Summer Time Math Fun

I enjoy using games in my ABC123 Tutoring program that help students reinforce things that they have been learning and practicing.  Since many students are visual and kinesthetic learners I have a set of go-to activities that I incorporate in their program.  With summer approaching, I’ve decided to include a list of games that can be used at home over the break to keep math interesting and to keep kid’s engaged.  This list is great for parents who are looking for ideas to enrich their child’s summer and for teacher’s getting ready to teach summer enrichment camps.

Math Jenga

In this activitjengay, students play with a partner(s) and answer math questions.  Once they have checked their answer they can add their game piece to the tower.  I have one side labelled with addition questions and the opposite side with multiplication so there are two levels of play.  Once the tower has been constructed students can play Jenga.

 

 

Yahtzee

I have a cup, 5 dice and a Yahtzee gamyahtzeee sheet downloaded from the internet.  Students play take turns rolling dice and playing Yahtzee.  This game is great because students get to practice their time tables and their addition facts.  They also need to use strategy to come out on top.

 

 

Battleship

This game is the best game for teaching coordinates.  Student’s take turns trying to sink each other’s ships by calling out coordinates.  I’ve had a few student’s tell me after “Wow – now I understand coordinates!”  It’s a fun game and no one realizes that they are practicing their math!

Electronic Battleship (4)

Card Games – Greater/Less Than/Addition War/Multiplication War

I havewar playing this one with my own son since he was 4 years old.  We started off as playing greater than-less than war and progressed to addition war.  You split a deck, decide what your Jack, Queen, King and Ace will be worth and each player then places a card on the table. If playing greater–than war; the person with higher card wins.  If playing addition war  I have students take turns answering the math problem in order to remove the competitiveness and allow for extra time to process the answer. I always have counting cubes on hand close by to help as well.  This game can be played as a multiplication game as well for more advanced students.  If both players draw the same card it’s time for war!

 

 

Dice Games

Dice games are versatile.  You can play war much like with cards or you can play multiplication or addition games.  Vary the amount of dice to change the degree of difficulty.  My student’s love dice play – it’s a great way to practice their math.

 

Dominoes

Dominoes are great for teaching math.  You can use them for war like cards and dice or you can play “What’s Missing”.  I take two dominoes and place one right side up and one side down.  I give the student the total and they need to solve how many dots are on the domino.  This makes for a fun subtraction game.

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Monopoly

We all played Monomonopolypoly as kids and you’d be surprised how much kid’s today enjoy playing this game too.  A lot of strategy is used as well as number sense to play the game.  Activities like rolling a die and moving the game piece on the board as well as counting out money help with addition practice.  I play this game with my son and my nieces on rainy summer days.  It keeps them interested and I love that they are practicing their math.

 

These are a few of my favourite activities that my student’s enjoy – there are so many more out there.  Math practice doesn’t have to be about math worksheets or computer games.  Children love playing games and I cannot think of a better way to have them practice their math skills this summer!  What are some of your favourite math games?

Learning Opportunities for All – A look at UDL

Students have different needs, abilities and preferences. Their strengths and their obstacles to learning are not always apparent.  Incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles allows teachers to reach all their learners.

What is UDL?

“UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (CAST.org)

According to the following three UDL principles, each area of the curriculum should provide multiple, varied, and flexible options for representation, expression, and engagement:

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Recognition Networks – Present content and information in different ways such as using digital texts instead of printed texts for learners with dyslexia.  Digital text allows the learner to modify font, spacing and contrast to something more suitable.

Strategic Networks – Differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.  For example, provide technology to support learners with dysgraphia who find writing to be difficult.

Affective Networks – Stimulate interest and motivation for learning.

Four Aspects of the Curriculum

The three principles are applied to the four aspects of the curriculum: goals, methods, materials, and assessments.UDL_wheel

Goals are described as learning expectations. They represent the knowledge, concepts, and skills students need to master.

