It’s a new season for so many of us in homeschooling and I wanted to take a moment to have a conversation with you about why Spelling You See uses guidelines instead of assessment tools for our placement process.
Spelling You See and Grade Levels
Parents often ask, “So what grade level is Spelling You See for?” Grade level really has nothing to do with it. Rather, the focus of the program is to create that visual response that is the hallmark of a good speller. “Does that word look right?” is such an important phrase for a good speller. Spelling You See is for any age student who desires to improve their spelling. We even have parents who have used it successfully alongside their children!
Why We Focus on Reading Skills
In the Spelling You See curriculum, once we step into levels C and above, we look at placement predicated on reading skill. Why, you ask? We need a student’s spelling experiences to be easier than their reading experiences. If a student must focus on the pronunciation of words to be able to understand their meaning, then they do not have the ability to focus on the patterns in the words to commit them to memory. Typically, spelling skill lags about two years behind reading skill.
You see, once we have cracked the code of reading, then reading skill usually takes off. Since reading is also known as decoding, the more we read, the better we can read, and the more adept we become at decoding and reading those words we have not encountered before.
Developing Spelling with Context
However, spelling is the opposite skill of reading. When we spell, we do so visually, and in fact, sound becomes errant. Context becomes key to developing the visual skill of spelling. Prove it, Gretchen. If I ask you to spell a word in English that has three different forms: “there”, “their”, and ‘they’re” you must know in what context I want the word in order to know what spelling to offer in return. This example also points out an inherent flaw in spell check – because spell check does not verify context. If the word pattern is correct, spell check will not bother with the fact that you have the wrong form of the word in the sentence.
Spelling You See Placement
Placement for Spelling You See is dictated by guidelines, which consider the age and reading skills of your child(ren).
If your child is…
• Not yet reading
• Beginning to show a desire to read
• Can identify most letters of the alphabet
• Can write fairly comfortably
• Understands that letters makes sounds
…they are a perfect candidate for Spelling You See Level A, Listen and Write.
• Can your student:
• Focus on a worksheet for ten minutes?
• Write fairly comfortably?
• Give the sounds of most letters
AND is beginning to read, they are a tremendous candidate for our Spelling You See Level B, Jack and Jill.
Level C and Above
The guidelines for Levels C through F are predicated more on reading ability. Placement is more dependent on your student’s reading skill.
For placement in levels C and above there is one caveat that has to do with those students for whom spelling is difficult in all aspects. You may have a student whose spelling skill set suggests that they would be best served in Level C (or below) – but they are an older student, age 10 or older. Then we must return to the question about their reading proficiency. A 14-year-old would be better placed in Level D, as long as he or she could read the passages without difficulty, to maintain interest levels.
Since developing the skill of visual spelling can take up to four years we will always suggest that a student who struggles never be placed higher than Level E – doing so gives them time to develop that visual skill.
Spelling placement is not a hard and fast rubric. Instead, we want to place a student where their experiences are, as my grandson says, “easy peasy, lemon squeezy”. Use the guidelines as a starting place for your student’s placement.
We Are Here to Help You With Placement
If you experience any hiccups with placement, we encourage you to get in touch with us so that we can help you. We want you, and your student, to be successful in your spelling journey.
When I talk to parents about their Spelling You See experiences, sometimes I find they are not having the best one. Careful questioning usually reveals it is often because they have overlooked a simple, but absolutely critical, detail in the process of dictation.
In Spelling You See, the dictation is the opportunity to see how the student has committed to memory the patterns they have spent the week seeking out and copying.
As parents, we often think the goal should be to finish the dictation, but that is actually not true. With Spelling You See, the goal is to copy words out with their correct patterns (e.g. correct spellings). In fact, Dr. Karen Holinga, the author of Spelling You See, says she would rather have a student write one sentence correctly than to go through the entire dictation and have errors.
Why, you ask? Because memory is strange and it may be that the time your student misspells a word is the very time their memory chooses to commit that errant pattern to memory.
