Singing the Homework Blues

As we enter the third week of school, it’s safe to say that homework has become the norm.  With my own third grader, we’ve had a few meltdowns already and I’m seriously dreading the rest of the school year.  I have been working hard to help set up some homework routines that help minimize the homework drama that ensues.  We’re not there yet, but it’s safe to say that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Homework can be frustrating for any student, especially after a fun-filled summer without many routines.  Helping students get back into the routine of school and responsibilities can help get them get back into the homework frame of mind.  We have a routine for after-school and homework.  Some students find they work best when they jump in and start their homework as soon as they get home.  I know for my little guy he needs some time to relax (and play Minecraft) before he is ready to dive into his school work.  You know your child best; do what works for them based on their needs and their personality.  We tried homework after school and the tantrum and the excuses took longer than the actual homework.  I figure out that he needed a break after school.  A lot less tears and complaining.

Set up an area where homework is to be completed.  Homework in our house is completed at the kitchen table.  The TV is off and I make sure there are no other distractions.  That includes putting my distractions away like the paperwork piled up on the counters and my cell phone.  When it’s homework time, I give him my attention.  It’s important for him to know that I think homework is important and that his struggles are important.  That I am there for him.

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Have everything that you need for your child to complete his/her homework readily available.  I bought a small cup at the dollar store and purchased extra pencils, highlighters,  and coloured pencils when everything was on sale at the beginning of the year.  Everything is sharpened – I make sure of it or else we are spending time sharpening and organizing the pencil container.  Homework was challenging because he’d forget his pencil case at school or we wouldn’t have what we needed to get started.  Now I keep the pencil caddy and a ream of lined-paper in a cupboard in the kitchen so that we are always prepared.

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I help my son review his homework so that he understands what is required.  I do the same with my students that I tutor.  In order to do their homework they need to know what is expected.  Just recently, my son was assigned five out of 9 questions.  On the top of the page the teacher had written “Complete any five of the following questions”.  He missed that the first time he read through.  Working with him, we discussed why it’s important to read the instructions and make a checklist of what is needed.  Helping him prioritize what is needed minimizes his anxiety and confusion.  He’s learning important skills on how to break tasks down into smaller parts and how to organize himself.  All are important and transferable skills for life.

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If your child is really having a difficult time with an assignment – speak to the teacher and explain your concerns.  Work together with the teacher to come up with a plan that works for your child.

I always praise my son for a job well done.  If he worked hard on an assignment I make sure he knows that I am proud of him.  I want him to show GRIT.  I want him to understand the value of preserving, of working hard to get through a difficult task.  He needs to know that learning from challenges (and failure) is important and that achievement doesn’t come easily.  That it is something he needs to work for.   I don’t care if his paper was perfect or if he answered every question correctly.  I want him to know that I admire him for not giving up, for setting goals and working through tough times.  I share with him my own struggles and how I have to work hard.  He knows it’s not easy for me all of the time either.  Kids need to understand that as parents we too have our own challeneges that we face.

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Be a role model.  If your child needs to read each night, read next to him.  Show him what a good reader looks like, show that you enjoy reading. Reading together helps encourage a life-long love of learning for your children.

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I won’t lie – I hate homework.  I loathe the conflict it creates in my home.  As a parent, it kills me to go through the battle some days.  As a teacher, I know that homework is important.  It’s teaching my son to be resilient.  It is teaching him to be disciplined and helping him practice what he has learned.  Some nights it’s a struggle to read a chapter while other nights I can’t get him to put the book away.

When all else fails consider a tutor.  There was a time when I just could not go through the homework battle anymore and I hired a colleague to work with him.  It helped.  He was much more receptive and willing to try with her.  I don’t see that as my failure.  I’m a teacher and work with many students and help them with their struggles, why did I need to find someone to work with my own son?  The short answer is that my son and I have a multifaceted relationship.  I’m his mother, he’s my child.  We have an incredible bond and are very close.  At that time with all of his struggles he needed someone who wasn’t tied to him emotionally.  He’s in grade three now and I have learned to not sweat the small stuff.  Surprisingly, some days he enjoys homework or at least it’s not a battle.  Homework isn’t going anywhere.  It will get a lot worse as he gets older.  I feel confident that we’re working towards a system that helps him and minimizes stress in the house.  Each child is different and what works for one may not work for the other.

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