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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.

Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think

It seems like missing one day of school would not be that big of a deal. Some parents feel free to keep their children out of school fairly often (even when they are not sick). It is appropriate to keep your child home if they are running a fever or have the stomach flu. And, of course, family emergencies affect attendance. But, if there isn’t really an emergency or if they are not really sick, they should be in school. And, here is why.

What you learn in school each day builds upon earlier learning. This is true in all subjects, and on some days it is truer than others. For example, on Monday, students discuss chapter 7 in their literature class. In chapter 7, a new character is introduced in the story. Class discussion is about this new character and how she might impact other characters in the story. Students predict what is going to happen next in the story.  On Tuesday and Wednesday the next few chapters are taught. Students revisit their predictions and analyze whether they were correct. They free write about whether their story line would have been as exciting as the story line in the book. If your child is absent on Monday, she is not ready to participate on Tuesday and Wednesday. So it is more like 3 missed days of instruction, not just one.

You might think this isn’t really a problem because your child’s teacher has an appointment scheduled with your child to go over what your daughter missed when she was out. But, this is not as good as hearing the full class discussion and all the ideas that were shared. It is not possible to recreate a discussion, the questions the other students asked, and everything else that happened in class. Additionally, the sequence of instruction is out of order.

I have a few students who are frequently absent on Mondays, especially during first period. Their absences amount to approximately 15 percent of the total number of classes. Given this discussion, you can see how missing 15 percent of the classes can drop a child’s grade from an “A” to a “D” or even lower. If a child struggles in school everything I’ve said here is even more important.

When my children were in school, I never allowed them to stay home unless I was sure they were really sick. If they were sick and did stay home, they stayed in bed all day with no television or electronic devices. (I did allow them to read a book—I’m not a total ogre!) It was a good rule of thumb then, and I would do the same thing again if I had the opportunity. It is hard to do this as a parent. But, it is really important for a child’s education. If school is in session, children need to be there.

 

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What Does Your Child’s “Grade Equivalent Score” Really Mean?

In another blog post, I wrote about what percentiles mean on standardized tests.

Another score you are likely to see is the grade equivalent (GE) score. They will look something like this: “5.3” or “7.9.” When you see “5.3,” this means students in the 5th grade after the third month of school (September is month zero, October is month one, and so on through June, which is month nine). GE scores can be very misleading.

Let’s think about the score of “7.1” (7th grade, in October). A very large sample group of students in the 7th grade are given the test during October. If your 7th grade child scores an average score compared to this sample group at the same time of year, then she is said to be functioning at the “7.1” level. But, if your child scores much higher than average, her GE score will be reported as being higher. If she received a “9.6,” that means the test makers are estimating that she scored about the same as a 9th grader taking the same test would have scored in March of their 9th-grade year.

As a parent, if you see “9.6” you might think your child is ready for 9th grade. But, remember that your child was never tested on 9th grade material; he was tested on 7th grade material and did better than the average 7th grader in the sample group did.

It is helpful to know whether your child is functioning on grade level. But, be very careful if the GE score shows her functioning at a higher level. Grade equivalent scores are not meant to be interpreted that way.

Parents: Are there other types of scores you’d like me to address in my SchoolFamily.com blog space? If so, please let me know by leaving the information in the comments section (below). Test scores are very confusing, even for many teachers who need to be able to explain them to parents!

 

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What Do Standardized Test Scores, and Percentiles, Mean?

Often when schools do standardized testing, they report the scores in percentiles.

Percentiles are not the same thing as percentages (percents), even though they sound like they should be. Percentages are what most teachers use when grading their student’s work.Percentiles are numbers that show how a child compares to others. They are used on standardized tests that have been given to a large group of students before—this is the norm group.

If your child takes a regular test in the classroom, the chances are pretty good the teacher will give her a grade based on how many points she missed out of the total number of possible points. For example, if there are 100 points on the test and your daughter misses 15 points, her score will be 85 percent. This is calculated by dividing the points earned (85) by the number of possible points (100) and then multiplying that answer by 100. Note that this score does not tell you how well she did compared to other students.

Standardized tests, in contrast to regular tests, are given to large groups of students at various age levels. Students who take the same test later have their scores compared to a large norm group made up of students who took the test before. A percentile compares your child’s performance to these students who are the same age. An 85th percentile score means that your son scored better than 85 percent of the students in that large comparison group. Another way to think about it is this: If you had 100 students in the comparison group who are the same age, your child did better than 85 of them. This would be a very high percentile score.

