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Customizing Learning Strategies for Your Unique Child

Customizing Learning Strategies for Your Unique Child - Dr. Emily Levy

One of the things you will realize as you listen to our latest podcast is this: All children learn differently, but some children learn with greater difficulty, so customizing learning strategies is key to their success.

As parents, seeing our child struggle to learn is heartbreaking to watch. However, all we can really do is find the best strategies we can to ensure our kids have the very best chance at being successful in overcoming their own unique challenges.

In this interview with Dr. Emily Levy, you will gain insights into what a learning difference is and how to assess if your child has a learning challenge. Dr. Levy also shares the early signs of learning challenges and how to evaluate them to determine the kind of customized learning your child needs. In particular, when you join us for this episode you will learn about what a multisensory approach to learning is and how it can help a child with learning challenges.

Listen in now or read along in the transcript below!

Things You Will Learn
  • What is a learning difference?
  • How to determine if a child is having a learning challenge.
  • What are early signs of potential learning challenges?
  • Are learning differences or difficulties always comorbid with other neurodevelopmental disorders?
  • How to evaluate a child to determine the sort of customized learning they need.
  • What is a multisensory approach?
  • What are the strategies that parents who think their child has learning difficulties can take to help their child?
  • And so much more…

Show Notes for this Podcast 

    • Definition of a “Learning Difference” from Dr. Levy. (03:57)
    • Early signs of potential learning challenges exhibited by a child. (04:19)
    • On learning disability being comorbid with neurodevelopmental disorders. (06:45)
    • Steps Dr. Emily Levy takes to determine how to customize a child’s learning approach. (07:34)
    • What is a “multisensory approach”? (08:28)
    • What is the Orton-Gillingham method? (09:07)
    • Strategies parents can take if they feel their kid struggles with learning. (19:11)
    • Dr. Emily Levy’s specialty. (21:20)

Resources and Links

Dr. Emily Levy's Website 

Dr. Emily Levy's Instagram

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More about Dr. Emily Levy

Dr. Emily Levy is the founder and director of EBL Coaching, a specialized tutoring program that offers individualized one-on-one home, virtual, and on-site instruction using research-based, multi-sensory techniques. She graduated from Brown University and received her Masters Degree in Special Education from Nova University in Florida, where she. She also completed her Doctorate Degree in Education from Nova University.

Dr. Levy is the author of Strategies for Study Success–, a 17-part student workbook series that teaches students strategies for test taking, note taking, reading comprehension, writing, summarizing, and executive functioning; and the author of Flags and Stars Orton Gillingham student workbook series, which helps students develop their fundamental decoding and spelling skills. 

Additionally, she is the author of Flags and Stars Multi-Sensory Math, a multi-sensory math program that helps students develop a stronger understanding of core math concepts, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. These workbooks are currently used at schools nationwide.

00:00 Tara Hunkin:
This is the My Child Will Thrive podcast, and I'm your host, Tara Hunkin, certified functional nutritional therapy practitioner and mother. I am here to share with you the latest research expert advice, parent perspectives, resources, and tools to help you on your path to optimizing the health and development for your child with ADHD, autism, sensory processing disorder, learning disabilities, or other neurodevelopmental disorders.

My own experiences with my daughter combined with as much training as I can get my hands on, research I can dig into, and conferences I can attend, have helped me to develop systems and tools for parents like you who feel overwhelmed trying to help their children. So, sit back as I share another great topic to help you on your journey.

A quick disclaimer, please keep in mind that the information provided is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat your child and is not a substitute for working with a qualified practitioner. This episode of the My Child Will Thrive podcast is brought to you by the Autism, ADHD, and Sensory Processing Disorder Summit. You can sign up for free to watch 10 days of expert interviews and masterclasses at mychildwillthrive.com/summit.

Now on with the show. Hello everyone and welcome back to the My Child Will Thrive podcast. I am really excited to have with me today a guest that is not what we've had on before. This isn't a guest that's going to talk to us about how we can customize our learning for our particular children. This is something that we need to do. Often we talk about here all the different underlying health issues that our children have and what we can do about those things.

But in the meantime, our kids have to continue to learn and we want them to learn in a comfortable environment, feel successful in their learning, and ensure that they're, we're doing everything to support them thriving in that educational setting. So today I have with me Dr. Emily Levy. She's the founder and director of EBL coaching, a specialized tutoring program that offers individualized, one-on-one home, virtual, and onsite instruction using research-based multisensory techniques.

