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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…

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#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.

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#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.

Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.

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Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.

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Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.

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Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.

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The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:

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Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:

candyland

Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

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Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.

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At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

Nessy.com Review

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Over the years I’ve reviewed a lot of computer-based phonics programs for kids, but I’ve never seen one specifically designed for children with dyslexia until now. Nessy comes from England and bills itself as “Everything you need to help children with dyslexia and reading disabilities.” A subscription for one student costs $10 a month or $100 a year. That’s significantly cheaper than a private dyslexia tutor, but slightly more expensive than programs such as Reading Eggs or Starfall.

(My Reading Eggs review)

(My Starfall mini-review)

Three big questions in my mind when I bought a Nessy subscription several weeks ago were 1) How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics programs? 2) Is it worth the time and money? and #3) What should parents know about Nessy?

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#1 How is Nessy different from other computerized phonics program?

If you want to read the official list describing the fundamentals of Nessy, click here to go to the company website. My observations are not nearly as scientific. I’m telling you what I see as former K-4 teacher.

Nessy is slower and more systematic than other programs I’ve reviewed. It introduces sight-words in a way that is more user-friendly for kids with dyslexia. If a kid is learning the “th” sound for example, all the games are about the “th” sound. It doesn’t switch from “th” to sight-words, to review, to “ch,” to something else, and so on. Instead, it’s “th,” “th,” “th,” “th,” until the kids really understands.

My familiarity with the homeschooling program All About Reading which is based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham immediately helped me see that Nessy is also based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham. In fact, the student I am tutoring is working on the same phonemes in both AAR and Nessy. The embedded assessments in Nessy aligned perfectly with AAR. Both programs said she was at the same level of phoneme development. (Full disclaimer, I am an AAR affiliate.)

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#2 Is Nessy worth the time and money?

Yes! A resounding Yes! The child I’m working with loves Nessy. She was hitting the wall with other computer games we tried. Nessy seems to make sense to her, and for that I’m really grateful. We are using Nessy in conjunction with All About Reading and All About Spelling. Nessy is not the only intervention happening, but it is one significant piece.

I also think Nessy would be good for children who do not yet have an official diagnosis of dyslexia. The wait to get assessed can take months if not years. In the meantime, kids could be doing Nessy just in case. Neurytypical kids would probably benefit too.

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#3 What should parents know about Nessy?

When Nessy works, it really, really works well. But sometimes, there will be technical glitches.

It’s important to go into the settings and choose your location and the type of English you want. For me, that meant USA with an American accent. If you don’t do this, the loading time will be way too slow. Plus the accent could confuse your student.

We’ve experienced loading differences on the computer versus the iPad. On the computer, sometimes the videos are blocked by “loading” symbols. On the iPad, the sound occasionally cuts out, and I have to turn the game off and bring it back on again.

The glitches can be frustrating, but not enough to outweigh all of the benefits.

Final thoughts.

My experience with Nessy revolves around a first grader, who seems to be the perfect age for this program. They say it’s suitable for 5-12 years of age, but fourth graders on up might think Nessy is babyish. That’s not to say a nine year old wouldn’t learn a lot from Nessy, just that it doesn’t have a cool “tween” vibe.

As an Afterschooling program, Nessy is an excellent supplement to other dyslexia interventions already in place.

For more information please visit their website at: http://www.nessy.com/us/

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

All children learn at different rates and the developmental range of what “normal” looks like is huge. But what should you do if your child is struggling with learning to read despite everyone’s best efforts?

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#1 Learn the signs

Up to one in five people have dyslexia, so it is important to know the signs. Here are two great resources to find out more information:

Red Flags for Dysleixa Quiz

Dyslexia Symptoms

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#2 Check your child’s eyesight

Go to the actual eye doctor, not just the pediatrician. Really investigate your child’s vision. When I was a K-4 teacher I knew of a child who struggled learning to read who turned out to be blind in one eye.

