Tag Archive: writing


Perhaps you know some of this, perhaps not. If you want to know more history in the journey to educate Pynni, please see these posts (These may or may not be all of them, I got tired of looking. Apparently I’m not very consistent with my categories)(Sorry bout that):

Pynni has always been a happy child: easy going, curious, creative, and compassionate. She is delightfully silly and prides herself on being a little weird. She’s really not too weird, but don’t tell her that.

She has this ability to be friends with absolutely anyone at all times. She seems infinitely capable of seeing the good in everyone and is most happy with all her friends are all together. I envy her this. I, as a general rule, am not a people person. “Friend” is not a common term and the fact that Facebook uses it to describe everyone you have contact with really bugs me. I have lots of acquaintances and very few friends. I like it that way, thanks. But I love the fact that Pynni likes and loves so broadly and freely. Go her!

But all that light dims when it’s time to read or write. If you’ve read any of the above linked posts, you will have some inkling of what we go through with reading and writing. It was good, actually, to go back and see some of the positives that I highlighted about her education in reading and writing because it is so frustrating and so daunting and so confusing to figure out what is the right thing to do; what is the right direction to take; what is the right or wrong reaction to have or thing to say. It is so easy to get bogged down in the negatives that it can be hard to remember any positives.

And through it all I question whether I’m up to this. Whether I can help her at all. Whether I’m hurting her more than I’m helping her.

For so long, I blamed the public school. I blamed them, and not entirely incorrectly, for not placing a permanent sub in Pynni’s Kinder class after her teacher went on maternity leave. That is absolutely a failing of the school administration’s. But was it the cause of Pynni’s difficulties in learning to read and spell? I know it had a huge impact on her self esteem, but now?

Now I wonder about all the rest of it. I wonder if the inconsistent teacher situation was the problem at all. I wonder if it was actually a problem with Pynni all along. I’ve posited that some of her issue may be sensory and I still believe that. We’ve done nearly two years of language therapy with a Speech Language Pathologist who diagnosed Pynni with a “severe written language disorder” and the strides she made were huge, but we hit a wall, and it seemed as if Pynni wasn’t advancing anymore. I felt like we were wasting money and we stopped the therapy, with SLP’s consent. The idea being that we’d been given all the tools. We knew what to work on. We would keep doing that and come back in the fall for her yearly assessment and see where she stands. Improvement? We can keep on, keepin’ on. Digression? We start therapy again.

Then one of my Homeschool Friends, told me about the NCSU (North Carolina State University) Psychoeducational Clinic and the awesome work they do there to assess and help people who need it. They test for lots of things: Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, learning disabilities, etc. AND THEY ARE RELATIVELY AFFORDABLE. That’s key because we spent a friggin’ mint having Chi tested and we’d already spent so much having Pynni tested and treated. (I know I make this sound like it’s all about money, and really it isn’t, but we don’t have one of those Money Trees and so it is definitely a consideration and a limitation.) Hubs and I discussed it and decided that it was something we really needed to do.

And so we did.

After all was said and done: all the interviews given, all the questionnaires filled out, all the tests taken, and all of the assessments completed, we were left with a hefty file folder of information that was detailed to us in a final meeting with the team we worked with at NCSU. They made sure we understood everything they did, everything they learned, everything they determined, and everything they think we can do to help Pynni.

After two months from beginning to end, we had answers and we had some directions to take and we know what Pynni struggles with EXACTLY and how best to help her.

She was diagnosed with Specific Learning Disability (DSM v 315.00 and 315.2): with impairment in reading and in written expression.

Her biggest hurdles in reading are word accuracy and fluency which, in turn, affects her reading comprehension. Basically, at some point in learning to read, most people stop having to sound out familiar words and letter patterns every time they come across them because their brain has memorized, in essence, the shape of the word. This opens up working memory to contain the meaning of the words you’ve read and compile them into a broader comprehension. Pynni does not do this. She has to sound out a word many more times than should be necessary to imprint those, should be familiar, words on her brain and so her working memory is always full of letter sounds as she pieces words together. By the time she finishes a sentence, she can’t remember the meaning of the words she just read. This level of reading inaccuracy directly affects her fluency. So we have to work with a level of repetition that is bound to drive us both to frustration, but she won’t learn to read better or faster any other way.

