logo

SchoolFamily Voices

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

When a Child Struggles to Read: What a Parent Needs to Know

Book on headEvery child needs to learn how to read well. When reading does not come easily, it affects every part of life. Thanks to research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), we know the best way to teach children to read! The NICHD and the National Reading Panel published an excellent summary of their research which included thousands of children.

Teaching reading is complex. Many teachers were trained before this research came out and they continue to use old methods that do not work for struggling readers. If your child needs extra help with reading, I recommend that you make sure they are participating in a program based on the research of the Panel. You should also read some of the parent and teacher resources available free online.

Find out whether the program your child is in is research-based and whether it is has been successfully tested. It should include instruction in the following key areas from Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks of Reading Instruction.

  • Phonemic Awareness. Children learn to hear, identify, and play with the sounds in spoken words. What happens if you take /b/out of /bat/? I’m thinking of a word that rhymes with honey and starts with /f/ -- can you figure out what it is? (Make the sounds of the letters inside brackets.)
  • Phonics. Children learn the connection between the letters of written language and the sounds they make. What sound does "ch" make?
  • Fluency. Children work on reading accuracy and speed.
  • Vocabulary. Students work to increase their vocabulary so they can make sense of what they read.
  • Comprehension. Children learn strategies that help them to understand what they are reading.

If you have concerns about the reading program at your child’s school, ask about each of the above components. Ask whether the program is supported by research. For a host of articles on reading and helping your child learn to read, check out this archive of articles.

Continue reading
  5078 Hits
  1 Comment
5078 Hits
1 Comment

Low Skills do not Mean Low Intelligence

Many students who struggle in school are called “lazy and dumb” by their peers and at some times even by a teacher or parent! This is extremely hurtful and unnecessary.

First of all, you cannot always tell whether a child is working really hard or not. Even if you ask a child whether they studied they will often tell you they didn’t. It is much easier for them to say, “I didn’t study, so I failed,” than to say, “I studied a long time, but I still failed.” There are children who have given up on themselves and quit trying, but be very careful about accusing any child of being lazy. You have no way of knowing for sure how hard they are working!

Secondly, these children are often smart. I have taught children whose measured intelligence was in the superior range (even at the 99th percentile) who failed in school! These brilliant children might not be able to read, spell or do math, yet their intelligence suggests that these things should be easy for them. Reading, spelling and doing math are acquired skills, not innate like intelligence. For one reason or another, they did not learn the skills they need to succeed.

As you can see, you can have a brilliant child who is failing in school because of poor skills. They might look “dumb,” but they are far from it. Skills and intelligence are not the same thing. I have a rule that I never, ever call a child lazy or unmotivated. I ask myself these questions—“Why is this child having such a hard time in school?” “What is holding this child back?” “What can I do to provide some success for this child to get them back on the right track?”

If you feel your child is misunderstood, it is important to get together with your child’s teacher. My next post will offer some help in deciding whether or not your child is working hard enough. Then after that, I will discuss how to plan ahead for meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss these issues.

Remember, when children struggle in school, they need both their parents and their teachers to work together to figure out why.

Continue reading
  6502 Hits
  5 Comments
6502 Hits
5 Comments

What does it mean to have a "sequencing" problem?

Girl at deskThe first year we had a girl’s softball team at the school where I teach, one of the girls on the team was very athletic. She could throw and hit the ball well, and she could run very fast. In the first game of the season, however, she hit the ball and ran to third base! This is an example of how a sequencing disorder can affect a child.

Sequencing simply means putting things in the correct order like the alphabet or numbers. If spelling a word, the order of the letters is very important. Changing the order in a math problem (writing "21+17 = ___" instead of "12 + 17 = ____") produces the incorrect answer. And, who knows what happens in a softball game when you run the bases backwards!

Socially, these children may tell you about an argument they had with a friend and then later tell you the same story in a different order. This can make them look like they are lying when it is actually a sequencing issue over which they have no control.

Students with a sequencing problem have trouble following step-by-step directions. They fall apart when working on long term projects because they are not sure what needs to be done and in what order. I watch for these problems with my students. I teach them how to check off what they have completed when following a set of directions. When working on a long-term project, I break it down into manageable pieces and monitor whether they are completing each part in time to finish the whole project. I also use graphic organizers such as those shown here to help these children organize their thoughts.

There are many accommodations and compensatory strategies these children can benefit from. For more ideas of possible ways to help, check out this article from the Child Development Institute.

