The most important 5 minutes of my day

I attended a training today that’s geared toward student’s with Dyslexia. The program is called Orton Gillingham (OG). There were about 28 teachers in the room that will meet everyday for the next five days for 8 hours each day. These were veteran teachers as well as a few first time teachers who will be meeting their very first class this Fall. The training started out like every other, with lengthy introductions that you forgot within five minutes. The speaker talks about the program and it’s successes and gets us imagining how we can each make this kind of impact on our students.

Then, she talks about Dyslexia. She starts to taut how most of these students are gifted but feel dumb because they have a difficult time reading. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years and I knew what she was talking about. These are the students who hate being corrected. The idea of reading a book is infuriating. Words on the page don’t make sense and they don’t know why! I thought I understood and could empathize with my students. I thought I was being supportive when they struggled. I was wrong.

The group was given a passage to read. Each of us got a copy of the seven sentence paragraph on DNA. I looked at my table mate and said, “Oh, this’ll be one of those empathy exercises. This is so silly.” We were instructed to wait until everyone had their paper and the teacher would call on us to read a loud.

I turned the paper over and I saw letters. I saw black letters on white paper. There were q’s and lots of them! There were a’s and t’s and m’s and many other letters that I recognized. But there were very few words that I could decipher! The teacher called on a student and she read the first two sentences with proficiency. Her voice rang out reading each word perfectly like the bells for Sunday church. My brain went into overdrive. Sweat beads started forming under my arm. I searched and searched and tried to find the pattern. Was each /q/ really a /t/? Were the letters flipped? Were the vowels taken out of this indecipherable text? I started to worry. I looked at the woman who had just read the text perfectly and wondered, how did she do that? Does she have this innate ability to read anything? Was she a Kindergarten teacher who can read even the most obscure writing?

Nope. She was a middle school teacher who had just read the first two sentences perfectly. Then, another teacher read her passage. She struggled and I thought, “Thank goodness I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time here!” But the instructor started to give prompts that didn’t make sense. She said, “Find a chunk that you know,” or “Just sound it out,” or ” Get your mouth ready and say the first word.” These were things that I say to my students all the time but they weren’t helping me! Why was this instructor saying these things and they weren’t helping? More important, was this how my student’s felt when I uttered these same “supporting” statements?

While my peer was reading I was frantically trying to catch up and figure out how to read about DNA. I was in fear of her calling on me and putting me in the hot seat because I knew there was no way that I’d be able to read as fluently as two of my peers.

To my horror and dismay, the instructor called on me next. I had lost my place in my distress. I wanted to crumple up the paper. I wanted to push the paper away and say, “This is just a stupid exercise.” But everyone was looking at me.  I took a breath and tried to remember my reading tools. What makes senses? What patterns did I see? Here I was, in the hot seat trying to remember what the teacher had said. I looked at the words and just didn’t get it.

I read one sentence. One lousy sentence. I completely skipped over three words. I read at least four nonsense words in a jumbled up fashion. I guessed at three words. I couldn’t read fast enough and wished that the sentence wasn’t so long. I felt that all eyes were on me and no one wanted to continue to hear me stutter. When I finished, the teacher looked at the group of stunned teachers and asked,  “What did you learn about DNA?”

I couldn’t say a thing. I had no idea that we read anything about DNA. I was so focused on the words that no images came to my mind. If I was instructed to draw what I had learned my page would have been as black as a turned off screen.

My empathy for my students shot up 100 fold. They have to deal with this day in and day out. They continue to persevere and push through all the hard text that don’t make sense. They listen to our meaningless strategies to get your lips ready or look at the picture and try and try and try. This was the reason that I came today-to make sure that my students never feel like this again. To give them the tools that will not only make them successful but confident!

Today was the most important five minutes of my life because I got to walk in their shoes for five minutes and now will respect their path for the rest of my life!

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July 9, 2018 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

To Organize or Not?

