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SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

A Cool (Free) Tool for Doing a Presentation

Many teachers assign presentations to help their students develop their speaking and presenting skills. I recently learned to use some presentation software that is available free on the web. It’s called Prezi and is particularly good for those who do not like to write lots of words and who tend to be more creative. It also allows you to show off how much you know about a topic without tempting you to turn around and read from the screen.

 With Prezi, you create a single document that is sort of like a poster that presents your topic.  I recommend keeping it simple with lots of pictures and few words.  You can decide what order you would like for things to play, embed YouTube videos, import images, group information, and format colors and themes.  You can also download your presentation and present it without being online. 

 The best way to learn how to use Prezi is to watch the tutorials on the Prezi website. As usual, parents should supervise children while online—Prezi allows anyone to post samples of their work.

Give it a try! See whether this is a tool that will help the next time your child is asked to do a presentation in school.  It is a way to do an impressive, creative presentation.  And it’s free.

 

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How to Help Your Child Improve His or Her Vocabulary

For children to be successful in school, they need a strong vocabulary.  This especially helps them to understand what they are reading.  Experts tell us that children need to read a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books and to have specific words directly taught to them.  They also need to understand how to learn words on their own, and they should spend time playing with language in a variety of ways. 

 In Narrowing the Language Gap: The Case for Explicit Vocabulary Instruction, authors Kate Kinsella and Kevin Feldman provide a model for vocabulary instruction.

 They tell us to:

  • Make sure children have the opportunity to pronounce the words they are learning. One idea includes posting the word on the refrigerator, and having parents ask their child to say the word they are “playing with” on the fridge, making sure they pronounce the word correctly.  It is best if this is done informally—in conversation rather than making it seem like schoolwork.
  • The next step is to make sure the child understands the meaning of the new word.  The language used to explain the word should be familiar and easy to understand.  If the word of the day is “melancholy” the parent might say, “Marcus seems somewhat _____ today,” allowing the child to fill in the blank.  Then the child can come up with a sentence that uses the term appropriately.  The parent could also ask, “Do you feel melancholy today, or do you feel cheerful?”
  • Next, provide examples of how the word might be used in other contexts.  For example, a parent might say, “I got a letter today with some melancholy news.”  Then the parent could ask the child what that means and ask him to try to elaborate by making more sentences that use the word.

These strategies can become a game in your household.  Vocabulary words can be written on index cards once they are learned.  Then the child can choose a card and see if they can use the word correctly in a sentence.  Or, children can earn stars when they correctly use a new vocabulary term in ordinary conversation that they think of on their own.  Ten stars might earn a special treat such as ice cream or a trip to the local park.

Remember that it takes multiple encounters with a word before it truly becomes a part of a person’s vocabulary.  So, continue to use the new words in everyday conversation when appropriate.

There are many websites that will give you a word of the day; you can find them by searching on the web. Or, check out this free "Word of the Day" app for the iPod from VocabDaily.

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How to Advocate for Your Child with Learning Disabilities at the Beginning of the School Year

Boy and TeacherIf your child is learning disabled, now is the time to make contact with his or her new teachers. Speaking from a teacher’s perspective, the beginning of the school year is extremely hectic! It is very easy to overlook something important—like reading a student’s IEP in order to know what I need to be doing for that child to ensure success in my class. I have heard that in some large schools, it is weeks into the school year before every teacher is even notified that a particular student has an IEP.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities offers excellent advice for how to advocate for your child and establish a positive relationship with your child’s teachers.

Remember--teachers like kids and want to help them. (They would not be teachers if they did not!) But, they have lots of new students all at once, and it can be very difficult to figure out who needs what.

Read the Back to School Parent Toolkit to learn how to effectively advocate for your child.

If your child struggles in school but does not have an IEP, there are many wonderful resources here at SchoolFamily.com that may help you figure out what to do.

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What Happens When We Learn?

SchoolgirlMany people ask me to help them understand why their child is having trouble learning in school. This is a very complicated question! Many things have to happen before learning can occur.