Continue reading
  10889 Hits
  5 Comments
10889 Hits
5 Comments

How Learning Disabilities Affect a Parent’s Emotions

When a child struggles in school, their parents experience a range of emotions -- frustration, anger, hopelessness, and guilt.

In the beginning, we feel the problems in school have to be because the child is not trying. We fuss at them and hope they will be able to succeed if they just settle down and work harder. Our frustration with the child and the situation can lead to anger. We get mad at the school for not providing the best education, the child’s teacher for not knowing how to teach our child, and the child because -- well, they have to be doing something wrong, right?

This frustration and anger can continue for several years before we finally realize, "Maybe my child has a real problem. Maybe this is not her fault." When this realization is confirmed (through testing or meeting with learning specialists), the guilt and hopelessness set in. First of all, typically one parent or the other also struggled in school. This parent tends to deny the problem saying something like, "I made it just fine. She just needs to work harder." The other parent wants to figure out what the problem is and to seek help. This parent feels tremendous guilt because they did not believe their child had a real problem soon enough. The parents must figure out a way to work together to get help for their child. Thank goodness, after a little time this is what usually happens.

Here is my advice. Don’t beat yourself up! We do our best as parents and that’s all we can do. Children are resilient. The child will be very relieved that finally someone recognizes that they need extra help. They will forgive you for not knowing sooner. Move forward from here without feeling guilty for taking so long to get to this point. And, there is help for struggling students. Turn your hopelessness into hope and take action to change failure into success.

Continue reading
  7140 Hits
  2 Comments
7140 Hits
2 Comments

Options for Helping a Struggling Student

Boy with notebookWhen a child is struggling in school, we have three choices for ways to help. We can remediate, accommodate, or teach the child to compensate.

If at all possible, we should fix the problem. The best example of this is a child who does not read well. Maybe she has trouble figuring out the words on the page, or she can read the words but cannot understand what they mean. If we set up a program that teaches them how to read better, we are remediating or fixing the skill deficit. This is ideal. When possible, problems children have in school should be remediated. This can take a long time depending on the severity and type of problem. Sometimes it requires a specialist trained in remediation.

Other things that help can take less time and effort. Often, students can learn to manage their own problem. For example, if one of my students can spell pretty well but still makes errors, I teach them how to type and to word process their work so that the spelling checker can point out which words are misspelled. This is called compensating for the skill deficit. The student handles the problem himself.

Unfortunately, some problems cannot be fixed (or will take a long time to fix), and the child cannot manage them on their own. If a child has extremely poor eyesight, we must make an accommodation for the problem. For a variety of reasons, I might give a student near-point copies of notes and diagrams I put on the board. If needed, as for the child with poor eyesight, these near-points can be enlarged on the copier. With this simple accommodation, the child can succeed in my classroom.

Many compensatory strategies and accommodations require little effort on the part of the teacher. Once a child learns a compensatory strategy, they do it for themselves. Doing something like providing a copy of my notes for the student who needs them, takes very little time. Something very simple can make the difference between failure and success for a struggling student.

For a very long list of possible accommodations check out this article.

Continue reading
  8726 Hits
  5 Comments
8726 Hits
5 Comments

School is not life

Some students do well in school and others do not. Have you ever wondered why?

We are all different! When my husband and I travel in areas where we are not familiar (and when we do not have our GPS to guide us), it is better for me to drive and him to navigate. When I try to read a map, I cannot tell you whether we need to turn right or left at the next intersection. I cannot take a two-dimensional representation of real space (the map) and change it in my mind to represent three-dimensional space (the world).

Fortunately, in school it was a rare occasion when I needed to be able to read a map and tell someone which way to go. Map skills are not that valuable in school.

On the other hand, I can read piano music very well. I can take a sheet of music and turn it into a beautiful experience on the piano for both you (the listener) and me (the player).

Unfortunately, being able to do that was not that helpful in school either. No one really cared that I could do that.

What if the thing I cannot do is read, spell, or do basic math calculations? Then, I become a struggling student. These skills are really important school skills and students who struggle with them struggle generally in school. School becomes uncomfortable, unsuccessful, and no fun.

For these students, it is important to find the thing they can do exceptionally well (like playing the piano or building models) and give them plenty of time doing that. If they spend their entire life struggling, it is hard for them to feel good about themselves.

They need to know that school is not life. Eventually, they will be finished with school and they will get to spend time doing things they do well rather than focusing on their weaknesses.

For an interesting perspective, I recommend reading some of Dr. Mel Levine’s work about focusing on the positive in your child’s life.

Continue reading
  8222 Hits
  3 Comments
8222 Hits
3 Comments

Organization Tips to Eliminate the Forgotten Homework, Lunch, Sneakers...

