Posted in Uncategorized

Million of kids are struggling in school because they don’t have internet access at home

Published: June 10, 2019 4:22 p.m. ET from

The ‘homework gap’ alludes to the fact that an estimated 18% of U.S. students don’t have internet access at home

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — With no computer or internet at home, Raegan Byrd’s homework assignments present a nightly challenge: How much can she get done using just her smartphone?

On the tiny screen, she switches between web pages for research projects, losing track of tabs whenever friends send messages. She uses her thumbs to tap out school papers, but when glitches keep her from submitting assignments electronically, she writes them out by hand.

“At least I have something, instead of nothing, to explain the situation,” said Raegan, a high school senior in Hartford.

She is among nearly 3 million students around the country who face struggles keeping up with their studies because they must make do without home internet. In classrooms, access to laptops and the internet is nearly universal. But at home, the cost of internet service and gaps in its availability create obstacles in urban areas and rural communities alike.

In what has become known as the homework gap, an estimated 17% of U.S. students do not have access to computers at home and 18% do not have home access to broadband internet, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data.

Until a couple of years ago, Raegan’s school gave every student a laptop equipped with an internet hot spot. But that grant program lapsed. In the area surrounding the school in the city’s north end, less than half of households have home access.

School districts, local governments and others have tried to help. Districts installed wireless internet on buses and loaned out hot spots. Many communities compiled lists of wi-fi-enabled restaurants and other businesses where children are welcome to linger and do schoolwork. Others repurposed unused television frequencies to provide connectivity, a strategy that the Hartford Public Library plans to try next year in the north end.

Some students study in the parking lots of schools, libraries or restaurants — wherever they can find a signal.

The consequences can be dire for children in these situations, because students with home internet consistently score higher in reading, math and science. And the homework gap in many ways mirrors broader educational barriers for poor and minority students.

Students without internet at home are more likely to be students of color, from low-income families or in households with lower parental education levels. Janice Flemming-Butler, who has researched barriers to internet access in Hartford’s largely black north end, said the disadvantage for minority students is an injustice on the same level as “when black people didn’t have books.”

Raegan, who is black, is grateful for her iPhone, and the data plan paid for by her grandfather. The honors student at Hartford’s Journalism and Media Academy tries to make as much progress as possible while at school.

“On a computer — click, click — it’s so much easier,” she said.

Classmate Madison Elbert has access to her mother’s computer at home, but she was without home internet this spring, which added to deadline stress for a research project.

“I really have to do everything on my phone because I have my data and that’s it,” she said.

Administrators say they try to make the school a welcoming place, with efforts including an after-school dinner program, in part to encourage them to use the technology at the building. Some teachers offer class time for students to work on projects that require an internet connection.

English teacher Susan Johnston said she also tries to stick with educational programs that offer smartphone apps. Going back to paper and chalkboards is not an option, she said.

“I have kids all the time who are like, ‘Miss, can you just give me a paper copy of this?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, no, because I really need you to get familiar with technology because it’s not going away,’” she said.

A third of households with school-age children that do not have home internet cite the expense as the main reason, according to federal Education Department statistics gathered in 2017 and released in May. The survey found the number of households without internet has been declining overall but was still at 14 percent for metropolitan areas and 18 percent in nonmetropolitan areas.

A commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, called the homework gap “the cruelest part of the digital divide.”

In rural northern Mississippi, reliable home internet is not available for some at any price.

On many afternoons, Sharon Stidham corrals her four boys into the school library at East Webster High School, where her husband is assistant principal, so they can use the internet for schoolwork. A cellphone tower is visible through the trees from their home on a hilltop near Maben, but the internet signal does not reach their house, even after they built a special antenna on top of a nearby family cabin.

A third of the 294 households in Maben have no computer and close to half have no internet.

Her 10-year-old son, Miles, who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia, plays an educational computer game that his parents hope will help improve his reading and math skills. His brother, 12-year-old Cooper, says teachers sometimes tell students to watch a YouTube video to help figure out a math problem, but that’s not an option at his house.

On the outskirts of Starkville, home to Mississippi State University, Jennifer Hartness said her children often have to drive into town for a reliable internet connection. Her daughter Abigail Shaw, who does a blend of high school and college work on the campus of a community college, said most assignments have to be completed using online software, and that she relies on downloading class presentations to study.

“We spend a lot of time at the coffee shops, and we went to McDonald’s parking lot before then,” Abigail said.

