Posts

What We Can Learn from Students with Learning Disabilities

student-1571488_1280

A learning disability indicates that there is an issue or difficulty with acquiring knowledge or grasping concepts, information, or processes. Because of our common understanding of students with learning disabilities, it is unfortunately typical to view a disability as a disadvantage in the classroom. While this can and certainly is the case on some level, what we often neglect to notice are the advantages that come with what we consider a disability. Yes, learning disabilities make certain skills more difficult, but they also bring many unique perspectives to the classroom. Perhaps viewing these disabilities more as differences would open our eyes and allow for a more optimistic outlook.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit periods of difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can notably interfere with learning. But, believe it or not, ADHD symptoms may also have their own unique benefits. For instance, hyperfocus occurs when children with ADHD are able to hone in on one specific activity or task for long periods of time. Whether this form of hyperfocus comes about athletically, artistically, technologically, etc., students that practice channeling their attention and excess energy find great success in their interests.

Furthermore, having adapted to managing the ADHD symptoms over time, children learn to self-check and recognize when their level of attentiveness dips and peaks. Children with ADHD are often forced to think or learn a little differently. They become experts at streamlining information, honing in on significant details, and gauging their own comprehension. This sort of self-awareness helps students play off of their strengths and develop creative means of achievement.

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also highly sociable and friendly. Because they are prone to being talkative, their verbal language skills are often higher than those of their peers. Storytelling, public speaking, and debating are some of their common social strengths.

Dyslexia/Dysgraphia

Dyslexia, a learning disability that affects a reader’s ability to decode, comprehend, and read fluently, certainly presents its own challenges in and out of the classroom. Reading levels can range from below grade level to nearly illiterate—which is not only frustrating for a child, but greatly discouraging, as well. The advantages of dyslexia are widely unknown, as the disorder is seen as a major educational roadblock. However, there seem to be undeniable benefits. Since reading presents a major challenge, some believe that the following behaviors are a means of compensating for the gaps in reading. For example, students with dyslexia typically thrive at tasks involving abstract thinking, creativity, and holistic or “whole picture” thinking. Children with dyslexia also display strengths in reasoning, problem-solving, and persistence.

Similarly, dysgraphia, a disability that affects written language, also has its own unique benefits. Since motor skills affect pencil grip and the ability to master written language, children with dysgraphia compensate by sharpening their listening skills. These learners are masters of recalling oral details, memorization, and storytelling. These conversationalists thrive in social situations and are often helpful problem solvers.

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning Styles and Techniques: Part 4 of 6

to-write-774648_1280

When it comes to learning strategies, styles, and techniques, learning cannot be explained as a “one size fits all” method. As much as we are told that there are kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and read/write learners, learning processes and preferences are truly more complex than these labels. While there are truths to the different categories of learners, we cannot assume that each young learner fits perfectly and fixedly into one specific category. In fact, depending on a learner’s strengths and weaknesses, he or she will employ different techniques from different categories to best suit the task.

Consider this personal example: a learner, like myself, with a propensity for reading and writing would likely excel in tasks involving creative writing techniques, close reading skills, vocabulary, etc. In the mathematical realm, however, this same learner may need to employ a different learning style. One may assume that a word problem would suit this type of read/write learner. However, for a learner such as myself, the wordiness of a math problem actually got in the way of comprehension. Instead, I would employ visual strategies, such as sketching, diagramming, or graphing to visually break down the word problem.

Depending on the task, a strong learner will know how and when to employ different strategies. This type of fluidity in learning styles takes practice. For instance, in the above example, a read/write learner like myself would likely read a confusing word problem many times before realizing that a visual illustration would actually be more beneficial.

Thus, the best way to help young learners is to provide them with numerous learning strategies and techniques. Then, let the learner decide which different strategies are helpful in certain circumstances. Below are just a few strategies organized by learning style.

VISUAL

  • Use diagrams, illustrations, and graphic organizers to visually conceptualize a task. For instance, a visual learner may benefit from a prewriting outline before beginning a lengthy essay assignment.
  • Color code when taking notes to visually organize information on the page; this can also help with memory.
  • Highlight key words when reading or studying to help retain the information.
  • Rewrite notes or perform task demonstrations to better see and memorize the information after the initial lesson.

