The Gift of Davis
|By Gail Lichtman||August, 23 2001|
(August 23) - An innovative method for correcting dyslexia is now available here.
Miriam (not her real name) was nearly 18 and could barely read a sentence. For two years, my daughter, a Sherut Leumi (National Service) volunteer, had been working with Miriam on her reading under the supervision of the learning disabilities teacher in Miriam's high school. Miriam, who immigrated with her family from Uzbekistan at the age of seven, was motivated. She really tried, but nothing seemed to work.
Even though Miriam wanted to complete high school, she was thinking about dropping out. She really didn't see the point of going on.
My daughter was desperate. "There is so little time left for Miriam," she would say. "It can't be that after 11 years of schooling she will go out into the world a functional illiterate."
A few years before, I had met Judith Schwarcz - a London native who immigrated to Israel in 1977 - at the Jerusalem Post Pessah Fair where she had a booth with ESRA (English-Speaking Residents' Association). We talked about her Center for Learning Correction in Ra'anana, and she told me about an alternative method - Davis Dyslexia Correction - that she used. I remembered Schwarcz and suggested my daughter get in touch with her. After all, the school had tried all the conventional approaches and Miriam still couldn't read. Maybe an alternative approach would work.
After the third session with Schwarcz, I received a phone call from my daughter: "Miriam read a whole page today. She cried, I cried and Judith cried."
What is the Davis Method? How is it that in a very short span of time this method manages to produce dramatic results in cases where conventional methods have failed?
The Davis Dyslexia Correction Method was developed by Ron Davis, who in 1980 at the age of 38, found a way to eliminate his own severe dyslexia. In 1982, Davis and Dr. Fatima Ali opened the Reading Research Council Dyslexia Correction Center in California. The center claims a 97 percent success rate in helping clients overcome learning problems. In 1994, Davis detailed his correction method in The Gift of Dyslexia which is available (in English or Hebrew) at major bookstores in Israel or from the Davis Dyslexia Association-Israel (DDA-Israel) at the Center for Learning Correction in Ra'anana.
"It is important to bear in mind that when we say 'dyslexia' in Israel, we generally mean only reading problems," Schwarcz clarifies. "But the term can be a heading for all kinds of problems. Davis uses this term as an umbrella term for anything that prevents a child or adult from reaching his or her true potential, and it covers problems with reading, writing, math, coordination, etc. These are often lumped together in Israel under the term 'learning disabilities' (LD)."
Davis stands the concept of dyslexia on its head. His basic premise is that dyslexia is a gift and not a curse. Dyslexics are visual, multidimensional thinkers who are intuitive, highly creative and excel at hands-on learning. Famous dyslexics include Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, Leonardo da Vinci, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Woodrow Wilson and W.B. Yeats. Davis contends that all these people were able to achieve what they did, not in spite of their dyslexia, but because of it.
However, since dyslexics think in pictures rather than in words, it is hard for them to understand letters, numbers, symbols and written words. They try to solve problems by looking at the whole picture rather than working step-by-step. Davis emphasizes that dyslexics can learn to read, write and study efficiently when they use methods geared to their learning style.
"There are two ways of understanding things - verbally or visually," explains Schwarcz, who is herself dyslexic. "If I say 'cup,' you see a drinking vessel. But if you say 'cup' to me, I see cups of different sizes and uses like in a fast-moving, high-speed film. I see all different colors and shapes and I see them from all different angles - from inside, from the handles, from the top, bottom, etc. I see all this in the time it took you to think drinking vessel."
Davis views the problems associated with dyslexia as arising from distorted perceptions. When a dyslexic becomes confused or frustrated, he or she begins to experience distorted perceptions, such as letter reversals and other life-long learning blocks.
The DDC provides tools to overcome problems with reading, writing, math and attention focus, which enable both children and adults to recognize and control the mental processes that cause distorted perception. Once students are sure that their perceptions are accurate, they can resolve the underlying cause of their learning difficulties using methods that build upon their creative and imaginative strengths.
The two major components of the program are Orientation Counseling and Symbol Mastery.
Orientation Counseling teaches dyslexics to recognize and control the mental state that leads to distorted and confused perceptions. Dyslexics have the ability to see things from more than one angle. Someone with this gift looking at the word C-A-T on the page can see it in 40 variations, sometimes simultaneously.
