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Thread: Please help me see the shore through the fog...

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Please help me see the shore through the fog...

    I am having a difficult time planning anything for my special needs 15 yr old son. He is struggling in every subject due 10% to learning difficulties that still rear their ugly heads (fine motor skills, sensory/auditory processing disorder, comprehension, expressing thoughts clearly, retention of any information) and 90% to my curriculum hopping too much, lack of consistency, and too low academic expectations when he was young (shameful, I know). I need help figuring out what to do. I know I need to move him to almost all direct teaching and pretty much start over in core subjects. He is currently working (going by his grammar and math) at a 5th grade level. My goals for the rest of the year are moving math and writing skills ahead as far as we can while reading some great literature, maybe doing some experiments, and still liking each other by the end.

    Grammar: I was thinking of trying Winston Grammar which has no diagrams and is very hands-on. As WG focuses only on grammar, I will need a mechanics (punctuation, capitalization rules, etc.) resource. He was enjoying diagrams until they moved to prepositions. My other choice is to stay with our current program (Growing with Grammar) but drop the diagrams.

    Writing: He does not see that story writing and academic writing are different and require different skills. He does not see why he needs to do any writing for school. He has written exactly one essay ever and no reports of any kind. I ordered CC Fable for him and his 13 yr old brother (and me!). I am very concerned I will not be able to understand, explain, and teach it well enough as it is so different from anything I have ever seen or tried. I am going to be following that TM religiously!

    Spelling: This poor guy could not spell even if offered a lifetime card for free Bottomless Steak fries from Red Robin. The upside is he sure knows how to use a dictionary! I am going to have him work on All About Spelling with his younger brothers. The other option would be to work through R&S Spelling from grade 2 on very fast. It seems to be similar to AAS but in wkbk form.

    Math: I am ready to pull my hair out over this one. He pretty much needs to start over. {I am fine with this as my youngest sister started University with Math 001,(how to add and subtract,) and graduated with a double major in math and biology.} I need a program that has me teaching directly, does not have any early algebra or geometry mixed in, and is mastery with good review. It needs to have an excellent teacher manual with crystal clear explanations because math is not my or his best subject. On the bright side, he knows his basic facts quite well. Is there a text for older kids which will not require years to cover that fits this criteria? If I go back to R&S, he will need to start at the 5th grade book.

    Science: I bought Apologia General for him and his 13 yr old brother as neither has had any real formal science study. This will be a challenge for both. I am nervous about it and am considering either dropping science or shifting down to one of the Elementary texts.

    History: I showed him the Famous Men of Greece study I bought for my 13 yr old, and he likes the look of it--clean pages, clear expectations. I was thinking of having him go through the entire series in order. We own the D'Aulaire's book, and he has read it many times. I was considering buying the Ancient World Map set, as well. He has some experience mapping that part of the world from previous history studies.

    Literature: Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings is what he currently has been working through. He loves these books. We have been skipping the writing assignments. I am not sure he is understanding the literary terms. Going by his test scores, he is not. The vocabulary poses no challenge for him, though. What MP guides would be a good choice to begin with? As far as reading level, this is the one area he excels in. The flip side is his comprehension and writing are not anywhere close to the same level. SO even if the books themselves are easy, he will struggle with the guides.

    I have not even considered any other subjects yet as he needs so much catching up in his cores for this year. My dh feels very strongly that Latin is not a good idea for this son for the rest of 2012 but is not against reconsidering for 2013 depending on son's progress.

    We run our school years from January to December year round so I have 9 months to get him on a good consistent track again. Would moving forward as above with the plan being to slide into MP 7th in January 2013 be reasonable?
    Last edited by Enigma; 03-23-2012 at 11:56 AM.

  2. #2
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    Enigma,

    I'm not sure if I can be of much practical help to you but I really wanted to respond to give you some encouragement. The wonderful thing about home schooling is just that.......we can HOME school and not school at home. I got the feeling that you were feeling overwhelmed with the expectation of having to catch your son up in the core subjects....but I would ask you to what or who do you wish to catch him up to?
    The beautiful thing about home schooling is that you can work with your child at his pace. In the case of a special needs child that will be much slower and that is OK. Remove the pressure from yourself of having to keep up with the standardized expectations and look at your sons unique gifts that God has given to him. Yes, we still need to learn math skills and writing skills but do not feel bad if he is not at the level that the standard says he should be. I hope this encourages you. I will leave it someone else to recommend specific curriculum to your situation. Blessings!
    Jenchick

  3. #3
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    You are right, Jenchick. I was feeling overwhelmed. Thank you for helping me get my perspective back.

