Episode 3: Metacognition
[Introduction] Welcome to the LD State of Mind, a podcast about learning together and making a difference for college students. Join us as we discuss tips and useful information with our peers and experts in the area of learning variability’s.
[Marcus] My name is Marcus Soutra. I’m the President of Eye to eye, I’ve been involved with Eye to Eye since 2006. I got involved with Eye to Eye for the same reason most students and most volunteers get involved. I myself was a student with a learning difference I was diagnosed with dyslexia and AD/HD around 3rd grade. Which is kind of the typical time for kids getting diagnosed. It’s the time period when school goes from trying to learn to read to using reading to apply it to learning. That was real struggle for me. I think I got involved in Eye to Eye because I wanted a community I wanted to meet others who had learning differences and connect w them and I also wanted to give back to younger students. Because I know if, when I was 12 yrs. old, I had met someone in college with ld who had challenges in school it would have made a difference to me.
[Patrick] What exactly does Eye to Eye do? What do you guys try to accomplish?
[Marcus] Sure, sure, At Eye to Eye we are trying to benefit students with ld in the country. We do that in three main ways. The first and most known to everybody is our mentoring program. We have 50 chapters around the country doing mentoring. Next year we’re expanding the program. We’re gonna have about 62-63 chapters around the country in 20 states. And these chapters all operate in pretty much the same way. These are high school and college students with learning differences mentoring middle school children with learning differences. And they’re teaching them using an art curriculum, teaching them self-advocacy skills, teach them about how they learn. We often use the word metacognition, we’re hopefully gonna get to that later. We teach kids the strategies that can help them do well in school…how they can use their accommodations and how to advocate for themselves. Those really important socio-emotional skills that students with learning disabilities need. So that’s the first set of our work we have about 1,000 mentors in our country that will do about 80,000 hours of community service.
The second layer of our work is our diplomats work. They are basically a speaker’s bureau. Eye to Eye recruits the best of the best students from around the country to be trained speakers for Eye to Eye. They give presentations at middle schools, and they go to conferences (state and local conferences). They advocate for people with learning differences by meeting with the Secretary for Education or going onto Capitol Hill when there are bills be authorized around students with learning differences. Or most notably this past summer went and met with Michelle Obama as part of the Reach Higher Initiative.
The third layer of our work is our cultural campaign work. These are things like partnering with the Indy 500 to create a public service announcement at the race about people with dyslexia. Or working with the WNBA and Wasserman media to develop a billboard that’s currently up in Times Square to bring awareness to learning disabilities. Or having David Fink, our founder, featured in GQ this past fall. So those are really the three pieces of our work. The way I succinctly explain it is we are sharing the stories of people with learning differences, sharing their success stories. In our mentoring group we do it one to one, in diplomat work we’re doing it one to hundred, and in our PSA work we’re doing it one to a million.
[Patrick] Awesome, thank you Marcus. And if you’re looking for more information about Eye to Eye or how to get to involved look them up at www.eyetoeyenational.org. So Marcus earlier you mentioned something about metacognition, and for those who don’t know metacognition is basically understanding how your mind works and how you learn the best. So Marcus, how can you say using metacognition will help students with ld’s in school?
[Marcus] Sure, sure. metacognition is basically thinking about how you think and thinking about how you learn. And for someone with a learning differences we’re constantly finding ourselves in situations, especially in school, where the environment is not ideal for our learning. When I was in school, a lot of the skills that were really important to be being a successful learner were: a lot of reading, a lot of rote memorization, a lot of reading out loud, a lot of sitting still…those types of things that were definitely not playing to my strengths. So I think what we’re trying to do at Eye to Eye is really to get students to do a few different things: One, is to know how your learning difference affects you. I learned a little later than I might have liked, that I’m much better as an auditory learner. I really believe that I read with my ears, I really don’t read with my eyes. When I started to embrace that idea as part of my understanding about how I learn, I started to embrace audio books. I started to listen to podcasts. I will say it a million times I really do think podcasts are one the best things for people with dyslexia – ever. Even now to this day I really use technology. Before I send an email I will have the computer read it back to me. This way I’ll pick up on any spelling mistake that I might not normally catch. Like.. for many years I used to say something like “I’ll defiantly go the meeting” instead of saying, “I’ll definitely go the meeting”. But, when you hear it back to you, you’ll definitely catch that mistake. And that can be a small mistake – just like one or two letters – but it can change the whole concept of what you’re trying to say. So that’s the first piece.