How Dictation Should Happen
Briefly, I’d like to review how dictation is supposed to occur in a Spelling You See experience. First of all, a 10-minute time limit is imperative. Attention span is important in a successful spelling experience, which is why we set that 10-minute limit. Secondly (and this is the most critical detail) you should be dictating one word at a time. You should watch your student write a word and then you should offer them the next word. Why is this so important? If a student makes an error in the writing of the word, this may be the moment his or her brain chooses to remember THAT wrong pattern. The value is to correct that error as it occurs so that it does not accidentally become part of their long-term memory. In fact, it is so important for them to copy out the word correctly, if you see your student becoming anxious, you can show them how the word is spelled and then let them try to reproduce that by copying it down. Remember, in the presence of anxiety, learning ceases.
The Goal of Dictation
The overall goal of the Spelling You See dictation is to spell words correctly. It is not to finish the dictation paragraph. If you have a student who is continually struggling with dictation, we recommend that you take the first sentence of the dictation and work your way through that successfully. Then have your student work their way through that same sentence again. There is far more merit in creating success than in achieving the end of the dictation.
Speaking of success, this is why we ask you to count the words they have spelled correctly – even if you had to assist them. You are building a skill set. It takes time. Encourage them by giving them credit for the words they persevered through.
We at Demme Learning are always ready, willing, and able to answer questions about Spelling You See. If something is not going the way it should, we encourage you to be in touch with us. We want you to have a successful experience. Happy dictating!
Do You Have Any Questions?
It’s my pleasure to share some thoughts about why your spelling curriculum might not be working for you the way it should, and to tell you a little about Spelling You See. There are hundreds of things I could tell you about this curriculum, but I will stick to a few things that I think are really important.
My Journey with Spelling
As a homeschool parent, I made the mistaken assumption that if a student is a good reader, that they can spell well; that’s not necessarily the case.
My oldest daughter was a fabulous reader. When she was in 3rd grade, she tested out of the Stanford testing protocol, which was at a 12th grade reading level. She also couldn’t spell her way out of a wet paper bag.
One of my sons was a natural speller; he could spell pretty much anything you could throw at him, and his spelling and reading skills worked together well.
My other children were a mix of their older siblings in regards to spelling.
I honestly believed that being able to spell was something that you could either do or not do. It wasn’t until I became familiar with the Spelling You See curriculum that I learned that there were specific reasons why I had children who were great spellers, and two children who were hesitant spellers.
Enter Spelling You See. Teaching my dyslexic child convinced me that Spelling You See is a radically different way to teaching spelling.
Why Are There Students Who Can Read Well But Can’t Spell?
When good readers encounter a word they have not seen before, they rapidly scan words before and after it and continue reading seamlessly.Most of the time we have no idea that that has even occurred. That’s why you’ll hear a fluent reader read through words perhaps they haven’t encountered before, but they can do it without a challenge.
Spelling is the opposite skill. It’s encoding, so not only do we have to think about the sounds or the phonemes that make up a word, but we have to think about the differences in the way those phonemes are formed in order to construct the word accurately.
In English we have 26 letters that make 44 sounds, and they can be combined in 256 different combinations. So, frankly it’s a miracle that any of us spell well at all in English.
What About Spelling Lists?
We have taught spelling according to a traditional pattern for generations. This is where a student is given a list of words. They’re going to practice with this list of words, and, at some point in time, they’re going to be given a test on that list of words. When they misspell words, they will be asked to spend more time on them.
Spelling lists are a negative proposition; in the extreme, it can cause an enormous of stress for students. The reason it works haphazardly is because our brain treats a static list, with words given no context, as item memory.
Have you ever written a shopping list? If you write the list and leave it at home, how many of those items do you remember when you get to the store? Probably not a lot. This is because our brain has retained that list for a period of time, but it hasn’t made it to long-term memory. That also is the succinct explanation of why you might have a student who does very well on their spelling tests, but when you ask them to write their thoughts, the words that you thought they had mastered on their spelling test are not truly mastered because they’re not coming back.
We know, from studies of learning and the neurology of behavior and how we learn, that we begin at a global level and then we take it down to the small pieces whenever we learn something new. And because of that, when we’re asking students to work with components of pieces without giving them a framework on which to hang that paradigm, it is more difficult for them to recall.
Learning Spelling in Context
There are some very popular spelling assertions that would have you group lists of words together, sorted by kinds of words, or words that have particular endings; i-g-h-t comes to mind. However, taking those words out of the context of the list and reproducing them out of your head when and where you want to use them is a complex process.
The most complex process we ask students to do in an academic environment–whether home, public, or private–is to put their thoughts in writing. The number of things that the student has to do in order to express their thoughts accurately on paper are enormous.
