Volume II Number 1, January 1995

Department: K-12

Bob Zenhausern
Executive Editor
Anne Pemberton
Managing Editor
Lois Elman
Information Editor
Michael Holtzman
Technology Editor
Sheila Rosenberg
Chatback Editor

There are seven yellow crocuses blooming in my yard. Does that mean that winter is ended? Or does it mean that spring is beginning? A future teacher, studying Chatback as a homework assignment, recently wrote asking why we advocate having special ed students on the nets. "Do they get more out of it than regular students," she asked. Are we living through the last gasps of this old and worn-out century? Or the gay awakenings of the new?

In this issue, I'm sharing a bit of the gay awakenings happening on the World Wide Web, Lois is reporting on a book with a fresh perspective on dyslexia, and Sheila is providing answers for those asking why we are doing this. Behind the scenes, Bob is creating new online environments (a Web page/mailing list project to build a kid-created online encyclopedia), and Tom is evangelizing in Estonia.

Anne Pemberton


Bob Zenhausern

The past six months have seen the growth of a host of new resources aimed at the pre-college population and include new papers, Listserv Lists, gophers, and World Wide Web sites.

George Casler has created the New York State Department of Education gopher that contains a K-12 folder which contains a section on Disability Resources and Information.

HREF= gopher://unix5.nysed.gov

Linda Joseph has developed World Link, a newsletter for K-12 as an aid to fining curriculum resources on the Internet.

HREF= gopher://ericir.syr.edu/Journals/World Link Newsletter

Barbara Gollon has created the online KidTECH Newsletter. It will monitor and report on the latest developments in electronic learning and software.

HREF= gopher://sjuvm.stjohns.edu/Educational Resources/KidTECH

Amy Bridgeman has written a paper describing MOOSE-Crossing a text-based virtual world aimed at a constructionist learning culture for children with diverse abilities and cultures.

HREF= ftp://media.mit.edu/pub/asb/papers/moose-crossing-proposal in Post Script, Rich Text Format, and Ascii Text.

VirtEd is a new list that has just been created at St. John's University. It is concerned with the use of virtual reality in education. This ranges from the Gloves and Graphics of immersive virtual reality to the text-based virtual worlds like Diversity University. To subscribe send mail to:

listserv@sjuvm.stjohns.edu with the message: sub virted firstname lastname

Don Soucy has started the EDRES-L (Educational Resources on the Internet) and EDRES-DB (Searchable archives of EDRES-L). For information and subscriptions send mail to listserv@unb.ca with the message: info subscribe edres-l firstname lastname

A search of the EDRES-DB list uncovered only three messages that contained the word disabilities.

CNIDR has developed a series of 33 K-12 oriented lists. For an index of these lists and information on how to subscribe, send mail to listserv@k-12.cnidr.org, with the message: lists info There are no lists devoted to disabilities in the K-12 area.

One of the most recent lists is WWWEduc, a list devoted to the use of World Wide Web in K-12 education. To subscribe to this list, send mail to listserv@k-12.cnidr.org with the message:

subscribe wwweduc firstname lastname

An exciting project that developed from WWWEduc is Kidopedia, an encyclopedia for and by the K-12 Internetters who will be multicultural and multilingual, as well as multimedia. A Listserv has been developed for those interested in the development of Kidopedia and all are invited to join. Send mail to listserv@sjuvm.stjohns.edu with the message: sub kidpedia firstname lastname

Note: There is no letter "o" in Kidpedia (the list) due to the eight- letter limit.

The following note by Anne Pemberton provides a background and tutorial on browsing the Web.


Anne Pemberton

Open to a page on the World Wide Web, and prepare for an adventure in information access. The first thing you will notice is that certain words or phrases are highlighted on the screen. These words or phrases are links to further information anywhere that information is located on the Internet. The information can be text, graphics, sound, or all of these. The page may be written in paragraph or story form, or it may look like a conventional menu with either numbered or bulleted links. Graphics and sound files are very large and many systems are not yet able to handle them, but for those with all the right bells and whistles, the world is a smorgasbord of exquisite delights, with everything from full color reproductions of Medieval European art to a video byte of last week's birthday party for Amy in Washington state.

