Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teaching Dyslexics...the Delicate Dance, the Bottom Line

This morning I made a fact family chart for my girls so they could see the patterns clearly and maybe internalize them. This of course wasn't the first time I've done this.

2 + 2 = 4  so 4 - 2 = 2
3 + 3 = 6  so 6 - 3 = 3
4 + 4 = 8  so 8 - 4 = 4

I demonstrated each family with unifix cubes, up to 10 + 10 = 20.

Next, I gave them subtraction problems that included only doubles, such as 12 - 6 = 6, and 10 - 5 = 5.

If they get an answer of 12, the next challenge do you write a 12? Is it 21 or 12? Is 14 a 4 and a 1, or a 1 and a 4? All the details overwhelm and cause fatigue and frustration--all the automaticity necessary, just doesn't come.

I put the chart I made right in front of them, thinking they could easily do the problems with the cubes to help, as well as with the fact family chart. Hopeful that my teaching job was at least temporarily done, I went to start the bread in the bread machine.

But no, they couldn't do it without help. Every time I thought I could go back to the bread, they called me again.

It's frustrating everyday when teaching dyslexics, even as you watch them throughout the day and see clearly how bright they are.

It's rarely a conceptual problem. They understand subtraction makes a number smaller, and addition makes it larger. They don't have issues with the concepts, but computation is still extremely exasperating for all of us.

Automaticity, as I said, just isn't there. Working memory isn't strong enough for random facts and sequences, and seemingly simple patterns don't jump out at them like they do for many of us. They look at a 100's chart and see random symbols, not patterns.

They can't look at 3 mathematical signs, like +, -, and =, and tell you automatically which is which. They have to think about it, and ask for clarification. They have to ask for clarification about 6 and 9, and b and d, even though we've used strategies to tell them apart.

They can't automatically remember that we read problems from left to right, not right to left. And when faced with a non-modified worksheet, they can't remember which row they're on, so when they have an answer, they don't know where to put it because all the rows and columns are overwhelming, which is why Teaching Textbooks is a wonderful program for dyslexics. It presents one problem at a time, and keeps distractions at a minimum. I can't wait until the girls are ready for third grade math and can use Teaching Textbooks.

When dyslexics (dyscalculics) get to algebra, the concepts aren't a problem, but without a calculator, the simple, multiple computation steps leading up to the answer, are a problem. So many steps of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication are overwhelming. Too many signs, too much work on the scratch sheet, making it too hard to see which problem you just worked out. It's a horrible waste of paper to do everything on a fresh sheet, and yet chalk is a pain. I've resorted to cutting small sections of paper for each problem.

Yesterday my six-year-old daughter told us out of the blue that she's going to marry someone who is a Christian, who is intelligent, loving, helps others, likes to go places, and who is fun. All this from a six year old! Her mind--her discernment and insight--amazes me all day long.

Dyslexics see the big picture well, and work from that vantage point.

My girls--and many, many dyslexics--love movement, music, art, acting, making up songs, making up games. They can do so much, and yet dyslexia, if they let it, can crush their spirits...make them feel dumb and dis-empowered.

No, my beautiful, wonderful, amazing daughter. This doesn't mean you're dumb. It means you're different. Your mind works differently, and your mind is needed in the body of Christ.

I feel overwhelmed so often with the dance I have to maintain as their teacher, and yet the challenge is delicious, too. On the one hand, I have to point out frequently what they can do--how God has gifted them. And on the other hand I have to maintain the patience of a saint while I try to come up with methods that work for them, and empower them.

I honestly don't know how much time to spend on computation, because no matter how much we do, it never becomes automatic. Peter, who shares the same difficulties, memorized stories to learn his multiplication facts, and he's never memorized his addition or subtraction facts. If that was my goal, we'd never have gotten to seventh grade math at all.

There's one word for this dilemma. Calculator. For all those students who feel like crying because they can't pass the timed math drills in public school, I wish I could tell their parents and teachers one thing. Calculator. Memorized facts is not next to godliness, any more than cleanliness is. With one in five students dyslexic, we need to get this straight. Calculator, Calculator. Calculator. It's okay for some students to use one. It's not a failure. The sooner they learn to operate one, the better.

I don't mean to throw out the flashcards anymore than the cursive, but not everyone can memorize them, and it's not lack of trying.

I have to stay mindful that successful dyslexics warn not to spend too much time remediating your dyslexic student, at the expense of allowing them to capitalize on their strengths. Their unique strengths, which make them valuable in the workplace, are what catapult them forward, both in spirit, and in their work life.

Society doesn't understand dyslexia. They think it's a tragedy, or that these people are low or borderline IQ, when in fact they are of average or above-average intelligence. The misconceptions are changing, but not fast enough. My kids will have to face a lot of scrutiny about their lack of basic skills (spelling, punctuation, computation). As their homeschool parent, I'll likely be blamed--a fact for which I'm bracing myself.

Their path to help people understand them and believe in them will be an uphill battle, and I pray they find the challenge delicious. I pray they'll be their own bosses, and even go into joint ventures, for his glory. If they don't fit an established mold, they have to remodel the clay as they go through life. They have to appreciate their own minds and realize that "outside the box" is good. They have to muster the courage to raise their hands and say..."But what about this angle?" The angle that is just right, but that no one else sees, because they aren't spatially gifted like a dyslexic.

The same phenomena that makes dyslexics have trouble with left and right and where to start, also makes them solve puzzles and see solutions others don't see. They can view things from multi-vantage points...rotate things in three dimension easily.

Whatever happens, the whole amazing thing, with all its advantages and disadvantages, serves as a reminder that we live for eternity. We hold all these things loosely: success, comfort, prestige, recognition, being understood, having an easy road. We embrace our divine path, whatever it is, and wherever it leads. It's unique. It's ours, given as gift.

At the end of the day, the homeschooling mother isn't successful when her children can do their math problems swiftly. It's when they understand their place before God, their place before eternity...that's when you can go to bed with a joyful sigh and a thankful heart.


Tesha Papik said...

Oh my goodness I can not believe the first time I have opened my blog in a month and this is what I read?!? Exactly what I needed! Since we got home from Tennessee I have been in a frustrated mess of tears and sleeplessness over Jadon's dyslexia. His tutor quit this year and I can not find another and with me being dyslexia also I find it almost impossible to teach him. In fact we have seriously considered public school, which breaks my heart. I begged the Lord at the end of the last year to open doors, any doors and I would walk through them...He has and we are walking through and I am praying it will somehow workout but I have been so very weary. I totally relate this post thank you for writing it!

PS I've missed reading :)

Christine said...

I missed you Tesha and sure appreciate you visting. I am glad this post helped you. As you can tell in reading it, I was frustrated today. Each day I need His strength to do right by my kids and to see things from His perspective. And I repeat, repeat, repeat...Do not worry about tomorrow, for today has enough trouble of its own. I pray you keep up your strength and joy and that He comes through for you in every way.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. My husband is dyslexic and dyspraxic but the wonderful thing is that where his weaknesses lie are my strengths and where my weaknesses lie are his strengths. God knew what He was doing! Life is a struggle in many ways - and school was a miserable time for him. But now he is Deputy Chief Examiner for a national exam board (it took many years to find his niche, though). His 'weaknesses' became his strengths in this job. Do remind your children of this story if it helps to encourage them. My husband likes to say that disability is only a disability if you can't figure out a way round it. God doesn't value the same things that the world values - and God doesn't make mistakes. We are each of us made in His image.

You're doing a wonderful job, Christine. Praying for strength and patience x

Christine said...

I will share this, Sandy. Thank you for the encouragement!