Monthly Archives: August 2009

Learning Disabilities

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a learning disability as: “any of various conditions (as dyslexia) that interfere with an individuals ability to learn and so result in impaired functioning in language, reasoning, or academic skills and that are thought to be caused by difficulties in processing and integrating information.”

We find in our society that there are many differing levels of learning disabilities. One person may be severely dyslexic and another may just be mildly dyslexic. This can be said about most learning disabilities. We also know that many people may struggle in learning things but may never be diagnosed with an actual learning disorder.

The key with learning disabilities is to identify them as early in life as possible and then to seek out the right kind of help. The National Institute of Health showed that 67 percent of children who were at risk for reading problems became avid readers when given the right help in the early grades of their education. This is proof of the progress that can be made if parents, teachers, and other caretakers just watch children carefully and try to identify where the child may need extra help.

Here are some signs to look for at different ages so that you may get a child the help that they need:

Preschoolers:

  • trouble relating to friends of the same age
  • has problems pronunciating words clearly
  • vocabulary isn’t growing quickly
  • has fine motor skill difficulties
  • has trouble following directions
  • has trouble with routine
  • is easily distracted or seems “busy” all of the time
  • speaks later than most children his/her age
  • has trouble rhyming words
  • difficulty in learning preschool subjects like shapes, colors, letters, and numbers

Kindergarten to 4th Grade:

  • can’t seem to grasp learning to tell time
  • seems clumsy or accident prone/uncoordinated
  • mixes up number sequences and math symbols
  • depends on memorization and has a hard time with new concepts
  • has difficulty with spelling words (root words, prefixes, suffixes)
  • regularly transposes the same letters (b/d)
  • seems very impulsive, does things haphazardly
  • does not grip pencil or other writing utensils well

5th Grade to 8th Grade:

  • Avoids reading aloud
  • Reverses letters in words
  • Strange pencil grip
  • Does not like and/or has difficulty with handwriting
  • Trouble recalling facts
  • Does not make friends easily
  • Trouble with word problems
  • Has difficulty picking up on other’s body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions

Grade 9 to Adulthood

  • Difficulty spelling, does not seem to show improvement
  • Slow worker
  • Difficulty summarizing stories, concepts or facts
  • Has trouble filling in the blanks
  • Does not grasp abstract concepts
  • Hard time remembering in general
  • Seems not to focus on information details or misreads information

If a parent/teacher or someone close to an individual picks up on these warning signs they can get them the help they need. Teachers are valuable resources as are school counselors and tutors. There are people who specialize in learning disabilities that you can find within your community. Just remember, most of these learning disabilities can be worked with if the individual gets the help that they need. Schools can help you put together an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that will be of great help.

Visual Learning

Visual learning is just one of many learning styles. Everyone has different learning styles and some may actually utilize more than one. However, most people have a dominant learning style.

Visual learners process things through seeing instructional material through images and other techniques. Some other techniques may include graphs, charts, pictures, videos, and any graphic organizing methods to just name a few. Instructors can be very creative in how they can implement visual aids into their curriculum.

Data shows that students retain information better when more than one learning style is used. For example, most students benefit from having information presented both visually and audibly.

The benefit of graphic organizers is that it helps a student visualize the connection between data or concepts. It brings all the concepts into focus and makes sense in real life because all the dots are connected. This is crucial for the visual learner but necessary for other types of learners as well. Graphic organizers can be used in help with writing, brainstorming, problem solving, decision making, planning and more.

For visual learners tools such as books, workbooks, highlighters, white boards, chalk boards, overhead projectors, videos, any graphics, and flashcards are great supplies to have on hand. The more interesting you make charts and other visual aids the more the student will learn. The student does great with a variety of colors and shapes that will help them remember what they saw. Manipulatives in subjects like math are great because they use touch but the child can also see the concept that is being taught.

Declarative Learning

Declarative learning is actually having the ability to learn something and then to repeat what you have learned verbally. This is in stark difference to motor learning which requires eye hand coordination among other things.