  4. #4
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    Dear Enigma,

    My name is Cheryl, and I have boy-girl, twin 17-year-old special-needs children in my own classical home school. With a master's degree in special education, I am very interested in helping others bring the benefits of classical education to their special-needs children. Tanya forwarded your email to me. I hope you do not mind.

    I think you partially lifted your own fog, as you offered excellent suggestions within your post! If you are still wrestling with some of the issues you posted, I have some thoughts I hope you'll find helpful.

    First, you write, “I am having a difficult time planning anything for my special needs 15 yr old son. He is struggling in every subject....I need help figuring out what to do. I know I need to move him to almost all direct teaching and pretty much start over in core subjects....He is currently working (going by his grammar and math) at a 5th grade level."

    Levels:
    If he is working at a 5th-grade level, then he can begin at the 5th grade level. He has already acquired some good skills. By setting aside his chronological age and looking at his ability level, you are already helping him. You can do as you suggest, begin with the R&S 5. He very likely needs the review and would benefit from seeing 90% on his work again for a while!

    A 5th-grade grammar program might help him. To encourage you, your tendency toward “curriculum hopping” you mentioned might actually be helpful for your son in some ways. Children like ours do not progress in a brisk, linear pattern such as those suggested by teacher's guides. If he remains at a 5th-grade level for a time, he may benefit from supplementation at this level. This can be accomplished through various curricula.
    You seem to have a strong curricular knowledge, and this will serve your son well in math, grammar, and the other areas you mentioned. The key is not to expect that he will be able to follow any guide without frequent stops along the way for additional review before moving forward. For example, you mentioned the difficulty with diagramming prepositions. One alternative to switching curricula would be to spend a month on this specific skill in various forms (e.g., writing on the board, color-coding the work with markers), before moving on to the next lesson in the guide.

    Next, you write, “He has written exactly one essay ever and no reports of any kind.”

    Writing is one of the most challenging tasks for special-needs children, because it involves organized thinking, planning, and execution. It is also one of the most important, because it develops organized thinking, planning, and execution! If he is not a strong writer, he needs to write. Regardless of the curriculum, he needs structured lessons in how to take his thoughts, organize them (outlines, index cards?), and then transfer them to paper.

    Alongside structured writing lessons, he will benefit from daily copywork. MP's Copybook series will serve him well, because he will copy excellent content as he practices his writing. You mentioned the need for more teacher-directed lessons, but he will also need to work independently. You could offer incentives for the most legible page or for 10 pages completed neatly, etc.

    He could also copy sentences from MP's literature selections. You mentioned that he enjoys the books, but cannot complete the guides. He could copy the author's words in daily exercises. (He could even choose which books he wants to copy.) The daily writing exercises would separate much of the “thinking” from the writing, yet gives him excellent practice for the task he needs to learn. Similarly, rather than simply “dropping science,” you could consider his copying content directly from his science books, such as MP's “The Book of Insects” with classic science stories or "The History of Medicine." Wherever possible, for the sake of efficiency, you'll want to avoid too many isolated “subjects” and integrate content areas for the remainder of his education.

    Reading:
    You write, “I showed him the Famous Men of Greece study I bought for my 13 yr old, and he likes the look of it--clean pages, clear expectations. I was thinking of having him go through the entire series in order. We own the D'Aulaire's book, and he has read it many times....Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings is what he currently has been slogging through. He loves these books."

    If I may say, you seem very hard on yourself, but if you have a 15-year-old boy who loves to read, you have done well!

    I think your instinct to avoid written upper-level study guides is a good one. Until his writing skills improve, you could utilize your own Socratic oral discussions to assess and assist his comprehension. If you wanted more structure, you could take the guides and use them orally. In the meantime, you can use any of these excellent books for copywork or dictation exercises! Either way, he needs to be writing much more than he is.

    Just be encouraged that if he is reading these books, with or without the guide, he is already receiving a stronger education than he might elsewhere.

