Show them what you’ve got

The marathon is 9 days away.  I have reached rest week.  Now I sit, sleep and eat for a week and get filled with nerves and questions of “What have I gotten myself into?”  Long runs are done.  Hill drills are done.  Track workouts, tempo runs, pace runs, long mid-week runs….all done.  The workout routine that I have come to love and rely on over the last year will take a break for awhile.  My overall goal has been achieved, which was to make it through a year with no major injury.  I have successfully come back from my major stress fracture and completing my second marathon, no matter my time, will be the icing on the cake.  On my last fast run this morning one of my running partners asked how I felt my summer marathon training had gone.  I commented that I could tell I had spent all winter and spring working incredibly hard to gain strength and endurance.  Last fall I worked hard to relearn how to run with my very condensed stride.  I had to concentrate on every step I took so I didn’t slip into my old habits.  During my marathon training this summer I never felt as tired as I felt last winter when I was doing yoga, skate skiing, running through snow drifts and forcing my body to do things I never thought possible for me.

#2 has also come back from an injury.  Both of us were crushed by his school experience, never knowing if he would re-enter a school after basically being told “we don’t know how to teach you and we don’t want to figure it out.”  At my last meeting with the staff the defining moment came when they told me they didn’t believe it was possible for him to read and write (he was only in 3rd grade at the time).  #2 was so downtrodden that he also never believed he would read or write.

We have worked for 1 1/2 years to build up his strength and confidence and prove his former school (and himself) wrong.  I worked long and hard teaching him how to read and write….and most importantly how to believe in himself again.  We started at the beginning, going over the letters and their sounds.  We worked longer and harder on basic reading, writing and math skills than I ever thought was possible.  He wrote paragraph after paragraph working on his form, spelling and trying to get faster and more automatic.  He read book after book out loud working on his decoding strategies, comprehension and reading fluency.

Near the end of the summer I decided it was time to send him into the world.  Because of all his work, his basic skills are much stronger than I thought was possible a couple years ago.  He can decode a word, understands how English works and can discuss what he has read.  The overall goals of homeschooling were met.  He learned to read at grade level, believes he is a reader, has the confidence and ability to express himself in written form, and is able to get spelling close enough for a spellcheck to help him…most of the time.  His work on the basic skills was done and it was time to apply them in a less controlled environment and work on some new goals, so I enrolled him in school.  He now attends Cyber Village Academy, a small charter school close to our house.  Like all the students on campus, he is at school 3 days a week and at home 2, which seems the perfect blend of homeschooling and traditional school.  Much of the reading and writing take place at home, on a computer.  We still tap out syllables for spelling, remind him about the -ed suffix, and I modify the work that isn’t appropriate for him.  I have had his first IEP meeting and they are working on his main goal of self-advocacy at school, a goal that is pretty difficult when your mother slightly stubborn mother is your only teacher.

The week before I sent him off to school we had a rest week at home.  I was filled with anxiety.  Would he be able to do this? Has he prepared well? Should I have drilled him more on vowel-consonant-e? Will he be able to keep up?

It was time for me to trust again and rely on the work we have done.  Trust myself.  Trust the school.  Trust the teachers.  And, trust #2.

P1030354

#2, Are you ready for this?  It’s going to be hard.  There will be times when you want to quit. You will need to constantly remind yourself that you have worked hard for this moment and you want to be here, especially when its hard.  I will be here to help you and encourage you, but its you that will need to do all the hard work.

His response….

Yes.  I’m ready.

I worked hard and I know I can do this.

Let me prove what I know.

I’m ready to show them what I’ve got.

Now can you PLEASE TAKE THE PICTURE SO WE CAN GET GOING?

And with that, he was off.

In 9 days I will also be doing something not because it is easy, but because it is hard.  I never thought I’d be a runner, but here I am proving myself wrong because of the work I have done, the self-discipline I have learn and the support I have received.  There will surely be moments during the 26.2 when I will want to quit.  But, there will be smiling faces and words of encouragement along the way telling me I can do this, rely on the work I’ve done for the past year, and remember to trust my body.

It’s time for me to show myself what I’ve got.

