiwan, and Japan.
Here’s a short synopsis of Hu’s three films:
- Confetti has a contemporary setting and tells the story of a mother taking her dyslexic daughter from a small town in China to New York in search of a school that meets her learning needs. Based partly on Hu’s own experiences with her daughter Michelle, Confetti shows Meimei in school doing multisensory learning and other methods used in LD classrooms, as well as uses visuals to represent how Meimei sees words and letters.
- Shadow Magic is set in Beijing, China, in 1902 and tells the story of a Chinese photographer and British innovator trying to introduce the modern technology of film into a traditional Chinese society.
- Beauty Remains is set in Qingdao, China, in 1948 and follows the lives of two sisters as they deal with their late father’s will and legacy, as well as a common love interest that complicates their relationship.
As a 2021 article on the underdiagnosis of learning differences in Asian American community quotes Hu, “Seeing how Michelle struggled in the classroom and struggled to finish her homework after school between 3:00pm and 11:00pm every day was truly a heartbreaking experience for me. Often Michelle would pretend that she understood the question just to help me feel less stressed.”
Learn More About Ann Hu
- See Confetti’s official website and rundown of its cast and crew, as well as its official YouTube channel for related content and interviews.
- Read this profile in Deadline (from 2017) to learn more about Hu’s background, reception of her earlier films, and cultural and creative differences between China and the U.S.
- Listen to Hu on The Filmmakers Podcast discussing Confetti and her overall approach to independent filmmaking.
- Read Hu’s Interview with Medium, “5 Things Parents Can Do To Help Their Children Thrive and Excel In School.”
- See this review of Confetti and interview with Hu in Forbes.
Resources for AAPI Month
The theme for AAPI Heritage Month 2022 is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” Learn more about AAPI Heritage Month and why it’s in May here.
Hu gave an interview with Women in Hollywood in August 2021 about Confetti’s autobiographical roots, noting “In trying to figure out what to do, I ended up walking a long and hard journey to get to where I am today. In the process, my viewpoint changed, and I became a different person.”
Learn about Siena’s commitments and ongoing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. And, see Siena’s blog for related material, including a spotlight on poet Amanda Gorman from Black History Month and Olympian and activist Meryl Davis from Women’s History Month.
“I learned how I learned and how my brain worked. It helped me adjust and compensate for my differences…. It opened me up to problem solving, seeing things differently, and how I can help myself overcome things.” —Olympian Meryl Davis on her dyslexia
Even before she won Olympic gold in 2014, Meryl Davis knew the importance of advocating for herself and others. A competitive skater and ice dancer since age 5, Davis has used both her public presence and her community dedication to help young people achieve their goals.
As part of Women's History Month this year, Siena is honoring Davis for her successes in inspiring women and girls both on and off the ice, in part through her perseverance in adjusting to her own learning differences.
Davis’s dyslexia diagnosis came in 3rd grade. At first, she felt less-than and inadequate, and she eventually figured out how to learn in her own way, finishing high school as a member of the National Honor Society. She attended the University of Michigan, majoring in Cultural Anthropology (Class of 2020) while also training full-time on the ice rink.
Davis also lacks depth perception and has trouble seeing out of her right eye, which was another adjustment she made successfully. As she did in the classroom, Davis developed accommodations for her vision issues on the ice, such as by memorizing markings on the ice to situate herself when skating and trusting her partner to stay safe and avoid collisions with other skaters.
A profile from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity quotes Davis on her professional path: “With skating I could feel it more than see it.” Moreover, “I fell in love with it because it made sense to me, partly because I see things differently. I learned to enjoy it, worry free, in terms of moving with the music. It’s been a really beautiful part of my life.”
At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Davis and her partner Charlie White became the first American team to win the gold medal in ice dancing. Davis and White had won medals in other competitions since 2006, and their Olympic victory capped their great run as skating partners. In 2020, they were named to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Learn more here about Davis’s accomplishments on the ice.
