Despite the fact that I work for Demme Learning, math is one of my least favorite subjects. In fact, it was probably the greatest barrier for me beginning a homeschool experience, but also the reason I became a homeschool parent.
So many adults dislike math, don’t understand it, and are uncomfortable with it. Why? After almost six years of being a placement specialist with Math-U-See, I believe it is because we were not well-taught. Sometimes the most difficult conversation is to admit to yourself that math makes you uncomfortable.
How do we keep ourselves from visiting that discomfort on our children?
For me, the more complex the math became, the harder it was for me to stay engaged with the process. It wasn’t until I was a Math-U-See parent, that I realized that the reason math was hard was because I didn’t have my fundamentals covered.
Here is where Math-U-See excels because we begin with teaching the fundamentals. Instead of teaching you a variety of different things all at once, we teach you one thing at a time until you know it well enough to be able to teach it back. That gives you a leg up and an advantage.
There is a growing field of research that says using math manipulatives give children a paradigm to be able to frame their understanding and allow them to move forward mathematically. If we view math instruction as a continuum, beginning with manipulatives makes sense, and helps foster understanding. In the Math-U-See world, manipulatives don’t supplement – they are central to instruction.
Why would that be the case? Here are two reasons that make our manipulatives different:
1) Multiple Modalities
When you use math manipulatives, they give you as many modalities as possible to be able to understand something. Modalities, you say? What I mean by that is as many senses as possible. I am a very visual learner. That is my learning preference. We all have a preference, but that does not mean we cannot use ALL of our senses as we learn something new.
I have kids who are auditory; they learn differently than I do. Somebody who’s really visual says, “Oh, I see.” Someone who’s more auditory would say, “Oh, I hear you.”
Regardless of how you come to the table, the Math-U-See manipulatives level the playing field because they give you the opportunity to work until you understand. When I’m teaching a Math-U-See problem, I’m seeing it, I’m speaking about it, and I’m touching it. I’m using as many senses as possible to teach math.
Often math instruction is like this: “Here is the expectation; you should have it now, and we’re moving on.” That’s a challenge for those of us who did not fully understand what was instructed. When you revisit it later, in a more complex situation, you don’t have full recall, so it becomes much harder to learn.
Flash forward to adulthood where we develop a bunch of coping mechanisms. Or we say we just are not “mathematically minded”. What if we stopped blaming ourselves and placed the blame on the way we were taught? What if we could unlearn the anxiety we have developed towards math and really understand?
That’s what Math-U-See does.
Math-U-See gives your students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts and then move forward. Your students don’t need to be stuck doing a hundred problems just because someone decided that a hundred problems was enough. If you can demonstrate understanding, then you can move on to learning something new.
2) Time Spent on Math
The second thing that makes Math-U-See separate from any other curricula is the amount of time you spend in a lesson in a day.
This so vitally important—we want to take our adult paradigm of how long something should take or how long you can stay engaged in a task and apply that to a student. I am the poster child for that. I’m an only child; I was born a tiny adult.
Our children have much shorter attention spans because developmentally, their prefrontal cortex is not complete. In fact, learning theorists say your child has an attention span of their age, plus 2-3 minutes.
If I’m asking my 10-year-old student to do an hour of math a day, he has been successfully engaged in the process, provided that there has been no anxiety, for 10-15 minutes. The other 45 minutes are just an exercise in perseverance.
If we tailor our expectations to meet students at their best, and move forward, then we find that they can be successful.
Math-U-See Sets You Up For Success
Steve Demme (author of Math-U-See) sets you up for success in his instruction. The DVDs are designed to be the how of instruction. How do you use the manipulatives to practice the concepts presented. The instruction manual is the why of what you are doing. You need both to be successful.
If you teach math concept by concept, laying a solid foundation, then you can be successful mathematically, and that makes all the difference in the world. You can even unlearn the mistaken belief that you are not “mathematically minded”, and that means both you AND your children will have mathematical success.
How Can I Help You?
Thank you so much for reading my blog post! I hope it was valuable to you.
If you would like personalized assistance, please feel free to schedule an appointment.
My computer chimed with the sound that a chat was waiting for me. I clicked on the icon and “Jane” began detailing a struggle:
Jane: My daughter and I are frustrated with Spelling You See.
Me: I am sorry to hear that Jane, can you give me some details about your struggles?
Jane: We are doing fine with the chunking and the copywork, but she is still getting many words wrong in the dictation.
Me: Jane, may I ask how you are doing the dictation?
Jane: For ten minutes, just like the instructions say. I am keeping a list of her misspelled words, and it is just getting longer…
At this point, I know two things, AND why they are having a challenge.
