Teaching Tips & Strategies from One Teacher to Another
By Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
The beginning of a new school year is upon us. Along with the excitement, hopes, and dreams for a wonderful homeschool experience, you may feel a twinge of anxiety as well. Maybe it’s your first year teaching from home, or maybe you’re a veteran homeschooler, but this year you’re working with your child who learns very differently from your other children. It can be scary, and understandably so. I know that I felt excitement, as well as nervousness at the beginning of each school year. So, in this article, I thought I would pass on some teaching tips and strategies from my teacher bag to yours.
Krisa Winn helps HSLDA members homeschool their students with special needs. Learn more >>
Think Outside the Book
The workbook, that is. We have mentioned this tip many times in our newsletters, but it bears mentioning again. Teaching is not just assigning workbook pages, and you don’t have to have your child complete every page in a workbook just because it’s there. I can think of several reasons why you may want to skip some workbook assignments:
- Your student already has mastery of the concept presented. For example, if your child already knows how to add two–digit numbers with regrouping, you really don’t need to have him or her complete a workbook page that reteaches that skill.
- The page may be too cluttered. Some children have difficulty deciding what is most important to look at, particularly on a full–color workbook page that includes artwork. The adorable characters and bright colors may look pretty to us, but to them it’s all a distraction. You may find that they are doodling or just simply taking a long time to complete their work. In that case, copy the workbook page then cut out the portion that includes the questions or problems. Make a new copy of just the questions so that the workbook page is now “clean” and uncluttered.
- Your student may be a right brain learner who needs another mode, besides paper and pencil, to demonstrate his or her understanding of a concept. For example, instead of answering questions about the characters and sequence of story, consider having your student make a simple accordion book. To do this, fold a strip of paper into several sections. In each section, have your student draw a simple picture representing what happened in the story. Once the book is completed, he or she will retell the story using their book. In this way, students can respond to their reading in an enjoyable and meaningful manner, and you will be able to discern if they can identify characters and sequence events.
Music is a powerful gift. It can soothe the spirit. We see an example of this in I Samuel 16:23 when David played his lyre for King Saul.
Are things feeling a bit chaotic in your house? Consider playing calming music, which helps some students concentrate. Some older students, in fact, insist on listening to music in order to work effectively.
Most people agree that music can help you remember things. If your student is having trouble remembering an important fact or definition, consider making up a song to help the information stick. I use music as an attention—getter too. In my classroom, if I made the announcement, “It’s time to clean up and return to your desk” and only three people followed my direction, I’d make the same announcement again using a singing voice. I didn’t take the time to rhyme. And guess what? I had everyone’s attention. So try adding music to your school day.
Early in my teaching career, I found myself saying these words to my students: “God gave us five senses, and we’re going to use as many of those senses as we can to learn.” Yes, I said that, even in the public school setting! I didn’t know it then, but there is a word for that concept. It’s called “multisensory teaching.” According to the International Dyslexia Association, programs that are beneficial to children with dyslexia have as a common thread the employment of multisensory teaching. What does a multisensory lesson look like? There are many examples, but I’ll share some things that I did with my kindergarten students when I introduced a new letter sound.
- I would have them look into a mirror to observe what their mouth looked like when they made the new sound (visual).
- I would have them trace the letter on a flash card while saying the letter name (kinesthetic/visual/auditory).
- I would have them say the letter cheer. For example, “A. Apple. Apple. /a/, /a/, /a/” (auditory).
- We would look through various objects and sort them into groups with the same beginning sound (kinesthetic/visual).
- I would give them various magnetic letters and have them find the new letter (kinesthetic/visual).
- I would read a book that emphasized the new letter sound (visual/auditory). Sometimes we would employ our sense of taste and eat an “apple” when introducing the letter “a”, or eat some popcorn when introducing “p”.
- We would write the new letter using scented markers, making use of our sense of smell. Research has shown that the olfactory system (sense of smell) has neuronal connections to the memory system. Isn’t that amazing? We are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139).
Multisensory teaching doesn’t have to be expensive or cumbersome. Opportunities to utilize all of the senses in learning are all around us.
Get Up and Move
This doesn’t just apply to students, it applies to teachers as well. I had a professor in college who once said, “A teacher on her feet is worth two on her seat.” It’s true. When you interact with your child, you learn so much more about how he or she is processing information. It is good to do plenty of guided practice with your students before setting them off to work independently. Checking in with them early on during independent work time can be helpful too. Often, you can stop them before they do an entire worksheet or activity incorrectly.
At one of my former schools, children were required to spend a certain amount of time each day on a particular computer program. This always frustrated me, because I felt the program would have been better utilized if an adult could have interacted with the students as they worked. How much more effective would the program have been if I could have checked in with them to affirm their good thinking or to tie the concept presented on the computer to something we had done together in class? I encourage you to be a part of your child’s learning, even when they are on the computer. There is no replacement for a real, live teacher! Ok, I’m off my soapbox now. Moving on!
Of course some students, especially those with ADD/ADHD, will benefit from the addition of movement to their day. For instance, allowing them to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair can give them an opportunity to move and work at the same time. When I had students who were having a tough time focusing, I would sometimes have them bounce on a mini trampoline. After 100 jumps, we were ready to get to work.
Adding manipulatives to your lesson allows movement on a smaller scale. However, your wonderful lesson can go downhill fast if you don’t set some parameters. Before I distributed manipulatives, such as snap cubes or pattern blocks for a math lesson, I always told my students that they could have two minutes to use the learning tools the way they wanted, but after those two minutes we would use them to learn or practice our skill. I rarely had manipulatives used inappropriately when I gave students “free time” to do as they pleased.
I’ve always loved learning from my fellow teachers. Brainstorming with others gave me ideas that I would have never thought of on my own, or helped me expand on things I was already doing. My hope is that this article has done that for you. Please check out the following resources for even more practical ideas that will help make this year’s homeschooling experience a positive one for your children and you!
- Learning Target
Free reading worksheets and placement tests for elementary grades. Homework and remedial reading help for kids, parents and teachers.
- Kid Zone
Site with free printables and activities for preK—5th grade. Some teacher training as well.
- Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity
Free website with articles that explain dyslexia, math for dyslexics, issues facing dyslexics such as testing, assistive technology, tips and techniques for parents and teachers to help students who have dyslexia.
- Let’s Play Math!
A blog about finding alternative ways to learn math concepts, lots of great resources and advice.
Games, worksheets, articles, and much more math support for homeschool families.
Topics for Teachers
Lesson plans for all areas and age levels, tips from experts and home school veterans, planners, and more (small monthly fee to have access to the entire site.)
- Teaching Channel
This is a site for teachers with videos that cover a wide range of subjects for all grade levels. Although the material in the videos is created mostly by classroom school teachers, for classroom teachers, it could still be a great source for “how to” information.
Strategies and teaching tips for teachers, blogs for teachers, and professional development resources. Again, these are developed with classroom teachers in mind, but could be very helpful for the homeschool teacher as well.
Books from SDE/Crystal Springs
Cystal Spring Books homepage
- Success for Struggling Learners: Techniques that Target Your Student’s Needs by Peggy Campbell—Rush
- Teach the Way They Learn-Math (K-6) by Joanne I. Hines and Pamela J. Vincent
- Teach the Way They Learn: 62 Easy, Engaging, & Effective Language Arts Activities by Joanne I. Hines and Pamela J. Vincent
- Prepping the Brain: Easy and Effective Ways to Get Students Ready for Learning (Grades 1-8)
Musical Learning Resources