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The Shut-Down Learner

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message 1: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Richard Selznick, PhD., Goodreads author, wrote 'The Shut-Down Learner: Helping your Academically Discouraged Child' based on his clinical experience in a pediatrics department that assesses and treats
learning problems.

Dr. Selznick describes two kinds of shut-down learners. One is the 'disconnected, unmotivated, and difficult' child. The other is the 'pleasant and terribly insecure'.

Dr. Selznick has found that the children (and older students) who have difficulties with processing and remembering verbal and written information are often exceptionally talented in the areas of visual and spatial intelligence. He refers to these high-spatial kids as Lego kids, because these are the kids who build whole toy cities from Lego blocks when they are only 4 or 5 years old.

Dr. Selznick wrote the 'Shut-down Learner' so that parents, teachers, and all of us will have a better understanding of how to help these kids appreciate their strengths as well as how to help them succeed in school.

I have invited Dr. Richard Selznick to meet us here so that we can ask questions.

For example, there seems to be some hereditary component that contributes to a child having difficulty with verbal and written language. My question is,
'Cannot this hereditary tendency be overcome or modified with early learning experience?'

Some babies never hear 'Mother-ese'. Some are sent to noisy day care centers at 'age 6 weeks' and are surrounded by the din of many voices mixed with the clattering of toys and cries of babies. When would this child hear a clearly spoken word that is repeated many times? This is needed for verbal development.

message 2: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hello Dr. Selznick,

In addition to the question that I wrote for you in the above post, here is a question from Marieke. Marieke wrote:

"i'm interested in difficult-to-teach children, as well...two of my nieces and nephews have some "issues" sister was never "good at school" despite being exceptionally intelligent and i always thrived in school...she wants her kids to value school (they seem to so far but one is very uncooperative; she only likes to read...writing is torture for her) and we all appreciate the idea of "different learning styles" i'm very curious about how educators successfully reach the kids who somehow fall outside the box."

message 3: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Additional information from Marieke about her niece's problem with writing . . .

"My niece has a lot of problems so she is an exceptional case. A lot of her problems have not been diagnosed (it's a constant battle figuring her out) but she LOVES to read and corrects her own mistakes. Writing is nearly impossible and she rarely does as she is instructed and can be extremely defiant/resistant. She is also really sweet and loves to draw. Drawing she can do but not writing. Anyway, it would be great if you can post that question...I wish I could be online when he is answering questions but I'll be out all day tomorrow. I'll look forward to new posts here and I will see about getting my hands on his book."

message 4: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Jeanne:

To get the dialogue going, I thought I'd answer your question below:

"For example, there seems to be some hereditary component that contributes to a child having difficulty with verbal and written language. My question is, 'Cannot this hereditary tendency be overcome or modified with early learning experience?'"

In my experience the hereditary component is very powerful. Almost as a strong rule, I find one or the other parent telling me that they were very much like their child when they were younger.

Yes, i think that early intervention, particularly targeting phonemic awareness, decoding and reading fluency is essential.

Unfortunately, many schools and physicians will tell parents something like, "well, he's a boy; he'll grow out of it...stop being such a worrier."

Too often, the kids do not "grow out of it."


message 5: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments hi everyone, esp dr. selznick!

i'm very curious to read your book...from your one post so far, i agree that is a troublesome matter with educators. at the same time, i feel like educators have too much on their plates so reaching the atypical learners must be a special bear.

i sometimes wonder if my niece would do better in a non-traditional setting. she doesn't transition well between activities. she is verbal but doesn't really communicate what she thinks unless she feels like she has been treated unfairly but she is not able to navigate those feelings well and things disintegrate very quickly. she is not especially social. she really has trouble making friends and when she does find one, she becomes clingy and also manipulative and gets the other child into trouble. she has a great imagination and tells wonderful stories (lies). i like to think that if we are successful in helping her to grow up, we will look back on her childhood and laugh because some of the things she does are truly funny. she is a bit of an imp.

she was treated for reactive attachment disorder through very intense therapy (diagnosis at age 4) and seems to have recovered from that but there is still suspicion that is she somewhere on the autistic spectrum (right now the diagnosis is PDD-NOS). she had a traumatic birth (cord around the neck and difficulty getting her to breathe) followed by a traumatic divorce of her parents when she was two years old.
i don't mean for this to be a support group or anything, but i just wanted to clarify a little bit what her troubles are. she is greatly loved by all of us and her mother does everything she can to try to help her. her mother (my sister) has bipolar disorder that was not diagnosed until she was close to 30 years sister did not do well in school until she entered a nursing program as an adult and got straight A's and graduated with honors. she has always been an avid bookworm and has instilled her love for books very successfully in all four of her children. it's pretty neat. she really wants to see them become relatively content, confident, productive people but her younger daughter, the niece i wrote about above, seems to be a particularly difficult case.

anyway, it would be interesting to hear from others, especially educators, about their experiences with children like her in the classroom and how they feel about how our education system is set up these days; whether the status quo is beneficial or detrimental to such children and their classmates. i realize my niece has behavior issues that can be very distracting and i can't imagine that it's good for the other children at times!!