Since winning Olympic gold, Davis has been dedicated to supporting young people and advocating for access to figure skating, education, and social–emotional wellness—particularly in underserved communities. Among her post-Olympics accomplishments are:
- In 2015, she wrote for Team USA about the importance of sports and community advocacy. “[S]port is about the kind of success that brings you one step closer to being the best version of yourself,” she wrote in helping define “success” more broadly than international competitions, medals, or other accolades.
- She’s worked with Classroom Champions, an organization that partners with elite athletes to help children’s academic and social–emotional wellness.
- A Michigan native, Davis is a founding co-chair of the organization Figure Skating in Detroit as well as an ambassador for the Women's Sport Foundation. Figure Skating in Detroit combines figure skating, tutoring, STEM coursework, and leadership training to give Detroit-area girls access to a supportive, mentoring community. “Figure skating is an expensive sport,” notes Davis, who’s part of the program’s leadership committee and a member of its champions committee. “It hasn't been a particularly diverse sport historically, so we focus on giving access to girls of color in the city of Detroit.” (Learn more here about Figure Skating in Detroit.)
- In April 2021, Davis added children’s book author to her professional accomplishments, publishing the picture book Moon Walk: Forever by Your Side, about a parent and a child bonding.
“Patience with oneself is the key to learning how to be your best self in any case. Just because things come differently to you doesn’t make you any less. You have to rely on the people who are there for you.” —Olympian Meryl Davis on using available supports
See Siena’s blog for related material on successful women, including a spotlight on astrophysicist Maggie Aderin-Pocock from Women’s History Month 2021 and one on poet and activist Amanda Gorman from Black History Month 2022.
“I like fidgets because I can use them under the desk. I also like them because they give me a bit more focus and I won't be moving around too much.”
—Siena Middle School Student
“It’s always nice to have it nearby. It makes me feel better. It’s comforting.”
—Siena Middle School Student
Pop Its...squeeze balls...infinity cubes: these have come to be known commonly as fidgets, but a generation or so ago, they might’ve been seen as toys for a student to hide or a teacher to confiscate.
Although they can be counterproductive when misused, fidgets can also be highly effective tools for students with ADHD, anxiety, and other difficulties that affect their performance in class.
There’s ample research to support the benefits of fidgets for children and adults, particularly students with ADHD or sensory processing needs. Sydney Zentall, a professor of Educational Studies at Purdue, has written about the importance of multisensory activities accompanying a primary task (such as listening to music while writing a paper). This recent piece in ADDitude draws on Zentall’s work: “Intentional fidgets allow you and your child to self-regulate ADHD symptoms in a controlled, constructive fashion.” (See below for additional reading and resources.)
Siena Middle School Humanities Teacher Meredith Shinners follows this principle of controlled and constructive fidget use in her classes: “I love when students can appropriately use them to calm their bodies and give them some movement in their hands. Students are most successful with a fidget if it is a simple motion back and forth.” Both Shinners and Reading Teacher Leslie Holst strongly prefer fidgets that can be inconspicuous and used under students’ desks—that is, out of sight and out of hearing.
Holst adds an important caveat: “Fidgets are positive and constructive classroom tools only when respecting everyone else’s ability to learn.” So, how can fidgets be both beneficial to students themselves and not detrimental to those around them?
Why Students Use Fidgets
“I like the fidgets because they help keep me occupied and not space out.”
—Siena Middle School Student
When used appropriately as tools of grounding and self-regulation, fidgets such as these can be beneficial:
- Squeeze ball (e.g., an Isoflex grip ball)
- Therapy putty
- Infinity cube
- Fidget cube
- Pop It
- Baby Porcupine Ball
- Fidget jewelry (e.g., rings that double as manipulatives, or beaded bracelets from Old Soul)
- Elastic desk straps like Bouncy Bands
- Fidget stools (see these from Hokki and Kore)
For this elementary student, fidgets make her “de-stressed and calm” in physically redirecting any inner anxiety:
Inspired Treehouse reminds us that “Fidgets provide us with subtle movement and touch input that can help calm our bodies and keep our minds attentive, alert, and focused. Movement [is] a powerful component of focus and problem solving and fidgets provide an outlet for small movements of the hands while we work.”
