On Accommodations: Dispatches from Headstrong Nation

Accommodations are one of the most important–and frequent–topics of discussion in my office. For students with learning differences, accommodations are a key part of their academic program: they’re critical for helping these students  communicate what they know. There are lots of sites out there that discuss accommodations, and I hope to feature and link to as many as possible from this space.

Today’s featured site is Headstrong Nation, a California-based nonprofit that focuses on awareness and empowerment for adults and kids who learn differently. The nonprofit’s site is bold, a little brash, and jam-packed with information, and I definitely recommend taking a spin. Most importantly, check out the eye-catching, plain-spoken Accommodations section here. It’s a great introduction to what accommodations are and how kids and adults can make best use of them at school and at home. Definitely worth a look–enjoy!

Watch the following video to learn more about Headstrong Nation and its mission.


Assistive Technology for Dyslexia

From Jamie Martin’s website, http://atdyslexia.com

I attended a great webinar today sponsored by the amazing people at Learning Ally. Connecticut-based assistive technology consultant and trainer Jamie Martin was the presenter, and he did a terrific talk about different technology to support dyslexic students as they write. I loved one of the first things he mentioned: while these tools will be especially helpful to dyslexic readers, they’re great tools for all readers who want to get strategic about their writing. He talked about three specific challenges that need to be addressed in the writing process: spelling and grammar, organization, and editing. Check out his website and his Twitter feed for the specifics: he has some great recommendations for tools that address each of those three tasks. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, Learning Ally is putting together a virtual conference next month for the parents of kids with dyslexia. It’s the first event of its kind and it looks really interesting. It might be a little spendy for some (registration looks like it’s $129 and up), but it could be worthwhile. Learn more and register here: Learning Ally’s Spotlight on Dyslexia.

Upcoming Event: “What’s next after high school?”

This is a great upcoming event for students with dyslexia and their families, and it could be helpful for students with other learning differences as well. It’s a great opportunity and i encourage you to attend! — PMK

What’s Next After High School? Preparation and Planning for High School Students with Dyslexia and their Families

Presented by the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association

WHEN: Saturday, October 18, 2014 9:30 AM to 1 PM

WHERE: Allegheny Intermediate Unit at The Waterfront 475 East Waterfront Drive, Homestead, PA 15120


  • High School Students
  • Parents/Guardians of High School Students
  • High School Counselors Teachers and Tutors

Topics will include:

  • What are the options after high school?
  • How can you determine what school will be a good fit?
  • What kinds of accommodations are available for students with dyslexia in a
  • college or technical school, and how do you get accommodations?
  • Should a student reveal a learning disability on an admissions application?
  • How can a counselor from the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) help?
  • Is there a difference between the SAT and the ACT? Which test is better?

These questions and others will be addressed by an educational consultant, current college students, college disability services personnel, OVR personnel, and parents who have been through the process.

Cost: $10 for the first member of a family $5 for each additional family member
Online Registration: Go to PBIDA.org
Questions: Email pittsburgh.dyslexia@pbida.org

Click here to view and download the flyer for this event.

From WBUR’s Here and Now: “I’m not stupid. I’m dyslexic.”

From WBUR.

I heard a great story this afternoon on WBUR’s Here and Now program on the state of research and intervention for students with dyslexia. Things I loved: this story featured kids’ voices, and these wise, seasoned students talked about how tough it is to grow up a dyslexic reader. Also encouraging was the latest-greatest research out of MIT and Harvard about using fMRI technology to better map and understand the differences between the brains of dyslexic and non-dyslexic readers, and the ways that we as educators might use that knowledge to better address every child’s learning needs. Interesting stuff! Check out the embedded story above, and visit the WBUR site here to read, listen, and comment.

Event debrief: BAISLD Transition to High School Forum

I’ve written before about my amazing colleagues in BAISLD, the Bay Area. Independent Schools Learning Differences group. This group consists of the people in schools in our region, mostly at the high school level, who specifically serve the needs of students with diagnosed learning and attentional impairments.

Back in December, we’d planned to have one of our five annual meetings at Mercy High School here in San Francisco, but as it happened, the controlled chaos of school life in December prevailed and we cancelled the meeting at the last minute. I’d already planned to be off campus, as had my colleagues from Lick Wilmerding High School, and we conspired to meet and talk shop on our own. My counterpart at Lick is a woman named Winifred Montgomery, who is as wickedly smart as she is funny. A Lick alumna named Rebekah Randle recently joined Winifred’s office as her assistant, and we agreed it would be great to meet to get Rebekah further acquainted with the work we do and the terrific network of educators we belong to.

As we sipped tea (them) and hot chocolate (me), we wondered: wouldn’t it be great if we could spread the message of BAISLD to a wider audience? Specifically, one of our greatest challenges at the high school level is in managing the expectations of our new ninth grade families. in every arena from disclosing an LD to requesting accommodations to applying to college, there is widespread confusion and anxiety among the families who join us in ninth grade. Wouldn’t it be great, we wondered, to have all of that information in one place? And wouldn’t it be great to have everyone who could help spread that message–like elementary school learning specialists, placement counselors, and heads of school– in the same room?