The low end of access to the Web uses the client software "Lynx," which is available as shareware and works even with slow modems. Lynx does not support graphics or sound, but it does permit links to other text files, web sites, gopher sites, ftp sites, and telnet sites, and some versions permit links to newsgroups. At the other end, is Mosaic, the higher octave of Lynx that runs only on 9600 baud or faster modem, which supports links to display/play graphics and sound. Adaptive tech users will find the Web easy to negotiate via the arrow keys.

Pioneer efforts are afoot to develop instructional applications for the Web. Kidlink, The Global Schoolhouse, Academy One and other popular online projects are developing Web pages for some of their projects. Chatback has its own Web page, linking to Memories of 1944. In Virginia, the Electronic Academical Village and a small band of daring schools are exploring the possibilities on the web.

The Web is attracting a new breed of user onto the Internet. These new users have taken advantage of classes in how to use the Internet and are ready to put creative energy into new applications within just weeks of their initial access. One such project, currently called Kidopedia, came into existence during a global brainstorm over the New Year's weekend. Kidopedia will provide an on-going Web project that links children's "encyclopedia-type" Web pages (or even text files) onto an index Web page. The project will encourage collaboration on topics among students in the same and other schools, feedback to the writers of the pages from those who read the work, and will provide a nice showcase for student work on the Web.

Old favorites may shine a new light on the Web. A popular Chatback project, originally designed to last several weeks in the spring of 1992, but which didn't really stop generating mail until the spring of 1994, will be brought back to life, this time on the Web. The Far Star Home Page tells the story of the first expedition with highlighted links to further information, like a copy of the first message, the flag of the first expedition, selected messages, etc. It also has links to details on the star Beth Sharon with perhaps a portion of the star map, and links to details of each of the characters from the expedition. The arrival announcement of the second expedition will be linked here with an easy-to-use mail link so that kids can write to their favorite alien. Live chats between aliens and students will be made easier with a link to the telnet chat address from the Far Star Home Page.

For those who have access to the Web either through Lynx (which is available on Unibase and the rdz.stjohns.edu node) or Mosaic, you can check out my home page and see some of these projects in their current state of construction for yourself. If you use your system from the shell or command mode, use the following:

lynx http://pen.k12.va.us/~apembert

If you access by linking to an opening page, type G)o, and at the prompt for the URL address type:


(That funny character before apembert, ~ , is called a tilde and is located in the upper left corner, upper case, next to the number 1, on most keyboards.)

Commands in the Web are easy to remember. When you open to a Web page, use the up and down arrow keys to move from one highlighted word to another, and hit either or the right arrow key to pursue a link. To return to last linked page, hit the left arrow key. The space bar moves from one screen to the next on a long page.


The GIFT of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can't Read and how They Can Learn. By Ronald D. Davis with Eldon M. Braum

A review by Lois S. Levine Elman lelman@Potentialities.com

Whoever thought that a condition that makes the learner appear lazy, uninterested, uncooperative and stupid could be viewed as a unique talent?

As an adult with a learning difference, I can testify to the frustrations so commonly experienced by individuals with dyslexia.

When you can master some learning tasks but are totally unsuccessful at others, you don't understand why this is happening to you. Feeling out of control, it is like you're always veering off on some detour and banging up againist a brick wall. If you continually experience failure, can you motivate yourself to do it one more time? Being dyslexic is certainly exasperating.

In his book, The GIFT of Dyslexia, Ronald D. Davis presents a view of this condition from a completely different angle. Being dyslexic himself, Mr. Davis incorporated his own experiences and philosophy about the origin of the condition, into a series of remediation techniques that are presented in the book.

After struggling for a half a century with auditory and spatial difficulties that pervade many aspects of my life, it felt so exciting to encounter a positive, written description characterizing the way I know my mind works. It is only recently that I have met other people with learning difficulties who think in pictures, not symbol sounds such as words. Mr. Davis describes this ability as a gift, although it predisposes the individual to a condition which is known as dyslexia.

Although Mr. Davis admits that dyslexics don't develop the same gifts although they do have certain mental functions in common, he cites eight basic abilities that include curiosity, heightened insight and intuition, and the propensity to experience thought as reality. One important gift is the individual's inclination to think and perceive environmental stimuli multi-dimensionally. Given that all the sensory systems are intact, vision seems to be the most frequently favored mode of learning, but the auditory, kinesthetic and tactile modes are important as well.