First, they did not carefully read all of the handbook accompanying the level, and second, they did not watch the modeling video that Dr. Holinga created for the level. It now falls to me to (diplomatically) explain why their investment is not yielding results.
The Error of Word Lists
Spelling You See does not require parents or students to keep word lists for a very specific reason: the brain treats a list as item memory.
This means that it may or may not go into long-term memory. If it gets there, we think “success”, but if not, we blame the child. I often say to parents: “If using a list was so successful, you would get everything on your grocery list weekly, even if you left said list at home.”
The truth is that is not the way memory works. Our brains treat lists as individual components of memory and the ability to encode correctly in long-term memory is haphazard. The research that undergirds Spelling You See says that words have to be learned in context in order to be transferred into long-term memory.
Creating a list of words actually hinders the process. We put a great deal of emphasis on keeping the learning pathways open, keeping the amygdala calm, and keeping stress out of the spelling equation. I assure you that list of words is a stress inducer, because it shows Jane’s daughter what she has failed to accomplish, rather than what she is doing well.
The Value of Dictation
I also know something else about Jane and her daughter. They are not doing the dictation correctly. The dictation is word by word for a reason – so that you, as the parent, may prompt for correction as soon as the mistake is made. This prevents an improper spelling from being encoded. The child may or may not get the word correct on the second (or even third) try. The important part of this exercise is that they are looking for the correct pattern, and the brain is still open to trying to create that pattern.
This is SO important, that I want to restate it: You must correct for a spelling error in the moment, as the error is made, because Spelling You See is a practice-based curriculum with opportunity for a student to try again to see “what looks right”.
The good news in all of this is that we are resilient beings who can learn and change. Once I explained to Jane where in her handbook she needed to review and why, she said they would be willing to give it another go. I am so passionate about Spelling You See that we agreed that I would call in three weeks to check up on them and see if there were changes.
Three weeks later when I called, Jane said, “Things are different now.” When I asked her how they were different, she said that they were seeing progress in her daughter’s spelling. The progress has not been an overnight sensation, but Jane said there is an added benefit that the dictation days are something her daughter now looks forward to, rather than dreads. She said they are collaborating better, and taking great delight in counting the number of correctly spelled words.
I was so delighted. The secret benefit of a Spelling You See experience, which Jane and her daughter learned firsthand, is that giving a child the confidence to believe they can do it results in their doing it with confidence.
Over my years of homeschooling, I have found in my personal circle that we were divided into two camps: those of us who are the planners and the list makers, those of us who would prefer to be spontaneous and not plan; we like to just go with the flow.
Which one are you? For those of you who are not fond of calendars, let me ask you to suspend your dislike and walk with me through what might benefit you in using a calendar for planning your academic year. Until I mastered this philosophy, my calendar had me in a strangle hold!
I have been both of those people and I’m here to tell you as much as I like to be present and in the moment, if I don’t do some planning at the beginning of my calendar year, my year never ends. I’d like to share five points with you today to give you a leg up on what it means to be prepared for your academic year.
5 Ways To Improve Your Calendar Management This Year
1) Circle an End Date on Your Calendar
First, I want you to pull out a calendar for next year and circle the date on which you want your academics to end. Over the years our family learned that we hated it when academics rolled over into this summer. (We DID however, do some math games and 30 minutes of reading a day, every day, in the summer months.)
If you circle the date on the calendar that you want school to end, then you can count backwards and see how many weeks you need to plan to do school.
2) Plan How Many Lessons You Will Cover
Look at the academics you are going to cover and how many lessons you have to cover in those subjects. Through most of my homeschooling years I used a curriculum that gave me 160 lessons, so I knew at 80 lessons where that had to be, and then I knew at 45 lessons where that needed to be; I could plug that information into the calendar. I also knew I wanted to take the entire month of December off, because I wanted to do something different and altruistic with my children. All of this meant I needed to count the available days for school, and be ready to apply those days to academics.
3) Weigh How Many Days You Are Going To Do School
I often hear families who say, “We only school four days a week,”; those same families will see me at a conference the next year, and say, “Yeah, we kind of dragged up to the end of school and we didn’t get the last 20 lessons done,” or, “We didn’t get the last 6 weeks of school done.” The truth is the truth, and failure to plan is planning to fail. I have been here – I have the t-shirt to prove it. Hopefully my “wisdom” here can be a guide for you for “what not to do.” If you are going to do school only four days a week, then you need to be engaged at the business of school those four days. Schedule your appointments outside of those four precious days.