Methods are defined as the instructional strategies that are used by teachers to support student learning. Methods should be based on evidence and supported by an understanding of learning needs.

Materials are the media used to present content and demonstrate learning. UDL materials offer multiple media options and include embedded supports.

Assessment within the UDL framework refers to the process of gathering information about a learner’s progress using a variety of methods and materials.

Here is a great video from CAST.org that explains UDL:

How can Teachers incorporate UDL in the classroom?

Teachers may want to try some of the following approaches (Rose & Meyer, 2002):

  • Use multiple strategies to present content. Enhance instruction through the use of case studies, music, role play, cooperative learning, hands-on activities, field trips, guest speakers, and educational software.  Also, offer a choice of learning environment by providing opportunities for individual, pair, and group work.
  • Use a variety of materials. Use materials such as online resources, videos, presentations, manipulatives, and e-books to introduce new content.
  • Provide cognitive supports. Present background information for new concepts using pictures, artifacts, videos, and other materials that are not lecture-based. Scaffold student learning.
  • Teach to a variety of learning styles. Give instructions both orally and in writing to engage visual and auditory learners. Use visual aids. Build movement into learning and incorporate objects to help tactile learners.
  • Provide flexible opportunities for assessment. Allow students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways that include visual and oral presentation.

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Benefits of UDL

Students can benefit from the flexibility of the curriculum and the variety of materials, activities and instructional practices that UDL provides.  Every student including those with disabilities or those learning English benefit from the way content is presented.  Students welcome the opportunity to demonstrate what they know by presenting their work in a variety of ways that best suits them.  With UDL, educators can instruct those with special needs while enhancing learning for all.

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How UDL can Support Students with Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities and ADHD have difficulties that vary.  Some of those difficulties include short and working memory problems, persistent errors in numbers, spelling and grammar, note taking, organization, time management, misunderstanding, sensory overload. Some strategies that assist students with learning disabilities and ADHD:

  • Chunk material into smaller pieces with lots of opportunity for practice
  • Provide clear learning outcomes and describe your expectations of how these will be achieved
  • Allow a choice of evaluation methods to allow students to “show what they know” in a way that highlights their strengths
  • Provide consistency in how subjects are taught
  • Provide text in digital format that can be easily enlarged, simplified, summarized, highlighted, translated, converted to speech and supported through technology
  • Provide assistive technology

The Value of UDL

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone not only those individuals with disabilities.  As teachers we can provide the best support by individualizing pathways to learning.

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Resources

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (www.cast.org) UDL resources and strategies.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning (National UDL Center) (http://www.udlcenter.org) supports the effective implementation of UDL.

Universal Design for Learning Guidelines http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/updateguidelines2_0.pdf

Parents Guide to UDL from NCLD: http://www.ncld.org/learning-disability-resources/ebooks-guides-toolkits/parent-guide-universal-design-learning

Help For Struggling Readers

ImageFrom research, a student’s phonological and phonemic awareness is very predicative of being able to learn to read.  Phonological Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate parts of words and syllables.  Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.  For example, if you take the word ‘cat’ it has three phonemes: /c/ / a/ /t/.  Students who struggle with phonemic awareness will tend to struggle with reading. The good news is, that both phonological and phonemic awareness can be developed by explicit instruction and practice through numerous activities.

Many students identified with a reading disability are past the age where phonological and phonemic awareness is taught in the classroom.  These students benefit from one-on-one or small group instruction in these skills.  Student’s attending the LDAWE’s ABC123 Tutoring Program are instructed in these skills.  Through developmentally appropriate activities and play, students practice and improve upon these skills either individually with a tutor or in a small group of two or three students.

Parents of my students ask what they can do at home to support their struggling reader.  Some activities I suggest to parents include playing word games.  Reading books with rhymes is also helpful.   I’ve put together a list of my favourite games, computer sites and iPad apps that help students improve their phonological and phonemic awareness.