Dr. Levy graduated from Brown University and received her Masters Degree in Special Education from Nova University in Florida. She also completed her Doctorate Degree in Education from Nova University. Dr. Levy is the author of Strategies for Study Success, a 17-part student workbook series that teaches student strategies for test taking, note taking, reading comprehension, writing, summarizing and executive functioning, and the author of Flags and Stars Orton-Gillingham student workbook series, which helps students develop their fundamental decoding and spelling skills.

Additionally, she's the author of Flags and Stars Multi-Sensory Math, a multisensory math program that helps students develop a stronger understanding of core math concepts, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions. These workbooks are currently used in schools nationwide.

Thank you so much for joining me here today, Dr. Levy.

03:35 Dr. Emily Levy:
Thank you for having me and for that very nice introduction

03:28 Tara Hunkin:
Well, it's always good to get a background of, of where everybody's coming from and obviously you have a deep background in working with kids in this framework of specialized or individualized learning and in particular in a multisensory approach, which we're gonna get to in a little bit.

But what I wanna do today is just start with, can you just define for us what a learning difference is and why it's important to identify them?

03:57 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. A learning difference really is defined by a child or an individual who learns differently, who is not neurotypical, who doesn't learn in that traditional way that many other kids do, and really needs a different approach in order to grasp new concepts.

04:13 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So how, how can parents identify if their child is having a learning challenge?

04:19 Dr. Emily Levy:
Well, many learning challenges start at a very young age. If a child struggles with speech at a young age, if they struggle to learn the letters of the alphabet, the sounds that correspond to the letters of the alphabet, they struggle, struggle with drawing, with writing, with holding a a, a pencil properly.

These are some early signs that they may have potential challenges. And then academically, once school begins, many kids who have learning challenges will really have significant difficulty learning how to read, learning how to solve basic math problems, learning how to solve word problems. So really many of these challenges will start to come about a pretty early on in their academic career.

05:05 Tara Hunkin:
So is, so is the typical, typical student that goes through this, I mean, I think a lot of parents, when their kids start school, do you, do you find that the parents that come to you also are seeing behavioral challenges that come up because of the frustrations around learning?

05:22 Dr. Emily Levy:
Absolutely. Sometimes not with every child, but definitely some kids become so frustrated that they shut down, they don't wanna look at a book, they don't wanna do any of their homework. They start to act out and have behavioral challenges really as a way of dealing with their issues that are not being properly addressed. Not every child exhibits that, but many definitely do.

05:43 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, I know for, for me, with my daughter when this was so long ago, she's in college now, so, but it was, it was really that end of day meltdown was always a sign because with girls in particular, sometimes I actually don't have the behavioral challenges in the classroom. It they, they hold it all and then it's the end of the day there's this great big release of all the stress of trying to learn when it's so frustrating for them. So it is so important that we get a chance to identify what we can do specifically to help them through this.

Can you tell me a little bit more about maybe what the typical student that you see as you'd profile in your center? Because I know that typically with learning disabilities or differences, it tends to be comorbid with some of the other neurodevelopmental disorders that we talk about here at My Child Will Thrive, like ADHD and autism. But they may, they aren't always, but there is a high com comorbidity.

06:45 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure, absolutely. So at our centers, our specialty really is working with all types of special education students. Students have dyslexia, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism. And while it's not always the case, very often we do see those comorbidities.

Certainly autism and ADHD is something that we see fairly frequently. Oftentimes we see dyslexia and ADHD. We see ADHD along with executive functioning challenges. There's a very common correlation. So some children just have one diagnosis and one particular challenge, but many do exhibit those comorbidities.

07:24 Tara Hunkin:
So how do you then, I guess, identify, so when, when someone comes into your centers, then what, what, what are your next steps with them to customize that learning approach?

07:34 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. Typically, when a student comes in, I personally meet and evaluate that student when I can, just to give me an overall picture of who that child is, what their specific needs are, and what the best plan of action would be for that child. Many of our students come in with an IEP or with a neuropsychological evaluation or a psychological evaluation. So I always take a look at that as well and really factor in all of the pieces and coming up with the best plan of action for that child.