Declarative learning is mostly memory learning however, it can also be habit. For example if you are learning your new address you need to memorize it. However, if you invariable have to repeat your address to people multiple times per day you will make a habit of saying it. The real difference here is that the declarative learning uses the part of your brain known as the medial temporal lobe and habit uses the other side of the brain’s pattern recognition. So while it may seem at first sight that there is no difference between memory and habit, we know that scientifically there is a great difference. It is important for schools to use curriculum, teaching methods, and foster study habits that encompass a variety of learning styles. Every person is different and we all assimilate information in our own way. This is why the variety of presentation is so important.

The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines declarative learning as “learning that evolves from procedural learning after language development. Characterized by analytical, language-based, memory-dependent approach to acquiring and retaining knowledge.”

When a child learns to say things like “thank you” or “please” or “excuse me” they are considered habit learning, not memory. However, you may be handed a list of numbers for a brief moment or two. When the list is taken and you are asked to tell someone what numbers you remember you do so because of declarative learning. This learning style begins early in life and is never lost.

Pros and Cons of Standardized Testing

What are standardized tests?

Standardized tests are tests that are given to every student and consist of the same questions. They are then tested and scored in exactly the same manner.
Advantages or prosĀ of standardized testing:
If you take human scoring out of the question the results are easy to assess and document. However, if a test has essay questions or something other than multiple choice or true/false answering you have to have humans score the results. If computer scoring is used the results are very clear. Another pro is that these tests are economical to make, give and score.
Another advantage or pro of standardized testingĀ is that while scoring of the individual may not be completely perfect it does give a good indicator of the school or class average. This helps school administrators know better what is working and what isn’t within their curriculum framework.
Disadvantages or cons of standardized testing:
While there can be a need to assess knowledge of certain facts, standardized testing leads to problems within the schools curriculum. If teachers are only giving out information to “teach to the test”, certain crucial information may be left out, a huge con to standardized testing. It is hard to say from standardized test scoring what the child knows about an overall subject, it only shows what the test chooses to measure.
This is where the problem with basing your curriculum around a standardized test comes into play. This keeps teachers from teaching kids a wide variety of things in each subject because they have to be worried about the test results and how it makes them look. While this may be good for teachers who are only teaching for health benefits, this would be very limiting to a teacher who truly loves to share knowledge and ideas with children. Another con, these tests also leave very little time for students to have hands on learning time and creative thinking sessions. They are too busy trying to retain facts so that they can score well.
Another debate is the trend of test preparation. This is a huge market for companies that produce test helpers, test preparation books, or offer tutoring for testing. While this may be a needed thing, it costs a lot of money. This then brings the problem of families with money having better test scores than those that don’t. This does not bring about a correct assessment of the teacher but of the parent’s ability to get the child the right help to score well.
While standardized testing may have a place in school systems it is greatly flawed. There is just no good way of measuring a humans intelligence. Intelligence takes in too many factors such as critical thinking, creative thinking, conceptual thinking, application of knowledge and more.

Brown Bag Lunches

Having your child pack their own lunch to take to school can be a fun and fulfilling for kids to do for themselves. Here are some ideas to help you get started this school year! Whether you have children in public school, private school or even if you homeschool we hope these tips are helpful.

  1. Let the kids get involved in making choices for what to have in their lunch. This does not necessarily mean that you just let them put in whatever they want but that you give two choices or more in each food group and let them choose. This gives the child a sense of ownership of their lunch.
  2. Keep nutrition in mind. With the focus on easy foods which tend to be prepackaged it can be hard to fit a good diet into the routine. However, with planning and consideration you can send your child with a fun yet nutritious lunch. Read up on what different foods do to stimulate your brain or body. Kids love the fact that some foods make their brains function better. This makes a game of choosing the right foods and then seeing if you can feel the effects.
  3. Keep it cost effective. Most parents choose to have their children take a lunch to save on money. Even though schools offer a free lunch program in most areas, there are many people who don’t qualify and yet still have to watch their dollars. It is important for your child to realize that there should be a limit on the dollar value of a sack lunch.
  4. Be safe! Make sure that you don’t put mayo or other perishable things in your child’s lunch unless it can be refrigerated and kept from growing bacteria that could make your child ill.
  5. Most of all, HAVE FUN! This can be a great opportunity to spend time with your child and talk about their school days. Live it up!

