21 Tips to Help De-Escalate

By Katrina Schwartz
APRIL 21, 2016
KQED News: Mind Shift
Students’ behavior is a form of communication and when it’s negative it almost always stems from an underlying cause. There are many reasons kids might be acting out, which makes it difficult for a teacher in a crowded classroom to figure out the root cause. But even if there was time and space to do so, most teachers receive very little training in behavior during their credentialing programs. On average, teacher training programs mandate zero to one classes on behavior and zero to one courses on mental health. Teacher training programs mostly assume that kids in public schools will be “typical,” but that assumption can handicap teachers when they get into real classrooms.

A National Institute of Health study found that 25.1 percent of kids 13-18 in the US have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders. No one knows how many more haven’t been diagnosed. Additionally between eight and 15 percent of the school-aged population has learning disabilities (there is a range because there’s no standard definition of what constitutes a learning disability). Nine percent of 13-18 year-olds have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (although the number one misdiagnoses of anxiety is ADHD), and 11.2 percent suffer from depression.

“So basically we have this gap in teacher education,” said Jessica Minahan, a certified behavior analyst, special educator, and co-author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students. She spoke to educators gathered at a Learning and the Brain conference about strategies that work with oppositional students.

Minahan is usually called into schools to help with the most challenging behavior. She finds that often teachers are trying typical behavioral strategies for a group of kids for whom those strategies don’t work. However, she says after teachers learn more about why kids are behaving badly there are some simple strategies to approach defiant behavior like avoiding work, fighting, and causing problems during transitions with more empathy.


Anxiety is a huge barrier to learning and very difficult for educators to identify. “When anxiety is fueling the behavior, it’s the most confusing and complicated to figure out,” Minahan said. That’s because a student isn’t always anxious; it tends to come and go based on events in their lives, so their difficulties aren’t consistent. When we are anxious our working memory tanks, making it very difficult to recall any salient information.

Researchers surveyed a group of first graders none of whom had any reading or math disabilities. Those who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder were eight times more likely to be in the lowest achieving group in reading, and two-point-five times more likely to be in the lowest quartile in math achievement by the spring.

“Anxiety is a learning disability; it inhibits your ability to learn,” Minahan said. But it isn’t usually recognized as a learning disability and there is almost never a plan for how to address it in the classroom. “For kids with anxiety, the ‘can’ts fluctuate,” Minahan said. “When they’re calm they can. When they’re anxious they can’t. And that’s very deceiving.”

Anxiety isn’t about ability, it’s about interference, which means that traditional rewards and consequences don’t often work with this group of learners.

“Rewards and consequences are super helpful to increase motivation for something I’m able to do,” Minahan said. But an anxious person’s brain has shut down and they aren’t able in that moment to complete the task being asked of them. The best way to combat this tricky problem is to try to prevent anxiety triggers and build up students’ social and emotional skills to cope with the moments when anxiety sets in.

When kids are in the throes of bad behavior they have poor self-regulation skills, often get into negative thinking cycles that they can’t stop, have poor executive functioning, become inflexible thinkers and lose social skills like the ability to think about another person’s perspective. That’s why kids can seem so unempathetic when teachers ask, “how do you think that made Sam feel?” At that moment, the student acting out has no ability to take Sam’s perspective, but a few hours later or the next day, he might be able to show the remorse educators want to see.


Bad behavior is often connected to seeking attention, and when kids act out, they can see the results.* “Negative attention is way easier to get and hands down easier to understand,” Minahan said. “It’s much more efficient.” Adults tend to be unpredictable with attention when a student is doing what she is supposed to do, but as soon as there’s a dramatic, obvious tantrum, the student has the teacher’s attention. And negative attention is powerful — one student can hijack a whole classroom.

A common teacher response to low-level negative attention seeking is to ignore the student. The teacher doesn’t want to reward bad behavior. “I want to caution you about ignoring someone with anxiety because their anxiety goes up,” Minahan said. Ignoring an already anxious student can accidentally convey the message that the teacher doesn’t care about the student, and worse might escalate the situation. Perhaps a teacher can ignore a student tapping his pencil or banging on his desk, but threatening behavior can’t be ignored. And the student learns exactly what level of behavior he must exhibit to get attention.

TIP 1:

Instead, “what you need to do is make positive attention compete better,” Minahan said. She often suggests that teachers actively engage the most difficult student at the beginning of class saying something like, “I can’t wait to see what you think of this assignment. I’m going to check on you in 5 minutes.” When the teacher actually comes back in five minutes, validates the student’s progress, and tells her another check-in is coming in ten minutes it sets up a pattern of predictable attention for positive behavior. And while it might seem unfair to take that extra time and care with one student, it ultimately saves instruction time when a teacher doesn’t have to deal with a tantrum that sends the student out of the room.

