By Jan Bedell, Ph.D., Master NeuroDevelopmentalist & SPED Homeschool Board Member

Teaching methods have come and gone, been expanded, and even more defined through specific curriculum. Some are geared toward specific learning styles and, since humans are all unique, it is good to have various means to get information into young brains. What if I told you about three small ways to make a big difference in your child’s education?

 

Why consider a Brain-Based Approach to learning?

Well, for starters, the realization that the brain controls everything you do would point to the importance of such an approach. If the brain is well-organized and information flows freely to all parts of the body without any sensory interference, the chances of concentrated learning go up significantly. If the individual’s short-term auditory and visual memory is humming along on all cylinders, that makes learning easier as well. If information goes into long-term memory in a way that can be easily retrieved with none of the “but you knew this yesterday” drama, the learning cycle is complete. The question is, how do we get from where we are with learning inefficiencies that make most traditional methodologies challenging for both student and teacher to that complete learning cycle outlined above? The answer lies in The NeuroDevelopmental (ND) Approach.  

In a nutshell, The ND Approach focuses on using the brain’s extraordinary ability to change and grow – plasticity (find out more about Brain Plasticity at this link). By giving the brain specific stimulation or input, it responds by building brain pathways to create better overall function. The central theme of this methodology is to use the Three Keys to Input to attain better coordination, improve sensory feedback to the brain, increase short-term memory, and ensure information is stored efficiently for future use.

 

These Three Keys are Frequency (F), Intensity (I), and Duration (D) – FID

Frequency is the number of times the individual is exposed to the same stimulation/information. Intensity is how strong the stimulation is given. Duration is short periods of time one or more times a day and then over a period of days, weeks, or months. 

What would the Three Keys look like practically in a subject area? Let’s take math computation, for instance. This is an area where we are often in a hurry for the student to be independent. Teaching is really inputting information to the students until mastery is achieved. Typically, we use techniques that are “output-based” like worksheets, speed drills, and flashcards with no answer on them. Where do we think the child will get the answer when we hold up a card with 4+5 on it? We don’t even think much about it. It is just what we do. This output method often reinforces the wrong answers and makes it even harder to master the new concept. An example of FID in math computation is when a new concept is presented, you do 3-5 problems (F) demonstrating how to do the problem. This takes very little time (D) since you are proficient in that skill. The interaction is positive, short, and pressure-free for the student (I). After the initial day or two of input in this way, it is recommended that you do 50% of the math lesson (every other problem) to keep this FID technique going. 

Brain Sprints created the  Rapid Recall System. This is the best Brain-Based Teaching technique where the student sees, hears, says, and writes five math facts 14 times a day (F) and it only takes 6 minutes (D). There are special sound effects to add intensity (I) to the listening sessions. Children that have had trouble remembering their math facts in the past now have them mastered. 

Do you think you don’t have time to sit with your child every day for math? Let me ask you how much time do you spend checking the paper, marking, re-explaining, and dealing with frustration? Trust me, you have time if you rearrange your approach.

 

Three Keys to Input for Reading

Another example of FID for reading proficiency is input instead of output with phonograms. Use the phonogram cards as input cards instead of asking the student what the sound is. Pick 5 cards; hold one up at a time and say the sound; mix the order of the cards and repeat this input for 1 minute. Repeat this process twice a day for about a week. Voila! Sounds are known. If this is not the case, you have to look deeper into the brain function.  The questions would be: 

    • Is there a vision challenge?
    • Is information being stored in the wrong place and can’t be retrieved easily?
    • Does short-term memory need to be improved?
    • Is the brain disorganized?

Once the child knows all the sounds, if there are issues with using phonics, like holding all the phonograms together to be able to decode a word easily, you will want to check on the auditory processing (short-term memory). Good auditory processing is the essential prerequisite to being able to read with a phonics approach. This topic is too lengthy to enter into here, but you can learn more about this important skill with this short video: Auditory Processing  

An individual’s sensory system is an important part of being able to pay attention and not be distracted or in some cases completely overloaded with hypersensitivities. If your child is not receiving sensory information well, you can get facts about the impact and some solutions from these videos from Brain Coach Tips on YouTube.  It Is Not That Loud! (Hyper auditory); It’s Just a Sock  (tactile oversensitivity)

The Brain-Based Teaching known as Brain Sprints NeuroDevelopmental Approach has proven effective with children with all types of labels – Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, ADHD, Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Down, Sensory Integration Disorder. You understand more when you realize that the brain controls everything you do and when there are glitches, it just makes sense to get to the root of the issue in the brain. If you would like some guidance about where to start using a Brain-Based Approach, schedule your Free Consultation or visit  www.BrainSprints.com for more information.

 

 

 


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Sonlight Curriculum SPED Homeschool Partner

If you took a poll of special needs families, you would likely find one thread that is common among every single family: flexibility. Because flexibility is so critical when raising special needs children, choosing a literature-based homeschool—the most flexible of the curriculum-based approaches—makes so much sense.