4) Decide How Many Subjects Are You Going to Cover
This point is really important to me because I was a very academically-oriented parent. My first graders had reading, math, social studies, history, language arts, and spelling. After 21 years of home academics, and five children who are either in or beyond college, I honestly realize I could have done half as many academics and had an equivalent academic outcome from my children. Let me encourage you, particularly if this is your first year of homeschooling, to think of school this way: Reading is an essential life skill. Mathematics is an equally essential life skill. It is also my belief that you need to teach your children to spell because so much of our society communicates in written form. Those of us who don’t spell well have feelings about that, and those of us who do spell well have feelings about those we see who don’t spell well. You want to give your kids as many advantages as possible.
Beyond that, I think that everything else, particularly for an elementary school student, can come out of a rich reading program. You can create a science program from the books you are reading, a history program from the books you are reading; in short, what you read can frame your studies.
Parents will often say to me, “Well what about language arts and composition?” That really is a topic for a separate conversation. There is merit in teaching your children to write to an audience for an appropriate amount of time, but that doesn’t mean that needs to happen, especially in the early elementary school years. I want my children to enjoy the process of learning. If that means we can do more with less, than that is advantageous.
5) Be at the Business of School
I had an advantage that those of you in this day and age do not. What was that? Cellphones were not part of the equation when I homeschooled my children. Are you subject to the “ding?” I know I am. You hear the phone make a notification and you want to take a look. That is a distraction to the process of homeschooling. Set your phone aside, on silent, and stick to the business of school. If you schedule breaks to check in, you also model for your children their importance and that there is a time for everything – phones are just not part of school time.
Those are my five points. In closing, I want to say one more very important thing – it is not part of my list of five, because I want it to be last and leave you thinking about it! How much attention does your child have for any given task? Let’s say you are working with an eight-year-old child. Child development research indicates an eight-year-old child has their age plus about two minutes of attention span before they need a break. Structure your lessons so that they can take a moment to regroup after 10-15 minutes of good work. As you do this, you will find that their capacity will increase. Happy planning and happy schooling.
Last summer, I met a lovely mom, Rachel, at a homeschool conference. She had come into our booth to purchase Math-U-See materials, and while she was waiting in line to complete her order, she looked over at the Spelling You See books. During this busy day, I had the good fortune to have a conversation with her that changed her perspective about her child.
Rachel said, “Oh, I wish you had Spelling You See when my child was younger. He is a phenomenal reader, but cannot spell for beans. He is too old now to learn.”
“Really?” I questioned. “May I ask how old he is?”
“He is fifteen” she said, “and we are both resigned to the fact that he is going to be a terrible speller all the days of his life.”
I laughed and asked if she were willing to give me 60 days to change her opinion. You see, here is what I know: Rachel was coming from the same perspective I had before Spelling You See came into my life. I thought spelling proficiency was like eye color – something with which you were born; you were either a “speller” or not. My own experience was two kids who were confident spellers and two kids who were not, and I used the same spelling programs (note, more than one) with them all.
Spelling You See has taught me that a spelling confidence can be created in anyone, regardless of their age, if the principles found in the program are applied. My own son, who at age fourteen, as a diagnosed dyslexic and having resigned himself to believing that he would never be a “speller”, found that he could indeed spell! He used the Spelling You See program for about a year, until other academic pursuits overrode the time he had to allot for spelling. What did Spelling You See do for him? I say, honestly, as does he, that he will never win a spelling bee; however, he now has the ability to recognize when a word doesn’t “look right,” and uses the tools available to him to correct his errors. In fact, he can even recognize when he has an inaccurate homophone; for example, using the word ‘rain” when he wants to use the word “reign.” This is an enormous accomplishment, especially for someone who is dyslexic.
I just had the joy of editing his final paper for his freshman college English class. It was compelling and funny and thought-provoking, much like its author. The coolest part of the whole experience was that I could only find one spelling error in his endeavor. Honestly, four years ago, I would not have thought we would be here today!
If you are a parent of a child who struggles to spell, regardless of his or her age, I encourage you to look at Spelling You See. My grateful heart for Spelling You See will always be the fact that it changed my dyslexic son’s belief about his own abilities.
What is the “rest of the story” with Rachel and her son? Rachel took my offer of trying Spelling You See for 60 days. We agreed that she would use the program as instructed, read all of the handbook, and do the exercises with her son. We agreed that I would call her after a month to see how it was going.
Ring. Rinnnggggg. “Hello?”
“Rachel, this is Gretchen Roe, from Demme Learning. I was calling to check in with you and your son regarding your Spelling You See experiences.”
“Gretchen, I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing this experience has been for us! His attitude about his spelling is different now, and we are making progress. Even more important is that when I ask him to do his composition lessons, we are not arguing. Please thank Dr. Holinga and the staff at Demme Learning for this wonderful program!”