Year Round School Pros and Cons

Year round school is not a new issue in education. It has been contemplated, even tried in different places. There are some schools that currently use this system. In the traditional school year there are 180 days of school and breaks for holidays and other necessary days. One way of doing year round school is a 45-15 schedule. Students go to public school or private school for 45 days and then have 15 off.

The opinions about year round school vary. Parents who have experienced both have their own opinion but it is often based on the specific needs of their family. For example, if both parents work outside of the home and they have students on different year round schedules have problems finding day care for their children and trying to keep all the schedules straight. Other families may love having the time together every 45 days to take vacations throughout the year.

Here is an overview of the pros and cons of year round school.

Pros of year round school:

– Children retain information better, there is no long period of time between one year ending and another school year starting.
– The 15 day period of time can be used for extra curricular activities that enhance what the child is learning in school and therefore reinforce what the child learns.
– Kids don’t get bored with a long summer break and they like having breaks to look forward to every few weeks.
– Other countries use this system successfully.
– With staggering the scheduling, school buildings can be used for more students which is more economical and efficient.

Cons of year round school:

– Families with children on different scheduling tracks have a difficult time.
– Certain school clubs and groups like sports, cheerleading, band, theatre, could have difficulty in planning and practicing when there are frequent breaks.
– Schools have to be equipped for year round weather to accommodate year round schooling.
– Community programs and private industries that provide youth camps and such activities suffer but now entirely, it just has to be scheduled right. However, if you have schools in the district on staggered schedules it is hard to get an influx in kids for these programs.
– Teachers may spend more time reviewing information than with a traditional year because even in two weeks, kids tend to forget. This may not be entirely negative as it helps students keep reviewing information and therefore, keeping it fresh in their minds.

Studies regarding both schedules have been inconclusive as to which is better for students. It is always good for schools to try new ways of doing things because when they find something great the students benefit. It pays to have a willingness to try something new as long as it doesn’t do any harm to the student.

Teaching Methods

There are so many teaching methods and they all have their pros and cons. Whether you are a parent, a teacher you need to be familiar with the different methods. You may come across a student that some of the more well known teaching methods just don’t help. Being familiar with as many teaching methods as possible will enable you to better help your student or child.

Here is just a short list of some teaching methods, their strengths and weaknesses and the preparation needed for each. Please remember that this list is not comprehensive.

Lecturing -

  • Strengths: Present information in a logical and straight forward method, can include stories or experiences that motivate and inspire, gets people thinking and brain storming, and is great for large groups of appropriate age levels.
  • Short comings: Just because someone knows a lot on a subject does not mean they are good at presenting it, audiences can be passive and this teaching method lends itself to the audience just sitting and staring, hard for the teacher to know what the group is assimilating, one way communication.
  • To prepare: Any lecturer needs to make sure that the give a good introduction to get the group involved and excited about the information, the need to be mindful of content as well as time allotted, be prepared with examples, stories and visual aids.

* Note that lecturing can either be completely one way or you can open it up for discussion with the group at different times. It does not just have to be standing and talking at people the whole time.

Brainstorming –

  • Strengths: Creative ideas can flow as people talk and feed off of one anther’s thoughts, encourages group participation and cooperation, draws off of individual experiences and not just facts, gives a group something in common and brings unity in the group. Is a great form of collaborative learning.
  • Short comings: Hard to stay focused and can become easily scattered, need to be controlled and have limits like a time limit, hard to get people to think outside of their own circumstances, classroom management is required to avoid confrontation, contention and criticism among group members.
  • Select appropriate issue for discussion and have ideas prepared in advance that may help a group start brain storming or to help them out of drawing a mental blank.

