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Monday, February 23, 2009

Alternative Literature Assessment

Beckie and I finished reading Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and I wanted to give her a non-traditional assignment in addition to traditional assessment measures. So I went through two week's worth of advertisements from the Sunday newspaper and cut out pictures that could be tied in somehow to a line from the play. For example, I used a picture from an ad for Glade air freshener and paired it with this line from Act 4, Scene 3 when Juliet says, "Shall I not then be stifled in the vault, to whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in, and there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?" Beckie's assignment was to tell me the context for the line. The pictures were not in a sequential order, and Beckie surprised herself with her ability to remember details from the play. Her favorite quote was paired with a picture of Yoplait Go-gurt with large letters proclaiming "With calcium for STRONG BONES!" and Juliet's line again from Act 4, Scene 3 asking "And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone, as with a club, dash out my desperate brains?" I chuckled at the picture from the Hamburger Helper ad with the friendly little hand for Act 5, Scene 3 when the feuding families are reconciling and Capulet says, "O brother Mountague, give me thy hand." Beckie had fun with that part of the assessment, and also wrote an essay response and took a multiple choice test. Those were the three components for her final exam on Romeo and Juliet. Just for fun we also watched a movie version, and I found a "Shakespeare Manga Romeo and Juliet" in graphic novel form at the library. Manga is a Japanese art form, I think, and this one portrayed the story as taking place in Japan with the two main families being rival mafia families. Now that Beckie has the idea of using pictures from ads as part of her assessment, she can find the pictures herself for the next time we want to use that option as part of an assessment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'll Remember to Forget

Josh and I find ourselves in a new stage of our relationship as mother and son. I am now middle-aged and he is a young adult. My goal, as always, is to encourage Josh to greater independence in his use of strategies to help his weak executive functions. His goal is to use me as his favorite strategy, since Mom can be counted on to have a suggested solution she has already thought of and thus save him the work of coming up with a strategy on his own. Add to that dynamic the demands I have on my brain to work as a speech therapist, run a small business with my husband, homeschool Josh's youngest sister, participate in church and volunteer activities, and keep track of appointments, etc. and I find myself feeling challenged to remember everything I need to keep track of. Usually, when I think of something I need to remember I write it down in my planner or on my calendar so I have a written reminder and don't have to retain it in my memory alone. At this point, I think if I want to try and remember something new I will need to delete some files in my brain to make room. So when Josh and I were driving together on our way to volunteer at our local Humane Society last week, I remembered something I needed to do later that day. Since I was driving, I couldn't write it down. I also sometimes call home and leave myself a message on the answering machine for later, but this particular day my daughter Beckie was home and would recognize my number and answer the phone. Since I didn't want to have to prompt her through writing down a detailed message, I opted to try and solicit help from Josh. I explained that I needed to remember to do something when we got back home, and asked him to remind me of it when we returned home so I could take care of it. He grinned at me and said, "O.k., Mom, I'll remember to forget that, too!" So, just as I want to discourage Josh from using me as his default strategy to remember things he needs to do, I clearly cannot plan on having Josh as part of my own bank of strategies.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sleep Challenges in Young Children

I've heard that many people with AD/HD have sleep difficulties at some time or other during their lives. When my son was young, even in infancy, he did not sleep as much as others his age. He gave up naps sooner, and genuinely was wide awake in the evenings when I hoped to get him in bed for the night. I eventually came to the conclusion that you can't make a person sleep when they are not tired, just as all of my great parenting couldn't alter Josh's neurology to rid him of his AD/HD and other challenges. If you've ever been wide awake at a time you wish you were sleeping, you know that sleep cannot be forced. There are things you can do to facilitate sleep, however, and that's what I ended up doing with Josh. He rarely had anything with caffeine in it, and never within hours of bedtime though I've since learned that having a stimulant actually helps some people with AD/HD to be able to sleep. We subdued the lighting in Josh's room to one small lamp with a soft glow. We limited physical activities and required him to stay quiet and remain in his room. He could look at books or play next to his bed with Legos. He could draw pictures. That was about it for bedside activities. When he was able to sleep, he got into bed and we turned off the light when we turned in for the night. If he was still awake when his Dad and I were ready to go to bed, we put in a long-playing tape of Bible stories that he could listen to and turned off the light. Josh knew how to turn the tape over if he was still awake after side one was completed. He could have a small sports bottle with a straw for water, but we didn't give him large amounts so that he wouldn't have to wake up to use the bathroom once he was asleep. After experiencing so many battles with his well-meaning parents who tried to insist that he go to sleep before his body would allow it, Josh accepted the new rules of being quiet and staying in his room with no resistance.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reluctant Writers