With writing, her biggest hurdle is spelling. There is no explanation that I can see for it except that she needs the same level of repetition in her spelling as she does in her reading to make the common words familiar and to make the common letter patterns familiar. Unlike her older brother and I, she does not internalize all the rules for spelling in the English language and use them to great effect throughout her spelling career. She learns the rules and applies them appropriately, then immediately discards them after learning other rules. She doesn’t consult any of the rules she’s learned many days past learning them.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. It’s what the doctor ordered. Literally.

I was given a great deal of information on how to help her and I’ve been working on putting the plan together for the rest of this school year, which starts back up in a week and a half.

The team at NCSU also suggested I take Pynni to a specialist for her eyes. This wasn’t an official diagnoses because it would be outside the realm of their expertise, but they experienced for themselves her difficulty with bright, fluorescent lights, white paper and the speed with which she fatigues. So we’ll be seeing a behavioral ophthalmologist. This is an eye specialist that focuses on uncommon eye issues, mainly for people with brain injuries, but I think they might be able to point us in the right direction with Pynni.

I’ll go further into what exactly I’ve got in the works to help Pyn with the reading and the spelling another time, after I’ve gotten a better handle on it.

I never thought, never for one second, that I would be dealing with a kid who struggles and hates to read. I never thought that my most difficult student would be my best behaved child.

I’m scared, to be honest. I’ve got to get this right. I can’t let that self doubt in too far or it will eat me alive. And I’ve got to do this work. I’ve got to help my sweet girl navigate this world of words that seems to be so daunting to her.

We’ll get it figured out. We will win.

 

Last time I was here, I wrote my school year 2014-2015 roundup. Some things have changed since then, and although it’s the end of the year (and we’ve officially started our next school year), I wanted to put my thoughts on some changes I’ve made, and changes to come, here for any who are interested.

Chi is in what would otherwise be his 7th grade year. He completed the writing curriculum Writing with Ease by Peace Hill Press (which I cannot praise enough for the changes it has wrought in my so-reluctant-to-write-Aspie-that-he-had-less-writing-in-his-504-plan) early in the year and, of course, we moved on to the next phase of that series: Writing with Skill. We worked and worked through it and his writing became more and more reluctant. It felt like we weren’t getting anywhere no matter how much we did and Chi increasingly hated the lessons. So much so that he began having meltdowns.

Meltdowns are uncommon for him these days, and that made me realize this curriculum was no longer for us. And so began the months’ long search to find a writing curriculum that both of us liked.

The problem with most of the curricula I liked was that they were part of broader language arts programs and entirely too comprehensive, and thus more expensive, as a result. Also, integrated writing curricula tend to be extensions of other subjects: spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension and therefore more difficult and often confusing to use outside the whole.

I very much like the curricula we use for those other language arts subjects and don’t need more overlapping in those areas. So the search continued until I stumbled upon Brave Writer by Julia Bogart.

Brave Writer is a more comprehensive writing curriculum than Writing with Skill but only because it includes a nice reading comprehension component that pairs nicely with what we already do in that area. It also expands the concepts I was introduced to through Writing with Ease: daily copywork and dictation exercises as a bridge between reading and writing.

Originally, I wanted to buy the language arts bundle but  Chi’s level wasn’t yet released. So, after waiting for a couple of months and continuing my search elsewhere, I decided to buy the available components: The Writer’s Jungle.

I really like it. It’s not a scripted curriculum like we’re used to using, but more of a class for me to learn why these concepts, why they work, and how to implement them in my homeschool. So far it’s been great, and I liked it so much that I started using it with Pieces and Pynni.

