"Intellectual distinction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for election to a Rhodes Scholarship. Selection committees are charged to seek excellence in qualities of mind and in qualities of person which, in combination, offer the promise of effective service to the world in the decades ahead. The Rhodes Scholarships, in short, are investments in individuals rather than in project proposals..."

Friday, January 25, 2013

All my old presentation methods DO have a use!

I found some interesting articles on reading as I am preparing a mini-presentation for a group on the "dys-learning disabilities" (Dyslexia, Dysgraphia and Dyscalculia).  This is a perspective on  reading.
In the 1970s, educational researchers who were seeking the answer to how people learn to read studied two possible options. Some researchers thought “context” or recognition of whole words and phrases was the most efficient way to read. Speed-reading methods developed during that time used to train people to read whole words and groups of words fast may be based on this method. Others believed good readers recognized “features,” the lines and contours used to form letters, to learn to read.
What they found was that we read more efficiently and that we remember more of what we read when we use feature-recognition reading. When we learn to recognize letter shapes and the rules for writing words, and commit these things to memory, reading does become automatic.
When we pick a curriculum and we are working with readers having difficulties, we can minimize barriers and assist all readers, and especially readers who have low-reading skills, by following some helpful guidelines.  If you are helping your struggling reader by making worksheets or notes for them, keep in mind the following suggestions:
  • Use “plain language” or “simplified language.” Careless writing can reduce you student’s ability to read and comprehend. Using a consistent, common, recognizable vocabulary improves reading comprehension.
  • Format text for easy reading. Poor text presentation can block reading and comprehension altogether for unskilled readers. The font style, size, and color can disrupt reading. And the spacing between letters in a word, or between words in a sentence, can interfere with efficient reading and with comprehension. Low contrast between text and the background interferes with vision and slows reading speed.  This is imperative for dyslexic readers.
  • Use highly-readable fonts and visually emphasized words that help rather than hinder readers. The visual system is optimized to see structure and when structure is absent, we struggle to understand what we see.
  • Use a visual hierarchy of font sizes, headings, and lists. The more structured and brief the presentation of information, the easier it is to scan and comprehend. Allow your student to quickly and easily find what they’re looking for.
  • Edit for clarity and brevity. Avoid repetitive, wordy text that buries the important information in the middle of clutter
  • Use flush left text whenever possible. Using centered text makes reading more difficult because the eye has to travel to a different place in the line, hindering automatic eye movement.
Twenty years ago, when I did my first training presentation, I learned the following methods which line up nicely with the rules above. Now, I HATE (yes, I just yelled) presentations that are stuffed with bullet point lists and I thought that was an abysmal way to train.  However, those bullet point lists make great handouts.  They should never be the presentation.  So, think about the rules for a good presentation slide from twenty years ago, using the old rules:
  • No more than 10 items per slide
  • No more than 10 words per line, if possible
  • Bullet points/outline form
  • Arial, Courier or Times New Roman Font
  • Black on white
  • KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid!)
  • Double spaced
And, consider making notes for your kids that are struggling, especially with middle-school or high-school subjects and teach them how to do it, too.
Dirkson, Julie. 2012. Design for How People Learn. Berkley: CA. New Riders. 
Johnson, Jeff. 2010. Designing with the Mind in Mind. New York: NY. Morgan Kaufman Publishers.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Great deal on Brainology...

Just a quick note - right now, for a very short time, the Brainology course is available for the low price of $19.99 at homeschoolbuyersco-op.com  so if you have ever considered this, now is the time!  That is 75% off the cost.
Brainology was created by Carol Dweck as a way to help middle school/high school teens get passed a fixed mindset.  My kids did it and really enjoyed it and learned a lot.  Expect to spend about 5-6 hours total, over a couple of weeks.  Don't rush it. 
I don't make anything off of this.  I just wanted to let you know.  Homeschoolbuyersco-op.com is a free organization that arranges group purchases for curriculum, passing on savings to home educators.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Video Case Study

If you would like to see a video case study my family did for Providence eLearning, here you go!