At home, the family uses a satellite dish that costs $170 a month. It allows a certain amount of high-speed data each month and then slows to a crawl. Hartness said it’s particularly unreliable for uploading data. Abigail said she has lost work when satellites or phones have frozen.

Raegan says she has learned to take responsibility for her own education.

“What school does a good job with,” she said, “is making students realize that when you go out into the world, you have to do things for yourself.”

Posted in Uncategorized

How cursive can help students with dyslexia connect the dots

Education May 6, 2014 5:19 PM EDT

Marilyn Zecher, a language specialist at the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center in Rockville, Maryland works with Alec Falconer and Sam Daggett learn cursive writing to deal with their dyslexia. Photo by: Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

Alec Falconer knew for years that he had a problem with words and letters. The young man who is now in 9th grade struggled in school for nearly a decade before his learning difficulty was diagnosed as dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that can hinder reading, writing, spelling and sometimes even speaking.

“When I first found out I was dyslexic I was a little stunned,” said Falconer.

“During elementary school and middle school, I’ve never had to write in cursive. My teachers let me just write in print,” Falconer said.

But for those with dyslexia, cursive handwriting can be an integral part of becoming a more successful student.

Dyslexia at a Glance

  • Dyslexia is the name for specific learning disabilities in reading.
  • Dyslexia is often characterized by difficulties with accurate word recognition, decoding and spelling.
  • Dyslexia may cause problems with reading comprehension and slow down vocabulary growth.
  • Dyslexia may result in poor reading fluency and reading out loud.
  • Dyslexia is neurological and often genetic.
  • Dyslexia is not the result of poor instruction.
  • With the proper support, almost all people with dyslexia can become good readers and writers.

Source: National Center for Learning Disabilities

“It’s because the various areas of the brain interacting,” said Marilyn Zecher, a former teacher and language specialist at the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center (ASDEC).

According to Zecher, students with dyslexia have difficulty learning to read because their brains associate sounds and letter combinations inefficiently. But cursive can help them with the decoding process because it integrates hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and other brain and memory functions.

“Some of the most recent research in the fMRI studies is showing us that when the hands are involved, it’s a stronger association for learning and memory. When people write things they remember them longer,” she said.

Alec Falconer believes cursive instruction has helped him in school

“After going to Marilyn, my handwriting, my spelling, the way I put sentences together has definitely improved a lot,” he said.

Parent Cathy Ruse said cursive therapy is also working for her eight-year-old daughter, Lucy, who is working with therapist Deborah Spear, who has a private practice but also works with ASDEC.

Lucy Ruse, 8, gets help for her dyslexia from therapist Deborah Spear, who uses cursive as a tool.  Photo by Elizabeth Jones/PBS NewsHour

Lucy Ruse, 8, gets help for her dyslexia from therapist Deborah Spear, who uses cursive as a tool. Photo by Elizabeth Jones/PBS NewsHour

“It was so beautiful to see at the beginning of Lucy’s lessons,” recalled Ruse. “She would never be able to remember ‘d,’ but when she started sky writing ‘d’ and using all these muscles, it helped her brain remember.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Dyslexia Group Seeks Earlier Screening, Specific Curriculum

A Rhode Island dyslexia advocacy group is pushing for sweeping education reforms including early screening, specific curriculum and trained specialists.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island dyslexia advocacy group is pushing for sweeping education reforms including early screening, specific curriculum and trained specialists.

By Associated Press, Wire Service ContentMay 28, 2019, at 2:04 p.m.

The Providence Journal reports that the legislation has been proposed by Decoding Dyslexia Rhode Island, an advocacy group of parents and teachers.

The bill would implement dyslexia screening for kindergartners and mandate that students with dyslexia be taught using a research-based curriculum called structured literacy, with at least one reading specialist per school trained to teach it.

But Democratic Rep. Joseph McNamara, the chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, says the bill is too costly and that the version he’s working on is more realistic.

The bill from Decoding Dyslexia Rhode Island has support from the Department of Education and the new education commissioner.


Information from: The Providence Journal,

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in Uncategorized

Massachusetts law will add a dyslexia advocate to early education panel

Screenshot 2019-05-19 10.02.44.png

BOSTON — State education officials will be tasked with issuing new guidelines for dyslexia screening in local schools under a new lawGov. Charlie Baker signed Friday afternoon.

Based on bills originally filed by Sens. Barbara L’Italien of Andover and Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, the bill (S 2607) also adds a dyslexiaadvocate to an existing early education expert panel. The panel, created under a 2012 law, will now also be charged with coming up with steps to implement “research-based recommendations” on student screening and teacher preparation around reading disabilities including dyslexia.

