Month: July 2014

Language Overload: “Daddy’s Tied Up in Traffic”

Many struggling kids have considerable trouble with facets of the language that many of us take for granted.

Take Allison, age 8. One night Allison was told by her mother that her father was, “tied up in traffic.” Allison burst into tears. “Why is daddy being tied up?” she sobbed.

It took her mother some time to explain to Allison that her father wasn’t actually being tied up and that this was an expression – a way of getting one’s point across with words that show picture images.

So many kids have difficulty with the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of language. Kids like Allison can be easily overloaded with too many words hitting them at once and having no place in their “mental closet” to store such words or expressions. That’s why I’m glad that there sites online such as the Effortless English Club that can help people (kids and adults) learn to speak English properly.

The effect of having difficulty with metaphorical language usually appears with reading comprehension or mathematic word problems. Such difficulty also becomes apparent with inferencing, reading between the lines, and drawing conclusions.

We use language very freely, and quite often it just “washes over the child’s head.” Is it any wonder that so many shut-down learner children appear distracted and zoned out in class?

They are literally “language overloaded.”

More often than not this “zoning out” results in the often repeated recommendation to parents that says, “We can’t diagnose, but don’t you think the child to be checked out for ADD?”

The meta-message of the recommendation is that the child needs to be on medication. Sadly, when most of these children land in the neurologist’s office they leave with a prescription based on the symptoms that were given.  The language processing variables are rarely considered.

So,  if your child is not “steering her boat” or is “wandering in the desert aimlessly,” or “spinning her wheels in the mud,” consider that perhaps you are overwhelming your child with too much language and too many metaphors.  It’s just too much.

Takeaway Point

Is your child someone who has trouble with too much language?   Does she seem confused when you use figurative language? As adults, there are so many phrases that we take for granted, but that go over a child’s head resulting  in confusion or inattentiveness.

Take nothing for granted with the language that you use. You may want to target the child’s skill in this area by having a figurative example of the week. For example, while driving along you may want to say something like, “You know we can kill two birds with one stone by going to the store.” Without overdoing it (often done by parents), try to elicit from what the expression might mean and whether the child has any idea of its meaning.

Before you know it she will have many more “tools in her tool chest” to draw upon as her experience with figurative language or other forms of language increase.

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

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#Socializing in the 21st Century

Eli’s parents are concerned. They think that their twelve-year-old child lacks social skills, as they rarely see kids coming to the house or calling on the telephone. Eli, himself, seems not to be concerned. He thinks he has lots of friends and plays with them all the time.

Eli’s version of playing with his friends all the time and his parents’ version are quite different. To his parents playing meant going outside with a group of kids and engaging in some type of physical activity. They expect Eli to play for hours on end, based on memories of their own childhood.

Not so for Eli. When he gets home from school he can’t wait to play with his friends. As soon as he gets in the door he grabs a snack and heads to a darkened basement. There’s no one else there. Eli logs onto his Xbox Live account and starts his afternoon play. Some of the kids he plays with are kids he knows at school, some are total strangers he will meet online that day and they will never play with again. Eli will play for hours on end.

For Eli, it is the greatest thing having a ready-made social life. You don’t have to go anywhere, you’re in the comfort of your home, and there are snacks everywhere. When it’s cold the heat is on, in the summer the air-conditioning is working just fine.

On the occasion that Eli does go outside to play when some kids in the neighborhood make a half-hearted attempt at playing a street game, Eli typically gets bored in about 15 minutes. A weak link in the outdoor chain, Eli retreats back to the house to the dismay of the few “old school” kids trying to muster up a stickball game or street hockey. “It’s just so hot outside and I sweat so much,” Eli thinks to himself. “Besides, I am much more popular with my Xbox friends. I mean I just missed the pass and everyone kind of laughed. Who needs that?”

I don’t know where it’s all going, but for those of us who played outside on sunny days and inside on wet ones, we can’t help but be disturbed by Eli’s social life.

When social life is a darkened room in the basement with no one there, we can’t help but wonder what this will mean for Eli when he actually does have to interact with people.

Most adults older than 40 are completely perplexed and don’t know what to say or do.

