Saturday, June 20, 2015

Struggling With Spelling Words?

Spelling Words are very important in elementary school. My son and I practice in the car all the time, reviewing how to spell the words and use it in a sentence. But what about students who have a hard time visualizing in their head? I like this strategy from Stowell Learning Center.

Is helping your child study for spelling tests one of your most UN-Favorite tasks each week? Wouldn't it be great if we were all born with a built-in spell checking system?

Fortunately, we're born with some natural skills that help with spelling. One of the key ones is called Visual Memory.

For some, however, that skill doesn't fully develop in the memory system, and so a little help is needed to be able to 'see it.'

The exercise below will help anyone improve with  memorizing spelling words, and it will also begin to aid in developing a better visual memory.

Try it out for a few weeks and let me know how it goes.

Here's to making this the best school year ever,
Homework Tip
Homework Problem: 
Struggles With Spelling Words  
Sometimes students struggle to spell words. Other times it seems as if they can spell them at home but then somehow "lose" the spelling when it comes time to take the test.

When a student has weak visual memory, remembering math facts, the exact spelling of words, what homework was assigned, or even what was just read, can lead to daily frustrations and poor grades.

Being able to spell properly affects reading and writing, so here is one method to begin training the visual memory system to see and remember what words look like.

Homework Solution: 
Learning to SEE The Words
DON'T worry about how many steps there are to this technique. It's actually not as overwhelming as it first looks!

For this activity, you'll need:
Lined paper, pencils, a black or dark blue dry-erase marker, and either a hand-held white board or a piece of plain white paper in a page protector.

1. Begin by folding a sheet of the lined paper in half lengthwise. This will create four separate panels, two on the back and two on the front. Now you have room to write your words four separate times, but don't write them yet.

2. You (the parent) write their first spelling word on the white board or on the sheet protector using the dry erase marker.

3. Show your child the word you've written and talk about it using questions, such as:
a.  How many letters does it have?
b.  What sounds are in the word?
c.  What sound does it start with?
d.  What sound does it end with?
e.  What letters make those sounds?
f.   How many vowels do you see?
g.  Are there any capital letters?
h.  Can you "sound spell" the word?
     (Use the letter sounds instead
     of names to
spell the word.)

4. Have them spell the word out loud while looking at it.

5. Ask them to close their eyes, 'see' the word in their mind and spell it out loud from what they 'see.'

6. Have them open their eyes and write their spelling word on the first panel of their paper, without looking at the word.

7. Ask them if it sounds right and if it looks right.

8. Show them the word again and have them compare what they wrote to what they saw. If they spelled it correctly, move on to the second word, etc.

If they spelled it incorrectly, have them flip to a new panel (so they can't see the word they just spelled) and review steps 3-6 until they are able to spell it correctly. Having the four panels gives them an opportunity to spell the word several times until they get it right.

9. As soon as they spell it correctly, stay on the current panel and continue to the next word. (You will NOT end up with a complete list of words on any one panel.)

10. Repeat these steps for each spelling word they have to study.

Remember, this isn't just "drill." It's not repeating over and over. It's building the skills that help visual memory to get stronger. Think of it as weight lifting for spelling. It will take doing the exercise several times (over several weeks) to make that "muscle" stronger.

DON'T GIVE UP on this technique. As time goes on, the better their visual memory skills will become...and the faster they'll get at memorizing those spelling words.

Math Triangles to Help Learn Relationship Between Numbers

 Many of my students tell me they don't get math, and I saw this technique at a presentation from Stowell Learning Center and liked it a lot. I believe if the students were able to visualize numbers this way, they would be less frustrated:

Many students can DO math.  But DOING math is NOT the same thing as UNDERSTANDING math and how it works.

This week we're introducing you to "Math Triangles" which help students UNDERSTAND the relationship between numbers and operations.

It's both a good way to study AND a good way to deepen students' understanding of math.  Try this out and see if it helps.