When the Senate passed the bill in July, L’Italien called it “a big first step today toward finally supporting thousands of students who just want to be able to learn alongside their peers, enjoy school, and go on to find success in life. Education is the greatest equalizer, and that starts with learning to read.”

The House passed the bill on Oct. 4, and both branches took the final votes to send it to Baker’s desk on Oct. 9.

Dyslexia affects one in five children in Massachusetts, according to L’Italien’s office, which said screening procedures for learning disabilities vary from district to district, making it a challenge for families to get the services their children need to succeed in school.

The new law calls for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to consult with the Department of Early Education and Care to issue guidelines to help school districts develop “screening procedures or protocols for students that demonstrate 1 or more potential indicators of a neurological learning disability including, but not limited to, dyslexia.”

Posted in Uncategorized

Motivating Students With Dyslexia

Written by Matthew James Friday


Screenshot 2019-05-18 14.12.19.png

Thinking About Motivation

Thinking of my own brother who was so profoundly disengaged by his educational experiences; thinking of students I teach in my current class or past classes; thinking of students I have tutored outside of school settings; thinking of working with young adult teacher trainees with dyslexia; and thinking of myself as someone who writes and teaches with dyslexia; what motivates us all? What keeps us engaged with learning despite the difficulties and set-backs? What can educators and adults do to ensure our students remain motivated?

Education is Changing

The topic of student motivation exists in the context of an exciting though uncertain time in education. Driven partly by radical shifts in technology and partly by the urgent need to understand our global responsibility to the environment, we educators are busy unraveling and reinventing our methodology. The Victorian model of mass education – of small classrooms, of the dominance of knowledge over skills, of mass assessments in standardized test forms, of creating sets of working ‘norms’ for children to fit into – are being rightly questioned by academics and business leaders who realize that we urgently need creative, divergent thinking young people who can multi-task effectively, research accurately and work collaboratively.

With creativity and curiosity at the heart of many new proposals for the future of education, dyslexic students can be accommodated, especially given their capacity for creative and alternative modes of thinking. Technology and increased knowledge of neurology give us the tools to better engage these students. Yet, underneath those tools and techniques lies the question of motivation.

Why Motivation?

Without motivation, the desire to learn dwindles. This is, of course, true for us all, but for dyslexic students, it is a more urgent issue. Already struggling with feelings of inadequacy, the path to demotivation and disengagement is much shorter. I have noticed in my teaching career how much harder it is to motivate older students if they arrive at my door with years of negative experience behind them. But before we think about motivation from the students’ perspective, let’s consider our own.

Let me guess at what motivates you: working with or for inspiring people; receiving positive, specific praise; being in a nurturing environment in which making mistakes is an important part of learning; by knowing you make a difference and that your
efforts are worthwhile; that you feel appreciated and listened to. Naturally, when I think of inspiring people, I always start with the teachers from school, as I’m sure you do. These incredible mentors shape our world-view, personality, and opinion as much as our parents.

Teachers as De-motivators

Teaching is a complex role made of many parts: parent, psychologist, social worker, entertainer, role-model, guide, and guardian. All of these parts make us educators best suited to understand motivation as we hold the hearts and souls of young people in our hands. It also makes it an incredibly complex job and one easy to get wrong. Every day. The problem is that given how high teachers are held in our esteem, their disapproval and rejection can have intensely negative effects. I have a much more vivid memory of those teachers who unfairly humiliated or criticized me in elementary and high school then I do of the ones who nurtured and guided me.

This is because, psychologically speaking, negative feedback far outweighs the impact of positive feedback. The ideal ratio is around 5 to1, according to the renowned work of psychologist John Gottman. For every negative comment made to a student, five positive comments are needed to balance out or erase the trauma of the negative. My first ever teacher trainee mentor had me work on this by giving me a small, round metal counter. One lesson I had to press the button every time I was negative, to record a score. The next I had to press the button every time I was positive. Seeing the resulting data motivated me to focus on positive praise. The beneficial result was that my trainee class suddenly had a more encouraging, motivating teacher.

Teaching is All About Relationships

Effective education is about many things but at the heart there is the simplest of all requirements: a positive relationship between teacher and student. It doesn’t matter what curriculum you are using, what the language or ethnicity is of the students, with the right relationship, ANYTHING can be taught and students easily be motivated. Many obstacles prevent this from happening, exhausting educators and driving them out of the profession. But let’s think on the positive. How can that relationship be forged?

