Jul 122013

GOOD GRAMMAR Lessons Without Grief

In addition to your child learning to express his thoughts in writing, your child needs Grammar lessons. Writing mechanics such as punctuation, spelling, and word usage are important, but I’ve yet to meet a child with learning disabilities who loves his grammar lessons!

While there are many programs that teach grammar skills, few programs have multi-sensory grammar lessons. For kids who struggle with print-on-paper learning, learning grammar can be a challenge. Additionally, if your child has Executive Functioning deficits or ADHD, then you may need to address those issues too in order for your child to learn his grammar lessons successfully. It’s an added bonus if your child can actually apply what he has learned. 😉

Given that grammar lessons are a chore for most kids with LD issues, I’d like to suggest two things:

1) Make your grammar lessons as fun as possible using the entertainment factor, and

2) Forget diagramming sentences and all of the nit-picky stuff that your child will never use outside of schoolwork!

Let’s look at these two suggestions separately.

FIRST, Make Grammar Lessons FUN!

You and I both know grammar mistakes can be fun and funny.  Take the example of, “Jane loves cooking horses and her family.” Without any commas, that is an alarming sentence. Correct punctuation gives us, “Jane loves cooking, horses, and her family,” which has an entirely different meaning.

Using a program like Laugh Your Way Through Grammar can be THE ticket to engaging your child in his grammar lessons. The comical nature of Laughing Your Way through Grammar lessons helps kids understand and remember the importance of comma placement. We used Laugh Your Way Through Grammar for our grammar lessons, and it was fun for my guys to laugh at their mistakes once they realized the different meanings a sentence has based upon punctuation.

Another fun favorite is Painless Grammar (Barron’s Painless Series). The Painless series of books seeks to make rather boring topics interesting and memorable. A humorous approach to grammar lessons applies to these books too, so check it out if your child is hating grammar!

If you Search on Amazon for Grammar Fun, you will find a number of books with grammar lessons built upon the fun-factor. 

Second, Forget Diagramming Sentences!

There.. I said it! How many kids are tortured with sentence diagramming every year in school, and what for? Seriously?

I know it is supposed to help a child understand the proper structure and to learn grammar within sentences. However, diagramming sentences, memorizing different clauses or the more complicated parts of speech has no practical use whatsoever when it comes to real life–or anything beyond school. For many kids with LD issues, trying to dissect sentences is torturous at best and an impossible task for most.

The main goal is for your child’s grammar lessons is to be able to write a proper sentence, using proper grammar, and to be able to convey his thoughts in writing. Therefore, I’d like to suggest diagramming is unnecessary fluff. Learning to identify parts of speech or diagram sentences is not worth the battle, in my humble opinion. 😉

Unless your child plans on being an English teacher, then your main goal should be to teach your child proper usage of commas, colons, semi-colons, etc. If you’re an English teacher, please don’t write to me and tell me how important sentence diagramming is–when is the last time an adult asked you to diagram a sentence outside of a classroom?

As a reaffirmation of skipping sentence diagramming, parts of speech, etc., my boys performed fabulously in college during English 101 and 102, earning all A’s. My boys didn’t have to diagram anything, identify anything, nor did I when I was in college. There may be an occasional college out there that requires it, but that is more likely the case if a person is majoring in English.

That said, please refer to the first section to make grammar lessons fun, and consider the programs in the next section to help your child learn grammar. The main reason for formal instruction outside of grammar fun is to enable your child to score well on standardized tests that quiz on punctuation.

Grammar Lessons and Programs Recommended by Learning Abled Kids’ Moms

One favorite of many is **Shurley Grammargrammar lessons. This program has catchy ‘jingles’ to help children remember rules. The program is thorough, sequential, and provides extensive instruction. Some parents find the program to be too cumbersome, but many who stick with it long-term think it is the best program available.

Applied Grammar is a great program for Learning Abled Kids. This program is colorful and multi-sensory in nature, which definitely helps with your child’s learning engagement. Learning grammar with the applied program involves teaching your child weekly grammar lessons that are about 15 minutes long. This lesson length is ideal for kids with short attention spans. There is about 15 to 20 minutes of application per lesson, which can be practiced immediately after the lesson. Grammar is then practiced throughout the week in a natural way. The best thing about Applied Grammar is that it is applied. Using it properly in writing assignments helps your child see the practical aspects of the grammar lessons.

Linguisystem’s Grammar Games and energetic grammar activities help engage your child in grammar lessons. Again, this adds in the “fun factor,” which can be of great benefit to your child. The Linguisystems products are primarily targeted towards Speech-Language Pathologists, and as such, the programs are specifically designed for kids who struggle with learning. Therefore, as far as direct instruction in grammar learning goes, the Linguisystems programs are likely to allow your child to learn grammar more effectively than using traditional mass market grammar programs.