When some parents see that their child’s result is in the 50th percentile, they think their child did poorly on the test. Instead, this means the student is right where you expect she should be! This is average. Above the 50th percentile is above average. Below the 50th percentile is below average.

Another score you are likely to see is the “Grade Equivalent” score. I will write about that in my blog post next week, here at SchoolFamily.com.

Parents, teachers, and students worry a lot about these tests and percentile results, so it is important to understand what the scores mean when you receive them.

For ideas for how to help your child manage the stress of taking standardized tests, read my earlier blog post about high stakes testing.

 

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For LD Students, Concentrate On One Big Thing at a Time

When children struggle in school, they are often having difficulty with many things. They may have poor ability to focus their attention, low reading and spelling skills, working memory issues, or problems with executive functioning.

They may have problems putting things in order, writing legibly, or have problems with vocabulary.

As parents, we want to see them get help in all these areas at once. We want to “fix” them right away. Unfortunately, these difficulties are complicated and require a lot of time before a child improves.

I have worked with many, many struggling children in my years in the classroom. I have found that it is best to take each issue and work on it individually.

I recommend that you identify the number one issue that is keeping your child from being successful and concentrate on that.

In the meantime, parents and teachers need to make accommodations for the other problems. For example, if you, your child, and your child’s teachers agree that attention is her greatest issue, then focus your efforts on figuring out how to help her with attention. This might include having her evaluated for an attention deficit disorder and even considering medication to help.

It might include teaching your child strategies to deal with her attention problems.

In the meantime, work with your child’s teacher to figure out ways to accommodate for the other problems until attention is under better control. At that point, select another issue upon which to focus.

Trying to fix everything at once can lead to a sense of frustration or, in the worst case, feeling hopeless.

Encourage your child and help him see what he is good at doing. As I have said many times before, these issues are often more of a problem while in school, and school won’t last forever! At that point, he can concentrate on his gifts and strengths.

Editor’s note: SchoolFamily.com blogger Livia McCoy has written in-depth blog posts about many of the issues she mentions in this post. If you’ve missed any and would like to read more on specific topics, here they are, by title:

 

Creating a Friendly Environment for ADHD Children

 

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

 

Can “Working Memory” Problems Cause Difficulty in School?

 

Executive Functioning—How it Affects a Student in School

 

What Does It Mean To Have A "Sequencing" Problem?

 

Does My Child Have Dysgraphia?

 

How to Help Your Child Improve His or Her Vocabulary

 

 SchoolFamily.com Glossary: "accommodation"

 

ADHD and Medication: Should You Consider It for Your Child?

 

SchoolFamily.com’s Building Attention Span Article Archive

 

 

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Summer Plans for Struggling Students

Students who struggle in school often have gifts in areas that do not relate to academics. For example, they may be amazing artists, musicians, athletes, actors or dancers. When thinking about summer plans for these students, make sure to include plenty of time for them to spend doing these activities. They already spend most of their life doing what they are not so good at doing! They need to be encouraged to develop their gifts.

I have this conversation often with parents. They say their child needs help with reading, math, writing, or spelling. And, they plan to book most of their summer time working on these skills. Of course, it is okay to work on skills during the summer. However, do not do that exclusively. Plan for them to spend more time doing the things they excel at doing than working on schoolwork.

When parents tell me their child wants to go to summer camp but it will interfere with summer school, I encourage them to allow their child to go to camp. It is important for students’ mental and physical health to spend time doing things they love, socializing with their peers, playing games, and generally having fun. It is also important that they have complete “down time”—nothing planned, nowhere to go, time to think, and time to imagine. It’s the best part about summer!

It is more likely your child will pursue a career in an area where he is gifted than in an area that relates to academics. And, it is more likely she will be successful in a career that matches her strengths instead of trying to do something she may never truly be good at doing. Summer time should be spent pursuing her interests as much as possible.

For more thoughts on this topic, read my earlier blog, School Is Not Life.

 

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The Importance of Teaching Students To Write By Hand

Ever since writing my earlier blog post about whether we really need to teach cursive handwriting, Do Children Still Need to Learn Cursive?, I have been thinking more about it. Many parents are concerned that their children are not being taught cursive writing any more, and they wonder whether it is going to be a problem.

Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of special education and reading and the area coordinator of the graduate program in learning disabilities at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, addresses this topic in a great article at LDOnline.org called “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting.”