DaveMasucciPhotography.com

Livia McCoy has spent twenty-six years teaching science to students with language learning disabilities. In addition to teaching students daily, she trains teachers and runs workshops for teachers and parents who want to know more about how to help their struggling students.

Livia’s book, When Learning is Painful: How to Help Struggling Students -- A Resource for Parents and Teachers was published in 2009.

Many students with learning differences have trouble keeping up with their "stuff." They wind up in the school office calling home to ask for their book bag, lunch, homework they left on the printer, or their uniform for the basketball game after school. Or, they do without these things and suffer because they are seen as "not responsible enough" or "don’t care enough" or "don’t try hard enough."

For some students, a checklist in a prominent place can help. The checklist can hang beside the front door at home or stay on the shelf nearby. It would look something like this:

___ book bag
___ books
___ lunch money
___ homework papers
___ paper
___ pencils
___ gym clothes
___ basketball uniform

Another checklist can reside in the front of their main notebook at school. It will look different, of course:

___ assignment sheet
___ book bag
___ books I need for homework
___ dirty gym clothes
___ basketball uniform
___ notes from teachers
___ permission forms

They might not need everything on the list, but anything that they need often should be there -- just in case. That way, they give it some thought before leaving to or from school.

Check out all the handy checklists that School Family has in the Print and Use section.

The trick at this point is to establish the habit of looking at the checklist just before leaving for school (parents can help in the beginning) and before heading home in the afternoon (a caring teacher might help if you ask). Once the habit is established, they will be one step in the right direction toward becoming organized.

Continue reading
  6490 Hits
  1 Comment
6490 Hits
1 Comment

How to Help Children With Reading Disabilities Cope with Academic Demands

This week we are pleased to have a guest blog co-authored by two professors who are specialists in the area of learning disabilities:

Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York. Howard is former editor of the Reading Instruction Journal and the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation; for almost two decades he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties.

Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Gary is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a certified School Psychologist who specializes in parenting issues. He has worked with many children with learning, reading, and other disabilities and their families.

Howard Margolis and Gary Brannigan are co-authors of the book,  Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. Visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/Reading2008 Face

 

Many children suffer emotionally because they cannot cope with academic demands. But they can develop specific skills to help them cope effectively. By doing so, they increase their motivation for learning and decrease their emotional distress.

These skills form the basis of "self-regulation," which Lyn Corno and Ellen Mandinach (1983) broadly defined as the effort put forth by students to deepen, monitor, manipulate, and improve their own learning. Clearly, such activities are important for learning, which in the final analysis depends on the learners’ willingness and skill to meet the demands placed on them. Moreover, self-regulated learners understand the important links underlying what they think, what they feel, and what they do or don’t do.

Let’s begin with cognitive skills or thinking, because this drives self-regulation.

Generally speaking, when self-regulated learners are presented with an academic task, they’re aware of their thoughts. They think about thinking! Their awareness allows them to:

  • Analyze a task
  • Assess their abilities -- strengths and weaknesses -- relative to the task
  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals for completing the task
  • Monitor their progress toward reaching these goals
  • Make changes, if needed
  • Evaluate the results

This self-regulatory sequence is a strategy that can be applied to different situations. Yet many children, especially struggling learners, are unaware of this and similar learning strategies. Some who are aware cannot implement the components. Both groups of struggling learners -- those who are unaware of or are unskilled in using the strategy -- need structured, explicit, reinforcing instruction to master it. As part of their instruction, teachers should use "think-alouds" to demonstrate the various components of the strategy. In "think-alouds," teachers talk about what they’re doing as they grapple with a task. For example, if a struggling learner is using the RAP strategy, the teacher might use this think-aloud:

  • I’m using the RAP strategy.
  • The three steps are "R" for Read a paragraph, "A" for Ask myself what the paragraph was about, and "P" for Put the main idea and two details in my own words.
  • I read the paragraph. I’ll check the "R" on my checklist.

To help struggling learners master a strategy, teachers and parents should systematically encourage learners to practice the strategy -- starting with easy tasks that are gradually replaced by increasingly more challenging tasks on which learners can succeed. In addition to sequencing tasks from easy to more challenging, teachers and parents should give the learners corrective and encouraging feedback on their performance. In other words, they should tell them why they succeeded or, if they’re having difficulty, what they need to do differently. If the tasks match the learners’ abilities, feedback will usually stress why they succeeded.