TIP 2:

Often in an attempt to form a positive relationship with a student teachers will publicly praise positive behavior. That can backfire, especially with anxious kids who don’t want any extra attention from peers. Private or non-verbal praise is often better. Minahan recommends pulling students aside at the beginning of the year to ask how teachers can best tell them they’re proud. “It’s a gift to your February self if you can figure out a system now, otherwise you’ll get stuck on the negative attention scale,” Minahan said.

Tip 2.1:

She also recommends fact-based praise as opposed to general praise. Vague praise is easy to dismiss.


Many kids have predictable anxiety triggers like unstructured time, transitions, writing tasks, social demands or any unexpected change. Similarly the antecedents of negative behavior are fairly predictable: unfacilitated social interactions, interaction with an authoritative adult, being asked to wait, when demands are placed, being told no, writing, and transitions.**

Tip 3:

“Teach waiting now,” Minahan said. “When you are anxious, despite your age, it’s very hard to wait.” She was asked to observe a boy who constantly disrupted class. Minahan soon noticed the boy often did his work, but if he finished early or there was downtime in the class, he would start causing trouble. When Minahan pointed this out to him he had no idea what “wait time” was. She had to spell out to him that when he finished a task he should apply a strategy, like turning over the paper and doodling appropriately on the back. After this small intervention the student’s behavior was so improved that his teacher thought he’d gone on medication.

For kids with anxiety, there are a number of strategies teachers can employ. The first is not to take any student behavior personally. The student isn’t trying to manipulate or torture the teacher, his behavior is reflecting something going on internally. Often a short movement break can help relieve anxiety, but not the way they are commonly given.

Minahan described a seventh grade girl who was recovering from an eating disorder. The girl was scraping her arms so badly they would bleed. After lunch, predictably, the behavior was worse, so her teachers were letting her color and draw to relieve her anxiety. Another common break is to tell a student to go get a drink of water down the hall. The coloring break wasn’t working for this seventh grader and Minahan soon figured out why. “We accidentally left her alone to fester in her anxious thoughts,” she said.

Tip 4:

Leaving class doesn’t give the student a break from internal negative thoughts like “I’m fat,” or “I’m not smart enough,” which paralyze thinking. But a break paired with a cognitive distraction does offer respite from the “all or nothing” thinking that’s so common with anxious students. An older student might take a break and record herself reading a book out loud for a younger student with dyslexia. It’s impossible to read out loud and think another thought. Other distractions could include sports trivia, sudoku or crossword puzzles. Little kids might do a Where’s Waldo or look through a Highlight magazine for the hidden picture.

Tip 5:

When teachers want to wrap up a task they often use a countdown. “Silent reading time is going to be over in five minutes.” But counting down doesn’t support a high achieving anxious child who feels she must finish. And it takes a lot of executive function skills and cognitive flexibility to fight the urge to keep going after the time is up. So instead of counting down, a teacher might walk over to that student and say, let’s find a good stopping point. She may stop a minute later than the rest of the class when she reaches the designated point, but it won’t escalate into a tug-of-war.

Transitions are another common time for kids to act out. Younger students often don’t want to come in from recess, for example. But when a teacher says, “Line up. Recess is over. It’s time for your spelling quiz,” it’s no wonder the student doesn’t want to go from something he loves to something he hates.

Tip 6:

The teacher can give students an in-between step to make the transition more palatable. Go from recess, to two minutes of coloring, to the spelling quiz. The intermediary step gives that non-compliant student behavioral momentum. He’s already sitting down, quiet, with pen in hand, so the jump to spelling isn’t as jarring.

For middle and high school students, school is all about being social, but the only times students get to see their friends are in the two to five minute passing periods between classes. Again, the transition is from something they love to something they hate, so don’t make that transition extra hard by collecting homework as they come in the door. The toughest kids are probably already not doing well in the class, and a reminder of the homework exacerbates feelings of inadequacy.

Tip 7:

One high school geometry teacher started playing two minute YouTube videos about geometry as students came into class. It got students from the hallway into the classroom without thinking negatively and her class started to run more smoothly. She didn’t have the same interruptions she used to, which made the lost two minutes seem worth it.

Tip 8:

Minahan also likes some of the biofeedback tools that are now available, like the EmWave. A wound up student puts a sensor on his finger and calming down becomes a game. He might start out with a picture of a black and white forest, but as he calms down (and the sensor monitors his heart rate) the colors start to pop in. It can take as little as two to five minutes to completely calm a kid down when they can see the feedback so clearly.

“I like it because it’s so concrete,” Minahan said. A student with high functioning autism might not even know what a teacher means by “calm down,” but with the biofeedback device she can see what it means.


Minahan says it’s very common for students to have trouble initiating work, persisting through work and asking for help, but there are strategies to help kids build the skills to get better in these areas.