    Finally, you mention his lack of understanding why he needs to do some of his work. Curriculum does not equal education. Classical education intends to cultivate a strong mind, good character, and the ability to think. Surely he would not argue that he needs these key benefits of a classical education.

    If he has been assuming that his workbooks are his education, he may well lose interest in learning. A “conference” may be in order, in which he is involved in the planning for the remainder of this year. How does education benefit a human being broadly? How can a stronger mind, improved character, discipline, and the ability to think logically best be accomplished? After this discussion, only then ask the questions, What would you like to learn? What do you need to learn? His "job" right now is to accomplish his studies for the benefit of his mind, regardless of the content area.

    When he begins to understand the aim of a classical education, you can begin “selling” him (and possibly your husband) on Latin, because the language uniquely orders the mind, teaches English grammar, develops advanced vocabulary, provides discipline for other studies, improves concentration, makes literature and history more understandable – all in one class! The Latin-Centered Curriculum explains how this is possible. If your son is like mine, he will appreciate efficient learning! MP's Latin programs allow for even greater integration of subjects, with ecclesiastical offerings such as music, sacred writings, and prayers.

    Another idea is to have him begin volunteering. Though it sounds counter-intuitive to have him do one more activity in a week, Dr. Temple Grandin, animal researcher who has autism, urges all special-needs teens to volunteer, if only 3-4 hours every other week. We found a former special-education teacher who allows our children to volunteer in the history museum where she works. I have witnessed a link between my son's volunteering in “the outside world” and his realization that he needs to spell correctly, write well, and think well.

    Overall, I believe you answer your own question with this statement, “My goals are moving math and writing skills ahead as far as we can while reading some great books and stories, doing some experiments and still liking each other by the end. .” Just take it one step at a time.

    Instead of having as a goal a specific level by a given date, a more fruitful goal might be to “work daily at his current level.” If you can put in the daily effort, I know you will see incremental progress. As you say, “slow and steady....”

    I do not have much time right now to post regularly on this forum, but if you are able to attend the summer conference, I would enjoy hearing how things are going for your son. Blessings to you –
    Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.
    Last edited by cherylswope; 03-23-2012 at 06:49 PM.

  5. #5
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    Thank you, Cheryl, for your lengthy and helpful reply. I saved it to my hard drive. I wish I could be at the conference but finances and other commitments prevent it. I am hoping for good recordings and your new book as a substitute. As I will not be able to give you an update personally, perhaps this will suffice.

    My son is doing well with the paced down plan we have been using the past 3 weeks. He is much more relaxed and comfortable with where he is.

    Grammar: I stuck with our current program but moved along to level 6. It is mostly a review of the previous level with just a tiny bit of new so he will be getting that review without my having to shell out $$$ and he is happy with it.

    Writing: I have him copying from MP Copybook I everyday with CII on the shelf ready to go. I have CC Fable but have not started yet. It scares me, but little bites at a time I will be fine. I also have him copying (after orally answering with me) all the teacher's guides for his other subjects. He really dislikes being made to answer in complete sentences but knows that is just how it is going to be.

    Spelling: AAS has not worked out so he looks up words. He is working through R&S 7 at an accelerated pace. I am thinking of having him do that and R&S 8 then go back to the start of the series or work from both ends. We will see.

    Math: I found a nice used copy of Lial's 8th edition Basic College Math on Amazon that we are slowly working through together. He doesn't like that but oh well. This covers all the math concepts taught from Kinder through 6th grade.

    Science: Apologia General Science is working out better than I thought. He discusses with me all the questions then copies the answers. I plan on having open notes and maybe open book for the tests. He loves science so this is like a treat at the end of the day.

    History: He is liking Famous Men of Greece but not having to copy the answers. I am considering dropping that requirement as he is doing so much other copying. It is also eating up too much time each day he does it. I have Rome and Middle Ages ready when he finishes Greece. My plan is for him to work through all 4 books. We will see.

    Literature: I dropped Literary Lessons from The Lord of the Rings. Instead, I have him using MP's 5th grade books. These seem to be a good place for him now. I am having a hard time fitting in the enrichments but that is a scheduling issue. Perhaps by dropping the History copying it will free up time for them.

    Once again, thank you for your insights and advice.
    Last edited by Enigma; 04-11-2012 at 05:34 PM.

  6. #6
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    Hi, Enigma.

