Saturday, October 18, 2014

BEST Literacy Apps for Kids

Last weekend, we had the great privilege of attending the “2014 Literacy for All Conference: The Community Reads” presented by the Harris-Stowe State University College of Education and the St. Louis Suburban Council of the International Reading Association. Brennan Innovators has participated and exhibited at this annual conference for the past five years, and each year, the speakers have been excellent.

We want to especially thank Dr. Betty Porter-Walls, faculty member at the university, for organizing and presenting this event all of those five years. Her enthusiasm has always been infectious, and as a result, attendees have always left the conferences re-inspired, re-energized and ready to promote literacy in their classrooms in new and exciting ways. With Dr. Betty's brand of organization, preparation and enthusiasm on tap once again, this year was no exception.

The session topics at the conference were timely yet practical. From “Tips to Make a Guided Reading Program More Effective” [K-6] by Dr. Sam Bommarito to "Using Favorite Read-Alouds to Develop Curriculum [PK-3] by Ms. Julia Auch, the conference offered much to the educators who attended last Saturday's event.

We spoke with many teachers that day who took time to visit us at our Reading Focus Cards' exhibit table. A number of them commented on the increasing number of challenged readers coming to their classrooms. A few educators mentioned that students are so easily distracted when attempting to read a selection. Others cited that their students need some type of sustained visual stimulation (i.e. pictures, color, graphics or technology) to stay on-task or to effectively learn concepts. These were only two of the reasons why conference attendees visited us at the event. We demonstrated and allowed the teachers to interact with the Reading Focus Cards (Patent 7,565,759), our low-tech tools for challenged readers. We appreciated their high level of interest in wanting to help students who struggle to read.

More than a few times, the attendees requested apps and tech tools to assist with building reading skills such as phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency---in addition to help with focusing and tracking. We provided them with handouts that included strategies and website links to aid them.

Because of the teachers' requests and a similar demand experienced recently with our other clients and customers, we decided to provide our blog readers this week with a list of literacy apps for educators and parents to help children build some of those all-important reading skills. We included both iPad and Android apps in the list and grouped them into different reading skill categories. We have found these to be some of the most frequently recommended reading skills apps currently available. We believe the apps in this list will definitely do much to entice reluctant readers to begin reading, keep unfocused readers engaged, and provide the colorful visuals to get students excited about reading everyday---all while improving reading skill levels. We hope you and a struggling reader you know will benefit from the use of at least one of them!

FREE Literacy Apps for Kids

Apps for Phonemic Awareness

ABC Magic Reading 1 - Short Vowel Words (FREE)
by Preschool University
This sampler app can help your child’s future reading success by giving your child key reading skills practice.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-reading-magic-1-short/id416896853?mt=8

100+ Top Apps for Phonemic Awareness (for iPhone/iPad---FREE & various prices)
A long list of iPhone and iPad apps to help increase phonemic awareness for various grade levels.
http://appcrawlr.com/ios-apps/best-apps-phonemic-awareness

50+ Top Apps for Phonemic Awareness (for Android---FREE & various prices)
A collection of Android apps to help increase phonemic awareness for various grade levels.
http://appcrawlr.com/app/search?_src=sort_&max=12&q=phonemic+awareness&query=best-apps-phonemic-awareness&prefix=top-apps&price=&device=android&sort=&trigger=deviceChange

Apps for Phonics

ABC Magic Phonics (FREE)
by Preschool University
This app will help your child learn the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, which are necessary for reading. Learning the sounds of the letters gives your child the tools for reading and helps them become better readers. A matching phonetic photo image is matched with each letter to help your child learn the sound of each letter.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-magic-phonics/id404048724?mt=8

ABC Pocket Phonics: Letter Sounds & Writing + First Words (Price: FREE & $6.99)
by Apps in My Pocket Ltd.(For iPhone and iPad)
This "universal" app teaches the basics of reading and writing to young children.
Lite version (FREE): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-pocketphonics-lite/id302689971?mt=8
Full version ($6.99): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-pocketphonics-letter-sounds/id299342927?mt=8

Sight Word Flip It (Price: $3.99)
by ReadingResource.net
Sight Word Flip It was carefully designed by two reading specialists who have taught 100s of children to read. Not many literacy apps can make this claim! Sight Word Flip It offers an effective and engaging way for kids to learn high frequency sight words.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sight-word-flip-it/id675328955?mt=8

