“Teaching Children to Read” by Ted Hirsch

We recently came across the text for “Teaching Kids to Read” by Ted Hirsch and were moved to share an excerpt with our readers. In depth, passionate, and precise, this essay offers the former principal of South Shore Charter School’s insights after many years as a teacher, administrator, and advocate for all kinds of learning in Massachusetts. Diagnosed with dyslexia, Hirsh appears to have had a particular interest in formulating a curriculum at his school that worked for children of all learning styles and abilities.

Here’s an excerpt from Hirsch’s chapter called “Benchmarks,” which we found unique and specific:

There are well-documented statistics showing huge discrepancies in the amount of time students spend reading. The publicly stated goal of having every child be an independent reader by the end of third grade is any elementary school’s most important job. Without this independence, children will not read enough to acquire the vocabulary necessary for sophisticated discourse. Listed below are a set of benchmarks children need to meet to attain reading independence by the end of third grade.


To be able to auditorily blend and segment three-sound words and nonsense syllables. To know the sound/symbol correspondences for the five short vowels.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for all single letter consonants except for “q” and “y.”

First Grade

To be able to auditorily blend and segment two- and three-syllable words and nonsense syllables.

To correctly hear and transcribe all of the basic code.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for all digraphs.

To know the sound/symbol correspondences for e-controlled vowels. To correctly form all twenty-six letters.

To be able to read books of the level of the Little Bear series.

Second Grade

To be able to auditorily blend and segment a seven-word sentence.

To be able to distinguish all the phonemes of English and make correct transcriptions. To take dictation of any material from the basic code and punctuate it accurately.

To know the rules for the soft “c” and soft “g.”

To know the rule of doubling the consonant after the short vowels when adding suffixes. To spell regular past tense verbs.

To read aloud fluently and for understanding, making pauses and voice modulations which demonstrate the understanding of punctuation.

To be able to sub-vocalize when reading.

To be able to read books at the level of Tales That Julia Tells.

Third Grade

To understand and use the combinational and generative nature of words (root words, prefixes, suffixes).

To take dictation of seven-word sentences (with words from the truly English layer of the language, thus excluding words of Latin and Greek or other foreign language derivation that do not take on typical English endings).

To be able to read books like Stuart Little by E. B. White or Ramona by Beverly Cleary. To read text orally, with the rhythm of speech.

The Dyslexia Caucus

This press release was originally published on January 22, 2015.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Dyslexia Caucus today announced its 114th Congress leadership with Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Congressman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) serving as bipartisan co-chairs.

“I am delighted to welcome Congressman Smith, who has been a leader in Congress on this important issue, as Caucus co-chair,” said Brownley. “As the mother of a daughter with dyslexia, I understand all too well the challenges that these uniquely talented and gifted individuals face. By bringing together individuals with dyslexia, community advocates, scientists, educators, and policymakers, the Caucus can play an important role in raising awareness about dyslexia, which affects millions of Americans. I hope the Caucus can help ensure that dyslexia is better understood and earlier identified, so that students are provided the necessary resources and accommodations to reach their full potential.”

“I am pleased to lead this important caucus with my colleague, Congresswoman Brownley,” said Smith. “As a member of this caucus and chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, I have realized the importance of continued dyslexia research as well as the need for early detection and intervention in our schools. My hope is that this caucus will continue to play a key role in educating our colleagues in Congress and the public about dyslexia. Changing the way we approach dyslexia – as possibility rather than disability – can enhance opportunities and brighten futures for millions.”

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability in the United States, impacting Americans from all walks of life at all ages, including Members of Congress, their families, and thousands of their constituents. As many as one in five Americans struggle with dyslexia or other learning disorders. According to a November 2011 Government Accountability Office report (GAO-12-40), many students with learning and other disabilities, including dyslexia, are not receiving accommodations, such as extended testing time, required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when they take high stakes examinations such as the SAT, GRE, LSAT, or US Medical Licensing Examinations and others.

The Dyslexia Caucus was founded as a bipartisan task force dedicated to increasing public awareness about dyslexia and ensuring equal educational opportunities to students with the disorder.