Everything from holding the pencil correctly, to having the paper facing the right direction, to thinking of what they want to say, to thinking of how to spell what they want to say, to thinking, “do I have the words in the right order for how I want to say that?” And now all that information needs to come down from the brain into the pencil, in my case into my left hand, and be written out on paper. Not an easy task for anybody in any situation.
However, we can create an opportunity to set kids up for success in a wide variety of environments.
When Stress Enters the Equation
Sometimes just asking your student to sit down and do a spelling quiz or test is enough to send them into a spelling-induced panic.
The thing that I found most remarkable about Spelling You See is that it is designed to work in cooperation with the neurology of learning to give a student an opportunity to be a successful speller without ever introducing a test or a list of words.
The Spelling You See curriculum is designed with passages of instruction for the student to work with in context. Spelling research tells us that students commit information to long-term memory when they have the opportunity to study words in context within a passage. Being able to work with the same passages for several days in a row gives the student the benefit of engaging with it.
The repetition of these passages may seem boring to us as adults, but it’s actually part of a process called fluency, and it’s essential to your student’s spelling education. I had one parent tell me that they used eight different spelling programs in their homeschooling journey, and this was the only one that worked. Another parent told me that,
Spelling You See has rocked our world because we’re no longer dreading the Friday spelling test. Instead, we’re excited to see how much progress we’ve made by using the dictations to be able to reveal that to us.
Where to Start in Spelling You See
Placement in Spelling You See is really important, and it is nuanced. It’s designed this way because we want a child’s spelling experience to be easier than their reading experience. In order for us to do that successfully, we have a set of guidelines.
If you experience any hiccups with placement, we encourage you to get in touch with us so that we can help you. We want you, and your student, to be successful in your spelling journey.
I think we fail to recognize the value of consistency in our time with our children. Too often, we find ourselves as homeschool parents having to flex when something unexpected happens. My children would tell you my favorite phrase was “Flexibility is the sign of intelligence.” There were days when we were so “intelligent” that we were practically MENSA candidates! But all kidding aside, do you take into account how really valuable it is to study anything consistently?
Consistence in Math
Consistency in studying mathematics means that you work at lessons daily. Often, when the subject is not something we enjoy, it is easy to put it aside. In fact, I have had conversations with parents who haven’t done mathematics in their homes for years because there was strife. That is the ultimate in inconsistency! The challenge is, for us to become proficient in anything, we have to work at it. Every Olympic athlete gets to the podium because they have consistently put in tremendous effort.
What might consistency look like in your household for mathematics? With a young student, it might be doing math not more than 10 minutes a day. It is not the amount of time you invest, but the quality of the time you invest. Young children learn much better in small segments of time. In fact, if you are finding that it is difficult to get your student to work all the way through a page of Math-U-See instruction, there would be merit in splitting the lessons between the computation and the word problems. Give your student some time for a “brain break” between those two portions of the materials, and see if it doesn’t help you achieve a more consistent result.
If math is dreaded in your house, or if it is a battlefield, commit to figuring out why, so that you can change that. Avoiding the conflict doesn’t change the need for study. Delaying the study just makes the “math monster” get bigger. Sometimes we have to take a step back and start over to go forward. If you are finding yourself less than consistent in doing mathematics at least 4 days a week, then it is time to reach out for some help. Let the crackerjack staff at Demme Learning help you diagnose why there are struggles and let us help you get back on the path of consistency.
Consistence in Spelling
The same can be said for spelling. The tasks of Spelling You See are easy, but seem repetitive. As adults, we can sometimes think there is not virtue in doing the same things several days in a row. What we fail to recognize is that the effort put in now will yield results later. You see Simone Biles doing a perfect floor routine in gymnastics and you forget that she has spent thousands of hours perfecting that routine, doing the same thing over and over until it is automatic. Your “student athletes” in Spelling You See need to invest the time as well.
Parents will sometimes say to me that they are not seeing the results they desire in the Spelling You See program. When I remind them that this is a practice-based program and it takes time to see the return of one’s invested time, sometimes they understand. Some still do not – because as adults we live in a results driven society and we want it now. Let me give you an analogy that might help: If I handed you a large fast-food sized drink cup and asked you to fill it with an eyedropper, it would take some time, wouldn’t it? That doesn’t mean the cup isn’t filling. It is just difficult to judge progress in the midst of a few drops at a time. Eventually, however, the cup will overflow. It is the same with Spelling You See.