Somewhat Multisensory Grammar Programs

Some of our favorite grammar lessons include the books produced by Critical Thinking Company. The Language Mechanic, Punctuation Puzzlers, and Editor-in-Chief are a few of the great series they have available in the Critical Thinking Company’s Grammar line of products. Visit Critical Thinking’s BrightMinds website to see series not available elsewhere.

If your child has a visual / auditory learning style or loves computers, you may find a Grammar Software program provides more enjoyable grammar lessons. Since grammar is an aspect of written language that is generally either right or wrong, using a software program with immediate feedback is a good way to help your child learn.

If, however, your child is not a computer lover, he may find the program frustrating if he doesn’t do well with entering the proper responses. We used some software for our grammar lessons (the Editor In Chief program), which worked alright for my boys. They didn’t love it, but that was mostly because it was grammar!

Wishing you and your child great luck with your grammar lessons.

Jul 122013

Does your child have a big vocabulary?  Did you know having a good vocabulary is shown by research to be a critical skill for enabling a child to read?

The National Reading Panel has concluded that Vocabulary is one of the critical elements in a child’s ability to read. Having a robust vocabulary will improve a child’s reading decoding skills, reading comprehension level, and his ability to read fluently. Helping a child increase the size of his usable vocabulary cannot be underestimated in its ability to improve a child’s reading level.

The words your child knows and can use in order to communicate or read are defined as his vocabulary. By increasing the size of your child’s vocabulary, you can effectively increase the level at which your child is capable of reading, writing, and speaking.

The NRP says “Children learn the meanings of most words indirectly, through everyday experiences with oral and written language.” Children learn the words through everyday conversation with peers, adults, through shows they watch, and through listening to books that are read aloud.

Therefore, one of the easiest ways to increase your child’s vocabulary is to read aloud to him on a daily basis. You can also use new, unfamiliar words in conversations with your child. Children learn new words best when the words are used in context, so using new words appropriately and purposefully in conversation will help convey meaning, pronunciation, and will expand your child’s vocabulary.

“Specific word instruction, or teaching individual words, can deepen students’ knowledge of word meanings. In-depth knowledge of word meanings can help students understand what they are hearing or reading. It also can help them use words accurately in speaking and writing.” With this, the NRP conveys the importance of specifically teaching vocabulary in addition to building vocabulary through everyday activities.

To explicitly teach vocabulary, it is helpful to teach a child specific skills related to determining the meaning of a word. Necessary skills include familiarity with reference books (dictionaries, thesaurus’) and learning how to break words into parts and determine the meanings of the pieces (prefixes, roots, and suffixes). Repeated, purposeful exposure to new words will help a child gain familiarity with the word and will help him incorporate the word into his everyday vocabulary for speaking and writing.

You can explicitly help your child build his vocabulary through word studies, word games, and using vocabulary words related to new areas of study. You can help build vocabulary through a daily visit to our vocabulary fun page too.

A great software based program for building vocabulary is the Wordsmart Vocabulary Software. We have several of our home schooling friends with learning difficulties that particularly like this program. This fun vocabulary software has engaging games that provide children with the learning tools that can enhance vocabulary at a fast pace. Wordsmart Vocabulary Software works much faster than traditional vocabulary building methods – words are presented in an optimal order for faster acquisition. Word Smart publishes vocabulary activities, math games, and word games, all of which are fun, engaging ways to reach your child with critical vocabulary skills.

One of our favorites for building vocabulary is the **Critical Thinking Company‘s Word Roots software program. This software program is an award winning, easy to use, easy to understand program that teaches Greek and Latin roots, prefixes, suffixes, and their meanings. The programs can be purchased as texts or as computer based software games. The computer based games make this an ideal program for any child with a visual learning style. Even though my son has significant dyslexia, he loves learning the Greek and Latin roots, and finds the software fun to play with.

Another great teaching tool we’ve used is the **Spectrum Word Study and Phonics workbooks offered by McGraw-Hill. This set of workbooks is good for teaching word structure, some basic decoding skills, and vocabulary. The books are a good high-level reinforcement of word learning, but won’t provide sufficient depth for a child with a specific learning disability when used as an only program. For any child who can remember and recall with minimal practice, the series is excellent, and it serves well as a reinforcement activity for children who require more in depth practice of skills.

Jul 102013

About Speed Reading for Kids:

Some children with dyslexia or ADHD can learn to speed read, especially if they are highly visual learners. Often they can speed read better than typical individuals, but they do have to be able to read first. Therefore, if your child has dyslexia, start with a good, proven reading program to teach your child to read, then come back to this page.

Our Fun with Speed Reading for Kids

I HAVE to tell you that I have been amazed (truly I have) at how well and how quickly my children, with mild to severe dyslexia, have learned to speed read.

Initially, I was skeptical.. VERY skeptical.. when I read that children with dyslexia can often learn how to speed read better than typical readers. I wrote to George Stancliffe of the **American Speed Reading Project and found him to be encouraging and sincere.

The cost of the American Speed Reading Project’s program, “Speed Reading 4 Kids“, is relatively inexpensive, so it is well worth a try if your child can read above a third grade level. A complimentary copy of this program was sent to me and we found it to be nothing short of amazing.

My children, who have mild to significant dyslexia, can read a 200 page chapter book in ten to fifteen minutes with amazing retention and recall. Children with dyslexia, being visual learners, often do better than typical children in this program.

Becoming speed readers has been a great esteem builder for my children as well. By reading so quickly and so well, they can amaze and entertain their friends, read more than I ever dreamed they could, and they use their speed reading skills at will.

I have found that my children still use slower, more purposeful reading for their textbooks, but they enjoy speed reading for magazines, newspapers, books at the library, etc.

You can’t use Speed Reading 4 Kids effectively until your child has learned to read at or above a third-grade level, but once your child has mastered basic reading skills, I highly recommend giving this program a try. Teaching your child this skill will help them tremendously throughout life.

Jul 102013

Reading smoothly in a rhythmic, and expressive manner is called “Reading Fluency”. For children with reading decoding difficulties, reading smoothly with understanding can be a significant issue and requires the right methods and curriculum.

Fluency can be difficult to develop when a child has to concentrate on figuring out each word. If a child has good decoding skills, he will have less difficulty with fluency. A good vocabulary can help as well. Unfortunately, when a child’s reading is dysfluent, his reading comprehension usually suffers too.

The National Reading Panel says, “Reading fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension, but is often neglected in the classroom. If children read out loud with speed, accuracy, and proper expression, they are more likely to comprehend and remember the material than if they read with difficulty and in an inefficient way.

“Two instructional approaches have typically been used to teach reading fluency. One, guided repeated oral reading, encourages students to read passages out loud with systematic and explicit guidance and feedback from their teacher. The other, independent silent reading, encourages students to read silently on their own, inside and outside the classroom, with little guidance or feedback from their teachers.”

“The Panel determined that guided repeated oral reading has a significant and positive impact on word recognition, reading fluency, and comprehension for students of all ages. However, the Panel was unable to conclude that independent silent reading, as the only type of reading instruction, improves reading fluency. More research is needed to understand the specific influences that independent silent reading practices have on reading fluency.”

So, the least expensive way to help your child learn to read fluently is to sit with him and work on reading passages aloud. Have your child read a passage two or three times until he can speak the passage without pausing for any significant decoding difficulty. He should read as if he is speaking the passage. The repetitive practice of individual passages can help him hear how fluent reading sounds.

Don’t drill your child in any single passage over and over, as he would probably come to hate practicing reading fluency. Instead, have him practice a passage here and there a few times for fluency. It is helpful if you model fluent reading by taking turns reading aloud. Repetitive reading to develop smooth reading skills can be undertaken at any reading level and should be part of a child’s regular reading practice.

When you begin practicing Reading Fluency, it will be helpful to measure your child’s fluency level. A great free tool to use is DIBELS. The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of standardized, individually administered measures of early literacy development. They are designed to be short (one minute) fluency measures used to regularly monitor the development of pre-reading and early reading skills. You can use the DIBELS assessment when you begin working on fluency and at regular intervals to measure progress. **DIBELS is offered by the University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning.

There are two Reading Fluency programs I’d recommend for home use. One is Sopris West‘s **REWARDS Reading. REWARDS is a research-based and research-validated Reading Intervention that improves:

  • Decoding
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension
  • Test-taking abilities
  • Content area reading and writing
Students who have mastered single syllable words and who are ready for multisyllabic words benefit greatly from the REWARDS program. The program does not teach basic phonemes and sounds, but does take reading mastery to a new level once a child can decode basic words.The other Fluency focused product I’d recommend is **Read Naturally’s One Minute Reader. One Minute Reader is a fun home reading program that can help students read better. It motivates students to improve their fluency. Read Naturally has a software version of their program as well which you can find by going to their products listing and scrolling down to the Software section.You may also wish to check out our information on Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary since both of these aspects of reading skill can have a significant influence on Reading Fluency. Our information on Speed Reading may be of interest once your child reads fluently beyond a third grade level.

Best Wishes in helping your child learn to read with speed and accuracy!

Reading Fluency