Welcome to Our Blog!

Celebrating 20 Years of Evidence-Based Education and SpellRead

Meet our Community Engagement Director:  Shakisha Downey

By Halifax Learning on Thu, Mar 24, 2022 @ 10:01 AM

Staff Images-ROUND_Shakisha Downey

Shakisha Downey's role has evolved at Halifax Learning. Shakisha has been an integral part of our team since 2017 and now takes on the role of Community Engagement Director. Let's get to know Shakisha (she/her).

Graduating from Dalhousie University with a Bachelor's degree in Sociology and Social Anthropology, she is now studying for her Bachelor of Social Work with the goal of completing her Masters in Social Work. Shakisha's pursuit of education in this field of social work was spurred on by her personal experience as a former child in care. This educational opportunity has been a professional and personal development experience for her.


She came on board with us to work with families on financing and delivering science-based programming in our in-person and online clinics and in Halifax Regional Centre for Education schools and community centres. She was attracted to Halifax Learning because of their understanding of illiteracy as a social justice issue. Growing up, education was her anchor in a life of many uncertainties, something she could always be proud to be a part of. Shakisha strongly believes literacy can change the path taken by anyone in life, especially for those who have been marginalized or denied access to opportunities. For her, literacy and knowledge are power, and she wanted to be a part of empowering younger generations.

As the Community Engagement Director for Halifax Learning, she works on creating, organizing, and maintaining community-based literacy programs, workshops, and opportunities in Halifax Regional Municipality with the overall theme of Affirmative Action and advancing social justice for marginalized individuals and communities.

Shakisha finds her work with Halifax Learning to be rewarding for the opportunity she has to be a part of creating and maintaining transformative learning journeys for children and youth who have experienced trauma and/or marginalization.

Her favourite reading material includes books that tell real-life stories about additions, abuse, and other personal struggles. It all started for her with "Go ask Alice, Anonymous" and a number of books by Ellen Hopkins she read in Junior High.

What does she do for fun? She loves to take long drives along the coast to admire the adored ocean views of Nova Scotia. Some of her favourite places to visit are the Cape Breton Highlands and Scots Bay. She also loves to take her  Lab-Mastiff out for a good long walk and swim. In fact, what she loves about living in Atlantic Canada is the ocean! In her words, "I'm a sucker for saltwater and rocky or sandy beaches".  

As a favourite 'pump up' song, what will you hear her listening to? Well, anything Justin Bieber and her current song of the moment is "Attention" by Omah.  But this could change any minute!

Make sure to reach out to Shakisha for assistance with funding, scholarships, for working with HLC and much more!

HubSpot Video

 

Continue Reading

What You Need to Know About Ontario's Right to Read Inquiry

By Halifax Learning on Fri, Feb 25, 2022 @ 09:53 AM

Reading is an essential skill that will serve students well in school and later on in life. For students with reading-related learning disabilities, reading poses additional challenges that impact the rest of their school performance.

IMG_0034

In October of 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Human Rights Commission (OHRC) began an inquiry to determine whether or not learning-challenged students were facing human rights violations in the course of their education in public schools since learning to read is a fundamental right for all students.

Are Ontario schools adequately meeting the needs of at-risk readers?

In essence, the Commission is working to determine if Ontario public schools are meeting the reading instructional needs of learning-disabled students.

The findings, due to be released February 2022, could also benefit low-income, First Nations, English language learners, new arrivals, and other marginalized student groups, as well as students at risk of developing learning disabilities.

The commission’s inquiry is focused on accounts from educators, students, and parents across Ontario. Additionally, the commission is reviewing teacher training, school reading curricula, and consulting with experts. They are also reviewing school board policies and procedures as they relate to students with reading-related learning disabilities.

The OHRC is interested in hearing about the concerns and challenges faced by students in Ontario’s public school system.

The OHRC is focusing on the following benchmarks in their inquiry:

  • Universal design for learning
  • Reading intervention programs
  • Mandatory early screenings
  • Effective accommodations
  • Psycho-educational assessments (if needed)

COVID19's impact on student learning outcomes

The commission also learned of the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on learning-challenged students. School closures and distance learning posed extra challenges, and created a negative impact on student learning, compounding the students’ ongoing difficulties.