1. Trust – it takes time to build, naturally. Students have to know you care for them, will listen to them, respect their concerns and forgive their errors.

2. Enthusiasm – when I think of the most effective teachers in elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities, it is those teachers who have classroom communities full of enthusiasm, passion and energy. It is infectious.

3. Patience – it takes time, false starts and a LOT of enthusiasm. Be patient. Then, when you think you are running out of patient, be even more patient. You can see how the first three points here are intertwined.

4. Creativity – model your own creativity, whatever it is. Your creativity, with its essential messiness, mistakes, diversions but vision and determination, models the same approach to students.

5. Notice what a student CAN do not what a student can’t do. Dyslexic students are painfully aware of what they can’t do: the calculation or question they can’t answer, the text form they can’t master, the book they can’t read. What they need is to know the opposite.

6. Read, ‘Thank You Mr. Falkner’ By Patricia Polacco, a classic elementary school true story of the author’s struggle with dyslexia and a teacher who inspired her. Next, read it to your class.

7. Feedback – enthusiasm must come before feedback. Dyslexic students already give themselves enough feedback as it is. Having said that, don’t be afraid to give direct, honest feedback but in small amounts. No one person, least of all dyslexic students, likes a shopping list of mistakes.

8. High expectations – dyslexic students want and deserve to be treated the same as every other student. Sure, they receive accommodations and support, but you have high expectations of their contributions and efforts. High doesn’t mean ‘unrealistic’, but know that older students could feel patronized if the bar is set low for them.

You Don’t Give Enough Praise

You’re are just like your students: you need and crave praise and approval. It is human nature. Having said, generalized praise of a good job, well done, nice work variety does little to improve self-esteem or motivation. Older students and adults know when we are being given empty compliments. Instead, the praise needs to be specific, frequent and well-meant.

For dyslexic students, the key is to look past the technical errors they make in their reading and writing. Instead, get excited about their ideas. After all, ideas are everything. Without ideas, we would never have fire, the wheel, any art form, computers, civilization, language, etc. Remember the 5-1 rule of praise versus negative attention. Increase this ratio as dyslexic students give themselves such negative attention.

Learned Helplessness

If the answer to student motivation was so simple as giving specific praise then we could all solve the issue of demotivated students and adults in short space of time. The trouble is, the key to motivation is understanding some of the roots of de-motivation. The most important, I would argue, is a psychological concept known as ‘Learned Helplessness’ developed by American psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman in the late 1960s and ’70s.

Learned helplessness, in psychology, a mental state in which an organism forced to bear aversive stimuli, or stimuli that are painful or otherwise unpleasant, becomes unable or unwilling to avoid subsequent encounters with those stimuli, even if they are “escapable,” presumably because it has learned that it cannot control the situation.  

Source:, Learned Helplessness


The response of educators is to help more, which results in a student become more reliant on the adult helper, and a negative cycle is set in place. Add the considerable complications of parental guilt and the understandable desire of parents to what to help their children, and you end up with older students unable to act independently, paralyzed and appearing more profoundly affected by their disability, which, now, they are.

Help Less for Helplessness

Of course, dyslexic students need support. I am not suggesting students can learn to cure themselves of dyslexia. After all, it’s cause of physiological differences in the brain. The problem is that dyslexic students can suffer from psychological difficulties as well. So of course they need well-trained educators planning specialized interventions. They need adapted technologies to facilitate their creativity and expression. But, sometimes, they also need to be helped less. They need to be left to problem solve themselves. They need, in short, to be guided to create their own coping strategies and tools, quite separate from the adult support.

I easily spend a year with my students trying to reshape their thinking so they can be independent. I shower students with praise but I also step back from solving their problems, leaving a space with questions such as, what do you think you should do? I try to inspire dyslexic students by showing them amazing role models from history. I have learned to be completely comfortable with my own dyslexic errors in the classroom, and I openly talk about my mistakes. I won’t claim that I am always successful as I would want to be. One teacher may not be enough. Dyslexic students, like all students, need a sequence of diverse but consistently positive role models.

Motivating Young Adults

I have worked with young adult trainee teachers in this area as well. We have looked at different note-taking formats, visual methods for planning lessons, tools and technology that can alleviate the stress of writing or reading to classes full of expectant students. The young adult knows this, faced with the demands of the working world and the fact they have to manage it. There is little sympathy outside educational settings, in the so-called ‘real world’.