Advertisements

Make cookies

On Friday afternoons we take a break from traditional academia in homeschool land.  Sometimes it’s time to watch a documentary, other times we go skiing or on a bike ride.  #2’s favorite is a cooking project.

He loves to make cookies.  #4 helps too.  He reads the recipe, does the math (when we double a recipe), follows directions, plans ahead (when he gets out all the ingredients before he starts…something I’m guilty of failing to do very often!) and cleans up.  All valuable life skills.

IMG_3275

My favorite cookie is chocolate chip.  I like this recipe so much because when I get up too late before an early morning run to have breakfast, which is always, I can shove 2 of them in my mouth and call it nutritious because of the oatmeal.  Right?

IMG_3277

Chocolate Chip Cookies (my grandma’s recipe)

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon hot water
1 package chocolate chips
2 cups oatmeal
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs.  Dissolve soda in water and add.  Add vanilla.  Add flour and salt, and then fold in the rest of the ingredients.

Grease cookie sheets and warm them.  Roll dough balls, place on cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes (they will still look a little raw) .  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

IMG_3280

What are your thoughts on Assistive Technology?

First, let’s define Assistive Technology (AT).  The best information I found was, surprisingly, on the PBS website:

Assistive technology is any device that helps a person with a disability complete an everyday task. If you break your leg, a remote control for the TV can be assistive technology. If someone has poor eyesight, a pair of glasses or a magnifier is assistive technology.

Assistive technology includes many specialized devices as well, like typing telephones for people who are deaf and motorized wheelchairs for people who cannot walk. Assistive technology can be “low-tech” (something very simple and low-cost, like a pencil grip), or “high-tech” (something sophisticated, like a computer). Assistive technology can be critical for the person using it – if you wear glasses, think how hard it would be to get through the day without them!

The federal government recognized the importance of assistive technology for students when it revised the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 and again in 2004. IDEA states that school districts must consider assistive technology for any child in special education. That means that for any child receiving special education services, the educational team must ask if there is a device that will “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities” of that child. If the answer is yes, the school district must provide certain services:

  • a qualified evaluator must complete an assistive technology evaluation;
  • if the evaluator recommends a device, it must be acquired;
  • and if you, your child or the staff in your child’s school need training to use the device, that training must be provided, too.

There is the information.  It sounds pretty good….yet in my experience it’s a slippery slope.

In third grade #1’s reading scores started on a sharp decline, actually showing that he made backwards progress during the school year.  In fourth grade his teacher suggested he start listening to all the books he was reading (the curriculum is designed around independent reading), telling me this is Assistive Technology and a way that has been found to help children with learning disabilities or children who are struggling.  Because he had always loved listening to books on CD at home I thought, “GREAT!  At least he’ll be looking at a book and taking something in instead of staring into space.” (which was his mode of operation in 3rd grade)  Becuase he was now listening, he really blasted through those books, but did he learn to read better?  No.  Did anyone teach him? No.  He was put in a corner with headphones on during reading where he quietly spend all of his reading time for the next TWO YEARS.  Because I was dealing with so many issues with #2 (and other complicating factors) I wasn’t paying much attention to the fact that no one was actually teaching him how to read (although the school did believe they were fulfilling their requirement for reading instruction).  What did he learn? Reading is not for me and I can only “read” a book if I listen to is, so why even try.  He had no confidence and no competency when it came to reading.

When #2 received his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) the school also wanted him to use a lot of Assistive Technology.  Although its against the law, they suggested I get him an iPad so he could dictate his work to a computer at all times.  There is also an app that will read material out loud.  I was a little smarter the second time around and I asked, “What is your plan to actually teach him how to read and write without the use of a computer?” They had no answer….except that they believed an iPad was essential for his life because they doubted he would ever read or write (I have proved them wrong).  And don’t get me started on the numerous ways I was outraged when they suggested the district could assign him a scribe…an actual person sitting next to him all day long doing all of his writing so he wouldn’t have to.

Assistive Technology, to them, was a crutch.  A replacement for actual teaching.  A replacement for actual learning. An excuse to not do the hard work….for both the teacher and the student.  Would #2 like to play on an iPad all day? Y-E-S!!! Would #1 like to listen to all his books on an iPod? Of course.  Will their mother allow this….N-O!  Sorry children, your mother is stubborn….and a Scandinavian Lutheran with a strong work ethic.