Starfall ABCs (Price: $2.99)
by Starfall Education
The "ABCs" section of Starfall.com's well-loved website is now available as a universal application for your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Our activities motivate through positive reinforcement and play. (Note: App contains the ABC letter section only, NOT the whole website)
https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/starfall-abcs/id395623983?mt=8

Apps for Fluency

Read With Me Fluency (Price: $4.99)
by sleek-geek inc.
Many educators have been looking for a system that would actually decrease the workload required for student reading assessment. This app appears to meet this need.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/read-with-me-fluency/id635704413?mt=8

Fluency (Price: $2.99)
by Michael Tillyer
Teachers can help students become better and more confident readers with this app. Children use the power of self correction to improve their own reading skills.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fluency/id474403640?mt=8

K-12 Timed Reading Practice Lite (FREE)
by k-12 Inc.
This app allows readers in grades K-4 to practice fluency, the ability to read smoothly and quickly (timed).
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/k12-timed-reading-practice/id384484818?mt=8

For more information on customizable reading tools to improve focus and attention, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Clip Art Lord at http://www.clipartlord.com/free-tablet-computer-clip-art/
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Test-Taking Tips for Students with Dyslexia & Other Reading Challenges

We've turned a new calendar page and are suddenly finding ourselves already in the chilly month of October here in the Midwest! Where does the time go? Leaves have turned russet and crimson as the fall season surrounds us, and for many students, the mid-term exam season is also quickly approaching.

On or about mid-October, many high school and college students will be taking their mid-term tests. Now is the time to prepare WELL for them. We have a few tips to share with you this week that could make the mid-term season much more successful (AND even less stressful!), especially if you are a student with dyslexia or other reading challenge. We hope you will read and review these tips, making plans to follow through on their use. If so, you will be well-prepared for the mid-term season, even if essay questions are included in the exams.

How to Do Your Very BEST When Taking Tests or Exams

1. Ensure that you are provided the appropriate accommodations you are entitled to receive. These accommodations might include extra time given for taking the test. You might also be permitted the use of a low or high-tech device, a scribe, a larger font format or colored paper for reading. Perhaps there is a provision that no points can be deducted a test or exam for poor spelling. However, be aware that there may be a time requirement or deadline in your state or country by which such exam accommodations must be in place, Get everything organized well ahead of such a deadline.

2. Be clear about you what you will be trying to achieve before entering the exam room. Motivation, defined goals, review of practice exams and asking many questions prior to the test session will help you know exactly what the instructor's expectations will be.

3. Just prior to the exam, listen to audios of the text you are studying. You can do this on an e-reader or any computing device with text-to-speech capability. Go for a long walk or exercise while you are listening to make the learning multi-sensory. The extra oxygen provided to the brain and body as a result of this activity will be a positive, too.

4. Practice developing your expressive writing skills to prepare for the test. Review and re-read past essay questions, discussion papers and study notes. Use speech-to-text software and begin speaking with your computing device the way you would do so to answer a question about this topic on your exam. Flesh out your ideas, find quotes to support your arguments and use examples from the text or story to further enhance your writing. Consider saving and emailing these docs. or notes to your teacher to confirm if you are on the right track. If possible, obtain the teacher's feedback and then re-write accordingly. You will improve as you progress. All this practice and preparation will most definitely help on the day you actually begin taking your exam and reading the essay question for the first time.

5. If you are a literal person or a student whose strength is not in creative writing, devise a plan as to how you might answer an essay question. First, prepare and memorize a set of 5-10 useful quotes you could use to make your point in this essay question. This approach will help to demonstrate that you have read the text and can relate to what the author or character meant by what was said or written in the book.

When beginning to write an introductory paragraph to an essay, you might want to have an opening sentence followed by three general comments that relate to the exam topic or question. In the second paragraph, a plan to expand on one of the general comments with an example of how this is demonstrated in the text might be a good plan. Then consider using a quote to emphasize your point. A concluding paragraph should reiterate the main points you wish to convey to the reader.

6. If you are really creative and a divergent thinker, you will also need a plan to ensure you get your message across in a succinct and effective manner. During the testing session, consider drawing a quick mind map on a piece of note paper just before you begin writing. This will help keep you on track and increase the possibility of writing an essay of much better quality.