Interview: Artist Courtney Dodd


Artist Courtney Dodd


Today’s interview features inspiring individual Courtney Dodd. Courtney is a conceptual artist living in Asheville, North Carolina. She earned an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, completed a two-year Core Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts, and has been honored with several artist residencies across the United States. She makes work that intimately explores the “psychological and emotional effects of shifting visual phenomena.” In this interview, she shares the personal explorations of her own dyslexia story, as well as the advantages she experiences as an artist living and making with dyslexia.

Camp Spring Creek: Can you tell us when and how you first learned that you were dyslexic? How did this knowledge change your understanding of yourself and how you experience the world?

Courtney Dodd: I remember having to stay in during recess in preschool to practice tying knots. I was the only kid in my class that couldn’t tie my own shoes. Then, the challenge moved on to reading clocks. Far into elementary, it was difficult for me to read clocks and tell my right hand from my left. All of these are supposedly early signs of being dyslexic. I went to a private tutor for reading and memorized tricks for spelling. I thought of myself as trying to fit into a world that wasn’t personally, easily accessible.

Although I excelled at school, growing up I had a strong sense of embarrassment about my dyslexia. Handwritten notes were hidden and have long sense merged to spell-checked computer documents. But it has become apparent that anxiety is the true negative, rather than dyslexia, as the one thing that can hold me back. I learn and grow exponentially more when I am open, honest, and unafraid.

Being a dyslexic student has made be a better teacher. Being a dyslexic person has made me a more sympathetic friend. I am better in many ways for being dyslexic.

CSC: You make work that explores the duality of seeing and not seeing. We find that parallel with your dyslexia diagnosis fascinating, because so much of living with dyslexia has to do with “seeing” the world differently. Tell us a little bit more about the unique vision you bring to your work when you enter the studio–what is your goal, what is your desire, what is your attitude as you explore, etc.?

CD: An artist is essentially a filter for their environment. I absorb, filter and translate my surrounding atmosphere. My ultimate goal is to begin a thread of communication between my work and the viewer, which acts as a link between the audience and myself. In a fast-paced world, I hope to slow the tempo of the conversation and let the viewer marinate with my work. By searching for meaning in the artwork, we start an exchange between the work and the viewer, and back again—much like the washing of the ocean on the beach. There are no wrong answers, nor inaccurate translations. Just as in life, we each act as our own filters, deciphering the codes adjoining us.

Being dyslexic has at times been challenging, frustrating, and embarrassing. The complications of life are what help us understand ourselves more deeply and, most importantly, relate to those around us. Our happiest moments are always measured in relation to our most heartbreaking. There is forever a duality and paradox within the ebb and flow of life. Dyslexia is one of my struggles and yet, it is one of my accomplishments.

CSC: Your career has led to many successes–from artist residencies to solo exhibitions to teaching opportunities. Details and planning are sometimes a challenge for those gifted with what we like to call the “dyslexic advantage.” Has this been your experience? If so, have any of your career successes presented you with challenges specific to dyslexia and how did you work with that?

CD: An artist has to constantly speak, write, and explain their work. Being dyslexic has at times proven difficult. I often hide my handwritten notes or journals because of my spelling and shorthand explanations. Some people misconstrue spelling mistakes or the confusion of numbers or letters as ignorance. Because I frequently jumble letters and numbers, I have a personal system of reviewing myself. Slowing down and checking and rechecking has become habitual. Calendars, electronic reminders, prompts, and apps all keep me on track and on-point for my goals, priorities, and schedules.

I often multitask between two different jobs during a day. I keep an electronic list of to-do notes and try to prepare all work before it is due to give time to make sure it is correct. Planning is helpful, preparation is constructive, but when I’m having a hard day and things aren’t lining up correctly in my mind, I find that patience with myself is most effective.

CSC: Tell us about what you are most excited about with regard to your artwork right now. What do you have coming up and what concepts are you exploring? How does that initial exploring begin for you–in your head, in a journal/sketchbook, in the studio, or something else?

CD: I am currently creating a body of work that revolves around the idea of seeing and the distortion of what is seen. I make blown glass filters, alter them by sanding their surface, and then take photographs through them. Water and condensation is also another media that I am taking images through. I consider myself a conceptual artist, which simply means that I am driven by my ideas. I begin with a thought and build from there. My material and form are shaped by my concept. Over time, my personal aesthetic has developed—but again, this has been shaped by my concepts and ideas.