Last Friday the New York Times had a wonderful article, When Helping Hurts.  It focused on the harm that helicopter parenting can do to our children.

“it [help] must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.”

I think this ties in perfectly when thinking about Assistive Technology.  With #2 I use AT for homeschooling, however, it looks much different than what the school was proposing.  He does use a computer for writing…but he is not dictating into a microphone.  He is typing with Microsoft Word.  He does write with paper and pencil, but is more motivated to write a paragraph when he can type it.  He is delighted when he can look through a list of spelling suggestions and figure out the correct way to spell a word.  He is still doing the work and using the skills he has learned through the Wilson Reading System.  He uses a Kindle to read, but he is still the one reading.  #3 uses large pencils, but he is the one doing the writing.

The main point is this: when dealing with learning disabilities Assistive Technology should be used as an aid to help the child do the learning and work independently.  Use AT to aid in competency, not harm their confidence.  The AT should not be the thing that is doing the actual work.  Any more invasive of AT should be used only as a last resort after many interventions and instructional methods have been tried.

The look on #1’s face when he got to the end of his first book during the fall of 6th grade was priceless.  He looked up and with a big smile said, “I just read an entire book by myself! That is the first time I’ve done that since 2nd grade!”

Don’t use Assistive Technology because the child CAN’T do something….use Assistive Technology because they can.

A Sense of Belonging

“Giving rights to one group doesn’t take away from the people that have the rights already. Everyone can be a part of our world.”

~#2’s commentary during the marriage equality debate

Rally in Rotunda

Yesterday #2 and I biked to the capitol (Phy. Ed….check) to see and participate in the rally for marriage equality.  We talk a lot about civil rights and social justice at home, so seeing this historic moment was a good fit.

#2 has always had a deep sense of fairness.  Sometimes this is a wonderful trait, like when he expresses and will work for his deep sense of social justice and civil rights…but sometimes his deep sense of fairness is not helpful, such as when he is dealing with his siblings!

I have always wondered where this burning desire for social justice comes from.  Because of his dyslexia, he is incredibly sensitive to the world around him visually, auditorily, and emotionally.  His brain takes everything in and he has a very difficult time filtering things out.  He is normally the first to react when he senses something is not right.

I just started the book Reading David: A Mother and Son’s Journey through the labyrinth of Dyslexia by Lissa Weinstein, Ph.D.  She is describing the process she went through to have her son diagnosed and it’s strikingly similar to my journey.  The interesting part is that her son has written part of the book and talks about how he always knew he was different from people around him.  I asked #2 if he always knew he was different, and he said he did, with tears in his eyes.  I can’t help but wonder if he has known how different his brain worked from others because of how sensitive he is.

Yesterday #2 was able to see our democracy in action.  He saw people of all walks of life participating in a historic day.  It was a great lesson in civics.  He noticed that just because your have a clerical collar on, that does not define what side of the issue you are on (yesterday, more times than not it meant you were there to support marriage equality).  He witnessed many people holding signs expressing their joy of finally belonging to part of our society, the institution of marriage.  It was striking how many people were there that, by appearance only, many times don’t fit into the norm of our society.  We saw many same sex couples showing affection to each other, other people with fluorescent hair, people holding signs expressing their bisexuality, etc.  How long have some of these people felt like they had to hide their identity?

A main theme of the debate yesterday was a sense of belonging.  People in same sex relationships were asking to belong.  They were asking for a tolerance of differences.  They want to openly be themselves and able to express their love in the same way that opposite sex couples do, through a publicly recognized marriage.  They want society to accept their identity and who they are.  This debate took a lot of courage from people who have been labeled as “different” their entire lives and told they don’t belong.  Everyone wanted to be included in something that for to long has been for “us” and not “them.”

Yesterday, everyone belonged to society.  People from all walks of life came together in a sign of unity and acceptance.  #2 was amazed at all the people and loved being surrounded by the acceptance, hugs, music, love and joy.  As I watched him beam I realized that a sense of belonging is what he has asked for his entire life too.  He’s always known he was different, and it was pointed out to him continuously throughout his time in public school.  While the class was reading and writing he was told, in so many words, “this is not for you” and put in front of a computer to play a game. He was taught that his dyslexia was a barrier for his life and a reason he would never belong, instead of the gift that it is.  He was even taught that the thing that makes his life so difficult at times, dyslexia, is something that the school district denies is real and refuses to discuss.