To write in complete sentences or use bullet point ideas? That is the question! This question has plagued me for years. Do I ask students write in complete sentences to then transfer their ideas to a formal format or do I ask that they jot their ideas down and turn it into a rough draft?

As a young writer, I became bogged down and frustrated at having to plan my writing! Why should I write everything down before I write everything down? I find that students, especially those who struggle with writing, don’t want to write down their ideas in complete sentences. In addition, ideas start to develop as the writing unfolds and being held captive to one graphic organizer can stunt a more well rounded paper.

This begs the question, should graphic organizers even be used? Unequivocally and with a resounding answer, I believe, YES! Students need to be able to hone the what, when, who, and purpose for the their text. This requires planning. But maybe the planning process doesn’t have to be so cumbersome.  I have found rehearsal, simple graphic organizers,  illustrating, and free writing lends a hand to a solid rough draft.

When a student rehearses his idea to a teacher (or mentor student) then all the crooks and nannies get ironed out. The listener gets to asks probing questions like, “Where are your characters?” or “What are you trying to tell your audience?” or “Why do you think that?”. The writer gets to hear himself think out loud and find the missing pieces of information that they’ll need to include. Additionally, as the listener probes and listens, she can reiterate what was just said. This allows the story teller to hear his story which creates imagery in his head and facilitates memory in order to write it all down.

Simple graphic organizer are a great tool for having students really organize their thinking. Putting his thoughts into categories helps him develop this category on a deeper level.  For example, if a student is writing a paper on bats, he’ll need to siphon his topic down to three main points: eating, habitat, and behaviors. Putting bullets points underneath each main topic ensures that all the ideas are used in an organized fashion. While this method requires writing, it’s not so cumbersome that the writer is exhausted when asked to put pencil to paper using lengthy sentences.

Illustrations allows students to express their ideas in words. The tricky part of using this tool is to make sure that the text matches their picture. If a student wants to draw a snowy day but then starts writing about hot chocolate, the hot chocolate needs to be in the picture. This can be done using multiple pieces of paper for different scenes, or comic strip boxes, or just a free for all drawing. In any case, the picture needs to have a who, a what, a where, and if possible, the why, illustrated to drive the text.

Lastly, if a student is given a focal point then free writing may be the way to approach ideas. For instance, a student may be looking at a Japanese Internment Camp and already has a vast knowledge on the subject OR  can just use his descriptive writing to free write all that comes to him. I find that setting a timer and giving a limit to how long a student is asked to write for a helpful tool for both resistant as well as prolific writers.  Free writes can be a great way to open the flood gate of ideas and just enjoy the process of writing. While this takes initiative, I find that most students enjoy this freedom.

After all is said and done, it’s important to get your ideas out on paper (or computer). We’ll worry about the editing process next week!

July 9, 2018 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

Remedial Handwriting

Can students who are older really change their handwriting? Why should they learn a new way to write?

YES! Students who are older (7 years +) can change their handwriting and should start to focus on the importance of their penmanship. As students get older, they will begin to learn typing, internet navigation and report writing. However, the bulk of their communication and evaluations still rely on pencil and paper tasks! Students are required these days to not only solve math problems but to write (in sentences) about their thinking and problem solving. A formalized reading assessment, called the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) that most districts use, requires that students write a written response to demonstrate their comprehension of text that will give an indication of their reading level. Spelling tests, science journals, journal writing and poster creations are still a huge every day part of our children’s educational lives.

Now, what if your child’s teacher cannot read your son/daughter’s handwriting? Does your child still struggle with written fluency? Does your child want to give up writing after 5 minutes because it hurts his/her hand? Research has shown that if an instructor struggles to read a written response, the student’s grade will be lowered.

ProgressivEducation can help! We use Handwriting Without Tears program to teach penmanship, grammar/punctuation and narrative story writing to older students in an engaging, hands on and multi-sensory experience.  

   There are a few other tips and tricks of the trade that you can do to help your child start having better handwriting today!

1. Sit with your feet on the floor and back against the chair. 

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This allows kids to have proper posture and ensures that they won’t get physical tired as easily. 