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Hello Dr. Selznick,

First let me say I am so glad to have found this thread. My son is almost eleven and I know he's very intelligent. However, his teachers don't concur. Since second grade, I’ve been told that he probably has ADD and that he should be put on some kind of drug because he doesn’t pay attention in class. Ironically enough, this was during 'Say No To Drugs' week.
Ben will spend long hours building complex structures, including lego, and has since he was very small. But when I help him with his homework, in particularly if there is an upcoming test, he acts like he doesn’t know anything. When I was helping him study for a geometry test, he shut down to the point he couldn’t tell me 11 – 6. It feels as though he withdraws inside himself somewhere. His eyes even look a little blank. He’s also developed what I think are coping mechanisms. If he doesn’t understand something, he tunes it out. He just blanks and he won’t try any more. He’s not willing to try and fail, he’d rather just fail. He actually told me that once.
When not faced with ‘book learning’ he picks up things fast and does retain them. When he was 6 and interested in dinosaurs, he could name fifty of them and tell you what they ate and where they lived. Now he can tell you all the Pokemon characters, how and where he won them. He is very hands on; something but when I tried to explain this to one of his teachers when he was learning perimeter/area, she said, ‘Well, I point to the walls for perimeter and then to the desks for area,” to show me she was providing what he needed to learn. I’m at my wits end. Lately, though I still don’t think he’s ADD, I’ve begun to wonder if he does have a learning disorder because he does just shut down and forgets everything he’s learned to the point if I push him, he’ll cry.
Could your book help me learn how to help him?

message 7: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments After reading shawna's post, I'd be curious to know what dr. Selznick and/or educators think of waldorf schools. I've only read a little bit about them and I've only ever known one person who attended one (in Germany).

message 8: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Hello to Marieke & Shawna and thanks to Jeanne for getting this forum off the ground.

It's somewhat on the late side having just come back from dinner. I am a bit bleary eyed, so I might have to try and answer some of the questions tomorrow (when I am more alert). Please understand that it is hard to try and answer complicated clinical questions. Even "garden variety" learning problems tend to have more complicated variables than one would think. As all of you know, there are so many variables (school, personality, neurodevelopmental, etc.) and usually these are intertwining. I will try and see what I can peel off from the questions to be somewhat helpful.

From what I know of Jeanne's work as a tutor, I think she will have some good ideas too.

Good night to all.



message 9: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Marieke wrote: "hi everyone, esp dr. selznick!

Hi Marieke,

Regarding your niece, I don't even know what PDD:NOS is, but I can share some ideas with you from my 23 years as a tutor and many more as a parent. As Dr. Selznick says, learning problems tend to have complicated variables. That said, I would like to address two specific points regarding your niece (and may I say that my heart goes out to her and to all of your family).

1. You say that your niece can draw, but not write.
I am imagining that you are talking about the physical act of writing, not the act of composition. If your niece can hold a pencil or crayon to draw, then it's probably not 'holding the pencil' that is giving her trouble. However, she is young enough that she is probably being asked to print her letters. Printing is not an easy task -- it is much more demanding than drawing. Drawing can be 'creative', but printing is supposed to conform to precise shapes. Drawing can be done with hardly lifting the pencil -- your niece might love to do some 'continuous line drawings'. In printing, the pencil must be lifted and precisely placed again and again. For a child who has even a little trouble with coordination, this can be way too demanding.

I once taught a 6-year-old girl who had an IQ measured above 160, but who could not print to save her life. I bought a long roll of butcher paper and taught her an oversized cursive. In cursive writing, the pencil does not have to be lifted and placed nearly as often. How did I teach it to her? I wrote the letters in light pencil and let her trace over them with marker pen. We didn't aim for perfection, but just to get the directions and shape of the letters as she was able. She took pride in her progress and we moved on to writing whole words. Why oversized letters? I wanted her to use a 'whole arm' stroke. This helps to keep the hand relaxed. When young children write tiny letters, their hands and fingers can become very tight and tense.