Our thanks is knowing that Rachel and and her son have been able to change their point of view about what he can do – and that is thanks enough!
“How much time do I have to invest in Spelling You See?”
I am often asked this from parents, whether we are attending conferences, or having a consultation over the phone. My first thought of an answer is “It depends.” But before I go there, let me say there is an up-front investment of time for you as the parent.
Read the handbook.
I cannot emphasize enough how important that is – this program is not like anything you have done before, and in order for it to be effective, you have to do it right.
You see, I am the “yeah, I got this” parent. I read the directions only if I have to, and will skip an introduction paragraph – always – and maybe even look for the bullet points instead of a paragraph of instruction. Can any of you see yourself in me? A Spelling You See investment is not large, but it is different. Get your money’s worth by reading the handbook.
Now, let’s discuss a few details:
If you are a parent working with a student who is in Level A, then your involvement is every moment of the time your child spends working with Spelling You See. Do not panic. What that translates to is about ten minutes a day for you and your student. At Level A, called Listen and Write, you are dictating by sound to your student for ten minutes a day. This is cultivating the skill of phonemic awareness, the essential hallmark of phonics that must be met in order to crack the code of reading.
Bear in mind that it is not a page of completion, rather an investment of time. For instance, on a page that might have twelve sets of word boxes for you to complete, even if your student only completes six of those boxes in ten minutes, they have had a successful spelling experience. The magic and gold of your investment of time together is for them to read back to you the words they have written. Don’t skip this step, because it is the cherry on top so to speak.
At Level B (Wild Tales) there is still a great deal of investment of your time with your student, because you are still helping model for your student how they’re going to create the sound-to-letter correspondence of phonemic awareness. Further, you two are working together with nursery rhymes to begin to foster a reading confidence. Each day will give you a different task to complete with your child, using the same nursery rhyme for the week.
Parents sometimes balk at the “same thing every day”. Hasn’t your child had a favorite story they have wanted you to read again and again?? Honestly, one of my children wanted A Fly Went By read to him – every day – for an entire year. Any one of my other four children can now recite it by heart!
As an aside, have you ever wondered why children do that? It is truly not to drive their parents to the brink of insanity – although I know it feels that way sometimes. Their brains are striving for something called “fluency” and that repetition helps them order and improve the neurological pathways for their learning. So their seeming madness actually has a tremendous benefit.
Levels C and above offer you the opportunity for a little bit more hands-off experience for your student. From Level C forward, your investment of time needs to be in reading the passage to your student daily, allowing your student to read the passage with you daily and then helping your student chunk that passage, by checking their chunking after it is complete. As you and your student become more proficient with the process, that time together becomes shorter. Don’t skip that process of reading to your child and then reading WITH your child. The specific goal of doing that is so that your child reads exactly and only what is written in the passage. If you skip that, you are not getting your money’s worth from the process.
Remember, all of this investment of time assumes that you have taken the time to read the instructional handbook, because Spelling You See is so very different from anything you have used with regard to spelling heretofore.
If you have more than one student, you can capitalize on an opportunity for them to help each other, by having them check each other’s chunking. We call that “forced altruism” at my house. This allows them to learn from one another.
There are two more investments of time for you in Levels C through F, and they are dependent on whether you have a child who is required to do one dictation a week in Level C or 2 dictations a week in Levels D and above.
Spelling You See dictation is very specific. You will dictate for a period of 10 minutes, word by word, correcting for an error as an error is made. If you wait until the end of the 10-minute time to correct for errors, you’re not going to have the same degree of success and your forward progress will be markedly slower. (But then you would know that because you read the handbook, right?) You must correct in the moment for the correction to be effective. Remember, because this is a process, the correction does not necessarily have to result in a correct spelling – it is more about trying another pattern to see if it works effectively.
The beauty of a Spelling You See program is that once you have mastered the process as the parent, there is no preparation for you – it is only the process of doing the work. That was tremendously exciting to me. It also markedly separates Spelling You See from other spelling programs in the marketplace.
My last word about the time investment is more intrinsic. I never realized what a negative experience it was to teach spelling, until I had the opportunity to teach it affirmatively with Spelling You See. To watch a child go from dreading spelling to looking forward to it was humbling and exciting for me. I know you will experience that same transformation. Go forth and spell well.
“Your child’s math experience is not your math experience.”
