Learn Your Special Education Laws, Special Education Rights, and Share IEP Goal Ideas

Mar 11
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by Jess

It happened again. I was in an IEP for a student with dyslexia who is struggling with spelling the most. This GATE-identified young man is in the 5th grade and spelling phonetically, yet he was not receiving  services for spelling last year – which is why I am now involved in the IEP process. The meeting was somewhat tense from the beginning, but when we got to the spelling goal this is what was presented: Thomas will be taught to memorize and spell 200 of the most common sight words. Hmm. Ok. So, my response: Can we change this goal so that we are actually teaching him to spell versus just memorizing some words? This is when I got the death stare and then silence. I interpreted the silence to mean that the RSP teacher didn’t know how to write the goal because she did not know how to teach a kid who is spelling phonetically how to spell. Then she said it, and the general ed teacher agreed with a nod of his head: He is going to middle school next year and he really doesn’t need to know how to spell anymore. I mean they don’t give spelling tests. My heart started to pound and then she added the ubiquitous suggestion: He can just learn to use spell check.

So, I decided to put their theory to the test. Does knowing how to use spell check negate the need to know how to spell? I typed a story written by this very student into Microsoft Word and then I used spell check. Here is the student’s story (about Diary of a Wimpy Kid) as he wrote it, verbatim:

Greg Heffley is manly a stik figer for the Movie greg whor a white shert and black shors. Diery of a whimpy is by Jeff Kinney. Greg has three hars stiking out of is head. for the school they yost for schools. for the basketball cort, the gym, halls. Greg and roly cam frens. But they condent see eshother after the movey. after the move it has hard for the actors to get to thar moms. The actors had to whar serten clos. greg manly whor a whith shert and black pats. Roly whor sherts that lokt like his mother pict them out, and fregly whor werd stuf.

There are 108 words in this passage and I do give him immense credit for his ability to keep writing despite the obvious struggle. Not including the proper names, there are 30 spelling mistakes which is 27% of the words. There are 5 capitalization mistakes and one word that was written correctly, but it is the wrong word (is should have been his). Microsoft Word was able to correctly identify what he meant to write 9 times which is only 30% of the misspelled words. So, if this student solely relied on spell check he would still misspell 20% of total words written. Is this acceptable? If it is, then spell check is the answer. If it is not, then read on and we will look at what his spelling mistakes tell us about this student. Lastly, is the content representative of his true ability and thoughts or is his writing hampered by his spelling? If it is hampered, what will happen as school begins to require more writing?

First, let me offer you some background about this student. He is formally diagnosed with dyslexia. He was held back in the first grade. He is currently in the fifth grade and reading 90 correct words per minute, which is about 1.5 grades behind. You have seen his spelling, so you know that he is struggling the most with that skill. He has a documented deficit in phonological memory along with phonological awareness, which makes spelling very difficult.

It is obvious that this young man is writing phonetically. Interestingly, he is spelling many of the sight words correctly, which he has been working on with his teacher. This is great news and evidence that he can learn when the skill he needs to strengthen is the focus of his intervention. The rest of his spelling illustrates that he has not been taught about syllabication, syllable types (closed, open vowel-consonant-e, consonant-le, r-controlled and digraph and/or vowel team), basic spelling rules, such as (e.g. ff, ll, ss, zz), when to s versus c, and he is not been taught to spell syllable by syllable. Not to mention morphological awareness and etymology. He has not been taught to spell, period.

Let’s take a moment to analyze the content of this GATE-identified student’s writing sample.  His sentence structure is very basic. There isn’t much organization. The content is pretty superficial for someone who loves these books and can orally convey much more complex ideas. This student has had dysgraphia and executive function problems ruled out through private testing. We can agree that speech to text would be great for him, but does that mean he shouldn’t learn to spell? If he was not experiencing cognitive overload while spelling (even on a word processor) would the complexity of his writing change? Would just knowing how to spell change that aspect of his writing? Of course. So should we teach this child to spell?

So, now that you know all of this about this student, you have seen his writing sample and I have provided a list of what he needs to learn to improve this spelling, should we give up on teaching spelling to this GATE-identified 5th grader? Will spell check help him? What will happen when he tries to use the internet without appropriate spellings? Is knowing how to spell important? I say it is and I say learning to spell will also improve reading, not to mention self-esteem.

Dyslexia is real and it really affects spelling.

Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing Putting the D in to the IEP and you can read excerpts at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, as well as a board member of the Southern California Library Literacy Network (SCLLN). She is a professional developer for California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) as well as a Literacy Consultant for the San Diego Council on Literacy. She was awarded the Jane Johnson Fellowship and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) scholarship. Kelli has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. She is currently working on her book, Putting the D in IEP: A guide to dyslexia in the school system. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining

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To Spell or Not to Spell: Is it important?, 4.9 out of 5 based on 13 ratings
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19 Responses to “To Spell or Not to Spell: Is it important?”

  1. Ronald P. Carver’s 2000 The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement explains why teaching spelling is the best way to develop fluent readers, who will have high reading achievement.

    This student should have been taught the orthographic structures of English in a systematic step by step fashion starting in first grade. His reading and spelling instruction (and handwriting) should have been taught together progressively as a structured system.

    Why teach the student 200 sight-words as random assemblages of letters, when he should be taught no less than 3000 words as structural families?

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  2. Excellent article! I am a tutor for dyslexia, and I use the Barton Reading and Spelling System. It is the best Orton-Gillingham system I have found for teaching kids to spell correctly.

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  3. I was trained by Dr. Robert Meeker who along with his late wife Dr. Mary Meeker wrote volumes on dyslexia.
    Perhaps there are physical reasons for this particular child’s struggles and or maybe the teachers took a more limited approach to dealing with him.
    Regardless, I would like to suggest some of the tools created by the Drs. Meeker- Reading Prep, Language Prep-fine motor handwriting workbook and lastly LOCAN a symbolic reading program which helps build a working vocabulary while building the abilities required to read fluently ie sacadic eye movement.

    Dr. Mary Meeker was an educational Icon who developed the pioneer cognitive work of Dr. J.P. Guilford at the University of Southern California.

    Visite http://www.soisystems.com for more information
    I trust you will be amazed at the results.

    JM

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  4. There is a massive, worldwide issue with mainstream teachers not teaching spelling – a culture of expecting children to magically remember words. Teachers aren’t ‘teaching’ spelling because no one has told them to, they fail to understand the reasons to teach spelling and they dont know how to teach it! I am a literacy consultant training schools and raising awareness of exactly this issue. Enjoyed your article.

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    • I agree, Abigail. I sub in the elementary and middle schools in our district and spelling is not a part of my day! When I mention breaking a word into syllables to sound it out the children look at me with total lack of understanding.
      My grown son is dyslexic and is finally making major headway with writing and organizing (learning to spell and syllabicate could also be considered organizational skills!) in college. He attends a technical college that has an exceptional tutoring center as well as an incredibly capable learning support center and writing center. He always had something to say, and finally, he is saying it well!

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  5. I have a daughter in the 4th grade with Dyslexia, Executive Functioning, Auditory Processing, and Sensory Integration DIsorder(s). I have been fighting the schools for 4+ years now and we do not even have a appropriate 504 let alone a IEP. She passed the 2nd grade (as she has all other grades to date) on the A/B Honor Roll, yet 3 months into her 3rd grade year she went into meltdown mode because she could not keep up with the individual reading (as opposed to group setting) and the vocabulary associated with the subjects (for example: carnivore, herbivore, cumulus, cumulonimbus, house of representatives, legislature, economy, and the list goes on). The schools reading resource teacher performed a “informal reading evaluation” and found that she was reading 68 wpm with 9 errors in 3.3 grade. So they suggested that we place her back into the 2nd grade so they could enter her into “intense reading intervention” 5 days a week 45 minutes a day. Tickled that they finally realized that the outside testing I had done was true and she was indeed dyslexic, I agreed (hindsight sucks!). She completed her repeat 2nd grade year on the A Honor Roll and with the “Principal’s Award” (yippee!). Then at the start of her 3rd grade year they removed her from the RTI program saying she completed the Tier2 interventions and met her goals (which after requesting a copy of her records I found that she actually did not meet the goal they set for her). Now we are past the middle of her 4th grade year and the situation has only got worse. This has been the worst year of our lives and the struggle with the school is taking a toll on her desire to learn, our relationship as mother & daughter, and my marriage! She is always in overload from the school day and when she gets home she is near impossible to deal with…she just wants to be left alone, and can you blame her?
    I too have had the same response from our school system. Spelling is no longer a life skill that needs to be taught as with todays technology spell check in on our computers, our phone, our tablets, etc. And technology will only get better and before you know it, it will be in all schools for every grade…so spelling is becoming extinct. In our school system spelling no longer is part of their ELA grade, heck….it is not even graded. They are just going through the motions.
    My response to the school administration during one of our many RTI/504 meetings was……..”Ok, so with the frame of mind of technology replacing a educational skill that should be taught, basic math, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division should have been extinct with the invention of a calculator!” I stumped them with that remark, and they became very irritated and angry with me. When I asked them whey they were angry, they informed me that I was “overstepping my boundaries by assuming I knew what should and should not be taught” and I was told that I should entrust those with degrees that make decisions for our educational system.
    Well, I have trusted……and look where I am now! I have filed 8 formal complaints with the state regarding the IEP Eligibility meeting, all of which we dismissed. I have filed complaints with the agency that accredits our state, and they have ignored my complaints and I cannot get a response from them. Documents have gone missing from my daughter school record, and I am currently filing complaints with the Office for Civil RIghts and will most likely have to get a part time job to cover the expense for an attorney.
    All because our education system is not educating our kids and depending on technology to do their job for them as they sit back at a desk and play on technology themselves!