Anyway, to finish this part of my story, we made a surprise for her mother one day. My student wrote (tracing on my letters) the names of all 50 U.S. states one day. We were having the lesson on their indoor balcony (like a loft), so we rolled up the 12 feet of butcher paper like a scroll. My student called her mother to come stand below the balcony and we unfurled our long scroll over the side. It had taken my student about 1 1/2 hours to write all of the names, but she had stuck with it. Naturally, her mother was thrilled.
The next week, the mother took her daughter's writing samples to school to show the teacher and the teacher agreed to allow this student to write her assignments.

I will post my other idea separately.

message 10: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod

Dr. Selznick mentioned neurodevelopmental variables as being one source of learning problems.
Just being born can cause neurological problems and your niece had a difficult birth. There are centers with professional therapists who specialize in neurological evaluations and provide specific exercises that aid development.

I took my youngest daughter to a practitioner when she was 6 because she was such a puzzle to me. She could play the violin beautifully, but couldn't learn to tie her shoelaces and had trouble with buttons. She was hypersensitive to bright lights and loud noises, but never knew when she was hungry. She was unable to screen out classroom noise to get on with her work and she was overly sensitive socially.(The list goes on . . .) Anyway, there is help available and we were able to benefit from it. The practitioner whom I consulted has retired, but there is the Handle Institute in Seattle and they do similar work. There are also people on the East Coast and in the South who do this sort of work. (Maybe there are centers all over, but I don't know just where). Just to see what they are about, you might look up the Handle Institute on the Internet.

message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Good Morning:

It's very bright and sunny, but still on the brisk side here in lovely NJ!

I will try and answer both posts in this one email. Jeanne has offered very helpful suggestions. I think going to the sites she suggested would be never know - one place leads to another.

Marieke: I don't think I saw the age/grade of your niece. There would be many questions that I would have (too numerous for this forum). Is she classified in special education? Do you know what services she receives? Her profile is very complicated. PDD-Nos (pervasive developmental disorder) and the reactive attachment issues are tremendously challenging. You would have to find a therapist-type in the community who is reasonably comfortable with these issues. My guess, is that getting the behavioral/emotional variables under some level of control is the paramount concern. Thus, the academics tend to take a back seat. You may want to contact a developmental pediatrician for a good diagnostic work-up. The role of medication along with therapy must be considered.

Non-traditional schools are worth exploring, too, but I would be very careful. While many progressive schools such as Waldorf offer many wonderful things, they are often not equipped to handle challenging children who need a fair amount of structure. Too often these schools are not the most structured.

Shawna: It sounds like your Ben fits much of what I am talking about in the Shut Down Learner. While maybe not as challenging as Marieke's niece, he too sounds like school will be very challenging for him.

I know it's not scientific, but I tell parents all the time that kids often are a "soup pot" of variables...a dash of spatial learning, poor writing skills, weak attention, temperamentally challenging, and you mix these around..." so the label of ADD or ADHD becomes too simplistic.

With that said, you, too, should try and find a psychologist or developmental pediatrician that you can feel comfort and trust. My overriding advice to both of you is to NARROW DOWN YOUR EXPERTS TO A TRUSTED FEW. You will need someone to bounce things off of for each phase of development that the child is in. So many questions and issues emerge. You can't expect the school to do all things.

I think the SDL book could be helpful, if at least to give you perspective and some comfort. It is not a pure "how-to" manual, though. You will still need to have the consultants.

Hope it helps...enjoy the Sunday...we in Eagles country are very bitter and only giving Super Bowl a minor glance.


Rich Selznick

message 12: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments hi dr Selznick and jeanne,
Thank you so much. I am hoping to be more involved with the academic part of my niece's academic life and I love jeanne's ideas for writing. My niece draws large flowing pictures with lots of color. She does not draw realistic pictures. One time she drew a beautiful flying cat that reminded me of miro paintings so I really think the large cursive handwriting is a great idea. My niece is eight and has an IEP. From what I know her school is very responsive to her needs but I think we could be doing more to help and reinforce things at home. She doesn't live with me but I see her often. She has a therapist and a psychiatrist but recently had a bad episode when hers mess were not working and she spent two weeks in acute care at a psychiatric facility. So yes, it's very challenging with her. I am going to check that site jeanne recommended. As for waldorf schools, I don't think my niece is a good match but I was curious about alternative education systems for shawnas son. He sounds incredibly bright but perhaps a learner on his own terms and from little I know about waldorf schools, children like that seem to thrive in them so I was curious about professional opinions of them.
I look forward to reading your book dr Selznick! I think being aware of new ideas is important regardless of what my family's individual issues are.