He wants to belong.  He wants to be accepted for his differences.  He wants to be praised for his creativity, ability to care for animals and deep compassion for other people, not ashamed of his low standardized test scores.  I can only hope that someday he will feel this acceptance when he re-enters a public school.

I am filled with gratitude towards the MN legislators who voted for acceptance, tolerance, social justice, fairness and love.  What a wonderful thing that our children will grow up in a world where people of different sexual orientations can all experience the joy of a marriage.  Yesterday we honored the golden rule….may that continue into other areas of our society.

Reframing it

It is almost time to begin training for the Twin Cities Marathon in earnest.  I’ve been looking over Hal Higdon’s training guides and trying to decide which option would be best for this year.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking: What is my goal?  Fast? Just get it done? No injury? Boston Qualifying? Run as fast as I possibly can?  Stick with my much more experienced (and smarter) running partner? All the above?

There will be times when I’m mad that I’m training for the marathon.  I will want to go out late on a Friday, but I know I have to run 18 miles the next morning.  The two don’t mix.  I will be running when its way too hot and humid to rationally run, but the training guide says I must and there is no end in sight for the heat wave.  I won’t want to get up at 4:55 AM.

But, I will remind myself the entire time….I get to do this.  I’m the lucky one.  My body let’s me do this.  My husband supports me doing this.  My lifestyle allows me to run.  I have wonderful friends to run with who encourage and challenge me.  I get to.

This is the rationale I’ve been turning to lately with raising children with dyslexia and especially homeschooling.  It’s May.  The weather is finally nice.  I feel like I’m on those last couple weeks of marathon training when your body is so tired and you are crossing your fingers you don’t get injured.  I have worked so hard for so long and I’d like to be done for awhile.  Homeschooling #2 is not easy for me.  It’s nothing I thought I’d ever do.  And just when I think we are getting somewhere….that there is light at the end of the tunnel….that some spelling is really sinking in and that -ed ending is cementing…I get the following text from #2 (sent from my mom’s phone):

text

Are you kidding me?!?!?  GUST? PAST? YORE?  Can someone tell me how this sentence passed autocorrect? Where is Siri when you need her?

OK, I’ll give him yore….at least he got the vowel-consonant-e concept we’ve worked so hard on.  And the g/j sound is really hard for him. He needs to learn it to 100% accuracy and obviously we need to review.  BUT PAST?!?! No -ed suffix? It’s what we’ve worked on for 6 weeks!

Forget it.  Running a marathon, no make that an ultra-marathon, up a mountain, in elevation, on a really skinny path, is easier than this.  I’m a total failure of a teacher and parent.

I believe this is what they call “hitting the wall” in marathon terms.

It was time to dig deep.

There are two types of perspectives you can take when thinking about dyslexia; the deficit perspective or the strength perspective.  I was stuck in the deficit perspective.  The end of the school year is approaching and I’m stuck thinking of all the things that are incredibly hard for #2.  Spelling, reading speed, reading comprehension, writing, slow processing speed, math facts, sports, coordination, physical strength, attention, musical note reading, holding that darn violin bow straight…..I could go on and on.  It was (and is) bogging me down and it must be bogging #2 down too.

It’s time for me to re-frame. For myself I need to remember that I get to homeschool.  My life life work and personal background has lead me to this.  I am strong.  I am capable.  I get to be my child’s teacher.  I get to.

For #2 I need to help him reframe his dyslexia.  (#1 and #3 are also dyslexic, but they have different strengths.)  He gets to be dyslexic.  He gets to have dynamic reasoning.  He gets to be an intuitive thinker.  He gets to have the same strengths as Albert Einstein and Wolfgang Mozart (both dyslexic).  He gets to have vision about a complex process.  He gets to be good at connecting the dots and spotting patterns.  His diffuse attention is building creativity. His creativity is especially valuable in situations that are changing or ambiguous.  A high percentage of his type of dyslexics are in the following careers: entrepreneur, chief executive, finance, geology, physics, business consulting, economics, medicine (immunology, rheumatology, endocrinology, oncology), farmer, and construction. (Information from The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain)

He gets to be profoundly dyslexic.