 

1. Literature-based Learning Allows Flexibility in Environment

With a literature-based education, days are more organic. Rather than forcing our children to sit still at a desk for long periods of schoolwork, we can allow them to draw, build with blocks, or stretch out on the couch while they learn. 

When my oldest son was young, he struggled with dysgraphia, and we worked with an occupational therapist for quite some time. He hated writing, but he quickly learned that he loved to draw while I read aloud. This gave him the flexibility to work on his fine motor skills without really noticing that he was improving his fine motor muscles. Now, ten years later, you’d never know the struggles we had early on. I attribute our Sonlight Read-Alouds to his tremendous success in overcoming dysgraphia. 

Literature-based learning also lends itself to flexibility in our surroundings. It’s really easy to take our reading outside on nice days, and small changes like this can really help our sensory craving children to thrive. We’ve read on the grass, in the swing, on a tree, and in the car. Anywhere that you can take a book becomes a classroom when you use a literature-based curriculum.

 

2. Literature-based Learning Allows Flexibility in Format

Because much of the education in literature-based learning stems from discussion, we can teach subjects like science and history without paper and pencil, making those subjects more stress-free for those children who despise paperwork. While most people may be accustomed to worksheets and tests, a literature-based curriculum can set you free from the hum-drum of paper-based practice and assessment. 

For example, Sonlight contains very little testing. With a literature-based program, children show their understanding of a subject through narration—repeating back what they learned in the reading. My children and I have

  • learned geography by mapping the places we read about
  • learned science through reading living books and doing fun experiments
  • learned history through fictional accounts of true events

This type of education spells success for children who strongly dislike or struggle with paper and pencil work.

 

3. Literature-based Learning Allows Flexibility in Learning Styles

  • Does your child love to write? Then have them take notes or doodle while you read.
  • Does your child hate to write? Have them build with blocks or learn to sew while you read. 

With a literature-based curriculum, you aren’t trying to stuff your child into a box. Instead, you give them the flexibility to be themselves. This is of the utmost importance with special needs children. They need the flexibility to learn in the way that is best for them without any stigma, and this is exactly the freedom that  a literature-based curriculum offers.

 

4. Literature-based Learning Allows for Flexibility of Choice

Literature-based learning is so beautiful because of the choices available to you. Take Sonlight for example. In the elementary years, you have three to four choices of topics of study, so you are able to pursue your child’s interests in selecting each year’s program. What sounds more interesting? World history or US history? You can choose!

Choice can mean the difference between your child buying-in or checking-out on their education. Give your special needs child a reason to buy-in to their education by sitting down with the  Sonlight catalog and helping you choose the curriculum for the year.

 

5. Literature-based Learning Allows for Flexibility of Schedule

There’s nothing quite as overwhelming as feeling that you are behind. Special needs families are especially aware of this constant pressure to keep up in the midst of fluctuating moods, non-stop doctor and therapy appointments, and the basic hum of life’s requirements.

With a literature-based curriculum, being behind really isn’t a problem. First of all, you’ll likely find yourself slightly ahead of schedule because of what I call, “One More Chapter Affliction.” This affliction affects probably 90% of all literature-based students. Symptoms include continually asking to read “just one more chapter, please.” This seems to be pretty much incurable and is usually characterized by a collective groan once the adult reading has worn out their voice and ended the read-aloud for the day. I tease, but in all seriousness, we love reading aloud so much that being behind schedule never worried me.

Also, when you have a literature-based curriculum, it doesn’t feel so much like doing school. So you can save a book for the summer or for bedtime reading, and catch up without pressure. You could just school all year by stretching out the curriculum over 12 months instead of 9. Or you have the freedom to skip a book all together without ruining the flow of the overall curriculum. 

I believe that a literature-based education offers the most flexibility and the most organic learning experience of all the homeschool approaches. Both of these qualities make a literature-based education a great option for special needs children.

 

 

 


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Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., SPED Homeschool Partners – Cheryl Swope Consulting and Memoria Press

God sets the solitary in families.” (Psalm 68:6)

When we homeschool our children with special needs, we spend tremendous amounts of time together. Sometimes we take this time for granted. Our family has found the need to do more than merely “coast” downhill with all of this togetherness. Our children have autism, mental illness (schizophrenia), and various medical conditions. We often need nurturing ways to strengthen family bonds at a moment’s notice.

 

1. Family walks

The act of putting on coats and boots, scarves and hats, gloves, and mittens seems to signal a change in tone. Leaving the house to go outdoors refreshes our minds and bodies any season of the year.

 

2. Family games

Blocks provide you with everything you need to build a larger page. They contain a variety of content elements, such as images, buttons, headings, and more. These elements are arranged in rows and columns, which provide a useful structure, as well as a sense of balance within the overall composition. You can modify this structure using our intuitive drag and drop interface, which allows you to rearrange content to your heart’s content.

