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00:11 Tiffany Hogan: Welcome to See Hear Speak Podcast Episode 27. In this Episode I talk with Ben Powers about all thing’s dyslexia. Thank you for listening! And don’t forget to check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com to sign up for email alerts for new episodes and content, read a transcript of this podcast, access articles and resources that we discussed, and find more information about our guests. And please don’t forget, if you enjoy this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe and leave a positive rating in apple podcast or wherever you are listening.
00:48 TH: Welcome to See Hear Speak podcast, today I have Ben Powers, and I will have him start by introducing himself.
00:55 Ben Powers: Great. Well Tiffany, thank you for having me today, very excited to speak to your listeners. My name is Ben Powers, and I am a headmaster at the Southport School in Southport, Connecticut. And we are a school for children with dyslexia and ADHD in grades K-8, and I'm also an affiliated research scientist at the Haskins Laboratories in New Haven. Haskins is a joint effort between Yale and UConn, and it's really the epicenter of cross-disciplinary work in areas of speech and language. I also have the privilege of working with Mr. Will Baker at the Dyslexia Foundation. I'm the chair of scientific symposia at the Dyslexia Foundation, where every other year we pull together 20 to 25 of the leading researchers in different areas of dyslexia research, from cognitive science, neuroscience, genetics and education research to really think about what kinds of questions and what should we be thinking about for research agenda for dyslexia. So, I have a huge opportunity to have a foot both in the classroom and working with kids directly, and then also in the area of research.
02:05 TH: That's fantastic. And a huge passion of mine is working with children with dyslexia and helping speech language pathologists know more about what dyslexia is. And as I was reflecting that, I was a bit surprised that I hadn't had a podcast devoted solely to dyslexia, so I'm very excited that you're here, that we can talk about what dyslexia looks like, what are these children like, and what should we be thinking about in the schools? So, you work with children all the time with dyslexia, can you tell us a little bit about what it is to have a school for children with dyslexia? What is the context of how were those schools developed and why? And are you part of a network of schools? How does this work?
02:43 BP: Absolutely. So being at a school for children with dyslexia and ADHD is possibly the best job you can have. And the reason I say that is, for the vast majority of our students, most of them had a negative experience before coming to us. And you really see that rear its head in terms of how they feel about themselves, their self-esteem, their academic self-confidence, the way they might interact with their classmates in spite of being able to do all those things really well, to be able to socialize and engage, the barrier of feeling less than because they haven't been able to access print at the level their classmates have been able to, really takes a toll. And I think because dyslexia is really what we would think of as a hidden disability, it's hard for people to really wrap their hands around that. So, by the time our kids get to us, they've been pretty impacted. And so to see kids get out of the car in the morning and be happy, to be joyful to go to school, is really incredible. And the history of these schools is that if you look back historically, most of the schools really focused on language remediation, language intervention, and that was the core thing that students were doing during the day, other academic areas, social studies, science, math, they were really secondary or maybe even tertiary.
04:10 BP: And so what's happened is, these schools have become more robust, they're offering a lot more programming, and it's really aligned well with the growth in people understanding and recognizing dyslexia. And so now these schools, like the Southport School, and there are network of them, there are some incredible schools around the country and we do a lot of work together, we meet together, we talk about what our pressing issues with our students and our families and what's on the horizon, but they're really incredible places for children to come who have been more or less disenfranchised in their sending school environment where we can really spend a lot of time on deep language instruction. In fact, at our school, we spend 164 minutes a day on language, each of our students receives two daily tutorials that are based in Orton-Gillingham, we use the Orton-Gillingham approach, and then we do a shared book literature experience for all of our children starting even in kindergarten. And then we also do a separate writing class for our students, so they're getting a tremendous amount of language work.
05:20 BP: But it's coupled with some really great strong academics, so that once they are back to where they need to be and they can walk out of our school with their heads held high and their foundational skills strong, they can go back into a more mainstream environment and be incredibly successful.
05:38 TH: Most of the time do these children... It sounds like they have the failure in school, and then they go to your school, either through parents paying for them to be there or sometimes the school pays for them to be there, is that the case too? How do children get there, and how often do they stay usually, how long?