Oh my goodness, these are words I wish someone had said to me twenty-plus years ago! I became a homeschool parent because I knew my math skills were weak. I wanted more for my children, yet I had no idea how I was going to get there. Fortunately, by the time my two oldest children got to the point where I could no longer effectively teach them math, we found a co-op experience. (One of the most powerful aspects of the homeschool community is how we have each other’s backs for the weak spots.) I finally found my way to Math-U-See when my third child was not on the right track to enter into the math co-op.
I have to tell you, when I first looked at Math-U-See my first thought was, “Well, there’s not enough to do.” I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t realize the developmental appropriateness of a 15-minute math lesson. How often do we take our adult perspective and shove it onto a child, expecting them to conform to what has taken us years to accomplish? I am grateful for a friend who put Math-U-See on my kitchen table and said, “You must do this.” Witness again the power of the homeschool community.
Are you a parent with a really strong mathematical background? Then you will find Math-U-See a fantastic experience. You will appreciate the logic of teaching concepts in a developmentally appropriate way, concept by concept, making sure that the student understands the concept well enough to teach it back to you.
Or are you like me – the parent who said that math was not something you were good at and really something he/she hoped never to have to do? Perhaps you are not pursuing a homeschool experience just because you have a fear of failure because of your mathematical lack of skill. Please don’t let that idea hold you back any longer!
Math is like death and taxes – we are never going to get away from either one of them. They follow us around, all day, every day. We have to use math in order to survive.
Math-U-See’s unique approach is designed to empower a parent to teach their children mathematics. The videos that founder Steve Demme has produced for you (the parent) explicitly model how to instruct your child in each mathematical concept. Yes, children love Mr. Steve and his corny sense of humor. However, the power and purpose of each video is that he models for you how to explain mathematical concepts to your children. Take note of this point because it is pure gold!
The developmental appropriateness of each Math-U-See lesson means you will learn as much about mathematics as your child. How fantastic for you to model to your child that we’re never too old to learn something new. What a marvelous thing for you to model for your child to say, “Hey I’m learning right along with you!” One of my fantastic colleagues provided this further thought:
You have a profound opportunity to model to your child an authentic enthusiasm for learning. This is not a deterrent – it is a bonus. Those moments when they teach you what you don’t quite understand is a powerful opportunity to show them how to love learning for a lifetime.
So, what if you are the parent who is extremely math capable? Are you like a dear friend of mine who is so left-brained that she is incredulous that anyone would not understand mathematics, thoroughly and implicitly? Would it surprise you that this kind of parent sometimes struggles teaching their child just as much as those of us who find math a mystery? The reason is because this parent can take their adult understanding and their years of experience and forget that they did not learn math simply by osmosis. They forget that at some point in their schooling, math was a mystery to be explored. They forget that their attention span, forged by hours of study, may not be their child’s attention span. Sometimes this parent is even exasperated that their child’s grasp of mathematics is not as intuitive and prompt as their own. This is precisely why Math-U-See is for this parent too.
How can Math-U-See benefit the mathematically adept parent? Math-U-See takes that parent back through their own studies and helps them teach their child, concept by concept, at an appropriate pace that meets their child’s learning needs. It removes the suppositions a mathematically adept parent may make and allows them to see mathematics through the eyes of their child.
Would that you could stand with me at a homeschool convention and hear the stories that parents share so enthusiastically about the Math-U-See program! The engineers whose artsy child had no interest in math, much to their chagrin, but who is now excelling because they found a way to impart knowledge and conceptual understanding to her. The mother of eight who, because of economic circumstance, never even finished high school, who has now raised children who are in college and succeeding because Math-U-See equipped her to teach them. The single father whose twins were on the Autism Spectrum and felt he would never be able to reach them, but who thrived with the engaging multi-sensory lessons in the Math-U-See program. I LOVE these stories! I want everyone to experience the same feeling and outcome of success in their math schooling journey. This is why I want you to remember the title from my post today: Your Child’s Math Experience is Not Your Math Experience– it can be so much more!
How important is careful handwriting in Spelling You See? When a parent asks this question, I know I’m speaking to a parent who really wants to see their child have beautiful handwriting like Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie.
I might have been that parent as well, having been kept after school pretty much my whole 4th grade year by my teacher, who said that my handwriting was absolutely miserable. As an adult, I can assure you my handwriting is legible.
The Goal of Spelling You See
The goal of a Spelling You See experience is to have a student develop their long-term visual memory for proper word patterns. Dr. Holinga herself says that “sloppy copy”, when writing the worlds, is okay.
It is also important to know that children who really hate to hold a pencil and hate to write are not necessarily disobedient or recalcitrant. It frequently indicates that they are in need of further brain organization to connect their neural synapses more thoroughly. The best gift you can give this child is to insist that they do some copywork daily. This is the very reason we time limit the Spelling You See copywork to ten minutes a day.