Games

Scrabble Soup

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Chunk Stacker

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Reading Rods

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Rhyme Out

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Rhyming Bingo

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Websites

Turtle Diary

PBS Kids Island

Starfall

iPad Apps

Montessori Letter Sounds

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Word Wizard

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Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic

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PBPhonics 1 to 3

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ABC Spelling Magic

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What have you tried for your struggling readers?  Is there anything you would recommend?

Assistive Technology: A Remediation Tool

Technology 7I have wanted to write a blog about the use of Assisitive Technology (A/T) as a remediation tool for some time now.  Many teachers and parents of children with Learning Disabilities agree that Assisitive
Technology is a great tool to compensate for a child’s learning deficits but many do not understand the role of A/T as a tool in the remediation process.  Classic remediation tools are very important especially in the early years and students can make significant learning gains with these strategies.  The question I am asked the most by many of my fellow educators and parents alike is “How does Assistive Technology help the student learn to read and write?”  While many of us understand how A/T can help compensate for learning deficits we may not be familiar with how to use Assisitive Technology as a remediation tool.

My colleague Alicea Fleming and I spent some time researching how Assistive Technology was being used as a remediation tool for reading and writing.  We presented our findings at the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.  Our suggestions for using Assistive Technology as a remediation tool for reading and writing follow.

Using A/T to improve Phonological/Phonemic Awareness

Learners can utilize text-to-speech technology to read small text selections aloud. Then, phonological awareness tasks can be practiced with the help of a tutor (Phoneme: Detection, Isolation, Completion, Blending, Deletion, Segmentation, Reversal and Manipulation).

Using A/T to improve Decoding Skills

1) Digital Texts (e.g. audio books, e-books) can be used to help improve decoding skills: Provides Multi-modal (Visual and auditory involvement) input to the student (multi-sensory) and allows students to add content/notes to the text, modify the text, and use other tools (such as a dictionary and text to speech software).

2) Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud, allows students to control voice and pace and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Fluency

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Reads text aloud and models fluent reading, allows for echo reading, allows for choral reading, and allows students to listen for main ideas and important details.

Using A/T to improve Comprehension

Use Digital Text and/or Text-to-Speech Software: Built-in highlighters allow for paragraph shrinking, reads challenging words that they would otherwise need to guess or skip and provides visual reinforcement (multimodal learning) for students who have auditory processing difficulties.  It also allows for repeated exposure
to new words. Technology 6

Using A/T to improve Writing Skills

1) Speech Recognition/Speech-to-Text Software: Dictate thoughts and information into various programs, allows students to focus cognitive energy on the ideas they would like to express (without using excess resources on spelling).

2) Word Prediction Software: Can be used to assist with typing thoughts and information into various programs, and is good for students with some phonemic
awareness.

3) Graphic Organizer Software: Can be used for developing pre-writing strategies (brainstorm webs, writing models, timelines, flow charts, etc…)

Assistive Technology software is not a replacement for a teacher or tutor. However, it can offer invaluable assistance to both teachers and students by providing opportunities for drill and reinforcement as well as providing opportunities for students to practice reading skills independently.

You can find our presentation from the 2012 Laubach Literacy Conference here: Assistive Technology: A Tool for Literacy Success 

When the Math Doesn’t Add Up: Math Anxiety and Learning Disabilities

Parents: Does your child struggle with math?  Completely shut down and become paralyzed when working on math homework?  Do they tell you that their mind goes blank and that they cannot remember anything? Teachers: Do you have a student that avoids math class and tends to flee by repeatedly asking to get a drink of water, or to go to the bathroom during that time?  ImageDoes your student exhibit helplessness and disorganization while math problem solving?  All of these behaviours are typical of math anxiety. Mark H. Ashcraft, Ph.D. defines math anxiety as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance”.  Some students that suffer from math anxiety may also have Dyscalculia.  Dyscalculia is defined by LD.org as: “a term used to describe a specific learning disability in mathematics. Individuals with dyscalculia have significant problems with numbers: learning about them and understanding how they work”.

