Big Trouble in the World of Reading Instruction :-(

I don’t even know where to begin on this, so I’ll just link a few posts and then have you come back here to discuss the issue.

First, this speech from Dr, Allington in Tennessee (scroll down on the link for the link to a recording of the actual speech). Next, this letter from Lucy Calkins. More about Calkins and Common Core here. There’s also been some wisdom from Dave Kilpatrick in response. (I love his reply; I’m just looking for the text to link here for you.)

What does all of this mean for you who are in the trenches, working so diligently to help your struggling learner? It turns out, LOTS!
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How Much Time Does It Take?

You know, this is just one of those questions to which there is no easy answer. It really does take as along as it takes! Sure, there are things you can do to speed up the process–and they work some of the time, but not all of the time, and certainly not all of the time for all kids. In the same way, there are also things that you can do that are detrimental to the process of learning to spell, write, and read–but these, too, do not always cause trouble for all kids all the time. You see, kids are unique. We all are! What a boring world this would be if we weren’t all different. As you let that thought really sink into the marrow of your bones, think about another one that is equally profound–you, as a parent, love your child more than anyone else on the planet does. You should! That’s part of the whole parenting “gig.” We want our children to succeed and it’s painful to watch when they don’t–no matter what the reason. I just want to reassure those of you who are in the trenches that success does come; however, the road to success is paved with hard work, some tears, and lots and lots of loving support.

“But, Chris, how long should this be taking us every day?” you might be wondering. “It seems like all we’re doing is reading and writing. There’s no time for anything else! And with two (or three, or four) kids, I am not getting anything else done!” you may come right out and exclaim. I hear your frustration. I’ve been there. I know it feels like NOTHING else is getting done. I know the laundry is piling up, you have no idea what’s for dinner, and the math book hasn’t been cracked in a week, maybe more. When you feel like that, I have to remind you that remediating dyslexia takes time–and lots of it!

It takes as long as it takes. You can go as fast as you like, but it’s definitely still going to take as slow as the student needs. I liken it to a baby being born. Intellectually you know that the baby is going to come out one way or the other, but when you are in that 9th month and you are just tired of being pregnant, you really can’t hasten things too much outside of the natural order of things–not without there being some serious repercussions. Then, too, that labor will take as long as it takes. You can do a few things to speed it up a bit, but short of surgically removing the baby (which, thank God we can do when lives are the line), there isn’t much beyond time (and pushing) that is going to get you over that finish line with a jubilant, yet exhausted, smile and a sweet little bundle of joy in your arms!

In my first O-G training manual way back when I learned how to deal with my own children’s learning struggles, there was a page that had a chart that included a graph of how to break down the time each day that I “should” spend on the subject of “Language Arts.” That manual and the chart inside were originally written for classrooms, where you know everything takes longer to accomplish than it does at home. Over the years I’ve asked lots of different people how they thought the hours correlated between classrooms and homeschools. I am still waiting for a definitive answer. No matter. What’s really interesting is that this chart called for 2.5 HOURS PER DAY for the teaching of the full strands of English. WOW! Imagine how far a student could go with two and half hours being devoted to JUST to language skills every single day. There’s no use feeling guilty if you can’t provide that. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that and I’ve been homeschooling for nearly 25 years at this point. The point is just to imagine what that much time–focused time, I mean–would do for a child.

That said, there are only 24 hours in a day, which comes to 168 hours in a week. We have lots to do each day and more on our plates each week. Just because a goal might be out of reach doesn’t mean it isn’t worth at least trying to get closer to it. So, if 2.5 hours a day are far too much, do what you can, even if it happens in 10 to 15 minute increments several times a day. To put this in perspective a bit, sessions with my clients last about 50 minutes and I only see my students twice a week. I can’t do more with them because my case load is full. That doesn’t mean students shouldn’t be working on things at home! Remediation isn’t JUST about the time spent with the tutor working on spelling patterns, generalizations, or fluency. Language arts includes many strands. There’s the art of crafting legible letters, AKA, Handwriting or Penmanship. Parents can be reading aloud to their kids. Kids can read aloud to their parents, to younger siblings, or to the family pet. Students can write about their experiences. They can craft sentences using their spelling words. They can look up unfamiliar words or learn about vocabulary through the study of derivatives. They can read the words they have written. They can analyze the things they have written in order to discover more about how our language works. They can listen to audio books. They can talk about those books, too! There are tons of things kids can be doing to build up the time spent on the arts of language each day. If we remember that the strands that make up language arts all relate to communication and that communication includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing, the field is wide open for things we can be doing to fill these hours. You are probably doing more than you think you are, so leave guilt and accusations behind in the dust where they belong. Instead, I leave you with this encouragement: Don’t get weary of well doing, my friend!

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Check it Out!!!“-real-gold-mine”-tutor-testimonial-christine-gurzler

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Dyslexia Awareness Month 2019

It’s Here! It’s Really Here! Dyslexia Awareness Month Is Back!

As a way of kicking off this year’s Dyslexia Awareness posts, I’d like to send you to to see if the symptoms you are seeing in your child are likely dyslexia. While it’s true that markers for dyslexia can show as early as 4 years old, some of the things that people see in children that little that might be dyslexia can also simply be developmental. For example, letter reversals are quite common with all little kids. So, too, are skipping letters in words, otherwise known as “invented spelling.” It’s when these things persist that you might want to look into more extensive assessment. Because those things are so prevalent among very little children, a much better indicator of future trouble with language is the inability to “get” the concept of rhyming. Quite often speech problems are more likely going to point toward dyslexia than “just” reversals or missing letters. Definitely keep an eye on things, though. More to come this month on ways you can help with all these issues. Stay tuned!

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PA HB 1615 — Act 16

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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End of Term Notes

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:

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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