05:56 BP: I think each of the schools in our category of schools, Schools for dyslexia are different. Some of the schools position themselves as schools where the student would come in and spend the whole time there, just like a typical school environment which is great, it has a lot of advantages. The challenge is that our schools tend to be smaller, and once our students leave us, we know that they are going to enter mainstream environments that are gonna be more challenging for them. So the way we approach it at the Southport School is to say our students come in and we spend as much time as we need with them to get them to a place where they've reached their foundational skills, they've reached a level where they've maximized their potential related to those foundational skills, but also where they have a strong sense of self, both for advocacy and for self-esteem. And so far, the average student comes in for about three years, but as you know with dyslexia and ADHD, there are no averages, so some students come in, they need more time than that, some students need a little less time than that. And what we find is that our students go after really terrific public and independent schools that are mainstream. Some of our students who come later. Students who come in sixth or seventh grade, they probably need to continue into an LD high school program. But once they leave our schools, they just go off and do amazing things.
07:15 TH: Wow, I definitely wanna hear some more stories of some of your alumni going off and doing amazing things. So, I know we've talked about that before, but I'll tell the listeners just some basic facts about dyslexia as we're speaking here. So, dyslexia is a brain difference that a child is born with. And as a speech-language pathologist, I often look at the way that that brain difference manifests in early speech and language development. And on average, children with dyslexia do have some early speech and language development difficulties, but some don't. And so, then they go off to school and it almost becomes like this cataloging, the I like how John Gabrieli said that some of the first formative, really the first formative experience you have in education is learning how to read. It's really the crux of the kindergarten and first grade curriculum in the US. And so then children are basically confronted with their biggest weakness, and then they're kind of categorized according to it. So, it's like they see, maybe they've not experienced that before. They're chugging along, even if they've had some speech and language issues, they've had some therapy, it's all been good and they're feeling pretty good about it. And then they go and all of a sudden, they're looking around, they're like, "Everyone's learning how to read words and I can't do it. What's going on?"
07:56 TH: And I think about it in terms of like, I'm a horrible artist. I like art, I actually love it, but what if I went to school, and my listeners can think how good you might be at drawing. Are you drawing stick figures or not? And I'm in the stick figure category. If I had to initially go to school, and all of a the sudden, I'm being forced to compare how well I draw to other peers, that would definitely affect my self-esteem. I would think, "Wow, I can't draw very well. So therefore, I must not be a good learner in general." And so, then I can imagine how that's affecting the self-esteem, and I see that all the time with the children I see. I'm sure it's a big part of what you see when children come into your school how their self-esteem has been impacted.
09:09 BP: Absolutely, and I love that analogy about art. I think about Mark Seidenberg's book and in thinking about the development of writing systems. And the reality is all of these are forms of communication. And we all have relative areas of strength in certain forms of communication and we all have relative areas of weakness. And if we lived in a time, a pre-writing system time, you and I, because I'm an awful artist as well, though I love art, I'm an awful artist, we would be at a significant disadvantage. And so I think one of the challenges is that we've shifted our communication, the medium we use. And so now we're in this place, which is a relatively recent phenomenon where now we have kids having to do this as, that's the way they're... That the parameters of communication. And when they don't get the right type of literacy instruction early on, those formative years you talked about and we know from the research, huge differences even between intervention and first grade and second grade or kindergarten and first grade. When we don't give them the right type of literacy instruction early on, it causes what you just talked about this looking around the classroom saying like, "What is wrong with me? Why am I not getting it?"
10:22 BP: And the response to that is to pull a child out of the classroom and put them in the resource room. And I gave a commencement address at Mitchell College last year, and one of the things I said in the address was, "For those of you who haven't been in a resource room, let me paint a picture for you. It's a small windowless chamber that's usually cinder block where kids go to spend time doing the things that they're the worst at." And so, the analogy I use too with parents is, "Imagine that you were a really great shortstop in baseball, but you were an awful pitcher. And so they say, well, fine, you get the shortstop stuff, we're gonna spend the rest of the season teaching you to be a pitcher."
11:03 BP: Yes, it's important to know how to throw the ball, it's important to develop those skills, but by removing the focus on other areas where a child might have strengths and reducing the opportunity for them to develop those skills, what we end up doing is putting... We end up taking these children who are struggling and making their reading ability, which is their lowest common denominator, and we tend to, in schools, extrapolate that across the board and say, "Okay, so this child's struggling in reading, so let's lower the expectations, let's lower the instructional aspects of other areas to match that reading ability." And of course, we know, and we look at the distribution of children with dyslexia, there are a significant number of strong, smart children with dyslexia. And so we actually disenfranchise them pretty significantly from a robust academic experience.