 

3. Family discussions

We might wish problems would silently fade away, but until we talk things through, an undercurrent tugs at all of us and pulls us apart. Talking to resolution yields restoration.

 

4. Family quiet

Sometimes a brief, respectful separation with quiet occupation is the best remedy for spats and squabbles. For us, this seems especially important in the hour after lunch and the hour before dinner.

 

5. Family listening

Years ago I learned while recovering from surgery that when I sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and nothing to do, someone will join me to share thoughts or ask questions. My family wants to be heard.

 

6. Family prayer

When we come together as family members to pray for a neighbor in the hospital, an ailing aunt or uncle, or each other, our hearts and minds unite in strong, profound, and mysterious ways.

 

7. Family read-alouds

Each year as we approach the Christmas season, our family brings out a large bin filled with beautiful Christmas read-alouds. We share this list to enrich and fortify your family time.

 

Christmas Read-Alouds, all available from Memoria Press

Age or Ability 3-5

Age or Ability 6-9

Age or Ability 7-10

Age or Ability 11 and up – because you’re never too old to share a book as a family

 

May the Advent and Christmas season be a time of strengthened family bonds for the sake of your children and your entire family, for “the Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).

Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., homeschooled her boy/girl twins from infancy through high school graduation. Both twins, now age 25, have autism, specific learning disabilities, and mental illness. With a master’s degree in special education, Cheryl is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. She is the creator of the Simply Classical teaching resources voted #1 for Special Learners (Memoria Press). Subscribe for free to the encouraging Simply Classical Journal, a print magazine, and catalog dedicated to all children with special needs. Cheryl lives with her husband and adult children in a quiet lake community in Missouri.

 

 

 

 

 


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Michael Maloney, SPED Homeschool Partner

Teaching a child how to read and write doesn’t just open them to a world of books and papers, but to communicating with others and navigating the world they live in. Using these communication and navigation intersections allows you to continue teaching language arts as a life skill even when the books are put away. Here is an outstanding example of how to prompt your student to use language arts as a life skill.

 

Ten-year-old Sam and his dad are off to Pearson International Airport to pick up his cousin for a camping trip. They were checking the car to see that they had everything. 

Dad started the conversation by saying, “Here’s the checklist. You read it and I will make sure that each thing is in the car.”

Sam read, “Tent”. Dad replied, “Got it.  Next?”

 “Sleeping bags.” 

“Check.  3 sleeping bags.” 

Sam read each item on the list as his dad checked the supplies.

 

“While I drive, be my navigator. Watch for signs with an airplane on them and then read the name of the road that we use to exit”, Sam’s dad said. “It will take us about 45 minutes to get to Pearson.  Meanwhile, use my phone to text Erin and see if she is through Customs and at her boarding gate.  Also get her Flight number. Thanks.”

 

Sam sent Erin a text and waited for a reply. A few moments later, the cell phone beeped. He read the message. “She is just on her way to her gate. Everything is good.”

Sam watched carefully for the exit and pointed when he saw a picture of an airplane on the overhead highway sign. “There’s our exit, 3 kilometers ahead. We follow Highway 404 West.”

 

“Well done. You’re a pretty good navigator for a 10 year old.” His dad said, “Now we have to find the terminal where Jet Blue lands. Watch the signs on your side. The airlines are in alphabetical order, so look for J and read me the number of the terminal.” 

“There it is –Jet Blue. It is Terminal 3.” Sam said excitedly. He was anxious to see his cousin.

“Text her and tell her to wait on the sidewalk outside of the Jet Blue Arrival area.”  A moment later the cell phone beeped again. “She’s already there waiting for us.” 

“That’s great”, his dad said, “Now we won’t have to park the car to go and find her. Is there any room for her in one of the back seats? We may have to rearrange some of the gear.” 

“There’s lots of room, Dad, Erin is not as big as me.”

 

Once out of the airport, Erin and Sam read the brochures about the lake they were going to. They found out about the kinds of fish they might catch. “Wow, look at this one”, Erin pointed to a large Northern pike. I’m not sure I want to catch one of those.”  They read about boat rentals, fresh bait, campfire rules and emergency services.  An entire hour passed before they had read and discussed what they wanted to catch with what bait.

 

After 3 nights in a tent, several daily swims and campfire dinners of fresh fish, the three campers were ready to return. 

“So what lesson did you learn from all this?” Sam’s dad asked.  Erin piped up, “You don’t stop reading just because you closed the book.” Sam laughed.

 

 

 

 


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Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

If you are a parent of young children today or you teach your children at home, chances are very good that phonics is your exclusive go-to approach to teach reading. A conviction that phonics is the ONLY way to teach reading, and success with other children with this approach, leaves you purchasing one phonics program after another for a child that just doesn’t seem to “get it” with the current phonics program. Yet still, a satisfactory result eludes you. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. Definitely showing my age now! This method did work and I got through college while maintaining Dean’s List status. After graduation, my first job was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the students and I still find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our home school with an intense phonics program. Well, to be perfectly candid, I only successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics. The other one, labeled as developmentally delayed, struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

Reading is complex. The individual has to gain meaning from a string of symbols making up a word and then combine that with other strings of symbols to gain an understanding of what is written. Let’s explore from a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the skills that make a successful reader?

