Why Can’t We Blame the Teachers? Part 1

Whether you call them learning disabilities, learning challenges, or learning differences, some difficulties with learning often go unrecognized by our school systems for years. By the time a problem is finally identified (or admitted to), the child who struggles to learn has already experienced countless assaults to his self-esteem.

 

Want to know why your struggling student may still be struggling?  Learn what the research says in part 1 of "Why Can't We Blame the Teachers?"

 

The Problem

Consider this all too common experience for parents of children with learning disabilities:

 

Before my daughter even entered kindergarten I knew that something wasn’t quite right. My concerns about her poor academic progress through the years were all dismissed. Not until I did my own Internet detective work and discovered she showed multiple signs of dyslexia did anyone take me seriously. By then she was already in eighth grade.

 

Have you ever worried that this might describe you some day (if it doesn’t already)?

 

Yes, your anger is justified. The sadness over your child’s struggles because she isn’t receiving the help she needs is real. Can we blame her teachers? The school district? The entire school system perhaps?

 

The Research

Before you charge into your teacher’s classroom ready to swing, consider a report titled What education schools aren’t teaching about reading and what elementary teachers aren’t learning. (Walsh, K., Glaser, D., & Wilcox, D. D. (2006). Washington, DC: National Council on Teacher Quality.)

 

Per the report, scientific findings regarding the most effective ways to teach and develop reading skills do exist. The authors refer to these research-based findings, including the best ways to deliver phonics instruction, as “the science of reading.”

 

According to the authors,

 

By routinely applying the lessons learned from the scientific findings to the classroom, most reading failure could be avoided. It is estimated that the current failure rate of 20 to 30 percent could be reduced to the range of 2 to 10 percent.

 

Wow! That’s a pretty bold claim. As someone who specializes in strengthening learning abilities, that’s a thrilling statement.

 

Reducing the number of students who struggle in the classroom? Sounds amazing, right? Ah yes, but…  The report also provided some not-so-amazing findings, five of which I’ll summarize below:

 

  • Most schools of education, the places where our teachers are learning how to best teach our children, are not teaching the science of reading. In other words, most teacher training programs do not provide the knowledge and tools needed to address special learning challenges. Can we really blame our teachers, then, for not meeting the needs of every child?

 

   For research-based practices indicated for the classroom, read the full report.

 

  • Some teacher training courses that claim to provide a “balanced” approach ignore the science of reading. Even courses designed to include the best parts of phonics instruction and the best parts of whole language instruction didn’t successfully achieve that balance.

 

  • National accredited education schools are no more likely than others to teach the science of reading. What does that mean if you’re a teacher in training? There’s no easy way to know if you’re receiving a research-supported education or not.

 

  • Much of current reading instruction is incompatible with the science.  (Can I hear a “yikes?”)

 

  • The quality of almost all reading textbooks is poor. Their content includes little to no hard science, and in far too many cases they are inaccurate and misleading.

 

Keep in mind this is only one review of a random sampling of education schools across the United States. It’s an important one, however. We really do need the change makers to take notice.

 

So, is anybody listening?

 

Stay tuned for the answer to that question in Why Can’t We Blame the Teachers, Part 2. In the meantime, you might enjoy the research findings in Tell Your ADHD Children to Keep on Squirming.

 

Where Art Meets Cognitive Strength Training for Kids

As parents and educators, your time is precious. Finding educational materials that strengthen more than one learning skill at a time can feel a little like hitting the efficiency jackpot. Throw in some art and fun and creative problem solving to the mix and now you may be feeling downright heroic!

 

Art-for-Brains, THE BOOK merges art with cogntive skill-building fun for kids.  Great for educational therapy, homeschool, classroom, or even your next family road trip.Art-for-Brains

Introducing Art-for-Brains – THE BOOK, where cognitive enrichment tools simply feel like artful playtime. Grab some pencils, crayons, markers, and perhaps some scissors for the kids, and now you’ve got a whole lot of skill-building fun!

 

I designed the five activities in this printable e-book (125 pages in all) to target one specific learning skill each. Most of the activities naturally strengthen more than one skill at the same time. (Hero status: secure.)

 

Art-for-Brains – THE BOOK appeals and adapts to multiple ages. I’ve already written about each of the activities individually. If you’re the kind who believes that love is in the details, click any of the links below to learn more about each one.