That ten minute time investment in copywork will yield benefits in a variety of ways. The more proficient a student becomes with the copywork process, the easier it becomes. You will see this strategy of copywork meld into other aspects of their academics as well. Think of this like learning a skill that requires practice. A sport like golf, tennis, or Taekwondo requires multiple repetitions of the same muscle pattern to yield successful results. The act of copywork requires a similar skill set.
Dysgraphia and Handwriting
I think it is important, too, that we say a word about dysgraphia here. More and more parents make the assumption that their children have dysgraphia because they receive so much push back from them about the mechanical process of writing.
I watched a tremendous workshop a year ago, done by an accomplished occupational therapist who worked in the field of education. She said that our children’s involvement with digital enterprises (think handheld games) are actually thwarting our efforts to teach them to write. The more a young child plays with games that require them to hold the device AND use their thumbs to manipulate something (think game controller here) the more the space between their thumb and pointer finger closes. They should be able to form their fingers into a good approximation of a circle, or a “C” shape. (This helps with pencil grip.) However, she said that a significant number of children she sees in her practice have such a tight pincer grasp between thumb and first finger that it impedes their ability to hold a pencil.
Dysgraphia itself is a complex diagnosis. Briefly, it is a writing disorder associated with impaired handwriting; the storing process of written words and letters, called orthography; and finger sequencing, specifically the movement of the fingers in such a way as to facilitate writing. As a parent, I would be loathe to apply a diagnosis to my children if I had not exhausted every opportunity to help them overcome. The process of the brief exchange with the Spelling You See copywork on a daily basis may indeed help to alleviate that possible dysgraphia.
There are some children who have neurological deficits, such as cerebral palsy, which won’t allow them to hold a pencil successfully. I’ve consulted with Dr. Holinga (the author of Spelling You See) several times over the last three years about those children. She has encouraged me that even the child watching the process can be successful; however, the success comes much slower and at a much greater investment of time for the parent. So, if a diagnosis of dysgraphia is part of your child’s present circumstance, it does not mean that Spelling You See will not work for them. It is just an opportunity for you to orchestrate their learning in a different way. Don’t give up! Just as for Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter, spring will come to you eventually, in the form of spelling success.
Sometimes I imagine myself a fly on the wall of the Library of Congress, two hundred years hence. I see people standing around the hand-written Declaration of Independence puzzling about what it says, because they cannot read it.
Reading cursive writing is becoming a lost art.
Writing in cursive has fallen by the wayside of academics for so many of us because we keyboard or text.
Cursive and Spelling You See?
However, as beautiful and beneficial as cursive is, especially for dyslexic children (because the flow of cursive writing keeps them from flipping letters) it does not have a place in Spelling You See.
Parents often ask if a student can use cursive for Spelling You See in their copywork. I know that parent intimately.
When a parent asks that question, they have my heart. They are looking for a “twofer experience”, thinking that they can use Spelling You See to teach both penmanship and spelling. They are crestfallen when I tell them that doing copywork in cursive actually defeats the purpose of the copywork.
The Purpose of Copywork
Let’s remember that the purpose of the copywork is to help us commit to long term memory the common spelling patterns we encounter. We have to do copywork in print, because we read in print.
In fact, Dr. Holinga, the author of Spelling You See, says that the neatness of the copywork is not an important concern. I have often heard her refer to it as “sloppy copy”. The purpose of copywork is so that we can visually recognize the word patterns. As a student’s encounters with passages of copywork continue, the proper patterns become committed to long term memory.
We hear often from parents that their children hate holding pencils. I know that struggle is real. Boys in particular really balk at the process of learning to write with a pencil.
I think that if parents knew how truly important it was for their child’s brain development, they would not find it difficult to make their children pick up that pencil. The neurological act of using a pencil on paper, and the resistance that the pencil offers the writer – neurologically different from a smooth glide of a ball point pen — helps to organize the brain. It opens those pathways in a way other educational endeavors do not. If you have a child who is truly resistant to writing, keep in mind that ten minutes of copywork will accomplish the goal of the exercise. What you will also find is the student who truly melts at the thought of those ten minutes of copywork will become less resistant as time continues.
I know how important it is to choose which hills you are going to take, regardless of the battle. I have been choosing those hills for over thirty years. The copywork of Spelling You See is so much more than just a brief spelling exercise. The benefits it yields will meld into your other academic endeavors. The confidence it will produce in your student is well worth the effort. Go take that hill, and remember to hold the same kind of determination the drafters of the Declaration of Independence held – they would not be denied, and neither should you, when it comes to your child’s best interests. To paraphrase a popular phrase: Be calm and copywork on!
