Pennsylvania HB 1615 Becomes Act 16 (June 30)

Yes, it finally happened. The compulsory school law people were able to sway our governor to change the compulsory ages in our state. Although the law actually goes into effect 90 days after Governor Wolf signed it in to law, the provisions of the law dealing with the homeschool paperwork won’t actually affect anyone until the 2020-2021 school term. What has changed is that this law makes it so that all Pennsylvania students from the ages of 6 through 18 now must file an affidavit and objectives, then at the end of the term, the evaluator’s letter certifying that sustained progress has been made. Sigh. More paperwork.

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It’s been ages since I’ve had time to write a new post here. Sorry!  So what’s been happening around our place?  We’ve been busy, for sure, but it’s all been good. We didn’t get really sick like we did last winter when someone had the flu every single week–both strands went through the house last winter!!!  That was awful.  We’ve all just been busy doing the next thing. You know, putting one foot in front of the other. 

My classes have gone very well this term.  Story Class (NaNoWriMo) has been a huge hit, but if I do it again, I’ll need to embed more accountability in some way.  The kids who have been coming to that class are really into it, though, so I’d say it’s a success just the way it’s been. We explored so many techniques that I’d be hard pressed to list them here. One of the most fun was the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson, which included a story within a story within a how-to book. 

The boys in Essay Continuum class managed a number of insightful papers spun in all sorts of ways. Originally I hadn’t planned on them doing a research paper, but changed my mind over Christmas break. This time around I provided the prompt and the resources for the paper. We spent time working through those sources, developing a thesis, backing up our arguments, and then crafting notes that brought all of that together into one place. The papers were really quite interesting.  While I still find the Definition Essay to be my favorite assignment for this class, a new assignment that I created for another student worked its way into the repertoire and I have to tell you that this one is quickly becoming another favorite.  I call it One Topic Three Ways and the idea is for each student to take one overarching idea that means something to them then spin it as a narrative (story), an expository (informative), and as a persuasive (argument).  Once I tested it with one of the one-on-one students, I added it to everyone else’s list of assignments as well.  Love it! 

The girls in the Literary Analysis class have done an amazing job discussing and analyzing a stack of dystopian novels, then knitting those wonderful ideas into some excellent papers. What’s more, the girls have gotten really good at citing examples of scenes directly from the books to back up their insightful assertions. They studied so much more than just literature within this class.  Socialism, communism, and fascism came up.  They learned what happens with a great book idea that isn’t as developed it as well as it could have been.  They talked about when a sequel is needed.  They even delved into psychology quite a bit. Excellent!  For as much as dystopian novels can be real downers, we sure had some lively discussions!

I had two classes of beginning writers this term.  One began with me only after the Christmas break, but both groups have been great.  I don’t usually work with kids as young as the ones in the class that has been with me all term, but those little ones have written some great things.  You’d be surprised how quickly they all took to grammar, syntax, and a host of other details that add up to great papers.  In the other group, those girls have been equally amazing with the ideas they have put forth in their compositions. Both groups have done some creative fiction as well as some reports this. term.  Both groups have excelled at learning and applying stylistic techniques. Both groups have been enthusiastic and energetic during their lessons. Why haven’t I done classes with younger students before this time?  They are so much fun to work with!

The rest of my writers were in one-on-one sessions with me.  They, too, have all done very well and have written several excellent pieces this term. I wish there were more hours in the day and more days in the week so I could teach more students in this way.  There’s just something special about coming alongside a single student and helping that boy or girl write about what else they are learning in their school subjects.  This is what I did (and still do) with my own children.  That tutorial method is incomparable for making learning stick in a way that just doesn’t happen with tests.  Also, the 1:1 sessions allow me to really hone a writer’s skills.  This applies to both a struggling writer and a gifted one. All of these 1:1 kids have done great this term. 

The kids who have been receiving Orton-Gillingham from me this term are also making excellent progress. Of course, since dyslexia isn’t something you “grow out of” or can “fix” permanently, there will always be days when the struggle is more noticeable than on other days.  On the other hand, learning so much about morphology, etymology, and phonology really gives these special people a toolbox full of good strategies that truly WORK.  Being able to retrieve those strategies with more and more fluency and automaticity is the real key, but those basics have been embraced and that firm foundation has been laid. This is all really good news. 

