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In the shoes of a struggling student

Jan Hagedorn, the director of reading readiness for the Reading Center in Rochester, runs a station during a struggling reading simulation April 12, 2018, at Red Wing High School. The station had participants read a story with the words in reverse order. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Lillian Stewart (standing), a volunteer with the Reading Center in Rochester, leads a station during the struggling readers simulation April 12, 2018, at Red Wing High School. The station required participants to trace and draw while only using the reflection of a mirror. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Jan Hagedorn called the stations "a melodrama," a way to make people who don't understand what it's like to struggle with reading have some perspective.

"We're going to say and do things to the people in the simulation that will tick some of them off," Hagedorn said.

As the director of reading readiness for the Reading Center in Rochester, Hagedorn and her volunteers set up a struggling reader simulation April 12 at Red Wing High School to give teachers, business professionals and the public a chance to learn about their strategies with dealing with dyslexic students.

The Reading Center has been open since 1951. Hagedorn said they've been giving this presentation for close to two decades.

The simulation had four stations that varied on their approach of communicating what it's like to be a struggling reader.

The first station dealt with reading a children's story that had words that would turn into a grouping of symbols. The exercise forced the readers to memorize certain words, without looking back, while also being prompted to hurry up or move quickly through the reading.

The second station was writing dependent, forcing participants to draw and trace objects using a reflection in a mirror.

The third station was a reading exercise with the words presented in reverse order.

The final station was a writing exercise that forced participants to draw and trace with their non-dominant hand.

With all of the stations, the Reading Center volunteers would ask participants to read or write faster, making comments about other members in the group working more efficiently than others.

The point was to show that, while it can be unintentional, Hagedorn said teachers and parents can sometimes exhibit tendencies that are "demoralizing" or "demeaning" while the child struggles.

Reacting to the simulation

Though the simulation was intended for adults, Klara Juhlin, a senior at Red Wing High School, was in attendance. The foreign exchange student from Sweden said she wanted to experience the simulation to help her own struggle with dyslexia.

As far as the simulation goes, Juhlin didn't feel like she learned much, saying the struggle that students like her deal with was widely covered. But how to make them succeed in school was covered less.

The presentation that was given was geared toward the general public, according to Rachel Daley, an early childhood instructor at Minnesota State College Southeast in Red Wing. There is a more specific simulation for teachers to take.

Daley said she felt the crowd of around 40 people had "mixed feelings."

"I think some of the teachers were hoping to walk away with a tool box or strategies that they can [use]," Daley said. "So that can be frustrating to have the knowledge but not the skills."

Juhlin said her experience in the United States is widely different than in her native country. she said the focus on speed rather than quality has been a difficult transition for her.

In Sweden, Juhlin is allowed double the amount of time with while taking a test. She can also discuss her answers with a teacher, rather than writing it down.

"If I would just say it, I would get an A," Juhlin said. "If I would write it, I would get an F. That's how it is. It's black and white. For me."

Daley said as an instructor, bringing more awareness about students struggles with dyslexia, has helped her own students become more prepared for their future careers in education. She said her students have even identified their own reading issues as a result.

As a collective impact specialist for Every Hand Joined, Jess Whitcomb said having a presentation like this for the general public is important to help people understand what children are potentially dealing with.

"(The presentation) brings it down so that every single person understands what kids are going through instead of placing blame," Whitcomb said.

As a former teacher, Whitcomb said the presentation also helped her realize how often she would time everything to make sure it was turned in, prompting students to work quickly. Whitcomb said in her professional life, she hopes to change the attitude of working quickly with working efficiently.

Hagedorn said she hopes the biggest takeaways are understanding that dyslexia is real, and that students who are struggling to read really want to be effective readers like their classmates.

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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