* Warning signs

Without doubt, early intervention is key to identifying dyslexia and providing the specialized instruction that creates new neural pathways. This spelling test is the work of a second grader who is struggling mightily. She has had ‘guided reading’ out the wazoo but nothing to address her phonological and phonetic weaknesses. She would certainly qualify as twice exceptional, with abundant signs of above average intelligence and desperate signs of being in distress.

Certainly, there is much more evidence of her disability than this test, but an analysis of her errors is quite telling. Sadly, by the time she may receive support, her self-confidence and behavior will likely be in the tank.

I have had limited success convincing parents who are in strongly emotional denial that their child has a disability. In my 49 years of teaching, I’ve noticed that even if they support appropriate interventions, it is hard for them to accept a special education label. And without that label, such students are not usually going to receive the help they need. Public schools receive funds for special ed teachers because those students qualify under state and federal guidelines.

What to do?

  • Wait. Many parents have accepted this ‘loss’ after a few more years of agonizing over it. Educational struggles truly are a matter of grieving for most families, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes parents admit to having similar struggles at school or refer to relatives with a similar profile.
  • Work to reduce stigmatization. The more we routinely show students and parents that everyone has learning differences, the less likely they are to freak out.
  • Provide info about and cool examples of brain-friendly teaching in back-to-school events and teacher conferences. Learning challenges are no fun but they are not the end of the world.
  • Don’t gloss over significant signs of struggle just because there is push- back from classroom teachers or parents. Collect data and do your best to provide the right kind of support, even if the label is incorrect (or, more ‘politically correct’).

* Saying goodbye

Our adventures, tutoring, and movie nights with the kiddos have come to an end.  After a couple of years here in North Carolina, my nephews and niece have returned to Texas.  It was tough to say goodbye.  They arrived quite traumatized, but were nurtured by a most precious couple who sacrificed greatly in restoring these dear ones.  It was a joint effort to socialize them, to love them through their sometimes unlovable moments.  That is when we all most need to be loved, right?  When we are at our most unlovable?

We had many many delightful movie nights, digital events where they played hard and mostly cooperatively.

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There were some days that I failed miserably, when my patience evaporated, but overall, we learned and loved together.

Speaking of learning (so get ready for the teacher in me), there was absolutely no learning curve for this Action Movie FX app (below).  Created by Bad Robot Interactive, it features every kind of Star Wars menace (and more) that you can imagine.  Fortunately, this is not our car!  Once I contained them inside, they became quite adept at blowing up every person and every piece of furniture as well.

Our goodbyes today at the airport were difficult.  Plus I thought I might get stopped by security with that guitar case, which seemed like a perfect cover for an automatic weapon.  Yes, I’ve seen too many movies.

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As the departure time neared, Christopher hid his tearful face while Isaac gave me hugs every few minutes.  We waved faithfully every time they looked back at us on the other side of the security check.  Christopher yelled a reminder that I will tutor him via Google Hangouts.  Or else.

One consolation for us all is that they will spend summers here in NC.  I imagine my patience will be tested again, but I smile at the thought of greeting them next June.  I love you, dearest kiddos.

 

* My dear Isaac

Dear Isaac is my nephew with an unidentified auditory processing disorder and dyscalculia, all mixed with a heavy dose of emotional distress.  He’s a bright, creative youngster with strengths in science and art.  But as a third grader, he still can’t add or subtract single digit numbers without his fingers.  If we hadn’t used Alan Walker’s multiplication methodology, Isaac wouldn’t have learned any multiplication facts.  After his initial refusal to engage with the Walker approach to memorization, Isaac cut his losses and became proud of his new knowledge.

After my initial assessment, I estimated that it would take six months to correct fundamental math reasoning errors.  That was an accurate estimate.  Isaac has made solid progress in solving problems.  You would be so proud if you could see him working on multiple-step word problems!

Sadly, dear Isaac is now burned to a crisp at school and when it’s time for homework.  He doesn’t act out at school but his teacher reports that he is frequently inattentive and withdrawn.  The school year has been too long and taxing.  Isaac feels stupid, is depressed, and his teacher flat out refuses to lessen the homework load.  Oh dear!

A predictable conundrum for him (and me!) is dealing with his errors.  He has made too many and now wants to be error-free for life.  If only!  He is reluctant to accept alternative methods of calculation when he feels especially low.  We had a difficult session this past week when he refused to write multiple digit addition problems vertically instead of horizontally.

After staring at his horizontally-written problem, Isaac screamed, “I can’t do this!   I thought you were going to help!”

“Write it vertically, Isaac.”

“I’m going to do it MY way!”  

“Go ahead.”  [I walk across the room because I know he’s going to implode if I stay close.  Or I might just bite my hand off.]

Repeat above scenario 3 times.