“You can have really bright, able children whose anxiety is interfering so much,” Minahan said. The anxiety isn’t coming from nowhere; it’s coming from prior experiences of feeling frozen and stupid. In that moment the child’s working memory isn’t working, so teachers need to find ways to bypass it until the anxiety passes.

Tip 9:

One way is to let students preview the work for the day. In the morning, an elementary school teacher might work on the first few problems with the anxious child so she knows she can do it. Then, when it’s time for that work later in the day, that child receives the sheet she’s already started and can go from there.

Tip 9.1:

In high school, teachers can give students with trouble initiating the preview as homework. Students can start at home without any pressure and continue at school. “Fight or flight is the worst when they first see it,” Minahan said, so try to bypass that moment and prevent a breakdown.

Tip 10:

At the same time, when the teacher names the strategies a student is employing, he is helping the student build a toolbox that can be used independently. Strategies might include, asking a teacher to help her start when she feels frozen, or asking to preview the homework. For perfectionist students, difficulty starting can stem from a fear of messing up. Give those students dry erase boards, where the mess ups can be easily erased. It helps when teachers treat the difficulty starting as a small problem and say something like, “Looks like you’re not initiating. What strategy are you going to use?”

Tip 11:

Some strategies to build persistence include skipping the hard ones and doing the ones a student knows first, working with a buddy, and double checking work on problems that have been completed.

Giving help in class is often a tricky balance, especially if a student is too embarrassed to ask vocally. Instead of acting out because she can’t do the work, the student might raise her hand, pass the teacher a note or make eye contact. Then the teacher has to be careful not to give too much help. “We accidentally create dependency because we help so much,” Minahan said.

That goes for academics as well as behavior. Often a teacher will notice a student becoming agitated and dysregulated and tell him to take a short walk. But ultimately the student will be better served if he can learn to monitor himself and implement strategies when he notices early signs of agitation. “Kids have to learn how to catch themselves on the way up and calm down there,” Minahan said, because that’s when the strategies work. But kids need to be taught how to recognize the signs.

Tip 12:

Teach kids how to do a body check. With younger students a teacher can describe the signs of agitation as they are happening so the student starts to recognize them. With older students, ask them where in their body they feel anxious, for example, “in your belly?” “Give them the data every day,” Minahan said. “This is your body on the way up.” After the groundwork has been laid, a teacher can just say “body check, please” to let a student know it’s time to check in with themselves and start using a strategy.

But what can you do when a kid is already exploding? Minahan says, not much because the child will have a very hard time reacting in a reasonable way once he or she is riled up.

Tip 13:

What educators can do is anticipate those moments and rehearse self-calming strategies when the child is calm.

In one case, Minahan knew an elementary student she was working with was going to have a traumatic change in her life. The child’s mom was giving her up to foster care and the date had been set. To prepare for what would undoubtedly be a moment when the student couldn’t control herself, Minahan had her practice self-calming in the social worker’s office, where she would probably go on the day. Twice a day for five minutes she rehearsed a self-calming routine when she was already calm so her working memory was available and she was learning the strategies.

When the day came and the child did freak out, Minahan quickly got her into the office with very little touching or verbal interaction which might further set her off. Once there, the girl got into her routine, and started singing to herself as a cognitive distraction. “The rehearsal allowed for automaticity and did not require cognition or working memory in that moment,” Minahan said.

Tip 14:

Rehearse replies to confrontations. Minahan worked with a high school student who constantly got in fights. If he felt disrespected he’d start swinging. Together they rehearsed over and over him saying, “I don’t have time for this,” and walking away. During the rehearsals, Minahan gave him something to hold in his hands as he said this. And soon, he stopped getting in fights. It gave him the moment he needed to make a decision not to use his fists and a go-to automatic reply.

Tip 15:

Use data to disprove negative thinking. Writing is a common barrier for kids with anxiety, Minahan said. But one way to begin getting students past this hurdle is to ask them how hard a task will be before they start and again after they’ve completed it. Almost always the perception of the task is worse than the actual task. With several weeks of data you can show students the pattern in their responses.

Minahan worked with a girl who hated writing so much that she was skipping school twice a week. She would often say that writing was torture to her. Minahan broke writing down into component parts with corresponding strategies for getting started on each part. When the student worked on a writing task Minahan would ask her how many strategies she employed. Often the girl didn’t use that many strategies, which didn’t fit with her own conception of herself. “We reframed her whole thinking and she felt more empowered to solve her problems,” Minahan said.


In any interaction with students teachers can only control their own behavior, but that’s actually a lot of power. “We are 50% of every interaction with a child,” Minahan said. “We have a lot of control over that interaction.”

