* Anatomy of writing failure, part 1

How do you transform a writing-phobic, dyslexic, twice exceptional student into a willing and competent writer?  I’ve been working on this challenge for a while, with gradually improving results.  One key to transforming a non-writer is to dissect the process into its stages of failure and opportunity.

First of all, why would a student with reading struggles find it so hard to write?  While typical learners are creating sentences like “I see anmuls.  Thay are big,” my student is writing “I am…..”  The other kids generated their own ideas and spelling.  Despite his giftedness, my student got stuck in the idea phase and had no clue how to spell more than a couple of words.  At the end of this year, other students have writing portfolios.  My kiddo has a lot of blank pages.

Opportunity #1:  Separate the writing and thinking processes.  Provide idea-challenged student with opportunities to talk, record, and draw ideas instead of writing words at this stage.  Focus on skills such as categorization.  Allow time for sorting pictures into meaningful stories.  Play games where students eliminate the “odd” picture or create a theme based upon similar groups.  Provide sufficient exemplars of single sentences and analyze their features with the student.  Use only writing topics of interest for this student, which will enhance motivation and allow him to draw upon a deeper understanding of how ideas are connected.

Opportunity #2: Work around the need to spell until the student has the prerequisite skills (which will take specialized instruction).  Allow recording, dictation, and copying.  Use technology.

Something to think about:  This challenged writer has spent a school year pretending to write, if he is compliant.  If not compliant, he has spent a year learning how to avoid writing in less desirable ways.  His only completed assignments are likely to be those where the teacher sat next to him until he had one or two sentences on his paper.  Other kids are now writing four or more sentences at a time, developing decent spelling skills, and many are writing for pleasure.

Next: The “I know you can do it” stage.  Help!

* G is for GameMaker: Studio

Gaming is a huge draw for many kids.  I’ve found that students labeled twice exceptional, on the autism spectrum, and learning disabled can not only play complex games but love the creative side of gaming.  How many first and second graders have told me their goal in life is to create computer games?  That number seems to grow exponentially as they age.

GameMaker Studio is a terrific site for kids who are raring to create!  I approached this gaming endeavor with a little trepidation, but the beginning tutorial was easily followed and went at a steady pace.  I understood the basics and could have started making a game after that one lesson.  In fact, I wondered if I could make this into a teaching platform but didn’t see any advantage in that, timewise.

Shaun Spalding, Community Manager at YoYo Games, talks to his audience via tutorials ranging from beginning level to advanced.  There are 12 tutorials alone on platformers.  NONE of it requires much reading/spelling, which is excellent for kids with dyslexia.  (I was a bit startled to hear Shaun justify the basic steps by remarking that it will “help you understand what the h__ is going on in later tutorials.”)  Most kids who might access this site in a gaming course would be middle school or older, but as a parent, I would get my kiddo involved in this level of coding/programming at an elementary level, especially if they enjoy Minecraft.

I read an excellent review of GameMaker: Studio on Graphite, a reliable source for reviews of apps (here’s a link to my previous post on Graphite, which also happens to start with a G!).  According to their review, GameMaker: Studio “is one of the most popular game-creation tools” and allows kids to create, sell, and share their games quite easily.  Kids (and adults) can start with a free membership but right now, Studio Premium is now HALF PRICE (especially helpful if they are eager to learn advanced skills and market their games)!

As a worthwhile educational outlet for gamers, to build social credit, and actually open the door to future careers in programming, GameMaker: Studio is a winner!


From https://www.yoyogames.com/learn/platform



* A is for Anxiety

I’m kicking off my A to Z blogging challenge with anxiety.  Can I do it?   What will others think?  How can I pretend I am good at this or at least hide my inadequacies?   Will I be asked to explain what I mean?

anxiety.JPGThose are questions that special needs kids frequently ask themselves as they tackle school tasks, both academic and social.  Let’s examine the underlying issues.

  1.  Can I do it?  From an early age, kids with reading and math disabilities are typically aware of their limitations.  They do notice other kids reading “chapter” books or solving math problems with relative ease.  When given a novel assignment, these struggling students lack confidence.  This anxiety further limits their flexibility and problem-solving ability.   Early intervention is crucial!
  2.  What will others think?  The age at which this becomes a troubling question varies significantly among students.  Kids with a supportive family and opportunities to shine in other areas (at school or elsewhere) are more likely to withstand the blows accompanying a disability.  I’ve noticed kids seem hard-wired for the relative intensity of their responses, although a harsh environment (school or home) can bring out the worst in anyone.
  3.  How can I pretend I am good at this or at least hide my inadequacies?  I know kids who pretend to be many things other than disabled.  It’s common for some to prefer acting “bad” than looking “stupid.”  To quote 0ne dyslexic kid: “I act up so they won’t think I’m retarded.”   Some resort to crawling under tables or hiding in the bathroom.   Other kids become masters at copying classmates’ work or simply pretending to work.
  4.  Will I be asked to explain what I mean?  Many kids with learning challenges have language and social issues which affect their ability to explain themselves.  Some twice exceptional students have literal and divergent views of subjects which seem incomprehensible to both teachers and peers.  An inability to provide a “correct” answer can become a paralyzing fear, especially if students are required to respond in a whole group or public manner and are not given sufficient forewarning to compose their answers.