Orientation Counseling shows the dyslexic how to anchor the epicenter of perception or the "mind's eye" at the proper angle and keep it from shifting, in order to have accurate perceptions. One of the exercises for this involves standing on one foot. When the mind's eye is at the correct angle, a person should be able to stand comfortably on one foot without wobbling and should also have a feeling of general well-being.
"When a person is focused, he or she can do the task at hand," states Etya Chesler, a former school headmistress at Kibbutz Yizrael and codirector of the Center for Learning Correction. She is also Schwarcz's sister-in-law. "The important thing is that the dyslexic is in control. He or she learns when the mind's eye is off focus and is given the tools to make it go back on. Once you know what the correct feeling is, you know immediately when something is wrong. Then, it takes only seconds to correct the situation."
After Orientation is mastered, the student is ready for the Symbol Mastery. This gives the dyslexic the ability to think with symbols and words in order to learn to read easily with full comprehension. Using clay, the student works with the alphabet, numerals and punctuation marks. The clay modeling provides accurate perception and understanding of these symbols. Students then move on to using the clay to model trigger words - short abstract words frequently encountered in reading, such as "and," "the," "to" and "maybe."
"Because dyslexics think in pictures, these simple words cause problems," Schwarcz notes. "Dyslexics cannot form a mental picture to go along with them and then confusion sets in. Using clay, students create their own three-dimensional picture of these words - as well as a model of the letters of the words - which helps them to understand the meaning. With this approach, learning is permanent."
There are some 240 trigger words in Hebrew and English. Some of the picture models Schwarcz's students have made to illustrate trigger words include two figures holding hands for gam ("also"), an elephant at a crossroads for le'an ("where to") and a sun with an arrow pointing to a figure sunbathing for im (if there is sun, I will go to the beach).
Concepts that are directly responsible for symptoms of ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - such as self, consequence, responsibility, time, sequence and order are mastered with clay and thus internalized.
The DDC program states that it is suitable for children from the age of eight and for adults of all ages. The program involves an intensive full-day program given over a period of five successive days. It then involves a follow-up program that must be performed at home and includes 10 minutes of directed reading every day, plus a half-hour of modeling clay concepts and symbols two or three times a week until all the trigger words are mastered. A parent, relative or friend is instructed in how to help the student at home. In Miriam's case, a Sherut Leumi volunteer learned to work with her.
This can also be done at the DDA-Israel Center.
"The Davis program is not a miracle," Schwarcz emphasizes. "The student has been experiencing learning for years. The program simply triggers what the student already knows. Using the tools Davis gives, the student can make use of what is already in the brain. How else can I explain that fact that children go from first-grade reading levels to third all in one week? They make the jump because they already had the knowledge. They just needed the tools to utilize it."
The Center for Learning Correction was founded three years ago. It is licensed by the Davis Dyslexia Association International, and since May 2001 is the Association's official Israeli branch. Schwarcz was trained in England, the US and Switzerland in the Davis method.
Since its inception, the center has worked with 80 children and parents and some 20 adults. Students who come to the center can work on Hebrew, English, or both.
For Schwarcz, the road to Davis was a long and torturous one, involving humiliation, feelings of low self-esteem and frustration, a scenario sadly all too familiar to many dyslexics.
Born in London in 1956, Schwarcz found learning to read a problem. "I suffered. I was both dyslexic and ADHD," she recalls. "My mother was called into school and told: 'Judith is not a good girl. She can't accept authority. She interrupts the lessons. She is the class clown.' Today, it is obvious to me that this behavior was a cover-up for my reading problem. It was easier being the class troublemaker than to be exposed as a poor reader. I spent more of the first six years of my schooling in the headmistress's office than in the classroom. I was punished and degraded.
"No one ever mentioned dyslexia or ADHD. In those days, dyslexic meant not being able to read at all or that you were retarded. I could read, albeit with difficulty."
Although she was failing miserably, Schwarcz's parents were told she had above-average ability and if only she would try harder and concentrate, she would be able to succeed.
They were advised to send her to a psychiatrist. "Of course, that didn't help my reading problem," she continues. "So I was sent to a crammer - a private institute that is supposed to make sure you pass your matriculation exams. I was put in for 10 subjects. The average student does five. I didn't even pass one."
Schwarcz's mother had a friend from her Zionist youth group who was the head of a prestigious beauty school in London. Using that connection, she got her daughter into the school. "I excelled in this school and graduated with honors. For the first time in my life, I was good at school," Schwarcz says.
In 1977, Schwarcz made aliya, married and had a son, Yaron, now 16.