There are clear benefits of movement for ADHD support in the classroom, including heightened alertness and better information processing. A wobble stool, for example, lets students move some parts of their bodies in a controlled, non-disruptive way (instead of pacing around the room or having to take frequent walks in the halls). Regular movement and multisensory learning are integral to Siena’s approach to teaching, so fidgets in the classroom are often another way to maximize learning and performance.
For students with anxiety, there’s comfort in knowing that their fidgets are there, even if they don’t need to use them for focus when working. One middle schooler made her own squeeze ball (a balloon filled with beads) and finds it “nice to use” for calming and focusing during class. Different textures and colors can additionally help anxious students ground themselves.
Teacher Advice for Fidgets in the Classroom
“For the most part, they use them appropriately to help them focus. We try to limit it to 1 fidget per student so that things don’t get lost in the mix.”
—Shannon Robichaud, Siena Elementary Teacher
Siena teachers understand the benefits and risks of fidget use—such as when it becomes the primary focus instead of the teacher and their lesson. The more that students understand that an infinity cube or fidget stool is a tool to improve focus and assuage anxiety, the more their fidgets won’t become toys to distract them or their classmates from learning. Instead, the tool helps them channel extra energy in productive, classroom-appropriate ways.
When fidgets are used constructively and respectfully in a classroom, they can improve students’ focus, performance, and self-regulation. Shinners suggests that teachers implement clear policies for fidget use and misuse: “Fidgets can’t be a visual or auditory distraction to anyone, so students can use silent fidgets under the desk. We talk a lot about how fidgets become toys if you’re looking at and playing with them, so they get put away.”
There’s an important learning trajectory that Siena students follow from elementary school through middle and high school with regard to fidgets. An elementary or younger middle school student might not realize that while their fidget cube calms them, it can irritate their classmates due to the clicking noise. In both learning how to learn and how to respect others’ learning while at Siena, students gradually develop the higher-level thinking to be aware of how their actions and body movements affect others.
“Students are still learning the socially acceptable ways to maintain their attention or manage their anxiety in the classroom,” Holst notes. “8th graders and high schoolers are generally better at using fidgets to maintain their attention or calm their anxiety. They understand the connection between the object and how it makes them feel.”
Resources for Fidgets in the Classroom
Fidgets are Tools, Not Toys (2019)
“I have a planner that I use. I still use my Siena color-coding skills. That has really been pushing me through all of my years—both at Siena and at college.” —Siena Alumnus
How do Siena students learn the skills necessary for them to succeed both at Siena and in college?
Through accommodations, through adaptation, and through self-advocacy each and every day.
Since October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the strategies that Siena regularly adopts to support our students’ different learning styles. At both our Silver Spring and Northern Virginia campuses, students have ample opportunities to self-advocate and seek the accommodations that best meet their individual needs.
Advocates and Advocacy at Siena
Advocacy and adaptation on students’ behalf is central to what Siena does every day:
- Students self-advocate by understanding their personal learning methods and needs, as well as by working with their teachers to succeed and, if necessary, make adjustments.
- Teachers advocate by having an open line of communication with students and parents and sharing what they’re noticing at school (both academically and socially–emotionally).
- Parents advocate by both promoting student self-advocacy at home and staying in contact with teachers about their students’ progress and needs.
From the beginning, Siena students are introduced to their accommodations and the reasons we use them. The students also trial different classroom supports and learn what works best, among them:
- flexible seating options (e.g., a standing desk)
- color strips
- fidgets (to help them focus)
- different pencil grips
- color-coding (good for particularly visual learners)
Siena students learn how to be active advocates, from requesting feedback on written assignments early in the process or seeking extra guidance to having a teacher act as a scribe to help them get their thoughts on paper.