Videotapes/DVD’s

  • Strengths: Can be entertaining, visually stimulating and help bring new ideas, keeps people’s attention, if chosen correctly can look professional, brings on discussion after it is over. Great for visual learning styles.
  • Short comings: Can become unfocused, some members of group may lose interest and not participate, the video is really only as good as what the discussion after brings out of the group.
  • Preparation: Be sure to have all equipment you need and know how to run the equipment. Have questions prepared beforehand so that you keep direction in the class.

Role Playing –

  • Strengths: Provides drama, allows participants to empathize with whatever role they are playing, hands on problem solving and use of practical skills, can be very fun. Can teach proper social skills by example.
  • Short comings: Many people are too inhibited for role playing or will resist, does not work well in large groups, people may feel embarrassed.
  • Preparation: You have to be very organized for this with clear guidelines and give clear instructions.

No matter what you are teaching there are multiple ways to present most material. Depending on the issue you are teaching or what your subject matter may be you can choose the appropriate teaching method for your situation.

Free Homeschooling Curriculum

Which type of homeschool curriculum is right for your student and your family? This is a question that homeschooling families ask themselves every year. And depending on the year, the student and the needs of your family you may need a different type of curriculum each year. The great thing about homeschool is that you can tailor things to meet the needs that you have.

While some people are converted to a “boxed” homeschool curriculum (where a company sends you everything you need for the year in boxes) it is not always possible to afford this for each student. If you have four children and you need curriculum for each you can get charged around $1200 per student/per year for boxed curriculum. This can really add up considering that you will still have to buy some of your own supplies and science project materials.

Free homeschooling curriculum is a viable option for many people. Not only is it extremely flexible but the price is always right. No matter where you live or what your economic needs are this is a solutions for you and your family. It is also nice to know you can supplement any other curriculum for little or no money.

There are so many resources for free homeschool curriculum. Just look around your community, the library, your local schools (public schools and private schools) and if you are just a little creative you can make learning opportunities at every turn.

Struggling in School?

All parents dread the day that they discover their child is struggling in school. Whether they are struggling with social aspects such as school bullying or peer pressure or academically. Here we identify a few ways in which kids struggle in school and hopefully help you to know better how to help your child so that their school experience is as good as possible. After all, not much learning happens if a child does not feel safe in school or confident in their academic abilities. These problems occur in children in both public schools and private schools.

Social aspects:

* School bullying - Your child may be the victim of bullying or they may be the bully. Be sure you have a clear understanding of your child’s role in things before you take further steps.

  • If your child is being bullied – there are two main reason why kids get bullied (this is not always the case) and they are social status and appearance. Bullies will pick on any child who appears to be different and perceived as being weaker. Bullying can be verbal or physical but it is NEVER acceptable. The best thing you can do for your child is to listen to them, believe them, empathize, help them where you can (with appearance, social skills, etc.) and then work with the school to resolve the problem without making worse for the child. You also need to teach your child the skills that are necessary for dealing with a bully. Often time a school counselor or other child therapist can help your child learn coping mechanisms so that they go to school not in fear but armed with a plan to help themselves. This will increase their self esteem so much if they know they have handled it themselves for the most part.
  • If your child is the bully – make it clear that there is never a time or place for such behavior. Be sure that your child is not learning this type of behavior from you, your spouse or other family and friends that are close. Don’t be fooled. If you get a call saying that your daughter is being a bully you may as well face facts that bullies are girls and boys. Often times we think of boys as being the real bullies and it just isn’t right. Some children who are bullies actually do have personality disorders that keep them from relating with certain peers and their way of handling that is to display poor behavior. You may want to get the help from therapists as well as putting in place a consequence for such behavior to make it clear that you will not accept it.
  • Cliques – we all want a peer group that we feel accepted by and that we feel comfortable but cliques can be a lesser version of a gang in ways. Be sure if your child is part of a clique that you always teach about the important of accepting and befriending others and never leaving other people out or make them feel alienated. If you child struggles because they just don’t seem to have a clique you may want to help them find activities and other after school programs where they can find a peer group that they relate to and can feel accepted in. Schools have many clubs, organizations and activities. Community involvement will also help this.

