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When I first began teaching our son Matt at home, I marked his mistakes in red like my own teachers had done, to help him notice his mistakes and try harder next time. He seemed oblivious to his mistakes, though. Matt disliked penmanship, for example, and our lessons failed to improve his attitude.
Then I read some good advice and quit marking mistakes. Instead I started drawing a red circle around Matt’s best work on the page. Then we talked about why those letters and words were his best. He had disliked having me tell him why his mistakes were so bad, but now he enjoyed hearing me tell him why his best work was so good. Matt started looking forward to seeing red marks when they meant success instead of failure. His penmanship improved, and so did his attitude.

After a few weeks of this new strategy, I started asking Matt to circle his best work himself. Once he began evaluating his own work, he found his mistakes himself, and his penmanship improved dramatically. The eye opener for me, though, was not how much the new approach changed Matt’s attitude, but how much it changed mine. Grading penmanship was irritating when I focused on finding what was wrong. When I focused on finding what was right instead, I cheered up and had more patience.

Later I was able to apply this new understanding to Matt’s spelling lessons.

Matt was a late bloomer who didn’t really “click” on reading until he was 10. Once reading clicked for him, his reading skills shot far above his grade level. But his spelling skills were poor, and he seemed unable to progress. He could make 100’s on his spelling tests using a traditional spelling curricula, but he could not seem to transfer what he learned in those lessons to the same words when he needed to spell them for original writing assignments. He behaved as if he had never seen that word before, and he could misspell the same word three different ways in one paragraph. He had great trouble proofreading as well. He could not catch his own mistakes.

He was so frustrated with his spelling difficulties that he began “dumbing down” his vocabulary in his written work to avoid writing words he didn’t know how to spell. His writing was way below his grade level and even further below his vocabulary level.

We finally had him tested at the local public school when he was 13. They said he could read at a college level, but he spelled at a second grade level. So he was “learning disabled in spelling.” I tried their suggestions for helping improve Matt’s spelling, but they didn’t work.

Then a schoolteacher friend of mine told me about a method for helping kids learn to proofread. I modified that method and came up with a good system that worked well for Matt. He began picking up two years in spelling improvement during each year that we used this method.

Today Matt has a Ph.D. in cancer research. He still struggles with spelling, but it is no longer an obstacle that prevents him from expressing himself in writing.

Here’s the method:

1. Use a spelling curricula that includes sentences for dictation, preferably a curricula designed for problem spellers. Teach the spelling lesson and do the exercises.

2. Then dictate three or four sentences using that lesson’s spelling words. (Use your judgment to discern how many sentences your student can do without feeling overwhelmed.)

3. Show your student the correctly written sentences that you just dictated and allow her to correct her own work before you even look at it. (Learning to find her own mistakes and correct them will be her key to learning to spell correctly.)

4. When your student thinks she has corrected all her errors, go over the paper with her. Make a little red mark for every correct word or punctuation mark on her paper. For example, if she capitalized the first letter of the sentence, make a red mark. If she spelled that first word correctly as well, make a second mark. When you come to an error, don’t make a big deal about it. Be matter of fact. Simply explain why it doesn’t get a mark and move on.

5. When you finish correcting the paper, count up all the red marks. Give your student a reward – a raisin or chocolate chip or other small reward for every red mark. (Chocolate chips worked wonders for Matt. He was disappointed when he missed a little red mark, and he tried harder next time to spot his errors himself. As his proofreading skills improved, his spelling improved.)

You can modify this system for original writing projects. If your student is too stuck on spelling to produce a writing flow, let her dictate to you what she wants to say (Dictation #1). Then dictate Dictation #1 back to her as she now writes down her own words (Dictation #2). Give her a corrected copy of Dictation #1. Allow her to check Dictation #2 using Dictation #1. Then proceed to steps 4 and 5.

Use good judgment. The important thing is to work with your child at her learning level and avoid her frustration level. Some horrible spellers, like Matt, are incredible story tellers who can dictate far more words than they can manage to write when those words are dictated back to them. In that case, dictate back only a paragraph or a few sentences – whatever your student can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2012

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The teen years have a reputation for being the worst years for raising children, but I disagree. A well trained teen can be marvelously competent. Take the time my gall bladder nearly blew up and landed me in emergency surgery. Our three children were 17, 14 and 12. For several months, with a little help from Dad, they completely took over all the cooking, housecleaning and laundry. The two older ones also planned and completed all their homeschool lessons independently.

When parents take the trouble to teach children good work habits, skills and attitudes when they are young, it really pays off when they get older. Here are a few tips for teaching school age children the basics of those housecleaning chores they will need to handle all their lives. (more…)

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Being a Better Parent in July

On Sundays… Keep in mind throughout the week that unless you set aside many other demands, you will inevitably neglect your children’s deep need for your focused attention.

