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LETTERS TO LINDA


Copyright © 1999 Linda J. Coyle--Do not reprint without permission



INTRODUCTION


Dear Visitor,

It occurred to me that I should share some of the letters that my web site visitors have sent me.    It is usually true that if one person has a question,  another person somewhere along the line might have the same question.     Since I take considerable time answering these letters and sharing from my personal experience,  why not share the question and my answer with others?    NOT that I consider myself any kind of authority...but someone,  somewhere might be helped or at least be given a   "seed"   idea. Hence,   the birth of this page.    As they say on the Dragnet T.V. show,  "Names have been changed to protect the innocent."     I hope my visitors will glean an idea or two they can use in their homeschooling efforts.

In Him,

Linda Coyle


LETTER ONE

(Basic subject: reading difficulties and motivational difficulties)
Dear Linda,

“Here are the results of the phonics test.....”

(comment: I e-mailed her a quick free phonics test I had in my files from my college days...She administered it to her 3rd grader--the results were listed but not printed here....The letter goes on to say....)

“These blends are the things that get her every time.     It doesn't matter how often I read to her or how much she struggles through to read herself...she just doesn't get it.     It is really affecting our homeschooling success and it's very discouraging.    She doesn't seem to care either--that's the part that so frustrating.     Usually I'll end up with an awful headache and/or she'll be in tears whimpering that she can't get it!    She has the ability...I just think she might be a little lazy!    I don't know...let me know what you think.

Well,   Linda,   let me know what you think I should do about Annie and I'll talk to you soon!”

Love,
Shirley


MY RESPONSE


Dear Shirley,

Well,   I think Annie did ..I was very happy to see that she did so well on Part III where I thought she'd have problems!     Except for the long o/short o confusion,   she did better than I thought she might.    You are actually not as bad off as you could be my dear Shirley.    For you see,  alot of the public school kids haven't got a clue as to long and shortvowel sounds!     The ALPHAPHONICS book will definitely help Annie and I have a few suggestions to help you.    Please take them as kind advice...I have been known to come across too harsh in my words when writing sometimes and can offend...that is a weakness I've been told I have.    Please don't get offended...it is not my intention,  ever...unfortunately all we have is the typed word.    I see some pitfalls that you are getting into because I've been there before so I have some suggestions.

1)    Annie is reacting to you when you get uptight.    I believe she has picked up that you think she should be doing better than she is.    This creates a sort-of  "war"   of wills.     I don't know her...I don't know if she is a strong-willed child or a compliant child or somewhere in the middle....all I feel is that she is picking up "vibes" from you that are negative and so she is reacting to them.    Mom thinks I'm not doing well and she is bothered...that is the message she unfortunately picks up on.    If she cares,  it would make her feel bad.     So a defense is to act as if she doesn't care.    Actually,  she does...kids her age generally want to please Mom and Dad.    We gotta turn this around...you having headaches and her crying is no good...I know...I've been there,  my friend.     I thought I'd   "kill"   Amy in 11th grade but that is another story I will share when you get up to that age.    LOL.    VBG.

2)    I have several suggestions to turn this around.    I have used this idea on my kids and it has worked.     At times,  I have to change the system a little...will explain later.

Let's try POSITIVE reinforcement a little bit...fussing at her definitely doesn't work and brings the battle into her camp as it were.    You will have to fine tune this...you know Annie and what  "rings her bell".    Even now I use a more   "grown-up"  system like this with Laura  (my 7th grader)  and it helps the   "attitude"   you can get when working with these lovely kids who would rather play than apply themselves at school or in anything that requires effort and thinking.     VBG

Here is what I did at Annie's age  (works well with elementary school aged children)....

(a)  Use dry interesting shaped macaroni...put it a big jar...Mom's jar.

(b)  Wanna color it?    You can...stir it around in a food-coloring  /  water mixture for a half a minute or so...lay out on paper towels to dry in a single layer.    Kids love to help with this.     Make it a mystery as to why you are coloring the macaroni.

(c)  Label or let her decorate a smaller jar or plastic container with lid...this is Annie's jar.

(d)  Now....decide what are some of the negative things that Annie is doing that sabotages your lessons and time with her.    Now, don't go crazy here....sometimes kids have a whole bunch of things they do that isn't too cool...pick one or two behaviors to change at a time or the child gets overwhelmed with expectations and they can't succeed.    Let's say we have  "whining"   when we don't want to sound out a word or an  "I-can't-itis" fit starts.    You know the scenario.

(e)  We design a point system...it is a daily thing.    Here is how it works:

Annie gets maybe 5 macaronis during reading if:

1)  she attempts to do the lesson without __________ you fill in...let's say whining.