She brings up some points I never thought about before. For example, when children are learning to form the letters on the page, they are also practicing the sound the letter makes. Most likely this is occurring silently, although some teachers may have the children say and sound out the letter as they write. This sound-symbol relationship is required before children can become fluent readers. Therefore you might say that learning to write helps develop other language skills.

 Another point Spear-Swerling makes is that children need to learn to write in manuscript—printing instead of cursive writing—since that is the form they will most often read. One problem with manuscript, however, in terms of helping a child in school, is that many children make several strokes with their pencil when printing each letter. This takes more time than using a single stroke, which is more often done in cursive. Legibility and speed are important for school success since students often need to take notes, respond to questions on tests, or write down their assignments rather quickly; and, they need to be able to read what they wrote.

 In my post, I never really said what I thought. I believe we need to teach our students how to write legibly and quickly. We should teach manuscript first since they are learning to read manuscript letters first. Then we should teach cursive to see if the fluency of cursive writing can help them write faster. If they later migrate to manuscript (or some combination of manuscript and cursive), we should allow it as long as they can write legibly.

 Legible handwriting needs to be automatic as well, so that it does not occupy thinking space while working on higher level writing tasks. Read my earlier post about Helping Kids by Reducing Demands on Working Memory, to understand the importance of this.

 Someday, there may not be a need for everyone to be able to write by hand. However, until we no longer need it, we have to teach it. We also need to teach our students how to use the keyboard efficiently. My earlier blog on selecting typing software is about how to learn to type. I also wrote a longer article, Learning the Keyboard, about the importance of students’ learning keyboarding.

 

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Making Friends From a Wheelchair Can Be Difficult for Kids

Living in a wheelchair is difficult. Children and teens who use wheelchairs often have a hard time making friends. Yet, having at least one good friend is essential for good mental health.

Other children can be afraid of someone in a wheelchair because they do not understand or are fearful that they might become disabled, too. Rudy Sims, a friend I met through social networking, says that he is “willing to answer any questions about [his] disability because [he’s] always believed that helping people understand reduces fear.” He adds that, “understandably that is not something everyone with a disability wants to do.”

 You can follow and learn from Rudy Sims on Twitter via @disability.

A recent posting to a help site asks, “How do I go about making friends? I mean I know how, but in my situation [requiring a wheelchair] I realize I’m not really anything that anyone wants.”

This is a heartbreaking statement, and it is simply not true. Everyone has something to offer, and children who do not have disabilities need to realize that a wheelchair does not mean anything about who the person really is.

Parents can help their children accept all people and to be less fearful of someone in a wheelchair. Parents of children in wheelchairs can teach their child the basics of how to make a friend. Some of the following tips are from Women’s and Children’s Health Network of Australia:

  • Smile! Practice smiling and speaking to those you meet. Nothing warms the heart like a big smile.
  • Choose someone you think you could be a friend with. It should be someone who shares similar interests, if possible.
  • Ask them questions about themselves. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Questions like—Where do you live? Do you play sports? What is your favorite subject? What kind of music do you like? What is your favorite TV show?—might be places to start.
  • Be a good listener and really care about what they are saying.
  • Respond to the questions they ask you. Try to be positive and talk about some good things in your life. (If you become close friends, you can later tell them about some of the hardships you experience, but not when you are first making a new friend.)

 Parents or aides may need to assist children with this process. Young children especially may not be able to initiate the conversation. With a little help from you, they can learn to make friends on their own. Remember, resilient children need to have at least one good friend.

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Help Your LD Student Have a Successful Trip To the Library­

Libraries are supposed to be fun places. But if you are dyslexic or have a problem reading and spelling, they might not be so much fun. I work at a school for dyslexic students. We have a nice sign in the school library titled, “How to Find a Book.” Under the title is a list of where to find the different kinds of books according to the Dewey Decimal System. Several years ago, however, a student covered the sign with a new sign. It reads: “Ask Mrs. Simpson.” (See a photo of the sign, below.)

Put yourself in this frame of mind. You need to find a science book on photosynthesis. You know you need to type in either “science” or “photosynthesis” in order to find out what books are available. You think, “How do I spell science? Is that ‘scince,’ or ‘cince’? Never mind. I’ll type in photosynthesis. Yeah, right!” And then, you go ask Mrs. Simpson.