And then from there we come up with a specific individualized plan of action to address their areas of weakness and all of the work that we do is very much research-based, multisensory, and really cater to the individual needs of that child.

08:18 Tara Hunkin:
So let's talk about that. Let's start with what is a multisensory approach, 'cause I'm sure many people haven't heard of that terminology before.

08:28 Dr. Emily Levy:
So a multisensory approach means that we engage multiple senses when working with the student, the visual, the auditory, the tactile kinesthetic modality. So for instance, rather than just say working out of a workbook or listening to a teacher, we really try to engage those senses. With reading, for instance, part of the Orton-Gillingham methodology, which I know we'll get more into later.

That is a multisensory approach and we integrate tools like colored sand for forming letters, magnetic tiles, whiteboards. All as, as a part of that very highly structured multisensory approach to helping students build their reading skills.

09:07 Tara Hunkin:
Okay. Well, so let, let's dive into that. What Orton-Gillingham method, people may have heard of it before or been introduced to it in terms of with the special education, but what, where did it come from and why was that method developed? And then let's talk about a little bit more than nitty gritty of what it actually looks like.

09:26 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. So that method really was originally developed for children who had reading disorders like dyslexia and really were struggling to learn in the traditional way. So it's two individuals, Orton and Gillingham came together and created this method, I believe in the 1950s, and it really took off from there.

It's an incredibly effective method, particularly for students who have dyslexia, but not only for students who have dyslexia, almost every child, especially those who are struggling with reading benefits from this method, because it's so multisensory, it's so structured, it spirals and integrates previously taught concepts as we introduce new concepts and the students tend to really enjoy the multisensory approach and become engaged with the learning rather than just being passive in the approach to teaching reading.

10:16 Tara Hunkin:
So what is the evidence for this type of method? So obviously engaging the senses, we talk a lot about, you know, so sensory processing disorder is something that we talk about here as well. Obviously the ability to then integrate all the different senses and engage them. Why is that so important for learning and particularly learning for kids that are struggling?

10:41 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. Well, there's really been a lot of research from many different research institutions about the most effective methodologies and approach for working with students who have learning challenges.

And that is using a multisensory approach because it really helps to engage them and make them an active part in the learning process rather than, like I mentioned before, or passive learners. And really integrating those multisensory tools also helps kids stay focused and maintain their attention because they're actively involved in the process.

11:13 Tara Hunkin:
So this actual method, is it typically used in a school setting or is it only typ— found in tutoring centers like yours?

11:20 Dr. Emily Levy:
Some schools that, that do integrate it, usually it's more of the special ed schools that are catered to students who have particular learning challenges that use it. There are some public schools and some private and parochial schools that will have some teachers who are trained in the Orton-Gillingham methodology,

but from my experience, unfortunately, it is rare because so many students really need this approach and they're not getting it. So I've found that in most circumstances, if the child is not at a special ed school, the Orton-Gillingham method needs to be provided outside of school.

11:58 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah. So the, the the method itself, how is it staged? Like how, how does, so let's say you have a child that is starting out, they're, you've noticed very early on that they're having trouble even identifying letters and having trouble blending sounds together or anything in terms of the phonics typical way of, of teaching reading to kids. What's the difference? What does this look like?

12:26 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. So there's really different levels within the program. Like I mentioned, it's very much of a structured and systematic approach to reading. So at the very beginning level, we work on teaching students how to identify the names of the letters and their corresponding sounds. And we use audio visual flashcards to teach the letters with the corresponding key picture. We have them trace the letters in colored sand, trace the letters in the sky.

Sometimes we use shaving cream for additional tracing once they've grasped the individual name of the letter and their corresponding sounds. Then we work on how to blend those sounds together to form basic words. And we use magnetic tiles to help with that. We use flashcards, we used whiteboards.

So again, really engaging the senses. And then once they've grasped how to read and spell very basic two and three letter words, CVC words, we then move on to more complex words. Words containing blends, words containing consonant digraph, vowel digraphs, eventually multisyllabic words, and then eventually words with prefixes, suffixes and roots, while always reviewing and continuing to integrate the previously taught concept. So again, highly structured, highly systematic spirals back and really very multisensory in its approach.