If you are consistently doing the exercises, as the program design dictates (reading to and with your child daily, doing at least 10 minutes of copywork, and doing the dictation one word at a time, correcting errors as they are made) then you WILL SEE POSITIVE RESULTS.
In both math and spelling, consistent progress over time is the key.
Since we are all recovering and getting back to a normal routine after the holidays, now might be a good time to evaluate how consistent you have been so far this school year. Don’t beat yourself up! Guilt should NOT be a part of the homeschool experience – especially guilt for those who work so hard to see their children educated well. Instead, make a new and different decision and commit to being consistent in the next couple of months and see if it doesn’t do a remarkable change for your attitude, and your homeschool progress.
At Math-U-See, we often see students who struggle mathematically. The roots of those struggles are sometimes a mystery to educators and parents alike. Over the past couple of years, I have conferred with over one hundred parents who have said things like, “Well, she is just not mathematically inclined,” or “He does not have a math brain.” or, even more frequently, “He/she has ____ (insert a disability label here) which makes it impossible for them to memorize facts.” In the world of “been there, done that,” I have a blue ribbon for doing or saying all those things.
Making Math Doable for Our Children
What I would like to ask of you is that, for the next few minutes, let’s set aside those suppositions about our students. Let’s ask ourselves instead, “What if there were a way to make mathematics more doable for my child?” I don’t know about you, but personally, as a parent, I would walk through fire to help my children be successful.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of having dozens of conversations with parents who have said these things about their children. To be honest, my parents would have said those things about ME. You see, I HATED math, and dreaded every encounter with it. It was not until I realized I wanted something different for my children and found my way to Math-U-See that I finally learned why I disliked math so much. My mathematical foundations were weak, and because of that, more complex mathematics (insert the word “algebra” here) was a mystery to me.
Is AIM Right For Your Student?
Today I want to talk about whether AIM is the right choice for your student. If you are considering AIM (Accelerated Individualized Mastery), you may be asking yourself “Why would I need to go so far backwards with an older student?” You may even be muttering to yourself, “Something as simple as addition and subtraction mastery cannot be the root cause of my student’s struggle!”
Are you the parent who has used flash cards endlessly, purchased more than one set of physical or electronic math “games,” provided your child with endless sheets of timed tests, all in an effort to get them to commit facts to memory? If so, you are probably saying, “What I have done has not worked – so why in the world would THIS work?!?”
Early in my tenure at Math-U-See, a colleague said to me “Gretchen, flash cards do not teach – they only help you become more proficient at what you already know.” Wow. I had never even thought of that. I was the t-shirt wearing, poster-bearing personification of “drill and kill” with my own children. They memorized their facts, but only because I was relentless and annoying! What if there were a way to do it more easily??
Enter the AIM program. AIM is a tremendous collaboration between the staff of Math-U-See and those parents who thought their children would never memorize the facts. We are grateful for their collaboration with us in developing a methodology that really does work – regardless of the lack of success YOU, as the frustrated parent, have had in the past.
Why is AIM Successful?
Why is the AIM process successful, when so many other methods that you have probably tried, have not been?
First and foremost, our goal is to remove the stigma of not having your facts memorized, and the resulting anxiety that accompanies it. Children really desire to please us, their parents and teachers, and in that desire, they may go to extraordinary lengths to imply they know something they do not. Stress is introduced into the equation. And the more often you encounter stress, the more anxious you become.
“How then, Gretchen,” you say, “can memorizing addition and subtraction facts help my teenager struggling with Algebra?” We all come to the table with a finite amount of attention and energy to dedicate to solving a math problem, whether it is simple computation or something more complex like algebra. Granted, the older we are, the easier it is (theoretically) for us to stay engaged to solve a problem. But here is the challenge – if you are stretching just to recall your basic computational facts, it is even harder for you to stay engaged with that algebra problem to its conclusion. Still skeptical? Think of it this way: If I handed you a paragraph to read, and you had to sound out every word in that paragraph to read it, how would your comprehension be? Not great, right? THAT is what happens when we don’t have those facts committed to memory.
