The Windward School and Windward Teacher Training Institute
"Why Some Children Struggle to Read: The Neurobiology of Dyslexia and Other Reasons Children Struggle"
by Devin Kearns, PhD
was held on Thursday, October 24, 2019, 7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
at The Windward School's Westchester Middle School, 40 West Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY 10604
Dyslexia is one of the most prevalent disabilities affecting American school children. Between 8% and 10% of American children have dyslexia, and more than 10% of other children are at risk of identification. The question addressed in this lecture is why children have dyslexia. Dr. Kearns will explain how children with this language-based learning disability have brains that process specific tasks differently and how this relates to their performance on reading-related tests. In addition, he will present other possible causes of word reading difficulty that can be confused with dyslexia. He will also address controversies about dyslexia—including why some people do not even like the word. The goal of the lecture is to help people understand what dyslexia is and what it is not.
About Devin Kearns, PhD
Dr. Kearns is an associate professor of Special Education in the Department of Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut and a Center for Behavioral Education & Research (CBER) and Haskins Laboratories research scientist. He holds a Ph.D. in Special Education from Vanderbilt University. Devin researches reading disability—including dyslexia—and designs, implements, and tests reading intervention programs to help these students. He examines their impact on reading achievement and neurobiological processing. He publishes articles for educators and researchers on reading difficulty. He often provides professional development to help educators implement high-quality reading instruction.
The Windward School and Windward Teacher Training Institute present two free educational lectures open to the public in the spring and fall of each year: the Fall Community Lecture and Robert J. Schwartz Memorial Lecture in the spring. While the lectures are open to the public, registration is required.
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- November 2018: Jon Rosenshine and Danielle Scorrano
- November 2017: Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair
- October 2016: Dr. Mark Bertin
- October 2015: Dr. David Anderson
- October 2014: Dr. Harold Koplewicz
- October 2013: G. Emerson Dickman, JD
- October 2012: Dr. Judith Hochman
Embodying grit and resilience can profoundly affect how students live purposeful academic and personal lives. The characteristics of grit and resilience are universal human traits, and in recent years they have received much attention in the popular and scientific communities. In this lecture, the presenters discussed these relevant bodies of research that support the roles of grit and resilience and explained how specific non-cognitive traits can be integrated to support the academic and personal flourishing of students. Educators and parents learned how to foster academic and personal strengths including intrinsic motivation, positive behaviors, emotional well-being, self-control, and executive functioning skills. The presenters also discussed some of the controversies currently surrounding these important topics. Attendees gained a research-based framework as well as practical strategies for increasing grit and resilience in all areas of student life.
Easy access to the internet and social media has erased the boundaries that protect children and has affected our children’s development and capacities for healthy connections. In this lecture, Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair identified digital age challenges for families and educators and ways to strengthen children’s social and emotional development to help them grow to be responsible, resilient, confident, and capable young adults. She shared real-life stories from her clinical practice and her work with educators, experts, and families, including extensive interviews with students from preschool through high school and beyond. Dr. Steiner-Adair offered insight and advice to help families and educators achieve greater understanding and confidence as they engage with the tech revolution unfolding in children’s lives.
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is a Clinical and Consulting Psychologist and Research Associate at Harvard Medical School and author of the award-winning book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper Collins). An internationally recognized expert in child development, education, and family relationships, she has consulted worldwide to over 600 independent and public schools and speaks at conferences on a wide range of topics including social and emotional intelligence, girl’s development, and best practices for technology at home, schools, and work.
Read more about Dr. Steiner-Adair at catherinesteineradair.com
"Building Executive Function: From Childhood to Adulthood... and Everywhere in Between"
Buzzwords such as “grit,” “resilience,” and “mindfulness” fill headlines around health and education today, but what do they really mean? They relate to our ability to sustain focus, plan, and manage the challenges of everyday life. These skills are part of a cognitive skill set called “executive function.” For children, executive function involves many of the skills needed to succeed in school. For adults, it is what we use to manage the stress of dealing with technology and the chaos of modern life. In this lecture, Dr. Mark Bertin discussed what research can teach us about building executive function in our children and in ourselves.
