Teaching My Baby To Read

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Afterschooling for dyslexia with All About Reading

eggs“Never put your eggs all in one basket.” How many times have you heard that expression?  As a former teacher, this is how I view educational methods. My children are too precious to trust their brains to any one teacher, curriculum, or program.

This is especially true for my child with dyslexia.

If you are a parent of a dyslexic child you’ve probably heard promises before. “Spend $20,000 at our institute and your son will be on grade level!” Or what about that mom in your book club who says, “I heard cranial manipulation can solve dyslexia. Have you found a massage practitioner?” Yikes!

When you are trying to get help for your child with dyslexia it’s hard to know what to do.

My guiding principal is to spend time and money on evidence-based solutions my family can afford. That means no, we will not refinance the house to pay for private dyslexia school, but yes, we will forgo family vacations so we can pay for two hours a week of  tutoring with a certified Orton Gillingham and Wired for Reading teacher. No, we will not waste money on some crack-pot theory. Yes, we will flood our child with audio books via our subscription to Learning Ally.

But what if all that support still isn’t enough?AAS - Symptoms of Dyslexia Checklist

I’m a credentialed teacher, but a lot of the teaching methods I tried with my dyslexic child were not very effective. However, whenever I brought out the All About Spelling and All About Reading materials, they seemed to make a difference. Once I started researching dyslexia I realized why. Marie Rippel is an expert on dyslexia! She’s a member of the International Dyslexia Association, and incorporates a lot of the Orton Gillingham approach into her curriculum.

“Okay, great,” I thought. “All About Learning Press is helping my child but I have no idea how to fit this into our busy lives. We are not homeschoolers. I’m not going to start homeschooling anytime soon, so don’t even suggest it.” Instead of radical life changes, I went for easy modifications instead.

Here’s how to incorporate All About Reading into your everyday lives in a way that has produced real results for my child:

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#1: Read the Teacher’s Manual cover to cover and then give yourself permission not to follow it exactly.

What makes All About Reading a fool-proof homeschooling program is that it’s scripted. Marie tells you exactly what to say, word for word. Follow her instructions and you won’t screw up. But my kids are already in school all day. When they come home we have Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, gymnastics, ballet, guitar lessons, and dyslexia tutoring, depending on what day it is. Plus they need to do stuff like eat dinner, walk the poodle, and play.

When I first started incorporating All About Reading into our schedule, I tried to follow the Level 1 manual exactly, just like I do with All About Spelling over the summer. But there was never enough time to finish a lesson, and it was hard to be consistent without stressing the whole family out. So I decided to go off script, and that’s when it became a heck of a lot easier to turn a homeschooling curriculum into something practical for afterschooling.

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#2: Smoosh All About Reading into your child’s bedtime rituals.

We read at bedtime no matter what. Generally we have a fun chapter book going, like the “Cupcake Girls.” (Do those girls ever pay taxes? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.) Before we get to the read aloud, we do kid-reading first. There are two possible choices: the primer book or flashcards.

Right now the primer book we are working on is “What Am I?” It’s always there, right on the nightstand, ready to go. Easy! The flashcards live on the nightstand too. The reading glasses are often lost somewhere in the house, but that’s another story…

star stickers

 

#3: Repetition is your friend, and stickers make repetition fun.

Every time my child reads one of the short stories, a new sticker pops up in the table of contents. This helps us keep track of progress. We try not to read the same story two nights in a row so that memorization doesn’t remove the need for phonics. When the entire book is finished there is a major reward like a new toy.

Astute All About Reading veterans will probably wonder, “How do you know what lesson you are on in the teaching manual?”  The answer is I don’t. Shock! Gasp! Horror! I can kind-of tell from the flashcards, but I don’t pay that much attention.

What I’ve discovered is that the All About Reading materials are so well crafted, that my child can’t progress through the flashcards unless she’s ready. She can’t move up in the short stories unless she’s capable. The two components work together to keep her at the right pace.

flip books

 

#4 Prep the workbook activities and store them in your purse.

My purse is a giant mess of fluency worksheets, flip books, and other scraps of paper I intend to work on that week. We squeeze out time when we can. Waiting during the guitar lesson. Waiting in the car to pick a sibling up. Waiting in line at Costco. If we have five minutes to spare, then we work those five minutes.

For our situation, this means I also have to have a set of my kid’s reading glasses in my purse. I actually bought a cheap pair on Zenni for this exact purpose.

Do we try to do the activities that correspond with the stories and flashcards? Yes. Sort-of. I do the best I can to be consistent, but I give myself permission to not be perfect.

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#5 Don’t forget about the spelling board!

I am such a horrible speller (with a potentially undiagnosed spelling learning disability) that there’s no way I would risk going off scrip when it comes to All About Spelling. I keep that teacher’s manual right by our white board. The trick is fitting in spelling lessons each week. Generally we save these for the weekends.

Summer is when we hit All About Spelling hard. Whenever I feel like I’m failing as an Afterschooling mom, I remember that in summer we’ll rack up major learning hours when other families are watching TV.