12:00 TH: Even just the way we capture intelligence, so there's two tests, main tests, the verbal intelligence and the non-verbal intelligence. So, when I talk to parents and they'll show me, I always look at the non-verbal intelligence, because a child with dyslexia is already at a major disadvantage trying to capture intelligence on the verbal intelligence. And then what happens is those two scores are average. So, then you see that you're basically evaluating, again back to this idea like you're evaluating their ability to play baseball, how well they pitch only, not their ability to be a shortstop or you're evaluating a child's intelligence on how well they can draw a picture. And it really is such an underestimate of their intelligence and their capacity to learn and to do what they are good at.
12:48 BP: It's such a great point. And we read a lot of neuro-psychs, because we do... When we're looking at students and whether we're gonna be able to help them, we look at a lot of data. And one of the common remarks in the testing when the narrative reports of the testing from the testers really references this point, the discrepancy between those two scores. And of course, I'm not talking about the discrepancy model for dyslexia, but what is often commented on is that this picture of the child's intelligence is probably not a true accurate reflection of their real capacity. And when you see students come in with fairly high IQ scores and you see that this comment that it's actually probably not even representative of their real potential. You start to say, "Okay, so how much potential are we losing in children who just need really good science-based literacy instruction?"
13:47 TH: Absolutely. I've been very interested in this idea of a discrepancy model, because I see this all the time in the schools. There's this flawed perception that the intelligence scores are really where the child should be in terms of their reading. So, you were telling a story about a child you had worked with. And looking at their intelligence scores and what they had gone through, can you tell a little bit about that?
14:10 BP: Yeah, so this is an interesting story. I met a woman with a daughter who was in middle school, and the mom had known since her daughter was young, that she thought she had dyslexia. Her daughter, smart, creative, energetic, really enjoys learning. This is a young lady who... She wanted to read Les Misérables because she is obsessed with... I actually went with her to see the Broadway play. And so wants to do this, wants to access this information, but really, from an early age was struggling in school. Mom did some research and thought, "Boy, maybe it's dyslexia." So, she went in to the school and during the PPT meetings raised this concern, and the school really just thought, their response was, "We don't think it's dyslexia, she's just behind. She's just a little bit behind her classmates and she'll catch up."
15:13 BP: Mom kept advocating, they did testing and she had a strong... It showed a strong profile with her IQ, close to the top of the average range. And so they provided some services, still push back on the dyslexia piece. And then her mom moved, they moved and they moved into a new district, and same thing, they went in through this process, and the school decided they wanted to retest this young lady again, and they gave her a full neuropsych eval. And what was really sad was that when the neuropsych eval came back, the scores they had determined were just below the average range. We look at standard scores of 90 to 110, this young lady was just at that point of close to 110 the first time they tested her, and she was below 90 the second time they tested her. And the district's response, this was, "Well, your daughter is struggling in reading because cognitively, she's not as strong as some of the other students, and this is why she's behind."
16:21 BP: And, as a single parent who doesn't have a deep understanding of dyslexia or intelligence testing, and as much as she believed in her daughter, it really started to weaken her own perception of her daughter, because then she started to question, "Well, maybe I'm wrong. I'm biased. I'm her mom." So, when I met this woman and her daughter, we just had to help them. And through the course of meeting with the school and getting her some support, she ended up getting one-to-one tutoring every single day, and you could see the difference within a couple of months, just the way she carried herself, the way that she was willing to advocate for herself. And now when she has a challenge with a teacher, she's not argumentative, she's a partner with them, and she's much more capable of expressing that she needs help and support, not because she needs to be enabled, not because she's not capable of doing it, but sometimes she just needs a different modality to get to where she needs to go, and where she has the clear potential to go.
17:27 TH: Yes. And it's tough to ask children to advocate in that way, but when they do advocate, they really have to do it. It's so empowering for them because then they learn those skills to say, "This is just one aspect of who I am, and it's not the whole picture of who I am." Right?
17:43 BP: That's right. That's exactly right.