Dr. Mark Bertin is a developmental pediatrician in Pleasantville, NY. He attended the UCLA School of Medicine, trained in general pediatrics at Oakland Children’s Hospital, and later completed fellowship training in neurodevelopmental behavioral pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. An Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at New York Medical College, he also serves on the faculty of Windward Teacher Training Institute as well as on the editorial advisory board of Common Sense Media. Dr. Bertin’s books The Family ADHD Solution and Mindful Parenting for ADHD integrate mindfulness into evidence-based ADHD care. He is also a contributing author for the textbook Mindfulness with Youth: From the Classroom to the Clinic. In addition, Dr. Bertin’s blog is available through Huffington Post, Mindful.org, and Psychology Today.
Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, or babysitter, anyone who interacts with children or adolescents can find themselves perplexed by the question of how best to deal with challenging behavior. And at times, it can feel like there are an overwhelming number of voices contributing to this discussion, from self-help books to print articles to news features that attempt to provide a balanced perspective on this issue. Can too much positive feedback for a child be a bad thing? If I was disciplined one way as a child, how much should I apply those strategies to my children or students? For this lecture, Dr. David Anderson provided a framework for sifting through the often conflicting media perspectives on child discipline, contextualizing these issues in light of the most current psychological research.
David Anderson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and the Senior Director of the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. He is devoted to ensuring that patients and their families receive innovative, evidence-based care, and he has expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), behavioral parent training, school consultation and teacher training. Dr. Anderson is also passionate about outreach and advocacy efforts aimed at disseminating these interventions across diverse communities and settings. He has held clinical and research positions at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA, The Help Group, the NYU Child Study Center, and the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services. Dr. Anderson earned his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University.Resources from the lecture:
- Websites related to child mental health
- School-based behavioral intervention
- Akin-Little, A., Little, S.G., Bray, M.A., & Kehle, T. (2009). Behavioral interventions in schools: Evidence-based positive strategies. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
- Pfiffner, L.J. (2011). All about ADHD. New York: Scholastic, Inc.
- Behavioral Intervention at Home
- Barkley, R.A. (2013). Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
- Barkley, R.A., Robin, A.L., & Benton, C.M. (2013). Your defiant teen: 10 steps to resolve conflict and rebuilt your relationship. (2nd ed.) New York: The Guilford Press.
- Kazdin, A.E. (2009). The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child. New York: First Mariner Books.
More than 400 parents, teachers and educators gathered at the West Red Oak Lane Campus of The Windward School for the Fall Community Lecture of the 2014-2015 school year. Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., one of the nation’s leading innovators in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry and the president and founder of the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org), addressed the importance of recognizing common symptoms of anxiety in children and adolescents and when to intervene if it causes dysfunction.
In his outline of normative anxieties, Dr. Koplewicz cited the fears that children commonly experience at different developmental levels. Infants are often fearful of sudden loud noises, heights, strangers and separation. Preschool children may fear animals, the dark, storms and imaginary creatures, and they may begin to experience anticipatory anxiety (fear that they will encounter something that causes them anxiety). In the early school age years, children begin to experience specific realistic fears such as social acceptance and school achievement. By adolescence, children have developed the ability to think abstractly about fears that may include the pressure to achieve academically, get into a good college or conform to new social demands.
As Dr. Koplewicz profiled normal age-appropriate fears, he further explained that school can be the biggest stressor for some students. Along with the academic challenge of homework, schedules, organization, and performance assessments, there are such social factors as navigating friendships and managing social activities. Parental limits and expectations also contribute to the challenge of finding a comfortable social and emotional balance in a child’s life.
Dr. Koplewicz reminded the audience that, in most cases, anxiety is a common, predictable, basic emotion. Ongoing excessive worry, nervousness or anxiety that is felt intensely and interferes with daily life, however, is considered a disorder. He also noted that an astounding 13% of American children and adolescents are affected by anxiety disorders, which are the greatest predictors of mood disorders and substance abuse in adulthood. More than 40 million adults in the U.S. (18%) have reported that disabling anxiety has negatively impacted their lives. For this reason, he emphasized the importance of early intervention.
In discussing the transition from common anxieties and fears to concerning behaviors, Dr. Koplewicz stated the importance of awareness of the following symptoms:
- Physical complaints, such as headaches, stomach aches, dramatic presentations of pain
- Problems falling asleep and chronic middle-of-thenight awakening
- Eating problems
- Avoidance of outside and interpersonal activities, such as school, parties, camp or sleepovers
- Inattention and poor performance at school
- Explosive outbursts
Because anxiety disorders are so common, it is easy to minimize them. However, ongoing untreated anxiety creates a neurochemical condition that primes the brain for increased risk of depression at puberty. Lack of treatment also leads to higher risk for doing poorly in school, which may have social consequences, increase the risk of substance abuse, and contribute to the development of a mood disorder.