Tip 16:

If a teacher gets off on the wrong foot with a student early in the year, try randomly being kind to the child, rather than only giving positive attention based on his or her behavior. This kind of noncontingent reinforcement helps the child to see the teacher likes him for who he is, not because he does math well or reads perfectly, Minahan said.

Tip 17:

In areas where the difficult student is competent, give her a leadership role. Maybe let her take a younger child to the nurse or start an activity club. This helps change the child’s perception of herself and also her relationship to the teacher.

Tip 18:

When demanding something of a student, don’t ask yes or no questions and teach kids not to ask yes or no questions. In that scenario, someone has a 50 percent chance of being disappointed with the answer. By changing the question, the teacher opens the door for the answer to be diffusing, rather than an escalation of defiance. For example, if a student asks, “Can I work with Jack?” The teacher can reframe the question: “Oh, did you want to know when you could work with Jack? You can ask: When can I work with Jack.” The student might not like the answer, but it likely won’t produce the same explosive reaction as getting an outright “no.”

Tip 19:

Give kids time and space. If a student is prone to arguing, eye contact and physical proximity can escalate potential protests.*** For example, if a kid is humming in an annoying way, a typical teacher move might be to make eye contact with the child and shake your head to get him to stop. But in this situation eye-contact is non-verbally asking the child for a response, which he may be incapable of giving at that moment. Instead, calmly walk over and put a note on his desk that says, “please stop humming.” Then run away and do not make eye contact with that student for a few minutes.

“The initial reaction is not pleasant and you have to wait for them to de-escalate before they can comply,” Minahan said. Sometimes the mere presence of the teacher prevents that de-escalation.

Tip 20:

Reward practice or strategy use, not performance. “When I shift the reinforcement to skills, I’ve noticed the skills go up and that’s what makes the difference for the kids who have mental health difficulties,” Minahan said. Ultimately, educators are teaching kids the skills and strategies that they can then use throughout their life when they’re anxious, so rewarding practice makes sense.

The more teachers can empathize with students, teaching skill building and focus on preventing challenging behavior, the smoother the classroom will run. Often that means lrsrning about the students learning about the student in order to identify triggers and design new ways of interacting with even the most challenging students.

SOURCE: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/21/20-tips-to-help-de-escalate-interactions-with-anxious-or-defiant-students/

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


Q&A: How Will the New 504 Plan Guidance Help My Child?

—————————— a CHADD article

Question: I just read the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has just told schools they need to follow the 504 Plan rules better for students with ADHD. How does this help my child? Does the school have to follow this guidance, or is it just a suggestion? And will it help me when I work with the school to have a 504 Plan created for my child?

—Mom in Colorado

 Answer: We brought your questions to two members of CHADD’s Public Policy Committee and asked them how this guidance was going to help parents and students affected by ADHD. We also talked about CHADD’s role in working with the Office of Civil Rights while it was preparing the guidance.

CHADD members have for a long time noted that some schools and administrators seemed to have difficulty following Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The law provides directives for the education of children with a disability and has been expanded to include children affected by ADHD. The CHADD Public Policy Committee commissioned a survey of CHADD members in 2014 asking for their experiences with 504 Plans for their children.

During CHADD’s Annual International Conference on ADHD, which took place near Washington, D.C., members of the Public Police Committee invited the OCR to present during the conference. Although, the OCR declined, CHADD and OCR representatives met to discuss their concerns for students affected by ADHD.

“It really grabbed them to see the information we gathered—to see the issues coming up around Section 504,” says committee co-chair Jeffrey Katz, PhD. “It started a conversation.”

The committee shared the results of the survey and the experiences of CHADD members, including those on the public policy committee with OCR. The OCR was very interested in the information, Dr. Katz says.

“We shared not only the data, but a range of concerns about the interpretation of the data from parents and our own professional experience,” says committee member Matthew Cohen, JD. “We helped to convince them of the importance of issuing the guidance. And we helped them identify areas that needed to be addressed.”

Mr. Cohen says the committee members discussed complaints made to the OCR from parents who have children with ADHD, along with highlighting the importance of academic accommodations as part of behavioral management for ADHD. They discussed best practices in treating ADHD, he says, and the importance of schools’ compliance with Section 504. The committee members stressed their concerns about inappropriate discipline for students affected by ADHD and how following Section 504 can help reduce the likelihood of students getting in trouble at school.

“We were particularly focused on ways that schools should be intervening and on ways schools could support kids with ADHD,” Mr. Cohen says. “It’s fair to say, because of us, many of the things we discussed are addressed in the guidance.”

Mr. Cohen says that the guidance, which must be followed by every public school in the United States, should help in three ways: it will educate and empower parents to promote their children’s rights; it will better inform schools about their responsibility and how to assist students affected by ADHD; and it will help OCR in how it responds to complaints brought by parents when there is a problem at the school.