Don’t ask me…

I’d better find out what my Twitter friends think and I’ll get back to you.

I will check under #parenting!!!!


(adapted: “School Struggles,” Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (2012, Sentient Publication) 

Direct Instruction vs. In-Class Support

When I ask parents of children who are struggling with reading what is being done to correct the problem, I frequently hear something like, “he’s getting in-class support.”  When pressed further to explain what remedial method is being used, I usually don’t get much of a response.

Understand this, “in-class” support is fine for what it is.  But, you need to contrast “in-class” support with “direct instruction.”

Direct instruction provides a child with specific and very direct instruction and feedback in the context of skill development.  If the child does something correctly, he is reinforced.  If it is not correct, then the teacher models and offers feedback.  Effectively, the child is told in other words to try again, but with a different strategy.

I’ve taken tennis lessons for many years.  I’m a slow learner apparently, because the instructor keeps same the same basic thing over and over.  The instruction is very direct – “drop the racket lower,”  “respond sooner,”  “follow through to the target,” “bend your knees more.”  When I do these things he tells me I’m doing them right and when I don’t, he corrects it.  This is done on the spot.

Good reading instruction is no different.  Why individual remediation or small group (no larger than two or three) is so important, is that the teacher can offer so many opportunities of reinforcement and correction.  (In fact, as I am writing this I am hearing one of our teachers working with a child.  Probably in the course of an hour, she modeled sounds for the child she was working with at least 25 different times in a 45 minute period.)

The Orton-Gillingham methods and their offshoots embody direct instruction.  The child is directly taught sounds and how to blend them in words.  Later he or she is taught more complex syllable types and patterns.  Nothing is done indirectly.  Everything is explicitly taught.

One of the things Orton-Gilliingham programs do not do is worksheet a child to the point of excess.  If your child is coming home with worksheet after worksheet from his classroom, there is probably little direct instruction taking place.  Instruction by worksheet is not teaching.

I guess that’s where “in-class support” comes in to play.  When worksheet confusion overwhelms the child someone has to support him.

Just don’t confuse it with direct instruction.

“My Child is in Early Stage I of Reading Development: What Do I Do?”

Stage I of reading development (Google, Jeanne Chall) typically corresponds to the end of kindergarten through the end of first grade. This is the first major “learning to read” stage. Your child usually starts Stage I when they can do the following:

  • Recognize all upper and lower case letters automatically (in isolation when randomly presented).
  • Knows the appropriate sounds associated with the letters.
  • Knows a handful of high frequency words (i.e., sight words)
I think of this stage as one where the child is just learning how to ride a bike. Just as in learning to ride a bike, the child will be wobbly for quite some time. She may start to fall off, but you are there for support. If you aren’t sure how to tackle this yourself then it might be a good idea to consider enrolling your child into a preschool brentwood ca or something similar to get some professional help with developing your childs reading development.
However, avoid putting too much pressure on your child when it comes to reading or learning new things. Children take their own sweet time acclimating to new situations. The reason is it is quite evident that children who have had very strict parents or who have gone through a lot of things like abuse in any manner in their childhood tend to be depressed. They are not able to focus on anything. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you can choose to refer a pediatric therapist from Kinspire or any other pediatric developmental health care who might be able to help your child to deal with their anxiety at such a young age.
Anyway, to help children progress in this stage, the following tips should prove helpful:
  • Practice a lot of sight words (see next handout). There are lists that help organize the high frequency words
  • Expose child to words that follow consistent patterns. Initially, words that are one syllable and have a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern (e.g., set, got, fit) should be used.
  • Stay away from multisyllabic words in Stage I (e.g., words like largest, porcupine, calendar would not be appropriate), unless the word is taught as a sight word.(e.g., a word like little or summer),
  • Read material that controls for the type of words in the text. Lots of early Dr. Seuss, for example is very good (e.g., Cat in the Hat).
  • Let your child read easy material (for her) out loud to you about 10 minutes or so per night.
  • Keep it light and fun. Watch any tension leaking in to the reading aloud session. Your job is to help boost confidence at this point.
If the teacher gives out worksheets (or reading) that are above your child’s level, politely talk to the teacher and tell her that working at frustration level is not appropriate.


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