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!
“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.