 

The 5 Skill-Building Activities in Art for Brains, THE BOOK

  • Finish the Monster Drawing targets and strengthens visual closure skills. Visual closure skills allow students to recognize words as complete units rather than read each individual letter separately.

 

If you notice that your student struggles to learn sight words, mixes up words that have similar beginnings or endings, has trouble completing a thought or seeing the big picture, he may benefit from activities that strengthen his visual closure skills.

 

 

If you notice that your student has trouble following directions, struggles with phonics based instruction, or has difficulty recalling names, phone numbers, stories, songs, etc., she may benefit from activities that strengthen her auditory memory.

 

  • Dot Grid Pattern Play targets and strengthens visual figure ground skills. What on Earth are visual figure ground skills? They allow students to distinguish between foreground and background. This translates to less overwhelm with too many words on a page.

 

If you notice that your student often loses his place, either while reading or in written work, has difficulty finding important information in text, or is slow to find and copy information from the board, he may benefit from activities that strengthen his visual figure ground skills.

 

  • Word Play targets and strengthens visual discrimination skills. Visual discrimination skills help students recognize differences between similar words such as saw/was, when/then, etc. (See visual tracking skills as another potential reason for this word mix-up.)

 

If you notice that your student often confuses similar letters such as b, d, p, and q, often confuses similar words, and/or struggles with matching, sequencing, or spot the difference activities, she may benefit from activities that strengthen visual discrimination.

 

  • Visual Spatial Puzzle Play targets and strengthens spatial awareness. Spatial awareness helps students understand size, distance, volume, order, and time. It helps them distinguish between left vs. right, keeps them from bumping into people (personal space) and lets them know how far to reach across the table to grab that pencil, among other things.

 

If you notice that your student struggles to learn math concepts, writes letters too far apart, close together or slanted down the page, or struggles with physical directions and easily loses his way from A to B, he may benefit from activities that strengthen spatial awareness.

 

If you’re a fan of efficiency I’m guessing you also enjoy saving a few dollars when you can. Art-for-Brains – THE BOOK allows you to save 25% by purchasing all five activities above (regularly $4 each) together in one printable e-book.

 

Use these fun skill-builders in your educational therapy practice, your classroom, your homeschool, or take them with you on your next family road trip. Even students who don’t face any significant learning challenges will find the activities fun and engaging.

 

Ready to add Art-for-Brains – THE BOOK to your shopping cart or wish list? Fly your hero self on over to, er, I mean, visit the store today.

 

My Mom the Superhero, A DIY Printable Book for Kids of All Ages

Do you have a superhero mom in your life? Or twenty, perhaps? She may be your own mother, your wife, or the many moms of the students you teach.

 

We know how hard moms work to make every day meaningful. If we truly are going to choose only one day each year to celebrate moms, let’s make their Mother’s Day gift (or birthday gift, or just for the heck of it gift) truly meaningful, too!

 

My Mom the Superhero, A DIY Printable Book for Kids of All Ages. Great for Mother's Day, birthday, or just because.

 

I was so in love with the custom superhero action figures I learned about via Cool Mom Picks that I decided to design a superhero themed activity that the kids could create on their own.

 

A few cool things about this printable mini-book, My Mom the Superhero:

  • It’s easy and fun for kids of all ages, even the grown up kind.
  • It’s a truly personal gift.
  • It’s easy to store and look back on, especially on those days when Mom could really use a lift.
  • Each page begins with “My mom is a superhero because…” Older children can finish each sentence by writing their heartfelt answers. Younger kids can draw or collage pictures instead.
  • If you decide that you absolutely must have one of those action figures I mentioned above (they’re pretty amazing, aren’t they?), My Mom the Superhero makes the perfect complement to your superhero themed Mother’s Day gift. Of course, it makes a great stand-alone gift, too.

 

Easy Instructions

This 10-page pdf is designed to be duplex printed. (The upside down pages are intentional, by the way.) Standard printing paper works just fine. If the kids want to color with thick, bleed-through markers, card stock may be better.

