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Exercises to Help Boost the Dyslexic Mind

Dyslexia is a disability that impairs language learning – spelling, pronunciation, reading, and reading comprehension – despite normal intelligence.

Seeing an otherwise bright kid struggle with something “as simple as a reading task” is likely to take most people aback. The inability to relate to the issues kids with dyslexia face can result in both parents and teachers overlooking the importance of effectively overcoming them.

I tutor middle-schoolers with dyslexia in Language Arts. I found that implementing games as exercises can yield outstanding results. Dissecting the workings of two of my favorites will help you understand core problems and give you the ability to tailor your approach to your child.

Why games?

Throughout my experience, I’ve noticed that kids with dyslexia largely benefit from kinaesthetic ways of learning when it comes to Language Arts. Merely listening or observing isn’t enough to build correlations between letters and sounds. When a multitude of their senses are engaged, words begin to gain meaning.

So, how do games fit into this narrative? First off, games force you to implement a variety of skills (like waiting for your turn, which is connected to executive functions – inhibition) – often without you even noticing. Secondly, although they demand your full attention, they provide fun in return. This means a boost in motivation, making distractions less likely to occur.

The interactive aspect of playing games keeps us from getting bored. We make mistakes, we learn to lose. The feedback we get from other players pushes us to do more. We begin to understand the importance and value of doing our due diligence. Working together, regardless if as a team or as opponents, will form a bond and establish trust between you and your child.

You’ve created an environment where making mistakes is part of the process and help is always around the corner. This is particularly useful when you encounter more complex tasks –  more specifically, school assignments.

Hangman

Hangman is one of my top picks for working with kids who struggle with dyslexia. It incorporates all the crucial benefits of learning through games – focus, patterns, interactivity, and creativity.

In a world of distractions, we struggle with focusing on what truly matters. Facing an abundance of information is intimidating, especially when you’re not yet ready to tackle it. Hangman takes things back to basics. The game focuses on one word alone, meaning all attention is fixed to a single point. It allows the opportunity to build a relationship with words devoid of pressure.

Playing the game, patterns start to appear: the frequency of vowels or how ‘q’ is always followed with by a ‘u’. We begin noticing these patterns outside of play time – in the texts we read or words we spell for the first time. These connections testify that there’s a method to the madness that is spelling. Over time, a database is generated in our heads, enabling us to become skilled at guessing how a word might be spelled – accurately!

Don’t be afraid of not covering enough material. Easing into the idea of spelling takes time, but has a great impact on how we feel about language and language learning. Once we’ve mastered some basic skills, learning becomes quicker – and more efficient. Taking the edge off doesn’t just make the exercise less intimidating, but promises greater results.

Moreover, the game’s interactive aspect allows a varied approach. You can choose to collaborate or compete (you don’t even have to stick to just one or the other!). This way, you begin forming a more dynamic and complex relationship with your child when learning.

Lastly, you can get creative. Incorporate the child’s interests (e.g. basketball) when choosing words or creating your Hangman stick figures. By customizing your Hangman character, the game becomes more fun. With something so basic, possibilities are endless. Give your child the freedom to express themselves.

20 Questions

The concept of this game is very simple: guess the person, place, or thing in 20 questions or less. You probably know this game for its vocabulary-building quality, but what if I told you it can help a child master storytelling?

A good storyteller knows how to engage their audience. They set the scene – providing all the information needed to get their point across. We often don’t realize how much we have to factor in to tell a good story: go into enough detail for the audience to understand, but not overdo it to the point that they’re bored. This is where 20 Questions comes in.

We’ll need to master the game in its original form first. As we play, we’ll start to notice patterns that help us identify the word faster: where we can find this thing, what it’s made out of, in which situation are likely to use it. Certain questions have priority in the more general sense – to set the scene, while details are what helps us pin the word down.

Through this process, we become more aware of the importance of having enough information. Moreover, we begin noticing that adding unnecessary details is just that – unnecessary – it doesn’t do much to contribute to the story, distracting us while we try to identify the word. Now let’s take it to the next level to incorporate the game into storytelling.

Before you begin, help your child map out the events in chronological order. A timeline will make it easier to follow the story. Then guide the child by asking them appropriate questions. I would recommend using wh- questions. Ask WHERE the story took place, details about the scene; WHO was involved, and the background of the characters. Then move on to WHAT actually happened and WHY. Additional questions may be prompted by something they mention or when they get stuck.

With time, you’ll notice the child no longer needs assistance. They have actually memorized the questions themselves and can now determine the necessary information on their own!

Gaming done right!

