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February 2016 Newsletter

Traveling the Peaks and Valleys of Homeschooling

Four More Teaching Tips for
Your Teacher Journey

Krisa Winn Krisa Winn

By Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

I am a former teacher turned homeschooling mommy.

As a classroom teacher, I wanted the best for my students. I wanted them to love learning, overcome challenges, and reach their potential.

Fast-forward four years, and I can honestly say that the hopes and aspirations I had for the students in my classroom pale in comparison to those that I have for my own children. We homeschooling moms are serious about teaching our young, and we are no strangers to putting pressure on ourselves!

I often talk to moms who tell me, “I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not sure if it’s enough or if I’m doing it right.” I love to talk to these mommas. Brainstorming, sharing ideas, and learning from each other—it’s what teachers do. Today, I want to share a few of those teaching tips with you so you can teach your child with confidence.


1. Check for Understanding

Checking for understanding is such a simple yet important thing to do. If you don’t know where your child is academically, how will you know where to go next?

You can check for understanding before, during, and after instruction.

  • Before beginning a new chapter in math, for example, you may want to administer a pre-test.
  • During a lesson, it’s good to stop from time to time and ask, “What have you learned so far?” or “Can you tell me about ______ in your own words?”
  • After presenting new material you may ask, “Do you have any questions?”

However, since many struggling learners are also rather passive learners, you may not get a lot of feedback in return to such questions. It may be better to ask them to repeat back instructions, or have them trade places with you and model or demonstrate the new skill. Maybe using a game or a graphic organizer would be a good fit for your child. There are a variety of methods to check for understanding.


2. Observe and Ask Questions

Do you ever jump to conclusions when it comes to your children? I find myself doing this from time to time. My children come to me in tears preceded by loud arguing. I often assess the situation before I have all of the facts. Sometimes my assessment is right, and sometimes I’m woefully wrong.

Whether I’m wrong or right, I could just kick myself. Why didn’t I ask more questions? Why didn’t I let everyone share his or her side of the story? Instead of helping to work out the problem, I added to it. Observing, questioning, and guiding are not only good parenting strategies, but are also excellent teaching strategies as well.

We just discussed the importance of checking for understanding. How is this different? Well, sometimes in our checking, we discover that there is hesitation or struggle.

Now what do you do? Ask more questions and look out for clues. The dangerous tendency is to assume that you know why your child is struggling and begin intervening. Usually, this leads to tears and frustration because your child feels misunderstood.

I was thinking about this the other day when I came across a quote from Joyce Herzog’s book, Timeless Teaching Tips. She wrote, “When your child asks for help, ask some questions before jumping in to help him. What is the problem? What part do you need help with? How could you figure that out? What do you think you need to do next? Do you understand what to do? Do you have the tools you need to finish this? What do you need help with? Are you tired; do you need (a nap, to rest, to try again tomorrow)? You may find out he is just hungry, or his pencil is broken. Don’t take the toaster apart if it just needs to be plugged in!” (emphasis mine).


3. Keep Your Student Involved

At a recent workshop I heard Sandy Barrie-Blackley of Lexercise (a reading intervention program) talk about the key components to “making intervention work.” One of the necessary pieces she discussed is customized daily practice, and plenty of it.

At Lexercise, their goal is to elicit at least 100 responses from a student each day. That seems like a lot, doesn’t it? And indeed, to the participants in the workshop, this was the area that seemed the most daunting.

Once I heard this, I decided to see just how many opportunities I was giving my daughter to physically and orally respond during a reading lesson. I was shocked to discover what we were able to accomplish.

Currently, she is working through a computerized reading program where she is asked to mark the vowels, click on the syllable break, put a line through the silent e, and more. Tally mark, tally mark, tally mark . . . In combination with the computerized program, we did some work offline on those areas that she had struggled with on the computer (an example of customizing the curriculum). She wrote a response on the white board, circled the correct answer out of two or three options, answered some questions orally, etc. (I try to change things up in order to keep her engaged!) In 30 minutes, I tallied much more than 100 responses. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that she has really begun to unlock the “reading code” this year.

The homeschool setting affords many opportunities to engage our students in the learning process. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity.


4. Allow for Accommodations

What are accommodations? Accommodations take away barriers so that students can demonstrate what they know or access information in order to learn something new. For a child with dyslexia, an accommodation might include access to recorded books. For a child with dysgraphia, an appropriate accommodation might include the use of voice-to-print software. For a child with autism, an accommodation in the way the material is presented may be necessary.

I have spoken to many people who are worried that they are making assignments too easy for their struggling learners by allowing for accommodations. Accommodations do not make the material easier. They are meant to “level the playing field.”

One way to determine if an accommodation is appropriate is to allow the same accommodation for a typically developing child. Did it make any difference in the outcome? Most likely, it will not. That child will score well on a math worksheet whether they have 10 minutes to finish or 20. They will probably be able to answer a question at the end of a chapter whether they write the answer or give the response orally.

On the contrary, if the accommodation is taken away from the struggling learner, what happens? You will most likely discover that without the accommodation, there is a marked difference. If that is the case, then the accommodation is appropriate for that child.


In Conclusion

The challenges you experience in your homeschool classroom are altogether individual and unique. Nevertheless, there are common denominators which can guide us successfully to the other side of the valleys that we sometimes journey through. Remember to

  • Check for understanding,
  • Observe and ask questions,
  • Keep your child involved and engaged, and finally…
  • Allow for reasonable accommodations.

You can do this. You can do this well! As you are traveling through this and other valleys between the exciting peaks of homeschooling, remember to keep one hand clasped to the hand of your child and the other firmly holding the hand of the Great Shepherd.


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