 

Skills of Successful Readers

1. Visual Skills:

    • Acuity – a reference to 20/20, is the eyes giving a clear picture to focus up close or focus at a distance 
    • Tracking – the eyes moving smoothly across a horizontal line without darting back or forth that would give the wrong feedback to the brain about what is seen
    • Convergence – the eyes working together, placing the image of one eye directly on top of the other so there is no distortion of the letters or swimming of word on the page
    • Central Detail Vision – the ability to see directly in front of you – children that didn’t go through the proper developmental steps to gain good central vision often don’t have good eye contact, they don’t write on a line well and often skip little words or parts of words on a page while reading. Consider this video from the  YouTube Channel – Brain Coach Tips for information about checking the eye function at home.
    • Visual Discrimination – the ability to see subtle differences between very similar words like “then” and “them” can be developed with practice – consider this  Visual Discrimination Game to advance that skill

 

2.   Auditory Processing:

A prerequisite skill to reading in general and for phonics, in particular, is auditory processing (auditory short-term memory). You may not have thought about it but phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of auditory information (sounds) in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability.

Without the foundational skill of auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, an individual’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be effective. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your whole family visit  www.BrainSprints.com (scroll down to the “Tools” section). This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. When you accelerate this skill, you accelerate success in reading. Learn more: Auditory Processing-Best Kept Secret in Education

 

3.  Information Storage:

From a NeuroDevelopmental perspective, the efficient storage of information or being able to get what is in that little brain out into a functional form requires proper placement of the information. It is a bit like a filing cabinet. If you put information in the 2nd drawer in the proper folder, it is easy to get it when you need it. Improper filing of a piece of paper in the 2nd drawer with no folder can be frustrating, time-consuming and energy expending to find. The same can be true of storage in the brain. For more understanding of dominance that is key to storage, watch “You Knew It Yesterday!” 

 

An Alternative Approach

Many families have found help with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach.

While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. If your child is an emerging reader, consider  3Rs Plus with the accompanying flashcard and detailed instructions. Beginning readers are very encouraged when they tell dad, “I read this whole book!” Granted the book is only 12 pages long and contains one to two sentences on each page but in their mind, they did read the whole book.

Children reading at 1st-grade level, I recommend Pathway Readers and the flashcards developed for the first few books in this series.

You can also read a sentence or two and in some cases a paragraph or a full page and have the child read the SAME selection after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence! For leveled books that will work on reading recognition as well as comprehension, just search “Reading” at the  Brain Sprints Store.

 

Bringing This Information Together

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? First, you realize that we are all sight-readers. Let me ask you this – Do you read all the words phonetically when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be extremely slow and laborious to do otherwise.

Secondly, rest assured that as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, you can go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words. 

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more individualized direction consider a  Free 15 minute Consultation with a Brain Sprints’ coach.

 

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

One of the biggest struggles in teaching a child who struggles to read is finding content that appeals to their intellectual level as well as their instructional level in subjects other than reading. Below are some great free resources available to parents/educators who are looking for modified instructional reading texts to improve your child’s reading and comprehension skills.

 

Instructional Reading Text For Reading Comprehension: already modified for you

ReadWorks – ReadWorks is a nonprofit that provides teacher resources to help with teaching reading comprehension. Search by topic, subject, reading passages, specific articles or even text paired to already developed lessons, vocabulary sets, or comprehension questions.

Newsela – Newsela is a free to access news content site providing text at 5 reading levels, including applicable comprehension quizzes. Search for content by reading level, topic grade level, and articles that include writing prompts.

 CommonLit – Free teacher resource with a searchable text library of passages to use from reading instruction from grades 3 to 12. Not only can you create a teacher account on this site, but you can also create student accounts, assign comprehension assessments and track progress. An additional feature on this site is the Spanish passages and comprehension questions.

TweenTribune   – K-12 Lexile-leveled free resources for teachers created by the Smithsonian based on current kid-friendly news topics. Each article is written at 4 different Lexile levels and also includes a critical thinking question at the end to use for testing student comprehension and understanding of the topic’s broader application.

Breaking News English  – Free current event articles written at 7 different reading levels. This site is based in the U.K. and each article is written in at least 3 different reading levels and includes a teacher lesson plan with vocabulary words, a table for organizing the text’s ideas, as well as a critical thinking exercise.

 For the Teachers Articles – A variety of free fictional articles written at three different reading levels for students from grade 3 to 10.

UNC Charlotte Adapted Popular Chapter Books – Over 20 free online adapted chapter books including Where the Red Fern Grows, Because of Winn-Dixie, and works by Shakespeare.