Some common signs of Dyscalculia include:

  1. Understanding the one-to-one correspondence between number symbols and objects (4 cookies, 4 cars)
  2. Counting and calculating rapidly
  3. Learning/memorizing basic math facts (addition, subtraction)
  4. Learning counting strategies (such as by 2, by 10, by 100, etc.)
  5. Learning multiplication tables, formulas, and rules
  6. Making comparisons such as more than/less than
  7. Telling time
  8. Understanding spatial directions (such as left and right)
A more comprehensive list can be found on the NCLD.org website: Click here

Individuals that have math anxiety may not necessarily have Dyscalculia, however, individuals with Dyscalculia usually tend to have some form of math anxiety.  Two researchers Michael Eysenck and Manuel Calvo found that “the intrusive thoughts and worry characteristics of high anxiety are thought to compete with ongoing cognitive tasks for the limited processing resources for working memory.

ImageWhat this means is that students with math anxiety have negative thoughts and anxieties competing with working memory that is needed for solving mathematical problems.   If a student already suffers from poor working memory (which many students with learning disabilities do) being successful in math poses a challenge.  Interestingly, this study showed that students with severe learning disabilities suffered from poor working memory and that poor working memory contributed to a slow acquisition of mathematical skills even when the student had high intelligence.

 What can help my child/student with math anxiety?

ImageOne of the most beneficial things a parent or a teacher can do for a student with math anxiety is to reassure them they have do the ability to do math.  I have heard students say that they don’t have a math brain or that they are terrible at math!  This bias towards math ability contributes directly to math anxiety.  There is a wonderful book written by John Mighton called “The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child”.  In his book, John explains that all of us have a natural ability to do math.  Somewhere along the way in school, that ability gets distorted into an inability that can lead to math anxiety.  The philosophy behind The Myth of Ability is that when mathematical tasks are broken down and concepts described clearly, all students regardless of skill can understand them.  John is also the founder of JUMP (Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies) program that we are currently using in our ABC123 Tutoring Program with great success.

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Initially, JUMP was started as a tutoring program but has since then been implemented as a main teaching tool in hundreds of Canadian schools.  This program has helped many students to overcome their fear of math and thus improve their math ability.   I have seen improvements in my student’s math ability and more importantly improvements in their confidence and their perceptions of their own math ability.   Concepts are easily broken down in ways that students understand them.  With this understanding comes the confidence many students lack.  The books are easy to follow and align with Ontario’s math curriculum.  I have been using the program with my own son for the last two years with great success.   Using the teacher guides has enhanced my teaching of math as well.

The struggle that some students face in mathematics may be attributed to a combination of issues or one specific underlying concern.  What is important to understand is that math anxiety can have a negative affect on learning mathematics.  Helping students overcome their fears and anxiety is the first step to helping them be successful.  Celebrate the successes, no matter how small.  Each positive step will build confidence in your student and help them face math with a more positive outlook.  Breaking down math problems into easy to understand steps and using concrete tools such as manipulatives and pictures can help a student have a better understanding of mathematical concepts.  We are all capable of achieving success in math and as parents and educators we can help build that confidence in our kids!

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The Write Stuff: Handwriting Difficulty in Young Learners

Multiple-print-reversals-e1331590434434-300x286The first time I reviewed my son’s grade one assessment binder that came home from school I was overcome with worry.  Flipping through the pages, I noticed that every page had some letter or number reversal.   I got even more concerned as I read his teacher’s notes about the number of reversals he was making.  I had excused his writing because of his young age but now having a seasoned grade one teacher comment was making the gears in my head turn.  As a teacher myself who works with students with learning disabilities, letter reversals in writing is not new to me.   I knew how to help my son; I had all the right tools to help him improve his writing, tools that I regularly use with my students.  What I didn’t know was why these reversals occur and what is typical for younger children and what isn’t.  I dove right into books and articles to learn as much as I could about letter reversals in children.