The eagles fans in my household are also a little bummed but at least the phillies had a great year!!!!

message 13: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments Ps. It should say "meds" above not mess but my phone did not cooperate!

message 14: by Richard (last edited Feb 01, 2009 01:23PM) (new)

Richard | 19 comments Marieke:

Yes. Schools like Waldorf and other progressive private schools can be wonderful in nurturing creative kids. They do have a pretty hefty price tag, though, at least the ones in the Philadelphia region that I am mostly familiar.

It does sound like your niece is getting good care/treatment, both from the outside professionals and the school. That's great. I find that if you don't come on to aggressively with the schools and you really seek their support, they usually respond. As my wife continually reminds me, "you get more flies with honey than vinegar." :)

Enjoy the game.


message 15: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hi again Richard,

I have been thinking about the type of student you describe so well in 'The Shut-Down Learner'. I agree with you that this child with high spatial and weaker verbal skills needs to be in a school that can serve his needs. In my imagination, I see this kid learning well in a school that has an excellent hands-on science program, plenty of physical activity, and some very structured strategies to teach reading and writing. The science program might be the one thing that makes the kid want to get up in the morning and go to school. A good music or art program might also be motivating.

And how about some Lego block projects? :-)

What sort of school would you design for these kids?

message 16: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments just designed it!!! (I have to rush out the door and get to my "day job." Until the book starts to filter out to the masses, I have to face some reality.) But a quick comment.

I think that what you indicated is exactly what would capture these children. In the back of the book I do highlight some programs that are happening around the country. The Tiger Woods Learning Center seemed to be doing much of what the spatial learners would need. I don't think it's a school, though, as much as an enrichment type of program.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen any schools that are doing what you describe, but some of the better private schools in my area for kids with learning disabilities get closer to it. They are more hands on include a great deal of assistive technology.

Take care for now.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you, Dr. Selznick,

I think you are right about the soup pot of variables combining to make learning more difficult for some children. I have tried to get him into an expert but the insurance doesn't pay and I'm hesitant to use the school counselor because without spending time with him, she told me he probably had a emotional disorder. Why? because last year he stood about a block away from school after the bell rang because he didn't want to go into his classroom. When a parent reported him and the principle brought him into her office, he started crying. Last year, his teacher disciplined him in front of the whole class. He called me crying one day to tell me he missed an assignment and when he handed her the phone, I could hear the other kids in the background. She also refused any reward system because "that's why I stopped teaching the little kids" until the principle made her. She wasn't happy. I told the teacher and the principle that I thought his emotional reaction of not wanting to go there was a healthy one. Switching classes wasn't an option. Yeah, she still doesn't like me and I don't trust the school counselors. I've seriously thought about putting him on home studies. This year he has better teachers, but I need to learn how to help him cope because even though he does have better teachers, they have 70 or so children this year as they are teaching in rotating blocks.

message 18: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hi Shawna,

Does rotating blocks mean a series of changes? If so, is it changes in teachers? Chages in studies?
Changes in classmates?

message 19: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 02, 2009 08:44PM) (new)

Sorry. No. That's a school term. Each teacher teaches one subject or two related subjects and the children move from classroom to classroom throughout the day. So he has one teacher for Math, one for English, and one for Science/Geography/Homeroom. It's suppose to get them ready for Junior High.

message 20: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hi Shawna,
Is the 'rotating blocks' plan working okay for your son? What does he say about it? Kids might like moving from one classroom to another because it is a chance to move. Yet, if they find transitions stressful, it can be tiring. I also have a bit of a feeling (based on my own experience as a young student) that having a series of teachers through the day makes the student/teacher relationship more impersonal.

message 21: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hello again Richard,
I have noticed that some of the kids who have a hard time decoding words really do not 'see' the syllables in longer words. Once I have brought a student through phonemic awareness, basic phonics, and English spelling patterns, as needed, I give them direct instruction and practice in syllabication. A kid who doesn't easily see syllables might look at the word 'bathtub' and wonder "What kind of word has 'tht' in it?" Or they might see 'bat' and then find the rest of the word unpronounceable.

I liked the descriptions you wrote regarding two kinds of reading remediation in 'The Shut-Down Learner'. I liked them and found them useful.

And for vocabulary study, you suggested having the student make word cards with their own illustrations.
I actually did this with one of my daughters when she was very young. I'll never forget the card she drew for 'unseemly'. She drew a man wearing beach clothes and no shoes entering an opera house.

message 22: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Hi Jeanne:

So funny about your daughter's cards; mine did the same kind of thing. She made very humorous pictures to go with her words.