The first step in the learning process is to take something in through our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. Much has been written about the importance of using more than one sense to take information in if we need to remember it later. (See Multisensory Instruction—It's Not Just for School.) However, there is more to learning than multisensory instruction! Just because something enters our brain does not mean it will be learned.

In fact, we don't need to learn most of what gets in! We need to select from the information that got into the brain what is important and what we need to keep for later. We must give attention to it. Not everything that enters in is important enough to pay attention to. In fact, most of what goes in is not worthy. Right this moment, I can hear the microwave beeping, a fan running, voices in the distance, a television and more. We tend to give attention to something that has some emotional appeal to us and ignore all the rest. (The microwave beep means my snack is ready!).

The things we decide to pay attention to move into short term memory. At this stage, we decide whether we need to remember it for a long time (like we do in school) or just for a few seconds (like the food in the microwave is ready). If we need it for a long time, we will need to take an action to move it into long term memory. This takes place by either repeating something over and over again or by creating meaning that is easier to store in memory than random information.

Even at this point, we are not sure learning has occurred because we need to be able to pull the information back out of long term memory (retrieval). And, it is of no use to us if we can't use the information to do something (to apply the learning in a new situation). For help understanding memory see How to Help Your Child Improve His or Her Memory.

Learning problems can occur anywhere in this process. Everything can be going perfectly except for one little thing where a breakdown occurs. It can break down during intake through the senses, giving attention to it, manipulating it in short term memory, putting it into long term memory, retrieving it back out of memory, or when applying the learning.

This is why I cannot answer the question parents ask, "Why is my child having trouble learning in school?" Learning is a complicated process! Many times it takes experimentation and trial-and-error to figure out where the process is breaking down.

Don't give up too quickly. You have to keep trying to figure out the problem. Sometimes it is a simple thing that keeps a student from learning.

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Learning to Accept Help

Some of my summer school students feel like accepting my help means I am doing the work for them. They would rather turn in lower quality work and do it totally by themselves. This is admirable -- that they want to do the work all by themselves -- but there are times when accepting help is the right thing to do.

When should you encourage your child to accept help?

  • If a skill deficit is keeping your daughter from showing how much she knows, she should get help to accommodate. For example, while reading and writing skills are being remediated, it is appropriate to read and take dictation from her for tests and projects. If she has a summer reading project to complete, perhaps taking dictation on it is appropriate.
  • If reading comprehension is low, having a book read to your son is appropriate. An alternate way to help is for him to use text-to-speech software or an audible recording of the book. (My Kindle will read some books and others are available as audible recordings that the Kindle will play.) Many of my students use text-to-speech readers to help them do their summer reading book. What most people do not realize is that this actually takes longer than for a good reader to read silently! These students are actually working harder to achieve at the same level as others who have better skills.
  • Unless prohibited by the teacher, it is okay to help your son spell words. Many teachers do not mind their students getting help with spelling. This encourages them to use their good vocabulary rather than reverting to simple words they are sure they can spell.
  • It is okay to use a calculator to help work problems in math as long as your daughter continues to drill basic facts in order to learn them. Use time this summer to drill basic facts so she will be able to be more efficient solving math problems when school starts. But, in the meantime the calculator can be helpful.

A simple rule of thumb is to make sure that whatever help your child gets, they are doing their own thinking. As long as what you are doing is helping them overcome a skill deficit, it should be okay. Hopefully, it will lead to more success in school and better grades. If you are not sure, give your child's teacher a call.

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How to Help Your Child Improve his or her Memory

Girl with mapSome children struggle with memory. This is especially true when learning something brand new when there isn’t already similar learning in memory. But, according to Dr. Gary Brannigan and Dr. Howard Margolis, there is help!

In their blogpost, My Child Has a Reading Disability, How Can Teachers Strengthen His Memory? they state that the beginning of helping with memory is attention. The child must pay attention, and to do so he must be interested. If not interested in what he is learning, he has less chance of remembering it. We have to work to make the learning interesting and meaningful to children.

According to Brannigan and Margolis, the acronym REMOS will help to remember the next steps in improving memory.

R - Repeat it.
E - Elaborate on it.
M - Make it meaningful.
O - Organize the information.
S - Schedule distributed practice.