The elementary team uses sentence starters to guide students if they need extra help or clarification during class. These are posted in the classroom as a visual reminder of how students can best ask for what they need.
As students move through Siena’s academic grade divisions, they gradually become more independent in handling their assignments, deadlines, and overall learning conditions.
The advocacy lessons don’t stop when students graduate. A Siena alumnus who’s now a senior in college has learned the importance of talking with his professors and other support staff about accommodations because of how he was taught and practiced using them while attending Siena: “Get out there, talk to your professors, and be yourself,” he shared. “That’s how you can succeed.”
Resources Used in Siena Classes
In tandem with regular student-centered advocacy, Siena encourages students to use appropriate methods and resources to enhance their learning. For example, the Siena Planner helps students with organizing and executive functioning. It has both immediate and long-term benefits: it helps students learn how to regulate their homework and study schedules, as well as provides a tool to bring with them when they graduate.
“I still use a planner [in college]. It’s not exactly like Siena’s but it has everything in it. My planner is my life. Color-coding is huge.” —Siena Alumnus
In addition to print and physical accommodations, assistive technology is integrated into students’ daily lives, through such tools and resources as:
- Individual, school-issued Chromebooks (including a suite of Chrome extensions like Mercury Reader, Speech to Text, and Read & Write)
- Learning Ally
There are also class-specific resources for math, reading, and other subjects. (See how our math team has adapted the curriculum to help students with dyscalculia.)
Additional Resources for Students and Families
Siena sets students up for success both in their time here and in their lives after by equipping them with useful tools and a willingness to self-advocate. In the process, students learn the skills they need outside the content-area knowledge they get in class:
Such a student-centered approach to learning helps Siena students maximize their potential for success—both as students and as alumni.
Visit our website to learn more about Siena’s individualized instruction and emphasis on self-advocacy and executive functioning. And, see our previous blog post for links to resources in the DC Metro area, including WISER and Decoding Dyslexia Maryland.
And then the tears began.
Unfortunately for this parent, this was not an unexpected response to a question about her child’s school day. She had been advocating for accommodations for her child’s struggles, but each year, the concerns were dismissed, and each year, the gap in reading ability became wider. The teachers were kind, well-meaning, and dedicated; unfortunately, they were also misinformed:
Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and it’s not about effort, intellect, or gender. Neuroscience teaches us otherwise.
Our expanding understanding of dyslexia, a specific learning disability, and its neurobiological origins is helping to develop appropriate interventions. With science informing practice, our ability to respond to reading difficulties is advancing, and evidence-based interventions can now be implemented. Learn more from leading dyslexia expert, Dr. Guinevere Eden, by viewing Understood.org’s video Dyslexia and the Brain and reading the International Dyslexia Association’s article Compensatory Skills and Dyslexia: What Does the Science Say?
According to recent surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center, almost 90% of teens feel under pressure to achieve good grades. With the detrimental effect of stress on learning, the best educational practice is to reduce stress by removing barriers so that every child may engage in their education. If a child without a learning disability is stressed, imagine how a child with dyslexia feels as they struggle to keep up with literacy requirements.
As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, the majority of children (approximately a third) served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are diagnosed with a specific learning disability, defined as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language, spoken or written ...” Furthermore, according to the International Dyslexia Association, possibly 15-20% of the population exhibit some symptoms of dyslexia.
So what does this mean? It means that there is probably a student with dyslexia, diagnosed or not, in every classroom. As such, let’s ensure that opportunities for equitable learning are available for every child. Let’s not wait for mandated support but make it the norm to provide access to tools and strategies commonly considered accommodations.
Technology provides opportunities to seamlessly integrate tools such as speech-to-text into everyday life. Pause a moment and think about how many times a day you say “Hey Google,” “Hey Siri,” or “Alexa.” Is this an accommodation or just the new norm?