In the fruition of this collaboration with parents, we have taken the principles of math fact memorization and stripped them of their age associations. We have further added current learning theory principles to help a student begin to show us how they are committing those facts to memory. And the most important thing of all is that we have given students permission to admit what they do not know yet, identified the associated anxiety with the memorization process, and created an affirmative experience where they can experience success.
The question I would like YOU to ask is, “Why would you not take a small investment of time and money to help your child be more mathematically successful?” In consulting with parents of teenagers, I often ask them what they think their student wants to do after their high school years. Students often have ambitions of college or skilled trades that by necessity will involve mathematical competence. Investing in the process of AIM allows a student to keep those potential pathways wide open. And isn’t a bright future what we ALL want for our children? Take the first step on the path to re-ordering mathematical success in your household.
AIM Unboxing Video
Do You Have Any Questions?
There are two kinds of people:
1) People who are fascinated by math.
2) People who have an adversarial relationship with math.
I’m one of the latter. I knew enough math to pass classes, but I certainly wasn’t comfortable. Anytime I encountered math, my math anxiety came back and followed me like my shadow.
Unfortunately, I took that anxiety into my experience as a homeschooling parent. Perhaps you’ll recognize this scenario: Your student sits down to do something with math. “Can you help me?” they say. You respond with one of the following phrases:
“Oh, man…I’m not very good at math.”
“I hate doing math.”
“Oh no, not math time again.”
“Let’s wait until your dad gets home.”
It becomes a source of anxiety for you, and by default, it becomes a source of anxiety for your student.
Do You Love Math?
Maybe you’re the opposite. Do you love math? Do you have a child who doesn’t see math the same way you do?
You may be wondering why math is so difficult for your student when math is so easy for you. “Easy” is in the eyes of the beholder. I have frequently found that parents who are skilled at mathematics have a hard time seeing it from the perspective of a student who struggles with math. They “see” mathematics and don’t comprehend why their child doesn’t.
Everything has to be taught, and it’s time to start unpacking the dialogue that we use in front of our children, the dialogue that we speak to ourselves, and the dialogue that our children use for themselves. It’s very easy to speak about math negatively.
When we begin teaching math, every piece of instruction has to be taught. Most parents take pennies, teddy bears, or jelly beans to teach addition. When my son Duncan was young, if I would say, “I have three jelly beans and two jelly beans. How many jelly beans do I have all together?”
If I was fortunate, he would say, “Three…four…five. You have five jelly beans.”
“Yay! You just did math!”, I would say.
But he didn’t do math. You see, no matter how fast he counted, all he did was count.
In many instances, that counting is where we leave kids when it comes to facts. They use their fingers, they look for divine inspiration, they use calculators; they use all sorts of things to get to the answer. What’s the problem? As math becomes more complex, it is ever harder for them to stay engaged to the problem’s conclusion.
If I put my student with that level of proficiency in an Algebra 1 problem that has five or six steps in it, and he struggles for simple fact recall, he’s burning all of his mental energy just to get to the end of the problem. Math becomes a struggle.
That’s why we often find that, by the time kids hit middle school, it’s nearly impossible for them to stay engaged with math. In fact, right about the time long division shows up, problems begin – because you have to be able to add, subtract, multiply, AND divide to do a long division problem.
What Should Math Look Like?
Here’s what we want math to look like. Have you ever played a dice game? If I take those same numbers from the jelly bean example, and I roll a two and a three, now when I look at them, I don’t say, “One…two…three…four…five.” I say: “Well, that’s a five.” That’s the kind of automatic recall that math facts should be for us.
So many of our kids, particularly kids who are diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia, struggle more and seem to not be able to memorize those facts.
Being the parent of a child with dyslexia and working for several years with lots of families with kids who were diagnosed with learning issues, I can share that this doesn’t have to be the case. You can provide a vehicle for your children to retain their facts and commit them to long-term memory.
Maybe in your family, it’s how you’re doing it, and not just the facts. Have you ever thought that you would use flashcards to help your children remember their facts? Flashcards don’t teach; they reinforce what you already know. Let’s say I sit down with Duncan and in the process of doing flash cards, I say something like, “Oh, come on, Duncan. You knew this yesterday.” This is a common reaction, especially if you’re a parent, because you want your kids to be successful. The challenge is that I just introduced stress into Duncan’s life. When stress enters the equation, learning ceases.
The amygdala in your brain shuttles thoughts back and forth, and it takes learning from active-working memory into long-term memory. When cortisol (the “stress hormone”) is released, learning shuts down. You may be accidentally introducing stress into your student’s lives without even realizing it.