Students who do not read and spell well need help in a library. As a parent, you can spend some time planning a strategy with your child before he or she visits a school or public library. Find out what she needs to find. Make a list of search words she can enter into the card catalog. Once she finds the book titles, assist her in writing them down along with the call numbers. Then, assist her in looking for the books on the shelf.

Students need to know that it is okay to ask the librarian for help; most librarians, in fact, are very willing to help! If you are not there with your child, remind him that he can also ask the librarian how to spell a search term. The trick is to assist him beforehand, so that he doesn’t become so frustrated that he gives up before he even finds what he needs.

Finally, make sure you take trips to the library just for fun. Even poor readers can find books and videos at the library that they will enjoy. Many libraries have electronic versions of books that can be checked out. Some of these books have text-to-speech capability so that everyone can read them. As a parent of an LD [learning disabled] child, you may need to structure positive experiences at the library until your child feels confident enough to go it alone.

Editor’s note: April is School Library Month and this week, April 8-14, is National Library Week. Throughout the month, and this week in particular, public and school libraries—and many school classrooms—are celebrating by holding special events for kids and families. To find out what’s happening in your area, call your local library. And don't forget to ask your child’s teachers about any curriculum plans at school for celebrating library week and month. In the meantime, enjoy this printable worksheet: A Visit to the Library, or read about having a library scavenger hunt with your child.

 

 

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Why Do Some LD Students Act Out in School?

Recently, I read Nelson Lauver’s book, Most Unlikely to Succeed. The first part of the book was difficult for me to read. When Nelson was a child, he was abused by his teachers because he couldn’t read and do math.

Mr. Lauver tells the story of how he would do almost anything to keep from being called on and embarrassed in front of his friends. For example, when he was asked to read aloud in class, he would misbehave badly enough to be sent to the principal’s office. This most often resulted in him receiving harsh physical punishment with a paddle, or even worse—being locked in a totally dark room (“the vault”) for the rest of the day. This abuse went on for years. In fact it continued almost daily until he grew big enough that his teachers were afraid of what he might do if they mistreated him.

When Nelson was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a specific language learning disability. For help understanding it, see my blog post How Do I Know if My Child is Dyslexic? Today, Mr. Lauver is a well-known “syndicated broadcaster, speaker, humorist, author, and master storyteller.”

The reason I bring up this story is to make the point that children with learning disabilities (LD) often misbehave in school. I have mentioned before that a child will tell me, “I failed because I didn’t study,” when he actually did study. This saves face because if he said, “I studied really hard but still failed,” he would be admitting he “is stupid.” These students really do feel stupid. They would much rather be, “the bad kid” than “the stupid kid.” So they act out and get themselves in trouble.

The truth is that learning-disabled students are bright! I have taught students whose measured IQs are a LOT higher than mine! Yet, they had been failing in school and needed specific strategies to help them learn in the school setting. Most of them, like Nelson Lauver, are talented and will do fine if they can just get through school.

If your child is frequently in trouble at school, consider the possibility that she has a learning disability. Ask the school psychologist for an evaluation and do it soon.

 

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Moving Up to Middle School Can Be Frightening for Some Kids

Moving from elementary school to middle school can be especially scary for students with learning disabilities. If your child will be moving into middle school next year, it might be a good idea to think about what things will be different for him.

Start by thinking about what her day is like this year. Is she in a resource center all day? Does she go to some classes in the large classroom and some at the center? Does she spend the whole day in one place?

Then, think about what his day will be like next year in middle school. Typical changes include more movement between classes, a bigger building to move around in, and more teachers to interact with each day. There might be more talking about grades as well.

 

Just for parents: Read SchoolFamily.com’s article 10 Tips for Middle School Parents, to familiarize yourself with ways to stay involved and in touch with your child as she transitions to middle school.

 

All children, and especially those with learning differences, fear the unknown. You might want to read my earlier blog, Fear of the Unknown Creates Anxiety, for more information. To help your child transition more smoothly, you may want to do some of the following.