That afternoon, Winifred, Rebekah and I laid out the blueprint for an event and a publication that we proudly rolled out on Thursday, April 10th. The first BAISLD Transition to High School Forum was a free event that included an amazing dinner (courtesy of the dynamite food service staff at Lick Wilmerding) and a discussion of the greatest challenges that we face in independent middle schools and high schools with the students that we serve. The centerpiece of the event was the BAISLD Resource Guide, a short booklet describing the landscape of services available to what we called “neuro-diverse learners” in our schools in the region. We also included lists of the best questions families can asks during the high school search process, including a series of questions for schools and a series of questions for families to discuss for themselves. We also included a comprehensive guide to the services available on the campuses of all high schools in the region.

The resource guide was a labor of love for the entire BAISLD group. We used our February meeting to outline what we thought belonged in the resource guide, from thorny issues (like the distinction between accommodations and modifications) to more practical matters (including the process of pursuing accommodations on standardized tests). Throughout the guide, our goal was to write with a voice that was at once authoritative and empowering. This guide, we hoped, could be a game-changer in our region. It could allow families to feel more empowered than ever about their search for the right high school for their neuro-diverse sons and daughters.

If Thursday night’s event is any indication, I’m confident that we’ve managed to create something extraordinary. We had middle school and high school faculty members grappling with big questions and sharing best practices in service of some of the most vulnerable students that we serve. It was energizing, it was inspiring, and–most importantly–there was an overwhelming demand for further discussion.

As a result, we now hope to expand BAISLD’s membership to include a more diverse mix of middle school and high school voices. We also plan to update the resource guide at least every two years, if not more often. In addition to the printed copies we released Thursday night, the guide is now hosted permanently on the Lick Wilmerding High School website, where we hope it will help neuro-diverse learners and their families more confidently and competently navigate the high school search process.

Or work in BAISLD is far from over–there are always going to be more needs to meet and more students who need our support. I can’t help but feel, though, that we’ve done something great. In just a few months’ time, we’ve combined our collective knowledge to create something that may better inform the entire high school admissions process in our region and affect a wide community of learners. I’m so proud of what we’ve done, and I’m enormously proud to work with my amazing colleagues here in BAISLD.

The Week in Links: Terrific resources around the web

One of the things that makes me most thankful to be an educator here in San Francisco is something called BAISLD. The Bay Area Independent Schools Learning Differences group is a community of educators who work with what we like to call “neuro-diverse” learners in the independent schools in our region. Most of us are the learning specialist/academic support director types in middle schools and high schools, but our lively listserve and meetings include educators, counselors, diagnosticians, and educational therapists who work with students with a variety of learning needs. We meet in person two to four times per year, and we talk about best practices, trends, and helpful resources on our listserve daily.

Something else I'm thankful for: the view from my office window.
Something else I’m thankful for:                                                    the view from my office window.

It’s always a highlight of my semester to attend a BAISLD meeting. I have the selfish pleasure of coordinating the meetings, so I get to pick when they take place and where we’ll go. Last semester, we started our meeting at the Bay School, which may have the only view of the Golden Gate Bridge that’s nicer than the one from my office. Our latest meeting was yesterday at Marin Country Day School, where they have a great view of the hills and, perhaps less notably, of San Quentin State Prison. (Note to self: at some point, I’ll write about why I recognize the view: I’ve been visiting the prison and singing with my friend in music ministry there since the fall.) Among other things, the conversation ranged to technology tools. We pledged to share our ideas via the listserve, which we did. I shared some things I was aware of, but I discovered some terrific new tools that I’m eager to share with you. Be forewarned: these sites are a little link-dense, but they’re worth it.

Once again, I’m grateful for the wonderful personal learning network that BAISLD is for me. Many of us who serve neuro-diverse learners in schools are one-man or one-woman shows. I was thrilled this week to have a first-time meeting attendee exclaim, “I’m so glad I’m not alone!” That’s the most rewarding part of this kind of collaboration: it helps us know that we’re not alone–better still, we’re among smart, passionate, knowledgeable friends who are eager to help.

And now: the links we talked about this week in the wonderful world of BAISLD.

“iPad as…” This is an old favorite of mine. I love how this site phrases the question of how to use technology: it’s not about picking a cool tool and then retrofitting it awkwardly onto something meaningful for learning. Instead, the site organizes apps by the ways that teachers or students might use them for addressing their needs. Super cool, and a powerful way of thinking about technology.

Tech Potential. This is the website of local assistive technology guru Shelley Haven, whose work I admire and whose PEN talk and workshop on our campus at Schools of the Sacred Heart both blew my mind. Visit her site and comb through her wealth of resources. You’ll discover that your devices have all kinds of built-in features to support learning.

Power Up: Apps for Kids with Special Needs and Learning Differences. Common Sense Media is the nation’s leader in reviewing media for children and families. Full disclosure: I think Common Sense Media is great, and I happen to have written some reviews for their educator website, Graphite. I’m impressed by the work that CSM does to reach out thoughtfully and responsibly to families about digital media and digital citizenship. This isn’t a list that I helped make, but it’s one that makes me proud to be connected to such a smart, socially responsible company.

Teach Thought’s 55 Best Free Education Apps for iPad. This is exactly what it sounds like. And it’s delightful. Give yourself some time to explore–it’s worth it.