So, to learn something like the names and locations of all 50 states, a student might begin with blank maps where she practices labeling the states first copying from another map and gradually doing them from memory. This repeats the information over and over again.

Then elaborate on the task by talking about states where she has visited and which states she drove through getting there. She can tell a friend about those experiences and ask whether or not her friend ever visited another state. Or, she might talk about stories she has read and where those stories took place.

This elaboration task also makes the learning more meaningful because she is remembering her own experiences. She might also make the map task more meaningful by drawing some pictures about the states she is having trouble remembering. If she adds color to the pictures, that might help her to recall that information better.

To organize the information, she might decide to divide the country into sections (states in the northeast, midwest, south) or perhaps by the starting letter of each state’s name putting each letter in a different color.

To make sure learning becomes permanent, she will need to schedule practice over a period of days rather than trying to learn everything the day before a test. Some research suggests that studying just before bed at night is helpful, since there appears to be a tie to getting enough sleep and having a good memory. (Check out the great articles on sleep here at SchoolFamily.com!)

Additionally, reviewing material some time later (like a month or two) will increase the likelihood that it stays permanently in memory.

I do not really like having to give tests and exams. They are time consuming to review for them, give them, and grade them. However, I have noticed that learning does not become real and permanent until students have spent time using the REMOS strategies when getting ready for a test and then a later exam.

When kids are out of school for summer, you have time to spend truly learning basic information that forms the foundation for higher level skills. For example, the faster your child can do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, the better he will do in higher level math. See if you can figure out how to apply the RAMOS strategies to seal them permanently into memory!

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Insight on How to Speak to your Child who Struggles In School

Dad and sonChildren who struggle in school often process language more slowly than other children. Many times parents and teachers ask a child a question and then make the mistake of not allowing them enough time to think and respond. All children (especially very young children) need more time to process what you say to them than adults do. There is some research to suggest that speaking at about the same rate as Mr. Rogers is the right speed for children. As they grow older, they can handle a faster rate, but many older children still benefit from a little extra processing time. See Teachers Should Talk Slower for a discussion of this.

Consider the impact of this in a normal conversation you might have with your child. How was school today? (No answer. Or, if given enough thinking time -- "Fine.") What did you do? (No answer. Or, if given time -- "Nothing.") Then we complain because our children won’t talk to us.

Try this.

Speak more slowly than you think you need to speak. Then, ask open ended questions that cannot be answered with only one word. "What were two fun things you did today at school?" "What did you have to do today that you didn’t really like?" (Followed by, "Why did you not like that?") "Tell me about the learning center for today. What did you do?" These questions will spark memories for the day that your child will share using many words instead of just a few.

Give thinking time after you ask each question. When children are thinking, they are processing their own language in their head. If it takes them more time to process what you say to them, then it also takes more time for them to figure out the words to say to answer your questions. For some children this time is considerably more time than you expect.

Use the same strategy when disciplining your child. If your conversation is about something related to behaviors you want to correct, you need to use the same tactics. Parents tend to speak louder and faster when disciplining children. To the child who processes slowly they may not understand a word you say. This can be the reason why your child does not learn the lessons you want him to learn.

I have found it essential to slow down when I teach. It takes some practice, and you have to make sure another person who thinks more quickly does not answer for them. Try it with your child and let me know how it works!

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Social Skills and Learning Disabilities

Two kidsSome children who struggle with their schoolwork also struggle with social skills. This is especially true of children who have nonverbal learning disabilities. They may not pick up on normal social cues like other children do. These children need direct teaching of social skills just like other learning disabled children need direct teaching of academic skills.

Here are some things I have noticed with some of my students and what I did about each. The names have been changed to protect their identity.