 

2. Slant your child’s page toward the left or the right

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This technique ensures quality control for spacing, organization and fluency. 

 

3. Use a slant board to create a more upright position if your child struggles with positioning

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This tool will help your child with positioning and control. 

 

4. Make sure they are using a comfortable grasp with their pencil. There are three grasp patterns that are effective in keeping his/her writing movements small, with a firm pencil grip and the pencil at an angle. If you child is using one method, there is no reason to change his/her strategy if it fits the previous criteria. 

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This helps children with their fine motor control. When kids have a proper pencil grip, they will be able to have correct letter formation, letter size, spacing and fluency. 

Lastly, if you have any questions about your child’s penmanship, please feel free to contact http://www.progressiveducation.com for your child’s writing evaluation and opportunity to become more successful in the classroom. 

 

Images courtesy of http://teachers.henrico.k12.va.us/exed/ExEdHCPS/OTPT/HandwritingStrategies.pdf

December 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

Left Handedness

I have started working with a few small groups of children with the handwriting classes and I’m finding more left handed children in my care than I had come across in my teaching at public schools. This brought me to ask myself, ” What do I know about individuals who prefer to use their left hand (especially in writing)?”  The answer was, “Not enough!” So I took on the challenge and started reading all about left handers! The first text I read was, “Loving Lefties” by Jane M. Healey, Ph.D, 2001. The second text I read was, “Children and Handedness: Making the Right Choice” by Geoffrey K Platt, 2012.

I will be posting different tips and tools that I have learned from these great resources over the next few weeks. 

One of the most helpful tools that I was reading in Loving Lefties was how to first identify if a child is left handed or not. It is critical to understand that children who are left handed are more prone to using BOTH hands for different tasks; whereas individuals who are right handed, primarily use their right hand for everything (eating, dressing, creating, writing, ext…). Dr. Healey states, ” Some children prefer to use their left hands for fine motor skills such as writing and brushing their teeth and their right hands for skills such as throwing batting a baseball. In fact, about half of all left-handers have mixed preferences. As long as the child consistently uses the same hand for a given activity, such as writing, this is not a problem” (Loving Lefties, Jane M Healey, 2001, pg 46). In order, then to identify if your child is left or right hand just takes a few observations. A parent can start observing his/her child at the time of 3 months (and even birth) because handedness is primarily genetically inherited. Dr. Healey reviews a few hand/brain studies and states the following facts, “Having one left-handed parent increases your chance of being left handed [20-25%]….Having two left-handed parents increases your chances further [50%]” (Loving Lefties, Jane M Healey, 2001, pg 15). For this article, I will focus on identifying lefties after the age of 4 years of age.

Dr. Healey states in her book that her diagnosis is a cumulative review of how the child uses his/her hands when given a variety of tasks to perform. These tasks range from sensorimotor, perceptual and language tasks. The reasoning for her whole child approach is due to the fact that children who are left handed may have a dominant right side of their brain OR a dominate left side of their brain; either way, observations become more telling of how a child perceives his/her world.

Say to the child, “Show me how you….”

Look through a hole in a paper L/R/Both              (this gives the observer the indication of which eye is dominant)

Kick a ball L/R/both                                              (handedness and footness go…well, hand in hand and is telling of lateral preference)

Step on a bug L/R/Both                                       (handedness and foot preference)

Write L/R/Both                                                   (fine motor skill)

Comb your hair L/R/Both                                   (fine motor skill)

Brush Teeth L/R/Both                                        (fine motor skill)

Cut with Scissors L/R/Both                               (child may talk about which is more comfortable)

Throw a ball L/R/Both                                       (gross/large motor skill)

Hit a ball with a bat L/R/Both                             (gross/large motor skill)

Use a racket L/R/Both                                       (gross/large motor skill)

Hammer a nail L/R/Both                                   (coordination)

Use a screwdriver L/R/Both                             (coordination)

Cut food with a knife L/R/Both                          (coordination)

Flip a coin L/R/Both                                           (coordination)

Open a door with a key L/R/Both                     (coordination)

 

If your child prefers fine motor activities with his/her left hand and gross motor activities with his/her right hand, that’s ok! Let them do what is natural for them and their bodies. What do you, then, if your child has a preference for writing/fine motor activities with his/her left hand? How, as a right handered, can you teach your own child?

A few tips:

1. Let the child know that it’s ok to use the hand that is more comfortable 

2. Become a mirror. When teaching your child how to tie a shoe, how to write his/her name, sit across from the child so that he/she sees everything “backward” in your eyes but frontward to him/her. 

OR

3. Use your left hand and become a model on how to use the left hand

4. MOST  IMPORTANT: get tools that are designed for individuals that use their left hand. Kids would benefit from: left handed notebooks, left handed rulers, left handed scissors, etc…

Here’s a few resources that sell left handed products

http://www.leftyscorner.com/

http://www.anythinglefthanded.co.uk/us/

http://www.amazon.com 

November 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm Leave a comment

Psychology today reviews handwriting research

Let’s not forget to talk about the middle child, the step child of writing…CURSIVE! Why write in cursive? It’s dead. I can write in cursive when I pull down my font menu and select some of “Script”. Who can read that font anyway? 

I know that when my children get their holiday cards from Great-Grandma they had ask me earlier, “Which one is mine?” because she wrote their names in cursive (beautiful penmanship, I might add).

However, in March 2013, Psychology Today, did a review of the current studies out on cursive. It states that your child’s brain will be able to integrate movement control and thinking at the same time. Multi-tasking! Your child will be able to have excellent fine motor control. Can you say future surgeon? Your child’s reading skills will improve because when children are explicitly taught handwriting, their reading part of their brain is activated as well. Reading becomes natural because our minds connect with our bodies. When taught handwriting, our bodies muscle memory can already read.   

In our 21st century of, “It’s all been done before” we need to encourage our children to think outside the box. We need them to be themselves and express all their ideas! Cursive writing gives kids a better sense of personal style and writing becomes their own. They can write faster, add details and include more ideas when given the know-how of cursive, pen and paper. 

In this world of technology, we still need to give our children 15 minutes everyday to write!

To read this article, go to: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201303/what-learning-cursive-does-your-brain

October 25, 2013 at 7:28 am Leave a comment

Writing with the Brain!

James and Berninger state that, “Teaching handwriting has been shown to have greater impact on brain development especially the areas of the brain related to literacy development” (James, 2012; Berninger 2012).  What a fantastic opportunity we have here to be able to give our children a voice as we increase their reading comprehension, vocabulary and open up the wonderful world of reading! I’m so excited to be able to start classes next week and help students use their entire brain! We’re going to tap into this amazing resource by using a wide variety of mediums. We’ll be singing, listening to music, moving, following directions, having new experiences all with the help of Handwriting Without Tears (http://www.hwtears.com/hwt) and Brain Gym (http://www.braingym.org/)! These will not just be writing classes…but a way for your child to have a great impact on her/his brain!

 

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October 19, 2013 at 7:15 am Leave a comment

ProgressivEducation

1. Why do children need direct instruction for handwriting?

  • Structured handwriting lessons lead to improved writing performance, academic success, and overall student self-esteem
    (Graham and Harris, 2005; Graham, Harris, and Fink 2000; Berninger et al. 1997; Jones and Christensen 1999).
  • Research has proven that there is a positive correlation between better handwriting skills and increased academic performance in reading and writing. When students spend less time concentrating on the basics of letter formation, “students can better focus on the planning and thought organization that is required for effective composition
    (lbid p. 3).
  • When handwriting becomes automatic in this way, students are able to use higher-order and creative thinking process for idea production rather than text composition.
    (Rosenblaum, S., Weiss, P., and Parush, S. Op cit p. 42).
  • Children who experience difficulty mastering handwriting may avoid writing and decide that they cannot write, leading to arrested writing development
    (Graham, Harris, and Fink 2000).

September 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm Leave a comment

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