  • Talk with your child. Find out what her concerns are. Try to figure out a way to alleviate these concerns. And, remember, all children are a little worried about going into middle school.
  •  Find out what resources will be available. Once your child knows what his program will be like, allow him to do some thinking about the changes. One way to do this is by drawing pictures. Perhaps having him draw a poster of what things are like now and what they will be like next year would help. Or, if he likes to write, a “compare and contrast” essay is a good way to think through the changes.
  •  Visit the middle school. Get permission to walk through the building and look in some of the classes. It might even help to do this before the school year ends this year. That way your child will see that middle school kids are just regular kids and middle school teachers are just regular people. And, middle school buildings are just regular buildings—just a little bigger.
  • Meet her teachers. If your child is particularly worried, try to schedule a brief get-acquainted meeting with some or all of her middle school teachers. At the minimum, she should meet her special education teacher, the guidance counselor, or the school psychologist. This way, she will know she has a friend in the school who’ll help her if she needs it.

Make sure he has a friend. Having a friend who will be moving up to middle school with him next year is the best thing that can happen for him. The two students will feel more confident approaching their new school together. They can talk about their day and things that happened in school. Middle school students rely more on friends and less on parents. It will be important for your child’s self-esteem for you to allow that to happen naturally.

The time you spend discussing and learning about middle school will help your child make a smooth transition next year. Feel free to comment below if you have more ideas of ways to help with this—I always love having your input!

 

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Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To

 

 

 

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Selecting Typing Software: Which is Best for Your Child?

Parents often call me to find out what typing software I recommend they get for their child. Unfortunately, this is a really difficult question! It really isn’t so much what software to buy as it is what your child does with it and how often they practice.

Here is what I recommend.

  •  You do not necessarily need to buy software. There are free typing tutor programs on the Internet that work just fine. CNet has several available for free and each has user ratings for you to see before you download the software.
  • It is very important to look at the screen (not hands) and use the correct fingers when typing. My goal teaching typing is to have students type well enough so that they do not have to think about frequently used words. If they need to type a word like “the,” their fingers should move automatically. If they use a different finger each time they type, they will never be able to do this. If they are able to type the most frequently used words automatically, it will reduce their spelling errors because many of these frequently used words do not follow the normal spelling rules. It will also increase their overall speed.
  •  Students should not be allowed to play typing games until they can type all the letters on the keyboard without looking down. Typing games encourage them to watch their hands and use the wrong fingers.
  •  Have your child practice 10-20 of the most frequently used words every day. Any word processor will work for this activity. I make a game of this by seeing how many times they can type each word in 10 seconds. It can be encouraging to keep the data each day to see progress over time. They need to look at the screen while they type, though, not their hands.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Typing correctly does not come easily. It takes a lot of work, discipline to use the correct fingers with their eyes on the screen, and many hours at the keyboard.

 Most students cannot learn to type simply by using software. They will navigate to the games that do indeed teach them. However, what they learn from a typing game is if I put my hands like this and quickly type as many letters as I can without thinking, I will do better. The game is won, but typing skills are lost in the process.

 The bottom line is this: Software alone cannot change your child into a good typist. They need some adult guidance to keep them on track. It is worth the effort, however, because no matter what they do in the future, they will probably need to know their way around a keyboard.

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What Is a Language Learning Disability (LLD)?

Language is more than the words we speak to one another. There are many parts of the language process and if all are working as expected, we give little thought to it. But if a person is struggling with language, they may have a language learning disability (LLD).

Children with a language disability struggle with language in a variety of ways. Some have trouble saying what they want to say: They have trouble finding the right words, talk really fast, have an unusual cadence when they speak, or simply sit there trying to figure out how to get their point across. While I have worked with children like this, it is more common that the issue is related to writing their thoughts on paper. They may have no trouble understanding or telling me the answer, but if I ask them to write it down they can’t do it. Children who cannot express what they know either orally or in writing are said to have a problem with expressive language.

Oral and written language impairments are easy to see. But, when the language problem happens inside a child’s brain, it is harder to diagnose. For example, some children have a hard time processing what you say to them or what they read. They may be slow processors or struggle with the syntax of language. They may not understand the subtle differences in expression, especially if there is sarcasm involved.  They might have trouble organizing their thoughts, storing them in memory, or pulling them back out of memory. At times we refer to these children as having a receptive language problem because they have difficulty taking in language and making sense of it. But, it is really more than just not understanding what others say, or what they read. It can also involve thoughts generated by the child himself.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. If you want to learn more about it, read my earlier post, How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?

Language is extremely complex. Therefore, disabilities that relate to it are also complex. LDOnline offers an excellent explanation of a variety of language disorders and how they affect a child in school.

If you suspect your child has a language learning disability, you need the help of a psychologist or a speech and language pathologist who is trained in diagnosing and treating these disorders. There is no quick fix, but with proper help these children can be very successful in school and life.