We had a really good time working with Providence eLearning.  My kids are really enjoying the materials.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Solving Problems Vs. Creating Solutions - A Mindset Context Switch

With all that has been going on in my schoolroom this year, I have had to change my mindset.  In fact, I've decided to take on the slogan of the Robinson family from "Meet the Robinsons."

Slogan of the Robinson Family - Keep Moving Foward!
Let me ask you this...Are you a problem solver or someone who finds creative solutions?

I have always considered myself a "problem solver."  While that might be a great title to have, I think it might be determental to my kids if their teacher is constantly trying to solve problems in her school.   I now try to actively seek creative solutions rather than focus on solving problems.  Why?  Creating solutions and problem solving involve very different states of mind. Creativity activates positive thoughts while problem solving is focused on what is negative. Creating is forward focused; it’s building toward the future. Problem solving is focused on the past.

I've had to make a context switch.

When I tell my kids "we have a problem" it casts a dark tone over the day and the person to whom this message is directed.  What if, instead we said something like, "Wow!  We need to find a new way to do this!"  I don't know about you, but my kids much prefer the later.  
What does creating look like?
There are five steps in the creative process from Robert Fritz, which are types of action, not a formula. These steps are:
  1. Conceive of the result you want to create. Creators start at the end by knowing what they want to create. (By the way, this is the way Right Brainers think all the time.  We start with the end in mind.)
  2. Know what condition or situation currently exists. If you don’t know what has already been created or done, it’s impossible to know what to do next. (This is where most people stop!)
  3. Take action. When you know what you want and what you currently have, take action. Creating is a learning process, so every action may not work. When actions don’t work, readjust. (Take a lesson from the Military - do an After Action Review.  Figure out what worked and what didn't so you don't have to redo it again.  Keep moving forward!)
  4. Learn the rhythms of the creative process. There are three phases: germination, assimilation, and completion.  (Listen to the niggling voice in your head...ideas come in the strangest places and at the strangest times.  Most of mine come after 11pm when talking with my husband.)
  5. Create momentum. Professional creators create momentum. The seeds of their next action are planted and  germinate in their present actions.  (Keep improving and keep talking about your changes with someone.  Sounding boards have a good way of keeping you in check and moving forward.)

The comments in parenthesis above are mine.  According to Robert Fritz, when talking about problem solving in a particular scenario in the corporate world, "The problem led to action to solve the problem. The action lessened the problem. Less action was needed to solve the problem. Less attention was given to the problem, and the problem resurfaced. Problem solving," Fritz explains, "provides a way to organize our focus, actions, time, and thought process. Designing solutions to problems gives the sense that something important is being done."
He adds, “…it’s an illusion.”
What’s the alternative if designing solutions to problems doesn’t work?  It is in finding creative solutions.  Now, you might say, "That is in the corporate world!  I am a home educator. When my kid has a problem, I need to find a solution!"  I can tell you that after years of trying to fix my son's dysgraphia, I realized that I needed to find creative solutions to the problem rather than to fix him.  He wasn't broken.  He just wasn't able to do what I was asking him.  Poor kid.  I am astounded at his resiliancy given I kept trying to fix him.    
So, the first thing you need to do is change your language.  Notice that the word “problem” is not present in the five steps above. The tone is positive and growth oriented.
What do you think could happen if instead of telling your child "There is a problem" to changing your approach to "Let's find a better way?"

Dysgraphia and Creative Writing

Dysgraphia is a learning disability in which writing is difficult.  This is more than just the inability too legibly create letters and words.  It extends to the inability to spell and properly organize thoughts on paper. A child that is dysgraphic gets hung up so much on how to form the letters, that their brain often loses track of what they were trying to spell or write. 

Here's a picture of the process for the visual learners...

When my son was diagnosed with dysgraphia in December, it came as no surprise to me.   I have spent much more time on handwriting, spelling and sentence building with him than with any of my other children.  When he practices a lot, his cursive is nice and legible, but it requires so much work and effort on his part, he is unable to write spontaneously.  He can do copy work very well.  He can't easily write what he thinks. 

I have always encouraged my son to type assignments.  He has had his own laptop since he was 10 because of the difficulties he has always had with writing.  He is not a proficient writer, but he types faster than he writes.  He has also learned to rely on the spelling and grammar checking, and I am okay with that.