Actually, it all really good news. The students and I have been having a wonderful school term together and I continue to look forward to seeing their smiling faces each day!  I’ll be adding more ideas for next term’s classes and, of course, next year’s book club selections soon.  Until then, …

Many blessings,

Miss Chris

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Motivation for NaNoWriMo

A few minutes ago I posted a link on my FB page to a list of ways to stay motivated during NaNoWriMo.  Although outside motivation can help, I believe that the best motivation comes from within!  This is because all of us inherently operate out of a desire for gain or from a fear of loss.  If I don’t keep going on my word count each day, who loses?  The answer to that is obvious.  Me, of course.  But, what happens if my desire for gain is overshadowed by my fear of loss?  Maybe I might get stuck in what some people call “paralysis by analysis.”  I know this struggle well.  This is what happens when you just can’t settle your mind on one thing and you worry it to death.  After you have chewed on the thing in question for a long time, you end up with one of two result:  Either you have lost your window of opportunity or you have come up with nothing and done nothing to get going.  Don’t let this happen to you!  Instead of being afraid of what you might create, just go for it.  The whole point of NaNo Month is just to get the words out on the paper.  If there is no room for editing during this month, there is definitely no room for second guessing yourself!

Instead of fearing that, embrace the freedom this mindset brings.  Once December rolls around, you can look at your work with a critical eye, but for now, let the muses have their way.  Just write!  Don’t worry if your characters have gone off program.  Just get the words out.  Don’t worry if your scenes are out of order.  Just get the words out. Don’t worry if you don’t really know how your story is going to end. Just get the words out. That’s the whole point of the word count goal behind NaNoWriMo–to force you to get the words out on the paper.  So, keep going.  Don’t do it because you are afraid of loss or because you desire gain.  Do it for yourself.  Do it to get the words out of your heart and mind.  I can’t wait to see what you have written!

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Encouragement for NaNoWriMo

Hi Folks,

If you or your child has decided to do NaNoWriMo–even if unofficially–more power to you!  I wish you all the best.  Today is technically day 5 of the challenge, but if you are taking one day off per week, you may have only been writing for 4 days so far (and that’s including today).  It’s hard to develop the discipline to make yourself sit down and write…every…single…day!

Here’s a wonderful pep talk from Jasper Fforde, the author of the Thursday Next books: https://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/jasper-fforde

Mr. Fforde’s main point is to just do it!  This month’s writing isn’t about creating a saleable novel right off the bat–or even at all!  It is, however, about getting the words out of your head and onto the paper.  Just like homeschooling, the journey is a big part of the point. Enjoy!

 

 

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Happy NaNoWriMo

Today kicks off NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–which takes place every November. During this month, one very special group of my students will be participating for the very first time. I haven’t asked for the next Great American Novel, but I have to tell you that I am eager to read the stories they have been plotting for the past 8 weeks. During November they will finally get their thoughts down on paper in story form. Several of the kids have ideas for truly epic adventures. Others have much shorter works planned. One even hopes to write something along the lines of Green Eggs and Ham! All of these works sound like they will be interesting to read. They have done some amazing thinking over the past two months during class time and at home. As these students embark on the journey into becoming authors, I wish them all the best!

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You Can Do This!

Thank you so much for spending Dyslexia Awareness Month with me.  I’ve never taken on the challenge of posting so many blogs in a row before and hope that you were blessed.  I want to leave you with the encouragement that you really can do this.  Yes, there will be tears, but you and your child will grow through them.  Fighting alongside someone that you love makes all the difference in the world.  You can’t do it alone, though.

Your child has to be on board.  Unfortunately far too many children who struggle with learning have heard so many negative things about themselves for so long that they no longer believe that they CAN do it.  They have bought into the lies.  That has to stop.  In fact, for success to take root, they have to learn to move in the opposite direction!  They need successes–and lots of them–before they will begin to trust in themselves again.  A terrible thing happens in the heart of a child when they perceive themselves as being dumb or different.

You also need a support structure in place for the days when you just want to “hit route 80 and head west.”  (That was something my mother-in-law used to say when her boys got on her last nerve.  It’s a lot funnier when you live near the beginning of this cross country highway! I guess technically, we live nearer to the end of this highway since the numbers go down from east to west.)  Surround yourselves with likeminded people who will help shore you up when the going gets tough.  They don’t necessarily need to understand what you are doing, but they must believe in your ability to make strides toward success.  In short, these people need to be cheering for you and your child.  They need to believe in you both!

Finally, you need to arm yourself with GOOD information so that you can do this job.  To do this, you need to know that you have reliable people around you that you can ask for help, learn from, and just talk things out with as you keep on learning about this subject.  When you take on the task of homeschooling, and especially when you take on the task of homeschooling a struggling learner, THIS becomes your JOB and like any job, there’s a lot of on-the-job training.  You will always be learning new things.

I leave you with these thoughts, hoping that they will sustain for the journey into the world of literacy–because it is an amazing adventure!