"As a parent, I kept telling myself that I never wanted Yaron to go through what I went through," she continues. "When he got to first grade, I expected him to be one of the first to read because he just loved books. He would constantly pull me into bookshops to look at the books. But instead, his first-grade teacher told me to have patience - that he was probably just a late developer. That's when I saw the warning light."
Schwarcz took Yaron to be evaluated. The results came out clean. Six more months passed and Yaron still couldn't read. She took him for another evaluation and still nothing. Then, a friend told her about her son with ADHD.
"As she described the symptoms, I saw Yaron," says Schwarcz. "I always tell parents, if you feel there is something there, keep investigating until you get a totally satisfactory answer." Yaron was found to be dyslexic with ADHD.
Schwarcz became involved with the ESRA support group for parents of children with LD/ADHD, and spent an increasing amount of her time trying to explain LD to educators.
"When Yaron was 10, I was in the school counselor's office when I spotted a copy of The Gift of Dyslexia. I turned it over and saw it was available on audiocassette. Since I didn't like to read, I thought - this is perfect. I ordered it. I listened and my mom read the hard copy. When we finished, my mom turned to me and said: 'When are you going to have Yaron do this program?' The nearest program was in Winchester, England."
Schwarcz signed up Yaron but then wondered what she was going to do for a whole week in Winchester. She booked a program for herself, too.
"The program did two things for me," Schwarcz recalls. "One, the week I returned to Israel, I went into the supermarket and realized that I had purchased a product with no English on it. In all my years in Israel, I had learned to speak Hebrew fluently but had avoided reading and writing in Hebrew. Suddenly, it all clicked. A few weeks later, on Rosh Hashana, for the first time in my life, I was able to begin to understand the prayers and follow them in the prayer book instead of just saying them parrot fashion. I went to work on trigger words in Hebrew, literally going through the dictionary. And then, I decided to bring Davis to Israel. I trained to be a facilitator and opened the center."
Schwarcz can rattle off success stories. "We had one little girl age 10 last summer who had never read an entire book. By the end of the summer, she read her first book. When she finished, it was almost Rosh Hashana and her parents wanted to reward her with the present of her choice. She asked for another book to read.
"I have had kids come in who never thought they could do their matriculation exams and Davis has helped them succeed," she continues. "We had one 9-year-old in a school for gifted children who had math and social problems. Now, he not only excels in math but has friends as well."
Hadar Hellman was 25 when she did the Davis program last year in both English and Hebrew. Originally from New York, Hellman came to Israel three years ago. "I always had a problem with reading, even though I studied for a master's in theater," Hellman remembers. "I had never read a book from beginning to end. I used all kinds of crutches to get by, like getting someone else to summarize things for me or Cliff Notes. But I never thought of myself as dyslexic. Then, a friend pointed out to me that I might be. I went on the Internet to find out more and logged into the Davis site. I saw there was someone in Israel and contacted Judith."
Hellman says she saw an immediate difference. "I realized that before the Davis program, the page was like water with the letters floating on it. Now, the letters are anchored firmly in place. I can not only read better but I understand what I read.
"Before the program, I never read instructions from beginning to end and even if I did, I didn't really understand them. I once read an insert for medication wrong and the results were really scary. Dyslexia can be downright dangerous.
"Also, I am a singer and I never could read notes. Now, using the clay to model musical notes, I can read music for the first time in my life.
"And the book The Gift of Dyslexia helped me to understand how my brain works and why it was so hard for me to read. This in itself has been a tremendous help."
As part of spreading the Davis method, Schwarcz is now training the next generation of Davis facilitators in Israel. The rigorous one-year program, consisting of some 500 hours of training, including workshops and courses, will graduate its first eight students in early 2002. Another class is already being planned to start in early 2002.
Eve Resnick of Kfar Saba is taking the facilitators' course. "I heard Ron Davis lecture last year in Ra'anana. I was very impressed. I have a son with LD and in addition, I am a private English teacher doing remedial English teaching with LD children. I have seen a lot of problems with English. Many dyslexics somehow manage to get by in their native language, but with a second language this becomes impossible. I saw that the methods I was trained in for special ed did not work for all. Some students needed something else.
"The course has covered a wider range than I ever expected - handwriting, math, ADHD, in addition to reading. Most important, it has made me look at dyslexia differently. I understood the idea that letters move, but now I know that dyslexia is more. It is not just how things look but how the dyslexic interprets them.
