Drawing upon more than 30 years of experience in helping teachers and parents identify learning problems, Bonnie Terry is our guest this month as we talk about ways to help our struggling learners. She holds a master’s degree in special education and is a board certified educational therapist.
TOS: Welcome, Mrs. Terry! I’m confused about the educational qualifications of the specialists available to help parents of struggling students. What educational background should we look for when we seek out a professional to help us?
Ms. Terry: When looking for a professional to help you with your students, you might want to ask these questions: What kind of degree or credential does the person hold? Does the person have specific training for working with kids with learning problems, dyslexia, learning disabilities, math problems, ADD, ADHD? What are some of the methods they use to address the problem—e.g., are their methods multisensory, systematic, and sequential? Do they address visual perception and/or auditory perception?
Parents often have high school kids helping their kids out, but the actual reason that their kids were having the problem was not addressed. Unfortunately this type of help does not address the underlying cause of their problems.
TOS: What is educational therapy?
Ms. Terry: Educational therapy offers children and adults with learning disabilities or challenges a wide range of intensive, individualized interventions designed to remediate learning problems. It demystifies learning problems and stimulates students’awareness of their strengths so they can use those strengths to overcome or compensate for areas of weakness.
An educational therapist holds a master’s degree and has a wide range of experience in the fields of education, child development, assessments, learning the- ory, learning disabilities, and principles of educational therapy.
TOS: Your career has spanned from working in schools to private practice. Can you share the highlights?
Ms. Terry: I started out teaching first through eighth grades as an itinerant learning disabilities specialist. Then I taught physically handicapped students from first grade through third grade in a laboratory school at Illinois State University. I was a frequent guest lecturer in the reading methods courses at the university. When I moved to California, I spent over 10 years teaching in a wide range of K-12 schools. About 15 years ago, I opened up my learning center.
TOS: How did you become interested in helping homeschoolers?
Ms. Terry: I would get calls from distressed parents that were either homeschooling their kids or thinking of homeschooling because their kids weren’t making the kind of progress that they should be making. I started out advising parents as well as working one-on-one with some of their kids.
TOS: Do you think learning difficulties are more prevalent now? If you do, to what do you attribute this?
Ms. Terry: Learning difficulties are statistically more prevalent now than before, but we are more able to identify learning difficulties now than we were before. The knowledge base of how we learn has grown tremendously in the last five years. Specialists have a greater understanding of why someone is struggling now.
TOS: What is dyslexia?
Ms. Terry: The National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke concur that dyslexia is a brain-based type of learning disability that specifically impairs a person’s ability to read. These individuals typically read at levels significantly lower than expected despite having normal intelligence. Although the disorder varies from person to person, common characteristics among people with dyslexia are difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds) and/or rapid visual-verbal responding.
“Learning disabilities,”"dyslexia,”and “learning difficulties”are broad terms that cover a wide variety of problems with many possible causes, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes.
Because there are so many areas to look at, it is difficult to diagnose the specific causes without proper training. However, learning disabilities and dyslexia can be divided into three broad categories:
TOS: What are some signs for parents to look out for that might indicate a problem with their child?
Ms. Terry: Here is a checklist to start with. Does one of your kids
Do any of these additional problems sometimes apply to you and your kids?
TOS: That certainly covers a lot of ground! A common problem is this: many children reverse bs and ds or have difficulty following instructions. At what age should a parent become concerned?
Ms. Terry: Letter reversals, such as writing b for d, are quite normal up to second grade, and some dyslexic children do reverse letters as they write. However, there are many dyslexic children who have never written letters in reverse. In fact, it is perfectly normal for non-dyslexic children in kindergarten or first grade to reverse letters as they write. Letter reversals are only something to be concerned about if a child continues to show letter reversals after grade 2.
Letter reversals are a symptom, but letter reversals alone do not constitute a learning disability. Having one symptom would not be considered a learning disability, but depending on the severity of the problem, it may be a learning difficulty. In the case of a learning disability, experts are looking for clusters of symptoms.
If your child consistently doesn’t follow directions it could be due to either an auditory memory difficulty or a reading comprehension difficulty. The key here is consistently not following directions. Remember, if they are consistently not following instructions, you will want to figure out why….