At my center one of my teachers uses a nice method (modifciation of Lindamood Bell) to visually show syllabication. She has bright felt squares (different colors). Each one represents a syllable. The letter squares are placed on top of the felts. Then the kids do a back and forth playing with the words. They will write the words on a white board, erasing one syllable at a time as they are saying them.

Complex, multisyllable words are the ultimate challenge for the decoding weak kids. It takes so much practice to help sensitize them to the syllable breaks.

Hope everyone has a great day...


message 23: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Shawna wrote: "Thank you, Dr. Selznick,

I think you are right about the soup pot of variables combining to make learning more difficult for some children. I have tried to get him into an expert but the insuran..."


You may want to find a counselor/psychologist who can see you on a periodic basis. Even if you can bring your son in every few weeks, it might help. Be wary though of counselors who just want to see your son solely individually. I think your active input and helping to set the goals (e.g., increased coping - working through his frustration) would help. Most 11 year old boys are not great "patients" in therapy.

message 24: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments I have not heard about Lindamood Bell, but we use the Wilson program at the Literacy Council where I volunteer. It seems to be a really amazing way to help people who have difficulty reading "crack the code." when i went for training to be a tutor, i had a newfound appreciation for both the english language AND reading. it's fascinating what our eyes and brains do. I wish there was a Wilson program for Arabic...i've been studying for years, but i have a lot of trouble breaking up syllables (in the past 8 months i've made a lot of improvement, but it's *hard*).

message 25: by Val (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments " I give them direct instruction and practice in syllabication. A kid who doesn't easily see syllables might look at the word 'bathtub' and wonder "What kind of word has 'tht' in it?" Or they might see 'bat' and then find the rest of the word unpronounceable."
Jeanne, this is fascinating. I never thought about how children learn to recognize syllables in words and that it might be difficult for some to get past the first syllable. Thanks for this information.

message 26: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Arabic? Wow, that's great! Did you have an opportunity to learn any of it when you were still a kid? I wish we could all study another language in school in the early grades. The pronunciation and memorization would be so much easier than learning it later.

message 27: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hi Val,

There are some pretty consistent patterns (rules) in syllabication so it is easy to teach. Once the kids 'see' the syllables (and are familiar with English spelling patterns) reading big words is no problem. I think there is very little time devoted to syllabication in schools -- probably none in many cases. This is unfortunate because being able to see the syllables unlocks a lot of the mystery. If you want to work on syllabication at home, I recommend the "Explode the Code" (workbooks) numbers 4 and 4 1/2. I guide my students through both books because they need the practice. These workbooks are published by Educators Publishing Service and they are available at learning stores and on line.

message 28: by Val (last edited Feb 03, 2009 12:25PM) (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments thank you! I find this very interesting

message 29: by Val (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments Our daughter learned to read at a very young age. When she was 1 year old, we took her to the store to buy her first pair of shoes and she read the word owl on the shoe box (there was no picture on it). The saleslady almost fell over. I had been reading to her constantly since she was born and telling her the names of everything around her and what sounds they made, including letters and numbers. She thought the sounds of the vowels were hilarious! I think I am very lucky she did not develop any reading problems since I didn't really know what I was doing. By three she was fluent reader and has been ever since.

message 30: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Hi Val,

Great story! You say that you didn't know what you were doing, but you did the right things. Talking to your daughter, reading to her, pointing things out and explaining things to her helped her to learn so much! Kids need some consistency and repetition and a chance to cross-reference, but we don't have to get every detail right. Kids are smart and will sort it out. What do I mean by 'cross-reference'? Something like -- "See this tulip in the garden? It looks a lot like the tulips in your book!"

message 31: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Some kids are read to thousands of hours before they begin school. Some are not read to at all. They end up in the same classes. I have so much admiration for the teachers who can teach such a diverse group and keep the kids all happy to be learning.

message 32: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments Jeanne wrote: "Arabic? Wow, that's great! Did you have an opportunity to learn any of it when you were still a kid? I wish we could all study another language in school in the early grades. The pronunciation an..."
no, i didn't learn arabic at all as a child. i studied spanish in junior high and high school and liked it. then i learned german as an "adult"...i lived in germany between high school and college and then i majored in german. i got tired of the german and decided to learn something with a different alphabet and it just ended up being arabic. i fell in love with it. i really love languages and all the sounds they make. unfortunately i have no grammar-intuition so it's not easy for me to learn other languages, by no means.
when i started tutoring at the literacy council, the woman in charge of things told me about muscle memory in the eyes and tracking...since then i have been less frustrated by not being able to immediately recognize arabic words and sentences when i glance at the page (arabic moves right to left). i have to really hunker down, but lately it's been less frustrating to read if i give myself a moment or two to focus.
adults CAN learn foreign languages!!! :D

message 33: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Good for you Marieke! Taking on a language with a different alphabet would be fun, but I have enough trouble trying to become fluent in French. I took classes in highschool and university, but now I like to practice by spending time in France.