Teachers Pay Teachers – Two stores on Teachers Pay Teacher offering an extensive selection of lessons, books, and other teaching material with modified reading texts are Miss A’s Mismatched Miracles  & Ms Meghan’s Special Minds and Hands  

 

Modified Instructional Reading Text for Reading Comprehension: modified by you

If you still haven’t found what you are looking for, here are some other free online resources you can use to modify instructional text you already own.

Rewordify – Copy and paste in complex text and this site will simplify the language to make it easier for a struggling student to comprehend. This site also provides you the option to include definitions of complex vocabulary words or create word learning sessions based on the vocabulary converted in the text and builds spelling as well as vocabulary skills.

Special Reads – This site sells modified books for special needs readers, but also provides this free instructional article on how to modify your own text or books for your student.

 

Improving reading comprehension and finding resources that are the right fit for your child’s interests and abilities make an enormous difference for academic success, and these resources don’t have to cost a fortune. Rather than spending your time and energy searching for modified instructional reading texts to fit your reading comprehension goals for your student, spend your time actually helping your child progress and find success.

 

 

 

 

 


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SPED Homeschool Team

Few moments match the exhilaration of your child reading for the first time. When his eyes light up and he sees a word he can read, your whole world lights up with him. On the other hand, seeing a child struggle to the point of tears with letters and words and sentences can be discouraging and heart-breaking. The challenges of teaching reading are many, particularly for families of children with learning differences. How do you meet these challenges and persevere? Our SPEDHomeschool team members tell their stories.

 

Tracy Glockle

My oldest nearly taught himself how to read. He breezed through kindergarten in half the time and devoured books well above his supposed “reading level.” I’ve often been thankful that he was my first child, giving me the confidence that I could teach a child to read and that I could homeschool successfully. I’m thankful because my next two children have had considerably more difficulty learning to read. My daughter’s dyslexia made reading an uphill battle. Slowly we’ve gained momentum, and she now loves to read. But it took her until about the third grade to hit her stride. My youngest is now fighting his way through confusing phonograms that don’t always do what he’s learned they should do, and words that seem to jumble together and dance across the page.

For each child, the resources that helped them to overcome their reading challenges have been different. What worked well for one child didn’t work as well for the next. One child needed a curriculum that focused on sounds and phonemic awareness. Another child needed a more visual curriculum. One child loved fantasy books. Another child thought she hated reading until she discovered Judy Moody and realistic fiction. Each child is different. Rather than feeling as though either myself or my child is failing, I have to look at our toolbox and decide which tools aren’t serving us best at this time and need to be replaced.

In the meantime, we’ve immersed ourselves in stories. We use a literature-rich curriculum with read-alouds and audiobooks. Piles of books are everywhere, and we’ve always got an audiobook blasting in the car. Though it may seem odd to have settled on a literature-rich curriculum with struggling readers, it’s been perfect for us. We love books and stories. Our reading challenges have never gotten in the way of enjoying a good book.

 

“No matter how quickly or how slowly the “learning to read” process is taking for your student, it is a process that can’t be accelerated beyond the capacity of your child.”

Peggy Ployhar

My kids have been all over the place when it comes to learning to read. One child finally caught on at the age of 11, and by the next year, he was reading at a college comprehension level. Another child of mine struggled through high school and still, as a young adult, finds reading a laborious task. Then there is my youngest, who taught herself to read at age 3. What I have learned through these three unique children, who all learned to read in our homeschool by the very same teacher (me), is that my ability to teach reading has had much less to do with their ability to learn to read than the pace each child just naturally needed to master the necessary steps to become a proficient reader.

It is said that one of the most stressful times for a homeschooling mom is when she is tasked with teaching her child(ren) to read. And now looking back, I recognize how much of my self-worth I allowed to be determined by the pace each of my children took in this process. I can see exactly why it was a stressful time in our homeschooling.

No matter how quickly or how slowly the “learning to read” process is taking for your student, it is a process that can’t be accelerated beyond the capacity of your child. Yes, there are some tips and tricks that will help your student to conquer some of the hurdles of reading a bit quicker, but on the other hand, you also need to make sure you are not pushing your child so much that they don’t like reading at all once the basics are mastered.

 

Dawn Spence

When I taught in public school, I loved reading because my students came to me already knowing how to read. When I started homeschooling, I realized how complex it is to teach reading. For my oldest, reading came naturally with very little effort. My twins came next, both with learning disabilities, and my challenge began.

Looking back I realized that my one daughter had no developmental delays; she was simply not ready to read. Being ready to read is very important to the process. So I read to her and waited. I waited and waited and decided she was ready when she was loving letters and sounds. But she still struggled. During this time we discovered that she had dyslexia and knowing why she struggled made it easier to research and develop her reading program. I gleaned all I could from others and figured out that she saw the world in pictures. When I taught to her learning style it became easier and she became more confident. She loves reading and I have to make her quit reading and go to bed. She read in her own time and in her own way.