 

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#6 Bring out the big bucks because bribery works!

The best way I’ve found to keep our schedule chugging along is by posting a new bingo board on the wall every week. Complete a row and earn a prize, it’s that simple.

Notice how our bingo chart mixes in All About Learning Press materials with the Handwriting Without Tears App, Learning Ally audio books, Dreambox Math, and Nessy. Margaret the tutor is also on the chart! This is a reflection of my guiding principle, don’t put all my trust in any one solution. All About Learning Press is wonderful and I love it so much I’ve been an affiliate for years, but it’s not the only method I’m using to seek help for my child.

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Conclusion: Is All About Reading making a difference?

Yes! A resounding Yes!

I’ve been saying “my child” instead of “my son” or “my daughter” because over the years I’ve become more conservative about what I reveal publicly about my children. I write a weekly newspaper column so I need to be extra careful about their privacy.

But…I have some pretty astonishing before and after pictures of writing samples I could share, as well as Dibels results, and sight words assessments.

My child is at grade level and does well at school. My child is achieving so much that the school district will not offer any special education services, only a 504 plan for disability. All of this success is directly related to help that happens afterschool.

Grandparents are also noticing a huge difference. Last summer they listened to my child painfully read from “Run, Bug, Run.” Now “What Am I?” is a comfortable reading level. That’s flippin’ awesome!

Finally, my child’s confidence is huge, and that’s a worth that is difficult to measure but the foundation for a happy life. Believe and achieve.

As I mentioned before I am an All About Learning Press affiliate, but I didn’t share any of this out of a desire to earn money. I typed it up because I know how scary it is when you  desperately want to help your child overcome dyslexia, and you don’t even know where to start. If you’d like more information about the specifics of my Afterschooling plan, please click here. To find out more about All About Reading or All About Spelling, click on the links below.

Why multisensory learning is awesomesauce

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In the past two weeks, Jenna has made mind-blowing progress in her RUN, BUG, RUN! reader. I need to buy more star stickers!

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Most of these stories are at a Guided Reading level of A or B, but a few of them, like “Get the Moth, Meg” and “The Sad Hog,” are at level C or perhaps D.

I apologize for sounding like I’ve drunk the All About Learning Kool-aid, (full disclosure: I am an affiliate), but committing to our All About Spelling materials twenty minutes a day has really made a difference.

As a former K-4 teacher, I’m still scratching my head about what’s going on. I’ve taught Jenna phonics since she was two years old. We’ve done multisensory lessons up the wazoo. (For a list of everything I’ve tried, click here.) All of my methods worked with Jenna…up to a point. Then she got glasses, which made a big difference.

Now, my daughter is presenting me with the opportunity of becoming a better teacher.

With my son Bruce, I could teach him a spelling pattern like “th,” “sh,” or “ch” and he could generalize that out to basically every word in existence. We could practice with 10 words, and he would be able to read 100.

With Jenna, I’ve discovered I need to explicitly teach all 10o words. Not only that, but it makes a big difference how I teach the words.

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Flashcards are the least effective way for Jenna to learn new words.

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Multisensory activities are a lot better.

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Dictation helps too. She has exceptionally strong auditory skills, and can almost always sound out words properly–even though her handwriting is the subject of another post. In this picture, we are using raised lined paper and that helps a bit.

Too many words doesn’t help. Jenna does better when she can learn words one at a time. Then, if you present her with text where she knows almost all the words, she will be successful.

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By the time Jenna has spelled out a word with tiles, and then written it down on paper, she does fine with the flash card version. When she encounters this word in text, she can sound it out.

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Another thing that is really helping is the reading focus cards. I’m not sure if reduces eye-strain, improves tracking or what. But for Jenna, they were really worth purchasing and a lot better than the homemade versions I had used with her previously.

Reading windows make Bob Books pop.

My homemade reading windows didn’t have colored film, plus the scalloped edges were probably distracting. For Jenna, they didn’t work very well, although I’ve had them work beautifully for other students.

As a mom, I have 900 kid commitments I’m responsible for right now. As a writer I have a book coming out next year and a sequel following. As a newspaper columnist, I have a deadline every week. So unfortunately, tinkering with my blog is low on the list of my priorities.

Ideally however, I should go back through all my old posts and tag them as “visual,” “auditory,” or “kinesthetic.” I would also go through my main list of ideas and organize them differently. I think Jenna would have had more success earlier if I could have pinpointed her best-practices-learning-path. “If your child is a visual learner, start here.” “If your child is an auditory learner, this page is for you.” etc.

In the meantime, here’s a very cool visual from All About Learning.

 

Spelling Can Be Easy When It's Multisensory

My daughter’s breakthrough with “All About Reading”

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Last Saturday my daughter ran around the house saying “Pinch me. Is this a dream? I can read!” It was the cutest thing ever, but it also broke my heart a little bit. Two months ago we realized “Jenna” needed glasses. Now, we’re still regrouping.