The first thing I brought to our day was free writing. For Chi, this means writing a short story or part of one, making brainstorming lists about anything and everything that interests him (Minecraft), elaborating on the lists, or writing a journal type entry. For The Littles, that means drawing a picture (elaborateness is a personal choice) and writing about the picture in some way. There is no minimum number of words or lines or pages. There is no grammar or spelling checks. It is just a means to get them writing in a completely stress-free, non-judgmental environment. It has been completely freeing for them and Pynni has really taken to the task and run with it.

The grammar and spelling and sentence structure is being covered elsewhere. This isn’t about that.

The next two things are stuff we already do in First Language Lessons (our grammar curriculum), Writing with Ease, and All About Spelling: copywork and dictation. Right now, I haven’t expanded copywork and dictation outside of those subjects. Eventually, I will have expanded both within those subjects and without, but that’s another post.

Everything is trucking along now. The other components of Brave Writer were released since I began putting this post together. I’ll acquire that and integrate it this summer.

Summer is the time of year when I do a big reassessment of our goals and how to meet them. This summer has me doing a lot of research and learning, and this fall should bring some pretty big changes in how we go about our school day. Chi is in his 8th grade year and is still behind in math, but not by too much, so we need to push that along a little faster. It’s also time to start having him write some formal research papers. It will be his first. I’m not looking forward to it, but hopefully my work this summer will help me feel more up to the challenge of getting this reluctant writer of mine to write something not about Minecraft (although I’m thinking a history of Minecraft might be a good jumping off point).  Pynni is in her 5th grade year and is way, way behind. In fact, she tests at barely a third grade level. I have more information on that, but it won’t be delved into here. Suffice it to say that most of my work this summer will be integrating a bunch of resources into our school day to help her cope and advance. Pieces is starting his 3rd grade year and he is beyond that already according to his end of year test. He blows me away with how quickly he assimilates knowledge.

Whoo. It’s a crazy ride. I don’t always feel equal to the challenge, but giving up isn’t an option. So onward!

 

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Language Arts: spelling, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary

Mathematics and Critical Thinking 

Extras: 

  • Handwriting Without Tears: all three kids with Pynni and Chi learning cursive
  • Snatch: a programming language for Chi
  • Kano by KANO Computing LTD.: initially for Chi, but will expand to the other two as I see how it works with him. (It’s a computer you build yourself. It uses Linux and Raspberry Pi and teaches the basics of programming)
  • A History of US by Joy Hakim: all three kids
  • R.E.A.L Science Odyssey by Pandia Press: all three kids
  • Supercharged Science  by Aurora Lipper: all three kids
  • Which Way USA? and Top Secret Adventures by Highlights: all three kids (this helps cover basic geography on top of what they learn in their history curriculum)
  • Piano Adventures by Faber: all three kids

Joint Reading:

  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (We’ve been reading through the Harry Potter series. I thought I’d start including our group read-aloud books here, as well.)
  • The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (We finished the Harry Potter Series and started with the Maze Runner series. The books aren’t nearly the tomes of Harry Potter and makes for fast reading.)

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All About Reading Success! AAR has help Pynni tremendously.

All About Reading Success! AAR has help Pynni tremendously.

I’ve documented the struggles I’ve had with Pynni in both math and mainly reading here on my blog, and those struggles have put her even further behind than she should be as she starts her 3rd grade year. On a much more positive note, she is flourishing and reading better and better and with more and more confidence. I can see, now that Pieces is reading, where the confidence deficit has really hurt her because she doesn’t try and read every word she comes across. Pieces tries to read every word he sees. He isn’t more advanced in his reading level, yet but, he is way more adventurous and less worried about getting a word wrong. Still, without Pieces as a gauge, she is doing much, much better. I’m so proud of her extra hard work and perseverance.

With that said, I still worry about her. When she writes, she still gets letters mixed up and backward. When she reads, it’s slow and painful. She often complains of her eyes hurting and headaches and being sick to her stomach. The complaining can seem, at times, to be a ploy to get to stop reading. It’s not a ploy and fall into, but I have been trying to teach her to take small breaks to give her eyes a rest. It doesn’t seem to help, but I think it makes her feel better that I’m listening to her problems and taking them seriously.