Finally, amidst tears and growls, Isaac rewrites the problem vertically and gets so much praise from me that we are back on track.  I remain at his side as his sense of humor returns and he completes all the dreaded homework in record time.

Here’s the adorable Isaac, taking aim at homework with a tripod?

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* What is homework?

To my nephew, Isaac, homework is “tor-tradition,” meaning torture + tradition.  See?  He has some math sense and lots of common sense.  Poor Isaac.  As third grade has shifted into hypermode to prepare for the end of grade tests, he has been left dangling. There’s not enough time for remediation after school, not with the tor-traditional piles of homework.  Fortunately, he has a flexible teacher who is now willing to let him move through the multiplication.com system of learning his times tables.  After months of trying more traditional (and yes, torturous approaches), I switched to Alan Walker‘s language- and association-based approach.  It has paid off bigtime for Isaac, providing him with a dose of much-needed confidence.  But is it too little and too late?

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Isaac would benefit from a formal educational and psychological evaluation.  He appears to have serious weaknesses in auditory processing skills, along with attention, working memory, and long term memory issues.  His success in reading fluency camouflages many of his weaknesses.  Sometimes both teachers, parents, and kids think everything is fine if you can read above grade level.  Ouch.  Try giving Isaac multistep directions and watch the confusion.  And like many twice exceptional kids, Isaac’s mental energy has been fried to a crisp after half a day of school.  His teachers report that he spends his afternoons in silence, never responding and apparently inattentive.  At home, he screams and bangs his head when it’s time for homework.  Torture indeed.

I don’t think it’s too late for this sweet kiddo.  He is eager to learn, responds well to instruction in incremental steps, and has enough curiosity for an entire classroom.  And he can do a perfect Patrick or Spongebob imitation.  Isaac can go far, especially if a certain tortuous traditions can be axed.

* Overcoming ADHD and more

Thanks, David Snape, for this post.  Colin’s mom writes poetry about her son’s battle to walk, keep up with his peers, and daily struggle with ADHD.  Check it out!

Originally posted on God is in your typewriter: My son Collin, a gifted student in the 2nd grade, won the county-wide haiku contest, beating out all students in the county up to 5th grade. Collin has been diagnosed with ADHD, a daily struggle for him. We have overcome, by the blood of the lamb and…

via For the God I love — David Snape and Friends – The place to show off your hidden talents

* Tiny Tap’s terrific online courses

Tiny Tap takes online learning to a new level with curated Tiny Tap Courses!  Now teachers and parents can combine lessons to create seamless learning units!  Competency can be determined by requiring students to reach a certain score before advancing to the next lesson or continuous practice is available without requiring a minimum score.  Students also earn certificates as they complete courses.  Here’s a look at how phonics instruction can be personalized by grouping skills for particular students.  With over 80 thousand available lessons, comprehensive instruction is a tap away!

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Tiny Tap’s lessons and units are available in 30 languages and offer personalized instruction on a wide range of topics.  In case you’d forgotten, Tiny Tap offers parents and teachers insights on individual and class performance while providing differentiated learning experiences for students.  Tiny Tap is a terrific resource for special needs students with a wide range of needs.

If all that isn’t enough, what about making money while you individualize instruction?  Here’s the Tiny Tap teacher-driven economy.  You gotta love it!

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I could easily imagine a social skills unit for my dear Christopher.  I think it’s time for me to start tapping!

 

* Another rubric for recess

In a previous post, I shared a recess rubric for students on the autism spectrum.  Here is one that may be helpful for students with a learning disability, especially twice exceptional (2e) kiddos.  These kids are often desperate to get out of the classroom, away from tremendous stress (and boredom, in the case of 2e kids).  Why would LD kids benefit from a recess rubric?   Again, stress.  They often feel stupid and invalidated in a classroom, no matter how smart they may be, no matter how supportive their teachers are.  When they hit the playground, these students are often over-eager to show off athletic skills.  They may vent their frustration on peers or withdraw from the group altogether.  Social skills intervention is helpful when LD students find themselves in constant conflict at recess.  Remember that you cannot toss a rubric at a student and expect it to “work.”  Kids need to rehearse needed skills and rubrics should be modified to match individual needs.  A rubric can be used to measure progress over time, which is very important for kids who face an uphill battle with academics.

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* Show me the money

Or show me the ice cream?  Working with a twice exceptional student who loves ice cream has its advantages.  That’s especially true since that 2e student is headed for an entrepreneurial lifestyle, aided by his organizational skills.  For some kids, I need to plan and rehash and continually tweak the reward system.  This kiddo had it all worked out.  Due to travel issues and my ridiculous health problems, he is behind in getting “paid,” but he’s ready to score some major desserts!  I wouldn’t support this kind of plan if he had eating or weight issues.  In fact, he’s a stringbean and eats really healthy stuff that I only learned to enjoy as an adult.

