* 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?

* 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.

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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!

* 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!

* Puxa story sample

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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

* 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.
Reading 
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  
Spelling 
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 
 Discussions 
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 
Tests 
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.

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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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* Whittled away….

whittlingThere are two parts to this story.  The first is a tragic one, the whittling away of a twice exceptional student by rigidity and invalidation.  No matter that the child’s psychologists, evaluator, parents, and tutor have tried to help his teachers understand the tremendous cost of working twice as hard at school.  He’s in a school with a strong emphasis on following the traditional rules for homework, no matter the cost.  They have reneged on every modification to homework that has been implemented, plunging the child and his family into a torrent of confusion and despair.

To borrow from an old song (“To Be Young, Gifted, and Black” by Nina Simone) this student is struggling To Be Young, Gifted and Dyslexic.

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Because this child APPEARS to be fine, because he is hardworking and compliant, the modifications he desperately needs are diminished, ignored, and invalidated.  He’s been whittled away, challenged, required to explain his disability over and again, drained, bored out of his wits, discouraged, humiliated, and embarrassed.

The second part of the story is a testament to the courage and determination of his parents.  They have gone above and beyond in their efforts to maintain a working relationship with staff and administrators who appear blinded by preconceived notions and unwilling to budge from “the way we do school.”  Like many parents of special needs kids, they are worried about alienating the folks who spend all day with their precious son.  If you have an exceptional needs student, you know the balancing act between advocacy and conflict.  These parents have supported their child through it all: encouraging him, coaching him, and trying to protect him from the harshness of his intolerable situation.  They are now searching for an environment which will not only meet the academic challenges of their son, but which will give him an opportunity to shine.

Will they find that environment?  I remember reading a poignant article written by a mom of an autistic son.  As she looked back over his school years, she noted that he had always been a “square peg,” subject to painful pounding into a round hole. There were only a couple of years out of 13 in which he experienced a measure of success.

This whittling away of a child’s soul is both heartless and unnecessary.  Thank God for parents who are willing to fight an uphill battle for their kids.