My last daughter is still learning to read. She has multiple learning difficulties. Reading for her has to be hands-on and repetitive. She struggles, but we work through it together. We play reading games, and I read to her. Reading is a gift that I know she will open fully when she is ready.

 

The challenges of teaching reading vary with each child, but persevering through those challenges means that we recognize a few important things.

  • Different tools work for different kids
  • Our identity and self-worth do not depend on our child’s reading skills.

Each child learns at his or her own pace. And when that light bulb moment happens—whenever it happens—all the uphill battles and challenges of teaching reading will be worth it.

 

 

 

 

 


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Faith Berens, M.Ed., Reading and Dyslexia Specialist &
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

When it comes to reading levels, choosing books at just the right reading level can help your child enjoy reading and will help them succeed in becoming a better reader. Being able to determine your child’s instructional reading level and then select books to match this level can certainly be a helpful skill for you, the parent-teacher, to master. Doing so will aid in your child’s success and can save your sanity because it means fewer tears of frustration! Let’s face it, most of the time, people avoid things that are too hard! Books that are too hard, or at “frustration level” can be very discouraging for children. However, reading books that are too easy (while helpful for practice for fluency and expression) don’t provide enough of a challenge to help kids grow in their decoding and vocabulary skills.  

 

There are 3 different levels of reading:

  • Easy level: at this level, the student can read the text with 95% or better accuracy for word recognition
  • Frustration level: at this level, the student is only able to read the text with 89% accuracy or less
  • Instructional level: at this level, the student can read the text with 90-94% accuracy; this level is the “sweet spot,” known in the education world as the “ZPD”-zone of proximal development. In this zone, learning is just right! You want to find text that is in this zone. 

 

Follow these easy steps to select books at just the right level for your child.

1. Determine your child’s measured reading level.

Parents can get an approximate (but pretty accurate) idea of their child’s reading level by using the San Diego Quick Assessment of Reading Ability. (Download a PDF of the assessment.)

2. Look for books that match his/her level.

Many children’s books list a reading level on the back cover, book jacket, or spine.  Scholastic’s Book Wizard can help you search for books at your child’s reading level. 

3. Use the five-finger check to determine if the book is too hard, too easy, or just right!

Ask your child to hold up five fingers and read one page of a book. Each time your child doesn’t know a word, put one finger down. If all five fingers end up down, the book is too hard.

4. Use oral narration or retelling to do a quick comprehension check. 

After reading a few pages, have your child pause and tell you about what was just read. Get him to describe what he was picturing or imagining in his mind while he was reading. If he is unable to tell you what he was picturing, he may not be “making a movie” in his mind while reading and this skill can be taught.  

 

Often, there can be a discrepancy between a student’s silent reading comprehension level and oral reading comprehension level. If the student performs better with comprehension by reading aloud to himself, this can indicate the need for more auditory feedback and could perhaps signal weakness in auditory, working memory, or even visualization skills. 

 

Comprehension Levels:

When it comes to reading instruction, it can also be helpful for parent-teachers to understand that there are different comprehension levels for reading:

  • Listening level comprehension: what level of text the student can listen to being read aloud and understand 
  • Silent reading comprehension level: what level of text the student can read to himself silently and understand
  • Oral reading comprehension level: what level of text the student can read out loud and understand

Many bright but struggling readers can listen to and comprehend text at much higher levels than they can decode on their own. So, reading aloud, shared reading and echo readings, and providing books on audio are great ways to accommodate and facilitate reading. Also, using audiobooks while following along with text (audio assisted reading) is a research-based intervention that has yielded positive results with struggling students. Often, there can be a discrepancy between a student’s silent reading comprehension level and oral reading comprehension level. If the student performs better with comprehension by reading aloud to himself, this can indicate the need for more auditory feedback and could perhaps signal weakness in auditory, working memory, or even visualization skills. 

 

Looking for teaching tips and types of texts to motivate and encourage struggling or reluctant readers?

  • Use a program, intervention, or curricula such as Visualizing and Verbalizing, available at Gander Publishing, Equipping Minds, available at www.equippingminds.com, or Diane Craft’s resources, available at www.diannecraft.org, to train and equip students to make connections, visualize, comprehend, remember, and express their thoughts with language in organized ways.
  • Graphic novels, such as the Histronauts series, can be a great choice for struggling students! Read this post at Understood.org about why graphic novels can be a great choice for struggling readers.
  • Try Reader’s Theater, poetry/rhymes and jingles, and repeated readings to increase fluency and develop expression and prosody, which will, in turn, improve comprehension skills. Be sure to check out Dr. Timothy Rasinski’s teaching materials, available through Scholastic publishers.  
  • High interest/low or easy readability materials can be particularly motivating and helpful for older students or reluctant readers. Check out the many resources at High Noon Books, https://www.highnoonbooks.com/index-hnb.tpl

 

Let’s Talk Book Leveling Systems:

Keep in mind that finding books that are not too hard, not too easy, but in the “just right” zone is not an exact science, but rather an art that homeschool parents can master. However, understanding designated reading levels can sometimes be confusing for parents particularly because there are several different leveling systems out there—grade level, interest level, Lexile levels, guided reading levels, to Accelerated Reader (AR) levels, your head could be spinning!  