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    • I can feel your pain and frustration, because I too have “battled” my daughter’s current school for 3 years. Last year I bought the book From Emotions to Advocacy, and after the last frustrating IEP, I decided to quit fighting until I could educate myself fully and keep a careful record of everything. There is a section in the book about how to write letters that get results so definitely check it out. I am also taking the Special education boot camp class offered by Wrightslaw in mid-April. I tell people I have survived a personal diagnosis of ME and cancer, and my daughter’s diagnosis of cerebral palsy, but felt like the school system was going to kill me! I stopped discussing the issue with my husband because although he agreed, there was nothing further he could do and he would just get frustrated. So, although it is not normally in my DNA to be patient, I have been, and I will eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later) win this fight! Be kind to yourself and don’t let them destroy your relationship with your family. Good luck to you and your family!

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    • I am so sorry to hear what you’ve been going through. I pulled my son out of public and although it has taken a major hit on our finances and has been stressful, my son has thrived and is learning how to decode and encode using a multisensory reading program that our public cyber charter school offered. Our brick and mortar district didn’t even offer services and denied him IEP and OT. After pulling him out, I enrolled him in the cyber, had him independently evaluated and he was found in need of sped and OT etc… We are on year four and he is in 5th, reading at a low to mid 4th grade level, fluency is improving and he makes consistent daily progress. We have a spelling goal in his PLP and I am in charge of data collection to be submitted to the sped teacher. He gets online learning support in multisensory reading and spelling program (Barton Reading and Spelling -Orton-Gillingham Based) with reading specialist as well . Next year he will return to public with IEP and I will need to advocate for comparable supports, services, and products. All the best to you, your daughter and your family as you advocate for her.

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  6. So here’s a question: what program/approach should be used? I am a homeschooling mom of a kid diagnosed with alphabet soup: There is no one here to diagnose dyslexia and it is not acknowledged by the school district., so I have no idea if he has that. He has diagnosed ADD, SPD, EFD, and I believe deficit in phonological awareness if I am remembering his tests correctly. He receives OT 2x/mo and Speech weekly to try to address some of his expressive language delay. His reading speed, comprehension and even his expressive composition is coming along but spelling is still a big issue. He is in 8th grade. A spelling program that is instructional and engaging would be appreciated!

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  7. I understand you concerns. I am the mum of a 15 year old girl with dyslexia. I have battled the system in Australia for years. I was told only last week that spelling is such a small part of her exams that i do not need to worry! Seriously! i am also frequently told that my daughter isdoing so much better than some of the other children and that now she is in High School they cannot help her. it breaks my heart. I am getting her outside tutoring now with a dyslexia soecialist, but it takes a huge financial toll on my husband and I. These kidsdeserve better.

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  8. I have 2 sons with dyslexia. They are both in college and write a lot of papers. Unfortunately, spell check doesn’t help them. It sometimes corrects their spelling, or gives them suggestions, but they have many typos. They have problems with their, they’re there, witch, which and for some reason whether and wither. I am the spell checker, or an assigned teacher reads over the papers to make sure that the words make sense. They have tried to memorize words and I’m sure that the ones they do spell correctly are memorized.They have an uncanny ability to write the incorrect word, but spell it correctly. (for example, one wrote that he was in collage.) During their middle and high school years, I made sure that spelling doesn’t count in their IEP. We tried everything to help them, and this is the only solution that worked for us. The only other solution, in my opinion, is a program that can actually correctly type for them. We have tried some, but they don’t always seem to hear the words correctly. The typing programs on their cell phones seem to work the best. Spelling phonetically doesn’t work because they don’t understand how language works. I am glad that my 3rd son is in college and after next year, won’t be writing too many papers.