"Kids who give wrong answers are not giving answers that are wrong for them. They are reacting to what they are hearing or seeing. But this is not precise or exact. They then get negative feedback and can't figure out where they went wrong." Resnick intends to use the Davis method in her private English lessons.
"But if a student wants to effect real change, I will recommend that the parents find an alternative method for dyslexia and immerse the child in it. Davis is just one of a number of alternative methods. For me, it is the quickest and the one that gives the child the most control. But it is not the only one. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with the program. It changed how I see and do things and this doesn't usually happen with courses you take," she concludes.
Symptoms of dyslexia - Dyslexia or learning disabilities (LD) is an umbrella term for a range of problems resulting from difficulties in the way information is received and processed in the brain.
Dyslexia can affect visual and auditory processing, reasoning, communications, motor control, etc. Common learning disabilities include difficulties in perceiving sounds, in reading words or letters, in writing, in understanding or using number concepts, in gross or fine motor skills, or in differentiating between up and down or left and right. Some dyslexics may exhibit behavioral problems such as short attention spans, nervousness, impulsiveness or hyperactivity.
Dyslexia varies in substance and severity from person to person. Yet whether mild or severe, all forms interfere with learning.
Experts estimate that between 10 percent and 20 percent of all children have variations of dyslexia.
Not much is known about the causes but there is considerable evidence that in some cases it may be hereditary. Dyslexia occurs among all groups of the population.
Dyslexics are generally of average or above-average intelligence. The dyslexic child exhibits a big gap between potential and actual achievement. He or she is an intelligent child who is failing at school and is unable to learn with conventional methods of instruction.
Some of the early signs in the preschool child are: difficulty in learning to talk, in listening and following directions, in remembering, in pronouncing words or in expressing ideas.
Once the child starts school, other signs are: difficulty in learning the alphabet, in sequencing letters or numbers ("saw" for "was" or "no" for "on"), difficulty rhyming, difficulty with sequence and memory for words, and in learning to read, write and spell. In addition, the dyslexic child may have a short attention span and be easily distracted or seem to daydream. Or he or she may be hyperactive, in constant motion or restless, clumsy and awkward, or unable to coordinate several things at once.
The only sure way to determine if a child is dyslexic is through professional assessment.
Professional assessments are available in Israel through the Ministry of Education and through accredited private organizations or individuals.
Learning strategies - The Davis Dyslexia Association International is now working on promoting learning strategies for kindergarten and early elementary grades designed to prevent the problems associated with dyslexia. Towards this end, the association is holding a workshop for educators in Vancouver, Canada, at the end of August.
Schwarcz and Chesler will be attending this workshop with the aim of bringing these strategies back to Israel in workshops to begin in 2002.
"With the Ministry of Education poised to change the methods used to teach reading in Israeli schools, plus weighing [the option of] starting reading in kindergarten, now is the time to explore the possibility of introducing Davis Learning Strategies program for all children into our schools," explains Chesler.
The Learning Strategies program was developed to provide methods for teachers of kindergarten through third-grade for more effective reading instruction and for imparting how-to-learn skills. It is a supplement to the regular curriculum, and provides additional preparation and support for developing reading fluency and comprehension skills. The Learning Strategies include Focusing Skills and Symbol Mastery plus Davis Reading Exercises for instructing students in word recognition and comprehension.
Sharon Pfeiffer, director of education at the Davis Dyslexia Association International, supervised the research and development of the Learning Strategies. A teacher with more than 20 years' classroom experience, Pfeiffer conducted pilot programs using the Learning Strategies in several local San Francisco Bay Area schools from 1994-'99.
"Initially our aim was to prevent dyslexia and other learning disabilities by adapting the Davis Dyslexia Correction methods to schoolchildren under the age of eight," Pfeiffer told The Jerusalem Post during a telephone interview from California. "But then we discovered that the Davis methods helped all children to enhance and improve their reading and language skills, as well as their hand/eye coordination. The Learning Strategies were found not only to prevent special-education placement later on, but also to increase the number of children qualifying for gifted-education placement. I know from my experience in the classroom that I as a teacher was not able to allow for the creative child. The Davis Strategies bring out creativity in children. Working with clay has much more of an impact than just working with paper and pencil."
Research on the Learning Strategies program, conducted at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, which focused on a Davis group and a control group, is due to be published soon in the educational journal Reading Improvement.
For more information contact: The Center for Learning Correction Rehov Hashahafim 20, Ra'anana.
Tel: (09) 772-9888 Fax: (09) 772-9889 Mobile: (052) 488-288