7. If time permits, carefully re-read your essay, checking for appropriate punctuation, grammar and spelling to the best of your ability.

8. For last-minute crammers, consider using Wikipedia (make sure content is accurate, however) and Sparknotes. There are other helpful resources such as these, too.

9. Remain calm and practice some good breathing exercises to help with relaxation prior to and during a test or exam. However, remember that an exam is just an exam. Pass or fail, it is not the end of the world. Life is a journey. There may be some speed bumps in life that slow us down no matter who we are or what our strengths or weaknesses are. Just prepare WELL and DO your best. That is all anyone could ask.

We wish you ALL much test-taking SUCCESS this mid-term season!

Sources and Resources for Test-Taking Tips

The Ten Minute Tutor
Liz and Andrew Dunoon are the husband and wife team who have designed and created The Ten Minute Tutor. Together they have set forth to make learning to read and spell, faster, easier and more enjoyable for everybody. They claim that The Ten Minute Tutor program turns sad and frustrated children into happy, enthusiastic children… and takes the worry and stress away from you, the parent.
by Liz Dunoon
http://thetenminutetutor.com/

SparkNotes
When your books and teachers don't make sense, we do. Study guides and discussion forums offered on various academic subjects. Literature section includes brief analyses of characters, themes and plots.
http://www.sparknotes.com/

For more information on customizable reading tools to improve focus and attention, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Brain-Training Games & Apps to Improve Executive Functions

The 21st century is nearly 15 years old, and it has become increasingly apparent that the student skill sets needed both now and in the future are and will be vastly different from those skill sets of the last century.

Success both in and outside the classroom now and in the years to come will depend on the ability of students to acquire information at increasingly accelerated rates. As teachers and parents, we now and will need to help students develop the skill sets required to analyze new information as it becomes available, to flexibly adapt when facts are revised and to be technologically fluent (as new technology becomes available). Success will also depend upon one's ability to collaborate and communicate with others on a global playing field -- with a balance of open-mindedness, foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills in order to make complex decisions using new and changing information.

There is a buzz word frequently heard these days in educational circles (and among some parents) that relates to all of this. The term is executive functions. The executive functions are those skills that would enable a corporate executive to be successful -- the ability to be flexible, interpretive, creative and have multidimensional thinking. Examples of this would include planning, risk assessment, informed decision-making, deductive and inductive reasoning, critical analysis and delay of immediate gratification to achieve long-term goals. These executive functions provide the tools the brain then uses for organizing, connecting, and prioritizing of information and tasks, attention and focusing, self-monitoring, self-correcting, accurate prediction, abstraction, and creative problem-solving.

This week's article will provide you with a list of websites AND apps with brain-training games. By accessing and interacting with these games, it is possible to significantly improve one's executive functions. The resources listed here with their direct links will address memory, focus and attention, language, reasoning, visual-spatial and other critical-thinking skills. If you or a child you know is struggling with any of these executive functions, these games could help make a positive difference. We hope you will try at least one of the resources here. Please let us know if you have discovered and utilized other good brain-training resources that might be beneficial to children or adults with executive function challenges, and we will add them to the list.

Websites for Brain-Training Games

Piece of Mind (FREE)
This website is actually an online, scientific, brain-training game center! Improve your memory and train your brain with a variety of FREE challenging, interactive and enjoyable mind exercises suitable for both kids AND adults!
http://www.pomindcake.com/

HAPPYneuron (FREE 7-day trial with the opportunity to subscribe)
There are several different types of memory: "Working memory" processes information over a span of about 15 seconds; "short-term memory" retains information for up to about 60 seconds; and "long-term memory" stores information indefinitely. Sustained practice with memory games helps to strengthen your memory functions. In addition to memory games, this website also provides FREE brain games to help improve focus/attention, language, reasoning and visual-spatial skills.
http://www.happy-neuron.com/brain-games

MyBrainTrainer Exercises (Subscriptions available at $9.95 and up)
This site provides a collection of brain-training exercises to help improve executive functions. It also includes other features to help log progress with such skills.
http://www.mybraintrainer.com/exercise/

Brain-Training Game Apps

10 iPhone Apps that Boost Brain Function
by Martina Keyhell (for Smartphones/Mobile Applications)
Your iPhone may be able to actually boost your brainpower! These 10 apps are great brain-training apps that can increase brain function, actually making you smarter!
http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/01/31/10-iphone-apps-that-boost-brain-function/

