A couple of years ago, we found out that our oldest homeschooled child has dyslexia. Scaffolding her has helped keep homeschool hopeful and enjoyable for her. These 5 tips for struggling spellers and writers are what I use. They are free tools (that you probably already have at home) to help your child succeed.
How to Scaffold Your Dyslexic Child
It was around 2nd grade when I began to notice Laynie’s spelling and writing skills just weren’t keeping up. I began to see her struggling with reading and writing assignments I would give her. The progress she was making with our regular curriculum just wasn’t getting anywhere. We were using a very popular, respected curriculum that had rave reviews and worked for so many other families. But her progress was minimal through it. Each day we continued it, her Writing, Spelling, and decoding skills were just not getting better. Inside, I panicked a little. Was I doing something wrong?
I knew from being a public school teacher in the past that I wasn’t doing anything wrong with her. She could possibly have a learning disability. Although she could comprehend and retell, the phonics skills just weren’t sticking. I needed to figure out something, and quick. She needed help. And help is just something we couldn’t afford. Dyslexia tutoring costs hundreds of dollars per month! So it was up to me to find ways to help her at home.
I began to realize I needed to start scaffolding her so that she could get through her assignments with success. Scaffolding means making sure your child is still learning at his/her pace, gaining new knowledge and skills. Yet you give your child a little bit of assistance to allow them to succeed in spite of their limitations. Scaffolding your homeschooled child doesn’t mean doing their work for them, or enabling them to take it easy. It means giving them the TOOLS they need to cope with their disability. By giving them the tools they need to show you what they’ve learned, you can have confidence that they are retaining the knowledge and skills, and they will feel successful which will spur them forward at their own pace.
If your child has dyslexia or other learning disabilities that make phonics, writing, and spelling difficult, here are some scaffolding tricks, tips, and tools that you can use in your homeschool, that you probably already have on hand or are at least quickly available. These tools are also great for auditory and visual learners – not just dyslexics!
1. Your phone.
This is the one thing my daughter uses on a daily basis to help her with her output of knowledge. Since she doesn’t have any trouble with “input” (understanding, comprehension, listening), I knew I needed to help her to be able to show me what she knows – her “output” of information learned.
- Writing – My android phone is hooked up to my Google account, and it’s so easy for Laynie to create documents directly onto the phone’s Google docs app. She uses the speak-to-text function to say what it is she wants to write, then copies it with the (usually correct) spelling onto her paper. This process helps her with simple worksheets as well as lengthier written assignments. She can save the document to her own folder on my drive, where I can access it later for assessment (I do give her grades and keep report cards on file for her) or print it for her portfolio (I choose to keep a portfolio of her work even though my state doesn’t require it).
- Speak-to-Text – We don’t use speak-to-text just for writing assignments like research reports, book reports, and writing stories! We use it for EVERYTHING. If she needs to answer a comprehension question on a worksheet in Science, for instance, she uses the speak-to-text feature on my phone to speak her answer, which records it for her, and she can copy her answer onto her own paper, with the correct spelling so that I can actually read and understand her answer when I’m grading it. We use it for Math word problems when a descriptive answer is needed as well – it’s so helpful for ANY subject, and she uses it all day long.
2. Spiral Notebooks.
A simple spiral notebook may be the key to cementing difficult concepts.
- Copywork – Copywork is a pain, but it is so helpful for Laynie. She doesn’t have dysgraphia, but she still hates the process of writing. Who really does like it? Not me! But still, she is required to keep a spiral notebook for every subject. In every subject, she has spelling or vocabulary words, from her Spanish lessons to her Math assignments. If there’s an important word she should be able to recognize and spell, I have her write it down and the definition if necessary. It doesn’t have to take long or be a drag – she understands that she’s keeping a journal of what she’s learning and a reference for when she needs to go back and review information. It takes her five minutes or so per lesson (if there’s an important concept or word for that day).
- Reference – Her notebooks end up being a wonderful resource for her to use as a reference. Just as a simple example, if she can’t remember that the Roman Numeral V stands for “5”, she can easily take a look back at her notes from previous lessons. She *needs* that visual reminder. With her being in 6th grade this year, I know that note-taking and being able to copy words and information is essential to her being able to succeed in high school and college one day. Although it is not her favorite part of her assignments, I enforce it and encourage her, and once the “pain” is over, she experiences success and satisfaction with having completed a difficult task – independently. She is learning perseverance and determination, important life skills for someone with any disability. It’s a life skill she can take with her to college or the workforce someday.
Don’t immediately balk at the use of notecards. The explicit instruction and repetition may be just what your child needs.
- Repetition – Laynie uses notecards to review important concepts. Repetition really helps her, and drawing on one side of the card gives her a visual reference as well. Sometimes we print out an image (straight from Google or Swagbucks) and glue it to one side of the card, with a definition or an explanation of the subject on the other. Just reviewing the cards daily or weekly for short time periods (not attempting to memorize them) helps cement the ideas in her mind, and gives her a permanent recall of the information with very little effort. This method for using notecards is only helpful for those learners with a strong visual memory, which many dyslexic children have.
4. Your Television/Tablet.
There are so many apps, movies, and educational programs accessible through your television or tablet. For a dyslexic student, these are engaging, and help them practice and/or visualize what they’re learning.
- Educational Shows and Documentaries – We have YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime and use them almost daily to search and find quality videos on the subjects being covered for the day. A simple search brings up any topic we could need. We rarely come up short with educational options for viewing.
- Apps – So many educational apps are available, many from your favorite curriculum publishers, and some that are well-known standalone apps such as ABC Mouse, Swagbucks, and others. Some are free, others cost a little.
5. Your Encouragement and Presence.
The beauty of homeschooling your dyslexic learner is that you are 100% involved and informed about his/her educational progress. You are devoted to meeting his/her educational needs more than anyone else probably would be. So jump in there and dig in! Your child needs you.
- One on One Attention – Sometimes all your child needs is YOU by their side, cheering them on, attentive to what they need. Children who struggle with a learning disability often need one-on-one guidance and help. There is nothing wrong with reading a passage aloud to your sixth grader if he/she needs it, or providing him/her with audiobooks or video learning options, for example. Working alongside them as they work through their struggles is what lets you know how best to help them succeed. When you see a need that doesn’t hinder their progress, you can step in and provide it.
- A Hand Up – The trick to making sure they are learning the skills and concepts they need to know – in subjects OTHER than Reading/Writing/Spelling – is giving them a “hand up” with the learning tasks that involve their weaknesses. For instance, if a child has difficulty decoding words, then reading aloud the instructions for a Math assignment is giving him/her the help they need to show what they know in Math. It’s not the same as “doing it for them” – it’s helping them to prove the knowledge that you know they have in Math. It’s important to understand what the main learning objective or goal is for a particular lesson, and if their disability hinders them in a particular area unrelated to the goal, give them the help they need to overcome their weaknesses and succeed.
Don’t be intimidated to homeschool your dyslexic child. He/she is getting everything they need from YOU! You ARE able to provide the scaffolding they need. Success is attained with a caring, attentive response to your child’s needs. With your help, he/she will learn coping skills and independence that they will thank you for in the future.