First self portrait with glasses.

First self portrait with glasses.

One thing I know for sure is that Bob Books weren’t working for Jenna. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bob Books and have blogged about them often. But they weren’t working for Jenna, probably because she had developed an aversion to them because her eyes were hurting.

Since we already owned All About Spelling I decided to buy the All About Reading readers. (Full disclosure: I am an All About Learning affiliate.) All About Spelling and All About Reading are based on the Orton-Gillingham approach, which means teaching kids phonics in discrete, multisensory lessons that build upon each other. It’s the gold standard for helping kids with dyslexia. To be clear, I’m not supposing my daughter has dyslexia, but if she did, All About Learning products would be a recommended intervention.

Doing All About Spelling with my daughter has been a completely different experience than working through the program with my son.) You can read about “Bruce’s experience here.) Bruce blew through each step in a couple of days. Jenna does better spending one or two weeks on every step. She is fabulous at spelling out words with the tiles. Dictating words on paper is also a strength. But when it comes to flashcards, or simply reading the words from the book, she needs more time. I have to be patient.

So honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when we first opened RUN, BUG, RUN! Would this be a good fit?

It turns out, it wasn’t only a good fit, it was a home run. (And yes, I’m mixing metaphors!)

Every time Jenna reads a story we give her a star sticker. This picture shows how many stickers she’s earned in five days. Forty stickers!

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There is a combination of things going on that are contributing to Jenna’s success:

  1. She finally has glasses!
  2. The stories are at the exactly right level for Jenna. They don’t include any spelling patterns she hasn’t learned yet.
  3. The illustrations by Matt Chapman, Donna Goeddaeus and Dave LaTulippe are beyond charming.
  4. Reading focus cards seem to really help.
Fanciful pictures delight.

Fanciful pictures delight.

 

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

Reading focus cards help words pop-especially for a little girl who has struggled with her vision.

The other thing I should add is the $1 I spent on those star sticks was totally worth it Getting a star sticker is incredibly motivating and we’ve been celebrating every time Jenna earns ten stars.

As a mom, I feel a tremendous amount of relief to have a program that works. Sure, I have my whole litany of free strategies to teach kids to read but for some reason Jenna needed something different. I’m not sure if it was the undiagnosed vision problem, or something else. But now I feel like we are solidly back on track.

Go ahead and pinch me. I’m living the dream!

How I realized my daughter needed glasses

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This is a hard post to write without sounding like a Tiger Mom. My daughter “Jenna” is 5-and-a-half years-old and reads at Guided Reading level D, which is roughly 1st grade. She is witty, articulate, cheerful and loves to draw. Jenna has been immersed in language since she was a baby and learned her letters and sounds by 20 months.

The thing is, my son “Bruce” was reading Harry Potter when he was five-years-old. With both kids I followed the same reading plan.

These past few months I found myself wide awake at 1 a.m. and wondering: “Am I doing something wrong? What is happening? Is this just a case of two kids being developmentally different?”

I understand about developmental difference. I taught K-4 for six years and saw it every day. Some kids learn at different rates and that’s okay.

But my “mom radar” kept telling me that something was odd and I couldn’t figure out what.  Jenna has an abundance of natural intelligence and profound reading comprehension. With Bob Books however, she was hitting a wall. Even so, she was technically reading above grade level. For me to be worried about her progress made me feel like a scary Tiger Mom. I kept pushing my worry down and it stressed me out.

Then in piano Jenna hit another wall too. Her teacher was concerned because she couldn’t tell the difference between line and space notes. She’d keep Jenna on the same boring song for three weeks in a row and not let her move on. I knew that if I wrote the letters in clear handwriting next to each note, Jenna could play the entire primer book on sight. However, her teacher was not onboard with this accommodation.

So I did three things: #1 I canceled piano lessons, #2 I started teaching Jenna piano myself, and #3 I took Jenna for a complete vision examination.

To be clear, we don’t have vision insurance and that appointment cost $250. Basically, I scheduled it on a hunch. Something is wrong … I think.

As the appointment loomed on the calendar I had a lot of self-doubt. So many mothers would be thrilled if their kindergartener was reading slightly ahead of grade level. I on the other hand, was bothered that she wasn’t extremely ahead of grade level. What type of sick person was I?

Yet I had this nagging worry that wouldn’t go away and I was willing to spend $250 to put it to rest.

As it turns out, the eye exam revealed that Jenna is farsighted, both eyes see differently, and she has extreme difficulty tracking. The verdict? She needed prescription reading glasses ASAP.

When we got the glasses the change in piano was immediate. Jenna now loves to play.

Reading has been a bit slower but Jenna’s eyes are growing stronger each day. I purchased reading focus cards to help her track. We also use the cards and glasses when we do read aloud. I want Jenna to be able to focus on the words as I read them to her. She’s probably been missing out on this important learning opportunity for years because she couldn’t properly see the print.

No wonder her auditory reading comprehension is so high!