  • Amalia and I passed each other on the sidewalk. I said good morning to her. She looked away and did not speak. I stopped her and said, "Amalia, when someone you know says good morning to you, you need to say good morning back. That shows that you care about them as a person."
  • Mark needed to ask me a question and stood very close to me. He was well inside of my personal space. I said, "Mark, step back so that there is an arm’s length between you and me." (I showed him what I meant and explained why he needed to do it.)
  • When Naomi came up to the door with her hands full, I held the door open for her. She walked through the door and did not even smile at me. I said, "Naomi, when someone holds the door open for you, you need to say, ‘Thank you.’"
  • Jamal walked up to me at an assembly in the gym, pointed at me and motioned for me to move. I said, "Jamal, I was here already. I am happy for you to sit beside me, but I will not move. You should not point at people like that. It is rude."

You should not feel uncomfortable about saying things like this to these children. They are almost never hurt by it and many appreciate that you are helping them to fit in better. If everyone in the child’s life agrees to help in this way, you will notice their social skills improve. Before you know it, they will be the first to say, "Good morning, Ms. McCoy," and give you a big smile.

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How to Help Struggling Students Build Self Esteem

Girl singingMy heart broke just a little when one of my students recently told me, "I’m just ready to give up." I thought a lot about him and what might help him feel better about himself.

Children who struggle in school need something in their life that they truly enjoy. School is stressful for all children, and when you add learning problems on top of normal school stress it can become too much to handle. Self-esteem drops, and you hear the child say, "I am stupid," more often than something positive about themselves.

Some children are excellent writers. Others create magnificent pieces of art that most people cannot even imagine doing. Many are gifted in sports or music. And some have incredible interpersonal skills. Parents need to make sure there is time in every day for doing these activities.

Parents should also make sure others are aware of their child’s strengths. In this way, a struggling student can be a shining star in some areas and other people may be more willing to help them with things that are not so easy for them. It then becomes easy to say, "You might not do so well in science, but this poem is so beautiful it brings tears to my eyes!"

The next step is to encourage your child to say positive things about himself. If children are in the habit of negative self-talk, they believe those words. It they are encouraged to use positive self-talk, they begin to believe that instead. Be sure that your child overhears you saying positive things about them, as well, because above all children believe what their parents say about them.

If you like this post, you may like an earlier one I wrote called School is Not Life. Indeed, life after school can be so good.

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The Quick Fix for Learning Disabilities

When you have a child with a learning disability or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) you yearn for a way to help. Parents are confronted with offers for reading programs, diets, vitamin regimens, and medical doctors who promise a quick fix for the child’s problems. The truth is, there is no quick fix. It takes consistent effort using research-based programs to help children learn how cope with their learning differences.

The myth of a quick fix for learning disabilities provides a thorough discussion of how to be a good consumer when "shopping" for information and help for your child.

Do not fall for any of the following.

A promise of a cure. No one can cure a learning disability or attention deficit disorder. These are lifelong problems that children must learn to manage. Once out of school, certain disabilities can become advantages for them in their chosen career, or they are simply not an issue at all.

The promise of rapid improvement. Learning disabilities and attention issues do not improve overnight. It takes persistence, hard work, and caring adults who provide encouragement and help.

Failure to cite third party research. Many programs cite "research" to support them. When you actually read the research, though, it was conducted by the company trying to sell you the product. Research should be conducted by independent, third parties who do not have a financial stake in the outcome.

Use of the words scientific, research, or proven. People use these words without grounds because they think people pay attention when they hear them. As stated already, you should be able to find the research yourself. True scientists do not use the word "proven" because nothing can be proven true. It is easy to prove something is wrong, but you cannot ever claim with 100% certainty that something is true.

One final warning. Many quick fix programs make no guarantee that their product will work. In the end, if it does not work, they place the blame for that on the child. They claim the child did not do it correctly or follow the program for long enough. Children with learning issues already have enough to worry about. They struggle with self-esteem on a daily basis. Please do not place them in a situation where they think they are the cause of yet another problem in their life.

A reliable source of information for anything related to learning disabilities is LDOnline. For even more information on learning disabilities check out our learning disabilities archive of articles.

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Computer-Assisted Reading

Girl listening to MP3If your child has trouble reading, or reads too slowly, she might benefit from text-to-speech software. Text-speech-software takes any text in digital format (such as on the Internet or in a word processor) and reads it aloud. This can be helpful in a variety of situations.