2)  1st whine......it drops to 4 macaronis

3)  2nd whine......it drops to 3 macaronis

4)   3rd whine....it drops to 0 macaronis   (I feel that after they are reminded 2x of a bad behavior that on the 3rd one they're out)...you do what you need to here.    Now,  Laura has a 2 strike policy...she is older and I can't fight her attitude...adolescent attitude is something else! :-(

Now....let's say we have a good session Monday....5 macaronis Annie puts in her jar...also a great big kiss and a hearty well-done from Mom   (we don't have lab rats)...we have kids...we want them to learn to do well because it is right, it pleases the Lord and Mom or Dad not because we just get   "external"  things.    However,  we have to link the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards sometimes with kids for them to get the meaning of why we do things well and right.     So we use a positive reinforcement system in areas where they have some difficulty bending their will.

So over the days Annie is really starting to accumulate those macaronis.    (You may want to use this system per each subject area)     Now here is the great thing about this....you decide what "rings her bell"...is it:

1)  an extra 1/2 hr. up later at night

2)  a personal pan pizza or Happy Meal

3)   a special outing with Mom or Dad

4)  a special video or movie

5)  extra play time outside

You may have an intermediate system like:

100 macaronis....1/2 hr. later to bed

200 macaronis....personal pizza of trip to McD's for ice cream

300 macaronis....outing with Mom to _______

Doing it this way she will have to decide to either cash the macarnonis in for the lesser prize or continue to accumulate for a greater prize.    Only you can develop this...set the levels not too high so that she can see the benefit of cooperating...make sure she understands EXACTLY what she is to do or not do to get the macaronis....you reserve the right to change the system slightly if you see a flaw.....(sometimes you don't forsee something when you originally design your levels)....I try not to change things too much or your child loses faith in the system.)

You don't want to make the goal levels too high or too low.    Too high and she won't see the value and the goal is too far off to do any good and she'll get discouraged.     Too low and she will be being rewarded too much....we don't want to be  "bribing"  our kids and having us being taken advantage of....believe me it is a fine line but you will find it because you know the problems and you know her.

With Laura she has a point system...we've grown out of macaroni....I record her points daily in a folder I keep.    When she accumulates points  (500 at her age)   she can actually buy out of a subject for the day...Laura hates math so she usually LOVES to use them for that.    I've made the points high enough where she is not getting out of math very often...just enough to keep the system working...last year I had the point system a little low and it was occuring a little too much...(***IMPORTANT ADDED NOTE***Come back in a little while to this page and I will have a hot link for you to follow to get the point system I use with a middle-schooler...I have to type it first!    Since it doesn't apply to this letter,  I have done it this way).

Wait a minute...sound impossible to work with an older child?     Consider this:    I noticed when Laura was in Christian school that when the Grade 5-8 kids got 100% on a test that they could skip that subject the next day...that was an ACE program so I decided that if they could do that,  I could too!.    IT WORKS!    Adolescent kids LOVE to get OUT of something...it really rings their bell...with Annie's age,   however,   you can get away with things listed above.

I get Laura's cooperation two ways...either positive with the point system or she gets docked points for attitude problems and if she is really bad I have a system where I have written down EXACTLY what happens for each   "strike"   she gets....that way I keep my punishment CONSISTENT with the crime and I don't come down harder one day because I feel worse or she ticks me off worse...you get the idea.     It keeps me honest and consistent and my child KNOWS what is expected of them and EXACTLY what will happen if they don't deliver.     My husband suggested something like this when I was doing too much   "screaming"  with my teens when I had two of them homeschooling.    He learned this concept when taking a counseling course in Bible College.

Our punishment system went a little like this... I actually  "sat them in the chair"  (Yes--my teens went in a chair,  isolated from the TV too)  for 1/2 hour for smart mouthing me....they would start,   I'd say  "strike 1"...they'd continue battling and smart-mouthing...I'd say  "strike 2"...at strike 3 they got 1/2 hr. in chair ....they could do NOTHING...no talking ...nothing...or the time started all over again if they talked.    (This works because they HATE to be BORED--have you grown to hate that word yet?    Wait,   you will!)    My son,   the strong-willed one even at that age...would try to sleep during his stint on the chair.    Guess he figured he'd do something constructive during his time!     I kept waking him up.     If I got to 4 strikes it went up to 1 hr. in chair. 5 strikes...We did 1 1/2 hr. in chair and we get a cleaning chore...we start cleaning things like the kitchen floor...or another cleaning job they don't want to do AND going to bed 1/2hr to 1 hr. earlier that night or one time I had no TV that night if they had gotten up to that many strikes.    (These things varied from year to year but were always laid out in the beginning and strictly adhered to.)