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Another thing we are doing with renewed vigor is All About Spelling. We are on Level one Step 13. (Full disclosure, I am an AAS affiliate.)

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The beauty of All About Spelling is that it is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. If you were to Google how best to help kids with dyslexia, the Orton-Gillingham approach is mentioned over and over again. I don’t think Jenna has dyslexia, but it’s interesting to note that if she did have some sort of processing disorder, we’re already using one of the best methods to help.

I’ve ordered the Level 1 readers that go with All About Spelling so that we can try something different than Bob Books. I love Bob Books, but Jenna is tired of them. I can see how Jenna might have developed an aversion to them since she has struggled to see the print this whole past year.

Which brings me to guilt. I have a lot of guilt that I didn’t recognize Jenna needed glasses earlier. I have guilt that I have been asking her to read each day and her eyes were hurting. When I look through her glasses I get an instant headache. I have guilt that my child was silently struggling and I didn’t understand why.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few months. My primary focus is making “mom school” fun and doing a little bit each day in a systematic sequential way. Right now on February 25, 2015 Jenna is reading a Guided Reading Level D. Check back with me in June and let’s see what happens!

Inspurashion

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This is exactly why we will be continuing with All About Spelling this summer. (Full disclaimer, I’m an affiliate for All About Learning.)

If a full on spelling program isn’t your thing, All About Learning has some great FREE ideas to keep kids busy this summer. I think I’m going to try the snacks.

 

All About Spelling, Back to Basics

All About Spelling, Level 1, Step 6

All About Spelling, Level 1, Step 6

The board is back in action!

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about All About Spelling. That’s because the materials have been sitting in my bedroom for about six months gathering dust. My son Bruce(8.5) has so much homework from school that we haven’t had time for AAS. 😦

Now [insert trumpet fanfare] Jenna(4) is a strong enough reader for Level 1. It’s so much fun to open the book, get out the deck of cards, and fall in love with AAS all over again! (More about my love affair here.)

A look at today's lesson, and Jenna's emergent handwriting.

A look at today’s lesson, and Jenna’s emergent handwriting.

All About Spelling is hands on, idiot proof, and fun. That’s why it’s worth finding time for. That’s why (disclaimer) I signed up to be an Affiliate.

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Today I reviewed the Level 3 cards with Bruce and he aced them. Wow! He remembers!

Teach a Three Year Old to Read

My daughter Jenna is almost three and a half.  I’ve been teaching her about letters and sounds since she was about 18 months old.

(Full explanation here.)

I used the same methods with her older brother, and by the time he was three he was reading Bob Books.  But every kid is different, and that’s okay.

Jenna knows all of her letters and sounds, and can sound out several words on her own.  More importantly, Jenna is super excited to “do reading”.  She’s pulling out materials, and asking to practice on a regular basis.

Game on!

Here are some of the things we have been doing:

Modified Ziggy games

I’ve previously mentioned how I bought the Ziggy game book from All About Reading, even though we aren’t actually using AAR.  At this point, the learning goals of the games are way too easy for her, but Jenna still really loves Ziggy.  So I’m bringing out the file folders and also pulling out some word cards.

The  way we play the game is that I hide the game pieces under high-frequency words that can be sounded out.  “Ziggy” asks Jenna to hand him the word that says _____.  Underneath the word is a game piece.  Jenna picks up the appropriate word, gives the card to me, and gives the game piece to Ziggy.  Simple?  Yes!  But for some reason Jenna loves this.

I have been pulling cards from this deck of words I already own.  It says “sight words”, but we have only been using the words that are decodable, like: but, and, cut, man etc. Then I realized that I could be making my own flashcards from the AAR activity book I purchased a while back.

Blast Off to Reading book

I purchased the AAR level 1 activity book because I was curious.  I’m a former Kindergarten teacher and I don’t believe that you need to buy a special program to teach kids to read.  That’s the whole purpose of my blog!  But I love All About Spelling, and so I really wanted to see a little bit of what All About Reading was like.  Plus (full disclaimer) I’m an AAL affiliate.

Anyhow, yada, yada, yada, AAR appears to be just as good as AAS.  If you really want a program to hold your hand through the whole teaching process, then AAR would be a really good choice.  I’m not personally going to use the full AAR program, but the activity book dovetails into what I’m already doing.

Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kit

We have a really old Leap Pad kit that I had purchased for Jenna’s brother a long time ago for $30 at Fred Meyer.  Jenna’s the perfect level for it now, and thankfully it still works!  It uses the same characters as the Leap Frog Talking Words Factory videos, which is cool.

Please note, I’m including the links to Amazon for this kit at the bottom of the post, but that’s just so you can see what they look like.  I bought all three kits for $30!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that deal on Amazon.  I bet there are people selling these on Ebay though.  Once again, they are called “Leap Frog Easy Reader Phonics Kits”.

Talking Word Factory Videos

These are the two videos that I really credit teaching my son Bruce how to read.  Unfortunately, they weren’t a magic wand for Jenna.  But she still does ask to watch them every once in a while.  You can probably find these videos for free at your local library.