 

The simplest way to create this mini-book is to remove all 5 duplex printed pages from the printer together, fold the entire stack in half, then staple the pages or sew them together with string or ribbon. If the pages somehow wind up out of order, simply refer back to the original file or to the order of pages listed below:

 

  • Cover page
  • My mom is a superhero because… she always knows…
  • My mom is a superhero because… she’s really good at…
  • My mom is a superhero because… she helps me…
  • My mom is a superhero because… she teaches me…

With those pages in order, the following pages will fall into place:

  • My mom is a superhero because… she likes to…
  • My mom is a superhero because… she often says…
  • My mom is a superhero because… when I’m with her I feel…
  • My mom is…

 

Ready to download My Mom the Superhero? If you’re already a subscriber, sign in. If not, please join us! Enter your completely private information below and follow the super simple next steps.

 


Looking for a slightly different kind of Mother’s Day mini-book? You might enjoy a Book of Love and Gratitude for Mom.

 

Tell Your ADHD Children to Keep on Squirming

Your child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is more than just a wiggle worm. When you engage him in conversation he may literally run circles around you. Sitting still at the dinner table? Forget about it. You wonder sometimes if you’ll ever eat at a family restaurant again.

Tell Your ADHD Children to Keep on Squirming.  Or at least, that's what the latest research suggests we do.

 

The Challenge

“Sit still, please.” Sure, you say these words, repeatedly, yet you know that within a matter of seconds his body will revolt against this ever elusive stillness you dream of. Feeling like the bad parent whose child refuses to listen, the mommy guilt creeps in. Again. And again.

 

What should you do? Medicate? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Send him away to a special school to learn to control this constant motion?

 

Naturally we want the behavior to stop, don’t we? Ah, but hold on a minute, folks. Maybe that’s not what we want after all.

 

The Research

The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (2015) recently published a study suggesting that if we insist that our ADHD kids keep still, we may be inhibiting their ability to learn!

 

The excessive movement that so often frustrates parents, teachers and students alike actually helps a majority of ADHD students learn. It keeps them alert, helps them remember, and plays an important role when working out complex cognitive tasks.

 

The study was small, yet it has important implications for how we address ADHD in the future. According to the research, students may perform better in class and at home if they are allowed to move while completing class assignments, homework, and tests.

 

The Implications

Can you imagine a classroom full of students completing deskwork while sitting on activity balls or stationary bikes? An interesting idea, yet one that wouldn’t work for every child in the classroom. The study also found that students without ADHD who moved more actually performed worse on cognitive tests, not better.

 

Dinner time may not be the best time to encourage your ADHD child to act disruptively. If family conversations involve higher level thinking, on the other hand, you might consider resisting your natural impulse to control hyperactive behavior. Go ahead, then. See what happens when you tell him to “keep on squirming.”  (You might want to keep a camera handy, you know, for that adorably shocked expression.)

 

Stay tuned! More fun facts about learning to come.

 

Reference:

Sarver, D. E., Rapport, M. D., Kofler, M. J., Raiker, J. S. & Friedman, L. M. (2015). Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1

 

For Parents and Teachers of Struggling Students

If you don’t happen to be one of my fellow sellers at Teachers Pay Teachers you might not know that we tend to treat our top sellers over there kind of like rock stars.

 

We admire them. We sometimes gush like groupies any time we communicate with them. And, naturally, some of us want to be them. Not for the fame, of course, but for the incredible impact they continue to make on so many students.

 

Thank you, Minds in Bloom, for the opportunity to contribute "What Your Struggling Students Need You to Know."I’m honored to have contributed to the blog of one such rock star, Rachel Lynette. You can find my guest post, “What Your Struggling Students Need You to Know” on her blog, Minds in Bloom. Even though I wrote this one with teachers of struggling students in mind, the information is just as relevant and important for parents as well.

 

Rachel Lynette does leave comments open over there, so please check it out and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you.

 

What’s the Deal with Sight Words?

For those of you who would like a better understanding of sight words I’m happy to introduce my guest today, Margo Edwards. From the wonderful place called SightWords.com she’s here to help make everything clear.

 

If you have a child who has reached Kindergarten (maybe even Pre-K), you have probably heard her teacher mention something about “sight words.” And you may have asked yourself why in the world your child needed to memorize these words. Isn’t she (or he) supposed to be learning phonics? Doesn’t that teach children to “de-code” the words so they don’t have to memorize? Isn’t memorization the most boring thing ever?

 

Learn more about sight words, the what, the why, and the how.

A word cloud of all the Dolch sight words.

