The Questions: How Can I….

Featured

quickly recognize reading disabilities?    identify my child’s exact reading problems?

get a quality reading evaluation?    develop high but realistic reading goals?

evaluate the quality of my child’s reading program?     work effectively with schools?

monitor my child’s progress?       ensure my child makes important progress?

resolve conflicts with school districts?     use federal laws to advocate for my child?

improve my child’s reading without provoking fights?

Three Strategies to Prevent Extreme Stress and Anxiety in Children

Stress and the anxiety can devastate children with reading and other disabilities:

Stress is bad for children. It’s associated with health problems, school failures, and youth delinquency…. High stress levels have been associated with … asthma and depression…. Stress directly affects ‘attention, memory, planning, and behavior control.’ When the mind is under emotional stress, it produces the peptide cortisol…. Cortisol generally is a blessing because we don’t become controlled by our past negative experiences. However, if cortisol is not kept in balance, learning can and will stop. (Creedon, 2011, p. 34)

Preventing Stress

Children with reading disabilities or other disabilities become stressed and anxious when they believe they have no control over a situation or activity, believe they can’t succeed, and believe their lack of control and inevitable failure will harm them. If schools allow teachers to continuously adapt instruction to struggling readers’ current needs and abilities—which some schools forbid, but deny—teachers can often help them develop a healthy sense of control and a belief that with reasonable, moderate effort they can succeed. This helps prevent chronic, destructive stress. Teachers can do this by giving struggling readers:

  • Materials at their proper independent and instructional levels.
  • Limited choices with activities at their proper independent and instructional levels.
  • Feedback that emphasizes recent successes, effort, and the correct use of strategies.
  • Lots of opportunity to safely express their needs and concerns.

While we have often stressed the importance of giving struggling readers (and all readers) materials at their proper independent and instructional levels, in this post, we’ll discuss three other suggestions that involve giving struggling readers (as well as non struggling readers ): limited choices, constructive feedback, and opportunities to safely express their needs and concerns. All three suggestions can increase children’s sense of control, reducing stress and anxiety, and, in many cases, strengthening their motivation for schoolwork.

Your Role?

As you read our suggestions, ask yourself: How can I do these at home, in ways that will reduce my child’s stress and increase his confidence and motivation?

Our Three Suggestions

Limited Choices. Choice motivates. In studying the role of choice in motivation and achievement, Guthrie concluded:

  • “Children need choice to develop independence…. Teachers who are successful at motivating students often provide myriad choices…. Choice is motivating because it affords students with control” (Guthrie, 2001).
  • Choice can strengthen children’s reading achievement and comprehension (Guthrie & Humenick, 2004).

Limiting choices to two or three relevant, independent or instructional level activities has the advantage of improving learning and being time efficient and manageable for struggling readers and teachers. Readers can quickly make the choices they prefer. By presenting children with two or three choices, teachers can motivate struggling readers to engage fully in the activities, increasing the joy of teaching. Regularly giving children choices goes beyond the moment; it helps them achieve three of education’s long-term goals: autonomy, independence, and motivation.

Here’s a choice that Mrs. McCormick, a fourth grade teacher, might give Liam, a struggling reader who needs to build his listening vocabulary: “Liam, your Dad said that for your reading homework, he’d like to read a book to you and talk about it. Here are three books on something you always like: dinosaurs. Take a few minutes and pick out the one you want to give your Dad.”

Feedback. Feedback should stress recent successes, effort, and the correct use of learning strategies. If materials and activities are at the struggling readers’ proper independent or instructional level, they should have many successes for teachers to draw upon.

Once struggling readers have several recent successes, teachers can help them link their new activities to their previous successes. They can do this by explicitly showing and asking them how their new activities resemble their past successes and then reminding them of what they did to succeed. Linking the activities may well decrease stress and create the belief that “I did it before. I can do it again.”

If struggling readers expect success because they previously succeeded on similar activities, and their new activities are at their proper independent or instructional level, they’re likely to make the effort needed to succeed. This creates opportunities for teachers to make effort—a controllable factor—part of their feedback: “Liam, you made a good effort. You stuck to it. You didn’t quit. And this helped you succeed.”

Many struggling readers don’t know the sequence of steps—the learning strategy— it takes to succeed in academic activities, such as decoding unknown words. Thus, teachers need to explicitly and systematically teach them the strategies or secrets of learning that lead to success. If, for example, struggling readers are frustrated by their random, haphazard efforts to decode unknown words, they might well profit from learning Caldwell and Leslie’s Cross-Checking (2005, p. 67) learning strategy:

  • Say the first sound or sounds of the word.
  • Finish reading the sentence.
  • Go back and think of a word that has the same first sound or sounds.
  • See if the word has a spelling pattern that you know. If it does, use the compare-contrast strategy to figure out the word. [A previously taught strategy. The child might say, “If d-o-w-n is down, then t-o-w-n must be town.”]
  • When you think you know the word, say it and finish the sentence.
  • Reread the sentence with the word to make sure it makes sense.