Starfall Learn to Read

Starfall

What really seems to work for Jenna (but what her older brother Bruce was totally uninterested in), is Starfall.com.  That’s been a really big help, and we’ve uprgraded to the $35/per year premium level.

Homemade Books

Custom books tailor-made for my child?  Did I mention they are free?  All I have to do is make them myself.  Jenna now has over thirty books that tell the story of her life.  How awesome is that?

That’s my update for now.  Hopefully we will be ready for Bob Books soon!

Ziggy Game Book

Full disclaimer: I am an All About Learning Press Affiliate. You can find out more about how much money my blog makes (yes I share real numbers) here.

For the past week Jenna(3) and I have been playing games from Adventures in Reading with the Zigzag Zebra, a Ziggy Game Book. This is a supplement to the All About Reading program published by the same company as All About Spelling.

I LOVE All About Spelling, and need to get going with it again with Bruce(7) now that school has started again. It is so much better than weekly spelling tests, and really makes a difference. So I’m sure that the complete All About Reading program would be really good too.

I’ve opted not to purchase AAR however, because I have my own free methods which I share on my Where to Start Page. However, if I had a first or second grader who wasn’t reading at grade level, I would probably take a lot of comfort in a program like AAR. Or if I felt unsteady as a teacher to begin with, then a systematic program like AAR would really help hold my hand.

But back to the Ziggy Game Book, it was under $20 and looked like it might be a good fit with what I already do. As a teacher, I was already familiar with the concept of “file folder games”. This means that ahead of time, you rip out the pages from the book and paste them onto file folders. Laminating is optional, but not necessary. I chose not to since I’m just working with one child. In a classroom setting however, laminating would be a must.

The Ziggy Game Book includes 9 games. Almost all of them use the Phonogram Cards, Word Cards, or letter tiles from the AAR kit. These pieces are not included with the activity book and must be purchased separately. But since we already own all of the AAS spelling materials, we were pretty much good to go. We have just been using the AAS cards and tiles instead.

Jenna has been asking to “play Siggy games” every single day since I first brought them out. They are not magically teaching her to read. But they are encouraging her to practice a little bit each day. She still isn’t blending, although she knows all of her letters and sounds. She also definitely understands the difference between vowels and consonants. That’s not bad for a three year old, if I do say so myself. And I do! 🙂

All About Spelling For Adults

I’ve made no secret that I am a horrible speller.  Even though I wrote down every single word on my spelling list 25 times (no joke), all through my childhood, I never learned to spell well.  This has caused no end of embarrassment, although I have learned a lot of coping strategies over the years.  On AP tests and during college finals, I would simply choose words that I knew how to spell, even if I really wanted to use bigger, better words that were more impressive.  I also heavily rely on spell check, but even that is not fool-proof.  When I was a third grade teacher, I was lucky that the parents in my classroom were very understanding when I once sent out a classroom email about the read aloud book we were doing, Loser by Jerry Spinelli, and spelled it L-O-O-S-E-R!

I really want things to be different for my own children, which is why I’m willing to count my pennies, and invest in All About Spelling.  So far Bruce(6.5) has completed Levels 1 and Level 2.  The strange thing is, I have been amazed at how much I have learned in the process. 

As parents it is really easy to give all of your time and resources to your children, but I decided to be a bit selfish, and do something daring last month.  It may sound crazy,but I bought AAS Level 6 for myself!  Deep down, there is still a flickering hope that I might be able to learn to spell, and I am hopeful that Level 6 is the vade mecum I am looking for. 

Since I am an adult using this program, I am doing thing a little bit differently.  For starters, I am using the green cards diagnostically to find out how many words I don’t know.  My teacher and quiz partner?  That would be my son Bruce, who loves his new role as spelling master!  We are going through 30 word sets at a time, and Bruce is really enjoying his power-trip.

I can already see how much I have learned from Levels 1 and 2, because  a lot of words that I have previously misspelled like “accident”, or “occupy”, I am now getting right.   I  can picture the AAS “open door”, “closed door” syllable tags in my head. For the first time, I understood why there are two Cs! I’m also picturing the tiles, moving around in my brain.  This is monumental for me, because I have never been a person who could see how a word was supposed to look before.  I still can’t visualize the whole word, but I can see the tiles for some reason.

As it turns out, most of Level 6 is too easy.  Level 7 would probably be a better choice for me once it is released this year.  But I’m still going to read and work through the lessons, because I am making so many new spelling connections that I can hardly believe it.  Just ripping out the green cards to begin with, taught me a lot because it showed me the patterns in words, and how I could use those patterns to be a stronger speller.

If I can spell “raccoon”, then I should be able to spell “account”.  If I know the difference between “angle” and “angel”, then I should also be able to spell “camel” and “nickel”, without reversing the E-L.  If I can picture all of those words as little blue and red tiles moving around in my head, then I don’t need to be a spelling L-O-O-S-E-R after all.  🙂

All About Spelling Level 2 Completed!

