Molding change

The Davis Dyslexia program for children with language-based learning difficulties is now available in Jerusalem.

Two small clay figures rest on a piece of black rubber. In front of the figures is the word "and." The clay people show the meaning of the word, one person and another. This representational method of learning is one component Eliana Harpaz uses from the Davis Dyslexia Association International to help children and adults with Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Harpaz, the first Davis facilitator to work in Jerusalem, learned of the Davis method while helping high school students during her national service. One student she worked with in Ramle, who had great motivation to learn to read, never improved. Harpaz even sought aid from professionals to help her and the young woman still didn't improve. "I was told about the Davis program and we told them her story and they agreed to let her in," says Harpaz, sitting behind a desk adorned with a clay Hebrew alphabet. "After a week she was reading a full page and that was something new for her. It was amazing." Harpaz says the program renewed her student's self-confidence, because while she had previously been frustrated in her academic efforts, now she had succeeded at something and it gave her new self-confidence. Seeing the difference the program could make, Harpaz wanted to be a part of it. "I thought if it could change her life, then it could change others as well and I wanted to learn it." A year after her first interaction with the program, Harpaz was informed that a space was open in the facilitator training course. She attended the course training at Davis while also studying cognitive sciences at the Hebrew University. She completed the year-and-a-half training and practical work, receiving her certification six months ago. During the training, the future facilitators learned everything behind the method and also experienced the five-day intensive program themselves. "You feel it's difficult for them and then you can use the tools you learned yourself, and not just pass it on," Harpaz said. But, she says, "All the time it's a learning experience." Since she has started practicing she has learned how to cope with hyperactive children. "It's something where you have to think of new things to keep the child's attention." The Davis method, she explains, gives the students the tools for learning. Many of the students have language-based learning difficulties because they process information better visually or kinesthetically rather than verbally. The words most commonly used while reading like "the," "and," "or" can cause the most problems because the articles don't have a clear meaning to the students. The Davis method provides books that give a dictionary definition of the words. The facilitators then ask the students to mold how they understand the meaning of the definition out of the clay. "It leaves a lot of room for their creativity," says the Ma'aleh Adumim resident, 26. "We say we're facilitating, not just teaching, him to get to the concepts on his own." The Davis program lasts for a five-day period, each day the length of a school day. There are follow-up meetings for the next six months to check on the students' progress. At the outset, students set their goal and then mold it out of the clay. The clay lends learning a three-dimensional quality. According to the Davis Dyslexia Web site, "Dyslexic people think primarily in pictures, not words, and have difficulty learning to work with symbols such as letters or numerals. When they are confused or frustrated as children, they begin to experience distorted perceptions, such as reversals of letters, and develop life-long learning blocks that hamper their progress." Harpaz's clients have usually tried other avenues beforehand, such as professional tutoring or other after school programs. "There are many methods - there is no one program that is perfect for everyone - but I think it [Davis] is good for a high percentage of learning disabled children," she says. The children, who can range from seven to 18, seem to know that the schoolwork is a little harder for them than other classmates, Harpaz says. Some students succeed at school, while others have tried different schools in the search for a place that fits their specific needs. "A lot of times they say that they have no idea of what's going on in the classroom," she says. The Davis program is currently used in 33 countries and was launched in Israel 10 years ago in Ra'anana. The program was established in 1982 after its originator, Ron Davis, found a way to overcome his own dyslexia. He opened a center in California to help others conquer their learning difficulties and started training others in 1995. The sessions are on a one-on-one basis so each client gets the full advantage of the program. The students must have the motivation, even on a minimal level, to change their circumstances to be accepted as clients. The children must attend an initial evaluation session to determine whether the program is a good fit for them. "Most kids want to be like everyone else," she says, "even if they don't like school or learning." After the student sets a goal - either a short-term achievement or a longer-term one for after the program finishes - Harpaz teaches them how to orient themselves as the first tool. Usually the child simply wants to improve his or her reading, usually by learning to read faster. Orienting the students shows them how to focus and relax while they learn instead of seeing distorted perceptions when looking at words, letters or numbers. The program also uses Koosh balls to help orient students and bring in the necessary focus. "Israeli children get so excited with them [Koosh balls] because they've never seen them before," she says, bouncing one of the rubber balls in her hand. Harpaz frequently works with students diagnosed with ADD, a condition marked by hyperfocus, hyperactivity, forgetfulness, mood swings, and lack of impulse control. These issues can continue into adulthood, which is why Harpaz's students vary in age so greatly. She asks these students to imagine an energy dial then helps them learn how to gauge the dial and adapt their behavior to their surroundings. Some of the clients may have behavioral problems, Harpaz says, but using the energy dial the behavior can eventually change. The disorientation and imagination in a child's or adult's mind exclude what happens in reality. Harpaz says many of the students don't understand the consequences of their behavior. The orientation tools and the symbol mastery give students with ADD an awareness of their behavior and a way to control it. Because individuals with ADD have difficulty focusing on certain tasks for long periods and do not understand the concept of waiting, they do not understand many instructions. This leads to problems in school. Harpaz has spoken with several schools in Jerusalem in an attempt to implement the Davis method in the education system, but, she says, "people aren't very open to new educational tools." Yet she believes that the program's reputation is slowly growing in Jerusalem and that it could expand in the future. She says that her efforts are rewarded when students come to the follow-up meetings and show her their progress. "Some kids say 'I couldn't read before' and they show you the chapters in a book they have read," Harpaz says happily. "When I see a child has changed, that's what gives me great satisfaction."