 

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#3 Seek out professional assessment for dyslexia

If parental intuition tells you that your child might indeed have dyslexia, research your child’s rights to receive assessment through your local school district. However, understand that the IEP process is long and involved. If your child is performing close to grade level–even though they exhibit a multitude of dyslexia symptoms–the school district might not feel assessment is warranted. In that case, you might consider having your child privately assessed. Decoding Dyslexia will have more information about practitioners in your state who can assess your child. Expect to pay anywhere from $2,00-$5,000 for private assessment.

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#4 Start immediate at-home intervention, just in case

On my blog, Teaching My Baby to Read, I talk a lot about “Afterschooling.”

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

You might feel ill-equipped to Afterschool for dyslexia, but the truth is that parents can help their child make tremendous progress with time, encouragement, and patience. I have a whole list of multisensory activities that teach reading right here, but they are not specifically designed for children with dyslexia. I think a better approach would be to sign your child up for a Nessy.com subscription, which only costs $10 a month.

Nessy is a reading program from England specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. It’s a phonics-based approach full of fun games and videos. If it turns out that your child does not have dyslexia after all, Nessy still would have been beneficial. Think of it like “reading insurance.”

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#5 Read. Read. Read!

Read to your child every day, no matter what. Make books fun. Make they enjoyable! Convey to your child a true love of literature. Be clear that “ear reading” is every bit as acceptable as traditional reading.

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#6 Stay positive.

Finding out more information about your child does not change how smart they are, how much you love them, or forecast anything about their future. Information is only that: information. When you find out more details about how your child’s brain works, you’ll be able to better help your son or daughter learn to read.

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!

Every PTA in America should screen this film


Last night my husband and I watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia a documentary that digs deep into dyslexia. What is dyslexia? Does it go away? Are there advantages to having a dyslexic brain? How can teachers and parents help?

Unfortunately, like many teachers, I received very little training in how to help dyslexic children as part of my credentialing process. My first real encounter with dyslexia was when a beautiful third grader named Maricella grabbed my wrist and asked me to hold the flashcard steady because the words were moving. “Holy crap,” I remember thinking. “I have no idea what to do.”

Ever since that moment I’ve read everything I could about dyslexia, even now when I’m not longer a teacher. Many of the methods used to help dyslexic children are good ideas that can be used for all students. Be patient. Figure out what you are actually testing–reading speed or thinking? Teach kids how to take notes in a way that makes sense to each individual brain. Use technology to accentuate learning. Most importantly, empower kids to “own” their education.

What I loved about The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is that it is inspiring. Big names like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson share how the gifts of dyslexia have helped them in life. At the same time, all of the cast is upfront about the challenges they have had to overcome.

The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia is a movie all teachers should watch. Since 1 in 5 people have dyslexia, parents should absolutely see this film too.

It all comes back to good teaching. There are a million ways to learn and the move paths to success we offer children, the faster they will succeed.

Find a way to make words pop.

Find a way to make words pop.

Divide and conquer.

Divide and conquer.

Building words you can't sound out.

Build words you can’t sound out.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Use pictures and graphic organizers.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Find fun ways to isolate words.

Hands on math whenever possible.

Do hands on math whenever possible.

Try to understand a child's state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Try to understand a child’s state of mind and how that effects behavior.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Find ways to learn to spell besides copying words down endlessly.

Bob Books with cookies.

Bob Books with cookies.

Encourage creativity.

Encourage creativity.

Learn from audio books.

Learn from audio books.

Seek out new tech like  the Bookboard library.

Seek out new tech like the Bookboard library.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Recognize that there are so many ways to learn besides reading.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Utilize special paper for dysgraphia.

Use math manipulatives.

Use math manipulatives.

An abacus is your friend!

An abacus is your friend!

Advocate for all learners.

Advocate for all learners.

Dream big!

Dream big!