13:43 Tara Hunkin:
So that part of it, the, the, the approach in terms of the bringing back the other things into it, like in terms of the repetitive natures of bringing back the so that they do that, why is that part so important or integral to the process itself for these particular types of kids?

14:04 Dr. Emily Levy:
So that really helps for the information to really stick in their long-term memory. If we teach it once and then never teach it again, they're really not going to retain it. So by constantly spiraling back and integrating previously taught concepts, it really helps 'em to retain the information for the long haul.

14:20 Tara Hunkin:
What, what happens when you have a kid? So when you're describing that, obviously we have children that are much younger, look, what do you do with a child that isn't identified really early on?

They've grasped some reading, but they're still struggling and it's just that they're really slow. They're not keeping pace with their peers in terms of their ability to read and also to comprehend as they get further and further into school.

So what happens if you bring a child that's older, like not in, you know, grade one, grade two in those early reading phases, but they might are have gotten all the way to grade four, five, or six or even later and not have grasp basic reading concepts. How do you, how do you work with them in a way that they they can at that particular age?

15:07 Dr. Emily Levy:

Great question and, and it actually is something that we see all the time. We see many older kids that have never received the right support, the right, right diagnosis, and really are at a point where they're struggling so much academically. And that's really where our indiv, highly individualized approach to instruction comes in. And that's why we start with that initial assessment so that we can really gauge where the gaps are.

Oftentimes, as I'm sure you know, once a student reaches third, fourth grade, there's a big shift from learning to read to reading to learn. And now they start to not struggle, not just with decoding, but with expressing their thoughts on paper with writing, with reading comprehension, because they get stuck on so many words. Their fluency is so slow that in turn they're really struggling with comprehension, they're struggling with math word problems if there's a reading challenge.

So really the key is identifying where the gaps are. They might not need to start with CVC words from a decoding standpoint, and they probably don't really have the time to do that if they're also dealing with all of their schoolwork and all of their homework to take a step backwards. So what we really try to do is identify where those holes are.

Are they struggling to read multisyllabic words or are they struggling to read words with blends or words with consonant digraphs? So wherever they're at from a decoding standpoint, we try to really meet them there and work on building those skills at that point, rather than starting from the very beginning. We also want to integrate strategies for reading comprehension, how to read and then identify the topic once.

This is one strategy we, we teach students to identify the topic which we highlight in blue. Then the main idea, which is what the author is saying about the topic we learned, we learned to highlight that in green.

And then we go through and highlight the important salient details in yellow. So we're also teaching them comprehension strategies and they oftentimes need help with expressing their thoughts on paper when writing, how do I start by brainstorming, then write, then go back and self-check my work. So there's really so many other aspects of learning that start to come into play as they get older and progress through school.

17:10 Tara Hunkin:

Yeah, you're bringing up, actually a lot of it's interesting in terms of both study or that development of that, the skills that, that become so important as they progress in school and then end up in high school and and beyond without those basic skills, they really, really struggle as they hit high school in particular.

You, you see obviously a lot of students that are coming in with dyslexia, which is, is a reading disability or difference. What do, do you find that in a number of those same students also are struggling in math or are diagnosed with dyscalculia?

17:44 Dr. Emily Levy:
Many of them are, yes. Absolutely.

17:46 Tara Hunkin:
So, so what do, what do you do in terms of the approach when it comes to, we've talked about reading. What's the approach or is it similar but with different materials for dyscalculia or math challenges?

17:59 Dr. Emily Levy:
It's similar in that we, we still use that real multisensory approach because certainly students who have dyscalculia need that multisensory approach in order to grasp math.

And of course math builds upon itself. So without having those foundational skills intact, they will only continue to struggle as they move through school. We also work at the same time on teaching them how to solve math and word problems in a systematic way.

So for instance, rather than just looking at these long-word problems and seeing a bunch of language that they don't know what to do with, we teach them a systematic approach. So let's start by identifying what is the, the operation that, that we need to do. Let's circle the relevant information, let's identify the keywords, and then let's write the solution in our own words as a full sentence so that we understand what's going on.

So we're really, again, using that systematic approach, but applying it to math word problems. We're using that multisensory approach to help them understand what it means to add objects, to subtract objects, what it means to, to look at a fraction, how, how do I grasp what one-fourth means? So again, using that same structured multisensory approach, but specific to math in this case.