AUDITORY

  • Restate the information in your own words to solidify comprehension and memorization.
  • Create mnemonic devices while studying.
  • Organize information into a song, rhythm, or rhyme to help recall.
  • Reread information aloud.
  • Ask and answer questions aloud during lessons or lectures.

KINESTHETIC

  • Pace or move about while studying notes to help with memorization.
  • Fold the corners of textbook pages to refer back to important information.
  • Stand while reading or reciting.
  • Take small, frequent breaks when working on large assignments.
  • Reenact the concept or task; this is especially helpful for science labs, physical or athletic skills, or theater-related tasks.
  • Sit on a yoga ball while reviewing material or studying for extended periods of time.
  • Use a line-reader or cover the text on the page when reading; this helps kinesthetic learners focus on a text line by line instead of getting overwhelmed by a wordy page.

 

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning is a Process: Part 3 of 6

student-1571488_1280

What exactly does it mean to learn something? How can we know that we have adequately learned it? Are there better or more effective ways in which to learn? These are just a few questions surrounding the art of learningand what better time to ponder these thoughts than at the start of a brand new year of learning? Now, of course, just as every child is unique, each child’s learning style is equally unique. It’s time that we learn a little more about the process of learning.

Learning is a processbut what does this mean? Obviously, children do not simply learn by hearing something. Unfortunately, the human brain is not a recording device or database. Instead, truly learning something involves severalsometimes manydeliberate interactions with the concept.

Let’s use baking as an example. Before learning to bake a cake, the amateur chef will need to be introduced to the concept of cake. The chef may take a bite, look at a photo, or watch a how-to video about cake baking. This introduction prepares the chef for what is to come and ideally demonstrates the end goal or product—a cake.

After tasting a cake sample, the chef will seek to know more about the cake before baking his own. For instance, he may research different flavor combinations, baking methods, or icing techniques. By seeking further information, the chef begins to better understand cake and how it is made.

Next, the chef will attempt the task of baking a cake. Taking all of the knowledge that he’s compiled, the chef will now actually get his hands dirty and try baking a cake on his own.

After baking, the chef will obtain feedback from taste testers. Ideally, these taste testers should be expert chefs who have experience baking cakes or at least some novice chef peers who know how a good cake is supposed to taste.

Taking the feedback into consideration, the amateur chef will now look back at the recipe and baking techniques and make adjustments based on his reflections.

The chef can decide to circle back to any previous steps to perfect his cake. Perhaps he needs to taste other types of pastry, take an extra baking class, alter the ingredients or measurements, or read another cookbook. Either way, the chef continues to work towards his goal of creating a delicious cake. And, since a cake can never be too delicious, the chef’s learning is never finished.


Just as the amateur chef’s journey to the perfect cake is a process, children’s acquisition of knowledge and new skills proceeds in a similar fashion. Learning does not occur in one fell swoop; it is not instantaneous; it is not a uniform recipe or sure-fire set of instructions. Learning takes time, intrinsic motivation, creativity, and patience. When children struggle to learn something, frustration arises. It is important to let your child know that learning is a process that involves trial and errorfailure is a necessary step in this process. No matter the setbacks, we must teach children to overcome and persevere.

Because, just as the amateur chef knows all too well, triumph after failure is even sweeter!

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! The Binder. Part 2 of 6

school-934051_1280

Sticking with the August theme of organization for back-to-school, let’s focus our attention on a middle school staple: the binder. Melodramatic? Maybe. Essential? Yes.

When it comes to transitioning into middle school, organization is key. Consider this: Middle school is likely the first time that students are encountering things such as late bells, lockers, crowded hallways, confusing schedules, and different classrooms and teachers for each class. Not only are they new to the content and the building, but the middle school model of homerooms, study periods, and moving from class-to-class with the appropriate books and materials is completely new, as well.

That said, binder organization is an extremely important part of the middle school learning curve. Here are some tried and true tips from a teacher about handling binder organization.