What is the benefit of this system?     Simply put,  I wouldn't have to get a headache and scream.     I merely flatly said   "strike 1"   if they wouldn't stop...then strike 2...etc.    Then we followed through with the chair AFTER school was out on THEIR free time.    That kills them!    It is OK with them to waste school time but brother,  don't touch their FREE time!    And,  during the time they are on the chair it is nice and quiet for you   (WONDERFUL!)  and you didn't even have to scream.    They learned to do better the next day I can tell you!    I think my son once got up to 2 hrs. in his teen years.     I had a positive system   (earning "noodles" or "points")  and a negative system...figure out a positive and a negative for Annie and do both.    Generally,  they respond well to the positive system well but the negative system   "kicks in"  when the positive is not working that day..and those days do unfortunately happen.    Wonder how I know that.

OTHER IDEAS TO USE DURING READING


Now,  another key.    If you get ALPHAPHONICS you can do this.    And with Annie's problems,  I really recommend it.    You should only have concentrated phonics drills for that 5 or 10 minute lesson daily....page by page...lesson by lesson she will gain confidence and her phonics knowledge grows.    All of the areas she had trouble in in PART IV of that test will be in that book...she can't rely on pictures, there are NONE...they MUST decode using phonics concepts they are taught one at a time.....she will HAVE to do it...since it is done in such as way as to build skills sequentially and since the lessons are SHORT...that helps get cooperation too!

For the rest of reading time,   I suggest team reading in an I CAN READ book at the library...ask the librarian.    You read a sentence while she watches...then she reads a sentence  . You,  then her.     This will do 2 things...keep her from having to read too much and thus have her get tired of practicing   (which she needs)  and secondly,   she will be watching the words and actually picking some up as she sees you decode them.     During this time TELL her the word if she struggles too much...we will save our   "YOU MUST SOUND THIS OUT"  for during the actual Alphaphonics lesson.    Now,   to keep her attention in this process if she is starting to   "sleep"  during your turn   (wonder how I know this happens VBG)...you can stop mid-sentence and let her do the next word and yes,  she better know where you are!     Tee-hee...I'm a little devil...I do that now when I'm Bible reading with Laura...Laura likes to daydream sometimes...what kid doesn't!

Now,  you can also use the rest of reading for a spelling time.    Ditch any spelling books you have and ONLY use the ALPHAPHONICS words she is learning to read as her spelling words.    By writing them she will be learning them too....is she bored with that?    Have her write the words in dry chocolate pudding sprinkled on a cookie sheet. She can lick her fingers periodically....ummmmmm.     This way you are involving another way of teaching....kinesthetics...sometimes kids make the necessary  "brain links"   by doing that.    Take each of her spelling words and make her give you a short sentence orally for it.    YOU write it...then have her read it.    Occasionally,   have her read and decode these for a lesson.

Another thing to do with the words an ALPHAPHONICS lesson is say take a checkerboard and cut out squares of index cards and put them on all the squares that you move to.     The squares would say   ___oy or  __aw.   You can only move to the square you want to go to if you successfully read the blend and supply a letter for the blank.     Spell it.    This reinforces your lesson without using fancy phonics games they make and sell for lots of money.    Got other kids games?     Play them only adapt them to whatever you are teaching.    You can't move until you read a card that has a word say,  "cord"  on it  (if you are working with "or" words that day).    I took my kids CHUTES AND LADDERS and sprinkled these  "cards"  all over.    You can use plastic tack or fun tack to put them on the squares of the board so you don't ruin the board as tape would.

Another thing to do during reading time is to watch   "READING RAINBOW"  with LeVar Burton on PBS...these are great for kids and teach alot.    Don't get that TV show in your area?     Check with your local public library...sometimes they have these Reading Rainbow programs on individual videos.

Also,   start to read one chapter a day in books like Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web,   and a whole host of others I could suggest.    (Get the GOD'S WORLD BOOK CLUB PUBLICATION--Asheville, NC for more good book ideas)    She will be hearing you read,  learn the beauty of language,  expand her vocabulary and eventually creative writing ability.     My children are ALL very good writers and I believe that is in part because they were all read to!    Don't make reading time all a time for her decoding and getting frustrated.     Hold her accountable during the short Alphaphonics lessons...relax a little on the rest.     Teach her to have a LOVE for reading and when she gets the confidence in decoding she we want to read.    Reward her if she comes to YOU and wants to read a few pages to you out of an I CAN READ book.    Surround her with picture books of all kinds...enjoy them with her...record some of her own books you have bought for her on cassette tape for her to listen to and follow along.     Be sure to BONG when to turn the page...Kids love this too.

Read HIGHLIGHTS for CHILDREN with her some days or Focus on the Family's Clubhouse JR. Kids love having their own stash of magazines to go back to and read.     This may encourage more reading too.

One last point and I gotta go...don't leave out comprehension questions when reading with her or letting her read.    The 5 W's--who,  what,   where,   when,  why and how will keep her mind sharp so that when she IS able to read more with confidence you can go further in the comprehension area.

Well, I hope some of this was helpful...I am going to bed now...yawn.

In Him,
Linda






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