5 Must-Have Apps for Improving Executive Functioning in Children (May 2014)
from the Beyond BookSmart Blog: Executive Functioning Strategies
There are a variety of powerful apps and technologies for improving executive functioning in children who may have weak executive functioning skills. They provide some support and scaffolding that can enhance children's overall executive functioning. The key is for parents and educators to identify areas of executive weakness and then to find apps that practice and support those skills. The following are five favorites for supporting planning, working memory, organization and time management.
http://www.beyondbooksmart.com/executive-functioning-strategies-blog/5-great-apps-for-improving-executive-functioning-in-children

Five apps that could help sharpen the brain
by Jessica Naziri, Los Angeles Times
This article provides titles and direct links to 5 brain-training apps (Lumosity, Mind Games, Critical Thinking University Think-O-Meter, Brain Trainer Special & Fit Brains Trainer).
http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-brain-training-apps-20130802-story.html

More Brain-Training Sources & Resources

Tips and Strategies to Improve Executive Function Skills and Working Memory
from Brain Balance Achievement Centers
This article provides excellent ideas to promote and improve executive functioning skills.
http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/03/improving-executive-function-skills/

Improving Executive Function: Teaching Challenges and Opportunities
by Judy Willis, M.D. (via Edutopia.com)
In this article, Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist, explains executive functions, the tools the brain needs and uses to organize, connect, and prioritize information and tasks, solve problems and much more.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/improving-executive-function-judy-willis-md


Games & Strategies to Improve Executive Functions
from Help for Struggling Readers blog
This is an earlier article from our blog (July 2013) with additional brain-training resources.
http://helpforstrugglingreaders.blogspot.com/2013/07/games-strategies-to-improve-executive.html

Games and Apps for Improving Executive Functions in Children with ADHD
by Randy Kuhlman, PhD
This SlideShare presentation from the CHADD 2013 Annual International Conference on ADHD provides good information on how games and apps can support, practice and help acquire executive functions.
http://www.slideshare.net/rklearningworks/games-and-apps-for-improving-executive-functions-in-children-with-adhd-28120311

For more information on customizable reading tools to improve focus and attention, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Monday, September 15, 2014

BEST Resources for Dyslexia

There are various types of dyslexia that can affect children and adults of all levels of intelligence and ability. However, very often, individuals with dyslexia possess an above-average intellectual level.

It is important to address the unique symptoms of dyslexia as well as accommodate individual learning challenges so that the persons affected can progress in the classroom, in the workplace and in life. Doing so will enable them to actually reach their potentials. Persons with dyslexia often have exceptional talents and gifts that can positively influence their lives and our world. If we use the right strategies and accommodations to help dyslexics, not only will the 1 in 5 persons affected with dyslexia benefit, but all of society will enjoy the positive results of addressing their learning needs.

Dyslexia Vocabulary & Definitions

Visual dyslexia is the term used for the specific learning disability called visual processing disorder. This form of dyslexia is the result of immature development of not only the eyes, but the entire neurological process that receives and manages information from the eyes to the brain.

A child's eyes that are not fully developed will send incomplete information to the brain. This incomplete information then results in poor comprehension of what the child has read or poor memory of visual information. Sometimes this process results in number and letter reversals as well as the inability to write symbols in the correct sequence. However, this does not always occur. In other words, letter reversals are not an automatic indication of this type of dyslexia, as some may believe.

Phonological (auditory) dyslexia is the specific learning disability involving poor auditory processing. The more severe condition is called Auditory Processing Disorder (OPD). This form of dyslexia involves difficulty with sounds of letters or groups of letters. With this form of dyslexia, sounds are usually perceived as jumbled or not heard correctly.

Dyspraxia refers to the learning disability term sensor-motor integration. It is a widely pervasive motor condition characterized by impairment or immaturity of the organization of movement with associated problems of language, perception and thought. Typically, the child affected by dyspraxia may appear clumsy with poor coordination.

This learning challenge called dyspraxia is separated into several groups. True dyspraxia is a lifelong condition that, to some degree, can respond to consistent, early and structured intervention. Developmental dyspraxia reflects neurological immaturity. It is evidence of a delay rather than a deficit that can be resolved over time with appropriate treatment. However, only time will determine the difference.