Recently downloaded an audiobook? Take time to brainstorm and plan your ideas? Are these accommodations or just the new norm?
As adults, we use ‘accommodations’ throughout our daily lives, so shouldn’t we be providing the same opportunities for our children?
Let’s explore some options further:
Speech-to-text (dictation) provides students with an opportunity to write without being concerned about spelling. By speaking into a device, children may use more sophisticated vocabulary and progress faster because the mechanics of writing do not hamper them. The good news? Speech-to-text is built in and available for free through a variety of devices, such as laptops, iPads, and cell phones.
Audiobooks and text-to-speech provide opportunities to access high-level, complex text without being disadvantaged by one’s independent reading level. Ear reading allows a child’s intellect and curiosity to drive book choice, not reading ability. Schools and families of children with documented print disabilities may subscribe to Learning Ally and have access to over 80,000 human-read audiobooks, with many also synched to text. Other fee-based options include Audible, Google Play Books, and Apple Books. However, access is also available at no cost through apps like Libby that provide free access through the library to audiobooks and ebooks. Furthermore, Bookshare offers free ebook access for U.S. students with qualifying reading disabilities.
Mind maps and other graphic organizers help students organize their ideas through visual tools. Another way to remove barriers to learning, graphic organizers are beneficial to all students as a system for approaching multi-step tasks and can support reading comprehension, writing, and study skills across all subject areas. Free templates are readily available online.
The adage that equity and equality are not the same continues to hold. For those with dyslexia, embedded accommodations that are available to all learners can remove the stigma associated with reading difficulties. Imagine a classroom where every child’s educational experience is optimized, a learning environment that provides a range of tools not only to assist the learning of those with documented learning differences but to help all students. Let’s remove barriers to learning and replace the word accommodation with options or choice.
Isn’t it the new norm anyway?
October is Dyslexia Awareness month! 1 in 5 students have a learning difference like dyslexia, and there are several organizations who are serving and helping this growing population. Read below to find some resources specific to the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia region.
Decoding Dyslexia, Maryland, is a grassroots movement driven by Maryland families who are concerned with limited access to educational interventions for dyslexia and other language-based learning disabilities in Maryland public schools. Their mission is to raise dyslexia awareness, to empower others to support struggling readers with dyslexia, and to inform policy-makers on best practices to identify, educate, and support students. There are chapters all across the US; you can find your local chapter here. The Montgomery County Chapter of Decoding Dyslexia meets at The Siena School every month! They provide numerous resources for parents and teachers on their website.
Microsoft is hosting free trainings at their store for local stores for students with dyslexia. Their software helps students read and write. Access articles on their training, learning tools and One Note.
The DC Capital Area Branch of the International Dyslexia Association (DCIDA) serves dyslexic individuals, their families, the local community of educators and interventionists, and education policymakers.
WISER (Washington Independent Services for Educational Resources) is another area resource for students with learning differences. Their goals are to improve educational services and promote child advocacy by providing comprehensive resources to children and parents in the DMV area. They are the foremost referral resource for parents and professionals. Some services they provide include testing, tutoring, speech therapy, language therapy, and occupational therapy. They maintain member blogs, speaking events, and publications, which you may access through their website.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Montgomery County (LDAMC)’s mission is to promote awareness and provide support to maximize the quality of life for individuals and families affected by learning and other disabilities. provides resources for students who have learning disabilities. Access a list of their resources here.
The Exceptional Schools Fair showcases schools and programs that ensure every child receives an exceptional education. With offerings that range from private day schools to therapeutic services, they aim to equip families and educators with the supports and interventions students need to succeed. This FREE public event is on Sunday, November 17, 2019 from 11am-2pm at the Katzen Arts Center at American University. Visit their website to see the list of schools in attendance. The Siena School, who prepares bright, college-bound students with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia, to become confident, curious learners who understand their personal strengths and gain the tools and strategies to excel, will be attending the Exceptional Schools Fair, so make sure to stop by the table and say hello!