Even in my own profession, I am given no exceptions or assistance for my dyslexia. Can I complain? Perhaps but ultimately, having dyslexia is a reason for finding different aspects of learning hard, not an excuse. We have a responsibility to prepare students for the reality of adult life and that can mean setting goals and having challenging conversations.

Being Accountable

For motivation and progress all parties in the process need to be responsible and accountable – teacher, parent and student. Teachers and parents working as supportive teams can go a long way to address this. Big problems occur when the teacher and parents fail to communicate or lack respect for each other’s perspectives or blame each other for the student’s problems. The victim is always the student. Older students become aware of the miscommunication and can exploit it to their advantage, to get out of doing work they are finding hard or demotivating.

A classroom teacher may only work with the student for a year, while a parent has been shaping that student’s outlook and learning habits since before birth. So certainly, a greater weight of influence and, ultimately, responsibility lies with the parents. Here are some ideas to build an accountable and responsible relationship.

  • The first two months in a classroom matter the most. It is a tough and testing time. Dyslexic students, like all students, will test the limits and see what they can get away with, avoid doing, etc. Parents need to be on board but not bombard the teacher. Allow teachers to manage, be firm, set boundaries.
  • No blame, just ideas – when teachers and parents start blaming each other for what is or what is not happening, the student falls through the gap. Instead, acknowledge what is not happening, which is usually the unmotivated student acting in ways to avoid the repeated and now learned feeling of negativity about themselves (and possibly reinforced by adults feeling the same way). Together, brainstorm new ways to act.
  • Involve the student – I always prefer to have the student prefer when meeting with parents. That way the student sees the adults working together and can have the opportunity to share their perspective. They also realize that playing one adult off another won’t work anymore.
  • Having structure at home is vital. Some dyslexic students have home lives that are a whirlwind of emotions, poor sleeping patterns, over-exposure to computer screens and a lack of structure when it comes to homework. If this is not addressed, the problems may persist into adult life.
  • Share the truth – some of the best parent meetings occur when parents are honest about their children and what they struggle with at home. Any decent teacher will empathize and offer strategies to support, be it sharing Behaviour Management tools or Reward Systems. I have found that students are really motivated when they know their parents and teachers inform each other of positive actions.
  • Family Dyslexia – other revelatory meetings have occurred when parents reflect on their own learning and realize (or admit to) symptoms that may be dyslexia. There is a growing body of evidence to show that dyslexia has a genetic base. It is therefore logical to wonder if one or both parents have the same challenges. The denial of this can be the root cause of problems at home.
  • Read, read, read. Reading to young children is one of the universally recognized bonding and language-acquisition acts parents do with their children. Read anything and everything. Be a lover of reading in all genres and formats. Invest in a subscription (or time at the library) to audio books, so that families who struggle with reading from text are still exposed to rich language. For further relevant reading, see: Understanding Dyslexia and the Reading Brain in Kids.
  • Explore all different learning styles – music and art clubs, sports activities, acting classes, robotics clubs; it’s so often the creative and inventive arts that enthuse dyslexic students. These alternative experiences can be a source of lasting motivation to a student struggling in the mainstream setting.
  • Dyslexic students make bad choices too – when I was working with children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, I was told that these children, as well as struggling with emotions and communications, also make poor choices. They can be ‘naughty’. The difficulty is identifying what can and can’t be helped and acting accordingly. This is equally true of dyslexic students. If these students have adults in their lives that excuse their poor choices and effort, then it empowers the disengagement.
  • Look for role-models – dyslexic students benefit from knowing dyslexic adults who have mastered some kind of profession or skill. Mentors don’t have all the answers but they prove that there is a successful life beyond dyslexia.

Are You Feeling Motivated?

I hope so. Writing a blog about student motivation is much easier than actually achieving it. That’s my daily job. Some days I feel elated, knowing that I have achieved this. Other days, I feel like a failure knowing my students rejected my approach or, to put it simply, I got it wrong.

But I won’t give up. I won’t stop giving specific praise; I won’t stop jumping up and down with excitement when a student makes a creative breakthrough; I won’t stop being direct and honest with my feedback to students and parents; I won’t stop having high expectations; and I won’t stop being accountable for my own difficulties. That way I hope to be someone who has dyslexia but is not defined by it. I am so much more than that, and so are your students.


Posted in Uncategorized

Dyslexia screening part of education bill

Children with dyslexia often aren’t diagnosed early enough, so lawmakers are asked to step up screening and teacher awareness.