Verbal praxis refers to the weaknesses observed in the mechanisms of speech production which can cause articulation to be impaired and expressive language to be inhibited. Speech production and articulation are not considered learning disabilities but should certainly be addressed by a speech and language therapist.

Dysgraphia is the term referred to as an inability to hold or control a pencil so that the correct markings can be made on paper. These symptoms most often manifest themselves in poor letter formation in printing or deficient cursive writing skills. When talking about a specific learning disability, these symptoms would be identified as immature, fine-motor development.

Dyscalculia refers to an impairment of the ability to solve mathematical problems, usually resulting from brain dysfunction. Persons of any IQ can be affected and often have difficulties with time, measurement and spatial reasoning. Dyscalculia can be detected at a young age. Because of this, measures can be taken to ease the problems faced by younger students by implementing specific strategies or modifying the teaching methods. However, because dyscalculia is not as well-known as other learning disorders, it is often not recognized nor addressed.
(Source: TYPES OF DYSLEXIA by Understanding Learning Disabilities: http://www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com/types-of-dyslexia.html---Please see active link to follow.)

Our purpose here is not only to inform our readers about the semantics of dyslexia but also to provide helpful resources to aid in addressing the unique learning needs of those affected. We have gathered together here some of the links we believe might be most beneficial. We hope you will agree and use them to help a struggling dyslexic child, teen or adult.

BEST Resources for the Dyslexias

Top 10 Resources on Dyslexia
by Reading Rockets via LDOnline.com
Resources and links to help you learn about dyslexia and how to help a reader challenged with its symptoms.
http://www.ldonline.org/article/42331/

TYPES OF DYSLEXIA
by Understanding Learning Disabilities
There are several types of dyslexia (or learning disabilities) that can affect the child's ability to spell as well as read. The types are identified by the nature of the problem within the central nervous system or brain.
http://www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com/types-of-dyslexia.html

Accommodating Students With Dyslexia
by Cecil Mercer, EdD via NCLD (National Center for Learning Disabilities)
Teaching students with dyslexia across settings is challenging. Listed here are some accommodations that general education and special education teachers can use in a classroom of heterogeneous learners.
http://ncld.org/students-disabilities/ld-education-teachers/accommodating-students-dyslexia

Types of Accommodations(for Dyslexia)
from Davis Dyslexia
Different kinds of accommodations that can be provided to dyslexic students when studying and taking exams.
http://faq.dyslexia.com/cgi-bin/faq_wiki.pl?Types_Of_Accommodations

For more information on customizable reading tools for various reading problems, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

Helpful Literacy Tools & Resources for Autism

This past weekend, we had the great privilege of attending the 2014 World U.S. Asperger and Autism Association Conference in Kansas City, MO. What an outstanding event it was with 30 of the top autism speakers and experts in the world---all in one place!

Many parents, educators, occupational therapists and numerous other medical professionals from the Midwest and around the globe came to this one metropolitan center to hear these excellent speakers and authorities in order to return home better informed, re-energized and ready to help even more children and adults on the autism spectrum. The attendees were very dedicated individuals with exceptional patience and a unique commitment to teach and care for the growing numbers of individuals on the autism spectrum.

For this reason, we are honoring these special autism care givers with an article dedicated just to them. For the parents who have spent far too many sleepless nights caring for a sensory-challenged child with ASD, for the teachers who work tirelessly each day to help children with autism read with more success, for the medical professionals who treat these children, teens and adults and many other special care givers, we salute you ALL.

In their honor, we have written this article that includes many literacy tools and resources to help with the challenging work they do each day. We hope at least one item on the list here will help even in a small way to lighten their workload just a bit---if only for a little while.