I hope the examples given inspire you to incorporate games into learning. Don’t be afraid to brainstorm with your child in order to make the games even better! Children love to come up with their own rules – and there is a lot to gain from that. Since the way we learn isn’t universal, small tweaks can make a huge difference in how we interpret and memorize information. Moreover, the experience you gain from this will form a strong bond between you, preparing you for future endeavours.

As Vince Gowmon once said:

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Author: Tutor Olivera

Our English Language Tutor, Olivera, who loves to incorporate games when she works with her students, wrote this article. If you need someone who will make learning fun, teach your child how to write the best essays, or boost their dyslexic mind, just book a FREE Video Call with the Nobel Tutor Olivera to find out if she’s a good fit for your kid.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps us manage, plan, and organize our activities in order to achieve a certain goal [1]. Extensive neuropsychological research places it in the prefrontal cortex and even though it forms in early childhood, it continues to develop and change throughout our lifetime. It plays an essential part in our everyday dealings and we rely on it when faced with situations that require us to make decisions and see them through. If we were to compare our brains to a complex organization, executive function would be the equivalent of a CEO. Essentially, executive function is what allows us to get things done, and it’s important to understand how it works so that we can really appreciate its value and potentially work on improving it.

Areas of Executive Function and Executive-Functioning Skills

Executive function is a complex construct consisting of three key components or areas, which are: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and impulse control. All of these components are interconnected and together allow us to do things like process information, switch from task to task, and hold back impulsive behavior.

Working memory represents the more advanced understanding of our short-term memory, the one we use to store information happening in the present and hold onto it for a brief period of time in order to deal with a task at hand. So, for example, if you’re having a conversation with someone, working memory is allowing you to follow what they’re saying and respond or engage them by asking relevant questions.

Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to adapt our mental strategies to new conditions. When faced with a task we’ve never encountered in the past, cognitive flexibility allows us to rapidly use our past experience, knowledge, and skills to overcome that particular challenge.

Impulse control is referred to as self-control in layman’s terms. It is our capability to subdue impulsive behavior and refrain from acting abruptly to a specific stimulus. For instance, if you’re feeling frustrated, impulse control is what holds you back from lashing out at others, keeps you calm, and allows you to rationally assess the situation.

These key areas enable us to perform complex mental tasks such as:

Paying attention – being able to focus and process information for an extended period of time.
Planning and organizing – setting up the proper conditions and taking the right steps in the process of decision-making and overcoming challenges.
Time assessment and time management – being able to predict the time it would take to complete a certain task and adjusting your activities in order to complete the most tasks in the shortest amount of time.
Initiating and completing tasks – actually getting started with an activity that will help you complete a task and see it through.
Prioritizing – being able to assess the importance of tasks and to rank them accordingly.

The combined effort of the key areas is needed in order to complete these tasks, but not all of them are always being activated. For instance, paying attention depends on the use of working memory and impulse control, while planning and organizing require all three. Being able to perform these activities successfully is referred to as having executive-functioning skills.

Executive function can be trained and improved over time, which means that understanding how it works can be a huge benefit in terms of both academic and real-life success.

Hot and Cool Executive Functions: An Emotional Context

When studying human behavior, it’s always a good rule of thumb to have the question of context in mind. Some phenomena may be more or less consistent but they are usually connected to a network of factors and can have different interpretations depending on the situation. Such is the case with executive function, which is contextually related to and affected by an emotional factor. That is why we differentiate between hot and cool executive functions [2].

Hot executive functions are used when emotions are running high. In order for them to be activated, a certain amount of tension between instant and long-term gratification needs to exist. On the other hand, cool executive functions are activated when there is no emotional arousal whatsoever.

The most important thing that determines whether we’re going to use hot or cool executive functions is the way in which we perceive the challenge in front of us. It’s a matter of individual differences, meaning there are specific situations out there that would invoke the use of hot executive functions in some, while others will be able to remain cool.

How to Spot an Executive-Function Deficit

The most representative behaviors that will help you identify executive functioning issues are:

Poor planning and organization – working in messy conditions without having the “bigger picture” in mind.
Impulsive behavior – lacking impulse control and overreacting.
Struggling with time management – always being late for scheduled appointments and missing deadlines.
Lack of and/or inability to focus – attention tends to drift in the middle of an important activity.
Working-memory difficulties – having difficulty retaining information for short periods of time.
Procrastination – avoiding or struggling to initiate task resolution.
Prioritization issues – not being able to determine the importance of certain tasks.
Rigid thinking patterns – showing frustration when asked to think about a certain issue in a different way.

