The Frankfurt Start-up Prize is awarded every year by the city's Economic Development Department to three particularly outstanding start-ups. Young companies can still apply for the Founder's Prize 2018 until February 22. Last year, Ana Krizan and Yvonne Oschmann proved that you can also convince the jury with offers for the brain. They won with their approach of a nationwide early support, with which children with dyslexia or dyscalculia can be supported in time and should be taught to enjoy letters and numbers:
(kus) Anyone who can't write or do math well is stupid? Not at all. Krizan and Oschmann set out in 2016 to prove otherwise. Boys and girls who can't put letters together correctly to make words, who keep getting numbers out of order when adding and subtracting, are neither stupid nor lazy. Rather, they fail because of the usual teaching methods or are encouraged too late.
Just take a look at a first grade math book. There apples are compared with pears, no, not compared, but counted together for decades. Kids without dyscalculia figure out: 3 apples and 2 pears add up to 5. Kids with dyscalculia are left baffled - 3 apples and 2 pears equal 5 fruit? "They don't understand that the number 1 means the quantity 1, so the number 2 consists of the quantity of 1 and 1," explains Yvonne Oschmann. Adding different types of fruit together to make a total doesn't make sense to them. Just as little as children with a dyslexia (LRS) is understandable that an E and an I make the sound "ei", one writes bird with V and wings with F.
To help children with dyslexia or dyscalculia find joy in letters, words, sentences, numbers and basic arithmetic, and so that their teachers and educators can learn how to support these children, Krizan and Oschmann have opened the WOLF Center (WOLF stands for Science-Oriented Learning Support Center) in Kalbach. And with it, won third place at the Frankfurt Founders' Prize 2017. Which can almost be called a surprise success: "You rarely get attention with an educational topic. You tend to win prizes with IT innovations," says Krizan.
Filling the knowledge gap
Why did the young Frankfurt women decide on pedagogy and set up their own business in this field in 2016? Oschmann (28) experienced how her brother suffered from his dyslexia throughout his school years, studied teaching with the desire to be able to improve the handling of LRS and other partial performance disorders as a teacher and - failed in the school system. Krizan (32), daughter of a Croatian immigrant worker, saw her father build up his own business with diligence and tenacity, studied psychology, led a large-scale research project on the topic of reading promotion, earned her doctorate and is pursuing her topic just as diligently and tenaciously as her father once did. Oschmann and Krizan met at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen and became friends. Over coffee, they came up with the idea of founding their own learning centre. To finally close the gap between research and practice.
"In education, there is an enormous gap between science and the stone-age methods used in practice. Very little research results leave universities," Krizan says. There is a lack of financial incentives for this. At the same time, numerous studies prove: every child, whether with a weakness or not, can benefit from support. Sometimes difficulties can be avoided before they even arise. And not just when the girls and boys can no longer keep up in class and, in the worst case, are already frustrated or even afraid of school.
Harnessing the urge to learn
"There are no official figures," says Ana Krizan, "depending on the study, it is assumed that 4 to 8 or 25 percent of the worst writers and readers need to be supported. The best thing would be to teach all kindergarten children to read, write and do arithmetic," says Krizan. Oschmann adds: "Many think that this is too early. But it is common practice in many neighboring European countries. The little ones should not follow strict lessons, but discover numbers and letters through play. Children have a natural urge to learn and a great desire to be able to do new things." If educators turn learning into play and fun, the boys and girls would feel no strain.
Teaching basic skills
At the WOLF Center, Krizan and Oschmann work with children from 1st through 9th grade. Each of those 50 or so students receives individualized, one-on-one instruction. If the child has dyscalculia, he or she is taught basic math skills - associating quantities with numbers, comparing numbers and more. If he has dyslexia, he specifically learns to translate letters into sounds, expands his spelling skills and his cue vocabulary. "No matter what grade the child is in, we start at the base and work our way up until the children can recall all the necessary steps automatically. That automation is our goal," Oschmann explains. What sets her methods apart from other offerings? "We work equally pedagogically and psychologically. Tutoring means cosmetic correction; we completely rebuild the house from the bottom up."
The second focus is educator training. "Hardly any teachers are trained in dyslexia remediation. Yet most of the methods from this field can also be offered in the regular classroom," says Oschmann. The teachers learn to incorporate scientifically based tests into the lessons, to recognize arithmetic or dyslexia weaknesses in their students, to teach school law aspects in order to be able to advise parents in a legally sound manner.
The next goal of the two educators: To go into the day-care centres and make the educators fit in language promotion and the teaching of school-preparatory skills. Preferably across the board. "That's not easy. Most facilities lack staff and therefore time." In addition, Oschmann and Krizan say that there are already programs available, but in their experience they often do more harm than good, especially for at-risk children. Oschmann: "External learning therapists would be a solution." They could visit daycare centers regularly, teaching children writing, language and math through games and dialogic reading, while using diagnostic procedures to identify and support boys and girls who show weaknesses early on. "It's not complicated," Krizan says. You just have to know how to do it. And put that knowledge into practice.
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