19:11 Tara Hunkin:
What do you think the strategies that parents should take in terms of if they, they feel that their, their kids are struggling and they need outside support, one of the things we like to talk about here is how do we work as a team with their current teachers, with other practitioners they may be working with because they may be working with an occupational therapist on handwriting or other things, same thing they could be working with a vision therapist on things.

What, what are, how do you work with that team of people that are trying there to support a child?

19:42 Dr. Emily Levy:
Sure. Well, first off, I absolutely feel the more we can work as a team, the better for every child. It, it can only help and, and often does because sometimes in a one-on-one setting, we might not see certain behaviors that a classroom teacher might see and, and vice versa.

So in terms of of parents, really, what they should do, if they're noticing any kind of struggle at home, when the child's doing homework, or when they're working with their child, really, the first step is they should talk to the child's teacher and see what they're noticing in school. Are they noticing the same kinds of challenges? Maybe the child's exhausted by the end of the day and, and therefore showing other kinds of challenges.

So really trying to get more of a lay of the land of what is, is or isn't going on. But ultimately the more we can work as a team, if the child is working with a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, another support specialist at school, the better.

So what we try to do is set up sort of a, a plan that works for everyone, whether it's a monthly check-in, whether it's sending emails, progress emails, so that we can all keep each other in the loop, whether it's phone conversation. So we're just trying to be realistic with everyone's time and what could work in terms of collaborating together as a team.

20:53 Tara Hunkin:
Yeah, It really does make a great big difference when parents can pull in all the people involved in their child's, whatever the work that they're doing with them to make sure that everybody's working on the same thing in in, in a way that's gonna be complementary. So that, that's really great advice. So tell us a little bit about the work that you do in your center. What, what it's all about and where people can find you.

21:20 Dr. Emily Levy:
Our specialty is working one-on-one, providing one-on-one tutoring to students who have all types of specialized learning needs, different types of learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, learning disorders in writing, ADHD, executive functioning autism. We provide the services both one-on-one at our learning centers, which are in New York as well as New Jersey as well as at students' homes.

And then really over the past several years, even before the pandemic, we've developed an amazing virtual learning platform, which has allowed us to help kids, really, worldwide, not just nationwide. And we have amazing technology and resources that we're able to use so that we're engaging one-on-one as though we were in person with the child. So it's really been exciting to be able to develop that.

But like I mentioned earlier, all of the work that we do is research-based. It's multisensory and it's highly individualized to the needs of each student, which just makes such an amazing difference for these kids. There's a lots of information on our website, which is eblcoaching.com. I write articles all the time on different education topics and I have a blog, so parents are certainly welcome to learn more about me and about the work that we do on our website.

22:33 Tara Hunkin:
That's great. It is great that you've, I mean, like you said, you, even pre-pandemic. You were working on the virtual platform because it is nice to be able to reach people all over the place because not everybody is lucky enough to be right nearby to a lot of these services. So it's wonderful that you're able to do that. And I was curious as to how that virtual worked with such a multisensory approach.

Can you give us sort of an example of what that looks like?

22:57 Dr. Emily Levy:
So often what we do is we'll mail a set of materials with manipulatives to the students that both the student and the tutor have the same set of manipulatives and they're able to engage together that way. There's some online tools that we use as well. There's virtual magnetic tiles and virtual whiteboards that we'll also integrate, but we're able to use that, that physical multisensory approach by actually having the tools.

23:21 Tara Hunkin:
That's great. It's nice to, to see that. Well, it has been a pleasure having you with us here today, and I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to chat because I think that, like I said, we often focus on the health issues, but we also need to focus on what we're gonna do with, to help our children learn as we work on the underlying health issues that they're, they're dealing with.

So I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us about your center and what parents can do specifically to help support their children's learning in core areas like math and, and reading when they're struggling and and, and at school.

23:57 Dr. Emily Levy:
Well, it's been an absolute pleasure and I very much enjoyed it.

24:00 Tara Hunkin:
Wonderful. Thanks again and we'll see you all again soon.

Thanks for joining me today. If you've enjoyed this episode, please support us by subscribing and giving us a review on your podcast platform of choice. This is Tara Hunkin and I'll catch you on the next episode of the podcast or over at mychildwillthrive.com/ where you can find articles and the free mychildwillthrive.com/toolkit too.


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