The book states that individuals with dyslexia are more aware of their environments rather than less aware. This skill enables the individual to think quicker than the average person. Concepts synthesized into pictures can be rotated and viewed from several perspectives which contributes to heightened creativity. According to Mr. Davis, altered perceptions that are applied to the nonverbal solution of a problem are known as intuition, invention or inspiration. When this is done for entertainment, it is called fantasizing or daydreaming. Having an active imagination is one of the results of possessing the ability to pictorially interpret experience.

Mr. Davis claims that part of the art form of thinking in mental pictures is to fill in the blanks when part of the picture is missing. Like a computer program that turns visual still pictures into fluid, animated and rotating sequences, the mind compensates for the lack of full information by inventing the connecting images. The function in the brain that alters and creates perceptions is the primary ability of these individuals.

If they are not forced by a coercive educational system or forceful home environment to adapt to a different way of thinking, people who are dyslexic will develop what Mr. Davis refers to as the gift of mastery. He cites other individuals with dyslexia such as Albert Einstein and Walt Disney who used their creative talents to become masters of their fields.

The underlying message to individuals with dyslexia and to those who are involved in their education is a positive one. Mr. Davis believes that individuals who perceive in pictures, and not in words, are predisposed to developing dyslexia. This condition is not inherent in brain functioning but comes about as a reaction to the feeling of confusion which the individual attempts to remediate by becoming disoriented.It is an inappropriate coping mechanism that feels familiar and comfortable. Unfortunately, this same mechanism causes the individual to experience a lack of success.

Through confusion, the individual adopts compulsive behaviors that reinforce rigid learning behaviors. An example of this is when an individual can't recall the alphabet sequence without singing the alphabet song. Disorientation causes an alteration in the way the individual interpets the task at hand. Being predisposed to easily manipulate and perceive mental images from many different perspectives, the dyslexic person alters what is seen or heard.

The book offers some remediation techniques that Mr. Davis claims have been successful with dyslexic individuals in his workshop. One method involves the use of clay to mold letters into words. Although it is not new to use a tactile method to construct letters, Mr. Davis does lend an ingenious twist to this idea. He identifies those words that present a problem for the individual. Then he works with the individual to construct the word into a three-dimensional picture using clay. The Instructions for using this and other remediation methods are discussed in detail. As a person who has a learning difference and as a parent of an adult daughter who is learning disabled, I find this book upbeat and encouraging. Like going to Lourds in France, everybody is looking for a permanent cure. Nobody wants to feel that a disabling condition is for life. On a personal note, the information in this book reminds me of the way the technique of "patterning" was presented 30 years ago. This method consisted of having disabled child repeat exercises that were supposed to duplicate the activities that other children did normally. Parents of disabled children, were promised that hours of crawling around the floor would train new pathways in the brain. Some children did benefit from these activities. Who is to say if it was the activity or the attention they received while involved in the process? I guess hope springs eternal.

As a school psychologist, my main discomfort with the book is that it has absolutely no basis in research. There are some pseudo-medical statements that mention the brain, but they are not linked to any citations, so there are no sources for these comments. Mr. Davis puts forth a developmental theory of dyslexia that is inconsistent with the current research on child development. First he says that a three-month-old child is just beginning to recognize facial features. Then he says that the same age child can glimpse his mother's elbow and see a complete mental image of her. The portion of the book describing the development of dyslexia reads like a fairy tale. It is conjecture and not based on any observational data except Mr. Davis' own creative imagination.

Throughout the book, Mr. Davis interchanges the terms "learning disability" and "dyslexia". Although he emphasizes that there are an infinite variety of learning disabilities, he doesn't state how these terms are related to each other. Mr. Davis proposes that attention deficit disorder, with or without hyperactivity, is part of the syndrome of dyslexia. Students who are bored become inattentive or daydream. He states that the impulsive aspect of ADD is most prevalent when the student is confused or uncertain about what to do. Otherwise it is just an attempt to overcome agonizing boredom. He suggests that symptoms such as lack of attention and overt, aimless movement can be remediated in the same way as dyslexia.

In the glossary he defines attention deficit disorder as ADD. The reader is then referred to The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Although Mr. Davis does not define ADD, he clearly distinguishes between attention and concentration. He says, "children who do not have the ability to eliminate confusion develop concentration. Dyslexic children do not develop this ability at an early age because the stimuli for developing it can be eliminated so quickly and easily (through disorientation)."