Here's to making this the best school year ever,
Math Triangles (+ - x ÷ Facts)
  • Help students associate addition and subtraction as opposite operations
  • Help students associate multiplication and division as opposite operations
  • Learn math facts
  • Make flashcards of challenging math facts (the ones the student doesn't know and needs to practice). Draw a triangle on the card.
For Addition and Subtraction
  • At the top of the triangle, put the answer to the addition problem (sum).  On the bottom two corners, put the addends (two numbers that are added together to make the sum).
Interesting Image
  • Have the student practice reading all possible problems as the instructor points to the numbers:
  • 7+9 = 16
  • 9+7 = 16
  • 16-7 = 9
  • 16-9 = 7
  • Guide the student in noting:
  • Whichever order he adds the numbers at the bottom of the triangle, the answer is always the same.
  • The answer (sum) of an addition problem is always a bigger number then either of the two numbers he is adding.
  • When subtracting, he always starts with the biggest number (16 in the problem above).
  • The relationship between the addition and subtraction facts (that the addition and subtraction facts use the same numbers).
  • Drill while looking at the numbers: The instructor points to the number. The student says the numbers and supplies the operation based on where the instructor started.

  • Drill the various facts: Instructor covers one corner of the triangle and says the corresponding problem. The student says the answer.

  • Drill with a visualized triangle: The instructor points to the spot where the numbers would be as the student says the numbers and supplies the operation based on where the instructor started.
For Multiplication and Division
  • The procedure and practice work the same for multiplication and division as for addition and subtraction. At the top of the triangle, put the answer to the multiplication problem (product). On the bottom two corners put the factors (two numbers that are multiplied together to make the product).
Interesting Image
Signs can be added to the triangle as need help the student understand and remember.


How to Study for a Test w/ Concept Diagrams

 There are many ways to study for tests, and although we tell our students to study, sometime we forget to explain how to study or don't provide many ideas for students of various learning styles. Below are some different methods of studying for a test that came from Stowell Learning Center that I like. 

And most students have no clue about effective studying.

In fact, most students use one of these strategies:

  • Read the chapter over and over, hoping it will sink in
  • Ask parents to read the material and quiz them
  • Hope (not really a strategy but it is what they do!)
Have you ever felt your student knew the right answers but then failed the test?

Typically that can happen when students work hard to memorize their study guides or practice questions word for word.  They think they know the material, but when it appears on the test, stated in a different way, they don't recognize it as being what they studied and end up being disappointed in their grade.

Below you'll find a strategy for studying for content type tests.  When you need to know the material, this will work well.
Concept Diagramming Makes Studying More Fun and
Test Grades Better

This strategy takes a little bit of time up front, but helps students really understand the material and makes studying much more interesting. Test grades improve because students are really thinking about the information instead of just trying to "ingest" it by rote.

It's called Concept Diagramming and is great for use with content areas such as history or science. It is a good tool to use when studying in groups or with a partner (or parent).

What to do
The student should:
  1. Put important events, dates, vocabulary, and names on 3x5 cards.
  2. Organize the cards in some logical way, and then orally explain why it makes sense to group the cards in that way.
  3. Then mix the cards up and group them in a different (still logical) way.  Again, orally explain the new organization / connections.
This process may show students that they don't really know the material. Memorizing a date is not the same thing as understanding a date and why it's important. If the student really does understand the material, it will be fun to come up with multiple ways to organize/group the cards.

After each test, save all of the cards, labeling them by chapter or section so that they can be used again to study for unit tests and finals.

Automatic Negative Thoughts about Homework

The more I learn about my own child's learning and behavior difficulties, the more I understand how our thoughts play a part in how we approach goals and tasks. I like the explanation given here of "Automatic Negative Thoughts" and how to overcome them from Stowell Learning Center.

Do you remember LIKING homework when you were a kid?
Most of us simply didn't have that experience. It was either "hate" or "just get it done so that I can get on to something fun."
When homework is a real struggle for students, especially day after day, just thinking about having to do homework can turn moods downward in a hurry.

