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3/8/2012 3:41:31 PM
Krisa Winn, HSLDA
Struggling Learners: Keeping Perspective on Progress

HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

March 8, 2012

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Keeping Perspective on Progress

by Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

As a former kindergarten teacher, I personally loved the month of March. I sometimes referred to it as “Miracle March” because it seemed that, like the daffodils unfolding outside my classroom, my students who had been struggling to demonstrate any academic progress suddenly began to bloom! After months of guided practice and review…They got it! The alphabet was mastered, sight words flowed easily, and generating rhyming words was a breeze. It was very exciting for my students and for me to experience this type of growth. In the case of those struggling learners, time and instruction brought the desired results.

But, for my students who had true learning disabilities, the March Miracle seemed to pass them by. Maybe that’s where you are today. Does it feel like your child’s progress has come to a standstill? Do you ever wonder, “Are we really on the right track?”

Most likely, the answer to that question is, “Yes!” It is very possible that progress is being made, but not the way in which you are hoping or expecting. When working with a child with special needs, it is important to have realistic expectations. These children, especially if they have memory and retention issues, are going to need much repetition and variety in order to hold onto information. That can translate into time! Here are some suggestions for “keeping up the good fight” when it seems your efforts are in vain.

Keep the Big Picture of Your Child’s Development in Mind

All of us are made up of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. It’s good to remember this as you educate your children. You are not just working on the mind. You are working on the development of your child’s spirit, body, and soul (mind, will, emotions). One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to dedicate time in your school day for the development of those areas. Perhaps you have been drilling the same set of sight words for several weeks with no success. Is it possible that growth is occurring in another aspect of your child’s life?

Take the time to have a “come to think of it” moment. For example, as you step back and look at the total person who makes up your child, you might say, “Come to think of it, he is asking more questions about God lately.” Or, “Come to think of it, he is having fewer ‘meltdowns’ when things don’t go his way.” Maybe you could say, “Come to think of it, he is able to run with a smoother gait than a few weeks ago.” Your child’s energies may be going toward the development of another, less academic area right now, and that’s OK. Spiritual, emotional, and physical growth is just as important as academic growth.

Therefore, don’t feel guilty about spending time on social skills, adaptive behaviors, or gross motor skills during the school day. Keep your end goal in mind, and you will begin to see that those non-academic areas definitely have their place. I have been reading Home Schooling Children with Special Needs by Sharon Hensley. In her book, she addresses this issue of giving priority to non-academic endeavors in order to educate “the total person.” She says, “behavior is a crucial aspect in creating an effective home school program because, if our children cannot behave, they cannot learn.” This doesn’t mean that you forsake math, handwriting, reading etc. in lieu of only dealing with behavior. It simply means that it is often very appropriate to work on the non-academic aspects of your child’s life. Sharon goes on to say, “Our children will be happier, more productive people, in the long run, for our efforts.” That is the big picture and your overall goal, after all.

Celebrate Small Victories

Do you remember the first year of your child’s life? During that stage of development, it was perfectly acceptable to make a phone call to grandma to announce with glee the smallest of accomplishments. For instance, there was excitement over tiny feats such as noticing a toy for the first time, taking interest in a particular book, or cooing at the sound of music. The excitement was there because you were keenly aware of your child’s inability to take in that sort of information days earlier. You also understood that those small accomplishments would be foundational to more complex skills.

Now that your child is older, give yourself permission to look for and get excited about small steps toward success. Is he keeping his work space more organized? Is he stopping himself when he reads, because the word he inserted didn’t make sense? Is your child able to recognize a sight word that you’ve been practicing regardless of the font or capitalization? Has he moved from using no punctuation to putting question marks at the end of every sentence? (Even though that last example is not where you want your child to stay, it is demonstrating an understanding that sentences need punctuation. You can move on from there.) All of these are examples of growth. It may not be the kind of growth you were looking for, nor the timetable you were expecting. Nonetheless, these foundational layers of learning are important and should be celebrated.

In Matthew 7:24–25 Jesus was teaching a lesson about the wisdom of hearing His words and putting them into practice. To further communicate his point, He drew a word picture of the wise man who “built his house upon the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” A building’s foundation isn’t its most beautiful feature. It’s buried in the dirt and usually made of drab material. Regardless, its importance remains paramount. The same could be said of the educational foundation you are building. So, keep “hammering away,” and celebrate those foundational building blocks!

Assess your Child’s Progress Regularly

Assessments come in many different forms. Anecdotal records (notes that you keep about progress in a certain area), checklists, writing portfolios, end-of-unit tests, artwork samples, video journals, and standardized tests are all examples of assessment. An assessment, like the Brigance Diagnostic Inventories (available for rent to HSLDA members) would be useful in helping you to determine what specific skills your child has or has not mastered, thus providing you with direction in planning your child’s educational program. For more information on renting the Brigance, and for other resources about assessment please visit our online testing page.

It is important to do regular and routine assessments so that you can accurately record your child’s growth. Assessments also tell you where to go next in your child’s learning. In reviewing earlier assessments, you may be surprised at just how much your child has progressed!