As a parent of a struggling learner, you want to use the best and most effective
curriculum for your child. But how do you know what will work and what won’t? Tune
in as Krisa Winn explains how to find the best fit for your child on today’s
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Krisa Winn. She’s a
homeschooling mom and one of HSLDA’s special needs consultants. Krisa, welcome to
Krisa Winn: Thanks, Mike. It’s good to be here.
Understanding your child’s needs and abilities [0:29]
Mike: Krisa, before parents choose a curriculum, it’s
important for them to first take stock of where their struggling learner is—and
where he needs to go. How can parents assess and understand their child’s needs
Krisa: Well first of all, parents
can informally assess their children through observation and daily
Next, if the child has been involved in some type of therapy, the parents can take
the therapist’s input into consideration. There are [also] a lot of placement
tests on the market, and they give good information.
And finally, HSLDA has a great tool that we make available to our members called the
Brigance Diagnostic Inventories. One of the inventories is a developmental survey for
younger children, one is a basic skills inventory for children aged pre-kindergarten to
9th grade, and the third is a transition skills inventory for much older students.
Mike: Krisa, what are the biggest mistakes that parents should
avoid when it comes to choosing a curriculum?
Krisa: Sometimes families are tempted to purchase programs or
courses that are where they want their child to be, but the child just isn’t ready
to be there yet. Another mistake is to choose to keep using the same program year after
year, even when the child is not progressing. Ideally, you want to choose a program that
fits who your child is and where they’re at, and not choose something out of
pressure to have your child keep up with others. Just because everyone at co-op is
learning Latin, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean that your child needs to do
Curriculum ideas for common learning struggles [1:58]
Mike: Krisa, can you list some of the most common learning
difficulties and talk about the best curriculum options for each one today?
Krisa: Sure! We get a lot of calls from families who have
children diagnosed with autism. Generally speaking, children on the autism spectrum
enjoy using computer-driven programs, and there are several on the market that are good
choices. These children often like routines and consistent schedules, and don’t
mind monotonous tasks. So providing a workbook based program that isn’t too
cluttered with bright pictures and lots of information on the sidebars would be another
Children with ADHD are often creative and enjoy thinking outside the box. They
frequently thrive on curriculum options that are unit-based and that offer a variety of
ways to show what they know, such as through music or various projects. These children
often do well with an eclectic approach, where there’s a good mix of hands-on
projects, some computer, some workbook, etc.
All children, but especially those with developmental delays, benefit from a
curriculum that is multisensory-based. Basically, this means many opportunities are
given to students to touch, see, and move simultaneously as they are learning. For
instance, when I teach my daughter how to make a letter, I’ll show her the letter,
then we’ll make the letter in the air while describing what we’re doing.
Courses for struggling readers [3:19]
Mike: Krisa, we get a lot of questions from parents about early
reading struggles. What curriculum is best for young children who are struggling to
learn how to read?
Krisa: Well, parents should look for programs that are
multisensory-based, that provide direct instruction, that are explicit and systematic.
Basically, it should have a strong phonics component, but it should also address the
four other pillars of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary,
[and] comprehension. Orton-Gillingham is the gold standard for reading intervention, so
look for programs that are based on that approach.
Mike: Well, what about students who are entering high school,
but are still reading below their grade level? What do you do for them?
Krisa: Well, there are organizations such as Learning Ally or
Bookshare. They have thousands of recorded books—including textbooks. So using a
recorded book is a great option for teens who struggle with reading, but can comprehend
on grade level.
If the student has more significant reading deficits, there are other options for them,
too. There’s programming available that offers high school content written at a
3rd to 5th grade reading level. Pacemaker curriculum is one example, but there
Mike: Well Krisa, speaking of high school, many struggling
learners have trouble with higher math, such as algebra and geometry. What kinds of math
options are available to them?
Krisa: If the student isn’t college-bound, an alternative
plan might include consumer math, accounting, or personal finance. Also, parents have
the option to have students work at the math level that is developmentally appropriate
for their teen. That might mean completing pre-algebra, or another course that is
typically done in earlier years, during high school.
For students with more significant learning needs, there is a program called
Practical Arithmetic or the Pacemaker series. Both are written at a 3rd to 4th grade
reading level but cover basic high school content.
Technology: Pros and cons [5:11]
Mike: Krisa, more and more parents are turning to technology to
help their struggling learners understand concepts and develop important skills. What
are the pros and cons of that for students with special needs?
Krisa: Well, the pros are that most computer-driven programs
today are interactive, thus fulfilling to a certain degree that multisensory component
of learning that is so beneficial. Some programs are intuitive as well, meaning the
computer can move students back or forward in the program based on their responses.
Technology-based learning is also engaging, and that can be a huge motivator for
children who otherwise are not motivated when it comes to school.
The cons are that sometimes it doesn’t work. I know we’ve all run into
that myself, and it’s very frustrating. Another problem is that some parents are
concerned about children having too much screen time. They want to limit it, not add to
it, even if it is educational.
The computer can also be misused. Younger children may click answers just to get a
certain response that they like to hear. And older students may wander off the program
onto other sites.
And finally, it’s sometimes tempting for parents to let the computer be the
sole teacher. We always encourage parents to stay engaged, even with their older
students. It may be that your child could benefit from additional guided practice or
further explanation. What’s happening on the screen can be even more powerful when
you’re there to talk about it with your child, because the smartest computer
program in the world can’t take the place of a real, live human being!
Diagnosing curriculum issues [6:45]
Mike: Krisa, sometimes parents realize, after they start using
a particular curriculum, that something just isn’t working. What can they do to
fix their curriculum issues—and how can they know when it’s time to cut
their losses and move on to a different curriculum?
Krisa: Well, even if the teacher’s manual doesn’t
suggest it, it could be that providing accommodations for your child could make a
curriculum that’s not working work. Accommodations don’t make the material
or the tasks easier, but there are changes that are made so that a student can
demonstrate what he knows. Allowing for the use of a voice-to-print software instead of
having the student write out answers by hand, is just one example. An accommodation
could also be an adjustment to the way the teaching material is delivered or how the
student takes in information. For instance, using the same textbook along with the
recorded text could make all the difference as to whether a curriculum is going to work
for your struggling student or not.
On the other hand, if the material isn’t a good fit developmentally or learning
style–wise, that’s another issue. For instance, maybe the program is heavy
on listening to oral reading, and your child has an auditory processing issue, or
it’s very rigorous and fast-paced and your child is a slow learner. Then it would
be best to start over with a program that would be a better fit.
On the Struggling Learner section of the HSLDA website, parents can find curriculum
suggestions and resources for a variety of learning needs.
Mike: Well that’s fantastic advice, Krisa. Thanks so much
for joining us this week—it’s been a pleasure having you on the program. And
until next time, I’m Mike Smith.