And we really like to get students to look at asset-based accommodations. So, I can look at the fact I use audio books as, “oh I have a problem, and therefore I have to use these audio books to learn”. Or I can just say “I’m just an audio learner”. That’s where my skill lies. Because in a lot of contexts, in a lecture, or when I’m watching a movie or listening to music it’s an asset. But when I had to read a book in the traditional way it was not. So that’s a big piece of it – getting students to think about how they learn and how their LD might affect them. Because, when you go from one environment to the next you want to make sure that you know how-okay now I’m not in school anymore. … Patrick, I imagine you’re going to graduate in a few years and you’re gonna go off into the working world and you are going to think, “Wait, how is my learning differences going to be when I go from school into the working world. There will be a very different environment.”
[Patrick] And how can I use my learning disability to my advantage because I’m thinking differently and not looking at the pages the same way. I get to go in and have a different idea about how to go at a problem … to go at a piece of work ….or what I need to accomplish because of my learning disability. Like you I’m an auditory learner as well, so when I get to hear something or when I get told something it’s gonna be stuck and memorized. So having different forms of learning and knowing your metacognition can be helpful for those circumstances as well.
[Marcus] Yeah and also thinking about the skills you have to develop as someone with learning disability in school. I’ll give you a prime example: I remember when I was first teaching … when I first graduated (my background is in secondary education social studies) I was getting my first observation from the head of the department. I was teaching social studies, and I would pace up and down the aisle with the students while I was giving my lecture while I was working with students. And she was like, “Wow that was so great the way you were moving around the classroom so much you can really manage the classroom so much better.” and I was like, “Oh, I have AD/HD I just can’t stop moving”… ya know? And suddenly these things that were a problem in another setting were suddenly becoming assets. … or…I always knew that I would always have to develop a relationship with my professors because I would have to spend an extra hour each week in their office just clarifying the lecture, making sure I got all the notes down, you know, and asking questions. And then I realized when I got out of school – wow – I’ve had all this training in developing relationships. Which is, ya know, networking 101.
[Patrick] …Networking 101
[Marcus] Yeah, so it’s amazing. In middle school I was a social butterfly and was always in the principal’s office, and now I’m in the working world and they call it social networking.
[Patrick] One of my friends was telling me a story. She had an actual IEP that said, “When I’m in class I’m allowed to get up to move around as much as I want”. Because she just could not sit there and learn like everybody else. She needed to move, to be active. And because of her IEP, and her school realized she could not just sit there and focus like everyone else, she got to move and be active. And, just the kinesthetic moving helped her learn so much, and that’s really where advocating for yourself becomes important. We did a podcast earlier this semester about being your own advocate and going out there and talking to your teacher and letting them know you have this learning disability… and that it’s not something you’re going to be bullied for in college. You need to go out there and be like, “yes I understand I have this…” and talk to them. Teachers are always willing to help and they are understanding because they want you to do the best you can. So, self-advocating is a huge thing, I feel, in being successful in both college and high school fields.
So how effective is being your own self-advocate in school? How will that make you be more successful?
[Marcus] Yeah definitely, if there was one skill that I would hope the students in eye to eye’s mentoring program, or students that hear from our diplomat, would gain it’s that self-advocacy piece. You have to be able to communicate what it is that you need. Self-advocating – people think sometimes it’s just asking for help. It’s a lot more than that. It’s really knowing what you need. I remember when I was teaching, kids would say, “I get extended time.” I remember saying to them in many cases, “why do you think the extended time is helpful? Is it really helpful?” I was someone where extended time wasn’t helpful. I needed a quiet space. I needed not to be in the classroom while everybody else was rustling their papers and getting up and moving around. That was distracting me. But, extended time was not something that really in the end helped me perform well. It was about figuring out what I needed. And that’s the biggest skill students going from high school – if there are any students out there listening that are on their way to college, or in college right now – that’s a skill you’ve got to have. And if you’re lucky in high school or middle school, you have a school that supports and environment that allows kids to advocate for themselves or teachers that create accommodations for kids. But in college you’re much more on you own. You’ve got to go to the Disability Services office on your own. They’re not going to force you to go there. So I think that the self-advocacy piece, which is a part of Eye to Eye’s curriculum… Actually, the way we focus our young students on that the most is that we have a piece of our curriculum where we teach them how to make a self-led IEP. So they create a Power Point presentation that they can bring to their IEP meetings. Which is incredibly valuable for them to be able to have a voice in that meeting. Whether they’re actually in that meeting and leading that meeting, or if the people in that meeting are just getting a copy of that Power Point so that they can see, “this is how this student sees their learning difference and what supports them.” So that’s a big part of eye to eye, whether that’s through the diplomat or through the mentoring program, we’re pushing kids to be their own best advocate.