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The Sound of /k/

For the sound of /k/, we have a few choices.  How we spell the word depends on several factors.  Do you remember us discussing how, when deciding how to spell a word, we must look to morphology first, then etymology, and finally, phonology?  Well, the /k/ sound is a great one to illustrate that point.

Most often, we spell the /k/ sound with a letter ‘c.’  The rule goes like this:

We use the letter ‘c’ to spell /k/ in front of  a, o, u, a consonant, or nothing.

When ‘c’ comes before e, i, or y, it says /s/.

However, there’s more to it than this.  If a base word ends with a single vowel saying its short sound, followed directly by the /k/ sound, we use ‘ck’ to spell that.  But, if the base word ends with a short vowel, then another consonant (often an l or n, but other letters work too), and then the /k/ sound, we use a ‘k’ to spell that.  Some folks are thrown by the term “base word” here because words like ‘chicken’ throw them for a loop.  A ‘chick’ can be considered the base word for ‘chicken.’  Not surprisingly, there’s another layer to this that can confuse things even more.

As you can see, the above rules deal with phonology, but we need more information if we are going to consistently answer our children’s questions about words and if we are to help them spell words correctly.  This is why we often have to look to morphology and etymology to figure out how to actually spell something.  We can’t just throw letters out there and hope they stick!  (Prior to the mid 1700s and the publication of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, we could do this, but not anymore!)  These three elements are the whole reason why kids in spelling bees–at least at the higher levels–always ask to hear a word’s definition, the language of origin, and to hear it used in a sentence.  For example, if the child is told that a word has a Greek origin, they know they should be using the second sound of the two-letter phonogram ‘ch’ to spell the /k/ sound, like in ‘Christmas.’  From the clues allowed in spelling bees, good spellers can usually figure out how words are spelled.  You can too, but first, let’s get back to learning more about the sound of /k/.

If a word happens to be have multiple syllables, meaning it’s not a short base word ending with a /k/ sound coming after a single short vowel, you will use just a ‘c’ to finish it.  This is why the phonology rule reads as “or nothing” above.  We can thank Noah Webster for this, by the way.  Most often, these words are going to end with the morpheme -ic, which means “having the nature of” or “like.”  You see it in words like “acidic, barbaric, heroic, or plastic.”  The relationship between the words and the thing they are purportedly similar to by the word created with the -ic suffix in the previous words is clear.  Acidic means having the nature of acid, barbaric means having the nature of a barbarian, and heroic means having the nature of a hero.  These words are easy to understand.  However, in words like “music, epic, traffic, or picnic,” that relationship isn’t so easy to see.  What is needed with words like these is to look deeper into their histories, otherwise known as their etymology.

The resulting history lessons are often quite fascinating for both teacher and student alike. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but my favorite reference work for this task is Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.  In it, we learn that the word “music” comes from the word “muse,” meaning the group of sisters, the Muses, from Greek mythology who were in charge of the creation of many arts.   According to those legends, Zeus was the sisters’ father and Mnemosyne was their mother.  This is really interesting because memory is so very important to all artistic pursuits, and for all the gentleness that most arts seem to possess on the surface, they really are very powerful.  Think about it.  The word ‘epic’ comes down to us from the French and before that, the Latin, and before that, from a Greek one that means voice, story, or word, and usually indicates a long adventure tale, like Beowulf or the Iliad.  The word ‘traffic’ presents a little more difficulty because it comes to use from a Latin word, transfricare, which means ‘to rub across’ or ‘touch repeatedly.’  Traffic is certainly something that is repeated on a nearly daily basis!  In the 1800s, someone decided that the word really came to us through an Arabic word that means ‘to seek profit.’  Modern scholars don’t accept this meaning, but that’s a shame.  Think a little.  Where does most traffic stem from?  Traffic is usually a result of folks being out and about, either seeking to earn profit or seeking to spend their own profit!  The word ‘picnic’ is another strange one because it didn’t come into English usage until the 1800s, but it had been used as early as 1692 in French.  Most linguists think it comes from a word meaning ‘to pick, or peck’ plus another one that means ‘worthless things’ and that’s how it came to be associated with a social gathering where everyone brought along something to add to the provisions–much like what we might call a ‘pot luck’ nowadays.  Perhaps the etymology of this word is what led to the old children’s tale of Stone Soup?  In any event, do you see what I mean by this being interesting stuff?!?

In all the cases of the -ic usage, though, if we are going to add the suffix -ing, or even an -ed, we would need to change the ending by adding the ‘k’ to the end!  If we didn’t do so, the ‘c’ at the end would end up saying its soft sound because … see the rule above … before an e, i, or y, c says /s/ and nobody wants to go /pic nis sing/!