    I don't mean to jump into the middle of your conversation, but I do want to comment on your not having time for the literature enrichment activities in our study guides. We don't have time for them either! Our teachers never get them all done. We just have to pick and choose. We deliberately give you plenty to do, but if you don't get any of the enrichment done, it won't take away from your study. When I was teaching, sometimes at the end of the week, I let my students choose one enrichment activity out of all the lessons we did that week that they wanted to complete. It gave them some control over their work to get to choose what they were going to do.

    Just thought I'd mention it ...

    Cheers,

    Tanya

  7. #7
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    Not at all, Tanya. Feel free to jump in any time. Thank you for sharing about the lit guide enrichments. Now I can stop feeling guilty.

  8. #8
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    Default Struggling Student Forum

    Thanks to Brian and Tanya, we now have our own forum for K-12 students with special needs!

    Please locate this new forum if you have any questions, suggestions, or encouragement regarding children with specific learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, language impairments, or other difficulties.

    If possible, please post or add to your signature a brief introduction. I will serve as one of the moderators. We can all help each other.

    Cheryl

    classically homeschooling mom of 17yo adopted boy/girl twins:
    autism spectrum, specific learning disability, severe mental illness, mild cerebral palsy, medical conditions

  9. #9
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    Okay, my little plan backfired and bombed and generally fell apart. Right now, he is only doing grammar and a little writing as laid out below.

    Gram: This is the only thing going well. He will finish level 6 by the end of the month. I am unsure of he should continue on or not. He struggles to write even one sentence using adverbs, for example, when the exercise calls for it.

    Math: Lial's did NOT work out. Math-U-See did NOT help him 'See'. Those word problems were so difficult even I could not work them without the solution's guide.

    Writing: I tried IEW SWI-C. It was too hard and moved too fast. He had meltdowns trying to do the keyword outlines. I tried Fable. He had meltdowns. He is currently using Writing Skills Book 1 and writing worse than ever. It is like reading what he wrote in 3rd grade. He is getting worse, not better.

    Spell/Vocab: I just gave up. He was getting zero from R&S.

    Lit: He hasn't read a novel in more than 2 months. This, the child who used to inhale every book he could get his hands on. I don't know what to have him read anymore. {I am blaming the iPhone. Why did I ever agree to that thing?}

    My dh wants him to start high school with American High School distance schooling starting in September no matter what. I have to verify via notarized letter that son has completed 8th grade. I feel I would be lying if I did. I feel very discouraged, sad, and like I have failed this child. He is now calling himself stupid. He tells me he isn't ready for high school work. I want a restart, a 'do over'. How do I do that?

    I know it isn't hopeless. I just need to find his key. I would think after ~9yrs I would have found it by now but it still eludes me. I feel like I am running out of time.

  10. #10
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    Hi, Enigma.

    Two initial thoughts:

    1) Strengths vs. Weaknesses
    What do you and your husband see as your son's talents? What interests your son in a constructive way? Where do you see him in service to others after he graduates?

    You mentioned his previous enjoyment of Apologia Science. Is he still enjoying this?

    I wonder whether your sorrow over your son is due to the very real understanding that this is a pivotal time in his life. Where will he go from here? Perhaps some investigation into his personal aptitudes would be helpful.

    You mentioned some learning difficulties. Has he received formal evaluation to help determine his specific areas of difficulty? This might be helpful before making decisions about distance education -- or any other form.

    Socrates urged, "Know thyself." Your son will benefit from some good self-knowledge here! What are his real strengths? What are his real limitations? He needs to know himself well to avoid self-pity or discouragement, and then he can find areas in which he can be of real service to others.

    2) Integration vs. Fragmentation
    I'm wondering if the current approach to academics has become too splintered for your son. The fragmentation of learning is more characteristic of the progressive/pragmatic approach to education, not classical, and it can be discouraging for everyone involved. In contrast, the classical approach integrates learning around elevating themes, good literature, and great ideas. This helps inspire and encourage the student as well as his mom/teacher. I wonder whether a single Memoria Press online course with a motivating teacher and integrated writing assignments -- spelling, grammar, writing all woven into the course and its homework -- would be better, more encouraging, and more formative than yet another comprehensive program of failing so many "subjects." Of course this is a family decision.

    With prayer for you, your son, and your husband. I know none of this is easy.
    Cheryl

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