[Patrick] And their starting so young when they’re doing that. These kids come in the art programs are usually 10-12 years young, and they are learning to stand up for themselves and really own it. That’s what I see most in these art sessions. They own the fact that they have them, and they go forward with confidence. They see big kids, they see kids that they can look up to and mimic them…and be confident about it…. and not be afraid that their disability is going to hold them back one day. Or the fact that they are different. It builds a lot of confidence. I’ve seen the change in kids from day one coming into an art room to the end-of-semester when they’re doing a show. They get to show their parents all their art. And they get to explain to them, “This art project is to show us how I like to learn, this one shows us what we’re bad at, this on shows us how to stand up for yourself.” Every time you see a little bit of spark, more confidence, and growing each and every time. And it’s a really great program. We love being a part of it and watching these kids grow. It’s going to help them so much in the future when they do get to the college level. For me personally-if I’m not in class and if I don’t hear the lecture, I’m not going to learn the information I need. And reading the book-it might happen, it probably won’t. Honestly, reading for me takes more time for me to learn than going to ask a friend and have a conversation with a friend. And so I went-I was doing not particularly good in a class and I went to the teacher – and asked her: “I’m not doing good, you know this, I know this, how can I help? “and she said, “Well, what do you need?” and I said “I’m not reading your book, I’m not gonna lie, but can we just talk about it?” and she said yeah. So for three days a week I’d go in there and we would talk and just converse about it …. about the theories and the methods and everything used in the class. And I went and took the test-highest grade I’ve had yet. And it was because I went and advocated for myself and spoke to my teacher and figured out exactly what I needed to do to be successful. So, advocating is such a great thing. Everyone needs to learn a lot more about it.
[Marcus] Do you feel being a mentor has helped with your own advocacy? To ask you a question?
[Patrick] I think it makes me accountable. It makes me a guide for them. I can’t just sit there and not take the advice I was giving them. I can’t just tell them something and run away from it. I have to go forth and lead the life that I’m saying. To go and do exactly what I’m telling them to do, because if they don’t see somebody leading the way how are they going to find the way themselves?
[Marcus] Awesome, well said.
[Patrick] OK Marcus, so we’ve talked about how your mind works and how to own it, stand up for yourself, and be more successful by knowing how your brain works. What other ways does dyslexia manifest itself? How to people with dyslexia generally think and function?
[Marcus] Well I think dyslexia, like all learning disabilities or all disabilities broadly, is a huge spectrum. It’s hard to define how dyslexic people think. But I can tell about the struggles people have. It often impairs reading, comprehension, the ability to spell. These types of issues are really important early on in school. Those are the foundation skills that you need to gain during the early years of first, second, and third grade before you can move on to the more interesting subjects or dive in deeper content. We, in society, have see a lot of people, because of this, really fail. There was a terrifying study that I read about where they were actually using third grade reading scores in the larger states like Texas and California to anticipate how many prison cells they were going to need ten years later. So they were looking at the third-grade reading scores and saying ok, 10% of the kids are failing reading; we’re going to need to build that many more prison cells to accommodate these people. Which is a really staggering thing to think about. We know that it is that big of an issue, but instead of trying to do something about it, we’re just getting ready to incarcerate a lot of these people. And you do have a lot of the statistics around people in prison. The juvenile system alone is I think 50% are students with various learning disabilities, dyslexia probably being the most predominant. So you do have those as really kind of negative statistics, but then you also have some incredibly positive statistics on the other end. One of the things that interests me the most about this field is these huge discrepancies. There is a study out of the Cass Business School in London where 30% of US entrepreneurs are dyslexic. So, you have the Richard Branson’s, the Paul Orfalea of Kinkos, the Chuck Schwabs. All these types of people. I think 4 out of- Patrick do you watch the show Shark Tank?