Literacy Tools & Resources for Autism

Literacy Resources for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Compiled by Wendy J. Schroder, M.Ed.
A listing of books, curricula and programs, websites, software and iPad applications that can be used to promote literacy among children on the autism spectrum. This extensive listing can help practitioners or family members involved in teaching reading and enhancing comprehension.
http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/styles/iidc/defiles/IRCA/Literacy11final.pdf

The Virtues of the “Whisper Phone” for Independent Reading
Posted by Colleen Cadieux
Take a look at the “whisper phone” as an important tool for early and struggling readers. If you haven’t seen one yet, you should check out the simple instructions below, for making your own. The whisper phone supports the acquisition of phonemic awareness by allowing the student to hear his/her own voice while reading. Students are also able to focus on blending, proper sound use, and fluency in the text.
http://info.marygrove.edu/MATblog/bid/79584/The-Virtues-of-the-Whisper-Phone-for-Independent-Reading

Adapting Books (for Children on the Autism Spectrum)
It is important for children with autism to have early exposure to literacy (reading and writing) activities. It can be beneficial to use books that are interactive. For best results books should be about something your child is interested in and can relate to. If the child is interested, he will be motivated. Repetition is key; reading the books over and over again reinforces learning. The activities presented here can help children to develop their communication abilities. Also,there are examples of how interactive literacy activities can be created.
https://sites.google.com/site/speaking4autism/tools-for-literacy/adapting-books

Positively Autism---Teaching Literacy to the Student with Autism
This is a web page with a short list of links to literacy resources for autism.
http://www.positivelyautism.com/volume3_issue05/

Sites for Autistic Support Teachers
This large list of educational links for ASD educators includes literacy as well as some math resources.
http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/as/asteachersites.html

The Reading Focus Cards
From Brennan Innovators, LLC
Sensory-appealing and customizable reading tools and solutions for challenged readers of all ages.
www.FocusandRead.com/products

APP---Overlays! (for OS X 10.8 or later---Price: $6.99)
Created by Abbie Gonzalez
Use to help with reading or sometimes to help following large tables and lists of data. Battle the wall of text, eyestrain and distractions with this on screen overlay to help you keep your place!
- Keep your place in huge walls of text, tables and lists.
- Pick the color, height and transparency that helps you read better.
- Use a lightly colored overlay or a completely solid line to help you keep focused. Pick what works for you!
- Easily access preferences from the menu bar icon.
- Works in full screen applications, and even over virtual machines.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/overlays!/id868499627?mt=12

For more information on customizable reading tools for all kinds of learners, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Pixabay at http://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-puzzle-piece-puzzles-75658/ and
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Get & Keep Students Engaged ALL Year Long!

Let's face it. Today, it can be more challenging than ever to capture the attention or interest of students AND KEEP it in order to successfully engage them in meaningful learning. The number of distractions with which we are competing for their attention is daunting. As educators, we can spend a significant number of hours preparing lessons only to find that they fall short of getting the student attention we expected.

The stimulating videos and online resources our children and students are drawn to in their free time grab their interest and hold it. Their favorite music selections are loaded onto mp3 players or other tech devices that play almost constantly. A student's world is filled with so many kinds of sensory stimuli. In fact, some educational experts believe that this nearly constant need for visual and auditory stimulation may actually be contributing to some of the attention deficiencies we see in so many students today.

So, today, it is a fairly tall order for nearly every educator---even the very skilled, master teachers---to get and KEEP students truly engaged in significant learning. However, we have a more positive view of the current situation. You know the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" Although we would not recommend you "friending" your students to "join 'em", we do think an excellent approach for teachers to take is to appeal to what students VALUE in order to help students learn.

First of all, if students see that you truly RESPECT them and what they CARE about, they will be much more malleable and willing to take the needed steps to becoming involved in their own learning. On one recent school day, a teacher emptied her purse of a soft apple, a Power Bar and some Dum Dums when she knew that a "reluctant-to-learn" high school student in her class was hungry. He immediately brightened and opened his notebook. He knew through this teacher's actions (not words) that she genuinely cared about him and his hunger. When this happens, students soften and are much more willing to care more, too---about learning.

Learning about WHAT students VALUE is also a very important component when laying the groundwork for true student engagement. You just might need to ask some good questions of your students. These may not be the usual history or biology questions but inquiries into what they like AND what they don't like. Their opinions and insights should be of value to an "engaged educator"---truly! Of course, to allow students to be completely candid, these questions should be answered by them in writing. Here is a list of questions to consider asking your students as the new school year begins:

1. Describe your last [science/math/English] class.
2. What did you like best about the class?
3. What made the best class you have ever taken "the best"?
4. What made "the worst class" the worst?
5. What do you do when you are not in school?
6. What is important to you?
7. What do you expect of me, the teacher?
8. What would you like me to know about you that I haven't asked?
(Source: To Help Students Learn, Appeal to What They Value by Heidi A. Olinger---See link to follow.)