My amazing brother, James, whom I've asked to write something about multiple intelligences for this group, speaks French like a Parisian -- a very educated Parisian at that.

message 34: by Val (last edited Feb 03, 2009 05:59PM) (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments Wow Marieke ! Arabic is very difficult. Muscle memory is something I never thought of but makes sense. In the army language school, where it is very difficult to place highly, the most difficult level is Arabic. So you have chosen a very difficult language to study. I just re-read that and I wrote difficult 4 times! LOL

message 35: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments LOL! I would say difficult four times too when describing Arabic! I got into it very naively, that's for sure. I still can't put my finger on what makes Arabic so hard but when people ask me about it I convince them it is difficult by telling them the foreign service ranks it with Chinese (like the army does). I am very lucky to have had fantastic teachers as well as friends who help me with it.
However, I am only learning modern standard Arabic right now, no dialects!! :D

message 36: by Val (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments We have a very good friend who entered the army school and placed for Arabic which they rank just above Mandarin Chinese, so you should be proud. He spent 4 years, the last two in Cuba and then went back when he finished to be an advocate for the prisoners.

message 37: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments wow...would you thank your friend from me? that must be amazing *and* challenging (on many levels) work. and so necessary. i hope to be able to put my arabic to use someday. right now i just feel like i do party tricks, having little conversations with friends and reporting the gist of news reports to arabic-speaking friends (to check my listening comprehension). although...i do use arabic a little bit at my office. a very little bit! :)

message 38: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments Jeanne wrote: "Some kids are read to thousands of hours before they begin school. Some are not read to at all. They end up in the same classes. I have so much admiration for the teachers who can teach such a di..."

That's such a great point. The diversity of children's abilities entering kindergarten is phenomenally wide. About 60 % going in have pretty good phonemic awareness, for example. The rest are likely to have mild, moderate or severe problems in early stage reading development.

Here's a question that I ponder a lot and I know it rubs against the grain of most modern education thinking, so forgive me:

What if we didn't have heterogenous (mixed) class grouping. I know all the reasons for it, but I question them. For example, in basic terms if I have trouble swimming and am only comfortable in the three foot section of the pool am I really better to be mixing with the kids who are better swimmers? Contrary to inspiring me to swim better by their example, I think that I would feel defeated by comparison.

Is it any different with reading? So many of the kids I see are discouraged because they can't keep up. As much as teachers strive to individualize and diversify, the material given out is often at frustration level for the kids that I see...

Mind you, I'm not fully resolved on my position, but I often swim upstream in my work and my views of what the struggling kids need and think that certain practices such as mixed ability grouping are so ingrained and taken for granted that we don't question them any more.

I am old enough to remember when the opposite was done. Children in the 90%ile or better in reading were grouped accordingly and so on. I know it has some problems, but I still wonder using my swimming pool example.

I look forward to any reactions from the group. Sorry I can't check in with this site throughout the day.

Have a great day,

Rich Selznick

message 39: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 19 comments Richard wrote: "Jeanne wrote: "Some kids are read to thousands of hours before they begin school. Some are not read to at all. They end up in the same classes. I have so much admiration for the teachers who can ..."

this is an issue i also want to talk about! i'm not yet the parent of any kids, but it's an issue i consider when i think about what kind of classroom setting i'd like for any future kids i may have. when i was growing up, the gifted kids were separated out from everyone else after fourth grade. in elementary school (fifth and sixth grade) there were about seven or eight of us who were assigned to an all-day gifted and talented program. some other kids joined us for either math or reading, but were not all-day. it was painful in a social sense, but totally necessary in an academic sense, so i have mixed feelings about it.

in high school we were also tracked...i also have mixed feelings about that. something is wrong when the uppermost levels are almost entirely white when white kids make up only 20% of the school's population. that is how it was for me when i was in public high school in the early 1990s. it may have changed around here in the meantime, but it struck me back then as an indication that something was not working in society/schools...i think it's a web of problems.