Posted in Uncategorized

Assessing children as young as 4 years of age gives each child the opportunity to get on the path to reach their full reading potential

by Dr. Nadine Gaab, of Boston Children’s Hospital    from

Screenshot 2019-05-11 15.49.14.png

The Early Literacy Screening app, being developed by the Innovation & Digital Health Accelerator at Boston Children’s Hospital, in partnership with Dr. Nadine Gaab, will be presented in a fun, interactive way to keep children engaged for the duration of the 20-minute screening.

Once the screener is complete, the app will produce an individual risk profile for each of the six pre-literacy assessments that measure the child’s early literacy milestones.

Links to evidence-based responses that offer teaching solutions and intervention programs (e.g. curriculum, lesson plans, videos, professional development ) will be provided to help teachers, parents and other professionals in the child’s life address the needs of those deemed at-risk.

Comprehensively screening for six early indicators of literacy challenges, including developmental dyslexia. The screener is self-administered, gamified, and engaging, with a dashboard accessible by teachers, parents, pediatricians or other clinical professionals.

Healthcare Context

The Dyslexia Paradox

Common literacy issues, such as dyslexia, are generally diagnosed after the most effective time for intervention has passed. The Dyslexia Paradox describes the discrepancy between when developmental dyslexia is typically diagnosed (between 2nd and 4th grade) and the most effective window for interventions.4,5

This paradox is detrimental to the well-being of children and their families who experience the psychosocial implications of reading disabilities for years prior to diagnosis.

Difficulty reading at grade-level can lead to low self-esteem, feelings of shame, inadequacy, helplessness and depression in children.3

Targeted interventions are most effective when administered in kindergarten and first grade, despite reading disabilities typically only being diagnosed when a child repeatedly fails to read from Kindergarten to later grades. Research around the world has identified several early literacy components that predict future reading outcome, allowing for earlier identification.



About 80% of those are from low socio-economic backgrounds.1,2



had annual incomes of less that $50,000 within eight years of leaving high school. Sixty-seven percent earned $25,000 or less.6

Pairing scientific research with technology and business strategy

The Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator (IDHA)

The IDHA at Boston Children’s Hospital is shaping the future of health care. The goal of the IDHA is to develop and accelerate digital health offerings that extend the access, reach and scale of Boston Children’s clinical expertise to improve the health of children worldwide. We’re utilizing our expertise and capabilities as the #1 pediatric research hospital in the world to collaborate with industry partners to build and launch commercially successful products, platforms and ventures.


The two main focus areas of IDHA include creating and executing Boston Children’s digital health strategy and accelerating innovations from industry and within the hospital through our Innovation Accelerator. The IDHA team is made up of over 70 individuals who specialize in mobile apps, web development, front-end development and business planning – the full mechanism for sourcing, vetting, resourcing, building, piloting and commercializing innovations in collaboration with others across the enterprise.

To learn more about the IDHA, visit

Dr. Nadine Gaab

Dr. Nadine Gaab is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and a member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research within the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience focuses on the brain correlates of reading development in typical and atypical children as well as possible pre-markers of developmental dyslexia in preschoolers and infants.

Dr. Gaab is a recipient of the T. Berry Brazelton Award for Innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, is a member of the Board of the Landmark School, scientific advisory board member of The Dyslexia Foundation and a founder of the New England research on Dyslexia Society (NERDY). In 2018, Dr. Gaab was presented with the Allan C. Crocker award for her advocacy on behalf of children with dyslexia and reading disabilities and efforts around the recent passage of the Massachusetts screening legislation. She has also been recognized by the International Dyslexia Association (Massachusetts chapter) in her receipt of the Alice H. Garside Award for outstanding leadership in advancing the science of dyslexia.

She is the recipient of various federal and private foundation grants and a permanent member of the NICHD study section “Language and Communication’ and has published numerous peer-reviewed papers on reading and dyslexia in scientific journals such as Nature Neuroscience, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Developmental Science and the Annals of Dyslexia. She is further a frequent speaker in the community and teaches workshops for parents, teachers and other professionals on dyslexia and reading development and is a consultant for various school districts nationwide.

To learn more about Dr. Gaab’s research, publications and community outreach, visit

Posted in Uncategorized

Opinion: Finalist for BUSD superintendent job needs to prioritize an evidence-based approach to dyslexia


Both Brent Stephens and the Berkeley Unified School District favor an approach to learning that is not outlined in the California Dyslexia Guidelines. That must change.

two heads with alphabet

Given the past history of BUSD’s failure to serve its students with dyslexia, I was troubled by the recent news that Dr. Brent Stephens is the sole finalist for the job of BUSD superintendent.