Obviously because of his difficulties, I will not give up on teaching him the elements of writing (five paragraph essays, in particular), formatting (MLA mostly), and grammar (via intense Latin study and an extremely rigorous grammar program).  We've also come up with an editing process that I found out is used often...just didn't know it already existed.  It's called the power method and it uses an acronym which makes the process easy to remember:
Now, that may seem obvious, but it is not to an ADHD kid, especially one who hates the writing process.  I have always tried to get my kids to plan out what they are doing BEFORE they write.  They have begrudgingly done it, sort of...however, it wasn't until we were working through Essay Voyages by Michael Clay Thompson last year that they saw the power of the outline.  I gave the four kids I was working with an assignment.  Within the book, there was an outline of an essay.  Their job was to write their own essay, using all the things they had learned thus far from that outline.  They were all astounded at how easy it was when they had a good outline!  From there, the editing and revising was actually easy.  Handwriting aside, the process seemed easier.

However, I had never spent much time on story writing.  I didn't feel I needed to because my kids have always been good, not only at narration, but at making up their own imaginative stories.
One babysitter told us, after watching my children play, that my eldest son would make a good scriptwriter and director.  He would orchestrate elaborate stories into their play sessions.  Not only would he tell everyone what to do, but also what to say.  All the kids would follow his instructions because his stories, created on the fly, were fantastic.  Somehow, it occurred to me last year that my son needed to work and further develop that skill. 

One thing I have learned (listen up curriculum developers) is that the assignments need to be engaging  The premise behind TJeD is to let kids follow their interests and they will learn what they need to learn.  Inside my kid is a story teller without a way to get it out.  I decided that I needed to take things into my own hands and figure out a way to get him writing creatively.  So, given his interests - Star Wars, weapons, adventure stories, games and role playing (although he'd never played an official RPG), I took a lesson from Joseph Campbell and great ideas from George Lucas, a student of Campbell, and put them all together.

Last year, the idea started niggling and I bought some Star Wars books to thumb through.  Of course, my son thought that was divine.   Then, I had to take some time and learn what RPG was all about.  I guess I hadn't realized that Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is a role playing game.  I never played it, but my friends in high school (yes, almost 30 years ago) did play it.  So I did have exposure, just not experience.

What I ended up with was a writing class for reluctant writers based on the Star Wars universe using role playing games as a way to a create the story.  While I wrote the class for my son, I knew he would not be interested in doing it by himself.  That is where the RPG comes into play.  I knew that if he had to share the story with others and that others would be involved in the story with him, he would work hard.  What an incentive!  So, we invited 11 of his friends to join us.  I used Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces to teach the boys what makes a good myth.   One young man dropped out, but the older brother of another participant requested to join when he saw how much fun it could be.  These young men, aged 11-14 voluntarily joined us six weeks over the summer to write five 8-10 page stories.  And yes, my son came up with five 10 page stories.  I typed much of it for him because his ideas came so fast, he couldn't capture them all.  We're now working on using Dragon Dictation so he can hand it by himself.

Here is what I found.  The boys loved the themes, character development and structure.  But I think I was the big winners because I learned so much in those six weeks about boys, the writing process, RPG, Star Wars (did I really need to know more???) but most importantly  I also got to know these 11 young men much better.  It was especially funny to see how they would include each other or me in their stories, either by killing them off (not me) or buttering them up (most often me) so that others would include them in their stories.

My daughters, age 9 and 12 at the time, sat in hiding close to our school room enraptured as they listened in as the boys told their stories.  I am now working on the same process for girls, but the story lines will be much different.  In fact, we're toying with either a time travel element or putting the entire story in a particular period of time...not sure yet about that one.  Perhaps...

So, I'm curious.  Would it make sense to run the Star Wars class again?  Would there be interest?  I know the boys that took it enjoyed it, but I don't know if they will join us again.  By the way, I only charge for the cost of materials for these classes.  I am not interested in making money on it.  Last year, the boys paid $30, which covered all the class costs as well as snacks, materials, books, etc.  Let me know if you have someone interested.  My son would be...