Both the OHRC and disability rights groups raised concerns in the following areas:

  • Technology
  • Professional services
  • Personal contact
  • Specialized programming
  • Screening
  • Instruction
  • Summer learning programs
  • Shared legal responsibility
  • Identification, Placement, and Review Committees (IPRCs) and Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and the duty to accommodate

As of October 2021, the commission began the process of finalizing the Right to Read Inquiry report. The report will contain detailed recommendations and findings for school boards, government, education faculties, curriculum/instruction, reading interventions, learning accommodations, professional assessments, early screenings, and systemic issues faced by learning-challenged students.

The final report is expected to be released in February 2022.

Reading is a fundamental skill that needs to be accessible to all students, regardless of their learning status or achievement level. The Right to Read Inquiry will determine if the needs of Ontario’s learning-challenged students are being met, and whether or not these and other at-risk students are experiencing human rights violations in the course of their education.

We are grateful to the many professionals who generously gave their time and guidance throughout the public inquiry, including Dr. Siegle from UBC and Dr. Jamie Metsala from MSVU, a well-known name in our local community and a Literacy Researcher & Advocate for Effective Early Reading Instruction & Reading Interventions.

The results of the inquiry could help to shape educational public policy in the years to come, and to remedy inequalities present in Ontario public schools. We also anticipate that the policy may have an impact on other areas of Canada and we hope to see its influence here in Nova Scotia.  

Learn more and follow report details here

Continue Reading

Are Learning-challenged Children More Likely To Be Bullied?

By Halifax Learning on Tue, Feb 15, 2022 @ 06:39 PM

Students who are perceived as “different” by their peers are more prone to bullying. Bullying can include physical aggression, name-calling, exclusionary behaviours, and cyber-bullying through social media or text messages. 

Which children are vulnerable to bullying? Kids with physical disabilities, social difficulties, socioeconomic gaps between them and classmates, and kids with learning differences are among the students who are frequently targeted. 

Children who with conditions such as ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning differences are especially vulnerable, as are those on the Autism spectrum. 

The impact of bullying

Bullying has far-reaching consequences, ranging from physical pain, anxiety, school avoidance, depression, and poorer learning outcomes. The bullied child may act out or withdraw, straining already fragile peer relationships, and setting the stage for more bullying. 

According to data presented in Public Safety Canada, long-term effects of bullying include depression, loss of self-esteem, aggression, and in some cases, suicide. 

Children with learning differences are especially vulnerable. In an increasingly competitive academic environment, children who fall behind academically could end up being the target of bullies. 

While academic competitions and honor rolls may be good for high-achieving students, a learning-disabled student may struggle emotionally with their results and grade reports. No child wants to feel “different” or left out. 

Identifying the root of the problem

For students with suspected learning differences, a psycho-educational learning assessment is an excellent first step. The assessment will help identify the root cause of a student’s learning and behavioural challenges. 

Next, a customized learning plan is created, giving the student specialized assistance in addressing areas of concern and providing a level academic playing field. A customized learning plan will also help the student address social challenges that can come in tandem with learning differences. 

Over time, a shy or school-averse student may gain confidence as they learn to master subjects and concepts that were previously difficult for them. This newfound confidence and sense of “I can do it!” will carry over to peer relationships and making them less of a target of bullies. 

Students with learning differences are often quite intelligent, and a well-structured learning program will help the student harness their innate intelligence while gaining mastery over previously difficult subjects. 

Students learn to work with their learning differences, not against them. 

Next steps

Programs such as Halifax Learning’s online learning, school readiness, and SpellRead activities can help a struggling reader through a customized program suited to their needs and makes an excellent supplement to their school-based learning program. 

Students who struggle with speech patterns and issues can benefit from our speech programs. They will gain confidence and be more likely to interact with peers, making them feel less “different” over time. 

Children with learning differences often end up the target of bullies. By addressing their unique needs and strengths, learning-challenged students can experience greater confidence and self-esteem as they master topics previously difficult for them. 

Contact us today to find out how our programs can help your student reach their full potential--inside and outside of school. 

Continue Reading

How Parents Can Help Kids Learn Online

By Melinda Cameron on Thu, May 14, 2020 @ 06:15 PM

At Halifax Learning, parents have always been a big part of their child's reading success. These days, it's more important than ever. But how can parents provide the best support on their child's reading journey, as they learn to read online with SpellRead?

1. Be present...

Kids usually need older family members around to start the Zoom or video chat meetings and to make sure the microphone and camera are working correctly. There can also be times when it's good to be around to troubleshoot any issues that come up, like if kids accidentally click the wrong part of the screen or if there's a problem with wifi.