You can download several text-to-speech software programs for free. I have used Natural Reader for several years. You can get the free version or purchase a version that has several pleasant voices from which you can choose. Other free text-to-speech readers are reviewed at DKSZone.

Here is what you can do with text-to-speech software:

 

  • Have it to read to you. Most text you see on a computer screen, whether online or from a word processor is readable digital text. If you are working online and would like to have the software read to you, it can do it. The free voices are a little mechanical sounding, but students adapt to them quickly, and they do not seem to mind them. Most of the readers allow you to adjust the speed either slower or faster. This allows those who process quickly, to adjust it to a speed that works for them (and vice versa).
  • Use it to proofread written work. It does not skip over words like we tend to do when reading our own work. If you are a poor speller, you may have selected the wrong word when using the spelling checker. Sometimes, the spelling checker automatically replaces a word you typed, and it is not the word you wanted. The computer will read the wrong word; you will notice it and be able to correct it.
  • Use it to create audio books. Many of these readers can convert text to MP3 so you can listen to it on your MP3 player (like your iPod).

Most textbook publishers make their books available in digital format for students who are diagnosed with learning disabilities specific to language. Some of these are available online and some on CD. Ask your child’s teacher to find out whether it is available. If your child has an IEP, providing books in a digital format can be a required modification.

Text-to-speech software is great for reading to your child, but it can do so much more! Best of all—very good readers are available for free.

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When Smart Students Cannot Write What They Know

GirlSome students have difficulty getting their excellent ideas written down. This can be from a variety of problems such as dysgraphia (a physical problem that prevents handwriting or typing), or a specific language learning disability (like dyslexia). These students can do the homework if given the opportunity to record their answers instead of writing them. (For more information about dysgraphia see Does My Child Have Dysgraphia? For more information about dyslexia see How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?)

Other students struggle so much with written expression that the act of writing consumes all of their mental energy. They may know vocabulary that they cannot spell and if forced to write out their answers, the end product is of low quality. If these students are allowed to record their answers they might produce a much better paper. Using this modification, the students is free to expend all of their mental energy thinking about what they want to say instead of how to get it onto the paper.

Students could record their homework on their computer using free recording software like Audacity or they could use a Livescribe pen. You can learn about the Livescribe here.

Don’t let a problem with written expression keep your child from sharing what he knows. If he is struggling completing his written work, give this a try. If the recorded work is better, then ask for a meeting with his teacher to see if he will allow this modification for homework. Be sure to take the written paper and the recorded one so the teacher can see and hear the difference in quality.

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Accommodating for a Spelling Disability

Girl WritingWhat if when you stored a word in your memory the letters in the word got switched around? And, every time you access it, the letters may or may not go back in there the same way. When you try to spell the word it comes out wrong. And, when it comes out wrong it may be spelled differently than the last time you spelled it wrong. And every once in awhile you accidentally spell it correctly.

If this were true about you, people might say, "You spelled it correctly before. You are just being lazy." Or maybe, "That’s pretty dumb, you are not even misspelling it consistently."

This is how spelling can be for some people. It is something they cannot control no matter how hard they try. Since this is an invisible disability, some people have no empathy for it. I am writing this because it breaks my heart when these students are called "lazy and dumb," when in fact it has nothing to do with how hard they are trying. If this same child were blind or hearing impaired, everyone would be extremely willing to make accommodations for them (like modifying requirements for homework). But, because this child’s disability is hidden from view they get no accommodations.

If this describes your child, print this out and take it to your child’s teacher. Perhaps it will help them to think a little differently about your child’s written work! A reasonable modification for this child would be to allow misspelled words in their written work without penalty. If this accommodation isn’t made, the child will stick to using words they are pretty sure how to spell. They will not be using the full extent of their vocabulary. The quality of their written expression is limited by what they can spell....."I want to say ‘extraordinary’ but since I know I’ll spell that wrong, I’ll just use ‘good’. I think I know how to spell that!"

One last thought -- when a child is receiving remedial help for language disabilities, spelling is the last skill to improve. The reason for that is probably because when reading, the child is interpreting what is already spelled for them. But, when spelling they must come up with the spelling themselves.