“If schools are more aware of what can be done to assist kids with ADHD, there will be less frequency of kids not getting what they need,” Mr. Cohen says. “While the guidance is not the same as law, it will likely affect due process and court hearings regarding kids with ADHD.”

The guidance, he says, brings better clarity to the law and to both educators and parents when they work to apply the law to benefit students, he says.

“There have been many things OCR has addressed piecemeal in the last 25 years. The guidance pulls things together to provide a coherent statement and strengthen their position altogether,” Mr. Cohen says.

Dr. Katz is a clinical psychologist who has worked directly with parents and schools to help create 504 Plans. He has seen firsthand the frustration parents experience when a child who needs assistance is denied a 504 Plan or that plan is not properly employed.

“I always tell parents that I believe the school wants to do the best to help your kid, but they don’t understand your kid,” he says. “My feeling is that before (the guidance), Section 504 was up to interpretation.”

He frequently saw interpretation differences between school districts and even among principals and other educators within districts, he says. These differences led to students affected by ADHD not receiving 504 services or very limited services and accommodations. Many educators, he says, did not acknowledge that behavioral difficulties stemmed from a student’s ADHD diagnosis and could be addressed by a 504 Plan.

“This document says you have to consider that this child may have a disability if these behaviors are happening more frequently than other children,” Dr. Katz says. “There’s still room for the school to say, ‘We see this and we don’t think it happened because of ADHD,’ but they don’t have much to stand on for that.”

The document broadens the view of which students can and should receive 504 services or accommodations, he says. “We want to make sure we’re not missing the kids who need the 504 services.”

CHADD plans to continue the conversation with OCR and encourages parents whose children are affected by ADHD to also give their feedback to OCR, he says.

“I hope the document puts the pressure on schools to improve their services and improve their identification (of students) and accommodations and services to kids with ADHD,” Dr. Katz said, adding he plans to share his experience with the guidance with OCR when the new school year begins.

Parents can learn more about CHADD’s role in the creation of the OCR guidance on the CHADD Leadership Blog and can read the Dear Colleague Letter and Resource Guide on Students with ADHD for more information on how this can affect their children.

See more at: http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/ADHD-Weekly-Archive/Newsletter-Article.aspx?id=112#sthash.DymcPB4T.dpuf

Source: http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/ADHD-Weekly-Archive/Newsletter-Article.aspx?id=112

Orion-Gillinaham tutoring for reading and writing skills in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

Note taking: Model Listening Skills

Listening skills and observations must be modeled and taught.

Students should note when the teacher pauses, repeats a phrase, writes something on the board/smartboard or dry erase board, spells a word, or says, “This is important.”

List these prompts and then model them so students know when to write information down. Practice having students listen for the number of times these strategies are used in a short lecture.

~thx Marilyn’s Multisensory Math


Orion-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com 

Confusing Signs of Nonverbal Learning Disabilities

after a piece at Understood.org by The Understood Team

[O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH  614-579-6021: see below]

Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD) may be difficult to understand.  How about a kid who is very talkative, but can’t hold a conversation? Or a child who can rattle off math facts but has no idea what they mean? A student who reads well, even spells without difficulty, but can’t remember what he’s read to talk about it?

Here are six points to consider.


Children with NVLD can have great vocabularies, quickly picking up words and phrases they read and hear.  But then, oddly, they may struggle with casual conversations, especially if the topic isn’t interesting to them. They also may not recognize that another person is not interested in what they are talking about.  In addition, they may not know about taking turns and giving another person a chance to speak.


For example, a child may bombard teachers or parents  with questions.  They may demand information about a new toy, without playing with it to find out how it works.  Kids with NVLD often have poor visual-spatial skills.  They prefer talking rather than exploring the world around them.


Frequently NVLD kids are very good readers; they are good at sounding out letters and words (decoding) and even reading sight words. They are frequently good at spelling. But reading comprehension can be a challenge, and also holding on to meaning.  Finding the moral of a story, picking out significant details  may be a struggle.


Since math is based on visual-spatial concepts, kids need to picture how two, and another two, come together to create four.  They  memorize swiftly and may easily rattle off “two plus two equals four” without understanding how the words connect to the concept. They might also have difficulty understanding numbers in columns, and math problems that include “borrowing” and “carrying.”


These NVLD children have great rote memory skills.  They can memorize lots of information without work. But explaining and sharing this information can be a struggle.  For example, they might go around a classroom repeating the same thing to many students, even to those who aren’t interested. NVLD children can’t see nonverbal cues, such as posture changes, eye-rolls, sarcastic responses.


NVLD children have lots of strengths, but these strengths can hide underlying challenges.  Teachers and parents who are aware of these contradictions have taken the first step toward helping their kids use their strengths, build social skills and improve their reading comprehension abilities.