I found this book interesting but at the same time disturbing because it approached the subject of dyslexia from a home grown point of view. Mr. Davis gives an example that after he made mud letters, he was able to read Treasure Island in a few hours. It is not surprising that his book has some novel ideas. Since Mr. Davis received his professional training in engineering and not in psychology or education, he isn't encumbered by theories of past literature or current trends on the subject.

There are some irresponsible statments in this book that really bother me. I am particularly disturbed by the fact that Mr. Davis claims that "dyslexia is a self-created condition." The assumption is that if you create the condition, you have the power to get rid of it. Since Mr. Davis has no research to support this hypothesis, he may unwittingly be offering false hope to parents and educators. If the remediation exercises don't produce improvement, how is Mr. Davis sure that parents or teachers wouldn't accuse a child receiving the training of not wanting to do better? Would the individual with a learning difference be held accountable for the lack of success of this hypothesis?

In the book, Mr. Davis develops his theory of orientation counseling. Since the individual with dyslexia unconsciously experiences disorientation, there is a need to assist the individual in consciously becoming aware of the process. Mr. Davis talks about "the mind's eye" as a multisensory place that can perceive the world from many angles. Frankly, how this concept relates to orientation counseling and how that method will eliminate dyslexia, is confusing and mysterious.

For all its drawbacks, I recommend at least looking at "The Gift of Dyslexia," which you probably can find in a local book store. I feel its strongest merit is its originality and upbeat attitude. I am also a strong believer in the adage, "if it works, use it". Who knows? Maybe these techniques will benefit you, your child or someone you know. It's worth a shot.

"The Gift of Dyslexia" can be ordered from The Ability Workshop Press, 1601 Old Bayshore Hwy. #260B, Burlingame, CA 94010, Phone: 415-692-8993 and 1-800-897-9001. Fax: 415-692-8997. The suggested retail price is $14.95. Video and audio tapes are available. The Ability Workshop Press intends to publish a newsletter which will further discuss Mr. Davis' techniques. Ron D. Davis can be reached at: alicedawp@aol.com.

Sheila Rosenberg presents an update on Chatback.

Chatback USA
Dr. Sheila Rosenberg

A comet hit Jupiter in 1994 and the world woke up to the Internet. It seems that everywhere we have a major shift in our global perspective and our understanding of the implications of the Internet. I continue to speak of the Guttenberg Press but I rarely find that people are asking questions of "which" Internet anymore.

The comet may have hit Jupiter but I am witnessing changes in students who advocate for themselves about curriculum that can be found on the Internet. NASA has provided sensational pictures to share with students around the globe. My dyslexic student moved files for me and gracefully distributed the image onto a network. He has no use for curriculum that is boring or tedious. As a student in the 98th percentile, his connection to the world through the Chatback projects have been a critical feature of his self-actualization and academic growth. He reports that he is at last able to retain the vocabulary that he needs for communication. His classroom teachers, however, continue to strive for routine processes.

Here is where our next revolution for disabled students will lead. As we move forward to new arenas we will need to bring along the idea that the student must be able to advocate for himself.

Equal Access for Software and Information (EASI) is an important group for all interested in developing the K-12 arena. Norm Coombs and I have developed a center for students at Diversity University where students can turn on a robot or check the most recent articles on a gopher slate in a virtual reality environment designed for them. Soon Len Burns and I will be announcing a self-managed visual mode for easier reading in the virtual reality environment.

The Chatback Projects continue to grow in significance to the classroom. So far, we have been looking forward, now let's take a look back at the development of the Memories Project. Through the Memories Project students from around the world have had an opportunity to develop their inquiry skills and hone their understanding of World War II. The project is monitored for maximum benefit and safety to the K-12 student population. The monitoring process is critical to advance understanding as well as comprehension. Educators are asked to join us at Chatback@sjuvm.stjohns.edu to continue the discussion of student needs in projects such as this one.

Global understanding is further advanced with the Kidintro project which helps students learn the fine art of personal introduction of a peer. One never knows the abilities or disabilities of the students being introduced unless it is mentioned. Important relationships have been initiated from this project and you are invited to join this important K-12 project that is monitored by Anne Pemberton. Z-man continues to inspire our students to think and challenge their learning processes.

Whether looking back in time at the memories project or forward in time with Z-Man it is time to develop self-advocacy skills in curriculum development for students with disabilities. We've allowed the mainstream to lead us for too long, when we already have a handle on what will make the difference four our population. Let's go for it!