Amazing EBLI Stories: The McDonald Family
The Student is Also the Teacher
by Nora Chahbazi
Cody started sessions at Ounce of Prevention Reading Center in 2004 when he was at the end of 1st grade. I had worked with his brother previously and after being told by the school that Cody would never learn to read, his parents, Doug and LouCyndra, brought him to OOPRC.
Cody has, by far, been the student that has most enhanced my own learning about teaching and how the brain learns.
Shortly before entering Kindergarten, Cody had developed seizures that seriously impacted his learning. Cody’s lack of memory, difficulty with processing, delay with expressive language (getting his thoughts out in words) and receptive language (understanding and processing what was being spoken to him), trouble with fine motor and gross motor skills, and having little to no academic expectations at school were all impeding his ability to learn to read.
Much of what I have learned about cognitive processing and ‘growing the brain’ are a result of my work with Cody. This information has been embedded into the instruction in the EBLI system that is taught to teachers and students. Cody has, by far, been the student that has most enhanced my own learning about teaching and how the brain learns. In turn, he has subsequently impacted thousands of students and teachers. He will forever hold a special place in my heart and I look forward to whistling and shouting at his high school graduation in the near future!
His cognitive struggles pushed me to research and
learn all that I could about how to help him.
LouCyndra, Cody’s mom, is now the Training Coordinator at EBLI and is an invaluable part of the EBLI team. Cody is a Junior in high school. Watch their video below to hear what they have to say about their experience.
After the videotaping, LouCyndra and I were interviewed about Cody and his time at OOPRC; see our answers below!
1. What difficulties did Cody have when he first started at Ounce of Prevention?
Nora Chahbazi (EBLI founder and Cody’s instructor): The major obstacles for Cody were his lack of memory and his very slow processing. There were very long pauses between being asked a question or given a direction and his answers. Also he would forget what was asked of him. Because he couldn’t remember, I learned to be very concise with instruction using few words. I also learned to cue without talking. Cody was also used to not being required to do any work, an issue termed “learned helplessness.” I learned to be very creative with behavior management and to follow through with consequences, both positive and negative.
LouCyndra McDonald (Cody’s mom): Cody started coming to see Nora in 1st grade when he was 7. He struggled with counting to 100, one of the big things they must do in Kindergarten. He needed lots of prompting to be able to count to 100. He had the same trouble with his alphabet. He had a lot of letter and number reversals. He could not read a single word. He would practice a word and then immediately forget what he learned. School was becoming frustrating for him and he preferred playing over learning.
2. What struggles did he have with instruction?
N.C.: Cody’s lack of memory, both auditory and visual, required that he have many, many more repetitions than normal for all instruction. He had difficulty focusing and paying attention, which impeded reading instruction. I learned many tricks and strategies to drive him to attend and focus. He had become an expert at avoidance and getting out of doing the challenging brain work I was requiring him to do. He would become very tired, often angry, and did NOT want to continue.
L.M.: Nothing seemed to make sense to him. He was struggling to keep up with the other students. I was able to be a helper in his class so I could work with him and he would get all of his work done. His kindergarten teacher told Doug and I not to worry; he would get help in 1st grade. Some kids just take longer to catch on. By the time 1st grade began, we started the Special Education testing process.
3. How did you deal with it when he had difficulty?
N.C.: I needed to learn about instruction that was beyond reading for Cody. I was trained in Perceptual Development and PACE (cognitive training) and used those activities with him. I did activities from Brain Gym and ordered visual/perceptual materials. We did a lot of memory games. Because he would get tired, sometimes we would take a brain break. If he cried, I would give him a moment but always came back to more instruction before he was finished. I used visual cues like touching my fingers when giving him a direction or asking him to tell me sounds in a word. I’d hold his arm or touch his hand as we worked, helping him better attend to what we were doing. More than once we had his mom leave the center as we dealt with his strongly embedded avoidance tactics.
L.M.: We cried and prayed a lot!!!!! We kept asking questions at school and trying to figure out how best to help him, thinking the school would have the answers and do something. They only tested him and said he couldn’t learn. We felt like they gave up on him and because his scores were so low they didn’t think it was possible for him to go above a 1st grade level.
This was devastating. Doug and I knew he could learn. He was bright and loving and loved playing pretend, he loved telling stories and had a great imagination. He loved to dress up and be the hero. We couldn’t understand why they didn’t have the answers. Doug and I decided to take him to Nora at Ounce of Prevention. We had taken our middle son there when he was in 2nd grade after “failing” Reading Recovery and being told he wasn’t welcomed back. Nora seemed to know the answers and taught Blake to read in 11 hours. So we took Cody to Nora hoping to find some answers and something that would work.
4. What changes did you notice in Cody as his sessions progressed?
N.C.: We had so many celebrations, both big and small! His memory began to grow and he could remember for 2 seconds, then 3. He could remember the sounds for more spellings. When he began reading words it was very exciting! We did games like throwing coins in a bucket, saying the names of colors to a metronome beat as he touched them, jumping on the trampoline while reciting strings of numbers, and crossing the mid-line to tap dots with both his hands and feet. These were all measurable activities so he could see the successes in very concrete ways. It was thrilling when he began reading books and writing sentences.
5. Besides reading instruction, what other types of instruction did Cody receive?
N.C.: He went through Interactive Metronome training for about 40 sessions. He also went through PACE, BrainWare Safari, and PREP instruction. He was taught many of the Brain Gym activities as well as Perceptual Development activities.
L.M.: Cody did several sessions of Interactive Metronome. More than most kids do. He learned all kinds of cognitive exercises that Nora also taught him from singing songs and clapping to line dancing. I was also homeschooling him to repeat 1st grade. We declined all help from the school.
6. What are a few of the biggest lessons learned from Cody’s work at OOPRC?
N.C.: I learned that no matter the degree of learning difficulty or even brain deficiency for whatever reason, all students can learn and be successful. However, this requires a tremendous amount of commitment from the parents, instructors, and learner. Some of the most powerful components of the ‘art’ of EBLI – the behavior management, engagement, efficiency of instruction, and cognitive processing components embedded into the instructional activities – are a direct result of what I learned by teaching Cody.
7. What are some changes for you personally as a result of Cody’s time at OOPRC?
L.M.: Doug and I have learned to never give up. Any child can learn to read. We also learned that it is horrible to have no expectations of children as far as their schoolwork is concerned. If the teacher doesn’t care whether or not it gets done, it is much easier for a struggling student to do nothing than to put forth the effort to complete a homework page or assignment.
8. How are Cody's reading and learning now?
N.C.: I was bursting with pride when Cody recently did a presentation for our staff that he had done in school. He was confident and mature, reading from his notes when necessary and answering the questions afterwards. While he still takes extra time to process when doing homework and has a tutor that helps him with math and sometimes other subjects, he does much of his work on his own. He has never been in Special Education. LouCyndra shares his school successes with me on a regular basis and Cody stops in on occasion to chat. He is an amazing young man and a delight to have in my life!
9. What would you tell other parents who have a student with significant academic struggles?
L.M.: Don’t wait for your child to magically “get it” without any changes being made; the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
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