I’m writing this on the last day of my first grade son’s Christmas vacation. Bruce was halfway through AAS Level 2 when school got out, and after two weeks of working on this consistently every day, he has now finished the book. Since we are an Afterschooling family instead of a Homeschooling family, I told my son that we will hold off on Level 3 until Spring Break.

For the most part, Bruce has really enjoyed our AAS lessons. But admittedly, cranking through the book at breakneck speed these past two weeks hasn’t been the best way to go about it from a “fun” stand-point. As my Dad would say, “Tough noogies”.  I know that AAS is really helping Bruce, and a good compliment to the Evan More Grade Two spelling book he is doing at school (only way better).

At the start of vacation when we were still on Step 15 I quizzed Bruce on the remaining Word Cards in Level 2, and pulled the ones that he did not know how to spell. For me as a teacher, this is one of the truly amazing things about this program. I don’t know if the picture is big enough for you to see (you could try clicking on it), but that fan of cards was like a visual slice of Bruce’s spelling brain. I could tell just by looking at the cards, the type of words and word patterns Bruce needed the most help with. That didn’t mean that I only had to teach Steps 23, 24, and 25 though. The spelling rules and patterns that were important for those steps were introduced or “pretaught” in earlier Steps. So we still went through Level 2 step by step, but I was careful to put some extra emphasis on what was needed to complete Steps 23, 24, and 25.

My husband and I were having a causerie about AAS Level 2, and in our brief chat I told him about the fan I made from the green cards. I said I was tempted to purchase Level 6 and start using it myself! I am such a horrible speller, that I would love to see what the Level 6 fan of green cards I couldn’t spell would look like for me. The nice guy that he is, my husband  pointed out that only doing Level 6 wouldn’t help me very much, because there have been rules I have been unfamiliar with in both Levels 1 and Levels 2. Maybe by the time I’ve taught both Bruce and Jenna I’ll know longer feel so stupid. 🙂

All About Spelling, Organizing Your Materials

I’ve blogged for a while about how much I love All About Spelling, but I’ve never really described a basic aspect of the program that all AAS users have to contend with: where do you store all of the components that go with it? Since I have a 6 year old and a 2 year old in the house, this is a big issue. I’m very paranoid about my daughter eating magnets, and so I want to be sure I’m storing everything safely but still in a way that allows for easy access when it’s time for spelling lesson with my son.

Luckily, I have a very old china cabinet from the 1970s, combined with ugly 1980s wallpaper in the dining room that we haven’t gotten around to replacing. Together, they form the perfect AAS storage solution! Who cares if either the china cabinet or the wallpaper gets scratched? I keep the board behind the cabinet. Normally I push the board all the way behind it so my daughter can’t reach, but in this picture it is peaking out so you can get the idea that it’s back there.

I store the AAS books and card box on top of the china cabinet, next to the Right Start materials we are currently using. This makes for easy access whenever my son does homework on the dining room table.

All of our AAS cards are in the box, which was money well spent!

At the end of each lesson I make sure the entire letter tiles are accounted for and in their proper place on the board. I also prep the next lesson by pulling the cards and pieces and putting them in the teacher’s guide. That way, the next time Bruce says “Let’s do spelling”, I’m already to go before he loses interest.

Gosh that wall paper is hideous!   Decor wise, this isn’t the best solution. My 1970s/1980s dining room is really depressing. But I feel lucky that we have a good space to do schoolwork without worrying about messing up expensive furniture.

All About Spelling and my Two Year Old

As reported previously, we are now in week #2 of doing quick, ten minute All About Spelling lessons with my son Bruce(6) before he leaves for school in the morning.  The necessary evil in the arrangement is that I have to plug Jenna(27m) in front of PBS kids so that she will stay out of our way.  Otherwise, she wants to do spelling too.

Today Jenna wandered into our spelling lesson and really wanted to participate, so I told that as soon as we had dropped Bruce off at school we would come home and she would be able to have a spelling lesson too.  Since she is a very agreeable two year old, she of course agreed.  On my part, it was one of those blanket statements I often make to her such as; “Yes, I’ll put on a pretty dress.  But not today, maybe tomorrow.”, or “No, we can’t go to the ice cream store today, but maybe next week.”  I really didn’t think she would remember. 

Boy was I wrong!  Forty minutes later once we had dropped her brother off at school and had returned home, I was at the sink doing dishes when I heard Jenna yell “Help!  Help!” I rushed out to the dining room only to discover her trying to pull out the AAS white board from behind the china cabinet where it is stored.  I had forgotten my promise to do a spelling lesson, but Jenna remembered and was going to keep me to my word.

