Co-founder and Director of Content, Curious Learning
Stephanie Gottwald is the Co-Founder and Director of Content for Curious Learning, a non-profit that explores “the power of mobile devices…to reach children of various places around the world who may have difficulty learning how to read because they either don’t have access to school, or the schools they can attend are just inadequate.” She is also the Assistant Director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University, a position which she has held for the past 17 years. Her focus is on researching ways to help kids with dyslexia become better readers. She says, “we look at reading disabilities from lots of different angles.” and investigate how to identify kids with dyslexia, help children from a very young age all the way up to high school, and, through both genetic and neuroscience research, identify what the characteristics of dyslexia are.
Gottwald has an extensive background in child language development, and has always been interested in how “children become speakers of a language.” That interest led her to the research center at Tufts, where she began looking at whether “kids with reading disabilities show some differences when they’re very, very young…then do some of those differences explain some of the difficulties that they have.” She says what drew her to Tufts was the fact that they are “really open to the idea of being very innovative, and looking at different approaches, maybe some unusual approaches.” It was through this research that she also became interested in looking at the power of technology to help children who have trouble reading, which led to her current focus, Curious Learning.
Gottwald herself does not have a learning difference, but she says, “I’m very deeply involved in the research of those conditions…I’ve certainly seen the effects of dyslexia on children of different ages and adults, and I’ve seen the many ways that it can be very, very hard to do what you want to do with your life when you have dyslexia.” She says she has come to realize that these conditions are so prevalent, “one could argue that we probably all have learning differences of some type, we just don’t know it yet.” One could have a learning disability in a subject that is not mandatory, like music, and pass it off as “just not being good at it”. However, for those with learning differences such as dyslexia, it is very hard to avoid the thing that they are not good at.
When it comes to schools accommodating for students with dyslexia, Gottwald says the number one thing to do is “make sure that everyone in the building has a great deal of training to understand what dyslexia is.” If we understand what it is that children with dyslexia need to be better readers and learners, then teachers will understand how to be more effective for them in the classroom. She also says, “the second most effective thing is to screen early”; we need to “make sure that all children who have dyslexia are identified as early as possible, and doing so would allow us to give them the intervention that they need so that they essentially never have to suffer any of the ill education effects of being dyslexic.”
Gottwald is a little skeptical of calling dyslexia a positive trait, although she says “when a child receives the right support…what you end up with is a young adult who understands that not everyone learns everything readily, that struggle is a part of life, and that you can learn a great deal through that struggle…and I think in the end, I see that as a universal benefit to any kind of struggle.” She does admit that “there are ways that some people with dyslexia have very ingeniously figured out…creative ways to think about how to use their disability to their advantage,” but “we can’t forget that there are many people that we know who do not succeed because of their dyslexia.”
For parents who have children with dyslexia, Gottwald says, “you must, must, must, must, educate yourself.” As a parent, you are our child’s best advocate – “you will be responsible for their emotional and educational development throughout the course of their school career”, and the best way to support them is to understand what dyslexia looks like at different ages, how it’s best treated or intervened, and how you can work with the school. However, “the only way you can do all those things is if you really understand what dyslexia is.”
For younger generations with learning differences, Gottwald says, “don’t give up. Everyone can learn how to read. And it might be harder for you, and you might have to learn how to read in a slightly different way than your peers, but it will happen as long as you never, ever give up.” In addition, she says, “never forget that while this one thing which is really important in our literate world is really hard for you, never stop looking for the thing that you are really good at.”
To learn more about Curious Learning click here.