I’ve noticed that experienced bloggers often share tips for novices like me who are likely to worry about these same issues.   Are blogging stats comparable to end-of-grade tests?  Oh no!


* PBS and Design Squad Global

PBS and Design Squad Global have created outstanding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) resources for parents, teachers, and kids.  This blockbuster site grew out of the PBS TV series, “Design Squad.”  The stated goal of the site is “to give kids a stronger understanding of the design process, and the connection between engineering and the things we all use in everyday life.”  This means a whole lot of fun, videos, and games!  The biggest dilemma is where to start!  There are resources (lesson, videos, and more) on electricity, force/energy, green, health, simple machines, sound/music, space/transportation., sports/games, structures, and technology/materials.

My interest in this site for special needs kids is threefold:

  1.  To provide role models and encouragement for kids through the excellent online video profiles and other visually organized materials, especially for those twice exceptional kids who feel stupid because of reading and writing weaknesses.  This site has hands-on, interactive, cool stuff which is likely to engage gifted kids.
  2. To offer multiple resources for engaging kids with a limited range of interests, such as those on the autism spectrum.  As I’ve posted before, giving this population a means of leadership/mentoring opportunities in a classroom setting is important.  The wide scope of these activities means that you could more easily find a connection to your student’s specialized interests.  The site includes a special module on training adults and kids to lead groups.
  3.  To provide an authentic experience for specialized instruction in reading, writing, and math.  It’s one thing to give students a writing prompt on their area of interest.  It’s even better to let them experiment and then use that process for a a specialized lesson on an area of weakness.  For example, I am using the watercraft experiment to improve a student’s grasp of main ideas and details.
  4. watercraft 2.JPG I am not requiring written responses for this “writing” project; any writing will be by dictation or talk to text.  This takes away the dreaded “when is the other shoe is going to fall?”  Kids think, “I am having fun now but the painful part is about to land on my head.”  Yes, it is hard for my student to sort through relevant information and derive a concise main idea.  But he does NOT have to write a paragraph about his fun experiment to learn that skill.  His work is mental, with plenty of visuals and first-hand experience.

You may enjoy the Design Squad monthly newsletter and it’s easy to unsubscribe if you don’t.

Let me know if you find other uses for the cool stuff on this site!

* Pigging out on STEM

piggy pink.JPG

A twice exceptional student doing an exceptional job of creating a watercraft that holds 25 pennies.  Check out Design Squad Global for more STEM activities.  Must use at least one piggy pink straw.

* Ratings rule!

When working with kids, one of the first things I establish is the importance of their honest feedback.  I’m especially interested in creating a language to discuss the difficulty level of a lesson or specific task.  A numbered rating scale, once defined and practiced, is a useful means of eliciting immediate feedback.  While it’s also important to gauge understanding, I can usually assess that without as much direct student feedback.  On the other hand, the levels of effort, discomfort or anxiety, and interest can be masked by compliance and a good working relationship.

Feedback on mental effort is especially crucial for twice exceptional students (2e).  These are the kids whose giftedness camouflages the energy drain of a lesson.  2e kiddos also enjoy a scale with a broad range of possibilities, so 1 through 10 is often preferable to 1 through 5.  It’s worth letting them take the time to adjust the numbers precisely (I got an 8.5 level of difficulty yesterday, which is pretty high).  The harder part can be helping them verbalize what features of the task made it so onerous.  Just as these students can struggle to differentiate main ideas and details, they may also paint the assignment with a broad brush.  Follow-up questioning elicits those details which then change my instructional materials or techniques.   Providing kids routine opportunities to evaluate instructional tasks not only validates their efforts but improves their ability to analyze and self-monitor their learning.  For me, it’s equally vital for improving my own skills as a teacher.  Win-win!