The most common cause of a student struggling with math is using too much mental energy to finish the problem. And that goes all the way back to the jelly beans. If we don’t learn to transition from counting to adding, AND then commit those facts to memory, it stresses the system. The further we go mathematically, the more difficult it is for the student to stay engaged.
We fail to recognize how critical it is to commit math facts to memory. And the really crazy part is that sometimes we conclude we have a disability with math, when the bottom line problem is all the way back at the bears and the beans!
Filling Math Gaps
What if there was a way for you to fill your student’s gaps? A way for you to go back to where their foundation was shaky, and re-pour the concrete and make that foundation solid? Any student (public, private, home, etc.) can become anxiety-ridden because they struggle with math. We need to make the recall as simple as possible. In order to do that, we have to figure out where the gaps are. Filling in those gaps is easy when you know what they look like.
The challenge becomes, how much mental energy does that student need to stay engaged with a mathematical problem? Learning theorists say students have attentions spans that are their age, plus 2-4 minutes. What does that mean? A 10-year-old student has 13-15 minutes of attention to devote to learning math on a good day, before they have exhausted their capacity.
When I first looked at some of the math programs that I have used over the years, I thought, “That’s not enough math!” Well, how much is “enough”? When we take the adult capacity for remaining engaged in a task and put it on a child, I think we ask too much. That’s not fair for the child.
How do we solve the mathematical dilemma? We need to figure out where the gaps are, evaluate what we need to do to close those gaps, and change the student’s internal dialogue about themselves and math. Sometimes that can be easy when the student sees immediate success. Sometimes it’s harder, and you have to put yourself in the advocate’s role of giving your student permission to say, “This is what works for me, and this is how I learn best.” Being able to evaluate how you learn best is empowering for a student of any age, and means that you can take that success and turn it into other successes.
Let me tell you my personal story of seeing self-advocacy in action. My son, Duncan, is at the time of this writing, 20 years old. He is a diagnosed dyslexic; he didn’t learn to read until he was more than nine years old.
I thought if I was going to teach him to read, I probably should farm out mathematics to someone else, so he did a homeschool mathematics co-op until he finished ninth grade. The interesting thing was, he got good grades in the co-op — As and Bs, but he had a lot of support, and he did not have mathematical confidence.
At the end of his ninth-grade year, Duncan expressed a desire to go to public high school (to swim competitively). I knew he had mathematical gaps, and a confidence issue. Using Math-U-See diagnostics, we determined where his gaps were, and then, we had to fill those gaps. I’ll tell you, it was six months of hard work before he began his sophomore year of high school. He had to go through four levels of Math-U-See to fill in the gaps he had – but this was possible because he was not learning concepts for the first time, but rather, learning them conceptually and thoroughly.
As a sophomore in high school, he did Algebra 1. As a junior in high school, he did Algebra 2 and Geometry, all the while using Math-U-See to supplement his understanding. As a senior, he did PreCalculus and then tested successfully into college algebra. At 20, he holds an associate’s degree in Computer Science and works as a junior systems engineer.
Does that mean he’s not dyslexic anymore? No, not at all. Dyslexia will follow him throughout his life. What he did learn in the process of filling in those gaps was a way to self-advocate, a way that he learns best, a way that he can apply himself, not only mathematically, but to his other studies and endeavors. The most important thing is, he was able to change that internal dialogue that said, “I can’t,” to, “I can, and I will.”
One of the best gifts that we can give our children, is the ability to change that internal dialogue and be successful.
At Math-U-See, we strive to help families individually. We often hear from parents that they gained a lot of mathematical confidence themselves from teaching math to their children through Math-U-See.
I am that parent. I knew I was weak mathematically, and that was part of the reason I wanted to homeschool my children. Math-U-See made it possible for me to give my children the mathematical success I lacked. It also taught me the importance of mathematical self-advocacy.
What I have learned is that building that solid foundation makes all the difference in the world. Do you have a struggling math student? Do you think that perhaps they have a mathematical disability? What if that deficit is simply they have a sand foundation instead of a concrete one? You CAN change how they feel about math and their mathematical prospects. It starts with diagnosing their weaknesses, and then changing them into strengths. Contact us and let us help you change your mathematical story.
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.
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!