Be aware that the difference between NVLD and autism spectrum disorders can be tricky.  Visit helpful sites — especially the terrific Understood.org — to find out more.

source: https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/nonverbal-learning-disabilities/5-confusing-signs-of-nonverbal-learning-disabilities?view=slideview

Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021, or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

Quick Fixes Don’t Work

Louisa Moats on dyslexia:
“Quick fixes don’t work.

[W]e should abandon the expectation that serious reading disabilities can be fixed or remediated in a few short lessons per week over a year or so.

If evidence is going to drive our thinking, then all indicators point to this: screen the kids early; teach all the kids who are at risk, skillfully and intensively; and maintain the effort for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, nurture the students’ interests, aptitudes, and coping strategies and trust that most are going to make it in real life.”

Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021; or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com 

How Parents Can Build a Word-Rich Life for Dyslexics


by Kyle Redford, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity Education Editor

[O-G Reading Tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021, see below] 

A confession:  I get a significant thrill from reading research that confirms my personal suspicions.  This happened recently when I dug into some studies about reading and achievement.  According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), not only does the amount of reading “for fun” outside of school directly correlate to academic achievement, but there are numerous other studies to demonstrate that there is no better way to increase vocabulary than independent reading.

The NAEP study does not distinguish whether the higher achievement scores of students who read more reflected an increased exposure to more words or the specific act of decoding, but I would argue that it is the former.  It is hard to imagine that the mechanics related to reading are responsible for these academic gains.  We know that good thinkers need words, and reading is a gateway into the world of words and ideas.  Therefore it would follow that how one gathers words is less important than how many words one gathers.

What does this mean for dyslexics?  Reading is harder and slower for dyslexic students. Consequently, they typically read less.  If they are to keep up with their peers academically, then it is imperative to find additional ways to expose them to as many words and ideas as possible.

This is a challenge.  Dyslexics often encounter a gap between their reading level and their intellectual level.  This can turn them off of reading altogether.  They don’t want to read “baby books.”  Some handle this by faking engagement with thick sophisticated titles while others decide that they don’t like to read at all and avoid it completely.  Both can be disastrous responses.  Fortunately, there are a few tried and true tricks for building word power for elementary students with dyslexia.

Many Ways to Read

We all agree that children benefit from exposure to stories for their content, structure, and new vocabularies.  But reading independently is not the only way to gain access to stories.

Read Aloud:   There are few things as powerful for encouraging a love of reading as a well-read story.  This goes for all children.  It is never too early to start reading books to children (and, surprisingly, they are rarely too old to enjoy the act of being read to).  In Naked Reading: Uncovering What Tweens Need to Become Lifelong Readers, Teri Lesesne cites Becoming a Nation of Readers, a study that was commissioned to examine reading in the United States, to make her own case for why teachers should not abandon reading to their classes once their students become independent readers.  According to the study, reading aloud was the single most effective activity for building to eventual success in reading.

Listening to Audio Books supports learning a love of literatureListening to books read aloud allows students to have access to stories that are out of their reading range but within their comprehension zone.  Even the most rigorous high school English teachers understand the power and potential of reading aloud to their classes.  It also gives teachers an opportunity to model oral reading skills like fluency, proper pronounciation, and oral expression.  These conditions serve all students, but they are critical to dyslexics.  Dyslexics particularly benefit when they visually track with the reader as much as possible.  “Reading along” gives the listening student an increased exposure to the look of words and makes explicit the process of converting letter combinations to sounds.  In classrooms, using an “Elmo” gives the entire class a way to follow along with the text.  In one-on-one situations, something as simple as sitting next to the child serves the same purpose.

Reading aloud also helps develop the building blocks of reading comprehension.  Students are able to discover new vocabulary, formulate predictions, and make outside connections.  When children are read to they usually ask questions.  Their questions help to clarify what they are taking in and allow them to make meaning with someone else.  It’s like having their own built-in book club.  Having access to a discussion partner actually gives them an advantage over their silent-reading peers.  Many more able readers will rip through stacks of books without pausing for reflection or questioning, thus reducing the potential for grasping many of the ideas or cultural / literary references in the story.  Students who are read to actually have a unique opportunity to discuss and question along the way.

Books on Tape, Audio BooksThings to think about with read aloud:  Read aloud is powerful because of the opportunity to model reading fluency and expression.  Consequently, the reader should be comfortable and familiar with the text.  Previewing allows the adult reader to know the overarching architecture of the story and the personalities of the individual characters so that they can employ appropriate voice and tone.  This is not a time to ask your child to alternate with you while reading.  That oral practice is important, but at a different time, with a book that is leveled to his reading ability.  This reading time is an opportunity for your child to really engage with a story that he could not read on his own.