I really love doing Facebook LIVE presentations. I particularly enjoy it when I have the opportunity to talk about something that strikes a chord with homeschool parents. We did a Facebook LIVE video talking about working with students and mathematical word problems. It was like touching that third electrified rail in so far as how people feel about word problems! It would be fair to divide us into two groups:
1) Those who find word problems to be fascinating puzzles.
2) The rest of us, who really do not have an affection for word problems.
In the interest of true confession, I have never been a particular fan of mathematics. You can assign me the task of diagraming sentences all day long. In my opinion, word problems can be sometimes inscrutable.
Steve Demme (the author of Math-U-See) said to me once, “Well, Gretchen, you know when you solve math problems as an adult, they ARE word problems.” Point taken. While I would not say I love word problems to this day, I no longer have an adversarial relationship with them. One of the things I’ve always loved about Math-U-See is taking the sting out of word problems by making them a part of the daily lessons. What, however, do you do if you did not start your mathematical journey with Math-U-See?
We as parents have to be able to model for our children how to meet the challenge of word problems head on, and toward that end I want to share with you some of the tips that were shared in the Facebook LIVE video. I also have some things to say about math anxiety in adults.
You can also watch the video below, if you prefer.
Below you will find several tips to implement when working with word problems with your children. These tips are applicable, regardless of the age of your student, their mathematical experience, or even the level of Math-U-See in which they are working. As always, I am indebted to our tremendous customer service team. They are the contributors of much of my list here. You do know, of course, that being a member of the Demme Learning family means that you can call our team and ask for help if you are having a struggle. We want your success!
10 Ways to Make Word Problems Fun
1) Start With Fresh Eyes
If you are just completing a math lesson, and have already been at it for 15-20 minutes, take a break before you begin the word problems. Stand up and do some jumping jacks, have a snack, take a break. Then sit back down to the word problems.
2) Read the Word Problem All the Way Through First
Read the word problem all the way through first; don’t worry about the numbers in the word problem. Then ask yourself and your student, “do we understand what it’s all about”? Are there any new terms we are unsure of here? Are there words we don’t know?
3) Reread the Word Problem Again
Reread the word problem again; out loud is best. I know that reading out loud seems silly, but it is tremendously helpful.
4) Skip the Numbers
Sometimes in the reading out loud is it helpful to just skip the numbers altogether. Instead of reading the number, add some humor by saying “BEEP” instead of the number. Humor really DOES help learning! You can change the names of the people in the word problems to your children, their friends, or even their favorite super hero.
5) Circle Keywords
Are there keywords you can circle? “Sum”, “in all” and “all together” usually mean addition. “How many are left/remaining”, or “What is the difference” usually means subtraction. The word of is an important one as in “1/4 of 12” or “5/10 of a dollar” means you are being instructed to multiply. There are other key math words that may help you analyze a word problem – but be careful.
Depending on key words alone does not encourage students to think mathematically about a problem or use logic to reason toward a solution. Sometimes key words do not appear in problems, or additional operations may be required to find the final answer Encourage them to take the whole of the word problem in context. Make sure you both understand what the problem is asking before seeking out those individual words.
6) Rewrite the Word Problem
If word problems cause anxiety in your child, help them become the drafter of word problems. For example: 12-7= ? That is the computation. Have your student create a situation to accompany those numbers. Developing a proficiency in creating word problems really helps students develop confidence in analyzing them.
7) Word Problem Writers Are Sneaky
Remind your student that those who write word problems are a sneaky lot. They will put in information that is not necessary just to throw a student off track. If irrelevant information is a challenge for your student, try creating some word problems that contain unnecessary information. Help them become proficient in knowing what is not necessary – that is a life skill in and of itself!
8) Consult the Instruction Manual
If there is a lesson in the Math-U-See curriculum that is giving you a particular challenge, make very sure you have consulted the corresponding lesson pages in the instruction manual. We always provide instruction for the how as well as the why, and often, if a family is challenged with a lesson, we find that the answers they seek can be found in the lesson manual pages.
9) Review the Questions
Word problems need to be answered in words too. Make sure that you have answered the question in words. Further, does your answer make mathematical sense? Can you plug your answer back into the word problem and work it out to to see that it is indeed correct? Remember this step. This leads to frustration for a student who has worked hard, and perhaps not found the right answer.
Just like any skill, learning to negotiate word problems is something that happens over time. You are not going to be an overnight success (most of the time). But if you, as the parent, can stay affirmative and encouraging, you can make a tremendous difference for your student.