If Liam uses the Cross-Checking strategy successfully, his teacher’s feedback might emphasize effort and his correct use of the strategy: “Liam, you made a good effort. You stuck to it. You correctly used the Cross-Checking strategy we worked on. Using it correctly helped you succeed. Great job!”

Listening. For struggling readers and many other children, school is stressful beyond endurance. Often, thoughts of school alone provoke extreme anxiety. It’s a place to avoid.  By giving a struggling reader lots of opportunities to safely express his needs and concerns, a teacher can help a struggling reader reduce his stress by feeling more in control of his life. Just by listening carefully—without quickly evaluating the reader’s comments or imposing her views on him—a teacher can often calm a stressed child. This can set the stage for helping him develop solutions to address his needs and concerns. But as children will sometime announce, listening alone is often enough.

In high school, Mr. Meiselman’s willingness to always listen to me talk about my needs and concerns, despite my severe stutter, probably kept me out of prison and helped me think about college. Though fifty years have passed, I remember this: listening works.

The IEP

If your child is eligible for special education, his Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team, of which you’re a member, must write a new IEP for him at least annually. Make sure that his IEP states that for homework and independent classwork, all reading materials must be at his appropriate independent level, and that for instruction, in which his teacher directly instructs and works with him, all materials must be at his appropriate instructional level. Except on rare occasions, when he requests more difficult materials on a topic he finds immensely interesting, teachers should not ask him to read such materials. Usually, they’re frustrating. Doing this is the basis for our other three suggestions.

Once proper reading levels are part of your child’s IEP, ask that it include this post’s three suggestions. Even if they’re not included, discuss them with your child’s teacher. They might add immeasurably to the quality of your child’s school life. For detailed information on what you should do before, during, and after IEP meetings, see our e-book Negotiating Your Child’s IEP: A Step-By-Step Guide (Margolis and Brannigan, 2014).Negotiating Your Child’s IEP: A Step-By-Step Guide.

References

Margolis, H.,& Brannigan, G.G. (2014). Negotiating Your Child’s IEP: A Step-By-Step Guide . http://www.amazon.com/Negotiating-Your-Childs-Step-Step-ebook/dp/B00L72JRKO/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_img_1

Caldwell, J. S., & Leslie, L. (2005). Intervention Strategies to Follow Informal Reading Inventory Assessment. Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.

Creedon, D. W.. (2011). Fight the stress of urban education with the arts. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 34-36.

Guthrie, J. T. (2001). Contexts for Engagement and Motivation in Reading. Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/articles/handbook/guthrie/ .

Guthrie, J. T., & Humenick, N. M. (2004). Motivating students to read: Evidence for classroom practices that increase reading motivation and achievement. In P. McCardle & V. Chhabra (Eds), The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research (pp. 329–354). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Howard Margolis © Reading2008 & Beyond

How Can Emotional Reactions Affect the Learning and Adjustment of Children with Reading Disabilities?

We all worry and get angry, but we don’t realize how much these emotions affect us. Even relatively minor concerns can compete for our attention, occupy our thoughts, and distract us from our purpose.

For most of us, the worry and anger is not intense. It’s short lived. But many chilren with reading disabilities and other learning disabilities don’t get over it. The intensity increases. This, in turn, adds to the difficulties they have attending, concentrating, and remembering. They waste valuable time and energy on nonproductive thoughts, impeding their learning.

Some children with reading disabilities, for example, dwell on past failures; they tell themselves they’ll never stop failing. Others focus on what they think is the unfairness of their situation, the poor treatment they get, and the likelihood that these injustices will only get worse. Still others worry about disappointing their parents and teachers, as well as the shame and embarrassment they feel when they compare themselves to classmates, siblings, and friends.

So, a pattern develops: failure, worry, poorer attention and concentration, lower productivity, continued failure, increased worry. Over time, a fatalistic attitude characterized by helplessness, hopelessness, and despair may result.

To reverse the situation, schools and parents must do three things. First, examine how the instructional situation can be modified to ensure success. Second, provide highly skilled counseling. And third, make sure that each day children with reading disabilities have ample opportunity to do something they absolutely enjoy. It can be playing with their DS for 20-minutes, playing ball with friends, or helping their parents paint the kids’ rooms.

GB © Reading2008 & Beyond

Is My Child At-Risk For Dyslexia Or Reading Disabilities?

We’re often asked, “Are early intervention programs likely to help pre-schoolers, kindergartners, or first graders at risk for reading disabilities?” Before we describe some of the signs we look for, let’s focus on the definition of “at risk.” Our definition is simple: Is the child likely to have difficulties learning to read? Likely means that we can’t be certain, but we’d better work hard to prevent the problem. And carefully and frequently we’d better monitor the child’s progress to ensure that we adjust the program to meet his needs.