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Homework Struggles - When to Talk to the Teacher

Girl doing homeworkIn an earlier post I mentioned that there are some students who need to have their homework assignments modified for one reason or another. If your child is really struggling with homework, consider whether modifying their homework assignments might help. Keep in mind homework modifications may be temporary if low skills can be remediated. For other children such as those with physical disabilities, the modifications may need to be permanent. There are many possible modifications to make. One way is to reduce the length of assignments.

If your child is truly working but it takes too long to get their work done, they might benefit from shorter assignments than the rest of the class. To figure out whether they are actually working (as opposed to daydreaming), time how long your child works. This is easiest if you have two stopwatches or timers. Start one when your child begins work and leave it running until the homework is finished. Start the second timer when she begins, but stop it every time she is distracted or taking a break. (Restart it when she begins working again.) In this manner, you know the total length of time she spends appearing to do homework as well as the actual time she is working.

If there is a huge difference between the time on the two stopwatches, your child is having trouble focusing their attention. That is a different issue, but also needs to be addressed. (Read Tips To Help Children Focus on Homework.)

If you feel the actual time working is an unreasonable length of time for the age your child is, ask her teacher if this is what is expected. I have heard that the recommended time is about ten minutes per grade level. So a first grader has ten minutes of homework and a second grader has twenty minutes. Show your child’s teacher how long she works on homework. At my school, we have several students who either receive shorter assignments (the teacher crosses off problems they do not have to do), or they are asked to stop working after a certain length of time. You might need to request these modifications for your child.

If low skills are the reason for the problem with homework this modification will no longer be needed when the skills improve. So, make sure that your child is getting help to improve low skills, as well. Stay tuned for more ways to modify homework.

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What if my Child Can’t do the Homework?

Girl doing homeworkWhen children consistently have difficulty with homework it is important to communicate this concern with your child’s teacher. With the teacher’s help you may be able to identify the source of the problem and figure out the best way to address it.

According to The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) (Helping your child with homework 1996), parents need to remember several things.

Communicate early on when homework issues arise. The earlier the problem is addressed the more likely it is you will be able to find solutions that work. The rest of the school year can be easier for you and your child. (For help knowing how to communicate with your child’s teacher see Forming a Parent-Teacher Partnership to Help a Struggling Child)

Be sure to contact your child’s teacher to work out the problem rather than going directly to the principal or other supervisor. The teacher is the one who works directly with your child and he or she is in the best position to help.

Even though these meetings can be uncomfortable, it is best to approach them with a positive attitude while believing the problems can be solved by working together.

Some possible solutions might include the following.

  • Offering options for how to complete the homework. Many creative children can demonstrate their knowledge through posters, brochures, or presentation software and offering these as a choice when appropriate can help resolve at least some of the issues.
  • Doing a reduced number of problems. If a child works very slowly even while paying attention to the task at hand, he may benefit from doing fewer problems that still cover the concepts.
  • Allowing the child to audio record their responses to questions. Some language learning disabled children know the material, but cannot get their answers onto the page. If allowed to record their answers, they may be able to demonstrate mastery, and they can do the work themselves. The Livescribe Smartpen may be a possible technological solution for recording. The homework could be recorded along with abbreviated answers. Then, the recording and written notes could be saved and given to the teacher to view and hear on their own computer. (To understand how the Smartpen works go to the Livescribe website to watch a video.)
  • If the problems are the result of absences, your child’s teacher may be able to set up a schedule that allows the work to be made up within a reasonable amount of time.

There are many things that can cause children difficulty when doing homework. The most important thing to remember is to not give up. Homework is important. To understand why teachers give homework, read How Can Parents Help With Homework?

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How are Children Identified to Receive Special Education Services?

A boyHave you heard teachers say something like, "We can’t identify your child for special education because we have not gone through the response to intervention process yet"? Ever since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, students are required to go through a response to intervention (RTI) process before being identified for special education. The intent of these laws is to make sure that children receive quality instruction and to help those who are struggling before they need to be placed in special education. It is a preventative process rather than a "wait to fail" model.

