Originally Sent: 7/10/2014

HSLDA Homeschooling a Struggling Learner

July 10, 2014


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Tools for Your Teaching Toolbox!

By Krisa Winn
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

This is the time of year when we receive many calls concerning curriculum. There are so many wonderful options available to families these days, it’s hard to choose, isn’t it? When we’re asked, “Which curriculum would be best for my child who has … (you fill in the blank),” we tend to say that there is no perfect curriculum. Generally speaking, we believe that programs that use a multi-sensory approach are best for students who struggle.

However, it is not so much about what curriculum you choose as it is about what you do with it, how you use it and present it. That’s what this newsletter is about this month.

About the Author

Learn more about our special needs consultants.Learn more about our special needs consultants. Krisa Winn

I know from my own review of curriculum programs that there are wonderful supports in place for parents who don’t have a background in education. Depending on the program you choose, lessons are planned out, most of the background knowledge is provided, and in some cases, teacher dialogue is even scripted for you.

Most companies have done a great job of providing everything you need to be a successful teacher. But when it comes to teaching, there are some “tricks of the trade” that could make your job a lot easier. So, as you open your new books and begin planning for the next school year, here are some additional tools for your teaching toolbox.

Behavior Helps

If your children are getting distracted and you’ve tried to redirect them without success, try this technique. Say, “If you are listening to me, raise your hand.” You can use any action you’d like, such as jumping on one foot, or waving your hand wildly in the air. As silly as this may seem, it almost always disrupts the disruptive behavior and brings about immediate attention in your direction. I’ve used this with pre-schoolers to teens, and it almost always works.

Another technique for dealing with disruptive behavior is to use a visual cue. If your child continually interrupts you or pesters a sibling, for instance, this idea will help you remind him or her to stop without having to discuss it.

This is how it works. Prepare a stop sign by printing a picture and attaching it to a craft stick. Before there is a problem, introduce the stop sign to your child. Tell him or her that you will hold up the sign whenever he or she begins to interrupt you. Explain that when the sign is shown you expect him or her to stop interrupting.

The key here is to explain and practice this beforehand so that your child understands that the stop sign is a signal to him—a silent signal. You will keep doing what you are doing without addressing the behavior verbally. This technique saves you a lot of time and energy and often is very effective in helping your child become more aware of a behavior that is disruptive.

If you have a student who has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, here are a few ideas that could help make transitions go more smoothly.

First, try implementing a more structured schedule. Some children do better with a routine. Of course, a routine isn’t always the easiest thing to maintain when you are homeschooling. But as much as possible, stay the course, especially if your struggling learner thrives on sameness. A visual schedule, displayed where your student can see it and interact with it is another practical way to communicate “what’s coming next in the day.”

If you do need to make a change, be sure to talk to your child about it. Have him or her move the pieces of the visual schedule to reflect the change. Another simple tip to ease transitions is to verbally update your child on what is about to happen next. Example: “In five minutes we’re going to get ready for piano lessons.” Along those same lines, using a Time Timer is another way to help your student keep track of time in a very visual way. Instead of ticking away the minutes like a traditional timer, the Time Timer shows an elapse of time by losing more and more of its red window as time passes.


Downloadable picture cards suitable for making a visual cue for behavior helps and visual schedules

• Official site for the Time Timer.

How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and on to Learning by Carol Barnier

Using Manipulatives

Many parents tell me that they have given up manipulatives, even though they see the benefit in using them, because their highly active children are not using them appropriately. I’m told, “They just want to play with them, so we put them away.”

I used to have this problem in my classroom until I began making a simple change. Whenever we were going to use a novel material such as two-sided tokens, Unifix Cubes, magnetic letters, measuring cups, colorful rulers, etc., I always allowed my students time to use those materials in whatever way they wished (within reason) for several minutes. After the allotted time was complete, they could no longer build castles, stack cups, or make snakes out of their rulers. Do you know, that was all it took to get “play time” out of their system? It was amazing! If you’ve given up on manipulatives, give this a try and see if it works for your children.

Review Tips

Jeopardy—You may already have this idea in your arsenal, but if not, it’s a good one. When reviewing, instead of having your student provide the answer, he or she must determine the question. For instance, if it’s a vocabulary review you might say, “Something that brings great pleasure.” And your student would say, “What is the definition of ‘delight’?” Take this activity to the next level by having your student develop the “answers” and “questions” beforehand. Reverse roles and have fun! Learning comes along much more easily in an atmosphere that isn’t stressful.