17:45 TH: One of my son's classmates, actually in fifth grade, did a whole presentation about what it's like to have dyslexia. Showed his brain scan and how different his brain was, and it was so empowering talking to his mother about it because she said he had felt so ashamed for so long having to go, like you said, to leave class, go to these special sessions, for special education, feeling like he just wasn't up to stuff with his peers, but then when he was able to talk about this, cause children are so understanding and they're so inquisitive and caring.
18:16 BP: Yeah, and so perceptive, right? They know so much more than we think they do, yeah.
18:20 TH: Yes. They were like, "Oh wow, that's amazing." And my son get home and said, "Oh, he has something called dyslexia, and his brain is different, he sees the world in a different way." And it was so amazing and to think that he has that skill. But I also want a world where that doesn't have to come from these children. I want a world in which it's just known by educators, and of course we're in a great period now, I think. I feel some optimism from some of the dyslexia laws and the work that we've done. What do you think about some of those laws that are having? What are you seeing in the schools, do you think there's improvement in identifying dyslexia and what do you think is gonna happen?
18:57 BP: We see a huge change, a huge change in terms of awareness. And one of the most powerful things that's happened in our field... Actually, the two most powerful things that have happened in our field over the last 20 years, one is all the incredible imaging work that's happening, places like MGH and the work you're doing in the SAiL lab, and then places like Haskins and a lot of the research spaces that are doing some incredible imaging work that actually now give us that ability not just to understand how we can be better educators and better interventionists for kids with dyslexia and reading disabilities, but also that we can now literally show people that there's a brain basis in this.
19:41 BP: And just wanna give a quick shout out to Dr. Albert Galaburda who was one of the huge pioneers in this under Norm Geschwind and the work that was done right here in Boston to really help develop that brain basis of dyslexia. So now it's so powerful to be able to sit down with somebody and say, "Look, we can literally see it." The leverage though, are all these parents. And not to stereotype, but it's a lot of moms, so a huge shout out to the moms, too, because what they've done is really engage legislative bodies and whoever they can get the ear of to really help them understand that the change that needs to happen in schools is going to have a huge difference in the way that the children are able to think about themselves, so it's really exciting.
20:31 BP: At the same time, we have a huge amount... I think we both would agree to this, that's there's a huge amount of work that we still need to do, and specifically around making sure that we're doing a better job with teacher training because we have a really backward system now where all of this advocacy work is great, but it's not really happening until after teachers are out of school and they post pre-service work. And so there's a lot of heavy lifting. And teachers are busy, they put a huge amount of time and energy into their classrooms, writing lesson plans, teaching kids.
21:05 BP: We both have children, we know what it's like to host of birthday party. And so this is what teachers have to do every day, and so to encumber them, to say, "Oh, look, you know what, we didn't teach you the right way in college. Now you have to learn this," and for a lot of reasons that doesn't work very well. So, I think there's still a lot of work to do in that space. And there's still clearly a lot of work we need to do when we think about vulnerable populations of students. And when I say vulnerable populations I'm talking about children who are coming from poverty, children who are disenfranchised because of the color of their skin, children who are coming in as first generation English language learners, where the odds for those children are so low just to be able to get to a proficient level of reading without a disability. And then when you layer on issues like dyslexia, or other issues like ADHD, there's a huge chasm there. So, I'm really excited about what's happening but we've got a long way to go.
22:08 TH: Absolutely. And I think it's the... What's given me a lot of heart here is that we know the science says that what works for children with dyslexia also works for all children in teaching reading and writing.
22:16 BP: That's right. Exactly right.
22:17 TH: And so it's been the silos that it's really struck me that you have general education, what happens in the classroom, and then you have what happens with children's dyslexia. And even the training, so it's like gen ed training versus special education training. But when I've work these longitudinal studies, you've seen hundreds of children, you know that it's on a continuum and there's just a variable ability to read words, and at that lower end, that's where it gets really tricky and we say, "That's dyslexia." But all those children can benefit from the same thing. It's just the continuum that doesn't have to be such a separate...