I get to be his teacher and parent. I get to  help unlock his wonderful brain. I get to.

Not exactly helpful

I have found that when you have a child struggling with something….academic, health, behavior, etc….it’s tempting to turn to the internet to look for a quick fix.

In March the New York Times had a short article about dyslexia, Video Games may Aid Children with Dyslexia.

Students trained (?!?) in action video games showed that they had improved reading scores. WOW!  Time to get to Target and load up on all those Wii games I say N-O to.  That’s it?  I can just shove my boys in front of the Wii with ACTION (non-action games didn’t have as dramatic of an effect) games and they will read well? Done and done.

But wait, the last paragraph of the article is this:

“The correlation between attention improvement and reading improvement was very high,” said the co-first author of the study, Simone Gori, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Padua. “The change in attentional abilities translates into better reading ability.”

Wait, is this news?  Of course your reading will be better if your attention is better, isn’t that the trick I wrote about yesterday?

I would argue that instead of plopping your child in front of a video game and hoping that they become a better reader (they won’t), they go outside and exercise to increase attention.  Shouldn’t the goal be healthy children who are confident about their reading skills and engaged in learning….instead of children nagging about needing to play more video games and THEN they will do their homework.

The New York Times has published many articles about the benefits of exercise, even while Phy Ed. and recess time are being cut.  In the last paragraph of Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter by Gretchen Reynolds she writes:

“But for now, the takeaway is clear. “More aerobic exercise” for young people, Mr. Kuhn said. Mr. Hillman agreed. So get kids moving, he added, and preferably away from their Wiis. A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.”

Hiking in Glacier

Get outside and play!

2 ends of the spectrum

Yesterday I wore shorts on my morning run. Today I hit off on the alarm and went back to sleep after I looked at the weather report and it said “WINTER STORM WARNING!”  Sometimes I just can’t deal with the continual shift between extremes and I want to shut down.

This was the scene on our front patio this weekend, ice melt next to sidewalk chalk.  Two ends of the weather spectrum are flip flopping.

winter and spring

This is also the life of a person with dyslexia, it operates at two extremes.  Even though my brain operates like this, I find it very difficult to teach to two extremes.

One of the essential pieces of teaching a student with dyslexia is progressing very SLOW through basic skills.  The student needs to gain automaticity so their working memory isn’t overloaded. When automaticity is achieved they can take in new knowledge instead of focusing on how to sound out a word or spell a word.  The more profound the dyslexia, the more practice and repetition is needed.

At the same time that basic skills are incredibly difficult, these children are also very intelligent and outrageously curious.  Many times critical thinking skills are well developed at an early age.  Children who can’t remember that -ed is placed at the end of a past tense verb can remember and put knowledge together about history (or another complex subject) very easily.

And that is where the difficulty lies.  I believe that basic knowledge of how to read and write are essential for education (I was a first grade teacher after all!), and the rest will follow.  How do you teach a very bright child that is yearning for more and more knowledge but takes a month of daily practice to learn the -ed ending? How do you keep him stimulated but teach the basic skills without completely boring him and even worse, having him believe that learning is the equivalent to shoveling snow in May (aka: horrible and to be avoided)?  Luckily, history and -ed both deal with the past tense.

To keep motivation up #2 is starting a project about Russian history.  Worksheets, flashcards and drills, while essential to helping him gain the amount of practice he needs, quickly bore him and he daydreams easily.  Also, I think he was getting a little tired of my blank stares when he would ask me questions about the political motivation of Stalin before, during and after World War II and I would answer with a weak, “Ummm…. let’s Google that.”  When I had no idea how to find Chechnya on a map (without Googling it) I realized I needed a little Russian history too.

Throughout this month we will flip flop between the complex history of Russia and summarizing what he learns by writing sentences in the past tense.  He will be practicing the skills he has learned this year with the Wilson Language System (syllables and suffixes) while learning about a subject he is interested in.  Check back throughout May and I’ll share other projects I come up with to help him review his basic skills from 4th grade.