Congratulations! Your child’s co-op teacher, scoutmaster, or another group leader, has asked how to help this child with learning challenges. What do you say?
First, review my last post on communicating with co-op teachers regarding your child’s challenges:
- Remember to keep it short and simple. Give a one or two sentence description of the student’s difficulties that communicates what is hard for her. Use vivid, clear images; short, vivid descriptions help show what’s hard in the classroom.Here are three examples.
- For ADHD, I like to quote the 7-year-old girl who said studying with ADHD was like trying to work with 7 televisions playing loudly around her.
- For some people, having auditory processing disorder is like trying to follow a radio talk show with another station cutting in and causing lots of static.
- For a child with sensory issues, a fragrant carpet cleaner smells like a stink bomb. For another, it may trigger her asthma.
- Propose solutions that are not much work for the teacher.
- Ask rather than tell the teachers or leaders what accommodations you request. Often these folks are volunteers. Remember that private schools, tutors, and homeschool groups are not required by law to provide accommodations.
Our kids need very different kinds of help, so I’m going to give you a smattering of examples for different issues, and then list some more detailed resources.
Teachers and leaders should:
- Regularly review the big picture of the course, and how today’s work fits into it. This helps people organize the information in their heads. Kids with memory issues may do better when they see the connections. My best college lecturer was a master at this; he could show the flow of the whole course in two minutes.
- Shorten or modify assignments.
- Divide assignments into smaller steps. (Think of how you teach a child to finish a science fair project on time.)
- Allow extra time to complete assignments and especially for tests.
- Teach with mnemonic tricks, such as acronyms, teaching roots of words.
- Use visual aids, flow charts, use of color for different functions.
- Incorporate hands-on activities.
For the child who struggles with sensory issues, distractibility, hearing impairment, auditory processing problems, or other challenges, consider seating:
- Look over the classroom or meeting space before class to determine the better places to ask for your child to sit. With your child, look at the room—it’s good training for them to consider what helps them, especially if you don’t plan to go to college with them! Try different seats.
- Notice the view of where the teacher normally stands, sits or writes. (Ask the teacher where the student will need to look.) Will your teen be facing a lovely, but distracting view out the window, a cluttered bulletin board, and so on? In my first year teaching public school, I taught math in a French teacher’s room. Her walls were papered in French posters, images, and mottoes—they virtually shouted the whole time I was teaching. Do these walls shout at your child? (This is something to check at home, too.)
- One year when I was teaching math to homeschooled teens, our room had tables in a horseshoe arrangement. Soon I realized that whenever I turned to write on the board, two friends facing each other from opposite sides of the room were clowning around. We quickly changed that arrangement!
- If noise is unusually distracting for your child, consider where the noisiest parts of the room will be when the class is in session. (An open window or door, radiator, or even a thin wall can let in noise.)
Struggles with Keeping Track of Assignments
- Like many teachers when I taught school, I wrote assignments on the board. When my student George was distracted by a family crisis, he stopped recording and doing his homework and his grades dropped from A’s to F’s. Our guidance counselor had a clever strategy. She had his mom give him an assignment book to record all the homework. After each class, George had to come to each teacher and get us to check and initial the assignment, even if it was “no homework.” This was easy and quick for the teachers. When he got home, if George didn’t have notes initialed from all his teachers, he got no screen time that day. He started doing homework again, and his grades rose rapidly.
- A teacher in our homeschool group required every student to write down the assignments and email them back to the teacher by 9 PM that same day. All that teacher had to do was read the emails. If one child didn’t list the homework correctly, another student would. So the teacher could just copy and paste the other student’s correct version to email back to the mistaken student. This email plan forced the kids to be responsible and let the teacher monitor their accuracy easily without taking his limited class time to check their lists.
- Ask the teacher to consider handing out a printed list of assignments or post them on the web. This is easier for textbook-based courses, but it may not be your teacher’s style. This won’t be practical if the teacher is adapting assignments each week based on the students’ progress. But you can ask. The teacher may prefer to send an email rather than update a printed list or website.
Struggles with Writing
For students with difficulty with handwriting, word retrieval, working memory, or organizing thoughts and sentences, teachers may let students:
- Keyboard (type) assignments and exams rather than write them out.
- Use large graph paper for math.
- Have a classmate volunteer as a note-taker for the student with dysgraphia. (You, the parents, can provide carbonized paper, make photocopies if there is a copier on site, or photograph notes with your smart phone after class.)
- Use a smart pen to record audio in sync with written notes, such as those made by LiveScribe. This makes it easier to review and to fill in gaps later.
- Record audio in class with a small digital voice recorder.
- Allow oral presentations rather than written.
- Recognize that lab sheets and other worksheets may not provide enough workspace for these students, so allow parents to enlarge them (by hand or with a copier).
The teacher may:
- Use manipulatives to teach new concepts until fully mastered (see multisensorymath.com).
- Allow students to bring a formula card to exams.
- Try “coding,” the use of color or other special marks to highlight particular terms. (For example, when teaching linear functions, always write slope in a different color.)
- Permit a calculator for basic computation. (Not when drilling math facts, but for the rest of class.)
- Even kids without learning challenges tend to try to cram high school math into small spaces. (College ruled paper is too small.) Encourage students to try graph paper or regular lined paper turned sideways to keep numbers in line for addition. For younger students, I have made custom large graph paper by drawing a grid in Microsoft Excel or Word.
Sensory Issues, ADHD, and Some Autism Spectrum Disorders
Ask teachers to allow students to:
- Fiddle with a small object (hacky sack, Tangle Jr., a piece of silly putty, or other fidget toy—see my website).
- Sit on an air-filled cushion, exercise ball, or yoga ball instead of in a chair. Having to work at keeping balance can help get some of the wiggles out.
- Hold a weighted blanket or cushion in their laps.
- Chew gum, if the building owners permit it and it doesn’t drive the teacher nuts. Chewing gum can calm students and help them focus.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Here’s a strategy I used in a homeschool class with a teen who’d been unable to speak in class at private school:
Parents can confer with the teacher before class begins to see if a limited amount of participation is okay. If so, ask the teacher not to call on the student the first few weeks of class.
After that, ask the teacher to tell the student privately before class that he will be called on that day, but only when he raises his hand, and that a one-word answer will do. Encourage the teacher to say, “Correct,” “Good,” or “Good try!” after these correct answers, but not to make a big deal of it. Repeat this for several weeks, and then encourage the student to try slightly longer answers.
I’ve kept these tips short to provide a range of examples.
For more detailed help, see below. Remember not to give a whole book to a teacher on how to teach your child unless they really want it. Read one yourself and share one or two tips:
Terri James Bellis, When the Brain Can’t Hear. (Auditory processing disorders)
Melinda Boring, Heads Up Helping: Tips and Tricks for Working With ADD, ADHD, and Other Children with Challenges—written mainly for homeschooling these children, but some tips adaptable for small classrooms.
Chris Dendy: Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, and Executive Function Deficits: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents.
Chris Dendy has also created a great little poster, The ADD/ADHD Iceberg, which illustrates the obvious and hidden behaviors associated with ADD. (For example, sleep disturbance and impaired sense of time.) Chris’ books and poster are available at http://chrisdendy.com.
To help students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia, Dyslexic Advantage publishes very good infographic cards.
- “What is Dyscalculia for Parents, Tutors, and Teachers”
- “What is Dysgraphia for Parents, Tutors, and Teachers”
- “What is Dyslexia for Parents, Tutors, and Teachers”
At 4 x 9 inches, these cards convey a good summary without overwhelming your co-op teacher, scout leader, and other adult who works with your child. The cards are $5 for a pack of 10 cards. Your purchase will support a great organization promoting awareness of dyslexia and the success of dyslexics in many fields.
Understood.org has some helpful articles and simulations.
Richard Lavoie’s videos, F.A.T. City and Beyond F.A.T. City have been out for years, but are still worth watching. He is a genius at teaching and at helping adults see what a classroom feels like to struggling learners. (F.A.T. stands for Frustration, Anxiety, Tension—what our kids feel!)
What are your favorite tips to give to teachers and others who help your exceptional children? Please post in the comments below.