1. Consider your child’s schedule. Most of the time, a student’s school day is separated by morning and afternoon classes, with lunch in the middle. Before and after lunch are often opportune times to visit the lockers since the grades transition to lunch at different times. This means that the hallways are less crowded, and students have a little more time to swap out books, binders, and materials. Many students find it beneficial to have two binders—a morning binder and an afternoon binder. The only caveat here is when the typical school schedule is disrupted by delays, early dismissals, assemblies, etc. When this happens, it’s important that students be aware of the schedule and plan to have necessary assignments in the correct binder at the right time. Again, this type of organization comes with practice.

2.  Tabs are your friends. When doing back-to-school shopping, be sure to include tabs or separators on the list. They do not have to be pricey or ornately designed—just ensure that your child can easily set up a tab or label for each class. It may be helpful to include a “parent signature” tab for items that need to be signed and returned to school. Furthermore, a homework or “due tomorrow” tab may help to ensure that homework comes home and is returned for credit. This type of organization will help students submit homework quickly and efficiently at the start of class without missing any important instruction. True story: I’ve watched countless students spend the better part of my class furiously shuffling through mounds of crumpled papers searching for last night’s homework—this doesn’t have to happen.

3.  Purge papers as often as necessary. Of course, at the end of the marking period, middle schoolers are prompted to clean out their binders. However, binders overflow or “explode” long before the end of the term. Encourage your child to purge any unnecessary note sheets, practices, or scratch papers to maintain an organized binder. Colored mini sticky notes or flags are helpful when identifying any papers that should be kept all year. For example, during the first week, I give my students a few documents that they should hold onto for the duration of my class. I encourage students to “flag” or write KAY (keep all year) at the top as reminder of which papers should not be purged.

4.  Consider a pencil pouch. Again, as with the tabs, these do not have to be expensive or elaborate. Most pouches can be purchased for a little more than a dollar. In fact, it may be better to keep this item small and simple, as to save room in the often “over-stuffed” binders. Items to include range from writing utensils, erasers, and white out, to zip drives, band-aids, and mini hand sanitizer. It’s also a good place to stash a $5 bill in case the need for emergency lunch money occurs—and trust me, it will.

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: https://learningessentialsedu.com/brain-camps/

Screen-Free Week: Getting Old-School at School

stock-624712_1280

What began as a challenge to turn off the television for one week in 1994 is now a somewhat controversial test of willpower that takes place the first week in May. Originally initiated by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, Screen-Free Week has proven to be a far more difficult challenge for today’s tech savvy youth.

But let’s be honest, it’s not just adolescents and teens who are self-proclaimed “screen addicts”—we adults are just as hooked to our devices. While those opposed to the idea of Screen-Free Week argue that it polarizes traditional notions of creativity and new technology, others embrace the idea of ditching screen-time for a few days.

Seeing as public education has more or less embraced the use of technology in the classroom, it can even be difficult to separate educators from our beloved screens. Yet, trying as it may be to unplug, old school methods can still serve a purpose in our new-age classrooms. While students may groan in aggravation or roll their eyes in boredom at the thought of abandoning classroom technology for a week, there is much to be said about the “traditional” roots of education.

Here are a few ideas and activities that may seem old-school, but which provide truly beneficial skills that may have been left by the wayside in favor of our 21st century ideas of teaching and learning.

Have students thumb through an actual dictionary

Gasp! A what?! A recent trend that I’ve noticed in the classroom is the total lack of familiarity when it comes to a tangible dictionary. Of course, students are well-versed in online tools such as Merriam-Webster.com, which is an obviously speedier method of spelling and defining words. However, a physical dictionary forces students to practice old-school methods such as sounding out words, identifying alphabetical order, and skimming.

When students are required to search a dictionary, however infrequently, a common response that always elicits a chuckle is, “That word is not in the dictionary.” I once had a 13 year-old tell me that “unusual” was not in the dictionary. When we returned to his desk, his dictionary was opened to “unn”—a clear indication that he would’ve struggled for a while to find the word. Students are so used to instantaneous responses via the click of a keyboard that they are incapable of doing the actual leg-work when necessary. Simple practice with a dictionary can help students brush up on skills involving spelling, putting words in alphabetical order, identifying parts of speech, pinpointing synonyms, etc.  