22:55 BP: It's such a good point, Tiffany. A colleague of mine, you know Joan, Dr. Joan Mele-McCarthy from the Summit School, tremendous leader and terrific speech and language background. So, Joan and I co-authored a chapter from one of the Dyslexia Foundation conferences that we had about two years ago on inclusion. And one of the huge challenges in this space is that what we see in most public schools is that if a child is lucky enough to get identified, and a child is lucky enough to get services, and that a child is lucky enough that the school that they're in has somebody with the right kind of training, none of that is reinforced in the classroom when they go back. And, again, it's not the classroom teacher's fault, they don't have... So, child gets pulled out, maybe they get 30 to 45 minutes of some kind of group instruction. And, of course, we know that probably 20% of that time is wasted going back and forth to the classroom. And then they go back, and nobody can reinforce it. And yet at the same time we know that the same strategies, that if they're lucky enough to be getting that in the pullout, those would just benefit all of the kids in the classroom.
24:01 BP: And I think about things like morphology. I mean, how powerful are some of these tools to teach our kids, by teaching them morphology, the derivation of words, how to break them down, that things like deeming down and "cap" means head, so if they see the word "decapitate" they can actually make meaning of that rather than memorize. I think about what we do to children in high school and having them memorize thousands of words for the SAT. Well, why aren't we teaching them things like morphology? Again, absolutely necessary for the learner with dyslexia, but a huge advantage for every other student in the classroom.
24:36 TH: Absolutely. And a shout out to The Extraordinary Brain Series, a series of books that's put out by the Dyslexia Foundation. So, when these meetings occur then the people that present at the meeting, like you and Joan and several other researchers and practitioners, will write book chapters and they go into a book that's then published. And you can find out about that information on the Dyslexia Foundation website. There's also a ton of free talks that are on the website. You can watch hour-long talks that have been given, mainly geared towards teachers. Then you can watch them for free and learn more about dyslexia. And then the other resource I love is the International Dyslexia Association has a nice resource about structured literacy and, what you're talking about, morphology in these different levels. What you said about not being reinforced in the classroom, I also see the opposite which is children with dyslexia have been taught to read in a way that's ineffective, and then when they go to learn to read using more effective methods, they have to unlearn.
25:36 BP: Unlearn. [chuckle]
25:37 TH: So, it's like a bi-directional, right.
25:39 BP: That's right, that's right.
25:40 TH: Unlearning for methods and then... And all of this comes from a place of true caring. These teachers are not giving incorrect instruction because they have malice at any level, it's that this is what they were taught, or they weren't taught. And so they're then having to go and re-learn more about how to actually teach reading. And I think the Schools of Education are doing better, at least we're trying. And I'd love to hear more about what you're doing with Haskins to try to do more of this translational arm as well.
26:09 BP: Absolutely. So, I'll talk about Haskins in just a second. But one thing I wanted to share about what you just talked about. So when I was younger, when I was in elementary school, I was struggling with developing my reading skills and got pulled out, was in the resource room, and working on things like word attack and word identification, and so I struggled with those components of reading and so it made reading more challenging for me and by the time I hit fourth grade I remember when we switched to textbooks, being in a position where the teacher was having the kids go around and read paragraph by paragraph and what I would do because I was worried about reading out loud in front of my classmates was, I would try to guess what paragraph would be mine or I would volunteer to read right away because I would make sure I can practice and so what would happen was I would sit in class, they would go around student to student I wouldn't listen to anything else that was going on.
27:13 BP: I was just trying to memorize the thing that I was going to have to read out loud and then if it didn't get to me I would leave the class, I would go the bathroom, make an excuse but it's such an overwhelming experience and I don't have dyslexia so there wasn't even that significant compared to what some of our kids experienced and it spikes their cortisol levels, it makes such a huge emotional... Takes a huge emotional toll on our kids and the last Dyslexia Foundation one-day conference that we just had at UCLA where Dr. Sharon Vaughn was there and Amie Grills, Dr. Amie Grills and Dr. Margolis is talking a lot about anxiety and the reason I wanted to go back is you talk about that by directional nature and that's one of the things are really looking at, is this bi-directional relationship between anxiety and reading disabilities and how they impact each other and by the time our kids leave school for the day their cortisol levels are through the roof and they fall apart at home.