* Academically:

  • If your child is struggling in their classes with low grades, incomplete work, below average test scores or any other problem you, as the parent, need to work closely with the parent to resolve these problems. You may want to look into tutoring for that child. You may also want to have the assessed to see if there is an underlying learning disability that may make it harder than you realize for the child to complete the tasks expected of them.
  • If you child is a behavior problem in class this not only will affect the child’s grades but the grades of all those around them. It is important to get to the bottom of behavior disorders and find out what kind of help is available to you so that you can help your child be successful in school. If a child is ADD,or ADHD, they may need therapy to learn skills and/or medication to help them focus. The same goes with other disorders. A good place to start is the school counselor but remember to keep pushing on the behalf of your child, you are their only true advocate and if you won’t go to bat for them to find solutions for them who will?

The best thing a parent can do is to be a school volunteer as much as possible without hovering over the child. Show your involvement. For bullies, this will make them aware that you could see what the bully is doing to your child at any time and may lesson the attacks. For kids who do bully, they will think that you may see something and see to it that the child is reprimanded. And if your child struggles in the classwork or with staying on task and other issues, you can make a huge difference by volunteering in the classroom. This frees the teacher up to help more students, even yours. Teachers are overwhelmed with the load they have and too often kids slip through the cracks. Teachers simply don’t have time to get to the underlying issue of why every child does what they do.

Realizing your child is struggling in school for whatever reason is the first step in solving the problem. Just try to be loving and understand through this time as well as firm and resolved. Know that you are not the only parent going through these issues and that there is help if you will just ask your school. If your problems are deeper than the ones discussed here you may want to look at getting your child some serious help. There are many youth programs that can help children and teens in succeeding while helping you as a family unit.

School Fundraisers

When getting involved in school fundraisers you may want to keep in mind that the goal is to make the community aware of your need and that you also want to make the community aware of your school and what it offers the community. Getting the community actively involved in your school is a great idea and everyone benefits.

Organizing fundraisers can be complicated and intimidating. In this post we hope to give you ideas on how to stay organized, choose the right school fundraiser, and more.

Organization:
1. Make sure everyone involved (in your school or after school program) knows what the goal of the fundraiser is. You may want to have a catch phrase or a single sentence that clarifies exactly what you are out to accomplish and then get the whole group to memorize this catch phrase.

2. Do you have what you need for awareness of your fundraiser:

  • fliers
  • press release
  • posters
  • roadside signage
  • newspaper article
  • radio announcement
  • e-mails
  • mailers (can be costly, take great care when using these)

3. Make sure you have the help that you need. Don’t just assume that everyone in your group or school will come to help out with your fundraiser. You need to assign people to specific tasks and get them to commit. Then you need to make sure that you have enough people for each task. Make lists with names and phone numbers so that if you end up short handed you can call people and round up some help or just remind the people that are committed to your cause.

Make people aware of your fundraiser:

1. Any salesperson will tell you that the key to making a sale is to get people emotionally involved in your product. In this case, get people emotionally involved in your fundraiser and it will be successful. You will get sponsors, customers and help that you need to make your fundraiser successful if you can get people to relate to the cause and to clearly identify how the cause directly affects the community and individuals.

2. Everyone in the group has to share the excitement. Every person in a group makes a huge difference. Don’t sign up for a school fundraiser that you can’t get a lot of people to back you up with.

The best advice we have heard about fundraising is that you don’t sell yourself, you sell your organization. If you can get people to believe in your organization they will come back time and again to support you in your endeavors. Whether you are doing fundraising for your public school or for your private school keep in mind that it brings a community together to take part in these events.