Suddenly the energy that could be invested into getting homework done has evaporated. In its place are slow movements, slow thinking, and slow productivity. What would have taken a long time now stretches into all evening.
I understand. Most people feel that way when they begin a task they feel is difficult or impossible. It's a natural human reaction.
It's also counterproductive. If I don't like doing something, I should put all my energy into doing it so that it won't take longer than it needs to.
Below you'll find a quick summary of one of Dr. Daniel Amen's wonderful books. I think you'll find it helpful, especially when you apply it to helping your child do  homework.

Are "ANTs" Infesting Your Brain?

Have you ever heard your child or teen say something like:
"I'll never get this stupid assignment done."
"I hate doing this math. Why do I need to know this anyway?"
"I can't get this project done because I'm not good at planning.
Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. calls these kinds of thoughts ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts.

What we think and what we say to ourselves is very powerful. Whether we realize it or not, our body reacts physically to every thought we have. Negative thoughts can automatically come into our minds, and if we let them, they can infest our thinking and ruin our day.
As study strategies go, focusing on how much we hate our homework is a very inefficient one! When the mind is filled with "ANTS," there's no room to focus on doing the job we need to do.

Help your children put the power of words to work for them by learning positive and productive self-talk. How about:

"I'll do this assignment first because I'll feel so proud of myself when it's done."

"I can get the job done when I focus on one problem at a time."

"I need help with planning, but I'm good at other parts of this project."

In his wonderful little book called Mind Coach: How to Teach Kids to Think Positive and Feel GoodDr. Amen points out 9 different types of ANTs. He challenges children and teens to monitor their thoughts, identify the ANTs, and exterminate them.

If we don't challenge our negative thoughts, we just might believe them. Learning to notice our negative thoughts and talk back to them gives us the power to think positively and feel good.

Don't let ANTs infest your brain.
For more information about ANTs or the book Mind Coach, go to

Homework Do's and Don'ts-How to Help Your Student With Homework

I know as a parent it can be difficult to watch your child struggle or get frustrated with homework when you can just give them the answer, but you can't be there in the classroom giving them the answer, so we don't want to develop bad habits or make our child feel incapable of overcoming hurdles in their learning. I like the clear and simple instructions from Stowell Learning Center on helping with homework:

As the amount of testing for our school kids increases, it's tough to figure out how much and what to help with when it comes to homework.

Academic competition, assignment overload, and homework struggles can tempt us to just do their work for them.  But this is one of the biggest mistakes we can make when it comes to our child's education and learning.

One benefit to homework is to keep you engaged with what your child is doing.  And knowing what your child's teacher expects from homework is important.

By doing your student's homework for them, they lose the practice they might need to master a skill, and the opportunity to develop an independent learning style is overlooked.

Rather than do their work for them, look at how you can guide and help them to complete it on their own.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts when it comes to helping your child get their homework

Homework Tip

Homework Problem:
Too much homework help

Actually doing homework on their own allows kids to be alone and be self-motivated - things that aren't specifically learned in school.  This doesn't mean that you should force your child to work alone.  I just mean that you should be available to help when they ask.

While we want to rescue our struggling student, if we do, we risk our child not learning responsibility, time management or natural consequences.

Homework Solution:
Do's and Don'ts
Here are some ways you can truly help your child get the most out of their homework without doing it for them.

Answer your child's homework questions for them.
DO:  Guide them to places they can find the answer themselves.

DON'T:  Think your child can multi-task with phones/TV, etc., while doing homework...they can't!
DO:  Allow them to take brief movement and water breaks to help keep them focused.

DON'T:  Tell your student WHAT to do and HOW to do it.
DO:  Help your child list their tasks (what) and brainstorm ways (how) to accomplish them.

DON'T:  Offer bribes to your child for doing their homework.  That's their 'job.'
DO:  Work with them to pick an activity to do together for the quality and effort they put into the work.

DON'T: Bully, nag or pester your student about getting their homework done.  These are not motivators.
DO:  Acknowledge their effort and applaud their successes - no matter how small.