TOS: You now have a private practice. Do you consult with homeschoolers? How is this done?
Ms. Terry: I have been consulting with homeschoolers over the last 15 years. I have a phone consultation service where parents call my office to set up a phone consultation appointment. There is an initial gathering of information regarding specific problem areas and then I design a program/curriculum that would suit the needs of their child. This includes social studies and science books that cover the correct content for their grade level but are easier to read and comprehend because they are closer to their child’s actual reading level.
The phone consultation format allows the parents to talk to me about a variety of problems that come up when they are instructing their child. For example, I consulted with a parent that had a son who had great difficulty with penmanship and writing. During the consultation, I explained what they should do to address both problems and sent a follow-up of important points. I also sent them a copy of the phone consultation.
TOS: You have some wonderful products! Let’s talk about them. The Bonnie Terry Learning Pack boasts some impressive results in terms of higher test scores. The pack consists of Five Minutes to Better Reading Skills, Making Spelling Sense, and Ten Minutes to Better Study Skills. Walk us through how a parent would use these in the home. Is there a test or assessment to determine a child’s placement in these books, or does the parent simply begin at the beginning?
Ms. Terry: When a parent receives the pack there are READ ME FIRST stepby- step direction sheets that tell the parents exactly how to use the books. There is also a DVD where I explain the eight spelling patterns in the English language. For the reading component, everyone starts at the beginning. However, each grade level has different mastery levels to achieve. Everyone uses the writing/study skills component. Different forms are used at different ages.
TOS: The Bonnie Terry Reference Pack has a writing component and a math component. They are each jam-packed with tips and strategies. But what my kids really enjoyed was the Bonnie Terry Game Pack. This has three games: The Sentence Zone, The Comprehension Zone, and The Math Zone. Tell us how to use these most effectively.
Ms. Terry: I like to have my kids always finish their day with a game, and I want to make every moment count for them. I usually rotate The Sentence Zone and The Comprehension Zone after they have completed their reading and/or writing lessons for the day. I may use a game to break up the lesson, especially when the kids get restless. Sometimes I play the games to teach a concept. With The Sentence Zone, any English grammar can be taught with the game. The Comprehension Zone can be played for reading or auditory comprehension, so even 4-year-olds can play with their older siblings. I have my kids play The Math Zone for addition calculation practice. They do a lot more math this way, and they all can’t wait till they get to the higher levels! One of the real beauties of these games is that you can play with the whole family and you never know who is going to win until the game is over.
TOS: Have you created other products that you’d like to bring to the attention of our readers?
Ms. Terry: Yes, I have two different FREE reports that are available to parents that e-mail me at info@bonnieterrylearning. com. “Learning Difficulties Affect up to One in Three People; Learning Disabilities or Dyslexia Affect One in Five People”helps parents discern if their child has a learning problem.
The second report, “The Secrets to Stopping the Homework Wars and to Getting Your Children to Do Their Homework Every Time,”gets into problems that children have when they need to work independently on an assignment. Additionally, I have “b & d”posters and stickers. These help students with reversal difficulties.
TOS: Teaching a child with a learning disability is a huge challenge for most parents. Can you share a word of encouragement for our readers as we close?
Ms. Terry: It’s my professional opinion that many teachers and parents don’t accurately diagnose the problems children have because no one ever taught them how to identify them in a comprehensive way. Too many kids go through school with their needs not being met. It is my mission to give parents the knowledge to be able to identify and to rectify the learning difficulties and learning disabilities their kids may have.
Recent research has shown that students can be taught “how to learn.”So the best news of all is that with the correct knowledge, a parent will often be able to help their children feel confident [and] successful and love learning. You can enable your children to learn basic skills and content. Your children can have a great future ahead of them.
TOS: I’d like to direct out readers to your website at www.bonnieterrylearning.com. What will they find there?
Ms. Terry: They will find a wealth of information about the products as well as the areas of perception that are addressed by the packs. They will also be able to order the reports and other products.
TOS: I want to thank you for encouraging us that our children can indeed be taught how to learn. As parents, it may involve a season of re-educating ourselves and re-examining what education is all about. Our children are the beneficiaries of a custom-made education.