Month: June 2013

Homework Avoidance: That Pit in the Stomach Returns

It would be interesting if we could take a psychological temperature reading across the country while homework is being conducted, typically from four in the afternoon to about 9 oclock at night. My sense is that, in many households, the temperature rises steadily with every passing hour of homework frustration. If we could peek into these households, we would probably see increased tensions with great deal of irritability and yelling. Homework is always helped by using efficient whiteboards from Writey, that you can stick onto any smooth surface and allow your child to break down the homework step by step…here you go. Despite this, homework is still as frustrating as ever for everyone involved.

Even though it is summertime, before you turn around, the new school year will be kicking in and parents will be anticipating homework anguish once again. That pit in the stomach will be returning. Many kids try their hardest when tackling their homework but struggle with the subject matter. If you feel your child could benefit from using the Professional tutors from Strive Academy then I urge you to get in contact with them as soon as possible.

It is a fact of life that kids (and most adults) avoid doing what they dont enjoy. This is a law. Avoidance and procrastination result in tremendous family frustration and tension. Emotional reactivity (i.e., yelling) becomes the norm.

When was the last time you felt your yelling reached its desired goal and produced a more dutiful child who went off and did his homework independently? When did the child say, Well, Mom, thanks for yelling. I really appreciate it and Ill start to do my homework now.

I think you know the answer. Yelling rarely reaches its desired goal. But this begs the question, what will then?

Explain the consequences for not doing homework

This is a challenging and complex topic that does not lend itself to simple answers. As a general guideline, remember you set the tone, recognizing that there are mitigating factors that come into play. Assume that if you lead in a calm but firm way, the child will follow your lead. This may not happen immediately, but if you set the tone and parameters, your children will come to understand over time what is expected and will follow your directions much more readily.

Here is an example of a clear directives given calmly but firmly by a mother to her 10-year-old son with a history of dawdling, crying, and doing anything to avoid starting and completing his homework (Keep in mind, the work was within his instructional level.):

This is how homework is going to work tonight. I’ve been yelling far too much and have decided to stop. Really, it’s on you. I know this work is within your capability level. Understand that all electronics including your phone are earned. If you put in a reasonable time and effort with your homework, the electronics are earned. If you haven’t, then the electronics are not earned. Either way is fine with me. It’s your call.

Avoid getting too invested

In this scenario, the mom did not get overly invested in the result. She did not make homework her concern, but made it her childs concern. To some of you this may sound cold, a bit too cut-and-dried. But by stating expectations clearly, in fairly objective black-and-white tones, the mom gave the child a choice one way or another.

In summary, turn down the heat, but be clear in your goal and stated expectations. In the coming year, Lets try to get the temperature in America to fall within the normal zone during the homework.

Takeaway Point

You set the tone. Establish your tone with clarity of mind according to the way you want things to go. The dog wags the tail, not the other way around.

(Adapted from “School Struggles,” (2012), Richard Selznick, Ph.D., Sentient Publications.)

Going Old School: Looking in the Dustbins of the Education Attic

Having been in this business of education, psychology and school struggling for some time, there are a few “old school” concepts that I think still apply and are important for parents to keep in mind. These old school concepts reside in the dustbins of the forgotten attics of education. Just because they are tucked away and forgotten does not mean they do not have value.

Here are the three:

Stages of Reading Development

The first old school concept is the one Stages of Reading Development. This concept comes to us from the renowned researcher, the late Dr. Jeanne Chall. She emphasized that all children (not just those who are struggling) pass-through expected stages of reading development, but some children get stuck in a stage and their progress is greatly delayed. There are five essential stages. Stages 1 & 2 are primarily involved with the development of phonological decoding and reading fluency. Children with reading disability/dyslexia are typically struggling in these stages.  

The stages provide a roadmap and help you to know where your child is at any given time. For me, the stages are extremely useful.