Response to intervention has been helpful because many schools are implementing research-based methods for teaching reading and math to all students. Therefore, fewer students should fall behind and need services. There is significant data to suggest that there are fewer students identified with specific learning disabilities, as well as behavioral and emotional disturbances since RTI was widely implemented. [Summary and links to the research ]

If a child begins to struggle in school, the school staff works together to intervene. They set up research-based instructional strategies to teach the child and a monitoring process to assure the student is responding to the changes in instruction (Response to Intervention). If the child does not respond to the intervention, they are further evaluated to determine whether they need to receive special education services.

According to experts in the field of special education, the RTI process includes:

  • Research-based instruction and behavioral support for all children
  • School-wide or district-wide screening to figure out which students need closer attention
  • Research-based interventions matched to student need
  • Use of a collaborative approach by school staff
  • Ongoing monitoring of student progress
  • Follow-up to make sure the intervention was implemented appropriately
  • Parent involvement throughout the process
  • Adherence to the timelines specified in IDEA 2004 and in the state regulations

For more on the Response to Intervention process, the National Association of School Psychologists website explains it in more detail.

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How to Find the Experts you Need to Evaluate Your Struggling Student

About the authors

This blog was originally published by Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D. & Howard Margolis, Ed.D in www.reading2008.com/blog. They co-authored Reading Disabilities: Beating The Odds, a book to help parents identify reading difficulties, understand special education laws, work with schools, and, if necessary, challenge them to get their children needed services. It's available at www.amazon.com & www.reading2008.com . Also look for their forthcoming book, Simple Ways To Maximize Your Child's Potential, due out in mid 2011.

Parents often ask us for the names of experts to evaluate their children or help them develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Often, these requests come from parts of the country with which we’re unfamiliar. In such situations, we generally make these suggestions:

  • Check who teaches the relevant graduate courses at your local university. For example, if you want an expert to evaluate your child’s reading problems, check the university’s catalog and course schedule to see who teaches courses on the evaluation of reading problems. If you want an expert to evaluate your child’s problems with mathematics, check who teaches such courses. Call these experts (often professors) to get a sense of their personality, professionalism, values, availability, and fees. If they can’t offer their services, ask them for recommendations.
  • Check if local universities have clinics that specialize in your child’s problem, such as a reading clinic, a learning disabilities clinic, a behavioral difficulties clinic, a counseling center.
  • Review electronic databases of journal articles, such as EBSCO. Databases are often available through libraries. Search them for relevant terms, such as "reading disabilities + evaluation" if you’re seeking an expert to evaluate your child’s reading problems. Read several recent articles. Then call the authors of those you liked, even if they’re a thousand miles away. Briefly discuss their articles and your child’s difficulties; ask if they can recommend experts within 50-miles of your home. It’s a small world: After a few calls, you may get several names.
  • Check book reviews on www.amazon.com and www.bn.com. If possible, read at least 10 reviews. Call the authors of the well-reviewed books. They may know experts near you.
  • Ask parents of children with similar problems. Ask who they would recommend, would not recommend, and why. If they used the expert they’re recommending, and you think they would be willing, ask to see a copy of their expert’s report or the IEP she helped write. See if several people recommend the same expert.
  • Ask your child’s doctors. If they make a recommendation, ask what experiences they had with the expert they’re recommending.

Once you have the names of experts, interview them. Assess their knowledge, openness, availability willingness to listen, and interest in helping. Ask about their fees. Ask to see samples of their reports or IEPs (with names omitted). Ask how they conduct evaluations or help to develop IEPs and how, if needed, they’ll follow up.

Before interviewing experts, learn what a quality evaluation or IEP should look like. For information on reading evaluations, read chapter 5 of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds (www.reading2008.com). For information on developing IEPs, read chapters 8 through 13.

Are these suggestions foolproof? No. But they can help you find experts who will make a positive difference in your child’s life.

If you have other ideas about finding experts, please put them in a comment on our blog. Your ideas may help many of our readers.