Ball Toss—Another idea for reviewing is to incorporate tossing a ball or bean bag to practice math facts, spelling words, or other knowledge-based information. You throw the ball and say, “Five.” They throw it back and say, “Ten.” And so forth. Again, this is a way to “keep everyone on their toes.” Not only will your student need to pay attention to what you are saying but also to what you are doing. By engaging their bodies, they engage their minds.

Interactive Notebooks, Lapbooks, Flap Books and Foldable Books—Certainly not all, but many struggling learners are also passive learners. Interactive notebooks and lapbooks are a great way to encourage your students to actively participate in learning in a fun and personal way. In maintaining their notebook, they create a reference tool for information that is difficult to recall or that is simply important to remember. These notebooks can take many forms and are not limited to any particular age group.

For instance, high school students can use a spiral notebook to create a geometry interactive notebook, while kindergarteners can use manila folders to document all of the activities they completed and things they learned while reading a particular story throughout the week. The possibilities for topics are endless—think unit studies, holidays, literature studies, broad topics such as art, music, math, or nature study journals. By including foldables and flapbooks, students can personalize the way they record important information.

I’ve included a picture of a simple flap book and foldable below. Again, please don’t think that these activities are only beneficial for younger children. By actively planning, cutting, folding, writing and more, students take ownership of their learning. You can do a simple search on the internet for examples of interactive notebooks.


• More ideas on using flapbooks and foldables for specific topics explore.

Reading Strategies

Reader’s Theater—This is a great strategy to use with students who need help with reading with expression or with fluency. To create a reader’s theater, choose any text, poem, etc. and turn it into a script. Assign a passage for each child or person to read. If you only have one child at home, enlist the help of grandparents, or other family members. Parts are not memorized; instead your student should practice reading with expression. Since they are reading the same passage aloud, repeatedly, they have the opportunity to hear and feel the how the words are read with expression. Finally, find an audience and perform!

Choral reading—This strategy is similar to reader’s theater, but instead of reading a passage individually, students are assigned a part or passage to read in unison. Like reader’s theater, reading with fluency and expression is strengthened. An added benefit is that reading along with others can help a student who is reluctant to read aloud on his or her own.

For young readers, explore Mary Ann Hoberman’s, You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books. These are books of short stories, fairy tales and poems that are written in two voices; one page for you to read, the other for your student. The stories are sure to inspire and engage your little one!


Reader’s Theater Scripts and Plays

Aaron Shepard’s RT Page

Teachable Moments

As homeschooling parents, we are in the unique position to take advantage of teachable moments. These are unplanned opportunities to demonstrate an idea, concept, or even character quality. These can happen anywhere and anytime. An excellent teacher recognizes these and allows time for learning to take place. During my time as a classroom teacher, teachable moments were like rare jewels. It seemed we always had someplace we had to be, or something else we had to do, which limited our ability to delve into a subject beyond the scope of what I had planned.

As a homeschooling mom, I have to confess that the luxury of time is probably one of my favorite aspects of teaching at home. If my daughters have a question about something we have read or viewed, we can spend time further researching a topic without worrying about being late for lunch. Not only that, but our life is our school. We are always learning. As a teacher-parent I endeavor to listen to my children, observe them, and constantly be on the “lookout” for those teachable moments!

(Note: Sometimes a teachable moment occurs without any discussion at all. For instance, when you “keep your cool” even though the customer service you’re receiving at a local retailer is most frustrating—that is a tremendous teachable moment for your ever-observant children.)

In Conclusion

This list of strategies and techniques represents but a thimbleful in a vast ocean of possibilities. As you gear up for a new year, I encourage you to try new ways of presenting material and concepts, even if it’s not suggested in your teacher’s manual.

Sometimes you’ll be successful, and sometimes you won’t. That’s part of the process. Struggling learners often learn differently than their siblings and peers.

Our job is to discover the key that will unlock learning for them. There were many, many times in my teaching career that I crouched behind my desk and asked God for creative ideas. He was always so faithful to cross my path with another teacher who could help, drop an idea in my head that I had never considered before, or opened my eyes to an article that described the strategy I was looking for at just the right time. I pray that He will do the same for you. May your teaching toolbox be filled with all that you need to bring out the best in your students this year!

• • • •

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