 

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

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I hope you are enjoying the third annual Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour. The following is a guest post from a homeschooling mom:

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

Being the antithesis of a Tiger Mom and embracing a completely ”go with the flow” philosophy toward education, I was completely caught off guard when our family’s babbling brook homeschool turned into a confused chaos of babbling brook, flowing river, multi-level white water rapids, and trapping eddies.

It all started rather innocently. I was baking cookies with my son, then 6. As we were putting the cookies on the cookie sheet, he looked up at me smiling and said, “Did you know if we put them in 5 rows and we put 4 in each row that there will be 20 cookies?” It was a startling conversation.

Educationally, I had been so focused on how little progress he was making in reading that I had never even noticed that his first grade math book wasn’t even the slightest bit challenging for him. So our babbling brook entered into the white water world of 2E.

Those two words, twice exceptional, unlock a unique combination of amazing gifts combined with significant struggles that our son both possesses and has overcome. While his uncanny visual-spatial skills and constant questioning shout exceptional talent, when he was young, they were often over-shadowed by an equally visible deficit, dyslexia, and a real struggle in learning to how to read.

The advantages of homeschooling rise quickly to the surface when teaching a 2E child. I could read advanced word problems for him to solve while he was still working on basic decoding skills. As he progressed quickly through mathematical concepts, he equally slogged through phonics, decoding, and spelling. He could discuss complex science concepts while still unable to write on grade level because his reading skills were so lacking.

Learning how to select appropriate resources became a necessity. Literature intense language arts programs were not going to work because he couldn’t read on grade level selections, yet neither would simple lower grade level materials work because intellectually he was ready for far more complex materials. It became a balancing act of selecting on-his-level readers combined with audio books which actually matched his abilities. So while he might have been reading a 5th grade level reader, he was listening to the Iliad.

By the time his reading level finally caught up to his grade level when he was around 10, he was already completing algebra. His writing skills were radically behind because of his spelling and reading skills. When he was finally ready to write something that was decipherable, his instruction needed to be significantly beyond introductory level writing. Because he was used to discussing and analyzing literature, he was able to quickly move beyond basic writing skills to analytical writing. By the time he was in high school, he was functioning above grade level in all areas, but he still faced, and continues to face, the major obstacle of slow reading speed.

As he approached college applications this past fall, he kept his reading speed in mind. He opted to not apply to many of the schools that appealed to his math and science side. He was concerned that schools that function on the quarter system versus the traditional semester system would overwhelm his ability to keep up with the reading.

The entire college application process was a roller coaster. The mantra is to find a university which fits the student. Reality, being what it is, means that the school also has to fit a family’s financial situation, not just student abilities. Our family’s situation matches what is described as the “donut hole.” The donut hole means we make too much money to qualify for much financial aid, but we don’t actually have the financial resources to pay for our expected family contribution. So, finances ended up driving our son’s decisions. Because I am sure our situation is not unique, here is what our son learned through this process.

Financial safeties are schools which a family can afford. Many universities are financial safeties because they offer scholarship money to top students to attract them to attend their institutions. These schools are not the top universities in the country, but they offer unique opportunities to attract top talent. These opportunities range from honors colleges to specialized honors programs. Our son was accepted into a specialized honors program which provides research opportunities for the 40 students accepted each year. The program guarantees the individual students the opportunity to participate in research in a field of their choice. Since our son’s goal is grad school and research, this program really attracted his attention during the application process.

When he traveled to the finalist weekend, he came home impressed. He said the students he had met during the finalist weekend were every bit on par with the friends he had made at The Summer Science Program. He felt the upperclassmen already involved in the program and the high school seniors there interviewing were definitely his intellectual peers and that collectively they represented a wealth of talent. The awards that participants in the program have received testify to the accuracy of his assessment. The program has Hollings, Goldwater, Mitchell, and Truman scholars. So, while this school might not have been at first glance a “fit” intellectually, through this honors program, our son is convinced that it is.