If you are a parent of a child who is struggling in a similar way and exhibiting one or more symptoms, then they might have an executive-functioning issue. We have prepared an online executive-functioning course for parents, which explores many different aspects of the concept, providing you with:

Real-life examples of executive-functioning skills and issues!
Direct advice on how to improve executive functioning!
Access to a whole community of parents just like you!
And tons more information about executive function!

Take a look at this introductory video with our Coach Ana, which briefly sums up what the course is all about.

Executive Function and Psychological Disorders: Is Executive-Function Disorder a Thing?

In psychology, a sizable amount of data regarding specific mental processes and brain functions comes from examining the unfortunate cases of people exhibiting certain issues or complete lack thereof. Disorders in the domain of executive functioning are directly related to and reflect on the areas and skills we’ve discussed in the previous segment. That being said, executive function disorder as such is not yet recognized by the American Psychiatric Association officially. However, studies imply that executive-functioning challenges are closely connected to other cognitive disorders, such as ADHD and dyslexia.

ADHD and Executive Function

People suffering from ADHD are in fact struggling with scattered attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity which leads to different social difficulties. You’re probably already able to sense the connection between these symptoms and what we previously defined as an executive-function deficit [3]. The fact of the matter is these two issues share the same neurophysiological background. Even though executive function can’t explain the cause of ADHD, it’s obvious that it is a component of how the disorder actually plays out. That is why children with ADHD can benefit from executive-function exercises and why consulting an executive function Coach is highly recommended.

Dyslexia and Executive Function

Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability characterized by difficulties with word recognition, spelling, and decoding abilities [4]. Studies show that children with dyslexia also experience challenges in areas related to executive function, like verbal and visual short-term processing and attention. By strategically improving these domains of executive function, children with dyslexia can learn how to compensate for and overcome the limiting nature of their disability. Once again, consulting an executive-function Coach can help you devise a plan to systematically work on tackling this issue.

Academic and Real-Life Examples of Executive-Function Deficits and Issues

It’s very important for us to understand that executive-functioning issues are not only found in a school setting, but also interfere with everyday activities such as doing chores, having productive conversations, and even affect the simple act of playing. On that note, we will describe two scenarios – academic and real life – connected to executive-functioning issues.

Mary is four and she has recently started preschool. A couple of days ago, she threw a tantrum when another child from the class didn’t want to share a stuffed toy elephant. At the end of each day, she’s almost always the last one ready, usually because she left her things all over the classroom and then forgot where they were. Her teacher noticed that often during group activities and interaction, she responds by saying things completely unrelated to the topic or task.

Josh is 16, and his parents feel that something is just not right. He often wanders from room to room, starts doing one thing and quickly switches to another. His chores are a similar story. He often procrastinates and puts things off, like cleaning the garage or folding his laundry, and even when he does manage to start doing them, he either quits soon after or doesn’t do a very good job. He’s recently asked for his allowance to be increased but left the discussion abruptly, showing signs of frustration when asked to back up his request with arguments.

Remember that taking a holistic approach is very important when determining whether or not someone has issues with executive function. Both of these examples contain descriptions of behaviors representative of executive-functioning issues, but they are exclusively exploring situations related to a specific setting. Only by looking at the whole picture are we able to claim that someone is actually suffering from an executive-function deficit and that other factors are not at play, such as lack of motivation.

If you think your child is struggling in similar ways, our Coaches are highly experienced with resolving specific executive-functioning issues and helping children overcome the deficits that accompany them.

Why Is Understanding Executive Function so Important?

Executive function refers to a set of mental processes that help us handle most of our everyday activities. Many aspects of concepts like creativity, problem-solving, and good decision-making rely on these processes. The good news is that we can help our kids develop and improve their executive function. The really good news is that we can use their personal strengths to compensate for those skills they find hard to improve. We’re not talking about complex programs that are costly and time-consuming, but about everyday activities that facilitate growth and learning.

It is evident that children would benefit from a structured and systematic practice of executive-functioning skills. That is exactly why it’s important for every parent to be familiar with the concept, so that they can help their children directly by encouraging activities which nurture executive function. Furthermore, in the bigger picture of educating children in general, it’s crucial that teachers are also well acquainted with executive function, so they can adapt their curriculum to encourage its development.

Author: Predrag Mladenovic

References:

Zelazo, P. D., & Cunningham, W. (2005). What is executive function? AboutkidsHealth. Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. (Part one of a multi-part series). Recuperado el, 2.
Goldstein, S., & Naglieri, J. A. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of executive functioning. Springer Science & Business Media.
Meltzer, L. (Ed.). (2018). Executive function in education: From theory to practice. Guilford Publications.

