From a Specialist: Interview with Lynne Loeser, M.Ed.
“We sometimes forget to lead students to independence… the focus should be on teaching them the skills necessary to confidently advocate for themselves.” – Lynne Loeser, M.Ed., Hill Learning Center board member
Lynne Loeser, M.Ed. serves on the board for Hill Learning Center and has earned National Board Certification as an Exceptional Needs Specialist. She has compiled over 30 years of experience and expertise working with both students and educators. Below, Lynne Loeser discusses her knowledge of dyslexia and learning difficulties.
Q: What drew you to focus your career on helping students with learning differences?
A: I don’t know that I intentionally planned on going into this career in special education. I just kind of fell into it. Once I was in the field, I found that I just really enjoyed it. I think it’s fascinating to figure out the puzzle as to why students struggle, to identify the instruction and needs they have.
I have had the chance to work with families and students for multiple years and build very strong relationships with those families and caregivers. They’ve actually taught me a ton and have made me a better educator.
I’ve spent over 30 years in education, and half that time in the classroom teaching kids. I’ve had the opportunity to serve in several roles, as a program specialist, an educational diagnostician, a mentor for early teachers, as an instructional coach and as a trainer… I really enjoy working with adult learners to figure out that puzzle—teachers are eager learners. They really want to help students be successful. Teachers have that compelling “why factor.”
Q: What is one of your favorite moments in your career?
A: I can’t identify just one or two favorites or specific moments—there’ve been so many. I would say a defining moment in my career was when I finally learned the science of how to effectively teach children to read. I took a very rigorous course that the NC Department of Public Instruction offers: “Reading Research to Classroom Practice,” which taught me how to reach students with reading difficulties. I [later] became an instructor in that course for my district.
I’d also say there have been a number of people I’ve met along the way that have been very influential in my understanding of how to teach reading effectively to struggling readers: my first and greatest mentor, Dr. Rebecca Felton, and Nancy Hennessy through the International Dyslexia Association (IDA).
Q: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing children with learning differences?
A: Well, firstly, they often experience prolonged failure and frustration, and one of the biggest challenges is learning how to persist through those difficult times, identify and know their strengths, understand and celebrate their differences and learn the skills to advocate confidently for themselves. We sometimes forget to lead students to independence. But the focus should be on teaching them the skills necessary to advocate for themselves.
Q: What would you say are some of the greatest opportunities for supporting teachers when working with children with learning differences?
A: One of the greatest opportunities to support teachers is through the implementation of a multi-tiered system of support. This includes the adoption of a well-defined and high quality core curriculum and instruction or “first teaching” consistent with current reading science. For those students who need more, an MTSS efficiently and effectively provides the extra support and help for students. Included within the framework of an MTSS, is a comprehensive assessment system that includes universal screening to ensure our instruction is healthy and to identify students early who have indicators of risk and then progress monitoring to ensure our instruction is effective. A MTSS is imperative because it takes the burden off of teachers and develops the system that supports both students and teachers.
Another major key is to quickly identify indicators of risk to enable early intervention. The dosage of instruction becomes much heavier in 3rd grade and up, when [the learning difficulty] could have been prevented sooner, or at least mitigated. After the 3rd grade, it requires many more resources to intervene successfully.
Q: Are there any myths associated with learning challenges, specifically dyslexia, that you’d like to dismiss?
A: Unfortunately, many people write about dyslexia and searches bring up a plethora of blogs and other information. Despite [dyslexia] being pretty well-understood, myths continue. The danger [of these myths] is that it diverts attention and takes precious time away from addressing dyslexia through effective practices.
Educators and families need to be vigilant and be informed consumers and back up what they read on the internet with valid and reliable sources of information such as what is provided by the International Dyslexia Association and by Hill Learning Center.
[One of the most prevalent myths] is that students with dyslexia see and write letters and words backward. Students with dyslexia do not see letters or words in reverse. The issue of reversing letters when reading or writing is developmentally appropriate for developing readers and writers. For students with dyslexia, these reversal errors may persist as a result of poorly formed phonological and orthographic representations. It is also important to note that not all children with dyslexia demonstrate reversals. The core marker of dyslexia, as stated in the definition, is a deficit in phonological processing which impacts decoding, accurate and automatic word recognition and spelling, not reversed images or seeing/writing letters or words in reverse.
A second myth is that students with dyslexia will never learn to read, or that they will always struggle. Students can be taught, and with early identification, dyslexia can be prevented. Dyslexia exists on a continuum—mild to severe—and early intervention is a protective factor. It is lifelong; you’re always dyslexic. That doesn’t mean you can’t become a proficient reader. Truthfully, most [people with dyslexia] always struggle with spelling and being able to read with automaticity, but we can through effective instruction, greatly impact these areas
Q: What are some of the most important things research has taught us about supporting students with learning differences?
A: We have a very strong understanding of dyslexia, honestly. We’ve learned how the brain’s function and structure are different for students with dyslexia—but that teaching them to read with the right instruction changes the wiring of the brain.
Learning to read is not done through simple exposure to print; the process of learning to read rewrites the organization of the brain function. So basically, through intervention, you can rewire the brain pattern. We’re born with the ability to produce language, but we’re not born with the reading circuit—you have to create the reading circuit. We repurpose areas of the brain, which happens through instruction and learning to read.
Q: If you could say one thing to a parent who just found out their child has been diagnosed with a learning difference, what would it be?
A: I would encourage them to learn as much as they can and to find reliable sources of information. Also, it’s important not to shy away from advocating for their child. Form a collaborative partnership with the school—it’s about building resilience on both accords.
Q: What would you say Hill Learning Center does extremely well?
A: Hill Reading Achievement Program (HillRAP) is completely individualized for each child. In addition to other accredited teachings, their learning system is based on the principles of Structured Literacy. They take individual learner data, to inform instructional next steps—their data collection system is called Hill Learning System, and it is really unique and effective.
I also think [Hill Learning Center] continues to reach out to the local public schools to partner with them consistently, both from improving educator practice and working with individual students.
Q: As a Hill Learning Center board member, what would you like to see from Hill in the coming year or two?
A: I’d like to see them continue to build partnerships and support for public schools and continue to grow as a hub for evidence-based information, research and networking.
How Hill Learning Center Can Help
We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and attention challenges into confident, independent learners. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.