nowadays i read about how "watered-down" the GT programs have become because so many parents think their kids should be considered gifted despite the test scores not indicating that. so that's one problem. i've read that gifted classes may have upwards of twenty kids in them! in small schools! we can't all be residents of lake woebegone where all the kids are above average, so something is wrong...
on the other hand, kids who may not have otherwise have been challenged because they would have been placed in "lower level" classes, are being challenged....this is what i've been reading, in any case...the smartest of the smart are not getting challenged enough (or not getting enough attention) and the "average" yet very capable are finally getting challenged. when i was growing up there was a huge gap between the highest level and the next level down.

it makes me laugh that parents think their kids *need* to be labeled "gifted" now. when i was growing up we were the nerds and we were teased plenty for it. jealousy? i don't know. but it was painful to suddenly be classified differently from playmates i'd known since kindergarten.

my husband's school handled GT entirely differently than mine...the gifted kids were in "regular" classes with everybody else but attended enrichment programs. i'm not sure exactly how it works, but the outcome for him seems to have been just fine. we went to the same small liberal arts college and we both graduated magna cum laude. and we both have fine jobs where we get to use our brains. :)

anyway, i'm definitely curious to know what others think of tracking versus not-tracking...

message 40: by [deleted user] (new)

Jeanne wrote: "Hi Shawna,
Is the 'rotating blocks' plan working okay for your son? What does he say about it? Kids might like moving from one classroom to another because it is a chance to move. Yet, if they ..."

Jeanne, I was worried about it at the beginning of school, but he's doing quite a bit better than he did last year. He does have encouraging but strict teachers this year and I think that is the perfect combination. It's possible the change of scenery is good for him. (?) This year, I've also been able to communicate with his teachers. His math teacher will even encourage me from time to time with a, "he did well today." email.

message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Richard wrote: "Shawna wrote: "Thank you, Dr. Selznick,

I think you are right about the soup pot of variables combining to make learning more difficult for some children. I have tried to get him into an expert bu..."

Thank you. I did make a few phone calls with a counselor. We'll see how that goes. In the meanwhile, I'm doing work with him at home to make sure he does know what he needs to. As far as coping mechanisms, I'm afraid I'll have to learn them before I can teach him. ; )

message 42: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Richard wrote, "What if we didn't have heterogenous (mixed) class grouping. I know all the reasons for it, but I question them. For example, in basic terms if I have trouble swimming and am only comfortable in the three foot section of the pool am I really better to be mixing with the kids who are better swimmers? Contrary to inspiring me to swim better by their example, I think that I would feel defeated by comparison.

Is it any different with reading? So many of the kids I see are discouraged because they can't keep up. As much as teachers strive to individualize and diversify, the material given out is often at frustration level for the kids that I see..."

Hi Richard, hi everyone,

I am all in favor of grouping students by level of readiness or achievement (sometimes called 'ability grouping'.) In the old days (when I went to school) there were 'reading groups' in first grade. Maybe they are used even now. Children who were reading from the same book sat in a circle of chairs with the teacher while the rest of the class worked at their desks. Each child had a copy of the book and followed along with their eyes as another child read. In this way, each child in the circle had some 'follow the text' practice as well as a turn to read aloud. The groups were flexible -- that is, a students could be moved to a more advanced group when they were ready. Or, a struggling child could move back to a group with less challenging work if it became apparent that he needed more practice on basic skills.

message 43: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
More about grouping kids for learning --

If a school has two second grade classrooms, for example, why not have the older kids in one group and the younger in the other? It wouldn't need to go strictly by age, but by readiness. Still, with some exceptions, you might end up with the September through March birthday kids in one group, and the April through August birthday kids in the other.
I have seen this done in a 'school for gifted and talented' where everybody is smart. Still, some of the children are nearly a year older than others.
Why make a younger child feel bad if he can't read as
well as the others?

message 44: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Shawna wrote,
"I'm doing work with him at home to make sure he does know what he needs to."

Yes, this is a major key and you will see results. Many kids need to go over and over the material in order to understand it and then over it some more to master it. Or sometimes, they need to have something explained or demonstrated in a different way than how it was presented in class. If a parent can help at home, it can benefit the child in so many ways. It puts him on notice that you think this work is important and that you are going to support him in making progress with it. Then, as he finds himself catching on, the child and parent can share that happy feeling that comes with a job well done.

message 45: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Regarding programs that group the students,
Marieke wrote,
"When i was growing up there was a huge gap between the highest level and the next level down."

Marieke, In the Seattle schools, there are two levels of gifted/talented programs at the elementary school level. There's the Advanced Placement Program, intensely academic and advanced, and there is a Spectrum Program which is more enriching than accelerating. Students take a test to see if they might be a candidate for one or the other.