Teaching children to apply a self-regulatory strategy to many different situations is essential. But it’s also difficult. An excellent, practical book that can help is Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s Smart and Scattered. Here are three of its many how-to "plans for teaching your child to complete daily routines":

  • Use a template for a five-paragraph essay.
  • Before studying, choose from a menu of study strategies.
  • Use a bedroom-cleaning checklist.

Because self-regulation is complicated and, in many respects, invisible, here are five resources. You may want to read and share one or two of these with your child’s teachers:

  • Corno, L., & Mandinach, E. B. (1983). The role of cognitive engagement in classroom learning and motivation. Educational Psychologist, 18, 88-108.
  • Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2009). Smart and Scattered. NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Margolis, H. (2005). Increasing struggling learners’ motivation: What tutors can do and say. Mentoring and Tutoring, 13(2), 223-240.
  • Margolis, H., & McCabe, P. P. (2003). Self-efficacy: A key to improving the motivation of struggling learners. The Clearing House (2004, July/August), 77(6), 241-249.
  • McCabe, P. P., & Margolis, H. (2001). Enhancing the self-efficacy of struggling readers. The Clearing House, 75(1), 45-49.
Continue reading
  5048 Hits
  2 Comments
5048 Hits
2 Comments

How do I know if my child is ADHD?

DaveMasucciPhotography.com

Livia McCoy has spent twenty-six years teaching science to students with language learning disabilities. In addition to teaching students daily, she trains teachers and runs workshops for teachers and parents who want to know more about how to help their struggling students.

Livia’s book, When Learning is Painful: How to Help Struggling Students -- A Resource for Parents and Teachers was published in 2009.

Children are active and energetic.  At times, it’s hard to tell whether a child’s behavior is normal for a child her age.  The diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) depends on knowing whether the behavior the child is exhibiting is beyond what other children do at that age.
The diagnosis of ADHD is determined by a trained medical professional.  According to LDOnline, “Child psychiatrists and psychologists, developmental/behavioral pediatricians, or behavioral neurologists are those most often trained in … diagnosis [of ADHD].” Your child’s teacher may be the first to mention that your child is beyond the average activity level and has difficulty settling down in school, but most teachers are not trained to make the diagnosis.
Because making the diagnosis is not simple, the professional gathers data from a variety of sources such as parents, teachers, coaches, baby-sitters and the child’s pediatrician.  Stressful events occurring in a child’s life can affect their behavior.  So things like the arrival of a new sibling, a recent death in the family or parents going through divorce must be ruled out.
Once the diagnosis is made, parents need to explore the options for treatment. These should include behavioral modifications and possibly medication.  See How to help my child focus his attention  for ideas for helping ADHD children function better at home and Are You ADHD Friendly? for ideas your child’s teacher should consider.
Do not rule out medications as a possible treatment.  Many students benefit from being able to pay better attention in school and along with the environmental modifications, medication can be quite effective in helping a child regain control of his life.

Continue reading
  5869 Hits
  0 Comments
5869 Hits
0 Comments

My Child has a Reading Disability: How Often Should the School Monitor His Progress?

This week we are pleased to have a guest blog co-authored by two professors who are specialists in the area of learning disabilities:

Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York. Howard is former editor of the Reading Instruction Journal and the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation; for almost two decades he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties.

Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Gary is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a certified School Psychologist who specializes in parenting issues. He has worked with many children with learning, reading, and other disabilities and their families.

Howard Margolis and Gary Brannigan are co-authors of the book,  Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds

 

If your child has a reading disability, the school should monitor his progress frequently enough to:

  • prevent minor problems from becoming major ones
  • avoid him from getting frustrated with work that’s too difficult
  • prevent him from becoming bored with work he’s already mastered
  • accelerate instruction when the data shows he can handle it comfortably.

In 2006, the federally-funded National Research Center on Learning Disabilities (NRCLD; Johnson et al.) recommended that schools assess the progress of students who need “extensive and intensive interventions” twice weekly. Children with reading disabilities are part of this group.

The NRCLD also recommended that schools systematically chart the progress of these students and formally analyze it every three to four weeks. The reasons are straightforward:

  • “To determine whether children are profiting appropriately from the instructional program
  • To estimate rates of student improvement.”

Schools that fail to frequently monitor progress, or use poorly validated measures, won’t know if the progress of children with reading disabilities is excellent, fair, or terrible. This lack of frequent, valid monitoring information will condemn many children with reading disabilities to the wrong program for months, even years. This is akin to giving them the wrong medicine; it’s likely to cause great harm.

Many schools complain that it’s unrealistic to assess progress twice, even once weekly, and to assess the suitability of instruction once monthly. It takes too much time.