In addition, our son has been blessed by the generosity of this university. It allows students to stack scholarships. Stacking means that additional scholarships do not decrease the value of other scholarships. Not all universities allow stacking and will reduce monetary awards when other scholarships are earned. All in all, our son won four different scholarships from this university which translates into him attending full-ride. The cost differential between attending this school full-ride versus higher ranked schools with partial scholarship or institutional aid was between $100,000-$160,000 over four years.

Another factor that advanced students need to weigh is how universities view college credits earned in high school. For students like our son, those cumulative hours may be considerable. Since our son has completed numerous upper level math and physics courses, he will have enough credit hours transferring in that he is only a few hours short of being a college junior. In choosing a college, understanding how different schools view dual enrolled credit needs to be considered. Since the school our son has chosen allows the transferring in of credit, it opens the door for him to triple major without undue burden because he has already completed so many of the “in major” requirements.

Looking back over the past 13 years of our son’s homeschooling venture, I could never have anticipated the journey we took. I know that homeschooling allowed our son to thrive and never feel like he was incapable of succeeding. He never felt like a failure because he struggled. He was allowed to be himself and thrive where he was. Dr. Seuss penned, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Homeschooling has allowed that to be true for our son.

Building Sight Words

Building words you can't sound out.

Building words you can’t sound out.

Sight words, Dolch words, Outlaw words; whatever you want to call them they are all pretty much the same thing, high frequency words in the English language that may, or may not adhere to phonetic rules.  “The” is the perfect example.

I remember reading a loooooooong time ago in The Gift of Dyslexia, Revised and Expanded: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read…and How They Can Learn, that building words like “the” out of play-dough was a great way to master them.  At the time I read this, I thought “If  this works for children with learning disabilities, why doesn’t everyone do it?  It sounds like a great idea!”

So yesterday, my four-year-old daughter Jenna gave this idea a try building the word “the” out of beans.

(Unfortunately, I have an unexplained horrible aversion to play-dough, even the homemade stuff.  The smell makes me want to throw up.)

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An added bonus to building “the” out of beans is that it is a fabulous fine motor activity.  Squeezing the bottle and picking up beans works the same muscles needed for good handwriting.

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The downside?  Beans all over the kitchen floor.  You have been warned!  😉

A Beautiful Book About Dyslexia

Word Blindness

The Wild Book by Margarita Engle is a beautiful book for middle grade readers that tells the story of Fefa, who grows up in turn-of-the-century Cuba.  Fefa struggles with a multitude of siblings, and also with “word blindness”, aka Dyslexia.

This is an extremely low word-count book, which makes it approachable for struggling readers.  Written as a collection of poems, this novel tells a complex and engaging story.

The cover art by Yuyi Morales is absolutely beautiful.  The Wild Book looks and feels like a regular middle grade novel. No middle school student would feel ashamed for having this book in her arms, even though it is a book about a tween’s struggle with Dyslexia.

I have never read anything by Newbery Honor winner Mararita Engle before, but she is now on my list of authors to check out.  Well done Ms. Engle!

Beach ABCs

Today, Jenna(2.5) woke up and spearheaded our entire family into donning boots, fleece and scarves to go to the beach this morning. In addition to a lot of fun playing…

…we also took a moment to write out words and letters in the sand.

Jenna and I both took turns writing with the stick, although her “letters” were just a bunch of scratches. She can write Os, Xs, and a few other letters, but writing letters in wet sand is really hard. It works a major amount of gross muscles that are really good for preschoolers to practice using.

To tap into fine motor muscles, I tried to have Jenna fill in the letters with rocks, but that didn’t last too long.

There were too many other fun things to do, like throwing rocks instead!

P.S. Keep that and picture in mind because I have a whole post to write about Dyslexia one of these days. Finding ways to make conjunctions and articles “concrete” is one of the tips I learned after reading The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis.