“Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?”: What every parent can do to help a struggling learner.

I often hear from parents about the frustrations they have regarding the amount of learning their children get when they go to school during the day, but I hear more of these concerns from parents of students who have some type of learning issue.  I use the word issue, because not all parents that approach me have a child with a learning disability, and some parents that approach me have children with physical or developmental disabilities.

Regardless of who these parents are or what issues their children face, the question is still the same, “Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?” The problem is that there could be a lot of reasons why a child is not learning. It is possible that it is the teacher, it could be the curriculum, it could be the student, and it could be a host of other things (combination of things).

I am not taking up for all schools and all teachers. This is not a “they are right/ you are wrong” situation. We have an educational problem in America. WE do! We can all see it; we are all effected by it.  We all want better for our children.

Since we know this is going to take time, we know our children cannot wait and we know that schools need our help, let’s figure out what we can do as parents to make this work for now.

Parents, you have the ability to help your child grow.  You are one of the best resources your child has. Here are a few things you can try:

(1)    For whatever reason, your child is struggling to learn, accept it. It is ok to feel what you feel.  But get those emotions to work for you.  Let them fuel you when you are tired at the end of the day and want to rest, or when you would rather flip on the TV instead of read a book with your child.  Find that anger and use it to your child’s benefit.

(2)    Sit down with your child and talk about what it means to be a good student. I’m not saying your child is a bad student. I’m saying to help your child to realize that their job is to go to school and give it their best. I’m not asking you to talk about grades. I’m asking you to teach your child how to ask questions, to seek more information, and how to participate. If your child is participating, giving it their best, and still hitting brick walls, remind them that this is not their fault and let them know you are going to help them as best as you can.

(3)    Get a notebook and start documenting.  What happens when your child sits down to read? Observe what happens when they write – get samples and save them.  Take time to look at what they are producing. What happens when your child does math or social studies? Gather as much information as you can, so you can become an expert on what your child does when your child is learning.  The fact is this, your child’s teacher may have 20 or 30 or even 40 children in the classroom – they may see a picture forming – but they are seeing only part of it – fill in the blanks for them so that they have a solid idea of who your child is or is not doing. Doing this might help you to figure out that one thing that will connect your child to what they learn in school.

(4)    Find out what your child is supposed to know for class and reinforce it.

  1. Help them to write about it, read about it, and find fun facts about it.  You can make up trivia and play games with it, with your children.
  2. Get exemplars (examples) of what the teacher needs to see your child do in order for your child to show they have the skill. Use those to guide your child to where they need to be.
  3. Have them make books with their own understanding of he information.
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you can do and then do it.

My goal this weekend will be to have my sons create their own trivial pursuit game based on what they are learning in 7th and 9th grade. I promise to take a few snap shots and tell you how it’s going. 

(5)    Develop a relationship with your child’s school. Let them see your face and know your voice. You may not be able to participate in PTO, but that does not mean you can’t participate in other ways. If you only have time to drop in and provide an encouraging word to the teachers and staff – that is a much needed contribution that will go a long way to helping you have a solid relationship with the people who spend 8 hours a day with your child.  Your communication with the school will help you to find out about other resources that might help your child.

(6)    Celebrate the small things. Every time your child makes progress – GET LOUD! Show them some love.  Learning is hard work when you have to hurdle over barriers. Show your child you appreciate what they have achieved. Be careful not to bribe them – that could be disastrous.  Cheer like you are watching the big game or like you just saw a miracle right before your eyes. Just them see that it mattered to you.

(7)    Write your stories down. Our government needs to see what you see. They need to know what it is like for your children. They need you to share. They see numbers on lines and graphs and charts. Those numbers do not tell them anything about what you deal with every single day nor do they tell them what your child faces.  When you document your child learning, make copies and send it to the people who make the policy changes that impact your child and the people who support them.

(8)    Get to know your community of educators. Your school is not the only group you need to have a working relationship with. Learn about your local department of education, most have additional resources online or listed in the office. Make a phone call, ask questions, learn about events and attend them.

(9)    Network with other parents. Learn from one another.  You will be surprised the amazing things you can learn from people who are in your shoes.

I realize that this is not easy, but since we can’t change the system over night, it’s up to us to figure out how to help our children regardless.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please forward them and links to the pages if possible.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

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The LD Experience Continues

This week I had the pleasure of conversing with a great group of people online about how it feels to be dyslexic. This is such a great thing to talk about because we often hear clinical definitions about terms like dyslexia, but rarely do we experience the individual perspective.

When I first read the title of this discussion thread, I was nervous to express my opinion because I have more than one LD. Still, the only way for any of us to really dive into such an issue is for someone with the issue to share – eventually the bits and pieces will create some kind of picture.

In thinking about my experiences with my children and throughout my life, I began diving into this question.  I explained to the group how individuals in my home had issues with the following (these are not all of the issues – its a baseline to help continue the conversation):

  1. Word recognition – We would practice a word all week, pass the test on Friday and though we knew what the word meant, we were unable to spell it by Monday.
  2. Word and letter reversals – Though there is discussion in the field as to weather this is a left-right issue or dyslexia or whatever.  What this means to members in our house hold is that we typically start from the wrong end.  Which means if I need to use a letter like b, d, q, or p, I might not know which one is B.  It means we might start from the wrong end of the word when trying to sound it out or we might start from the wrong end of the sentence.  For my son however, this meant he wrote backwards entirely for many years.  One could hold his papers up to a mirror and read them.  He is now in his teens and finds that this still happens from time to time.
  3. Direction – Only one of us can go to a location one time and find our way back. The rest of us must use directions, landmarks, and or symbols to get back to that location.
  4. Wrong Word Usage – It is common to hear the wrong word used for any particular item.
  5. Hand Signals – There is a lot of finger snapping, pointing, hand movements (jazz hands), and jabbing because the words will not come out and this forces us to improvise. It’s like a huge game of Pictionary – the image of what you desire to say is at the tip of your tongue and you just can’t get past it. It is not that we do not know the information, it is there and that is one of the most frustrating parts.
  6. Lists  – Forgetting is common, so we attempt lists, but we often forget those lists if we sit them down.
  7. Vocabulary – We all have limited verbal vocabulary and often write using simple vocabulary, but we have a vast vocabulary in our heads that we struggle to utilize.
  8. Recall – We struggle to verbally recall – though we can often write what is missing since we developed the writing skills.
  9. Vocal Sounds – Grunting is also common in our house when we struggle to use our words.
  10. Clumsiness – At any given time one of us will hit a wall, fall down stairs, trip on nothing, fall out of a chair, or collide into one another.
  11. Headaches – Those of us with LD struggle with learning headaches, as I like to call them. This occurs from the strain that happens when you are trying to make sense of what you see.
  12. Difficulty reading the words on the page – there are many things associated with this one items, for now I will just say that it’s like the page and the words play tricks on you even though there is nothing wrong with your vision.
  13. Forgetfulness – We continually forget important details or how to follow through when writing things out. We may begin on a thought and never branch out to the other details. We might forget why those details are important or that we forgot those details at all.
  14. Mistaking – This is harder for me to describe today, but say I write a paper and I read it over in an attempt to edit. Because I know what I wanted to be there, I have actually read the paper via what is in my head and missed mistakes that were actually in the test.

What this tells you is the experience to some degree, but not specifically how we have felt. We have swung the pendulum from feeling “stupid” because we are dyslexics, to feeling “acceptance” because we cannot change this condition, to feeling “joy” because we have found something special about our selves as a result of dyslexia.  There are days when I am proud to say I have dyslexia and days where I long to read/write/think without problems.

With these types of issues, how then did we learn to read and write?

We began slowly. Taking things one-step at a time, often to the point of exhaustion.

Attached I am providing the layout for the  5-paragraph essay. I created this and have used it to teach my children to write. I use this layout during the school year, in the summer and on breaks to re-enforce what my children learn in school. This is not a stand-alone tool; there are other tools you need when working with your children on how to write, read, understand, and express.

I began using this tool when my children where in the 3rd grade. It took a very long time for it to sink in, but we continued to work on this until they got it right.  I hope it is as beneficial to you all as it has been for us.

I will try to post more of these tools as I work through this blog.

If you have tools that have worked for you, please share them or send them to me so I can share them with a link to your website or whatever profile you choose. The more we share our stories, the more we learn.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Organizing Your Essay

Also, if you notice errors, please contact me. I am happy to fix them. I knew going into this experience that my LD might show and while it might be embarrassing sometimes, the only way you are going to understand what I am saying is to see those mistakes in my writing. I maintain this set of facts: (1) Writing is not my first language, (2) I write this blog to share information and to practice the skill. I hope each day to grow this part of my life. I will gladly make changes because it makes this a more efficient page. And I thank you in advance for your assistance.

From the inside Out

I have spent a great majority of this blog, providing definitions, discussing characteristics and outlining some interesting behaviors, all in an attempt to explain what having an LD is like. The problem is that having an LD is a highly individualized experience. It’s like sharing a dream, you can describe what happened, but, it is harder to help another person fully experience that dream in the exact way that dream made you feel.

Over the last few months I have been in the editing stages of my dissertation. During this time, I have worked with my Chair on the appropriate edits for my topic. A Chair (not the one you sit in) is a person who is an expert in your field of study. This person checks your work for quality and validity. Not every Chair helps in the editing process, but some will. I was lucky enough to have a Chair who participated with me through the editing process.

Editing a dissertation means that you will go over each chapter and determine if you are using the correct voice (your final will be written in past tense), if you are using the correct format, if your table of contents is correct, if your references are clear, if you got everything done up to the standard that is required for this degree. It’s pretty grueling process for many people, not just people with learning issues.

This was complicated for me due to the LD, so let’s discuss what that really meant.

Throughout my educational career, I have had a hard time reading black text on the white background. When computers began to be used by schools, I discovered that reading from the computer proved to be more problematic then reading from a book. Something about the color of the words on the screen made it hard for me to read and understand what was written.

I had difficulty tracking the line. This meant that I would be reading on the computer and find myself on a different part of the page a few lines down. If I was holding a book, I could use a ruler to help me track the page or I could underline the text so that I could see if I was having tracking problems by the marks moving from one line to another.  I could hold a paper to the screen to try to mimic a ruler, but found that the computer screen would light the paper in such a way that it  made it more difficult for me to remember the text. As a result, I was printing my entire dissertation.

Printing was the easiest way to see what could not be seen on the computer. However, once the document was printed, I had the other problem of trying to find mistakes while also having trouble reading black words on white paper. I found some errors, but not all and I had to mark those errors with a bright color so I could see them and go back and edit them on the computer.

At some point, my husband bought me an iPad because he thought it would be helpful. I sent the document to my iPad one day out of curiosity. The iPad proved to be a good tool, but it was not a stand-alone. I could change the color of the background to Sepia and that allowed me to see some of the errors that I had missed on the computer and in the printed text.  I am not advocating that the iPad was better than the computer or the written text. I used a combination of all three throughout the process. I would start on the computer; switch to the printed text and the load the document to my iPad.

Visually, when I am reading, what I see is something like blinders on the sides of my eyes. The blinders close off parts of the text. If I try to see around the blinder, the page becomes a white space without any words. Alternating colors helps me to see more of what is on the page, but not always. It’s like having a pair of spyglasses, and reading disappearing ink. If you use the glasses you can see the text, but if you raise your head and look around the room, the world looks strange. Now imagine using different pairs of glasses, some designed to help you see disappearing ink, some designed to make letters bigger, some designed to make letters smaller and consider all the various other ways glasses can alter your vision. Now, imagine moving from one set of glasses to another and that would be close to what I see when I am reading and writing. What I see at any given moment determines what I find on the page, the number of errors I miss, and/or my perception of the text itself.

When reading, I get segments of the text, which forces me to go back and re-read the text. When re-reading, I attempt to get all the way through the paragraph to make sure I have understood what I have read. This process, in combination with writing/editing makes me fatigued. So, I pull away from the text, take a deep breath and start again. Is this a complaint – no – it is really a statement of fact. Reading and writing are difficult to me because I experience them in this way. Having these difficulties does not make it impossible to learn, it complicates it.  This is part of what I deal with when I am reading and writing. This is also why I read my favorite books over and over – I find that I learn so much with each new reading.

Over the years I have developed strategies for helping me to cope with these issues. I firmly believe that I should use every tool within my grasp to assist me with these kinds of struggles.  But notice that I did not say that these tools would assist me “through” my struggles. I have heard some people proclaim that people “grow out” of their learning disabilities. This ideology gives people the impression that learning disabilities are a childhood problem. That is not my experience and it is not the experience of many who suffer with an LD. I am happy for those who experience something different – I just don’t happen to be one of those people.

I am not on the other side of the bridge looking back at and evaluating my journey through the land of Learning-Disabilities. Nope, I am dangling over the Grand Canyon, standing on a thin rope, in slippery shoes, as I hold a 3-ton weight on my shoulders. The thing that has kept me from plummeting to the bottom of the canyon is a solid support system, a drive to want to get the other side, and a tempter that could light a thousand torches. I am not a single individual working on my own to learn – I have had a lot of mentors, a wonderful support system, tools to help me help me, and I made the choice to want to push for something I presumed was outside of my reach.

Not everyone with an LD has these types of resources. Some are not able to articulate these problems. I am just learning to articulate them and I have been in school for a very long time. As other individuals come forward and share their experiences with LD, I am confident that our community will find the specific tools we need to deal with the types of issues I have described above.