The most fruitful moments in making for me have been during the creative process. I might have an idea, be working through a piece, or think I’m almost done. But there is an essential point, as an artist, that I have to be observant of during the development of a piece. This essential point is a selective and transient moment when an idea that originated in my head is transformed through working with my hands. This has the potential to become more than the original thought. This is the objective that I keep working towards; these ideas that are smarter than I am, that are a balance of thoughtfulness and hard work.

Courtney’s work is driven by a genuine desire to explore the limits of what we see as it relates to what is actually there–both literally and metaphorically. What initiates doubt? What forms beliefs? How do we behave as a society if the act of revealing is simultaneously paired with the act of concealing? These are questions Courtney deeply considers, and some of her “answers” can be viewed here.

Interview: James Banister

220x126-jamesbanisterToday’s interview is with inspiring individual James Banister, the CEO of FXecosystem, a company that provides services to global money exchange markets. James is an entrepreneur with dyslexia who also spreads a message of empowerment with those he meets along the way. 

Camp Spring Creek: We first learned about your work through this Guardian article, and were moved by your belief that “The most important thing dyslexic people want to prove is that there’s something else they can bring to the table.” What is that “something else” for you and how did you find your way to that point in your life?

James Banister: For me the “something else” is the skills I have cultivated that don’t depend on reading quickly, such as creative thinking, problem solving and considering things from more than one perspective. I always wanted to work in the City of London (home to the UK’s hugely successful financial industry) and I was determined that the difficulties I faced during my education and my lack of formal qualifications were not going to stop me from getting there.

CSC: You talk about focusing on the wider picture of a business, enabling you to forsee problems before they occur and head them off “at the pass,” as they say. It’s been shown that many people with dyslexia have strong spatial thinking and analytical thinking skills. Can you tell us briefly about an example of these skills working in your favor, either professionally or personally?

JB: This has been central in formulating my business strategy and considering the future of the business, which is one of the most important aspects of running a company. I can picture a range of “what if?” scenarios and this helps me to anticipate (hopefully accurately!) how circumstances might evolve.

CSC: One thing you’ve done that makes your business stand apart is “develop innovative and cost effective FX connectivity.” For those of us outside the business and trade worlds, what does this mean? Or perhaps most pertinently, what specific problem existed that you solved, and how do you think dyslexia might have played a hand in that solution?

JB: I have over 20 years’ experience in foreign exchange and my deep understanding of the industry enabled me to see how technology could be used to increase speed. For banks and other financial institutions, speed of pricing is crucial. FXecosystem provides access to high tech lines, over which FX prices travel and we can help to transmit this data to our clients much faster than the blink of an eye. Like many things which sound complex, it’s actually quite simple. My dyslexia helped me to bring a direct and analytical approach to where and how an improvement could be made in this market. When it comes to running the firm and gaining new clients, it helps that I enjoy developing and maintaining business relationships. However, it’s not enough just to have a successful meeting; it’s the follow up afterwards which really counts. Early in my career I honed my skills in taking notes (no one remembers everything they discussed), reviewing them straight afterwards and following through.

CSC: One thing we make a point to focus on at Camp Spring Creek is empowering our campers, giving them confidence in their abilities (rather than labeling a “disability”), and teaching them how to self-advocate. In all your travel, professional interactions, and meetings, have you met or worked with others who you believe might be dyslexic? Have you had occasion to discuss dyslexia with other adults and/or assist someone in identifying his/her learning differences and seeing those differences as an advantage?

JB: I have several friends who are dyslexic and they have fulfilling careers. Each of them has focused on where their strengths lie to achieve their goals. I often discuss dyslexia with family, friends and colleagues. Lots of children have dyslexia. I want to help young people get what they want and need from education as a route to a rewarding life. You are not alone in these challenges and the huge effort is worthwhile. Be confident and believe in your abilities and others will too.

Straight Talk About Reading by Moats & Hall

UnknownToday’s book rec comes from Susie, whom you all know is a big believer in early intervention. While this book isn’t designed specifically for children with dyslexia, it does detail accessible, easy-to-implement tips for basic reading and spelling skills that can compliment what your child experiences in school…and in some cases, may even help you identify early signs of dyslexia in your own child.