If Jenna was three and a half, or maybe even three, I would consider breaking out the AAS Level 1 book and giving it a go with her.  The whole first part of Level 1 is on letter and sound recognition.  The second part of the book spells simple consonant vowel consonant words.  Jenna already knows her letters and sounds, but she doesn’t necessarily have the attention span to blend words yet.  So instead, we played around with the letter tiles, calling out sounds and joking about the “funny a”.  (The A tile is written how you would see it in a book, as opposed to writing it by hand.)  Jenna also had fun using the letter tiles to make patterns and decorations.  She played with the spelling board for over twenty minutes, long past the time when I was ready to move onto something else.

I would not advocate buying any of the AAS materials for a child who was not old enough to use them, but if you happen to already own the supplies because you have older kids in the house, then that’s pretty swell.  Jenna felt so proud for doing a spelling lesson just like her brother, and she had a lot of fun too.  I’ll be getting the board out again with her the next time she asks.  And this time, I really mean it!

All About Spelling and Afterschooling

It is now October and my son Bruce is in first grade. He completed All About Spelling Level 1 over the summer, and began work on Level 2. But to be honest, we have taken a one month break from AAS in order to accommodate the first month of school and all of its added pressures. Now, routines are in place and we both have the brain-space to deal with other opportunities besides school, homework, and soccer practice.

The great thing about All About Spelling is that it is fast, fun and effective. Yesterday before school I (admittedly) plugged my two year old in front of “Curious George” on the TV, and asked Bruce if he would like to have some special mommy time with me and the spelling board. He immediately said yes! In about ten minutes we completed the very end of step five, which we had begun a while ago before we entered our AAS hiatus.

I would never wake a child up at 5:30 in the morning to do extra spelling practice before school started, but a fast ten minutes of quality time together before a leisurely school start time is fine by me. Especially when I consider the spelling list he brought home from school yesterday, which is way too easy for him. I have to preface this with; I love his school and I admire his teacher. But take a look for yourself:

(Bruce’s spelling list, not from AAS.)

I don’t quite understand how Bruce got sorted into this spelling group, but since his spelling homework is so heavily handwriting related, I’m perfectly okay with him having simple words. Practicing writing his words in the D’Nealian scrip alone will be challenge enough for him. Besides, since I’m Afterschooling Bruce anyway, I know that he is going to be systematically learning spelling rules and patterns with AAS, without having his spelling ability tied to his handwriting skills.

So what are my plans and goals at this point? Ideally it would be great if Bruce could get through one AAS step a week, broken up into three, ten minute sessions. But if we only end up doing two sessions, that will be fine too.

All About Spelling Level 2

Bruce (6) finished All About Spelling Level 1 about a month ago, and since then we have been working through AAS Level 2. It continues to be a fabulous program, and (sadly) I am learning a lot too!

Here’s a peak at what the box looks like with the new AAS Level 2 cards inside. There are enough new cards that I was able to toss two of the blue Styrofoam spacers.

Here’s the accompanying progress chart. As you can see, Bruce is not very interested in stickers. He’s really taking the AAS Level 2 “Wild West” theme to heart, and drawing cowboy stick-figure vignettes over each step he completes.

Here are some of the other materials that come with Level 2. The jail is going to be introduced in an upcoming lesson, and is going to be where we put words that do not follow the rules. I’ve heard these referred to as Outlaw words before.

The spelling board is one of the really magical parts of this program, as far as I’m concerned. It allows children to learn how to spell in a kinesthetic way, without their handwriting holding them back. This doesn’t mean that writing out the words with pencil and paper isn’t part of AAS Level 2, because dictation is also a component of the program.

Here is Bruce’s work from Step #1. All of the Classical Education Homeschooling families reading this post are probably cringing right now, after seeing my son’s handwriting! As an Afterschooling family, I have not chosen to work on handwriting with Bruce at all, because it is a battle-ground area with us. He is supposed to be starting a formal handwriting program in his public school’s first grade.

By Step 4 you can see a little bit of improvement, at least in writing things on the lines. I am at least insisting on that.

What I am really noticing about AAS Level 2 is that each step is taking us longer to complete than Level 1. Bruce use to be able to finish off a Level 1 step in 15 minutes. With Level 2, each step is taking two to three 15 minute sessions. His progress is slower, but he is learning a lot. Bruce enjoys spelling, and regularly asks to do an AAS spelling lesson. Of course, I reward him with a bit of computer time afterward! All in all, I continue to be really impressed with this program, which is why (full disclaimer!) I signed up to be an Affiliate with the company.

Sylvan Learning Center Alternatives

What do you do if your child is really struggling at school? A lot of parents end up turning to Sylvan Learning Center…if they can afford it. I knew one family who went to Sylvan for a year and it cost between $2,000-$3,000. Did they think it was worth it? Yes, but the financial cost was a real hardship for that family. As an educator I take issue with Sylvan in that they hire credentialed teachers but then only pay them about $15 an hour. However, the families themselves are paying Sylvan between $45-$50 an hour. That data alone begs for other, cheaper alternatives.

