Month: October 2012

The Problem-Solving Voice: Is it too quiet?

Those of you who have read my stuff or know of the work that I’ve done with kids over the years,  know I can be a bit “decoding obsessed.”  This is primarily because I have witnessed the legions of struggling decoders (usually dyslexics) who find school to be extremely challenging as a result of their ongoing decoding and reading fluency issues. 

Other Side of Coin

There is another side of the coin, though, and these are kids who have trouble with problems solving, which is a whole other branch of the tree.   My observation is that when these kids have a novel problems to solve (classic example would be mathematic word problems), they lack an effective internal voice to guide them and say, “Hmm, let me think about it,” to weigh and consider how to approach a solution to the problem or way to answer a question.

Take young Angel,  age 9, who is a pretty good problem solver.  For example, when you put puzzle pieces down to make something he doesn’t rush in to the task or throw his hands up too quickly stating “I can’t do this.”  No, Angel, looks it over, considers, weighs options, and says to himself, “Hmm, let me think about it,” and then proceeds ahead, one small part or step at a time. 

 In contrast, is Anna, who is same age and grade as Angel.  Anna is fragile when it comes to problem-solving.  Anxiety kicks in almost immediately when asked to solve a novel problem.  The slightest difficulty and she wants to bolt from the task.  There is little to no internal voice (or at least one that she hears) guiding her to evaluate and problem solve.

Anna’s difficulty also affects her reading comprehension.  While she can answer fairly straight-forward factual type of questions,  when it comes to questions that involve reading between the lines (inferences) or forming conclusions, she shrugs quickly, stating “I don’t know.” 

ADHD style kids also have great difficulty with this problems solving component of school, as their overly impulsive nature does not easily lend itself to problems solving.

There is no immediate fix or simple solution to this issue. However, in the hands of a good teacher (tutor), that person can encourage the problem-solving voice with a lot of guided practice.  By asking good questions that help steer the child toward problem solving, the child improves over time.  They learn to work through challenges.

Takeaway Point

If your child is not oriented toward utilizing the “Hmm, let me see voice,” encourage it along.   When the child immediately says, “I don’t know,” nudge a little.   You might say, “Look. I know you are not sure, but how about if you think about it a bit and then take a guess.  There may not be an exact right or wrong answer.”

The Thing About Dyslexia is…(part 1)

The thing about dyslexia is almost everyone gets it wrong.

As proof, try this experiment.  Ask anyone you know the question, “What is dyslexia?”  I would wager that 90% (perhaps 100%) will say…

“Isn’t that when you read upside down and backwards?”

Somehow, as a large societal public consciousness we have been hypnotized to believe this about dyslexia.

I have probably assessed a couple thousand dyslexic style children (and adults ) over the years, yet I still can’t recall many who were reading legitimately upside down and backwards.

To illustrate the point, try and read the following made-up words.

 “perspicuous”     “moldroofy”    “umberton”

For those of you who do not have dyslexia, you probably read them as quickly as you answer simple math fact questions (e.g., 9 – 4 =?).  The words pop effortlessly into your head.  You don’t think too much. 

For dyslexics, they strain with large, unfamiliar words – it’s one big confusion, making the whole reading (and writing process) a laborious strained affair.  Names are a great example of such words.

By third to fourth grade everything shifts.  You can no longer rely on your "sight memory" of words. The text now contains lots of large words that are not seen all that frequently.  It's these words that slow down the whole process.  Reading becomes extremely laborious and strained. It’s at this point in the curriculum that the “dyslexics” are really challenged  by the text.


Takeaway Point:

“Dyslexia.”  It’s not what you think it is.

“It’s Miller Time”

Miller Time:  “After a long hard day's work you come home, grab a Miller Lite out  of the fridge and enjoy a few cold ones.”

That’s what the Urban Dictionary defines as “Miller Time.” 

If you are old enough to remember the Miller beer ad campaign, you know that the slogan reminds us that you earned the right to enjoy a cold brew.  You could put your feet up and relax knowing that you earned it.

So, how does that apply to children? 

From where I sit, modern kids often don’t get the Miller Time formula –  earn the reward.  Nope, to many kids, “Miller Time” is an all day long reward.

Take George, a young man who I saw the other day.  Here’s a dialogue I had with him as his mom listened in on the conversation:

“OK, George, track me through your day.  What time do you get out of school?


“2:15!!!,”  I say.   “Wow.  I want your life.  What do you do next?”

“I don’t know – go home.”

“Yeah, and do what?”

“Not much…have snacks, take a nap.  Wake up and have dinner then go on X-Box 360 Live.”

“I really want your life!”  “How long are you on X-Box?”

“I don’t know.  Most of the night, I guess.”

“What about homework?”

"I don’t know…I don’t get much.  Did a little at school.”

At this point the mom who has been listening to all of this without commenting is turning nine different colors and is ready to jump out of her skin.  She can’t contain herself. She blurts out, “You owe homework in every class!!!!  You are getting D’s & F’s for homework!!!”

The kid just shrugs back.  He has no defense and doesn’t know why she’s so worked up all of a sudden.

“Well,” I say to the mom.  “He hasn’t earned his X-Box time, has he?  Has he really earned his Miller Time?”

Of course, the kid has no idea what I’m talking about so I lay it out for him.  “You know.  If you sweat a little, put in a bit of work, get your homework done you get to put your feet up and relax. You go play X-Box – It’s kind of like your Miller Time.”

Takeaway Point:

Modern kids frequently have a one way street mentality.  If that’s the case then it’s Miller Time without being earned – time to change the direction of the street a bit.  Link up the "give and you get" message. 

Let them earn the “cold one.”


And An Angry River Runs Through It

If you have a shut-down learner style teen (especially a boy) you know the scene – not handing in homework consistently, not getting started on tasks, poor follow through, lots of video game playing or cell phone activity – that fun package.

Typically there have been a lot of punishments, with  all kinds of pecking and nagging, none of which has altered the behavior for the better.

Usually the school is giving the code message, “We’re not doctors, but …” which is code for “We think your child should be on medication.”

By that point, medication has typically been tried in one form or another, along with all of the herbal remedies and walking the balance beam treatments.

One thing that is rarely talked about though is anger.

Zach, 15, was in my office recently with his mom.  Zach sat there passively while his mother went through his crimes and misdemeanors.  He was giving me nothing to go on – no explanations.

At some point, I turned to Zach and said, “What about the F.U. river that runs underneath all of this. It’s south of swamp called My Parents Are Jerks.”

Wow…did his demeanor shift.  Zach immediately lightened up.  The mom laughed too.  She understood the swamp and the river right away. 

I’m not saying that talking about the river is going to lead to great grades, but I do think unless you deal with the river (and the swamp), everything stays blocked.  There will be no energy to work through the perceived (and real) drudgery of difficult school tasks.

Takeaway Point:

Lighten up!!!



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