Break out the flashcards

Much like the dictionary dilemma, students may have become somewhat dependent on calculators to solve simple multiplication or division problems. Again, this is not always problematic—many higher-level math courses and math or science-related careers necessitate the use of a calculator. It is, however, problematic if students become reliant on on a calculator for every little problem. Research has proven that, even with the rise of new math curriculum methods, rote memorization of multiplication facts is still the most advantageous method.  

Logically speaking, whipping out the calculator to calculate the number of packs of burger buns to buy for a barbeque may take longer than if you simply used your times tables and mental math. No harm will come of leaving the calculators aside for a week—it could, however, help to solidify the long-forgotten times tables!

Proofread > Spellcheck

Another convenience (crutch) that many students have fallen back on is the use of spellcheck. I cannot pass judgment—as I write this sentence, I am utilizing spellcheck in the hopes that it catches anything I’ve mistyped. Just as my students do, I allow myself to trust in the fact that my mistakes will not only be identified, but corrected with the click of a button. The notorious red squiggle, as helpful as it can be, creates an unrealistic safety net. As we well know, spellcheck is not flawless, especially when it comes to reading the context of the sentences.

Shutting down the word documents and practicing the art of proofreading or peer editing on paper is a worthwhile skill that requires no screen at all. Besides the obvious skill of penmanship, handwritten work allows students to rely solely on their own mastery of the English language. When there is no spellcheck or autocorrect to fall back on, drafting, brainstorming, and editing become imperative to the writing process.
Educators may be surprised by just how well old-school methods can supplement our new technology in the classroom. Even if just for a week, abandonment of the screens may teach students to effectively hone and rely on their own knowledge and skills.    

Ideas for Summer Learning: Math

shopping-879498_1280

The summer months are full of outdoor activities and opportunities for kids to enjoy the lovely weather. With camps, vacations, and other plans happening throughout the summer months, it is no wonder that academic skills take a backseat. As much as children and teens would like to forget about school over the summer, there is no denying that continuing to engage in academics over the long break is greatly beneficial.

A study performed by Johns Hopkins found that students can lose anywhere from one to three months of learning or previously retained information over the summer. The research also indicated that math skills are compromised at a greater rate than reading skills. With such convincing statistics connected to summer learning deficits, it is extremely beneficial for students to engage in some sort of academics over the break. The thought of academics may initially be met with groans; however, the key is to turn up the fun by implementing games, challenges, or riddles.

          1.     Create math games for road trips. These math-related games not only pass the time, but they also prompt kids to brush up on their basic math skills. Games can be as simple as counting the road signs along the way, to estimating arrival time. License plates also provide plenty of opportunities to practice number recognition, subtraction, and addition.

          2.     If out on a walk around the neighborhood, ask your child to tally the animals that they see, counting dogs, birds and butterflies, for example.

          3.     Hopscotch is another sidewalk activity that incorporates numbers. Use chalk to create a grid on the driveway. Create challenges where your child can only jump on the odd or even numbers. Or, ask your child to add up the total of all of the blocks that they stepped on.

          4.     During a summer thunderstorm, teach your child to count the seconds between lightning and thunder. Then explain how the seconds between can roughly estimate the distance of the lightning strike.

          5.     A pair of dice can be a simple way to create games involving number relationships and probability. You can even create a chores gambling game. Tell your child that the number that he or she rolls will indicate the number of chores that they must complete for the week.

          6.     Mini-golf is another great way to practice counting and addition. Make sure that everyone keeps a scorecard so that each person is accountable for tallying strokes. At the end, have the kids add up the final scores—but remember, the person with the lowest score wins in golf!

          7.     Ask your teen to handle the grocery shopping this week. Give him or her the list and the budget, making sure to mention that he or she may not go over the limit and must get everything on the list. This activity allows teens to practice real-world math skills such as budgeting, estimating, and conversions.

          8.     Create your own geo tracking scavenger hunt. This type of challenge, which practices using coordinates and gauging distance, is another subtle way to hone math skills.

          9.     Puzzles, board games, and Sudoku are a few other fun math options. Gather the family together to work on a jigsaw puzzle when the weather takes a turn. Puzzles are great for fine-motor skills and shape recognition, while Sudoku offers a more advanced level of thinking.