And you may be wondering, where did the levels/numbers come from? They are generated by a mathematical readability formula. Readability formulas were created in the 1920s when science teachers expressed an interest in having simplified texts for students. Readability formulas were created to count the number of syllables and words and then rate the complexity of sentence structure in any given passage; the higher the number, then the more difficult level the text. And textbooks were then created/written at varying levels of difficulty. Series of books, such as those used in classrooms around the world during guided oral reading lessons, are “leveled” on a text gradient of difficulty, from levels A-Z. The popular homeschool reading curriculum A Reason for Guided Reading, https://areasonfor.com/collections/guided-reading, employs this leveling system.  

Today, libraries often use reading levels and also book publishers use them to provide adults with an age range or reading level on the back of the book which then makes selection easier and handy. In public and private schools across the nation, computerized reading programs, such as Accelerated Reader (AR) have been adopted. Such programs use readability formulas to calculate a reading level as well as assign numbers of points that are awarded for passing a comprehension quiz after the student has read the book.  

But when it comes to reading leveling systems—here’s the rub—each publisher and each computerized reading software company uses different readability formulas, so the same title can have several corresponding levels depending upon the formula that was used. It can be confusing trying to understand what is meant, for example, by a Guided Reading level M as opposed to a Lexile of 240. 

 

Other Helpful Websites & Articles:

 

 

 

 

 


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Jan Bedell, PhD, Master NeuroDevelopmentalist

The controversy, almost hostile conflict, over the best way to teach reading has been waged for decades. The pendulum seems to swing to one side or the other to an extreme. When the extreme is reached on either side of the issue, many children struggle to read and the pendulum swings back in the other direction. If you are a homeschool teacher of young children, chances are very good that phonics is your go-to approach. A conviction that phonics is basically the ONLY way to teach reading leaves many parents purchasing one phonics program after another to no avail. Maybe your current phonics program is failing to produce the reading level that you desire or maybe it worked for other children in the family but not for this particular child. Sound familiar?

Many years ago, when I was in elementary school, reading instruction was a whole word approach. I know that method works as I got through college on the Dean’s List. My first job after graduation was teaching kindergarten where phonics was required. I learned right along with the children and find it very helpful in decoding unknown words to this day.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love phonics as a way of teaching reading! I “taught” both of my girls to read in our homeschool with an intense phonics program. Actually, I successfully taught one of my girls to read with phonics and the other one struggled to read anything past a three-letter-word even though she mastered all 70 phonograms in isolation. I was perplexed, to say the least!

“Many families have been helped with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach. “

I discovered that there are prerequisites to reading in general and for phonics specifically. One of those prerequisites is good auditory processing. Phonics is an auditory approach to reading. You have to hold pieces of information in sequential order and sometimes even a rule together in your short-term memory to decode the word. The capacity to hold auditory sequential pieces of information together is called your auditory processing ability. Without good auditory processing, phonics is a painful, frustrating and often an ineffective way to learn to read. The good news is that with practice, a person’s auditory processing can be raised and then phonics can be successful. An individual needs a strong level 5 or better yet, a 6 auditory digit span for phonics to work well. To get a free test kit to discover processing levels for your family members go to www.LittleGiantSteps.com. This information will give you a clue as to whether low processing is a root cause of an individual’s reading struggle. 

If your child’s auditory processing is low and reading recognition, as well as reading comprehension, are a challenge, a sight word approach to reading may be helpful. I know the following statements are almost heresy in the homeschool community, but let me ask you a question. Do you sound out each word when you read? No, absolutely not. After you learn a word, you never sound it out again as it would be to slow and laborious. 

Many families have been helped with the alternate approach to teaching reading. Children’s belief in themselves as readers has been restored with this different approach. 

  • While you are working on the child’s auditory processing for two minutes twice a day, teach “sight words” by flashing cards and telling the child what the word is. 
  • You can also read a sentence and have the child read the same sentence after you. This is called Echo Reading and is a temporary but very effective approach to building reading confidence!  

So how do you square up your belief that phonics is the best way to teach reading with this new information? Simple, as soon as your child’s auditory processing is at a level to handle phonics, go back to the phonics approach. In the meantime, your child has developed a really good sight word vocabulary and will feel encouraged by a new ability to read. The best of both worlds is now achieved! Your child has a head-start on identifying a word immediately and then will master an ability to phonically decode unknown words.     