Recorded Books:  Listening to audiobooks is a way to deliver words and ideas to a child with limited access to an adult reader.  Recorded books are wonderful, particularly when authors or professional actors read them.  Listening to stories being read aloud by master storytellers goes a long way to cultivate a love of literature.  The drawbacks are that the child cannot ask questions or engage with the recorded storyteller and it is more difficult to follow along with the words.  Additionally, recorded books also make it more difficult to maneuver around the pages (relocating a passage or a reference requires skill and patience).  Despite these drawbacks, recorded books remain a great supplemental way to keep a dyslexic reader well supplied with rich stories.

Bringing Dyslexic Children into the
Conversational World of Adults
Talking with Adults is a great way for dyslexic children to increase their vocabulary, fluency, and confidenceBeing included in adult conversations at the dinner table, in the car, or while the family is discussing an important issue benefits all children.  It is particularly valuable, however, to dyslexics.  They are the hunters and gatherers of the oral world.  Because it is harder for them to access knowledge by reading written information, they typically develop strong listening skills.  Engaging in sophisticated discussions helps them build their knowledge and word banks while developing transferrable conversational skills.  Talking with adults challenges children to use higher-level critical thinking skills and vocabulary.  Dyslexics crave context.  Conversations with adults offer children a context for ideas and words, two currencies that they will trade in throughout the remainder of their lives.

There are certain lines of questioning that are more likely to lead to rich conversations.  Asking for a retelling of events, or a summary of a day or an event, can help children practice two things that are challenging for dyslexics:  their word retrieval (remembering the best word to describe things) and sequencing (ordering events).   But in order to teach critical thinking skills, children need to be also asked for their opinions.  When children are asked how they feel about an issue, why they thought a problem occurred, or why they did or did not like something, they start to think differently.  Formulating reasons for their opinions requires children to make connections between their life experience and the experience of others, make predictions, and organize their thoughts.  Curiosity is another wonderful outcome.  When children become accustomed to being included in adult conversations, they realize they need content in order to engage productively.  That leads to questioning, increased awareness of their world, and an ambition to collect and absorb more information.  Most importantly, talking with adults offers children an opportunity to practice their oral expression, clarify application of new vocabulary words, and ask questions in a safe environment.  Teachers can always tell which of their students are included in family conversations.  They have an oral agility, comfort and confidence that distinguish them.


Radio offers a great way to learn for dyslexics and non-dyslexics alike.


The world of public radio is an amazing wealth of information about politics, culture, and current events.  Aside from the periodic story with a mature theme, children can start listening to public radio early on…and it helps.  Listening to radio news stories allows children to build knowledge and oral vocabulary by offering up complex words in a meaningful context.  Dyslexic children love being experts on content.  Through listening, the same child who struggles with mechanical skills during a school day is also capable of strutting his knowledge about an election or a cultural debate during discussion time.  NPR can be wonderful in this regard because it takes the listener deep into the subject and usually assumes very little working knowledge about most topics, making it a perfect introduction to many complex subjects for curious young people.  Programs like Talk of the Nation, Science Friday, Morning Edition, or Fresh Air (depending on the interview subject) can provide children access to thoughtful content and current debate connected to real world issues and cultural events.  Older children will be enriched by programs like All Things Considered, Wait, Wait; Don’t Tell Me, This American Life, and World News Reports from Public Radio International (PRI).  Radio is also wonderful because it is a shared experience.  Children who are listening at the kitchen table or, much more likely, in the car can engage with other listeners about the subject and ask questions or practice expressing their opinion.   Like most things that are good for dyslexics, listening to public radio is something that would benefit all students, young and old, solid reader or struggler, but it particularly enriches a student who craves real world content but lacks easy access through independent reading.

Vocabulary Building

Standardized tests, humanities teachers, and the culture at large reward those with a strong vocabulary.  On a subtle level, vocabulary is often used as an unconscious gauge to determine someone’s level of intelligence.  But much less subtly, having a strong working vocabulary helps one make meaning from the oral and written word.

It should be no surprise that dyslexic students struggle with written vocabulary.  Often complex words are challenging because of difficult pronunciations.  Dyslexic students may even know the written word when used in a context or read aloud, but on a written word list it means nothing.  Teachers often deliver vocabulary in unimaginative and problematic ways, but the good news is that there are many ways to supplement vocabulary instruction that will help every dyslexic child get more out of word studies.

Illustrating WordsIllustrating New words:   Vocabulary instruction is best when it involves having students draw a symbolic or realistic representation of the word.  It requires them to make meaning from a word in a way that memorization of a definition does not.  One can’t fake a picture.  The first step in generating an illustration involves grasping the meaning or the context of the word.  It doesn’t require artistic skill, but it does require thinking deeply.  Creating the image also stores the word’s meaning in a different part of the brain, generating a visual association.  Having students make pictorial flashcards can be a helpful strategy.  Making a little drawing next to the word and its definition is another good practice.