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Creating a Friendly Environment for ADHD Children

Girl on ballMany people need to wiggle while they learn. Because this can be a distraction to other students, students with ADHD need to learn how to move without disturbing others. I have taught students how to kick their foot so that it does not hit the table leg or other students. (This works at home at the dinner table, too.) That way they can wiggle away and no one even notices it. Other students do well with a squeeze ball hidden away under the desk so that others are not distracted by it. I also try to give active children a chance to get up out of their seat pretty often. They love to help clean the white-board, put away supplies, or if at home -- help you clear the table.

I recently came across several other innovative ways for parents or teachers to help their wiggle worms:

  • An active child-friendly reading circle -- A teacher in Cincinnati created a reading circle for ADHD kids. She has a kidney shaped table where she can sit in the center and have the students in a half-circle around her. The trick is that they sit on exercise balls instead of chairs! They can sit there and wiggle and bounce while they learn how to read. What a great idea for a study place at home!
  • Special desks -- Another excellent idea for children who need to move: instead of making them sit down to work they can stand up.


https://www.standupforlearning.com/

I am anxious to give these desks a try. If each classroom had two or three of them, students could take turns working there instead of sitting at their normal desks. At home, your child could be allowed to stand up at the kitchen counter to work instead of being asked to sit still at a table.

  • Kid’s Companions -- Chewable jewelry for children who need to fidget is also worth checking out. I have seen many students who would benefit from "chewelry" and there is an attractive line for both girls and boys.

Both parents and teachers can be "ADHD friendly." Understanding the ADHD child’s need for action can make life easier for both of you! And, they get a bonus -- it helps them learn.

If you wonder whether your child may be ADHD, read How do I know if my child is ADHD?

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Does my Child Have Dysgraphia?

Girl writingAt the risk of causing a controversy, I am going to tell you what I think dysgraphia is! The reason I say this is controversial is that the definition of dysgraphia has changed through the years, and I disagree with the direction it took.

Dysgraphia is a neurological problem. People who are dysgraphic do not have fine motor control of their fingers; therefore they cannot write legibly. They cannot control the pencil and make it do what they need it to do.

If a child writes poorly after they have been taught how to write, they are often incorrectly labeled dysgraphic. But, many children are not ready to learn to write at the point they are taught how. I believe this especially to be true of boys who developmentally are not ready to sit down and concentrate on forming their letters correctly. I have personally witnessed many of these children learn how to write quite legibly in middle and upper school. This is because they are developmentally ready to learn when they are older. Dysgraphic people cannot learn how to write legibly because they do not have the ability to control the muscles involved in their hand.

If you have an older child who does not write legibly, it is possible that they can still learn if given proper instruction. I’ll write about that "proper instruction" very soon!

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How do I Know if my Child is Dyslexic?

Boy readingDyslexia is very hard to define! In fact, a recent entry on Facebook said, "My son’s school just told me there is no such thing as dyslexia! I’m dyslexic; how can they say there is no such thing?"

What the school probably means is there are many ways dyslexia can affect a child and it is more beneficial to the child to figure out what the specific problem is and address that problem. (At least, we hope that’s what they meant!)

Some people think you have to see letters backwards before you are called dyslexic. But, that is not necessarily true. That is a common misconception about dyslexia. There are some dyslexics who do, but certainly not all of them!

Formal definitions of dyslexia basically mean that a dyslexic child

  • has difficulty with something related to language (including the language and symbols in math)
  • does not have physical problems such as hearing or vision issues that cause the language problems
  • is plenty smart enough to learn these skills, but has not learned them to the level you would expect
  • has skills (ability to read, spell, or do math) that are below their potential to learn (intelligence).

In many public school systems, if the child has not already been taught these skills using research-based teaching methods, they do not provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The child must show that proper instruction is not enough to help them learn these language skills. (They did not "respond to intervention.")

At the point the school decides the child did have appropriate instruction but failed to learn, they can then qualify for an IEP. Schools may not use the word "dyslexia." They will more likely say "specific language learning disability." Some schools feel that dyslexia is a medical diagnosis and not an educational one.

For a great pamphlet about the signs of dyslexia see, Is My Child Dyslexic?

There are a number of related articles here at SchoolFamily!

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016