If you are a homeschooling parent, you most likely know many of the answers your child will provide for these questions. If so, waste no time in utilizing what you already know so well about your child. Incorporate the interests of your child in presenting new selections to read for a specific content area. Allow her to choose from an array of selections rather than just assign a text you "think" she will like.

Pay close attention to how your children or students learn best. What is the learning style of each child? Arrange classroom furniture or the homeschooling room to address the individual styles that are present. Be sure to include "listening stations" with headphones for auditory learners, floor pillows and lower lighting areas for tactile learners or those students who have sensory needs. We could go on here, but as educators, you most likely know how to create specific learning centers in your room to meet these learning style needs.

In addition, there are many other things you can do to promote much more effective student engagement in the learning space you have. To help you, we have included what we believe are some excellent resources for this purpose from Edutopia.com. It will be helpful to you to take a good look at these resources and consider implementing some of them from the very beginning of the new school term in order for them to be most successful. In that way, you will have a very good chance of GETTING and KEEPING the students truly ENGAGED in learning---ALL year long!

Sources & Resources to Get Students Engaged---NOW & All Year Long!

Student Engagement: Resource Roundup
from Edutopia.com
Keeping students captivated and ready to learn throughout the year is no small task. Here's a list of articles, videos, links, and other resources that offer strategies and advice for keeping them engaged in learning.
Resources Grouped by Topic:
-Tips and Strategies for Keeping Students Engaged
-Engagement Through Projects
-Engagement Through Technology
-Engagement Through Social and Emotional Learning
-Additional Resources on the Web
http://www.edutopia.org/article/student-engagement-resource-roundup#graph1

To Help Students Learn, Appeal to What They Value
by Heidi A. Olinger & Edutopia.com
The non-academic passions, social intrigues and fads we would dismiss as teachers are among the things students value and, ironically, are a springboard for learning. What are your ideas for uncovering and working with students' values? This article presents some great ways to discover what those student values really are.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/appeal-to-what-students-value-heidi-olinger

Ten Simple Strategies for Re-engaging Students
by Andrew Marcinek & Edutopia.com (Updated January 2014)
Find the best way to connect with students and realize that not all connections will suit every student. Connections can be made through a variety of ways. Set a course for learning and be prepared for rough seas. Create a practical alternative or adaptation that blends elements of what we have been doing and what we would like to do better. The connections will follow.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/reengaging-students-andrew-marcinek

For more information on customizable reading tools for all kinds of learners, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Reading Problems? Teacher Consultation Can Help Your Child!

You've done all you can to prepare your child for this new school year. Clothes for school have been carefully selected and purchased. The right school supplies have been bought and properly tucked away in your child's backpack. All the appropriate forms have been completed with care and returned to school. Is there anything else that you should consider as this new school year is getting underway?

These first weeks of school will be very important for your child's overall academic success. Teachers have been preparing for many weeks, even months, to create the best classroom with the most positive learning environment for your child and his classmates. You can support your child's teacher in her efforts by committing to communicate effectively with her from the very beginning of the year.

First of all, we are certainly not advocating that you become what is known as a helicopter parent, hovering over your child and over-communicating with his teacher. However, you can do much to establish a positive parent-teacher relationship by using the teacher's or school's preferred method of communication and providing important input about your child from the start.

Even though your child's school records should contain a complete history of his academic progress in the school, there may be important input you can provide to assist both the teacher AND your child for the rest of the year. If your son has a new diagnosis of a reading issue, vision problem, behavior challenge, learning difference or disability, mentioning this now to the teacher will be most helpful. This information can positively affect seating, learning style support and other important aspects of your child's learning experience. If you have found specific reading, learning or study strategies at home to be more beneficial to your child, share these with the teacher---respectfully and without a demanding tone or attitude. By doing this, you will be communicating to the teacher that you are a supportive assistant, a partner in her efforts to educate your child. This can be significant in helping to establish a very positive parent-teacher relationship that will only further benefit your child's academic progress.

The very same is true for educators. Consider sending parents a gentle invitation to inform you of any new diagnoses of a reading problem, a learning challenge or recent behavior changes. Many times, parents are reluctant to discuss such topics unless requested to do so, especially at the beginning of a new school term. Though it is early, if you have already discovered specific learning or study strategies in the classroom to be more beneficial to a particular student, please share these strategies with the parents---respectfully and with a tone suggesting you want to help rather than dictate. In doing so, you will be communicating to parents that you are a supportive assistant, a partner in their efforts to help and educate their child. This mutual effort and respectful attitude will definitely go a long way in helping establish a positive parent-teacher relationship further benefiting your child's academic progress.