In conclusion, I realize that this blog post is long. The information will be helpful to you. If you still want more, we offer more help with word problems on our parent resource page:
Word Problem Tips [PDF]
We do need to have a conversation about what our math anxiety does to our children. Look for that blog post to come in the near future. We want you and your student to have success in all your mathematical endeavors!
My Relationship with Math
I know you will find it hard to believe that I am about to celebrate my fourth year of working for Demme Learning and I have still not fallen in love with mathematics. True statement. To this day I would still prefer to diagram a sentence than work on mathematics problems.
What I can say with total honesty is that I no longer have an adversarial relationship with math. I don’t hate it anymore. Since this rather sour attitude has colored most of my life, I knew I wanted something different for my children. Is that not a succinct definition of parenting – we want our children’s education to be better than ours?
How Can We Make Math Better for Our Kids?
How do you make mathematics part of your children’s lives without torturing them? I have the t-shirt for mathematical torture. I have driven my kids totally bananas with flash cards. I have been “that mom” who rolls her eyes in exasperation at the child struggling with math facts.
I can also honestly say that I have repented. It took me a number of years to realize that in the presence of stress, no one learns much of anything. Being on the receiving end of mom’s exasperation with your mathematical performance was surely a stress inducement for my children!
I do have to say that over the years I have become wiser, so if hindsight is 20/20, let me share some tricks that will help you incorporate mathematical facts into your day that don’t seem “mathy”.
Sneak Math Into Your Day With These Tips
1) Practice Math Facts On the Road
This is my favorite way to sneak math into my day.
Until my 12 year old was at least 10, he honestly thought that traffic signals were called “math lights”.
When we were stopped at a traffic signal, it was fair game for me to ask anyone in the car math facts – as long as the signal was red. It also prevented my kids from seeing my oh-so-expressive face if they failed to answer properly. (Mom’s exasperated expression problem? Solved!) The value here is small increments and mathematical thinking. My 18-year-old’s best friend still fondly remembers my doing this.
2) Do Math Before Something Fun
Here’s another “sneaker”.
As a your child gets ready to do something fun, perhaps outside, stop them and say, “Before you go, give me three math facts,” and ask them “What’s 2 + 3; What’s 5 + 9?; What’s 17-8?” Right or wrong, three and you’re free!
3) Involve Your Children When Spending Money
As my children got older, I would take them in to pick up pizza. Whatever the price of the pickup, I would say to the children as I handed over money, “If you can tell me the change the clerk is going to return to me before he gives it to me, then I will let you have the change.”
For example, let’s say the total was $16.80 and I handed the clerk a $20 bill. If the child accompanying me could tell me the change was $3.20 before the clerk handed it to me, they could keep it. Some of you may say that is bribery – call it what you want, I would prefer to refer to it as “motivation”.
4) Use Shopping Trips to Practice Math
How about this one: Shopping with a teenager and there is a 20% off sale on the jeans they want to purchase – “Tell me what the discount is before we get to the checkout and I will give you the 20%.”
5) Have Your Children Plan the Grocery Bill
Another way that we accomplished sneaky math with my teenagers was to have each of them be responsible for a portion of the grocery bill. This takes a little planning and coordination, but you would be surprised at the motivation a child has if they know they get to keep the savings they produce.
I would divide the grocery list into four parts. (The trick to this one is that I have to know what the divided parts are going to cost.) I would send a teenager, with cash and the list, to each part of the store to procure their portion of the list. They would go through the checkout on their own, with the cash I had given them. If they spent less than the “budget” I gave them, they were entitled to keep the change. If they went over, I would pay the difference, but they had no “reward” for their time.
6) Do Math When You Eat Out
For years we have played “guess the total” in restaurants. What purpose would that serve you say? Several mathematical purposes actually – it makes your children pay attention to the price of items on the menu.
It also provides an opportunity for them to apply estimation and rounding skills. Further, it gives them the opportunity to learn how to calculate a tip. My father-in-law, despite being an accomplished mechanical engineer never mastered the mystery of calculating a tip and he truly thought it was magical that his grandkids could calculate a tip in their heads.
Why Do We Try to Sneak Math In?
Why would you do all of this with your children?
Well I will tell you for sure – I could do NONE of this when I started homeschooling – but I knew I was weak mathematically and I was determined to create something different for my kids.
Where is the reward in all that hard work? My eldest daughter got a $53,000 SBA loan at the ripe old age of 19 and bought a coffee shop. You know what? She would only hire kids who could calculate change in their heads if the cash register failed them. My eldest son started his own business as a college student and paid his way through college. My “sneakiness” paid off in a myriad of ways.
My prayer for you is that you will be sneaky too.
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