From Amazon’s book page“Today’s parents are increasingly concerned about the reading and spelling skills taught in schools and are taking charge of their children’s education. Full of ideas and suggestions­­–from innovative preschool exercises to techniques that older children can use to increase reading speed and comprehension–­­Straight Talk About Reading will instantly help any parent lay a solid foundation for their child’s formative educational years.”

And from a thoughtful reviewer: “In today’s world, reading is an essential component in a very competitive, highly technological society. More and more parents should be making efforts to advocate for quality reading programs in their schools. This book by Hall and Moats is a comprehensive guide for parents about current researched based practices in teaching reading. Susan Hall has traveled the road as a parent of a child who had difficulty learning to read. Louis Moats, Ed.D has extensive experience in the field of reading as an educator, researcher, consultant and writer. The book has been divided into three parts: 1. Background Information – all the information you need to make informed judgments and decisions about your child’s reading instruction, whole language vs. phonics. 2. What Parents Can Do To Help Their Child – numerous explicit activities and games to support you child’s progress in reading. 3. When Reading is Difficult – discussion about disabilities vs. poor instruction; learning disabilities and dyslexia.”

Interview: Max’Is Creations

Original mug.

Original mug.

Today’s interview is with an inspiring young man named Max J. Ash. Max is a budding entrepreneur with dyslexia who created a slam-dunk mug design at just eight years old. When asked by his 2nd grade art teacher to make a mug, Max had the ingenious idea to add a hoop for tossing marshmallows into hot cocoa.  Max’s parents helped him submit The Mug With A HoopTM to a product innovation contest held at Fenway Park and he was named a top ten finalist and winner of the community vote.  A full court press put the mug into production and with over 18,000 units sold (approximately $400,000 in retail sales) in the first few months on the market, it now serves as a model success story that raises support and awareness for the upside of kids who learn and think differently.  Max was recently issued his first patent from the U.S. Patent office and he has additional patents pending.  He is Chief Creator and Chairman of the Board of MAX’IS Creations, Inc., the family business he now runs with the help of his parents and brother Sam.  He is currently in 4th grade at The Carroll School in Waltham, Massachusetts, a school for children with language-based learning disabilities. He is an avid baseball and basketball player and connoisseur of basketball shoes and socks. Max’s full story and Max’Is Creations business are worth checking out. We’re delighted to publish his interview, below:

Cam Spring Creek: Your idea was born out of two passions–food and sports. Tell us a little more about your favorite teams and some of your favorite versions of games to play with your mugs.
Max: Well, my favorite basketball team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.  I have two favorite baseball teams:  the Red Sox and the A’s (Athletics). For games to play with my mugs, I like to toss marshmallows into hot chocolate. Kids can play H-O-R-S-E with my mugs. 
Max’s older brother Sam, who helped him with the interview, adds: And if they have two mugs they can play against each other.
Max with Mug.

Max with Mug.

CSC: Out of all the steps you’ve taken to go from your initial assignment in school to a successful business with multiple patents (or patents pending), we’re most curious about the manufacturing. How did you decide on MudShark Studios in Oregon and are the white mugs still made there? How did you decide on the manufacturer in Thailand?

Max: It was hard to find a place to manufacture in the USA.  My dad found Brett Binford of Mudshark Studios in Portland Oregon and he offered to help me make my mugs.  We sent him 3D printed pieces that he could use to make the molds.  And then he made my first edition white mugs. The mugs made at Mudshark Studios cost too much to sell them.  So we tried to have my mugs made in China but the factory did it horribly.  So then we found another factory in China but it looked bad. The color was bad and the rims were crooked.  So then my dad searched up people and found Ed Weiner at Maryland China Company. Ed works with a great factory in Thailand and he has become our sourcing agent and manufacturing partner. He does the factory visits and tells people what to do to make the mugs right and they ship them on a boat to us.

CSC: Part of your path has involved presenting to large groups of people, sometimes reading a speech. Because reading, in particular, is often a notable challenge for people with dyslexia, we always like to ask folks what special tricks or techniques they employ as they practice and prepare for important presentations. Can you fill us in?

Max: I have a hard time answering questions and do better reading off a script.  Sometimes my parents help me create a powerpoint and I read that and in some interviews they have a teleprompter.