If a phonics approach or the sight word approach is not effective in teaching a child to read, one must explore other root causes by looking at how the eyes are working or where information is being stored in the brain. For more information about The NeuroDevelopmental Approach to reading struggles, go to www.BrainCoachTips.com or Brain Coach Tips channel on YouTube and search “reading”.

 

 

 

 

 


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By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

One of the most puzzling situations a mother finds herself in is when she has a child who can read the words in a book but cannot answer the questions or tell her what has just been read. These moms frequently hear the phrase, “I don’t remember,” when queried about the reading material.

When working with bright, hardworking 4th through 8th graders in my reading class, I often had students who were experiencing this particular reading difficulty.

I realized that these students were not proficient at converting the words they were reading into a “movie” in their head, as the rest of us do when we read. They were merely doing “word calling” much of the time. I found that “movie making” was a skill that could be developed in them, using an easy fifteen-minute a day exercise. This exercise did not involve paper or pencil, but only the use of their brain. “Word calling” is a left-brain auditory task, while creating a picture or movie of those words is the responsibility of the right brain hemisphere. I merely showed them how to create a seamless flow of words to pictures as they were reading. You can do this at home very easily.

Converting Words to Pictures
When a child or teenager regularly reads a passage well, but “can’t remember what is said,” we know that he is using an inefficient strategy for comprehension. He often is trying to remember the exact words he read, rather than converting the words into pictures.

Whether he is reading for recreation or information, he must change the words he reads into images in his mind. The more these images involve the senses (sight, sound, smell, feel), the greater will be the comprehension of the passage.

Daily Training Sessions
The following steps can be used with a student to develop his ability to change the words he hears or reads into pictures for good comprehension. You will be surprised how fast his comprehension skills will improve after just a few weeks of these “training sessions.”

This method works well with one child or a group of children or teenagers.

 

STEP 1: PARENT/TEACHER READS A PASSAGE ALOUD
Choose material to read to the child that is interesting and very descriptive. Standing in front of him as you read to him, have the child sit upright and keep his eyes upward, creating a “movie” in his mind. You can pretend that you are looking at the projection screen in a movie theatre to further aid him in his “movie making.” Read a sentence or two aloud. Then ask him a few questions until you are sure he is seeing the pictures of the words you read, in detail.

For example, this is how your training session might look if you are reading aloud a passage about a beaver. The first sentence you read may be, “The beaver is the largest rodent in North America.” Stop reading, and point to the imaginary screen, and say, “On our screen, let’s draw a quick sketch of North America. Now put the beaver on that map.”

Your next sentence in this passage will read, “An adult beaver weights from 35-70 pounds.” Stop reading and point up to the imaginary screen and say, “Now, use the ‘zoom lens’ of your brain camera and write ‘35-70’ on the beaver’s coat. Let’s use white paint to do this. Is your paint dripping? Oh well, he’ll wash it off soon.”

The next sentence in the text will be, “Because of its large lungs, a beaver can remain submerged in water for fifteen minutes. Stop reading and look up at the screen and help the child see this in his head by saying, “Now we need to change our scene. Let’s make a picture of a pond, with beavers around it. Do you see it on your screen? Now have one of the beavers slip into the pond. See him down on the bottom of the pond. Picture a large clock next to him. Have the hands of the clock move from twelve o’clock to twelve fifteen.”

As you do this training, instruct your child how to “move” his pictures and “freeze” them when he wants to notice something. You both will have great fun with this!

When you get to the end of a passage you’re reading, instruct your child to “rewind” the movie, to answer some questions about the passage. As you ask the questions, direct his gaze upward as he reviews his “movie” for the answers. This is the exciting part. Your child will be amazed at how easy it is to answer the questions.


STEP 2: THE STUDENT READS ALOUD TO YOU

After your child has demonstrated proficiency in converting words to pictures as he hears them, he is ready to read the words himself while creating his “movie.” Select a reading passage that is easy for him to read so that he can concentrate on making pictures rather than sounding out new words. Repeat the process you used before, stopping him after he has read a sentence or two, to ask him some questions about his “movie.” Direct his gaze upward to see what he just read. Be sure he gives you detailed pictures. As this becomes easier and more accurate for him, you can increase the number of sentences he reads before you ask questions.

STEP 3: THE STUDENT READS SILENTLY
When your child is successfully reading aloud while making good pictures in his mind, you can have him read a passage silently, asking him to stop every few lines or so, and asking him to tell you about the pictures he has made. If the pictures are detailed and accurate, you can have him read to the end of the passage uninterrupted. At the end of the reading, have him “rewind” his film and tell you all that he has read. You will be surprised at the things he remembers! His “words to pictures” process will soon become automatic. The upward eye movement will soon be unnecessary for the storage and retrieval of reading material.

Remember:
No pictures = No answers
Few pictures = Few answers
Great pictures = Great Answers


This strategy is simple but very effective. Expect to see great changes in the comprehension and retention of reading material in your children.

 

 


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