On Mondays… Don’t forget that children need to be physically close to their parents all their lives, not just when they are babies. Cuddling and rough-house play says love to small children. A touch on the shoulder sends love signals to a teen. And everyone needs hugs every day.

On Tuesdays… Remember that you can provide a good foundation for continuing communication in the family if you keep reading aloud as a family activity even after your children can read themselves. Reading good books as a family does more than help children in school. It establishes bonds of shared adventure and experience. It leads naturally to talks about ideas, hopes, feelings, worries, dreams and all the stuff of friendship.

On Wednesdays… Teach children to say “Pardon me” in a humble tone when they bump into someone or realize they have interrupted or caused a disturbance. Be a good example and use the same good manners with them.

On Thursdays… Check your attitude when you train children to clean their rooms or do chores. If you complain and scold while working, you discourage your children and sap their energy. Your approach to chore training teaches children attitudes toward work in general. A positive attitude can teach them that messes are a part of life, and the best thing to do with a mess is to deal with it efficiently and then move on.

On Fridays… Be aware that children do better when you tell them what to expect. So before explain beforehand how you expect your children to behave in a store, or how you expect them to treat other children as guests in their home. If you forget to explain before hand, and your children are disappointing you, then call them aside and explain what you expect of them in private.

On Saturdays… Remember this prayer for the month: Lord, give me the wisdom to recognize when our family is having a problem, the honesty to admit it, the courage to face it, and the perseverance to deal with it. Amen.

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Mom used to call my dad the Pied Piper. When he showed up in the yard, kids began appearing like magic. (more…)

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How to be a better parent in June:

On Sundays…Keep in mind that rules without a loving relationship breed rebellion.

On Mondays… Remember to look directly into your children’s  eyes when you encourage, compliment, or give “I love you” messages. Many parents unconsciously recognize the power of direct eye contact during negative encounters with their children. “Look at me,” they say before beginning to scold or give instructions. This is OK as long as parents use direct eye contact for positive encounters as well. Otherwise, children will begin to avoid making eye contact, which will hurt their ability to relate to others.

On Tuesdays… Don’t quit reading aloud to older children who can read independently. The books you read to them will build their vocabulary and enjoyment of literature. So read a chapter or two of a longer book aloud every night, and take a rousing adventure along on a family camping trip.

On Wednesdays…Keep in mind that a parent’s attitude is the most important factor in giving minor first aid. You need to be matter of fact about the pain without dismissing it. By providing a bit of warm nurturing along with a calm approach, you help children develop calmness and patience toward life’s inevitable emergencies. Warm soapy water, kisses and bandages are the standard, tried and true remedy for minor cuts and scrapes.

On Thursdays… When children do poorly on chores, “Criticize the job, not the worker,” says organization expert Bonnie McCullough.

On Fridays… Remember that perfectionism destroys creativity. So be generous with supplies and matter of fact about mistakes. For example, never restrict a child to one piece of paper. Children need to make many drawings at one sitting to improve their skills. Having to produce perfection on the first piece of paper blocks creativity.

On Saturdays…Keep in mind that children’s spiritual needs may sometimes be difficult for adults to recognize because they are so intertwined with youngsters’ physical and emotional needs. So be sensitive to the possibility that your child’s distress may be spiritual, but that he or she may not know helpful words to express the need.

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How to be a Better Parent in May

On Sundays…don’t forget that quality time with children usually occurs as an unplanned, happy gift. Most consistently it happens in the context of a relaxed atmosphere and LOTS of time.

On Mondays… remember to avoid attacking children when they need correction. You can train yourself to focus on children’s behavior (“Your dirty clothes are on the bathroom floor”) instead of making personal attacks (“You never pick up your dirty clothes. Blah blah blah.”)

On Tuesdays… keep in mind that children’s education is primarily the responsibility of their parents. Schools exist to help parents with the job. Children do best in school when parents and school staff work together as partners.

On Wednesdays…be aware that an allergic child will be less apt to rebel against his special diet if he knows everyone in the family is going to work on helping him feel better. So enlist the family’s help. Separately explain to your other children that helping sick people in the family get well is part of ordinary family love. Then describe how they can help, ask for their suggestions, and emphasize that the cook needs encouragement.

On Thursdays… Make an inventory of each of your children’s special likes and interests. Then use your lists to come up with ideas for individualized incentives to help them establish good work habits doing their chores.

On Fridays… remember that your neighborhood will look nicer if you take a trash bag along with you and fill it as you go whenever you take a walk. Doing this as a family activity will help children develop a sense of their responsibility to their community.

On Saturdays… If you do not attend church or synagogue, it’s a good idea to begin before your children start asking spiritual questions so you will be better prepared to meet their spiritual needs. However, if your children are teens, it’s still not too late to start. In any case, participating in a strong community of faith provides important support to help families grow and marriages flourish.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2002  Publish with Attribution Only www.beckycerlingpowers.wordpress.com

 

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