28:13 BP: So that's why you asked about Haskins that's why one of the reasons that Haskins is putting an initiative together it's the Haskins Global Literacy Hub really thinking about what are scalable models for getting in front of kids early with research and the science of reading and leveraging tools... Attack tools so that we can find ways that are efficient and effective to get in front of these children early and part of that too is really finding ways to take some of the complicated science, some of the imaging science and really find ways to translate that for educators. Last summer we hosted the first Literate Brain series at Haskins where we brought in teachers from all around the country, we had teachers who were working with children who are Native American reservations, who were hugely impacted for a number of reasons.
29:09 BP: We had teachers coming in from under-resourced schools, we had teachers coming from affluent schools and we spent five days pairing those educators with researchers to really have a cross-disciplinary conversation so that the teachers could gain a better understanding and appreciation for what does the science really tell us and helping the researchers understand how can we translate that language into digestible content for educators and the flip side it allowed the educators to share with the researchers what are they seeing taking place in the classroom because a lot of times just like the educators are really focused on the kids and doing the best job that they can researchers a lot of times are in the lab.
29:57 BP: Now, I know you, if you are at MGH you are pushing out actively into school so you get that really global view but a lot of researchers don't have that luxury so bridging that gap between researchers and the educators is hugely important and that's one of the huge initiatives that we're really developing at Haskins and we're seeing this in a lot of spaces. The IDA for example, launched this past year the Gordon Sherman Symposium for Education and Neuroscience and so actually Laurie Cutting and I are co-sharing that symposium this coming year in Aurora for the IDA conference where again, last year we had over 500 educators, professionals and parents in a room where we could really talk about that translational work, that Gordon Sherman was such a pioneer for doing that translational work in schools.
30:44 TH: Yeah, and it has been the case. My experience especially early on in my career is that working with children with dyslexia in schools, I could never say the D word ever. And would tell my research assistants when we go into the schools, don't say we're doing a project on dyslexia, say we're thinking about how children read and different children read in different ways and we're interested in those who are struggling because when we would say dyslexia, the schools we work with would say, well that's a medical issue, we don't... No, no, no, that's... We can't determine that here and we don't work with those children. It was really shocking that that was the case because I was working with children who had dyslexia in those schools, that's where they lived. And it was this kind of separation that occurred. I do love what I'm seeing now in terms of the parents and researchers and teachers all coming together to recognize that it's not a dirty word, it's what's happening and that we can now say dyslexia, I love the hashtag.
31:44 BP: “Say dyslexia” absolutely.
31:46 TH: And I get in all the advantages of dyslexia and all that. And speaking of that, I would love to hear some of the stories that you have, I know you have many from your students and what they've gone on to do and how having dyslexia has not negatively impact them but what are some of the positive impacts and how are they feeling about it?
32:06 BP: Absolutely, so one of the fascinating areas of research that we know is happening right now, is really on this concept of protective factors. And so when we're talking about protective factors, we're talking about things like grit or resiliency or being in a home with a lot of books or having very well-educated parents. There are a number of protective factors. But one of the protective factors, this concept of grit or resiliency and I'll make a huge caveat here, we have to be really careful with these protective factors because they don't always mean that students are gonna be successful nor should it be yet another thing that a student or a family has to feel the weight of like, okay, you student, you're not reading well, you need to develop some grit. No, that's not the answer. But certain people have something for whatever reason they have these protective factors and when you see these students who develop that grit and that resiliency and are able to crack the code.
33:09 BP: Even if they don't reach grade level, for these kids whose dyslexia is so impactful, once they experience an environment where the questions they ask are appreciated in a way that the teacher has the flexibility to respond in a way to them that they need, which is a luxury. We realize this is a luxury. When you're in a public school with 20-some odd kids, that's not a realistic expectation, I don't think, in many circumstances. But, in environments where you can really deliver this really strong literacy instruction and students reignite that confidence, and they have that grit and resiliency, we see these kids go off and do incredible things.
33:53 BP: We had a young man who came to us from, after several years of being really challenged in school, not feeling great about himself, who did not have a number of those protective factors we talked about, did incredibly well at the Southport School, and then he left. And, we sometimes don't hear from our students for a number of years. This young man came back, is at the University of Miami in Florida doing fashion design, and so incredibly talented. And we see a number of these things where we have students who go on to be attorneys and they're really good at making arguments and problem solving, and we have students who go out and are our architects.