BUSD is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding its failure to address the needs of its students with dyslexia. According to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA), dyslexia is the most common learning disability. One in five students show signs of dyslexia, which negatively impacts a student’s ability to read, write and spell. Without early identification and timely evidence-based intervention, first graders who struggle to learn to read rarely catch up.

Stephens led San Francisco Unified School District’s dyslexia pilot project. Berkeley Public Schools stated in its press release about Stephens that “since the advent of the 2016 California Dyslexia Guidelines, [Stephens] has played a pivotal role in expanding access to research-based approaches to reading instruction.” Stephens also told Berkeleyside that he was responsible for new intervention services for San Francisco students with dyslexia, and had improved screening to better identify kids in need of services.

But there are many parents and organizations with concerns about how San Francisco schools have addressed dyslexia and do not want to see Berkeley replicate those approaches.

Decoding Dyslexia CA, a grassroots organization of parents and educators, and recognized dyslexia experts, Dr. Fumiko Hoeft and Dr. Nancy Cushen White, have, in particular, raised concerns. SFUSD’s dyslexia implementation does not meet the definition of Structured Literacy instruction as defined by the International Dyslexia Association and outlined in the California Dyslexia Guidelines. Structured Literacy is the umbrella term used by IDA to unify and encompass evidence-based programs and approaches that are aligned to well-established practices for teaching reading.

In fairness to Stephens, I do not know his qualifications as a candidate for the BUSD position. My sole purpose here is to address the decisions he made in directing SFUSD’s dyslexia implementation.

I am part of the leadership team of Decoding Dyslexia CA. DDCA is a grassroots movement comprised of parents, educators and other professionals dedicated to raising awareness and improving access to resources for students with dyslexia in California public schools.  DDCA was the bill sponsor of AB 1369 which resulted in California’s most recent dyslexia legislation. In addition, select members of DDCA were part of a comprehensive workgroup assembled by the CA Department of Education to write the content for the California Dyslexia Guidelines that were issued in August 2017. DDCA has also shared its concerns with BUSD leadership and its Board of Directors in a letter dated April 23, 2019.

Learning to read is a complex process, involving learning how speech sounds match to letters to form syllables and words. Different from learning to speak, which is a natural process, learning to read requires explicit teaching of the sound-symbol relationships and how written language works. It is true that some people may not need direct teaching of the sound-symbol relationships, but for many children, especially students with dyslexia, explicit and systematic code-based instruction is critical. This approach is known as Structured Literacy and it is discussed in detail in the California Dyslexia Guidelines.

By contrast, both SFUSD and BUSD’s apparent primary strategy to ensure students are proficient readers is an approach known as “balanced literacy.” The problem with balanced literacy is that it treats learning to read as a largely natural process. The main tool in balanced literacy is to give children “leveled” books to read and kids are expected to learn by doing, with a little bit of guidance from the teacher. Instruction commonly focuses on literacy-related behaviors, but not on sounding out (decoding) words while reading. For example, in balanced literacy, kids might be instructed to look at the pictures to help identify words. For the struggling reader, being told to use pictures to figure out words is not helpful.They are being encouraged to use a strategy that they are likely already doing, because they don’t know how and aren’t being taught how to read the words. “Balanced literacy” does incorporate some instruction in phonemic awareness (the ability to notice and work with the sounds in spoken language) and phonics, but the instruction is minimal and not systematic.

SFUSD has invested primarily in programs and teacher training that are based on a balanced literacy and that, based on current reading research, will not improve reading outcomes for students with dyslexia. Several sources for the science behind Structured Literacy instruction that are used to support this opinion piece can be found here.

SFUSD has attempted to implement some interventions that do have scientific-research behind them, however, many of these interventions are not available until a student has completely failed in reading and by then the gap is often too large for a student to ever catch up.

Ironically, several of the reading programs that SFUSD is implementing are the same programs that BUSD has used for years and what has landed it in a class-action lawsuit in the first place.

We owe it to our students to bridge the gap between what decades of reading research informs us is “best practice” and the reading instruction we are providing in our classrooms. Change starts at the top. If top District officials keep repeating what we know, based on reading research, does not work for our students with dyslexia, how will we ever improve reading outcomes? We know better, now we must do better.

Lori DePole is a volunteer strategic partner liaison for Decoding Dyslexia California and an East Bay resident.