[Patrick] Yeah I’ve seen it
[Marcus] Okay so 4 out of the 6 people who play the sharks on that show are dyslexic. So that tells you something. Damon John is. I’ve actually met Damon John and talked to him about it. Barbara Cochran, … I don’t know the show well enough to know the other ones.
[Patrick] The founder of Ikea, the CEO Jet Blue airlines, the president of Coca-Cola from 1923-1954…there are so many people who thought they were not going to be successful one day ended up being that 1%
[Marcus] Right, so I think we have this big problem where we have people with dyslexia dropping out at 3 times the rate of the traditional student dropping out of high school. And then you’ve got all these CEO’s and billionaires, and I’ve recently read an article about the amount of dyslexics working for NASA. So there is this great discrepancy. I think there is a mixture of things, if I’m being really honest. I think some of it is the make-up of the brain is just different….you know…a different set of skills that manifest differently. And then it goes back to what we were talking about before, kind of a nature/nurture thing – where you have to gain some skills to be successful. I remember Chuck Schwab said one time that, “dyslexia was boot camp for life”. He knew that once he got through school, life was gonna be a breeze because he had to work so hard and learn so many skills to be able to do well in school. So the brain is actually different but it is a lot of like, “oh I gotta surround myself with people who are …I used to say I was, “dating for spelling” in school. I was always making friends or dating girls that could spell better, or whatever. Really, what I was learning how to do was to surround myself with people who had strengths where I had weaknesses. Which for me, running a non-profit, that’s the most important skill I have – to be able to hire talented people who can do the things I can’t do.
[Patrick] Absolutely. That’s how I made it through middle school, high school, and today. I can’t read but I’m gonna find somebody who can, and who’s gonna write down the notes, and make sure I can keep up. And, you know what, I’m gonna help them out wherever I can as well. Having your team, and people there to have your back is the best way to do it. One of my friends Emily says living with dyslexia is like running a marathon. Everybody else has super-light, super-nice Nike shoes that weigh nothing, and we’re running in combat books. But, I guarantee you at the end of that race we’re going to be stronger because we trudged the entire way with those heavy boots. In the beginning they might not fit and they might have made you tired but in the end they’re going to allow you to get over any hurdle because you’ve had to go with so much more the entire time.
Yeah I think about – just a small little example – (that’s a great analogy by the way) we used to break up into groups when we did group work. In a group of four, one person’s gonna be the recorder and take the notes. One person is gonna be the time keeper, ok – he’s going to take the time. One person is gonna report out to the rest of the group what you guys learned. And then, one person is going to do the reading and read the story to everyone. And they were like, “You guys decide what role you want to play.” Well I knew I couldn’t be the person doing the reading out loud, so I would say, “I’m not that.” I knew i wasn’t going to be the note taker because my hand writing was so bad, and I couldn’t spell. So, I wouldn’t take that. And then, I knew I’m definitely not going to be the time taker because I’ve got ADD and I’m distracted. So, I always volunteered to be the one to do the presentation in front of the class. I did that for years and years, and I got all this practice doing public speaking. And now it’s something that’s a big part of my life. I’m doing presentations all around the country. So, I think in that little moment, knowing what I was good at (or at least which one of those things I was most comfortable doing…. Typically, speaking in front of a crowd is not the one people want. It not only gave me the skill (because I had to do it a whole bunch of times), it also was a moment where I learned to play to my strengths.
There was a great Jerry Seinfeld joke where he said, “The number one fear in the world is public speaking, and the number two fear is death. So most people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy. And so the over the years and years of volunteering to be the one to speak in front of the crowd, because I couldn’t do the other things that were needed, made that less terrifying for sure.
[Patrick] Well, thank you Marcus for coming out today. We’re about out of time. Thank you for your great words of advice and for everything you do. Yet again, check out Eye to Eye at http://www.eyetoeyenational.org/ . Please come back again and listen to our podcast. Thank you Marcus, and have a good day.
[Credits] The LD State of Mind is a part of College STAR Initiative, a multiple campus project helping college campuses become welcoming places for students with different learning profiles. Check out our college STARS student blog and the larger College STAR Project at collegeSTAR.org. Funding for College STAR comes from the Oak foundation and the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation. Thank you to our executive producer Dr. Sarah Williams, field producer Chris Pelletier, and our sound engineer Tanner Jones. LD state of mind is taped in the STEPP Learning Cove at East Carolina University.