This week, we have collected quite a few resources to help both parents AND teachers experience more positive outcomes when communicating with one another---especially from the very beginning of a new school year. So, please take a look at the tips, strategies and downloadable resources we have gathered to help you open the way to a great dialog with your child's teacher or your students' parents. As we all know, these positive outcomes will affect your children and students in a very good way---all year long and beyond!

Parents' Resources to Help You Talk More Effectively with the Teacher

Parenting Children with Dyslexia: Support the Teacher's Goals
by Abigail Marshall & Netplaces.com
Helpful advice for parents is offered here in how to effectively and respectfully talk to your child's teacher about his/her reading challenges.
http://www.netplaces.com/parenting-kids-with-dyslexia/working-with-your-childs-teacher/support-the-teachers-goals.htm

How to Help: Talk with Teachers to Resolve Problems -- Helping Your Child With Homework
from the US Department of Education
Homework problems often can be avoided when families and caregivers value, monitor and guide their children's work on assignments. Sometimes, however, helping in these ways is not enough. If you have problems, here are some suggestions for how to deal with them.
http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/homework/part8.html

Talk with Your Child's Teacher
by ColorĂ­n Colorado
There are many reasons parents may be reluctant to talk to teachers. The questions and answers included here, however, can help you get the most out of talking to your child's teacher or with other school staff members. This is also an excellent resource for parents of ELL or ELS students.
http://www.colorincolorado.org/families/school/whynottalk/

What Parents Need to Know About Dyslexia (Reading Disability)
by Sheryl M. Handler, M.D.
Many parents become concerned when they notice that their child is struggling to remember letters, words, or how to read and spell. Parents often experience additional frustration because schools may not identify the problem early or provide extra help to improve it. This article is designed to provide a general understanding of reading disability, the terminology, basic strategies, resources and support to help parents of children with dyslexia.
http://www.aapos.org/resources/learning_disabilities_/

Working with Teachers and Schools -- Helping Your Child Succeed in School
from the US Department of Education
Many teachers say that they don't often receive information from parents about problems at home. Many parents say that they don't know what the school expects from their children—-or from them. Sharing information is essential and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen. The questions and answers here can help you to get the most out of talking to your child's teacher or with other school staff members.
http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/succeed/part8.html

Teachers' Resources to Help You Talk More Effectively with Parents

Planning for Parent Conferences
from Scholastic Books
Helpful resources are provided here for teachers, including sample forms, tips on creating a warm atmosphere, how to communicate tactfully and more.
http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/planning-parent-conferences

Parent-Teacher Conference Resources
Make your next parent-teacher conference a success with these planning suggestions, preparation advice, and conference forms. Use the great tips presented here for building positive relationships with parents to increase their involvement and improve communication.
https://www.teachervision.com/teacher-parent-conferences/resource/3713.html

Other Helpful Resources for Parents & Teachers

FREE Teacher Consultation about Reading Challenges
A FREE 15-minute phone conference with a certified K-12 educator is available from Brennan Innovators. Tips, strategies and tools can be recommended specifically to help your child, a student or you with reading issues. Just follow this link to access the correct phone number for the free conference:
http://www.focusandread.com/

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA)
This global organization offers many resources to parents, teachers and other adults on the tipic of dyslexia. It also has branches in cities across the U.S. Contact your local branch of the IDA through this link.
http://www.interdys.org

Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners
Orton and Gillingham were pioneering psychologists who first diagnosed, studied and developed treatment for dyslexia in the early 20th century. Orton-Gillingham refers to a particular approach to teaching children with dyslexia and reading difficulties related to decoding.
http://www.ortonacademy.org/

ISER
The best referrals come from those you know best. Your child's school should have a learning specialist, reading specialist or special education teacher who may have a list of tutors or programs to recommend for extra assistance for a learning challenge. Other parents whose children have struggled in reading are also an excellent source of first-hand referrals. For an article on how to choose a special-needs learning specialist.
http://www.iser.com/learning-specialist.html

For more information on customizable reading tools for various reading problems, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com