As Richard Selznick indicated, there has been a trend to 'mainstream' everyone. This is apparently considered to be more democratic. I don't know how the teachers can do it. A teacher might end up with a class which ranges from 'highly capable' to 'average' (whatever that is) to 'learning-disability and attention-deficit' kids. Even kids with severe emotional problems are mainstreamed if mainstream education is the goal of a district. I once tutored a girl who was deaf and who had other learning challenges. The school had her in a mainstream class and she didn't have the first clue what they were doing. The school said that she would not be able to learn to read, but they did teach her to speak. She came to me and I taught her to read.

message 46: by Richard (new)

Richard | 19 comments many great comments. It's a little hard for me as I've noted before. I usually can dip into the discussion once, maybe twice a day. it's a little like hearing snippets of a conversation that's passed and then speaking...anyway...

So much of what we are talking about has to do with trying to match a child's "independent - instructional - frustration" levels. When I was in graduate school, this was a major concept and it was very important to understand. I don't hear people using such terminology any more and I think this is where we run into trouble with kids. For the ones who are struggling in particular if they are given junk that they can't digest, they are overwhelmed. It's like trying to cram food into a stuffed refrigerator.

I had a mom in yesterday for a new consultation. She brought a stack of these sickening worksheets mostly above the kid's head at his frustration level. One sheet after the other. No wonder the poor kid is shutting down and distracted!!!!

I think if kids were better matched where they are instructionally, there'd be less anguish. You have to meet kids where they Jeanne also noted earlier there needs to be a more intensive immersion for the struggling kids.

Hope everyone is doing well.


message 47: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 05, 2009 09:52AM) (new)

I don't understand why the schools are pushing everything so fast. My third grader has just learned her multiplication tables and is now doing geometry. I don't mean identifying a triangle. She's learning what about rays, lines and how they intersect. How to divide a rectangular prism...etc. Things I learned in highschool...abstract concepts. She's, so far, coping. But is pushing children harder really going to make all the test scores go up? It's not working for my kids.

message 48: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Dr. Selznick said,
"You have to meet kids where they are . ."
This is exactly what I tell the parents who bring their kids to me. This is exactly what I do. I find out where the kid is -- and I do not use fancy tests or charge extra for this. Then we carry on, step by step. We focus on working in a number of ways and the comments I give them are always positive and encouraging. We do a lot of sentence building in the form of games before we ever try to write a paragraph. Then we write many paragraphs before we ever try to write an essay. We always fix spelling together and I don't let them fix it by sticking in a missing letter. I tell them that this doesn't help us learn to spell. They need to write the whole word. If it is a longer word, I write it on a piece of scratch paper -- with syllables a bit
separated and I help them with pronunciation, or whatever is needed. The kids love their lessons and look forward to them.

message 49: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (jeanne_voelker) | 64 comments Mod
Is your daughter's class getting an 'introduction' to geometry, or is this their new course for the semester? Does this work give them opportunities to use their newly acquired multiplication skills?
Is there a district or national achievement test scheduled in the spring? Maybe the teachers have been told to 'teach to the test'. My preference would be for all kids to really master addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division (as a beginning) so that when I go to the hardware store I don't have to teach the clerk how to subtract.

message 50: by Val (last edited Feb 05, 2009 01:23PM) (new)

Val (valz) | 12 comments One of the major problems with public schools is the sheer number of students that have to be taught. I am not pleased with mainstreaming for developmentally disabled children. I understand this is supposed to make them feel like everyone else but I think it just makes them even more aware of their differences and places too much of a burden on the classroom teacher who has to deal with an entire room of students of all achievement levels. However, I would not have wanted my son to have been placed in a separate class. He has tourette syndrome and accompanying attention deficit disorder (85% of touretters have attention problems). He struggled throughout his entire school experience, making it through entirely because of his intelligence. He was in the gifted & talented problem as was my daughter. It was a one day a week program, basically enrichment and although for my daughter it was helpful for my son not so much so as he just got behind in his regular work. I think they both would have been served better with an advanced placement type program but that wasn't available. As it was, my son always had a massively difficult time with homework and long term assignments. In first grade he read The Hobbit. In second grade he developed Tourette Syndrome and read very little after that. We went for what counseling was available at the time, but I could have used a lot more help at home. I am very interesting in reading "Frames of Mind.The Theory of Multiple Intelligences" as I feel if we could gear our teaching to specific kinds of learners that might solve some of the problems. Since I haven't read the book yet, I don't know, but would it be possible to train teachers so that we had some specialized in instruction catered to each type of intelligence?

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