frustrated writingWhat I learned from my research was that letter reversals in young children were common until about age 8 because generally, children do not develop directionality until that age.  Directionality means up/down, right/left and forward/backward.  Another issue is that some children do not learn to properly form their letters and what helps is to re-teach them how to write.  I also learned that for children who have dyslexia, 8 out of 10 will have an issue with directionality.   Younger children who have Dysgraphia will have trouble with forming letters, maintaining word spacing, and will complain about having sore hands.  These students may also have trouble forming ideas about what to write about.  Their writing may be illegible and may not fall on lines or within the page margins.

It’s a lot of information to take in and in my son’s case I’m not yet sure if the writing troubles are because of his age (he’s in the second grade now) or because there is an underlying issue affecting his handwriting.  As an educator, I know these handwriting issues will not just disappear regardless of the outcome and some work needs to be done.  While I strongly support modification and accommodation to support a student with difficulties I am an advocate for remediation in whatever capacity possible.   It’s the basis of our ABC123 Tutoring Program and it’s what I utilize with my students and my own son.

wetdrytryIn the ABC123 program, I have used the Handwriting Without Tears  program and while researching writing difficulties I came across their iPad app Wet-Dry-Try  and purchased it to try with my son.   He immediately took to the program and was willing to practice printing.  With the program he learned to properly form his letters from top to bottom, something I had tried to do with paper and a pencil, but which only frustrated him.  The app has been a game changer in our home, and my son has been learning how to form his uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers.

With students who have difficulty with writing it’s important to learn what strategies will work best for them.  For my son it was the iPad, for others it may be paper with raised lines or finding the right pen or pencil.  Practicing letter shapes through motor activities such as finger tracing in a tray of sand, or forming individual letters and numbers with play-doh are other methods that help students learn.  It’s also important to ensure that the student is using good writing hygiene, meaning that they are sitting properly, holding the paper down and have a good grip on the pencil since many of these bad habits will be harder to unlearn later on.  With many of my students, their grip is awkward which makes writing with a pencil difficult.   A strategy I learned from an occupational therapist was to have the student ball up a tissue in their hand to grip their pencil (see picture below).  For my son and many of my student’s it’s helped to find a commercial pencil grip that works for them.

kleenex grip

In the end, a wait and see approach is risky and many bad writing habits are difficult to change later on.  If you have a child or student with a writing difficulty, it’s beneficial for them (Dysgraphia or not) to try to remediate these difficulties because it’s likely that they will not improve on their own.  After remediation has been thoroughly examined accommodations such as keyboarding or Assistive Technology can be further explored.  For my son, I am taking it one day at a time and working with him to improve his printing for now.

To read more about Dysgraphia and the warning signs: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/dysgraphia/what-is-dysgraphia

Strategies for Success: Making this school year a positive one for your students with ADHD

It’s hard to believe that another summer has gone by and that it’s time for school once again.  I’ve always loved the beginning of a new school year.  It’s a refreshing new start and an opportunity to begin with a clean slate.   Image In a few short weeks, the ABC123 Tutoring Program at the LDAWE will recommence for the new school year.  For me, it’s always an exciting time as I prepare new language and math activities in anticipation of the students I will be working with and also freshen up some of my existing material.   Soon, I will be seeing my students that I have gotten to know very well over the last three years and I will be meeting new students that are joining the program for the first time.   My students are all diverse, with their own unique talents and their own set of challenges.  It’s a busy time especially in the beginning as I begin to map out the program in ways that will help each individual best.  One of the challenges I face is not the materials I prepare or the individual assessments I make.   The most difficult part of my job is managing the classroom with so many students, many of who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurobiological disorder that can be noticed in the preschool or early grades of school. ADHD affects between 5-12% of the population or about 1 or 2 students in every classroom.”