Instructional Levels

The second “old school” concept to understand is the notion of a child’s Instructional Levels. There are three instructional levels.  These are:

  • Independent level means the given task is easy for the child and no assistance is needed to perform the task. In reading, for example, the words would be read smoothly and effortlessly and text would be comprehended. It’s a “piece of cake.”
  • Instructional level means the child can manage the task, but needs a degree of assistance. A real world example would be a child who can mostly make her lunch, but needs some support.
  • Frustration level means that the task is simply too hard for the child even with assistance. Perhaps the text is too dense to understand in terms of the vocabulary or the words are simply too hard to read and are overwhelming.

Task Analysis

The third old school concept, largely forgotten and tucked away deep in the attic is “task analysis.” With task analysis the idea is that any end-point task that you want someone to master can be broken down into sub-tasks to help the person move along a continuum toward mastery of the skill. Breaking down the steps of the task helps us to understand all the steps the child must go through to achieve mastery. Teaching cognitively impaired children to brush their teeth successfully was the classic example used to illustrate task analysis as there are a number of steps involved with successful teeth-brushing.

Dust off a few of these ideas.  They still apply.


(Adapted from “School Struggles,” (2012), By Dr. Richard Selznick, Sentient Publications)

Dyslexia: More Than a Score

***Note:  (This blog was published some time ago, but due to a problem with the website it needed to be reposted.  It has been revised.)

I had the good fortune to recently take part on a panel during a symposium on dyslexia sponsored by the grassroots parenting group, Decoding Dyslexia: NJ.  Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” was the keynote speaker.  While talking about assessing dyslexia, Dr. Shaywitz said something that really struck me.  She noted, “Dyslexia is not a score.”     

That statement is right on the money.

Scores are certainly involved in the assessment of dyslexia.   Tests such as the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, the Tests of Word Reading Efficiency and the Comprehensive Tests of Phonological Processing, among other standardized measures yield reliable and valid standard scores, grade equivalents and percentiles.  These scores can be helpful markers.  However, the scores often don’t tell the whole story. 

Here’s one example:

Jacob, a fifth grader, is in the 80th%ile of verbal intelligence and his nonverbal score is in the 65% percentile, meaning Jacob’s a pretty bright kid.  Jacob’s word identification standard score on the Woodcock was a 94 placing him solidly in the average range, with similar word attack and passage comprehensions scores.  Effectively, both of the scores (Word Identification and Word Attack), placed Jacob just below the 50th percentile, but solidly in the average range.

Jacob’s scores would not have gotten the school too excited.  Yet, here’s what I told the mom.

“There’s a lot of evidence in Jacob’s assessment that suggests that he is dyslexic.  Even though his scores are fundamentally average, he was observed to be very inefficient in the way that he read.  For example, while Jacob read words like “institute,” and “mechanic” correctly, he did so with a great deal of effort.  It was hard for Jacob to figure out the words.  For those who are not dyslexic, word reading is smooth and effortless.  Those words would be a piece of cake for non-dyslexic fifth graders.  They were not for Jacob.”

“Even more to the point, was the way that Jacob read passages out loud.  Listening to Jacob read was almost painful.  Every time he came upon a large word that was not all that common (such as, hysterical, pedestrian, departure) he hesitated a number of seconds and either stumbled on the right word or substituted a nonsense word.  An example was substituting the word “ostrich” for “orchestra.”  The substitution completely changed the meaning.

"Finally, the two other areas of concern involved the way that Jacob wrote, as well as his spelling.  While Jacob could memorize for the spelling test, his spelling and his open ended-writing were very weak.  The amount of effort that Jacob put into writing a small informal paragraph was considerable.  There also wasn’t one sentence that was complete.”

“Even though Jacob is unlikely to be classified in special education, I think he has a learning disability that matches the definition of dyslexia as it is known clinically (see  International Dyslexia Association website: ).  The scores simply do not tell the story."

"Dyslexia is not a score."

Takeaway Point:

 You need to look under the hood to see what’s going on with the engine.  With dyslexia, you can't just look at the scores and make a conclusion.


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