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There is No Place for Sarcasm in the Classroom

“Jackie, is it all right with you if I start class?” 

 

This seems like a harmless question, doesn’t it? When teachers say it (and I am guilty at times), they are being sarcastic, because they know it isn’t up to the student whether they start class or not. What they really mean is that Jackie is talking or otherwise goofing off and keeping class from starting. Most kids can laugh this off and jokingly respond, “Sure, Ms. McCoy. I’m just now finishing up.”

 

But some kids don’t take it that way. Some are hurt by that rhetorical question. Some do not understand sarcasm, even this kind, which is relatively benign.

 

According to Susan Fitzell, an expert on teaching students with special needs, “There are people, students included, who cannot read the difference between sarcastic humor and intentional meanness.” (See Susan’s “No Putdown Rule” article for information on how sarcasm has become an acceptable part of our culture.) Almost all sarcasm has the potential to be hurtful. Even people who do “get it,” can have their feelings hurt.

 

If your child does not understand sarcasm, you might need to alert his teacher to it. I like to think about whether what I am saying to my students is as respectful as what I would say to a peer. That might be a good talking point for you if you need to talk to your child’s teacher. Respectfully ask, “Would you say the same thing in a faculty meeting to one of your friends?”

 

There are many kinds of learning difficulties and some of them affect social situations as well as school. For more information, you should read my earlier blogs, Social Skills and Learning Disabilities, and Poor Social Skills Can Lead to Bullying.

 

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Should Parents Pay Their Children for Good Grades?

I have known many parents who pay their children for honor roll grades. In some cases, this is okay. But, if you are a learning disabled (LD) student, the quality of your work does not reflect how hard you worked on it. Sometimes, your assignment looks great and is complete. Other times, it is a mess and there are lots of questions with no answers. This inconsistency can be due to a number of factors. For more information on this, see “What Does it Really Mean When a Child is Learning Disabled?" for help understanding the problems.

 

Problems with working memory, attention, vocabulary, anxiety, fear, or difficulty with executive functioning can all affect how an LD student performs in school. None of these relate to motivation. And none can be overcome by bribes to perform better.

 

For these reasons, I am against parents paying for grades in school. This is especially true for struggling students. Imagine working very, very hard and still getting a “D” or “F” on the work! Someone else whips off the assignment in just a few minutes and gets an “A.” Does that child deserve a reward when they rushed through and perhaps did not even do their best work? The LD child who is trying her best feels completely defeated in this situation. She gets more and more discouraged. She already calls herself “stupid,” and this, to her, confirms that verdict.

 

If you pay for good grades, consider whether or not you are being fair to all your children. If you are not sure, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"

 

If that doesn’t convince you, read Nelson Lauver’s book Most Unlikely to Succeed. Lauver explains what happened to him in school when, no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t successful. After reading his book, it should be clear why no one should judge another person’s motivation to learn.

 

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Basic Student Skills: 5 Ways to Learn to Be a Proactive Student

 Often when we get a new student at our school who is learning disabled (LD), we say something like, “She hasn’t learned how to be a student yet.” What we mean by this is that she has not yet realized that good students take an active role in their learning. Good students do certain things automatically, and she has not yet figured those things out.

 

Parents may be able to help if they have a child who is like this. Here are 5 things “good” students do automatically that LD students may not yet know how to do:

 

1. Bring pencil, paper, notebook and other necessary supplies to class. Parents can help by making sure their child has these supplies in his book bag, and has an appropriate storage space for them. For some suggestions about this, see A Notebook System that Aids With Organization.

 

2. Complete all homework, print it out (if needed), and bring it to class. LD students need to have a system in place that assures they know what is due for each class. If a child’s school has an online system where teachers post their assignments parents can make sure their child knows how to access the system. Many LD students forget how to logon or forget their password, so parents can assist with this until their child becomes comfortable. If the school does not have an online system, teachers might provide assignment sheets or assignment calendars/notebooks. Many LD students need help recording what their assignments are, so parents may have to contact the teacher to ask for help. See When to Talk to the Teacher if your child’s homework struggles are keeping her from succeeding in school.

 

3. Look at the teacher and take notice when he says certain words like “listen up,” or “this is important.” Parents can practice using teacher language with their child at home. For example they can walk up on their child when she is playing and say, “Listen up!” to get her attention. Students also need to take notes on what the teacher has identified as important. Some students can benefit from technological assistance such as the Livescribe Pen.

