A well-known member of the local Jewish community, Jennifer Naiman, 26, is using her role as an educator to eradicate common assumptions about dyslexia and alternative methods of teaching.
Though she was not raised particularly observant, Naiman was inspired to join the modern Orthodox movement by her tenure as a student at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Following undergraduate studies in psychology at Towson University, Naiman earned her master’s degree in counseling from McDaniel College while teaching at St. Elizabeth School, a nonpublic special education school in Baltimore City.
Most recently, Naiman worked as a counselor at the Legacy School, a Carroll County institution for students with dyslexia. This summer saw her in a new role as the program director at Camp Shoresh, and she will soon begin work as the first full-time school counselor at Ohr Chadash Academy, in addition to working as a kindergarten teacher and providing academic support for students.
Why did you choose to work with dyslexic students?
The ability to read with ease is a gift that many of us take for granted. As a child who had a lot of trouble learning how to read, I have a lot of empathy for kids who are falling behind and can’t keep up with the rest of their class. I worked specifically with an 8-year-old with Down’s syndrome at St. Elizabeth, and it ended up this child, who everyone thought would never be able to learn, started reading because of me, and it was the most amazing feeling.
How does teaching students with dyslexia differ?
This summer, I traveled to Atlanta to be trained in the Orton-Gillingham (OG) methods, essentially teaching kids with dyslexia how to read with sounds as opposed to letter names. It involves a lot of kinesthetic learning such as hand symbols; we often us the pointer-fingertip as the main sensory input. Most of your learning is tactile, we have students trace letters with their fingertip rather than a pencil, because the sensory input will make it more memorable. It is direct and basic.
A week later, I was trained in phonographics, a similar teaching method, but through active discovery. With OG, there is a sequence in which you teach reading, nothing is in alphabetical order. In phonographics, things are taught based on what is presented to the child; they have to discover the word before you teach it. The whole thing is that when a child has context for what they are learning, they’re going to remember it much better. I plan to use mostly phonographics at Ohr Chadash. It is much quicker paced, made for students with high intelligence but a different style of learning.
What are your goals?
I would love to make a school for Jewish kids with dyslexia, which runs in Jewish families very highly. It is very common, but often misdiagnosed as ADHD. Everyone thinks dyslexia is that you read your Bs and Ds backwards or upside down, but no. Kids with dyslexia see the words the same way that you or I would see the words, they just can’t process them the same way. We see the word “bed” and read it as such, but they can’t necessarily put those three letters together.
The problem is, when a student like this gets so used to the common core system of teaching, they will often become what is known as a global reader. They will see the word “this” and know the word is “this” because they’ve seen it and been corrected so many times — they’ve memorized the word. But then if they see the word “thistle,” they will associate it with the word “this,” which is obviously incorrect. This results in a dyslexic student memorizing certain words without learning the basis for reading, which sets them back so much further when you get to more complicated reading. That’s why often dyslexia isn’t diagnosed until a student starts developing more complex reading skills.
At Ohr Chadash, I would like to help get the school on board with reading methods that work for each individual child, rather than teaching one set way to learn how to read. I want to help the staff assess each child as an individual, then teach each individual child how to read in a way that works for them.