Standardized Test Preparation:  Publishers of test prep books are starting to catch on to the power of imagery to create additional associations for memorizing words.  There are many vocabulary book/flashcards available now that are organized around images and cartoons.  These tools can be helpful for dyslexic students preparing for standardized tests.

Acting Out a Word:  Dyslexics also benefit from acting out words.  Having to bring a word to life is a little like a game of charades.  The beauty of the game is that is requires the actor to understand the word in a deep way.  Acting out the meaning of a word is particularly helpful to a child who is a tactile learner (one who learns through using his body), but everyone benefits from creating additional associations for words.

Writing a story using vocabulary words:  It is amazing what a random word list can do to spark a child’s creativity.  When students are asked to use all the words on their vocabulary list to write a story, not only do they need to understand all the words in context, but students often come up with some very imaginative tales.  Dyslexics remember things much better when the information has a context or a narrative attached.

Connecting Ideas Builds Context and Supports Reading Success in Dyslexics

Context, Context, Context
If there is an overall theme to building word power for dyslexics, it is this:  context matters.  Dyslexic students understand and remember information by relating facts to larger ideas.  In order for information to be understood and remembered, it needs to be attached to an idea.  It’s no wonder that studies indicate that students who read a lot do better academically and have superior vocabularies.  Stories are wonderful for offering a context that supports memory and meaning for all students.

It is sobering, but not surprising, to know that how much time one spends reading influences academic achievement.  However, it is also a great relief to know that there are many ways to gather words even when reading is not easy.  Dyslexic children usually need additional support in their quest to find a way to gain access to the world of words, but in most cases, all that is required is an alternative path.

source: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/PAR_wordvocab.html

Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021. Or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

Help Kids With Tricky Homework

by Bob Cunningham at Understood.org

[O-G reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards 614-579-6021]

At a Glance

  • It’s common for parents to have trouble helping kids with math homework.
  • Math is a process. It helps to walk through the process with your child.
  • Having examples of a similar math problem can help your child complete tough math homework.

Your child needs help with math homework, but you’re not sure how to do the math problems yourself. Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. This happens a lot to parents.

Keep in mind that showing kids with learning or attention issues that it’s OK not to know the answers can be a good lesson. Here are some suggestions for approaching math homework with your child.

The Most Important Tip for Math Homework

It’s important not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that neither you nor your child knows how to do. Spending more time than this will probably just be frustrating for you and your child without providing much benefit.

Try the steps outlined below. If they don’t work, it may be better for your child to get more instruction from a teacher in order to complete the homework.

5 Things to Do When Helping With Math Homework

Here are things to keep in mind when helping your child with tricky math homework.

  1. Start by acknowledging that not understanding what to do can be stressful.You can also say something positive to acknowledge that your child is trying. For example: “I’m proud that you know what the homework is and brought home the proper materials.”
  2. Ask your child to show you an example. This could include a math problem he did in class or a sample math problem from a textbook that includes the answer.
  3. If your child can’t find an example problem, try typing one of the homework problems into an internet search. Your child’s worksheet, textbook or notebook might have a title or math term to search for online. Your search will bring up a list of websites designed to help with math. Try a few sites if the first one doesn’t help.
  4. Once you’ve found a sample problem either from your child or online, ask how the teacher said to do the problems. Having a completed example in front of him can help your child recall any instructions and class discussions.
  5. Use the sample problem to figure out the process to follow to solve the problem. Make notes of each step your child remembers as you work your way through the first problem together. This reminds your child that math is a process. The list you create also gives your child something to take to the teacher to show his efforts, even if he doesn’t come up with the right answer. The teacher can use the list to correct the process so that your child can solve the problem in the future.

3 Things to Avoid When Helping With Math Homework

Here are three things to avoid doing when your child asks for math homework help.

  1. Try not to begin by asking your child what the teacher said to do. If your child remembered that, he likely wouldn’t be asking for your help.
  2. Try not to contact the teacher right away. Kids with learning and attention issues might give up easily or get angry if they’re not sure what to do. But it’s important for them to try to think of ways to approach the situation before going to the teacher.
  3. Try not to write a note that just says your child didn’t understand the assignment. Give the teacher information about what your child has trouble with, such as adding fractions. This can help find the “missing piece” to solve math problems.

For more help with sticky homework situations, here are tips on how to win homework battles. And visit Parenting Coach for ways to work with kids who give up too easily.

Key Takeaways

  • Try not to spend more than 10 to 20 minutes working through math homework that you and your child don’t know how to do.
  • It’s good to take notes while you’re trying to help solve a math problem.
  • If the process helps your child solve the math problem, great! If not, he can show these notes to his teacher for more instruction.

About the Author

Bob Cunningham


Orton-Gillingham reading tutor in Columbus OH: Adrienne Edwards, 614-579-6021. Or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com