          10.     Cooking or baking is a great method for practicing fractions. Whip up your favorite summer treats with the kids—and let them do the measuring! Baking is also a great way to help children practice following directions.

          11.     Even checking the weather can enhance math skills. Percentages and the likelihood of certain weather events, daily average temperatures, sunrise and sunset times—all of these weather-related statistics can be used to practice math skills. Ask your child to use the weekly forecast to identify the hottest and coolest days of the week. How many days are predicted to have rain? Are there any noticeable patterns or correlations between humidity and air quality?   

With a little planning, your busy summer schedule can easily be modified to include fun math activities for the entire family. No calculators necessary—just curious minds!

Summer Learning: Inspire Summer Reading

child-1431616_1280

Reading and writing are likely the last things on your child’s mind as the summer kicks off—and this is nothing new. The battle of the books has been going on forever. Even I, an English literature major and secondary English teacher, was not fond of reading when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I found my love of books. When there are countless activities that are undoubtedly deemed more “fun” than reading and writing, it’s no wonder why kids gripe. And yet, the benefits of summer reading cannot be denied. Rather than harping on the idea and shoving a book into your child’s hands, take a look at some subtler ways to encourage literacy this summer.  

Embrace the audio book. Listening to audiobooks is a proven method to encourage reluctant readers. Especially if your family is hitting the road for vacation, an audiobook is a great way to get your child reading for pleasure. While some argue that listening to books on tape is not actively reading, this is far from true. The audiobook is simply a different means of comprehending a text. While listening, your child is still actively engaging with the text by following the plot, analyzing the characters, and making inferences and predictions. Furthermore, most audiobooks have renowned readers that provide entertaining renditions of the different characters, keeping even the most reluctant reader engaged.

Lead by example. With constant technological stimulation around the house, it can be difficult to peddle reading as a leisure activity. However, showing your own interest in literature can be a major influence on your child’s own perception of reading for pleasure. One of my favorite things to do when a summer thunderstorm strikes is to pick up a book. Make an experience out of the act of reading for pleasure. First, make sure to silence cell phones, shut down laptops, and turn off the television. Open the windows to allow the sound of the storm to set a relaxing ambiance. Put on some comfy clothes and curl up on the couch with your current read. By showing your child how books can provide a different kind of entertainment, a more relaxing form, he or she may be more inclined to partake in a leisurely afternoon of literature.

Think outside the book. Sure, reading books is the ultimate goal for parents of reluctant readers. But reading materials can take many forms. If your child enjoys sports, cooking, or video games, provide them with materials that revolve around such topics. Sports articles, cookbooks, and even video game blogs allow unenthusiastic readers to brush up on their favorite topics. Even try an unorthodox method of using reading as an incentive. For instance, when choosing a take-out restaurant, allow your child to choose the place, but only after reading the reviews online. Perhaps you offer your child a day-trip to the location of their choice. However, the catch is he or she must read up on activities to do in the area. Check out local live music opportunities. Pick a family-friendly artist and ask your child to read a few song lyrics before seeing the live show.

By keeping these tips in mind, you, too, can call a truce to the battle of the books this summer!

Secrets of a Great Student

learn-897410_1280

We know that education can make all the difference in a child’s life. You’ve completed the forms, labored over the homework, purchased the wide array of school supplies (many times), met with teachers—the list goes on and on. Yet, learning is never an exact science; there are no hard and fast rules for educational success. There are, however, a number of strategies that great learners employ.

Here are some secrets of great students:

Great students challenge themselves.

Encourage your children to go that extra mile when it comes to school work. If they’re studying a particularly interesting or difficult topic, help them do a bit of research to find out more about what they’re learning in school. Practice an additional math problem every day, or go back to previous assessments to review how much information was retained over time.

Great students are present.

Reduce absences as much as possible. Make-up work can create time-management issues and increase stress. Moreover, being present means more than simply showing up. Help your children practice active listening using note-taking skills, summarizing the key points of a lesson, or talking about interesting things that they’ve learned that day.

Great students communicate with their teachers.