I wonder how many school-age children could be considered reluctant writers. I know from my own experience and from talking with hundreds of people at homeschool conferences that reluctant writers are not uncommon. It seems to occur with a higher percentage in boys, and there's a very high correlation in children with fine motor delays and attention challenges. Yet writing is such a fundamental skill for academic tasks, and not just for "official" writing curriculum that we have to help our children attain competency in this area. Students must demonstrate adequate writing skills for math calculations and to provide written responses to questions in nearly every subject area. My son, Josh, was a doodler and picture-drawing fiend from the time he could hold a pencil. That boy loved to draw, and decorated the margins of his workbooks and school pages with detailed artwork. But he hated to write letters and numbers, so the same pencil he enjoyed drawing with became the hated enemy pencil he was expected to write with for school. When you have a reluctant writer, you can end up with a resistant student. There are a few things I tried that helped us get the work done with neither of us becoming too traumatized in the process. First, I acknowledged to myself that boys tend to mature later than girls, and children with AD/HD tend to be 2-4 years LESS mature than their same-age peers without AD/HD. So when I'm working with my 7 year-old AD/HD son, I'm dealing with a maturity level of a typically developing 3-5 year-old boy. Expectations need to be adjusted to fit who you are working with so you can challenge without frustrating as you help skills be developed. The second point I tried to remember was that curriculum is a tool for teachers to measure comprehension and progress. For a handwriting curriculum, that is best assessed by actual writing samples since that is what is being targeted. For other subject areas, I can assess comprehension orally some of the time. I still have written samples of work in each subject area, but I do not need to have my child write down every answer every time when they can quickly and easily tell me their responses and I can gauge their level of understanding. This lessened frustration a great deal for Josh, who was bright and could express himself orally but struggled to form the written words. Writing was a long, laborious process for him and sustaining attention and focus for topics that weren't highly interesting to him was beyond challenging. Sometimes I let him combine his love of drawing with a writing assignment. I found paper that was lined on the lower half and left the top half blank. Josh could write his sentences on the lower half (half a page of writing was less intimidating to him) and he could illustrate his ideas on the upper half of the paper. This was far more appealing to him than writing alone, so he was less reluctant to do the writing task. Today as a young adult, my son who was an extremely reluctant writer back in elementary school has developed such a passion for writing that he has written three science fiction novels and has plans for several more books. Take heart, teachers of reluctant writers! There may yet be an author inside that child.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Would You Survive...Reading?

When my son Josh was learning to read, it was an arduous process. He made steady progress, but had to work hard to remember the sounds represented by print and the various ways they blended into words. At the time I was teaching Josh to read, my next door neighbor had a daughter 11 months older than Josh. This little girl took books to bed with her at night, and basically taught herself to read as her mother read to her. Before long, and without any curriculum or structured lessons, this girl was reading independently. In the meantime, I struggled to stay awake after lunch when we did the reading lesson for the day. Sometimes it took Josh so long to decode a word that I'd start to nod off and Josh would ask if I was still awake. It didn't help that Josh was also hyperactive, and it was not unusual for his head to be on the floor and his rear end up near the book. I decided instead of the "phonetic approach" I was teaching the "bun-etic approach" but it didn't work very well as a way to teach reading! This was Josh and Beths' kindergarten year, and besides the actual reading instruction I was reading over 100 books to them each month. We were regulars at the library, and if merely exposing them to reading and books could have taught them to read it sure should have happened. They enjoyed the books, but they in no way taught themselves to read. It took work. The books that motivated Josh to read on his own were from a series with titles that started with "Would You Survive..." as a squirrel, deer, fox. etc. These books featured various animals in their habitats, and at various points choices had to be made. For example, when faced with a predator, the reader gets to choose if the animal runs up a tree or hides in a hole in the ground. Based on the choice, the reader is instructed to go to a specific page to continue the story. In addition to teaching about the animals, the stories would have different outcomes depending on the choices the reader made. Josh, like most children with AD/HD, loved the versatility of a story that could be different each time he read it. These books really ignited Josh's love of reading, and soon after he discovered the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series which also gave the reader options that influenced the outcome of the story. Finding books that connect with your child's interest and imagination can make a huge difference in the attitude toward reading. The "Would You Survive" series helped Josh see that reading was not just another required task he had to perform for school, but was actually something that he could enjoy.