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Individuals with ADHD will have at least one symptom that includes: Hyperactivity, Impulsivity and Inattentiveness.  (Read more about ADHD signs and symptoms at the LDAO website: http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-is-adhd/)  It can be a very busy and loud classroom environment and can be an enormous challenge for even the most seasoned teacher.

I believe that teachers can make the difference for students with ADHD and can contribute to a student’s success in school.  How a student feels about himself/herself is important and feeling confident and positive about their capabilities can help them achieve greater success in school.  I’ve had the opportunity to try various techniques and classroom management strategies that I’ve read about or learned in other teacher’s classrooms.  Over the last three years I have narrowed those ideas down to a few key strategies that work well with my students and help create a positive learning environment for everyone:

  • Create classroom rules with students and display them where everyone can see them.  Students are great at coming up with rules and will take ownership of the rules when they participate.   They are aware of what is acceptable and unacceptable in a classroom environment.  Get them involved to get them on board with the rules.
  • Refer to the rules when a student is not displaying appropriate behavior.  I take it a step further and help the student understand what it is they should be doing instead.

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  • Provide clear instructions.  Breaking down instructions into smaller parts can help keep students stay focused and on task.  Giving too much and saying too much can be overwhelming for any student including a student with ADHD.
  • Provide frequent breaks.   Let’s face it; working hard on school tasks can be too much sometimes, especially for students who struggle.  Giving frequent breaks can let them blow off some steam or just relax until they are ready to get back to their work.
  • Provide fidget toys or objects.  I have a small bin of squeeze toys and balls for my most fidgety students.  Having something in their hand helps eliminate some of that energy they have and helps them focus on what they are doing.  My rule is that as long as it’s not distracting to others they can use these objects freely.
  • Use positive reinforcement.  I never want to embarrass my students or punish them for their behavior when I know they have trouble controlling their impulsivity and hyperactivity.  I set some goals for each student to work on and reinforce the desired behavior with praise, small prizes or free time.
  • Never single out a student.  I try not to single out my students or call attention to their ADHD.  If I need to speak to them about a behavior I do it discreetly or privately.  I also used secret signals with students to let them know when they are off task or when they need to refocus.  The last thing a student who already feels alienated from their peers needs is to be humiliated in class in front of their peers.
  • Come prepared with lots of patience and kindness. Go with the mindset that students with ADHD can have a hard time learning because of impairment to their executive functions.  As teachers we need to be patient and help them navigate through this.  It’s not their fault; they are not lazy or stupid.  Be kind.  Put yourself in your student’s shoes.  What if this was you? What if this was your child?  As a mother it helps me look at my students as “my kids” and to treat them the way I’d want my child’s teacher to treat him.

I love the time I spend with my students even if it is a challenge at times.   I frequently remind myself that even though I have worked with many students with ADHD they are all unique. Image Strategies that work with one child may not work with another.  As a teacher I know I need to be flexible and to treat each student as an individual.  I also know that at times I may not have the answer, and I may need to reflect on that.  I do try to have fun and not sweat the small stuff; it makes for a more relaxed environment where students are not afraid to be themselves and are more open to learning in a classroom community.

What strategies have you used in your classroom with your students? 

What was that again?

Just before I graduated from the Faculty of Education, I began volunteering in a grade five classroom one day a week. The teacher pulled me aside one day and asked if I could read with Michael*. “He has some trouble with reading,” she said. As I sat with Michael, I was amazed at how well he read to me. It was perfect and he never stumbled, not even for one single word. I couldn’t understand why this student needed anyone’s help, much less mine! As I was wondering if the teacher had paired me with the wrong student, Michael turned to the question page that went along with the story. What happened next shocked me. As Michael began reading the questions it was evident that he couldn’t remember much of what he had read. He couldn’t really explain what the story was about. As I started prompting and quizzing him about the passage he had read, the more evident it became. Michael didn’t understand what he had read and he couldn’t comprehend the story. As I looked over at Michael, bewildered, I felt terrible for him. He was humiliated and frustrated and was done with the reading work. This experience was my first encounter with a student with comprehension difficulties and, unfortunately, not my last.