2. ...but not TOO present.

Classes are designed for kids to do successfully with their class and instructor, so parents don't need to be around to give hints about the answers or do the activities! Any support that's needed will be provided by the instructor.

3. Have materials at the ready.

Each online class goes by quickly, so the better prepared kids are, the more work that gets done. Some families set an alarm for 10 minutes before each class - that way, they can be logged in and ready to go when the class starts. Better yet, set an alarm for 30 minutes before each class, giving kids time to have a quick snack and drink if needed and to use the washroom.

Supplies kids will usually need to have include:

  • Pencils and a notebook or scribbler
  • Sound cards
  • Speed packs

4. Be positive!

Make your home a safe place to make mistakes. Not every answer will be correct the first try - if it was, what are we even doing here? Encourage kids by noticing when they're working hard. 

For more information, please visit our website www.halifaxlearning.com

game tip

 

Continue Reading

ADHD, LD, EF | What does it all mean?

By Britt P. Curran on Sat, Nov 24, 2018 @ 03:48 PM

halifax learning spellread adhd ld learning difference executive fundtion

Initialisms have long existed as a popular form of communication and classification: FBI, TGIF, DNA, ICYMI. In a world prone to shortened speak, condensed phrasing can be both puzzling and ambiguous. 

ADHD, LD, and EF are three unique initialisms that help categorize learning differences. Although they may have overlapping symptoms, these terms are not interchangeable.

So, how do we begin to decipher which one accurately defines an individual's needs? Let’s dissect!


ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, formerly ADD) is a neurobehavioural disorder affecting brain development and activity, which then alters a child's abilities, like sitting still or following instructions.

Most kids show attention challenges throughout childhood. An individual with ADHD, however, feels an even greater struggle to focus, and will likely display symptoms in three categories: inattention (e.g. distractions and concentration), hyperactivity (e.g. fidgeting and boredom), and impulsivity (e.g. interruptions and risky behaviour).

But struggling with areas such as focus, activity, and self-control doesn't equal an ADHD diagnosis. Instead, consider that the concern level should grow as children do. 

According to KidsHealth, "kids learn these skills with help from parents and teachers. But some kids don't get much better at paying attention, settling down, listening, or waiting. When these things continue and begin to cause problems at school, home, and with friends, it may be ADHD."

Theories surrounding the root of ADHD are complicated: genes, environmental toxins (e.g. pesticides), and prenatal substance abuse are likely contributors. It is important to also note what is not at the core: "the popular belief that eating too much sugar causes the condition has not held up in research... and 'poor parenting' is not to blame... but parenting styles and strategies can have an effect on children's self-regulating abilities. Children who are exposed to inconsistent discipline or who suffer from neglect may find it more challenging to rein in their impulses or direct their attention later on" (Psychology Today Canada).

LD
Learning Disabilities (LD)—including Dyslexia and Dysgraphia—stem from how our brains are pre-programmed and is not an indication of intelligence. The brain may struggle with reading, reasoning, or recall, but challenges can be curbed through tools and techniques. Furthermore, many children with LDs often excel in other areas, like music and sports.

At an early age, children may face challenges learning numbers, interacting with others, and be easily distracted. Once in school, common telltale signs include word confusion, reading and spelling mistakes, and a slowness to comprehend new skills. Nearing junior high, children may battle handwriting, fact recall, and avoid reading in front of others.

"Children with learning disabilities must be assured that they are not dumb or lazy. They are intelligent people who have trouble learning because their minds process words or information differently... it important to be honest and optimistic—explain to your child that they struggle with learning, but that they can learn. Focus on your child's talents and strengths" (LD Online).

EF
Executive function (EF) skills are cognitive—or brain-based—skills that affect one's ability to make plans, set goals, regulate emotions, etc.; the prefrontal cortex governs these skills. EFs are neuro-developmental, meaning they develop over time, but not necessarily in a linear fashion.

EFs commonly fall under one of these three skill groups: Working Memory, Cognitive Flexibility, and Inhibitory Control. Skills need to be nurtured prior to entering an academic setting, and children will feel better equipped for school with some control over managing thoughts, actions, and emotions.

EFs are described as delayed, not deficits, and there are likely to be accelerations and regressions; fluctuation is normal.

••• 

However your child’s learning journey unfolds, a support team for treatment—which can include doctors, therapists, parents, coaches, and teachers—will help him or her slow down, develop and hone skills, and gain confidence. Early awareness is key: check in with a clinician (even get a second or third opinion) and keep your child's team in the loop.