Did you enjoy how we answered the question of ‘what is executive function?’
Do you think your child could benefit from improving executive function?
Is there anything you would like to know about more?

Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.
We’re eager to hear your thoughts on the subject!

The Secrets And Learning Challenges Of Dyslexia

If you have no idea what something looks like, you probably wouldn’t recognize it even if it was right there in front of you. You might not even notice it, right? But, if somehow it does attract your attention, you’d probably identify it as something you’re already familiar with, or try to explain it with what’s already known to you. We want an explanation for why things exist, even if that means inventing one!

Now, imagine – You see a “normal”, bright kid struggling with such a simple thing as reading.
How can that be?

If you have never heard of dyslexia, you might be tempted to call this kid “lazy”, “stubborn” or “not as bright as you thought they were”. You might think that the parents are being too soft and need to push the child to do better in school.

So, what is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. When you have dyslexia, your brain needs more time and energy for some of the processes many would say come “naturally” or “automatically”. Matching the letters on a page with the sounds that those letters and combinations of letters make is one of those things. People who have dyslexia experience difficulties with skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.

Who said reading was easy?

Nobody is born with the ability to read. (Obviously!) It is an activity that requires a lot from our brain, which needs to be able to focus on the letters, put them into words, then the words into sentences, and link the sentences into paragraphs so that we can read them –  and only then, understand the content of what we’re reading. So, when you see the letters D, O, G connected, your brain needs to pick up the letters, connect those letters to specific sounds and then read the word “dog” and also comprehend that the word on the paper is a symbol for a cheerful, four-legged animal that loves playing “fetch” with you.

So – reading is NOT easy, even though many think it is.

What causes dyslexia?

We’re still trying to figure out what’s actually going on in the brain. Anatomical and brain imaging studies show differences in the development and functioning of the brain in a person with dyslexia. What we know for sure is that most people with dyslexia have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word. Understanding how the letters represent speech sounds seems to be the key factor in reading difficulties. What’s important to know is that this learning disability has nothing to do with how intelligent you are.

What are the risk factors for dyslexia?

People with dyslexia have, in many cases, experienced difficulties with learning to speak, difficulties with differentiating the sounds in speech, difficulties in learning letters, organizing spoken language, memorizing words, etc.
Also, the parents of dyslexic students tend to report delays in reaching common milestones of childhood, such as learning to crawl or walk or ride a bike.

What are the typical signs of dyslexia?

Depending on the age, dyslexia can be spotted through a variety of signs.
We’ll outline some of the most common ones.

PRESCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty guessing a word based on its description
  • Difficulty recognizing whether two words rhyme
  • Difficulty in pronunciation of familiar words
  • Difficulty sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Difficulty remembering multi-step instructions
  • Difficulty remembering the order in which things appear in a story
  • Difficulty structuring the answer about how the day went or how something happened
  • A child does not use as many words as peers do
  • A child tends to mix up words that sound familiar
  • A child tends to struggle to organize a story chronologically

GRADE SCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning letters (and writing them)
  • Difficulty differentiating similar letters both in writing and reading (like b and d)
  • Difficulty recognizing which letters produce which sound
  • Stalling while reading; guessing a word based on the first two letters
  • Difficulty isolating the middle sound of a word
  • Difficulty recognizing the spelling of a word
  • The student quickly forgets how to spell the words he reads
  • Struggles with word problems in math
  • Difficulty remembering the key elements of a story
  • The student focuses so much on the reading itself that he fails to remember and comprehend what he has read

MIDDLE SCHOOL

  • Makes a lot of spelling errors
  • Avoids all assignments that require reading
  • Takes a lot of time to finish homework that requires reading
  • Gets nervous while reading
  • The student reads at a lower academic level than they speak
  • The student tends to re-read sentences to be able to comprehend them
  • The student tends to forget what he has read
  • When reading, the student often makes pauses with “um” or filler words

There’s more to dyslexia than you’d think

Not being able to read and write at the same level as your peers can significantly affect how you see yourself. The peer group tends to mock the student who isn’t able to do things they do with ease. That is why it is extremely important to pay attention to how the student is feeling and how he sees himself.

The students with dyslexia tend to think “out of the box”. They are creative and innovative.
These are the strengths that any person working with a student with dyslexia should capitalize on.

What to do if you suspect that your child has dyslexia

  1. Consult with the experts – speech therapists and psychologists. They will do all the necessary testing to see whether the student has dyslexia.
  2. If it turns out that your student does have dyslexia, do not despair. There are many successful people who have this diagnosis. With proper treatment, you can help your child succeed in school. Just make sure you contact professionals on time.

If you need any kind of advice related to dyslexia, you’ve come to the right place!

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