Learning how morphology, etymology, and phonology come together to help us spell words is a beautiful thing!

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A Tribute to John Taylor Gatto

An amazing educator died last week.  John Taylor Gatto, for those of you who have not heard of him, was named Teacher of the Year in New York City’s Schools in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and also New York State’s Teacher of the Year in 1991.  That’s quite a resume.  Although this man taught in the classroom for 30 years, he was not your average teacher!  Instead, he asked very tough questions–of the educational system and of his students.  Once he retired from the school system, he turned to activism, speaking out against modern education.  He authored several books on the subject: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Modern Schooling, The Underground History of American Education, and one of my favorites, Weapons of Mass Instruction.

I remember first reading Dumbing Us Down soon after it first came out.  So much of what went into that book resonated with me.  I wanted more for my child.  I didn’t know exactly what that “more” would entail, but I knew I wanted it.  I have to credit the ladies from True Q, as my husband called the group of women who shaped my early mothering, for introducing me to these ideas.  These were some crunchy moms!  The actual title of our group was The Continuum Club.  Some were homeschooling, some were unschooling, some had their kids in school.  Of those, some chose Montessori, others chose Waldorf, some had their children in Yeshiva.  Out of all of these women, I can’t think of any who chose the public schools.  Within this group, there were several of us who were on our first baby and just learning all sorts of things about attachment parenting and similar offshoot ideas.  Among my La Leche league friends from this same time period, a few of them went the public school route, but many of them had reservations about putting their children in “regular” school too.  I only had one child and he was just a baby so “school” wasn’t yet a concern, but I wanted to be the very best mother I could for him, so I read the book and joined in the conversation.  Surprisingly, at this point in my life, I still thought homeschoolers were a little too weird, and I certainly didn’t expect to end up doing it myself.  When I look back now, there wasn’t as much wrong with the schools as there is today–after all, this was years before Columbine and the current political agenda–but back then it was still considered really strange to even entertain the idea of homeschooling.  This was the environment into which Dumbing Us Down was published.

Nevertheless, Dumbing Us Down was eye opening to many people and its lessons were just the beginning.  About a decade later, Gatto’s Magnum Opus hit bookseller’s shelves.  The Underground History of American Education pulled no punches and spelled out exactly what had gone wrong.  In between these two books, many parents were left wondering how to fix the problem, and especially, what to do about their own children.  Gatto himself advocated homeschooling, and specifically unschooling, which was definitely seen as a fringe activity akin to living on a commune.  Nowadays, things are different–not completely, but enough that unschoolers are not looked at like they are essentially truants.  Gatto, in his various works, advocated that children want to learn and will do so if left to themselves.  While I am not in complete agreement with that statement, there’s no doubt that kids are curious and will learn.  Where I disagree is with leaving children completely to themselves!  (It is a rare thing for people to rise above trouble, but a normal occurrence for folks to be pulled down. Children, being children, need good guidance–but can do without smothering, which I am too often guilty of doing!)

What I love about Gatto’s writings are how they make me think, and think deeply!  As I said in the opening of this tribute, he asked tough questions.  Those questions are the kind meant to stimulate deep thinking rather than flippant answers.  Take for instance the questions, which originated with the German philosopher Kant, Gatto asks in Chapter 8 of Weapons of Mass Instruction:

  • What can I know?
  • What may I hope?
  • What ought I to do?
  • What is Man?

While I’m not a fan of Kant, there is no doubt that these questions are intriguing.  In fact, Rosalie Slater, one of the ladies credited with founding the Principle Approach–which some might say is a direct opposite of the unschooling approach to homeschooling–postulated similar questions when contrasting the pagan vs. the Christian idea of man and government.  In Miss Slater’s mind, everything came down to government–who or what was in charge of pretty much whatever, be it a person, a home, a school, a church, or a nation.  Elizabeth Youmans, who penned the Noah Plan History and Geography Curriculum Guide for FACE, put the questions this way:

  • Who made me?
  • Why was I made?
  • What is my duty?

The answers to these “Ultimate Questions” (as another speaker, Maureen Richards, called them at the Writing Educator’s Symposium in 2010) really do make up the presuppositions where we each begin.  As such, they are the foundational pieces of all education, too.  We need to answer them well if we are to have any hope of turning the tide against the problems we see in the world of education–in the public schools, private schools, and our personal schools. John Taylor Gatto advocated for REAL education long before anyone in the modern era realized there was a problem.  For that, we should be grateful.  I know I am.

 

 

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Reading What is THERE …

… rather than what you THINK is there seems to be the other really big problem that plagues many readers.

I’ve taught reading for long enough that I see this is both young beginners as well as established readers well on their way to the higher stages of reading.  In other words, I wish I could say that people will grow out of this, but I can’t.  Sometimes what happens is that the reader skips over or changes the “little words” in the sentence, the prepositions or the conjunctions. Sometimes messing up these words will not change the meaning of the sentence, but other times, changing these changes the sentence dramatically!  The word ‘on’ is very different from the word ‘in,’ yet students will sometimes use these words interchangeably.  You see this with changes in the vowels or the consonants.  I wish I knew why it happens or another way to completely eradicate it.  Until I learn more about this issue, here’s how I deal with it:

I give my writing students the definition that “prepositions show position in time and space” as a way of helping them understand that the relationships between one noun (or pronoun) and some other thing in the sentence matters.  Do you remember that funny little sentence machine from maybe 20 or 30 years ago?  It was in the shape of a book and had several buttons across the top of it.  Every time you pressed one of the buttons, you would change either the noun (subject), the verb, and a few prepositional phrases.  The end result was often hilarious. Two phrases that my husband an I will often reenact from this little device are: on the moon and in my soup. The nouns were rather ordinary, as were the verbs, but when added to these prepositional phrases, the result was quite silly.  The turkey sat on (something, I forget what) in my soup.  We found it even sillier to advance through the prepositional phrases: in my spaghetti, on the moon, etc.  Eventually, you could press another button and the whole sentence would be read to the child in a robotic voice.  I think that before this book-like sentence machine, there was a round toy with a pull cord that did something similar.  Anyway, the point here is that kids were supposed to read the text that went along with the disembodied robotic voice.  As silly as the items were, they could get used to reading what was there rather than what they thought should be there.  Maybe that silliness is what’s missing from the lives of kids today?

On the other end of the spectrum, though, sometimes kids start reading longer words correctly, say for the first syllable, then they say something completely different from what is printed for the rest of the word.  When this happens, I suspect that these kids are reverting to some “whole language” strategies they learned previously and simply guessing at the words.  Sometimes they will do this just by looking at the other words around the word in question, guessing with the first thing that starts like the word they are supposed to be reading.  Other times, especially when there are pictures on the page, they will guess words that make sense from those clues.  Because of this particular aspect of this problem, it is extremely rare that I will allow children to read (for instruction) from things with pictures.  Unfortunately, this severely limits the reading material I have available for fluency practice.

Recently I had a few children read me a story from a Phonics Bible I bought for this purpose.  This exercise showed me another problem with reading what isn’t there … that of memorizing something and then “reading” that instead of what is really on the page.  Even though I went along with the children for every single syllable, underlining multi-letter phonograms and adding any other markings that would help them read–just like they have during their regular lessons–these children read what they had memorized from their own Bibles instead of the paraphrased versions on the page.  I could probably have just pulled out a “real” Bible and had them read that, but I am a firm believer in young children using large enough print and I just don’t have any Bibles that fit that distinction.

When I am doing comprehension exercises, I will write down every single miscue that a child makes and then reteach those words later on, but quite often, when taken in isolation, the children read the words correctly.  So what does this tell me about what is going on in their brains?  I need to do more research; that’s what it tells me!  It must have something to do with the act of reading words vs the act of reading sentences.  Maybe we need to play more sentence building games so we get more practice inbuilding up from syllables to words to sentences.  That idea might have merit.  Perhaps this has something to do with the mouth not being able to catch up to the brain, like how so many kids stutter around the age of five or so.  Sometimes kids will do all of the above things and simply read what they think is there without actually reading what is printed on the page.  Most teachers and parents think the child is being lazy when these things happen, but I disagree.  I’ve seen this happening too often with the struggling learners that I work with for this to come down to a character flaw (which is what someone is essentially saying when you say a person is behaving in a lazy manner).  It has to be related to something going on in the brain someplace and for some particular reason.  Until I conduct more research, I’m going to have to leave this blog post unfinished.  Until then, the best advice I have is to keep practicing!  Whatever happens, don’t give up and don’t think that your child is doing this on purpose!

 

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Finger Tapping

Sometimes it seems like the hardest part for beginning readers to grasp is that of seamlessly blending sounds together to form syllables or words. I’ve found that tapping the individual sounds one after another, starting out slowly, then moving faster and faster, seems to work best for most kids. After that, exposure to the words is vital. This exposure can take place is so many ways … reading words the child has previously sounded out then written, playing games, writing sentences … all kinds of things will create multiple exposures. Reading will come!

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