CSC: We’re curious about what advice you would give to a creative, young person like yourself who also has dyslexia…maybe this person is full of innovative ideas, but doesn’t have a support network in place (like your awesome parents!) or feels that nothing they do is good enough. What might you say to this person?

Max: Keep trying to work harder and try your best.

Camp Spring Creek: Our campers come from all over the world to spend 4-8 weeks with other creative thinkers and make friends for life. But many have had experiences before they arrive that don’t sit well–feeling misunderstood at school, experiencing low self-esteem, unexplained challenges, or constant comparison to their peers. What is your “dyslexia discovery story,” including some highs and lows?

Max’s older brother Sam answered this question: When Max was little, he didn’t learn at the same pace as everyone else in his classroom so he had a hard time learning to read. My parents found The Carroll School, which is a school for kids with learning disabilities. Since going to Carroll, Max’s reading has improved gigantically and he has improved on his writing. Max has learned that he’s as smart as everyone else he just needs different kind of teaching.

In Their Own Words: Mother & Son Spark Giving

Ben at camp, 2014.

Ben at camp, 2014.

Ben’s full story is posted here. We’re using today’s blog post to further help Ben in his self-motivated, self-organized fundraising efforts to send one if his friends in need to camp this summer. Big Heart Ben’s online campaign is here.

“Ben’s really excited about trying to be part of something that will help other kids out in the area,” says his mother, Melisa Cadell. “It can be very hard to locate and expensive to have OG tutors in the classroom. It’s out of reach for many people in Mitchell County. Any awareness raising that we can do feels really important.”

Ben wrote a letter to hand-deliver to local businesses, which has gotten the ball rolling. Although the funds will go directly to help a Mitchell County child, he’s accepting donations from around the globe and would be delighted if any blog readers want to help out.

“Toward the end of last summer, Ben kept talking about his friends from school who would benefit from Camp Spring Creek,” says Cadell. “He realized he was experiencing and amazing transformation and realized that if other students had that opportunity it would also be beneficial.”

Any amount—from $10 to $100—will help Ben reach is goal to raise $3350 (with Camp Spring Creek providing matching funds). Here is his letter:

Dear Community,

My name is Ben. I am a student in Mitchell County. I was tested for dyslexia last year. I was tutored and went to Camp Spring Creek.

I learned to read better. I met people from all over the world. They were dyslexic like me. I want to help other kids like me. Please help me raise money for their camp.

Thank you,



His mother’s also wrote a letter, to accompany Ben’s:

Dear Community Leader,

Enclosed you will find a letter from my eleven-year-old son discussing the challenges of a condition called dyslexia. It affects about 15-20 % of any population. About 5% are severely limited in their education if the problem is not addressed.

There are limited opportunities for the public schools in our area to assist these students due to the lack of public funding and properly trained tutors. Dyslexia is neurologically based and creates difficulties in processing of information. It is not a sign of poor intelligence; rather, many dyslexics go on to become successful because of their innate ability to find inventive ways to solve problems. They are often gifted in areas such as math, science, engineering, art, and technology. That being said, too many fall between the cracks and are limited because of their failure in our education system.

The stigma that my son and other dyslexic students are finding the most difficult to maneuver is that they are often categorized as unable to learn at the normal classroom pace. Reading is such an important component in testing and, because of this, they are often retained and or placed in classes that do not expect much from them.  

We are fortunate in this small community to have a special camp that serves an international dyslexic community with tutors and counselors that come from all over the United States and abroad. Camp Spring Creek offers and opportunity for these underserved students to learn and thrive. Specially trained tutors help campers organize time, learn how to decode language, understand vocabulary and improve fluency.

The cost of the camp is very expensive because of the specially trained staff and the extracurricular activities they offer. Many young people in our area cannot afford the tuition, but through a generous opportunity granted by their Board of Directors last year, my son  was allowed to attend as a day camper. In a four-week span he improved his reading by two grade levels. He is now attempting to make this possible for other students by helping raise awareness and speaking to public groups who could help fund the opportunity for others.

If you can contribute by having him speak at your organization or by financially donating funds to this cause, you would be making a difference in the life of a student who has struggled so hard to gain an education within a system that is often unable to help because of limited funding.

Thank You,

Melisa Cadell

Donations for Ben’s cause can be made by calling camp at 828-766-5032 or giving online right here.


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