She is so smiley and happy and wonderful and then she has to read or write and she becomes something else. Not my Pie. She gets frustrated easily and will completely lose her shit during class. So I’ve been addressing that and trying my hardest not to get frustrated with her. I’m trying to teach her ways to help deal with debilitating frustration. I’ve given her leave to take mental health breaks. If she gets frustrated, or preferably, feels herself getting frustrated, then she can get up from the table and get a drink, take deep breaths, move on to something else for a bit, go upstairs to the quiet of her room and cry if she needs to. Of course, part of learning to deal with frustration is also to learn when the breaks need to be over and what sorts of things are acceptable during school to alleviate frustration. Hint: Getting online to play a game or chat with your friends are not acceptable.

But all of this seems to be dealing with symptoms only. It’s reactionary and I like to be proactive so I’ve done some reading; research, if you will. I’m going to have her assessed for dyslexia or some other reading/writing delay (dysgraphia?). I HOPE that an answer will be found here. I don’t WANT her to be dyslexic, but I do want strategies to deal with her difficulties. I DO want to help make her learning experience less frustrating. She may not ever LOVE reading, and as an avid reader I really struggle with that, but I would love to make school less odious for her.

Then this happened:

My kids read independently for a set period of time every day. Chi will read for pleasure outside of this set time period, but the two littles haven’t found that love for reading, yet. I decided to take them to the library. I’m not sure why it’s always the last thing I think of when talking and thinking about reading, but there you are. So, I took them to the library. Chi has a ton of books at home that he’s working through (have I mentioned I’m an avid reader?) and rarely wants to go to the library. Pieces and Pynni LOVE the library. I told them to get 7 books in their reading level. They ended up get 8 or 9 a piece and they were SOOPER excited to get home and start reading.

I would find both Pieces and Pynni reading outside the allotted time for the next week or so. It made me smile. Pynni told me she didn’t like reading unless it was a book she picked out. This was after asking the week before if she could just skip learning to read altogether. So progress, I think.

Anyway, I’m still having her tested. The issues she has are too consistent and too pervasive to ignore. I’ll keep you posted.

As you may already be aware, I homeschool. We’ve joined some homeschool groups this year and they require that I post group things for everyone to choose to do. It can be as simple as, “Hey, we’re going to the Museum today, wanna join us?” to as complicated as, “Hey, I’m going to teach a science lab every Thursday for the next 6 months. Join us! Bring your brains and the Required Dollars!”

Guess which category I fall into.

Right, so I seem to be UNABLE to do things the easy way. I host science labs at Homeschool Explorers and now, a writing club. So I read this blog post by Lydia Netzer. I got all inspired and lost my mind and posted a listing for kids to join Chi and me in our Junior Secret Novelist Club. There wasn’t the clamor for the few open slots that I thought there’d be, and I was admittedly a little disappointed. I guess it’s a good thing because I would have had a hard time telling people that our club was all full.

So our first meeting was Wednesday, April 3rd. Only two other kids showed up. Our club is all boys. There is the possibility that one girl will be joining us for the remaining meetings, but that has yet to be seen.

We named our club and made up our oath and created a secret handshake. We’ll be revisiting the secret handshake as the boys seemed to think “handshake” meant “full body contact wrestling”.

Our club name is “Secret Nerf Zombie Brains Musical Nature Authors Doctor Who’s Drudon Novelist Club”. Don’t ask, the boys came up with it.

They came up with words that painted pictures in their mind. It was not my place to judge their choices. They made the name from those words.

Our Oath:

I promise always to write with Time Travel,

Evil Stuff, Excitement, and Fantasy.

I promise never to write Kiss-y Crap,

Non-fiction, Mermaids, or Boring Stuff.

Nice huh? They came up with things they liked best in books and things they disliked in books. We distilled it into these four things.

All in all, I think they had fun.

You know homeschool kids are odd, and I don’t mean that they aren’t regular kids. I mean that they are completely at ease learning and participating in a lively conversation while turning cartwheels in the living room, make pencil rockets out of their ears, and hopping around the dining room table. It’s becoming one of my most favorite things.