Students should feel comfortable speaking up when they need extra guidance from the teacher. Educators appreciate the autonomy and effort that students display when they take the initiative to ask for help. Communicating openly with teachers also shows that the student values his or her education enough to spend extra time discussing a given concept.

Great students know their strengths and weaknesses.

It is safe to say that no one person is going to be the best at everything—we all have our strong suits and weak areas. A great student is aware of both, as well as how to navigate through challenging tasks. These students also embody “grit” or perseverance—they continue to practice the especially difficult tasks in an effort learn more.

Great students don’t measure themselves against their peers.

With much of the focus of education on grades, test scores, and GPA, this practice is particularly challenging. The competition amongst college-bound students is especially tense, causing many students to worry about how they “measure up” in the class. Successful students focus more on improving themselves, not on how they can out-do their peers.

Summer Learning Opportunities

girl-1423501_1280

The summer months are full of barbeques, pool parties, and long sunny days enjoying the lovely weather. With camps, vacations, and other plans emerging intermittently throughout the summer months, it is no wonder that academic skills take a backseat. However, as much as children and teens would like to forget about school over the summer, there is no denying the benefits of continuing to engage in academics over the long break.

A study performed by Johns Hopkins found that students can lose anywhere from 1-3 months of learning or previously retained information over the summer. The research also indicated that math skills are compromised at a greater rate than reading skills. However, spelling was noticeably affected, as well. Yet, there is no reason that summer should mark the end of student studies and individual inquiry. The thought of academics may initially be met with groans; however, the various opportunities offered to students throughout the summer may change the notion of “summer learning.”

Washington, DC, has extensive options when it comes to museums, exhibits, and other events for students to partake in over the summer. Whether you are interested in organized day camps arranged by the Smithsonian, or simply taking a family trip to the National Museum of Natural History, there are plenty of opportunities to sneak in some learning. CSI Camp, Spy Camp, and National Building Museum Camp are just a few unique options for week-long camps in our area. But even heading to the National Zoo or National Aquarium has its obvious educational benefits.

Here are a few more options for encouraging summer learning:

  • Create a scavenger hunt in the aquarium or zoo. Check online for printable activities that have already been created. A scavenger hunt can help children with categorization, following directions, counting, comparing and contrasting, and many other academic skills.
  • If visiting a museum, ask your child to take pictures of his or her favorite exhibit. Then ask him or her to explain why this particular exhibit was significant.
  • Teach the kids a new card game or pick up a new board game. Many games require quick-thinking and other important skills such as strategizing, memorizing, counting, categorizing, improvising, etc.
  • Take the kids to a movie or play. Then ask them to summarize the storyline. For spelling or punctuation practice, you could have them write the summary as well.
  • Take the children to a painting or cooking class when the weather isn’t cooperating. It’s much easier to get children to try a new indoor activity when the pool isn’t an option.  

Physical fitness is also reported to take a hit during the summer months. As backwards as it sounds, the time away from school brings a tendency for children and teens to become lazy or sluggish—this is particularly true when nasty weather strikes. Of course, it is instinctive to want to curl up on the couch and watch TV when thunderstorms hit, but there are other options! Take the family to a skating rink, a trampoline park, or an indoor rock wall. Even a rousing game of ping-pong requires some physical activity.

There are also numerous online “camps” that allow students to participate from home. Some opportunities are even provided free of charge. Online camps can range from digital robotics camps to academically-based ones that can help your child retain other educational skills over the summer break. For inspiration, visit http://camp.wonderopolis.org.

For college-bound students, the DC area is a mecca of learning opportunities for teens looking forward to higher education. Many academic institutions, such as American University, Georgetown University, and George Washington University, among many others, offer summer courses and pre-college summer programs for high school students. The courses and programs are designed to give eager students a taste of college life while providing them with instruction and skill sets at the university level. Faculty members and prominent guest speakers provide high school students with engaging and experiential learning.

Casual college visits are also a great way to get outside, tour a campus, and begin the college discussion with your teen. As reluctant as they may be to think about school during the summer, it is important to encourage teens to be proactive when considering their options. Seeing a few college campuses should be a low-pressure, leisurely experience—one which excites and motivates students to look toward the future.

