Friday, May 10, 2013

Reading About Me: Southern Oregon's Visual Learning Program

Many students going in as counselors at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp may already have or may develop an interest in pursuing special education as a career, so I thought it worthwhile to share some information about a program based in southern Oregon called Reading About Me.

Reading About Me is a program designed by the Down Syndrome Association of Southern Oregon to use alternative teaching methods to help individuals with Down syndrome learn how to read. Because the program focuses on visual learning and maintaining the interest of visual learners, it is also suited for helping people on the autism spectrum learn to read. The program started when DSASO caught wind of University of Washington instructor and researcher Patricia Oelwein's book Teaching Reading to Children with Down Syndrome: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. In 1997, DSASO invited Oelwein to visit southern Oregon and give a two-day workshop on her teaching methods. Many who attended the workshop found Oelwein's visual-based techniques effective in both school settings and at home, but six years later, in 2003, DSASO was still unsatisfied by the high rate of children with Down syndrome coming out of school with little or no reading skills. They invited Oelwein back to southern Oregon and collaborated with her to create Reading About Me.

DSASO and reading program instructor, Joyce Rogers, began a weekly one-to-one reading class to children and adults with Down syndrome, working positively with over 30 individuals of ranging ages for two and a half years until, in 2007, DSASO decided it would be more effective to develop a reading program kit that would allow anyone, like a parent or a teacher, for example, to take the program and use it themselves in either the classroom or at home.

Kabot-Sturos assisting one of her mentees at Barnes and Nobel

In 2010, DSASO is launched a pilot research program with Southern Oregon University and Ashland School District teachers, and they are currently working on training and gaining support from educators interested in integrating the program within both the Southern Oregon Educational Service District and individual school district's special education programs.

Current Portland State University student, Marina Kabot-Sturos, worked with the Reading About Me for her senior project at Eagle Point High School in southern Oregon. She mentored individuals with Down syndrome ranging in age from seven years to 63 years old. Every Tuesday, the group would go to Barnes and Nobel and use the Nooks to read interactively. Kabot-Sturos particularly remembers helping one of her hug-loving mentees read Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. In this situation, the Nooks came in handy. For example, if one tapped a picture on the screen, like a tree, the Nook would say “tree”.

“Honestly, I wish I had learned to read this way. It was much more interactive and way more fun,” Kabot-Sturos says.

She goes on to say that volunteering with Reading About Me was extremely worthwhile, and she plans on working with the program again over the summer.

“The people I worked with were so sweet, and I learned a lot in terms of communication, problem solving, and teaching.”

It sounds like an interesting program to me! Has anybody worked with this program, either using it yourself or helping someone else use it? Click here for more information about DSASO and the Read About Meprogram.

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