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  9. Kelli, by giving a real time example you have tackled this particular topic brilliantly. Spelling is such an important thing and it is something that will tell you more about the individual and his knowledge of the language. I visit http://www.dyslexiadr.com to find useful information about dyslexia. But I must say your post has been very informative and makes for excellent reading.

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  10. This article is so timely. I had IEP qualification meeting yesterday for my 10-year, 5th grader. He did not qualify, because 1) he has learned to compensate 2) grades arent suffering (B-C student), and 3) he will not need to spell in isolation in middle school. Meanwhile, our private psychologistt tested, and stated he needed services years ago.
    Now, I have to go back to the school commmittee with the private doctor’s report and repeal the decision.
    We all know spelling is a tenant to higher level writing and comprehension. It seems like you have to totally fail before, the school acknowledges a problem.
    What to do?

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  11. The number one problem is that teachers aren’t taught the rules of spelling. Somewhere in the early 70′s your local school district probably switched from phonetic reading to whole word. It has only been in the last 10 years, and usually 5 that educators have realized the mistake in whole word and added phonics back into reading skill. You have 3 generations of teachers who were not taught the skill. You’re going to have to give the teachers rules and worksheets you want your students to know if you are going to get them to teach it.

    Dyslexia at it’s purest core means “no phonetic ability”. Sounds aren’t there. Can you teach a tone-deaf student to have perfect pitch? No, but you can teach them to play music. They may not read music, but they can memorize notes and play them as fluently as anyone else. As a dyslexic with her own dyslexic daughter, we have found computer composition a huge win, that and careful editing. The more they see the words they use regularly spelled correctly, the more easily they come. To this date, with 3 degrees, I still write ‘hear’ for ‘here’, etc. It’s something that isn’t ‘fixable’, and writers need to be aware of it and edit backwards to find them. i.e.: an old typewriting skill, from the end to the front. That way you are looking only at words, and you aren’t distracted by what you think you wrote in the sentence.

    Other than the computer if you wish to work on spelling, teach them the alphabet in sign language. One universal truth I have found with any LD is that what the body knows the brain can not forget. You tube has dozens of video’s. Turn them on this summer, and your students will pick it up within weeks. Have them practice their favorite words. Download lists of 500 top words. Let them pick words that feel right in their own speech pattern. Start signing. It’s an amazing thing. The body triggers the right part of the brain to access the word. It’ works with reading as well. Instead of asking students to ‘sound it out’. Tell them to say the letter. Rarely do they get past 3 or 4 letters when the world will pop out. It’s frustrating at first for students as many of them have been conditioned there is only ‘one right way’ to read. Persevere, once they find their own success and see how quickly it works for them, they will do it on their own.

    Lots of spelling is time and exposure, and brain pathways that need lots of work to solidify. If you ask me today how to spell something, I can’t do it. I CAN, however, put my hands in a typing position and move my mouth as my fingers move to accurately say the word perfectly. That’s the result of writing almost exclusively on typewriters and then computers. My body learned what my brain couldn’t. Keep them on the word processors! It’s not about spell check, it’s about working the brain with the fingers to access parts of our brains that do for us what other parts do for others.

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  12. I teach 2nd grade in a private school. I went to a teacher convention last year and went to a seminar about dyslexic children. I knew I had one child with dyslexia in my class. I sat there listening to everything with tears running down my face. I realized that out of ten students I probably had 5 that were dyslexic. Since then three more of my students have been tested and diagnosed with dyslexia. One parent is in denial. I have started purchasing the Barton system. One parent bought the first 3 levels and I have been selling scarves to raise money to buy more. I am currently tutoring 6 students and helping others to get tested and others to help me tutor. I know that God called me to teach for such a time as this. I have 7 children of my own and none of them are dyslexic. I home schooled for thirteen years before I was called to teach. God is so good and He keeps leading me every step of the way. I have seen great strides in my students using the Barton system.

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