* Puxa story sample


Below is an example of an early decodable book for a dyslexic student, written by my ghost author, Puxa the cat.  My student was then reading single-syllable words with four syllable types (open, closed, silent e, and double vowels or ‘vowel teams’), with some use of -ing and -ed suffixes.  I was experimenting with the font and spacing to improve his fluency, so you may notice the extra gaps between words.  Eventually I dropped the additional spacing because he was more distressed by the extra pages than he was about focusing on accuracy.  As we worked on these skills, his accuracy improved anyway.

This story is the second in a series about Puxa helping her boy get money for a field trip.   The first paragraph sums up previous events.   Puxa is helpful in some stories, but other times she is a nuisance.  (Sorry, Puxa!)  Although Puxa is an outdoor cat (her family is as allergic to her as I am!), she manages to sneak in the house whenever necessary to help her boy.  Or seek revenge….

Puxa Checks

* Flagged

Read on for a classic example of a twice exceptional student. This special mom spent a week helping her son finish an essay and what does he do? He offers the same compassionate support to another struggling writer. This post highlights the power of modeling compassion. Love is powerful!


A not so funny little scare happened today. All week long I helped Chase work on a paper for Language Arts. It was hard and took a lot of time but we took it slow and did one part at a time. It was finally due today and we were both happy to have it behind us. As I was sitting outside the school waiting to pick him up, I happened to check parent portal. There was a flag that his essay was missing and I almost lost my mind. All those hours, all the time put in for what, missing? How could it be? I tried to text him but was not successful so I sat there trying to calm myself down before he walked to the car. Apparently, they exchanged papers today and were given time to help each other make any necessary changes. So, my Chase read…

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* Thrice exceptional

The third time’s the charm!  Why has it taken three schools before finding one that meets the needs of a twice exceptional student in 4th grade?  “We don’t do school this way.”  “He’s smart enough to do the work but lacks motivation.”  “His parents want too much from us!”   This student does have exceptional parents.  They are exceptionally patient, exceptionally frustrated, and exceptionally single-minded.  Check out my reblog of another parent who has endured this battle for even longer!  Let’s STOP the madness!frustration
How do we start helping 2e kids?  Here are some helpful mods for 2e kids with dyslexia.  None of the following modifications/accommodations requires money (unless there’s no access to a computer), so even without an IEP, a 504 plan could include all these helpful strategies.
Use of audio books  
Not required to read orally in front of class or small group 
Preview of content vocabulary prior to reading, when feasible 
Writing fatigue 
Manuscript style instead of cursive (for smaller amounts of writing) 
Chromebook for keyboarding and spell check (for longer amounts of writing) 
Extra time as needed 
Writing aids 
Word lists for specific writing assignments  
Use of graphic organizers 
Use of digital resources for writing and researching  
Modified spelling assignments 
No points lost for spelling errors in graded work 
Reminders of applicable spelling rules 
Worksheets entailing significant writing 
Sufficient lines / space for writing 
Dictation to scribe 
Can use Chromebook, then print and attach 
Fatigue reduction 
-Not required to transcribe (ie, copy text from board/written sources; 
instead, can take photo or receive hard copy) 
Fill-in-the blank worksheets not required if just finding answers 
(ie, prioritize energy toward higher level thinking) 
Reduction of memorization wherever possible 
Homework modifications 
Can reduce by approx half, in whatever way would be best for learning content, 
if too fatigued 
Can ask parents to scribe, or discuss orally with parents, if too fatigued 
Extended time for projects as needed 
Prep time and forewarning during group discussions 
Called on only when raises hand (if discussing assignments that have been modified) 
Access to any written brainstorming that occurs in group discussion 
Tapping strengths 
Option to read and write on topics of interest whenever feasible  
Opportunities for analyzing and evaluating information 
Opportunities for making predictions and connections 
Extra time as needed 
Dictation to scribe for essay-style tests 
Receive teacher notes and completed study guides whenever feasible 
Standardized tests 
Mark in book 
Extra time 
Read aloud 

* Are You Insane?

This post is an excellent companion to what I’ve written about twice exceptional kids. Here’s a look from a parent’s perspective. It’s a familiar combination of the determination and frustration faced by many parents of special needs kids.


They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

I have another meeting at the school today to discuss new accommodations for Chase. They aren’t really new ideas but rather worded in a new way they hope will be more specific for teachers to understand. This is their sneaky way of getting away with doing nothing. If we continue to talk about ways to change the 504, we never then have to focus on how to enforce it. Usually on days where I have to sit down with the same administers that have caused me nothing but grief, I have an increased amount of anxiety and border on melting down into a full blown panic attack. Today is different. I have a new calm and a new confidence and they can no longer shake me. The meeting is pointless. The world will not…

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