34:37 BP: Or we actually have a student who came back to us, an alum who came back to us a couple of years ago, who is in a PhD program. Or, we have a young lady who is an alum who graduated a couple of years ago, and she did a joint program in equine science and art. Just really fascinating work. Or we have kids who become glass blowers or, it doesn't all have to be about going on to earn the highest degree possible. But once we can help them diminish the barrier that is reading for them, once we find ways to give them equitable access to literacy and to be able to have that ability, to be able to learn and grow independently, for a lot of our kids, sky is a limit.
35:28 TH: Yes, absolutely, that's really helpful to know. And it's good for the listeners that might be feeling really frustrated right now and worried about their own children or the children they're seeing on their case load, in their classrooms, that this is a barrier but you can get through this barrier with the right support, and that's so critical. I'm so glad you're offering that there. It's been so good to talk to you. I am mindful of our time and I have two more important questions to ask you, I ask every guest. The first one is, speaking of literacy, what was your favorite childhood book, or book now? Either one or both.
36:04 BP: Well, my favorite childhood book, and it's not really a childhood book, but it was a turning point for me is The Hunt For Red October. So, I read The Hunt For Red October around age 11, and it's a huge book. I've read it probably... One of my challenges is that I benefit from re-reading material multiple times. I think everybody does, but for comprehension reasons, it's really helpful for me to go back. And so, I read The Hunt for Red October again, around sixth grade I would say, and it really opened up a love for history. I was fascinated by the Cold War, and it really engaged a love of travel and language.
36:48 BP: In fact, academically, a huge area of strength for me was actually foreign language, and so, I ended up studying Russian. And Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and unlike English which has an opaque orthography, you know we've got 44 sounds for 26 letters, Russian is very similar to a language like Finnish, where there's a very direct sound-symbol relationship. So, as long as you can learn what the symbols mean, each symbol is individual, doesn't look like the other ones, but it really gave me a huge lens into a whole different world. And that's actually what I ended up studying in college, Russian language. I studied abroad in Moscow, in Kiev. I ended up living in Helsinki and Paris and I ended at the Sorbonne when I went to college, and so that really changed my life.
37:42 TH: Wow, that's amazing, and it does... It's just from one book.
37:46 BP: From one book, right. Again, I was really fortunate to be in an environment where my parents were well-educated and they exposed to me to a lot of books, and there was an expectation that we read in the house. But as somebody who struggled with reading early on, sometimes that can be frustrating. Sometimes, that doesn't seem that appealing. But Dr. Galaburda, one of things he shared with me soon after meeting him, was just a reminder of how kids love being read to, and I really take that to heart, I always... Did you love being read to as a child?
38:26 TH: Oh, I loved it, and I do it every night with my children.
38:27 BP: Right.
38:29 TH: Every single night.
38:30 BP: And it's a beautiful experience, and there are a lot of ways we can facilitate literacy development and good modeling and a love of reading, and so we can really do that.
38:41 TH: Absolutely, that's really fantastic. And I will say, in case the listener is wondering, just to be clear, Ben and I are not saying that reading will make sure that your child is happy.
38:50 BP: That's right. That's really important, no.
38:52 TH: That seems to be something going around now. You can read to your child and create that love of reading, but they can still have a brain that makes it very difficult for them to learn to decode words, and that is not the parent's fault and it's not related to how much they read. You and I are on social media, we see some of these things, I just wanted to clarify before...
39:14 BP: Real quick to add to that, I think one of the challenges too is that, you're absolutely right, and unfortunately, we actually end up taking a lot of... I think parents well-intentioned or schools, take the flip side, which is to say, any exposure to reading for a struggling reader should be them reading and trying to get through text. And what we know is, when somebody's having trouble with something, or somebody's learning a skill, it's exhausting for them. And actually in some ways, too much of that may really be impactful for a love of reading, and one of the things we really encourage families to do is to expose their kids to things like Audible, or to do reading at home, because that actually developed things like vocabulary, thematic elements, character development, all the things we want children to get out of a rich reading experience, comprehension. Right? That they might not be getting if they really need to focus when they are actively reading, on the foundational skills they'll need to crack the code and become fluent readers.
40:14 TH: Absolutely, I'm so glad you said that. That's fantastic. And a shout out to child podcasts, there's actually some really amazing podcasts that are put on by children or related to more of the non-fiction...
40:25 BP: Oh, I'll have to check that out. That's great, yeah.