Consider this: How much time is wasted if a child stays in the wrong program for months or years? What are the consequences, for the child, his family, his teachers, his school, and society, if he continues to suffer from instruction that fails to teach him to read?

Continue reading
  5524 Hits
  2 Comments
5524 Hits
2 Comments

15 Ways To Advocate for Your Child with a Learning Disability

This week we are pleased to have a guest blog co-authored by two professors who are specialists in the area of learning disabilities:

Howard Margolis, Ed.D., is Professor Emeritus of Reading and Special Education at the City University of New York. Howard is former editor of the Reading Instruction Journal and the Journal of Psychological and Educational Consultation; for almost two decades he has edited the Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties.

Gary G. Brannigan, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Gary is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a certified School Psychologist who specializes in parenting issues. He has worked with many children with learning, reading, and other disabilities and their families.

Howard Margolis and Gary Brannigan are co-authors of the book,  Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds

 

Here are 15 guidelines to help you advocate for your child with learning disabilities:

  1. Have your child evaluated by experts who can identify your child’s  special needs.
  2. Make sure you understand his needs before you meet with school personnel to discuss his needs and possible interventions.
  3. Make specific requests (in writing) for meeting his needs; support your requests with reports from well-credentialed experts, experts whom the school respects.
  4. Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with them, even if they reject your requests.
  5. Keep looking for ways to solve problems; remember that the school’s suggestions for solving your child’s problems may be as good as yours. Avoid the trap of advocating for a specific reading method, especially one that has a weak research base (e.g., Wilson, Fast Forword, Orton-Gillingham); instead, focus on goals, objectives, frequent monitoring of progress, and frequent meeting to adjust your child’s program.
  6. Keep written, dated records of whatever anyone in the school tells you.
  7. Make a copy of every item you receive from the school. Organize the originals in chronological order; don’t write on them. Organize the copies in chronological order by subject.
  8. Have someone accompany you to all meetings. If possible, have a knowledgeable expert or an advocate accompany you. Make sure that whomever accompanies you treats people with respect, works to solve problems, and understands both the relevant laws and reading disabilities. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned advocates have little knowledge of reading disabilities, and many reading specialists and special educators have little knowledge of special education laws.
  9. Take your time at meetings, but never cause unnecessary delays.
  10. Work to understand what’s being said and what’s happening. If necessary, schedule a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and umpteenth meeting. Keep meeting until you get your child the program and services he needs, and until he makes satisfactory progress. If people tell you this is unrealistic, think of the consequences of not meeting, of not getting your child what he needs.
  11. Send the school a written summary of each meeting: what happened, what was agreed to, what you disagree with, remaining issues and concerns, requests for additional meetings.
  12. Know and understand the special education and and related laws that apply to your child.
  13. Understand how the school operates, how it does things, who has the real decision-making power.
  14. Keep momentum going. Combat the memory-numbing effects of long periods of inactivity by contacting school personnel weekly until your child gets the services he needs, scheduling frequent meeting to monitor progress and problem-solve your child’s needs, keeping your child’s unmet needs in the forefront of school personnel’s concerns.
  15. Be persistent, be respectful. By your actions—not just your words—help school personnel realize that until your child’s needs are met you will be in continual contact with them and will use the relevant laws to get your child the services he needs.
  16. Monitor your child’s progress. Even programs strongly supported by research may fail your child. Small tweaks in the program and complementing it with other instructional strategies and classroom modifications may produce huge gains.
Continue reading
  7373 Hits
  4 Comments
7373 Hits
4 Comments

Helping Children with ADHD Focus at School

Free Stock Photo: Girl with notebook in new class room provided by the Solar.net Village project.

Just came across this blog by Kay Marner about sensory objects that help ADHD kids focus at school. Great stuff! Good teachers are always looking for sensible ways to make classroom accommodations for kids with ADHD. "Fidgeting" has been shown to help ADHD children focus in the classroom.

Enter fidgets. Fidgets = strategies for coping with ADHD.  Blogger Kay describes fidgets as "small objects with a little sensory appeal" that kids can hold in their hands and fiddle with. The idea is that by providing a sensory motor activity a child can do while focusing on the main activity, it helps them stay on task and concentrate.  Doing two things at once can actually help focus the ADHD brain.

 Read Kay Marner's blog for some great suggestions for the full range of fidgets!

If you have some of your own favorite strategies to help kids with ADHD focus in the classroom, please be to sure to share with others in our comments section! 

 

Continue reading
  10207 Hits
  1 Comment
10207 Hits
1 Comment
Advertisement
Advertisement

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