Programs and classes for students struggling with disabilities are also widely available in our area. Schools such as the Lab School in Washington provide camps for everything from speech and language therapy, to typing and cursive handwriting.  

With a little research and planning as a family, you can ensure that summer is a time of continued learning—and new adventures that create lasting memories.

Better Hearing and Speech Month: Speaking and Listening Skills for All Ages

students-1177710_1280

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, which involves raising awareness about communication disorders. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, communication disorders involve “an impairment in the ability to receive, send, process, and comprehend concepts of verbal, nonverbal and graphic symbol systems.” There are many different types and variations of communication disorders—and the range in severity is even more vast.

While it is likely that educators will encounter a number of students with communication disorders, it is also possible that these impairments can be misdiagnosed or go undetected altogether. Whatever the case may be, impairment or not, every student can benefit from activities and lessons that engage the class in speaking and listening. These important skills extend far beyond classroom objectives.

Skills used to present a clear and concise speech, or to comprehend written and verbal instructions, are certainly important in grade school. But speaking and listening skills are imperative to college and career-readiness. Imagine how frequently our adult lives require us to speak clearly, succinctly, or elaborately. Similarly, we inevitably spend much of our lives listening—ingesting important information, filtering out the unnecessary fluff, and responding appropriately. With such significance placed upon our abilities to communicate properly, it is necessary to begin speaking and listening skills early in the classroom.

Below are some age-appropriate activities to build students’ speaking and listening proficiency.

Preschool-friendly listening activities:

  • Use a basic tongue twister to play “telephone” as a whole class. Begin with a shorter phrase so that students can remember the whole thing. Whisper the phrase to the first person slowly and clearly, then continue the telephone around the circle until everyone has whispered it to a partner. At the end of the line, ask the final student to say the phrase. If the phrase is different from the original starting statement, discuss how it is just as important to listen during group activities. Explain how even a short statement can become confusing or jumbled if we aren’t listening closely to the speaker.
  • The traditional brain breaks can also work as fabulous listening practice. Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Musical Chairs are perfect for little ones that like to move around in the classroom. The movement also acts as a bit of a distraction to ensure that they really are listening while they’re up and about.
  • When reading to the class, ask students to act out the emotions that the characters are experiencing. If you are telling a spooky trick-or-treat story or an exciting adventure tale, pause at certain moments in the story to allow students to mimic the character’s behaviors or actions.

Early Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Have students work on a Show-and-Tell project. Each student will informally present his or her object to the class or in small groups. Depending on age and ability, have students prepare a few notecards about the significance of the object. As other students are presenting, have the audience write down what each person brought for show-and-tell. Perhaps require students to ask 1-2 questions during the span of presentations. You could also create a graphic organizer asking students to categorize the items that their classmates brought in. This way, students are both asked to share aloud and listen attentively to each other.
  •  After story time or when finishing a class text, ask students to describe their favorite part in the story. Be sure to prompt them with follow-up questions such as: Why do you think that character did that? Are you happy with the way the story ended? Why or why not? How would you have reacted during the conflict in the story?
  • Create a clap-snap rhythm and ask students to replicate the sound pattern. Complicate the pattern as you go—making sure that students are both watching and listening to how the pattern is made. Remind students that listening attentively also means giving eye-contact to the speaker or “clapper.”

Late Elementary-aged speaking and listening activities:

  • Plan to watch a series of commercials as the class warm-up. Once all of the commercials have played, ask students to write down the products that were mentioned in each commercial. Were your students able to identify what the commercial was attempting to sell? Prompt a discussion about what makes a commercial successful or persuasive.  
  • Have students work in small groups to make up a creative story on the fly. One student will begin the story, then he or she passes it along to a classmate who will continue the narrative. Students must listen carefully to be sure that the story makes logical sense as it progresses around the circle.
  • Organize a game of charades in which students must act out a literary character from class texts. Students must walk, talk, and behave like their characters so that observers are able to speculate about who is playing which character. Discuss the importance of direct and indirect characterization and how authors wish to portray their characters.

Listen up! It’s time to let the fun begin for all ages and abilities.