40:26 TH: It's actually pretty cool.
40:27 BP: That's terrific.
40:28 TH: But then you have to fight with your children about what podcast you're gonna listen to in the car which is my current struggle. [chuckle]
40:32 BP: That's right. Yeah.
40:35 BP: Which is a favorite in your house right now?
40:37 TH: We like one called The Punies.
40:39 BP: Oh, I haven't heard of that.
40:40 TH: Yeah. So, it is actually it was I believe that Kobe Bryant was part of it initially.
40:44 BP: No kidding, wow.
40:46 TH: But it is a series about these kids that are doing different sports, but it's about team work and working together. It's really cute, very funny, that's one of our favorites right now. And I have a lot of favorites, so I always have to, "It's Mommy's turn to pick a podcast." [chuckle]
41:01 BP: I don't get that turn so that's good to know. I should advocate for myself.
41:05 TH: That's right, that's right. Definitely, definitely. And the last thing I'll ask you is what are you working on now that you're most excited about?
41:11 BP: Well, as part of what we talked about with the Haskins Global Literacy Hub and working to help with this translational research, one of the things that we are doing at the Southport School, we launched this initiative about two years ago called The Southport CoLab, and we see this opportunity to say, "Okay, we have all this great experience," we know to your point, Tiffany, what works for our kids benefits all learners, so we've done a tremendous amount of outreach. We're in a number of schools in Connecticut helping to train teachers and be a resource. But one area specifically that we're targeting are schools in these vulnerable communities, so one of the adjacent communities to us, to the Southport School is Bridgeport, Connecticut which is almost 100% free and reduced lunch.
42:02 BP: And for the listeners, if you don't know what that means, 100% free and reduced lunch is really a key indicator that these are children coming from poverty. And for about four or five years now, we've been working with four schools in Bridgeport, we're doing, now we're doing a three-year longitudinal study with them where we're training all the K, one, and two teachers in structured literacy and we're charting student progress, and actually Yaacov at FCRR is helping us with the data analysis on this, and we're doing all this for free. We started this initiative just through the good will of the people that we work with. And actually, over time we've gotten some funding from some different organizations. And really exciting is that this past fall we started to develop an opportunity to go into a school in Bridgeport, so this is actually our fifth school in Bridgeport, we're doing actual one-to-one work with students.
43:02 BP: So, in the other schools we're training teachers which is critically important, in this school we're gonna do a hybrid. We've already started training some of those teachers, and now what we have the opportunity to do through the generosity of some donors in our community, is to push into this school and work with their lowest performing kids, doing work with them one-to-one twice a week, and creating what I'll call a package for them so that when they leave this school they'll have some really good testing, which kids from poverty almost never get. So, we'll have some achievement testing, some cognitive testing for them, so there's a good perspective and help them craft some goals and objectives for their IEP before they leave this school and go on to their next school.
43:49 BP: So, I'm really excited about these opportunities because that is what will create, as Julie Washington says, exponential, generational change. If we can teach somebody to read who otherwise would not have had that opportunity, if that person has children, huge change. The workforce, huge change. We need to be literate to be able to access the workplace, to be able to raise our children, to have access to information. And I think about this in the way that I think about why the... What change the printing press did for us. And thinking about opening up the opportunity for people to be able to access information independent of someone else, it's so important. So, to be able to go into these vulnerable communities and partner with schools and be able to help them affect that change is incredibly rewarding.
44:47 TH: That's very exciting. And I so appreciate all the work you're doing in advocacy and just bringing the word out about, "What is dyslexia? What are these children like? What are they capable of?" Just so glad to have you on the podcast.
45:00 BP: Well, thank you so much for having me and thank you for the amazing work you're doing here at MGH and the work you're doing to push into schools in those vulnerable communities too, cause it makes a huge impact. And we're grateful that the science you do helps inform what we do because through that we can all be more effective and help so many more children, so thank you.
45:21 Tiffany: Check out www.seehearspeakpodcast.com for helpful resources associated with this podcast including, for example, the podcast transcript, research articles, & speakers bios. You can also sign up for email alerts on the website or subscribe to the podcast on apple podcasts or any other listening platform, so you will be the first to hear about new episodes.
Thank you for listening and good luck to you, making the world a better place by helping one child at a time.