 

4. Dress neatly and act in a manner that shows you care about being in class. I am not sure all students understand that appearance does make a difference. If a student looks neat and clean and is looking at the teacher, then the teacher will see that and give the student positive attention.

 

5. Participate by asking and answering questions. A student should ask for help when confused. This also shows that he cares about what is going on in class. If the teacher feels that he cares, she will make an extra effort to help when needed.

 

This is a lot to take in at once! I suggest that parents identify an area where their child is struggling. They should make a plan with their child for how to fix the problem, and work on that until it is mastered. Then, they should select next problem area to work on.

 

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Teaching your child responsibility and decision-making skills

I wrote an earlier blog post about teaching children how to accept responsibility for their actions.

 

In that post I suggested that when your daughter says, “Mrs. Johnson got me in trouble,” you might help her reword her statement in this format, “I got in trouble with Mrs. Johnson because….”

 

Very often children try to deflect blame onto another person. Here are other examples of similar situations, and how to help reword the statement to place responsibility in the appropriate place:

 

  • “I couldn’t do the math homework because my teacher didn’t show me how.” This places the blame on the teacher. Help your child reword the statement to, “I couldn’t do the math homework because I don’t know how.” This leads to solving the problem by figuring out what is confusing.

 

  • “All my friends are [were] doing it.” In this case, your child is trying to make you question your judgment, feel guilty, or take the blame. They may also be trying to blame everyone else for something that happened. Help your child by rewording her statement to, “Why can’t I do it?” This is much better, because it may lead to a discussion of why it isn’t a good idea. Depending on the situation, the statement may need to change to, “I didn’t think about what I was doing because my friends were doing it, too.”

 

  • “Sally was talking, too!” This statement could be changed to, “I thought it would be okay to talk because other people were.” Perhaps this will lead to discussing how to tell the difference between appropriate times to talk and inappropriate times.

 

  • “I didn’t mean to hurt him. He got in my way.” This is a really important one. Children get too rough at times and someone gets hurt. Perhaps this should change to, “I wasn’t very careful, and I hurt him.” After that, you can talk about what went wrong, how to prevent it in the future, and how to apologize.

 

As a parent, you are in charge of your child’s safety and wellbeing. You cannot be with him at all times to help with every decision, so he needs to learn to think before acting.

 

When you see him not accepting responsibility for his actions and trying to blame others, remember that your role is to teach him how to be responsible for himself. He needs to understand the link between the choices he makes and the consequences of those choices. I like to ask students, “Whose behavior can you control?” Then, I help them reword their statement. This helps students learn to accept the consequences of their actions and think about personal responsibility.

 

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ADHD and Medication: Should You Consider It for Your Child?

Making the decision to medicate your child for attention problems is extremely difficult. I encourage you to consider it, however, if your child is struggling in school, and those who work with him have mentioned possible attention issues. I have seen children who were helped tremendously by taking medication for their attention disorder (ADD or ADHD) .

 

 

I do not mean to make it seem like an easy decision to make, but I want parents to know that it might be the right thing to do. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether medication is appropriate for your child.

 

  • Teachers should not recommend medication. This is a decision that you and your child’s doctor make. Teachers can let you know if your child is having attention issues, but they should not go beyond recommending that you have your child evaluated by a doctor.

 

  • If your child’s teacher mentions attention issues, ask: “How does my child’s behavior compare to the other students in the class?” Children are active and teachers new to the classroom may not know what is normal and what is too active for learning. You might also ask whether your child can pay attention in some situations and not others. If so, find out when the attention issues appear. Perhaps she is bored; if the work is too easy or too hard, the result can be boredom.

 

  • There are multiple options for attention medications. If you have tried one and it did not help your child or it had unacceptable side effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all attention medications will do the same thing. Some attention medications do not help some children, while the same medication might work fine for another child.

 

  • Some children have a great deal of problems learning, and they really do have an attention deficit disorder. For these children, medication can make a world of difference. I have seen children turn from failure to success almost overnight once they had an attention evaluation and started taking medication.

 

Please don’t misunderstand. I know this is a difficult decision and parents want what is best for their child. Teachers want what is best for their students, too. If attention issues are keeping a child from benefitting from school, then attention medications might be what’s best for the child.