In addition, childhood anxiety disorders often co-occur with other disorders. As with adults, about half of children presenting clinically with an anxiety disorder also meet criteria for at least one additional condition, which may include eating disorders, substance abuse, ADHD and behavioral problems. Untreated anxiety can further lead to more serious concerns such as school avoidance, lower self-esteem, academic dysfunction, impaired peer relations and potential problems adjusting to work situations.
Dr. Koplewicz encouraged the audience with his message of optimism that cognitive behavioral therapy can be a highly effective treatment for anxiety disorders. With this approach, the therapist gradually exposes the child, in a safe, controlled setting to the situation that triggers their fear in order to help them learn to tolerate the anxiety until it diminishes. As the Windward Community Lecture came to conclusion, Dr. Koplewicz summarized his theory that the best and most long-term solution for anxiety disorders is responsible, early intervention. Parents, teachers and educators came away from the lecture knowing when not to worry about their child’s worries and how to identify the signs and symptoms of children in need of more support.
On October 23, 2013 the Red Oak Lane campus hosted 450 Windward community members and guests for the Fall Community Lecture, "A New Look at Learning Disabilities." Emerson Dickman, the evening's lecturer, has enjoyed a distinguished legal career, specializing in the representation of individuals with disabilities. His presentation offered the latest research concerning learning disabilities, as well as insights and advice leaned from decades as an advocate and as an individual who has faced his own learning differences.
A former Head of School and founder of Windward Teacher Training Institute, Dr.Judith C. Hochman returned to the School to which she had devoted much of her professional career to speak about teaching writing effectively.
Her lecture, titled Effective Writing Instruction: Evidence-Based Practices, was delivered on the evening of October 3, before an audience that filled the auditorium of the newly-constructed building named in her honor and dedicated the previous month. In the course of her hour-long talk, Dr. Hochman succinctly cited the best methods for teaching writing across the curriculum and throughout every grade level.
Students in many classrooms today are “writing more, not better,” according to Dr. Hochman. Popular trends in writing activities for students in today’s “child-centered classrooms” include journaling and creative writing exercises, but such methods do not provide students with the fundamental basics they need to write a cohesive sentence, paragraph, or paper. They are poor foundations for any child to build his or her writing skills, but for a child with a language-based learning disability, they can be downright disastrous.
“Writing is a complex, multifaceted, and purposeful act of communication,” Dr. Hochman said, quoting the definition of writing outlined by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). She highlighted the precarious state of writing instruction in many schools, as illustrated by statistics released in 2011 by NAEP. Approximately 75% of the 26,000 children tested that year were deemed to be functioning at a “basic or below” proficiency level when it came to writing.
“We are insulting kids by providing minimal guidance and by assuming that they can only be engaged in activities which are about them,” Dr. Hochman said.“ At Windward, the focus is on expository writing; writing that explains and informs.”
To that end, Dr. Hochman has been instrumental in helping ensure that writing is properly taught and that teachers are trained, via WTTI, to give students of all abilities the instruction they need to succeed. She is the author of Teaching Basic Writing Skills, the writing program utilized in every Windward classroom. It has also been used successfully in both mainstream and remedial classes at schools nationwide. “Teaching Basic Writing Skills spirals across all content areas and grade levels,” Dr. Hochman said, emphasizing that its methods for teaching writing can be woven into a social studies or science lesson just as easily as into a Language Arts lesson. She stated that when students are taught how to write properly, it becomes a skill that serves them well not only in the classroom but in the wider world. Employees in all kinds of workplace settings are increasingly expected to demonstrate writing ability, she noted.
“Good writers have to organize information,” Dr. Hochman said. “At Windward, the students don’t write anything without an outline.” All students in first through ninth grades are taught how to use an outline to organize their thoughts when writing. Proper sentence structure is taught and consistently reinforced throughout the grades, as is important vocabulary that will enhance the ability to revise and edit written work. As students advance in their schooling, they learn more complex outline formats that will assist them in tackling and mastering the research and argumentative papers they will encounter in high school and college. Dr. Hochman cited the research that links the strategies in the writing program to improved reading comprehension.