Frustration 2

As a Literacy Facilitator with LDAWE for almost three years, I have worked with countless students that have reading comprehension difficulties. While there are many different strategies for teaching comprehension, these are a few that I use with my students that have proven helpful:

1. Monitoring. Teach students to monitor their understanding when reading. When they are not understanding, they need to stop and identify what is giving them difficulty. Then they should use appropriate action to remediate the difficulty. These actions may include re-reading the text, looking back to a previous page, moving forward in the text, or asking someone for clarification. Once students are able to identify when they don’t understand something, they can then take steps to improve their understanding.

2. Identification. Have students use highlighters to identify important parts of a story. Teach them to look at only one page at a time and to highlight important text. For fictional stories, this may include names of characters or places. For non-fiction, this may include dates, names of places, or difficult words. Ask them what it is that they think is important and work with them in separating what is and isnot important

3. Use graphic organizers. Graphic organizers help students construct meaning from the text that they are reading. Students can use a KWL chart (Know, Want, Learn) to activate their background knowledge prior to learning. Using their personal connections, students can then enter what they know about the topic, as well as the things that they want to learn about. Students can enter specific questions they are hoping the text answers. Finally, after reading the text, students can fill in what they learned. Character and Story maps (or Problem and Solution charts) can also be used to keep track of what is taking place in the text. Other graphic organizers can be found here: http://www.readinga-z.com/more/graphic_org.html

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4. Paragraph Shrinking. My favourite strategy to use is paragraph shrinking. Students will summarize each paragraph (for younger students, each page) and identify: 1) the who or the what of the paragraph; 2) the most important thing about the who or what; and 3) the main idea of the paragraph. Students should identify the main idea in 10 words or less, which encourages focus on comprehension.

5. Make Connections. Students will understand text they are reading if they can make a connection to it. I ask students, “Does this remind you of anything?”. If students have a schema about what they are reading, the text will be more meaningful and they will comprehend better. Connections can be a personal connection, a connection to something they have read or seen on TV, or something that they have heard about. When I sit with students, I will use self-talk to explain how I am making a personal connection to the text.

6. Read and Search. Teach students to re-read the text and search for answers. Students can read through the first time using the strategies mentioned above. Once finished, have the student read the question and then go back through the text until they find the answer. Often, students don’t realize that they should refer back to the original text. This is an important strategy for students to learn.

7. Visualize. It’s important for the reader to visualize what they are reading. I like to tell them to turn the information into a movie in their mind. I will start with reading to the students and having them close their eyes to imagine what is happening in the story. It’s interesting for a group of students to hear about other’s visualizations in order to see how everyone’s individual schema plays into the text. The next step is for students to independently read a paragraph and visualize what they are reading.

8. Read with Good Fluency. When students struggle with reading, their comprehension may suffer too. All the reader’s energy is being used to decode the words and get through the text, which means their focus is not on what is actually happening in the story. Good fluency helps with reading comprehension. One of the best ways to help students improve their fluency is to re-read short passages. For younger readers, re-reading their short stories a second time is a wonderful way to help improve fluency.

One of the most important things I have learned as an educator is that a one size solution does not fit all. It’s important for teachers to know how and when to differentiate. Every individual has their own strengths and weaknesses, their own likes and dislikes, and their own preferred methods based on their learning styles. I teach my students to know what it is they need in order to be successful and to learn to advocate for themselves. To speak up and say “I need this in order to learn.”

Happy 2

These are my experiences and this is what I do. There is no manual to follow when teaching people to read. You do what works for the individual. Sometimes you really have to work hard to find what works. You search and experiment. When you fail, you go back and try again. When the “Aha!” moment finally comes for the learner, your inner teacher will jump for joy and you’ll know then that, in the end, it’s all been worth it.

*Name has been changed.