Posted in Uncategorized

These 20-year-olds developed an app to help students with dyslexia learn better

by Sujata Sangwan 

2nd May 2019

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability found today. At its core, it makes reading – perhaps the most important part of school education – difficult. This is why children with dyslexia often do not get high grades though this has nothing to do with their intelligence. Currently, there are nearly 3.5 crore children with dyslexia studying in schools in India.

In order to bring a solution to this problem, four students from Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management & Engineering from Mumbai – Tushar Gupta, Mudita Sisodia, Schezeen Fazulbhoy, and Mitali Raju (all in their 20s) – have developed an app to help dyslexic children learn better.

The recently-launched Augmenta11y, available for free for both Android and iOS users, helps children with dyslexia read books using the camera on their phone. The app makes use of Augmented Reality (AR) to show the text in a dyslexia‐friendly format, and has several other customisable features that make reading much easier.

Team Augmenta11y

Also Read: Rising above disability: The inspiring stories of 8 differently abled entrepreneurs

About the team

Tushar Gupta, a final‐year engineering student who currently leads the project, has previously worked as a consultant with startups and small and medium businesses (SMEs) for over four years now, and will be heading to Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, to pursue a Masters in Human Computer Interaction.

Mudita Sisodia has worked on the research and development of Augmenta11y, and was previously a Udacity Google Scholar. Mitali Raju and Schezeen Fazulbhoy also worked on the development and ideation of the product and its underlying research.

Tushar Gupta said,

“Augmenta11y is the result of an entire year’s worth of research and development. What started as a thesis project, with the support from Oswald Labs, has transformed into something that has had an impact on the lives of real children in schools. My team and I have had the pleasure of diving deep into this domain, and I believe we’re just getting started!”

App features

Augmenta11y has several specialised algorithms implemented like detecting major objects, text stabilisation, and dynamic resizing to make reading easier. According to the team, during the beta stage, the app was tested by users from India, Malta, the Netherlands, Canada, the US, Ireland, the UK, and Nigeria.

In a research on 12‐14 year old dyslexic children using the app, the team found an average decrease of 21.03 percent in each student’s reading time. Further, 93 percent of children agreed that a change in contrast between the background and the text, an exclusive feature of the app, helped improve readability. This means that a student spending one hour to read a chapter in his or her textbook can now finish it in 40 minutes.

Developing apps for disabled

Augmenta11y is part of Shravan apps, a set of smartphone apps marketed by Oswald Labs, for people with disabilities. Some of the other apps developed by Shravan include Live Subtitles for people with hearing impairment, and Visib11y for people with visual impairment.

Starting with Augmenta11y, Oswald Labs has set up a research fund where it contributes 10 percent of its annual profits into conducting new research and development for such technologies, and measuring the impact it has on the society.

The team has so far raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Oswald Labs Research Fund to build the app. Commenting about Shravan platform, Anand ChowdharyCEOOswald Labs, said:

“We are very excited to open the Shravan platform and our technology to Tushar’s team, who truly want to make an impact on how children with dyslexia study today.”

Competition and opportunities

According to the founders, there are not many apps to specifically help children with dyslexia. Some apps have specific features like text-to-speech and font changing (for example, Google Play Books, Mozilla Pocket, and Amazon WhisperSync), but they do not have the customisation abilities of Augmenta11y.

“Augmenta11y does not impose upon one reading pattern, but allows students to customise the contrast, typeface, space between letters and lines, etc., to fit their reading needs. This exclusive ‘dyslexia-friendly mode’ was invented by Oswald Labs two years ago, and introduced in their web accessibility product, Agastya. This feature is exclusive to Augmenta11y, and not available on any other app for smartphones,” says Anand.

Future plans

In the future, the team aims to add more features to the app to improve accessibility for dyslexic individuals.

“Through user feedback and multiple rounds of testing, we’ve identified areas where the app’s functionality can be improved further. For instance, adding support for real-time translations in an AR environment will allow users to better understand their surroundings. This could be particularly useful when the user is presented with unfamiliar information, such as a textbook or signage in a new language,” says Tushar.

“Another point of improvement is the ability to customise the text-to-speech playback mode. We’re looking to add a number of new voices (both male and female), and a way to control the tempo to aid children in understanding the pronunciation of certain words,” says Anand.

Also read: Meet Anita Sharma, the woman who is helping persons with disabilities learn to drive

Sujata Sangwan
Sujata is an engineering graduate and has done her Post
Graduation in Human Resource Management. She has a
deep interest in startups & technology. She can be reach…


%d bloggers like this: