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High School Solutions for Struggling Learners

March 21–25, 2016   |   Vol. 126, Week 11

Being realistic about your student’s strengths and weaknesses can be a tremendous asset in homeschooling a struggling learner. But could it cause you to sell your child short? Find out more on today’s Homeschool Heartbeat with special needs consultant Faith Berens.

“Parents who are homeschooling teens with special learning challenges can absolutely provide a wonderfully enriching high school program, specifically taking into consideration the child’s areas of weakness as well as their strengths.”—Faith Berens

This Week’s Offer

Are you approaching high school with a struggling learner in your homeschool? If so, you may have questions that HSLDA’s Special Needs Consultants have addressed! Follow the link to request your free copy of our resource sheet, High School Issues for Struggling Learners.

The flexibility of home education can make all the difference between a child who flounders and one who succeeds in school. But when a struggling learner reaches high school, is it still okay to make modifications for his individual challenges? Find out today on Homeschool Heartbeat with host Mike Smith!

Mike Smith: My guest this week is Faith Berens, who is one of HSLDA’s special needs consultants. Faith, thanks for joining us this week!

Faith Berens: Mike, thank you for having me—it’s a pleasure to be here.

Mike: Faith, homeschooling provides a lot of flexibility and specialization for struggling learners to advance at their own rate and in the best way. But once a student gets to high school, the homeschooling parent may wonder, “Can I still use these teaching methods? Is the education I give my student really adequate for high school courses?”

What do you tell parents who are wondering about these things?

Faith: Well, first of all, I like to remind parents that struggling students and children with cognitive delays and learning disabilities, as well as functionally disabled students, are given high school credit and graduate frompublic high schools all the time. So parents who are homeschooling teens with special learning challenges can absolutely provide a wonderfully enriching high school program, specifically taking into consideration the child’s areas of weakness as well as their strengths.

Teaching struggling learners through high school at home gives parents the opportunity to pace instruction as needed, use alternative curriculum, as well as provide one-on-one remediation and guidance.

Many paths to success [1:30]

Mike: Faith, if a parent is homeschooling a struggling learner or special needs child through high school, what sort of modifications can they make to the way they teach their student?

Faith: When parents make modifications and provide accommodations, the aim should always be to help students attain their full, God-given potential, and to make sure the student is working up to his highest level of capability. Modifying the way we teach does not lower the standards or requirements. It just helps make the content accessible for the student with the disability.

The accommodations that can be made are things such as extended time, or using adaptive equipment, adapted materials, such as high-interest, low-readability texts. Also, using print recognition software or reading pens, as well as books on audio for the literature classes, can help the students access the content, and then the parents can give their child high school credit. For other students who may have a written expression disability, or a dysgraphia, parents could allow for oral tests or narration of assignments, rather than written essays.

Can I substitute courses? [2:34]

Mike: Faith, homeschooling can be such a blessing for families with struggling learners, because it enables the teaching parent to modify their education plan for that student’s individual needs. Last time you discussed how this works for teaching style. Once a student is in high school, can a parent still switch out the actual courses their student takes?

Faith: Parents can definitely offer alternative courses. Sometimes kids with special needs can be successful with algebra and other higher math, but it may simply require modifying the curriculum, or using a specialized alternative math curriculum to meet the student’s preferred learning style.

For some students entering the workforce, military, or attending vocational training classes, rigorous math classes like calculus and trigonometry may not be required or needed. In other instances—for example, with students who have a severe learning disability or a dyscalculia or cognitive delay—these higher level math courses are probably not going to be feasible. But parents can substitute with basic math, perhaps an accounting class, a consumer math, or a finance/money management class. So I encourage parents to think creatively and plan based on their child’s needs and functioning levels, as well as their future goals.

Aiming high [3:47]

Mike: Faith, parents who are homeschooling a struggling learner or a special needs student in high school may be tempted not to worry about whether their child’s transcript is good enough for college. Why should parents consider this, even if they don’t thinktheir child will be able to handle college work?

Faith: Well, we certainly do not want to sell our children short. And parents of struggling learners should not automatically rule out college, because their student has a mild to severe learning challenge, such as dyslexia. I always encourage families who have children with learning disabilities, and especially those who are gifted with LD, to plan their child’s high school program with college in mind.

So if the student chooses to attend college in the future, he will need to obtain at least a general college preparatory diploma, which should include about 24 to 28 credits. Other options are junior colleges, and universities specifically for students with disabilities. And community college is a great stepping stone to a four-year university or college, particularly for struggling students.

And finally, never underestimate the power of personal motivation. So aim high, and keep good records of the students’ academic coursework, as well as their extracurricular activities.

High school diplomas [4:58]

Mike: Faith, can you give some guidelines on how homeschooling parents can award a high school diploma to their struggling learner?

Faith: Well, a diploma certifies that the student named on the diploma has successfully completed acourse of study. In most states, parents, as the administrators of their homeschools, design this course of study and set forth the high school graduation requirements, based on their child’s needs and capabilities, as well as realistic future goals. And then, once the student satisfactorily meets those requirements, the diploma is awarded.

But there are different types of diplomas. Some families whose children have more severe cognitive delays, or Down syndrome or autism, may choose to award an alternative diploma, such as a special education diploma, a certificate of completion, or a certificate of high school achievement. These alternative diplomas would be most suitable in cases where an individual will more than likely either always be living with someone, or will be partially independent.

But for most of our students, we should aim at awarding a general college preparatory diploma, or at least a basic academic diploma, which would include 20 to 22 high school credits.

Mike: Well, Faith, this information this week has been so helpful! Thanks for sharing these guidelines with our listeners. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Faith BerensFaith Berens

Faith Berens holds a master’s degree in reading from Shenandoah University. She has 13 years of teaching experience in both public and private Christian schools, serving as a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery® teacher, reading specialist, and educational therapist. Her areas of expertise are early childhood literacy, reading assessment, and the identification and remediation of reading difficulties. Faith joined the HSLDA team of Special Needs Coordinators in 2008 and homeschools her own children, as well as works as a private educational consultant, evaluator, and tutor. Some of her passions include reading for pleasure, singing, traveling, nature/science, leading Bible studies, and teaching reading to primary age children. Faith lives in Stephens City with her husband, Matthew, her daughter, Hailey, and her son, Hayden.

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