In 2003, J. Ron Nelson and his colleagues published an excellent review of the research that sheds light on the characteristics of young children that influence their success in early literacy instruction.  Nelson and his colleagues concluded that the most important factors, “in order of magnitude, [were] rapid naming {e.g., letters}, phonological awareness, problem behavior, alphabetic principle, memory, and IQ.” These difficulties “appeared to predict the treatment effectiveness of early literacy interventions” (p. 261). If you think your child has one or a combination of these difficulties, have him evaluated for special programs that his school may offer to pre-school, kindergarten, or first-grade students or for special education eligibility. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), the public school has an obligation to assess your child if you register him with the school, suspect a disability, and submit a written referral.  Don’t wait. If problems are found, your child needs extra instruction that focuses on improving his areas of need, that is systematic, explicit, and intensive, that carefully monitors his progress, and that makes learning fun.

For further information about the technical terms in this post (e.g., phonological awareness, alphabetic principle), we recommended that you search these terms on-line and/or review chapters 2 and 3 of our book, Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. These chapters and our new e-book discuss other important factors, including family factors and language development, and give you suggestions on how you can help your child at home and through his school.

References

Margolis, H., & Brannigan, G. G. (2009). Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds. Voorhees, NJ: Reading2008 & Beyond (www.reading2008.com).

Margolis, H., & Brannigan, G. G. (2013). Reading And Learning Disabilities: Five Ways To Help Your Child. [Kindle] Amazon.com.

Nelson, J. R., Benner, J., & Gonzalez (2003). Learner characteristics that influence the treatment effectiveness of early literacy interventions: a meta-analytic review. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 18(4), 255-267.

HM © Reading2008 & Beyond

COPING WITH ACADEMIC DEMANDS

Many children suffer emotionally because they cannot cope with academic demands. But they can develop specific skills to help them cope effectively. By doing so, they increase their motivation for learning and decrease their emotional distress.

 

These skills form the basis of “self-regulation,” which Lyn Corno and Ellen Mandinach (1983) broadly defined as the effort put forth by students to deepen, monitor, manipulate, and improve their own learning. Clearly, such activities are important for learning, which in the final analysis depends on the learners’ willingness and skill to meet the demands placed on them. Moreover, self-regulated learners understand the important links underlying what they think, what they feel, and what they do or don’t do.

 

Let’s begin with cognitive skills or thinking, because this drives self-regulation.

Generally speaking, when self-regulated learners are presented with an academic task, they’re aware of their thoughts. They think about thinking! Their awareness allows them to:

  • Analyze a task
  • Assess their abilities—strengths and weaknesses—relative to the task
  • Set realistic short-term and long-term goals for completing the task
  • Monitor their progress toward reaching these goals
  • Make changes, if needed
  • Evaluate the results

This self-regulatory sequence is a strategy that can be applied to different situations. Yet many children, especially struggling learners, are unaware of this and similar learning strategies. Some who are aware cannot implement the components. Both groups of struggling learners—those who are unaware of or are unskilled in using the strategy—need structured, explicit, reinforcing instruction to master it. As part of their instruction, teachers should use “think-alouds” to demonstrate the various components of the strategy. In “think-alouds,” teachers talk about what they’re doing as they grapple with a task. For example, if a struggling learner is using the RAP strategy, the teacher might use this think-aloud:

  • I’m using the RAP strategy.
  • The three steps are “R” for Read a paragraph, “A” for Ask myself what the paragraph was about, and “P” for Put the main idea and two details in my own words.
  • I read the paragraph. I’ll check the “R” on my checklist.

To help struggling learners master a strategy, teachers and parents should systematically encourage learners to practice the strategy—starting with easy tasks that are gradually replaced by increasingly more challenging tasks on which learners can succeed. In addition to sequencing tasks from easy to more challenging, teachers and parents should give the learners corrective and encouraging feedback on their performance. In other words, they should tell them why they succeeded or, if they’re having difficulty, what they need to do differently. If the tasks match the learners’ abilities, feedback will usually stress why they succeeded.

 

Teaching children to apply a self-regulatory strategy to many different situations is essential. But it’s also difficult. An excellent, practical book that can help is Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s Smart and Scattered. Here are three of its many how-to “plans for teaching your child to complete daily routines”:

  • Use a template for a five-paragraph essay.
  • Before studying, choose from a menu of study strategies.
  • Use a bedroom-cleaning checklist.

Because self-regulation is complicated and, in many respects, invisible, here are five resources. You may want to read and share one or two of these with your child’s teachers:

  • Corno, L., & Mandinach, E. B. (1983). The role of cognitive engagement in classroom learning and motivation. Educational Psychologist, 18, 88–108.
  • Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2009). Smart and Scattered. NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Margolis, H. (2005). Increasing struggling learners’ motivation: What tutors can do and say. Mentoring and Tutoring, 13(2), 223-240.
  • Margolis, H., & McCabe, P. P. (2003). Self-efficacy: A key to improving the motivation of struggling learners. The Clearing House (2004, July/August), 77(6), 241-249.
  • McCabe, P. P., & Margolis, H. (2001). Enhancing the self efficacy of struggling readers. The Clearing House, 75(1), 45-49.

GB © Reading2008 & Beyond