As a former K-4 teacher, here is what I would suggest as a cheaper alternative to Sylvan Learning Center:

  • Work with your school district to determine if your child has a learning disability
  • Assess and continually track your child’s learning needs and progress
  • Use quality, scripted tools to deliver one-on-one instruction in the home

Step 1: Working with your School District

If you live in a well-functioning and accountable school district

If you feel like your child is really struggling in school, the first thing to do is to talk to your child’s teacher immediately. She can probably offer a lot of insight, and give your ideas to try at home. If you think your child might be struggling with a potential learning disability, you and your child’s teacher can make a referral for assessment and evaluation to the special education department in the school district. This can sometimes take a couple of months, so in the meantime continue working with your child at home.

If you live in a school district facing corruption and/or poverty issues

Definitely talk to your child’s teacher and get ideas for what to do. The teacher probably really wants to help your child, but her hands might be tied in terms of getting the special education assessment services your child needs. This happened to me as a teacher when I taught in a low performing school district. I finally ended up having parents write letters requesting special education assessment, and then having them hand deliver those letters to the school district office. If you need to go this route, make sure to have your letter time and date-stamped by the secretary, and then have her make a copy of that letter for you. At one of the districts I once worked in, I also had to send a copy to the lawyers who were suing our school district for failure to administer special education services!

I would not recommend requesting assessment in writing if you live in a normal, functioning school district because it might make you as the parent appear overly aggressive and not willing to go through the proper channels. But requesting assessment in writing is a legitimate, valid thing to do, and is sometimes necessary. More information regarding assessment, special education, and IEPs can be found here.

Step 2: Continual and Ongoing Assessment

One of the things that Sylvan Learning Centers does really well is telling you exactly what grade level your child is at in language arts and math. But you can figure this out for yourself at home, if you have the right tools! Some of the ways to do this cost a little bit of money, but some of them are absolutely free.

Reading Assessments: Guided Reading Level, San Diego Quick Reading Assessment,

Math Assessments: Saxon, Singapore, Horizons

Step 3: Deliver Quality, One-on-One Instruction at Home

First of all, you need to choose a neutral parent or adult to be the Afterschooling instructor. If you are lucky enough to be in a two-parent household, choose the parent who does not have a history of homework battles with your child. For example, if it’s been the mom who has been struggling with the eight year old to learn multiplication, then have the dad take this on, at least for a little while. I’m not blaming the mom, but if there is already some “tense” history here, then choose the neutral parent. If at all possible, give your child a fresh perspective.

Second of all, buy a kitchen timer. Make sure your child knows that your Afterschooling time is going to be fun, effective, and limited. Use your own judgment, but think about creating an hour long schedule that is broken into 15 minute chunks. Set the timer so that your child can see that progress is being made. Afterwards, eat ice cream or bring out the DS as a reward for cooperation.

Thirdly, invest in the right materials. For a child who needs remedial intervention you want to choose instructional materials that incorporate visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning as much as possible. Hopefully the school district will be assessing your child soon to determine if they have visual or auditory learning disabilities, but in the meantime make sure you are using teaching techniques that encompass all possible learning styles. You also want to choose programs that are scripted, or (although I find this term insulting) “teacher proof”. Here is what I would suggest:

Reading/Spelling/Phonics

I would recommend All About Spelling, Levels 1 and 2 to start with. Full Disclaimer: I am an AAS affiliate, but only because as a teacher I really believe in the quality of the program. It is systematic, sequential, hands-on, fun, fast, and will help you diagnosis where the exact gaps in your child’s phonics and spelling knowledge lie. Here’s my full review with pictures: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/where-to-start/all-about-spelling-level-1/ AAS will give you a scripted program to teach reading and spelling at the same time. It can be used with nuero-typcial children, as well as kids with dyslexia.

You could also try Guided Reading using post-it notes, for about ten minutes each Afterschooling session. Be sure you choose the right level of book for your child to read. That’s why you need to be continually assessing and monitoring their Guided Reading level.

Writing

Some kids have horrible writing blocks and can’t put anything on the paper. Other children write page after page, but their writing is riddled with convention errors. Here’s is a continuum of suggestions for how to help kids write at home:

For kids who won’t write anything at all

Kids who want to write, but get stuck with spelling

Encouraging writing in general

Journaling

Working on Conventions (no link yet, sorry!)

Mathematics

I think that the best, scripted, hands-on math program you could buy to help you teach your child math is Right Start. Full Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Activities of Learning/Right Start Math whatsoever! Right Start is a bit of an investment, but you can use all of the manipulative materials that come with it to help your child with their regular math homework through the years. Start with the free online placement test to determine which kit to buy. Make sure you buy the teacher’s guide, because this will tell you exactly what to do. For more information on math education in general, please see my post here: http://teachingmybabytoread.blog.com/math/

Final Thoughts

You can do it! You can deliver remedial intervention for your child, and get your son and daughter back on track. Start by working with your school district to make sure the possibility of learning disabilities are assessed and addressed. But don’t wait around for bureaucracy to take its course, start working with your child at home right away! Afterschooling three–five hours a week can really make a difference, especially if you have the right tools.

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