Being organized and informed can also make a world of difference in your child's progress.

Here are 5 tips to help manage information:

  1. STAY SORTED
    Create a binder to house relevant medical and educational documents, test results, forms, etc.
  2. HELP LINE
    Entrust and designate a family member, neighbour, or close friend to be a supportive resource for you and your child; it takes a village!
  3. SAVE SAMPLES
    Collect examples of schoolwork that highlight strengths and weaknesses; these tangible academic reminders will help remind you of successes and hitches.
  4. KEEP TRACK
    Maintain a running log of communication and correspondence with professionals.
  5. TAKE NOTES
    Scribe memos of your child's educational, social, and emotional highs and lows; keep a journal or phone note to have your personal observations on hand.


Halifax Learning can help individuals with an ADHD or LD brain. To learn more about how our program works, contact us for a free consultation. 

Book a Free Assessment

 

Continue Reading

Confidence, Joy, Creativity: The outcomes that count!

By Megan Brooks on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 @ 07:45 PM

 

spellread halifax learning disabilities tutor tutoring read write spel

An article titled, “Learning disabilities: Kids and families struggle beyond the academics” was recently shared on MSVU - Learning Disabilities  Facebook page. The headline compelled me to click. This short, but important, article contains an important message. 

The author states:

"Compared with the general education group, parents of children with learning problems reported significantly more quality-of-life problems related to academics, for both the child and the family."


spellread halifax learning disabilities tutor tutoring evidence-based


In my experience at Halifax Learning this is always the case. I have to remind myself that the teary-eyed parent across from me has spent hours pleading with their frustrated child to read a book and finish their homework. They’ve spent hours researching conditions, philosophies, methods and programs that claim to have the quick fix. Their skepticism is warranted and understandable. You see, I’m also a parent and nothing means more to me than my child’s happiness. Not even their academic success. But I'm also a teacher and I know that their academic success and mental health are interconnected. 

As an educator I consider myself lucky to have found the SpellRead program. I am lucky to be consistently reminded of the positive impact this program has, not only on our students, but their family as well. This week we received a testimonial from a parent and a clinical psychologist. Her testimonial speaks to the impact that an evidence-based program can have on a student and their family.

Testimonial FB

“I am a mother of 3 boys and a Clinical Psychologist specializing in psychoeducational assessments and learning difficulties.  I first realized that my youngest son was struggling with learning some of the foundation level reading skills when he was about 4 years old.  He was having a harder time than would be expected learning the alphabet, rhyming, and hearing sounds that were in words. I did a little bit of extra reading work at home with my son during his Primary year, but towards the end of Primary I knew he would benefit from some additional help.  I also realized that it was not a good fit for him to be working one-on-one with me. His frustration level was high and one of us often ended up angry or upset. I enrolled my son in Halifax Learning summer camp at the end of Grade Primary and then arranged for SpellRead instruction twice a week for his entire Grade 1 year.  I chose SpellRead because it is an empirically based program, and the program I was most familiar and comfortable with for my son.

My son's instructor, Brittany, was the perfect fit for him. Although there have been some trying times, Brittany worked with me to figure out ways to best approach lessons with him.  Brittany has been patient, professional, positive, and encouraging. She knows the SpellRead program inside out and her experience and dedication are impressive. Brittany managed to get my son to grade level (if not slightly beyond) during the school year. Although he is now at grade level, we have decided to continue to work through the SpellRead program.   Now he is accustomed to SpellRead being part of his schedule and I don't want to lose the momentum we've made. I am very grateful for SpellRead and what it has done for our family.”

Click here to read more testimonials. 

annie-spratt-755536-unsplash

On our website you’ll see that our goal is to bring literacy skills to a point at or above grade level, within one year, but this article and testimonial is also a reminder that improving the academic skills of our students is simply a by-product of our ultimate goal.

We’re very proud to share our student results, but it’s the unmeasurable outcomes that mean the most to us. Witnessing our students discover a new found confidence to take on new reading material, to voluntarily take part in classroom discussions, to write about their opinions and ideas, and put an an end to the homework struggle and rediscover the joy in reading a bedtime story … this is what motivates us.

Developing relationships with our students and their families is important and we're pleased to have a long list of individuals that are happy to share their experience with you! If you're considering one of our programs for you or your child fill out the form below to be connected with a parent of a SpellRead graduate! 

Ask a Parent



Continue Reading