 

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Learning Disabilities and Social Problems

Children with learning disabilities (especially nonverbal LD) or attention issues often have social problems. I wrote about some of them in an earlier post. But, there is one problem that I didn’t mention in that blog that really needs to be discussed.

 

It’s a topic that no one likes to think about—or talk about—but it is very important and can possibly affect a person throughout his critical adolescent years. That problem is personal hygiene.

 

At my school we give reading and dictation support to students who need that help on homework and tests. As a teacher, it is common to work with a student who forgot to brush her teeth that morning. It is uncomfortable for the adult taking dictation, but it creates even bigger problems with her peers. I see this problem frequently.

 

Less often, I find myself working with a student with a strong body odor. His hair is oily, his clothes are disheveled, and he smells bad. This creates a huge social problem for him! As a teacher of learning disabled students, I have become more comfortable talking to my students about this. I think about how important friends are and how difficult it is to make friends when you are dirty.

 

If your child has these issues, here are the “talking points” I use. They generally work and thinking them through ahead of time can make the talk easier for you. I have never had this talk with a student who became upset with me, and every time I have talked about these issues with a student, her hygiene has improved.

 

Here’s what to say:

 

  • As you change from a child into an adult, you need to take more showers and use deodorant. This is because your body begins to produce hormones that create a strong odor. This is not your fault. It happens to everybody.

 

  • I have noticed that you often do not smell clean when you come to school.

 

  • Just using deodorant is not enough. You have to clean every square inch of your body using soap and warm water. When your body is going through the change from child to adult, you really need two showers a day.

 

  • You have to brush your teeth twice a day. When you go to bed at night, bacteria go to work on any food particles they can find in your mouth. These bacteria create a smell in your mouth. The only way to get rid of it is to brush your teeth.

 

  • Never come to school without taking a shower, using deodorant, and brushing your teeth.

 

  • Your friends will appreciate that you are clean and smell fresh when you get to school.

 

Once your child has heard the talk, ask her every morning whether she took a shower, used deodorant, and brushed her teeth. Eventually, she’ll get into the habit and won’t need the reminder. Remember that learning-disabled children often need explicit instruction on things that other children do without the additional support.

 

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Why laptops aren't good for all students

One-to-one Laptop Schools—those schools that provide each student with a laptop or tablet computer—may be good for some learners, but not for all. Many schools are also issuing digital textbooks along with laptops to all students. I recently had an opportunity to tutor a student who was in one of these schools. It seems like such a good idea, but for many students there are problems with working this way. The issues I saw with Marcus (not his real name) were significant and he was not doing well in school partly because of it.

 

First of all, Marcus needed to be able to move easily between his book, homework assignment, notes, and the Word document where he was actually working. Marcus was pretty good at this, but he had trouble holding everything in memory in order to accomplish the task at hand. He could have arranged a split screen, but his laptop screen was small and this would have made everything too small to work with. In order to work with him during our tutoring sessions, I would print out at least some of what he was working with, so he did not have to hold so much in memory.

 

Secondly, Marcus had trouble keeping up with notes during class. The notes were given to the students as a Word document. They had blanks where students were supposed to add information. Marcus’ job was to fill in the blanks as they went over them in class. Marcus said his teacher typed the answers in so he could see them on a screen, and he was supposed to type them. Marcus was very slow at typing and when he would arrive to our tutoring sessions, his notes were inaccurate. They might be only partially filled in, or the answer for one blank was typed in a different blank. We spent a lot of our time correcting his notes. A student with far-point-copying problems would also produce incorrect notes using this teaching strategy.

 

Finally, unless Marcus is somewhere he can access the Internet, he is not able to get to the teacher materials (such as videos and animations) to review what he learned that day in class. When Marcus leaves school and goes to after school care, he does not have access to what he needs in order to do his homework. This was also true for Marcus when he was working with me. His laptop was set up to access the wireless at school, but where we worked there was no wireless available for him to use. Therefore, Marcus did not have access to his textbook or teacher’s materials he would otherwise have had.

 

These issues are every day examples; none of the above addresses the problems that come up when Marcus begins studying for a test. He has even greater problems when it comes time to pull everything together for a unit test or exam. If you have a child like Marcus who struggles with having everything in digital format, schedule a meeting with his teacher to find out if there is the possibility of getting a textbook (the old fashioned kind) to keep at home for him. I use a lot of technology with students, but I will not give up the textbooks for my students—at least not willingly! I think many students really need to have a book in their hands.

 

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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