We are sharing this Google doc (a great feature, by the way).  He developed and I “decorated.”  That means I corrected spelling errors so he might notice that “whipped” has an h, “chocolate” doesn’t have a k,  and the plural of “cherry” requires changing the y to i.  I do plan to ask him to spot the differences.  Practice makes permanent.  Oh, I also added the color.

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I think I might drop by his house some evening in the near future.  I hear they are due for some ice cream parties!

* Writing failure, writing success

After my two-part analysis of writing failure experienced by a twice exceptional student with dyslexia, here are some effective writing strategies to consider for older elementary students.

  1.  Address writing anxiety, which alone can derail all other attempts to learn new skills.  Dealing with anxiety is different for each student, but should include a strong validation of the institutional failures that led to the writing crisis.  There were many missed opportunities by the school/teachers/specialists to address a student’s difficulties before they became crippling.
  2.  Continue to work on phonological and spelling weaknesses by tackling multisyllabic words.  Teach spelling rules and patterns.  Teach syllable types, syllabication rules, and meanings of prefixes and suffixes.  Megawords is an excellent program for addressing these skills.
  3. Teach parts of speech if these have not already been addressed.
  4.  Provide ample time for students to learn new vocabulary associated with skill practice in #2 above.  Use crossword puzzles, games, word searches, mad libs, skits, and conversation to add these words to a student’s working vocabulary.
  5.  Teach vocabulary related to character traits.  By the later elementary years and into middle school, students will be required to analyze character development and use appropriate adjectives.  Many of our dyslexic students, despite high IQ’s, are still using descriptive words such as “nice” and “happy.”
  6.  Attack the disconnect between details and main ideas from “both sides.”  Have the student generate (dictate) lists of details and dictate main ideas (topic sentences/blurbs).  Also provide main ideas and require students to generate as many details as possible.  The first approach seems to work best, in my experience.
  7.  Graph or otherwise record increments of growth.  After years of struggle, these kids need to know they are climbing out of the abyss.
  8.  Allow kids to read and write on topics of interest.
  9.  Teach prewriting organizational strategies, such as graphic organizers.  Help kids use as many consistent shortcuts as possible for recording their ideas.  I suggest symbols and simple drawings.
  10.  Keep writing to a minimum until the student is well-equipped with spelling and organizational skills.
  11. Make use of technology, such as talk-to-text features and spell check.   All these kids should be able to use a keyboard efficiently.

It IS possible for students to recover from years of dismal writing experiences.  Supportive parents and teachers are crucial in validating a student’s effort and providing the requisite skills for success.  Who knows?  They may end up writing you a thank you note!

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* Anatomy of writing failure, part 2

In my earlier post, I described the first two years of a student’s journey into writing failure.  This twice exceptional student with dyslexia not only had little effective writing practice, but developed considerable anxiety about a daily task which was far beyond his skill level.  At that point, he began receiving private intervention, thanks to his parents’ legitimate concerns.  An evaluation indicated that he was unable to blend two sounds together!  Imagine telling this kid to s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the sounds in a word in order to spell it.  By this time, his peers were writing paragraphs.  He was overwhelmed, still struggling to organize his thoughts, unable to spell, and terrified of writing.

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I know you can do it!”  “Try harder!”  These directives and other efforts to “motivate” this youngster were the most common responses to his dilemma.  Despite meaning well, motivation was NOT the issue.  This student lacked the basic skills to comply.  The additional pressure was “crazy-making,” and to his credit, the student had only a few meltdowns at school.  On the other hand, he became a nightmare at home because that was the safer place to release his tremendous sense of confusion and distress.  This intolerable situation continued for almost 2 more years.

Opportunity #1:  Again, provide systematic, specialized instruction to address his significant phonological weaknesses.

Opportunity #2: Provide speech-language therapy to support his weak phonological skills and considerable articulation errors.  Address his weaknesses in categorization of ideas and word finding.

Opportunity #3:  Again, work around the need to spell until the student has the prerequisite skills (see specialized instruction above).  Allow recording, dictation, and copying.  Use technology.

Something to think about:  For good or bad, this gifted student’s life was irrevocably altered by these years of acute anxiety and invalidation.  His summers have been occupied with daily tutoring to “catch up.”  Despite remarkable improvement in reading and writing, he continues to struggle with articulation, phonological weaknesses, organization of ideas, and spelling.  This scenario occurs all too frequently in reading, writing, and math.  Without vigilant parents and effective teaching, his outcome could have been horrendous.  As I noted in a previous post, it is estimated that 50,000 gifted students drop out of school each year.  How many of those are twice exceptional?  Can we afford to lose even one?

Next: What are some effective strategies for teaching writing to older students?