 

Don’t worry—the teacher is not shirking her educational duties by having students just memorize stuff. Sight words are a supplement to, not a replacement for, phonics instruction. Sight words are, in the grand scheme of things, a small but vitally important percentage of your child’s vocabulary. These words occur very frequently in the English language, words like it, can, and will. For example, the 315 words in the Dolch sight word list (taught in many American schools) include 80% of the words found in a typical children’s book and 50% of the words in an average newspaper.

 

Also, some of these high-frequency words are phonetically irregular, meaning they don’t follow the “rules” of phonics—words like buy, talk, and come. So your child has to memorize those anyway. But even this will pay off later when she can apply her knowledge to other similar non-phonetic words, such as guy, walk, or some.

 

Sight words are memorized so that a child can recognize commonly-used or non-phonetic words at a glance—by sight—without needing to slow down and go letter by letter. If your child has to stop and think every time she encounters one of these high-frequency or phonetically irregular words, she can’t pay proper attention to what the sentence is about. She needs to be able to recognize these words in an instant so she can focus her brainpower on more difficult words and on understanding the meaning of a sentence or paragraph.

 

This concept is called “Learn to Read, so you can Read to Learn.” These early years of your child’s education will concentrate on teaching her to read fluently. Once she is fluent in written English, she can then focus on the content of what she is reading. Older students don’t have to think about the structure of a paragraph or sentence or how to pronounce all the words; they are instead learning the history or science being explained in the text.

 

For an analogy, think about driving a car. You have to pay attention to several things—traffic signals, other cars, pedestrians, street signs. Now imagine that you also had to stop every few seconds and think, “Wait, which one is the gas pedal?” It’s incredibly difficult to navigate your way to a new destination if you’re struggling to remember the basics of how to operate the car.

 

Young drivers need to log lots of practice time behind the wheel, until driving the car becomes second nature. Then they can focus their attention on getting where they are going. Likewise, sight words practice helps young readers become so familiar with high-frequency words that reading them becomes second nature.

 

Snakes and ladders board game is a great way to teach and reinforce sight words.

Sight Words Snakes & Ladders is similar to the classic board game Chutes Ladders.

 

What does sight words instruction actually look like? Memorization through repetition sounds pretty boring, but it doesn’t have to be. In just ten minutes of simple lesson time, you can introduce 3-5 new sight words to your child. Then follow that with 20 minutes of playing sight words games. The games reinforce the lesson by incorporating more repetition of the sight words, but it’s disguised in a fun activity.

 

Hopefully this has answered some of your questions about sight words. You can now take this knowledge and help your child make the most of her early education!

 

Margo Edwards holds degrees from Rice University and George Washington University and is the Director of Content Development at SightWords.com, a website dedicated to providing free resources—from lessons to flashcards to games—to promote child literacy. SightWords.com is proud to be sponsored by the Georgia Preschool Association.

 

Me… Jane, The Picture Book Biography of Dr. Jane Goodall

What inspired Dr. Jane Goodall to become a primatologist? In children’s book Me… Jane, award-winning picture book author Patrick McDonnell introduces us to young Jane and her trusty childhood companion, a chimpanzee named Jubilee.

Me... Jane, a picture book biography of Dr. Jane Goodall, teaches kids what passion, persistence, and a little dreaming can really do. Quick children's book review.

 

The Story

Jane takes Jubilee everywhere she goes. Their many outdoor adventures together help Jane feel very much a part of nature. Fascinated by books that teach her all about animals, Jane dreams of someday living in Africa and helping animals, much like the girl (also named Jane) in the book Tarzan of the Apes.

 

What I Love About This Children’s Book

It’s not unusual for young children to love animals. What we learn about Dr. Jane Goodall is that her passion for animals not only started at a young age, she never let it go. We also learn of the profound impact a single book can have on a child’s life.

 

At the end of this lovely children’s biography, Me… Jane, we learn more about Jane Goodall, especially the great work she does for people, animals and the environment. In her own words she encourages us all:

 

We cannot live through a single day without making an impact on the world – and we have a choice as to what sort of difference we make.

 

Of course, you already know from my previous review of Guardians of Being that I adore the illustrations of Patrick McDonnell. Really, what’s not to love?

 

Me… Jane is recommended for ages 4-7, but I recommend it for everyone.

 

There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow… They inspire me. They inspire those around them.

– Jane Goodall

 

For more picture books with inspirational themes check out these Children’s Book Finds.