NAPLAN results are out. If, like me, you have a child with learning difficulties, the natural comparisons that occur between children in the classroom can lead to a crestfallen youngster at the end of the day. "What does it mean?" was the question I was asked. She had already had conversations with other children in her class and she knew what they scored. So why were her 'black dots' so different?
Her initial response was one of anger. She had assumed that her classroom teacher (who is not her literacy teacher) had marked her NAPLAN. She felt she had put in a big effort (for her) to improve in literacy, and the person she assumed had marked her NAPLAN hadn't even been present in the classroom to SEE the effort she had been making. Her indignation hid her hurt - she loves her classroom teacher.
In her experience (and mine) she has also made huge progress in the two terms since the NAPLAN testing was conducted (but how to convey the time lapse?). Literacy instruction at her school has become much more focussed, she has been working with a tutor and short literacy activities are integrated into our daily routines during the week. I KNOW she has made progress, I am within listening distance of her home tutoring lessons, I see her desire (something I have never seen before) to write, and I hear her read. She has made so much progress!
But her results are not within the average range of the normal distribution curve. My daughter's literacy is in the 'red flag' zone, whilst the school, on average is not. So what happens for these kids?
From my experience in working with children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties (usually attention) my view is that it is a big ask of schools to come to grips with the nuances of each child's learning difficulties; to find the funds to hire people to do the individual remediation required (of both the original difficulty plus the resultant poor habits developed in response to an inability to perform classroom tasks); and to find people skilled in doing the work required (which at times can be very demanding). What choices therefore do parents of children with learning difficulties have if they want to support their children in continuing to put in effort and to make gains?
The first factor parents need to consider is relationship. Learning only occurs in the context of a fabulous relationship. Fabulous relationships create a feeling of being supported. Anxiety is the biggest impediment to learning - it knocks out the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain necessary to new learning. Fabulous relationships are the antidote to anxiety. In a fabulous relationship the person working with the child is attuned to what is going on and is able to shift and move in response to their observations. In a fabulous relationship, self awareness is supported, the core of the child is enticed into discussions about what is being learned, where work needs to be improved and how they think they are going. Parents need to think about where they want their child to experience that fabulous relationship. Solely with a tutor? Shared between a tutor and themselves, or solely with themselves? (My daughter's learning difficulties have been the impetus for much of my learning in recent years and the resultant decisions I have made. Whilst I have learnt a lot technically, it is our relationship that has really blossomed. Our relationship enervates her mental health (and learning) and mine.)
The next question pertains to financial resources. Tutoring is not inexpensive. Research tells us that for the 'unnatural' task of reading, in neurologically typical children at least 2 hours per week is required if learning is to have a chance of being transferred into long term memory and automaticity. For neurologically 'atypical' children the time required to be invested in effortful engagement in the learning of a concept is longer, i.e. we need to be spending more time with children actively and effortfully deepening their experience of what is being taught.
In a nutshell, where do you want the fabulous relationship with your child to occur? And do you have the resources to finance the decision you make? And if you don't have the resources to 'pay someone else', what do you do? Our children with learning difficulties and learning disabilities need all the support and encouragement they can get. It's tough for them being in a 'NAPLAN red flag' zone in a school. If you ever want to have a look at what your child is expected to achieve in literacy go to the Australian Curriculum website, scroll down, and open the links to work samples. But don't lose heart, I believe that collectively, we, as parents, can bring much to the literacy lives of our children - and we don't have to do it alone. Which is why I am creating the PINK (Parents Involved iN Kids) LITERACY support program.
My intention is to run 4 sessions on consecutive Sunday afternoons on:
- A Simple (but powerful) Approach to Literacy with your children.
- Resources that can be used as the framework in a Simple Approach.
- How to work with those Spelling Lists from a Simple Approach perspective.
- What you need to know from your child's school.
- Games and activities for 10 - 20 minute relationship (and Literacy) building sessions in the home.
- What we can do to facilitate the development of writing.
These four sessions will be run as a program and are suitable for parents who wish to support their children's literacy on their own, and those parents who wish to support their children's literacy in partnership with a skilled tutor.
Following the program I am offering the opportunity for interested parents to work together throughout the year, supporting their children, working with resources, sharing their learning and learning from each other and myself. These learning sessions will be held once a month on Sunday afternoons. Scheduling of the initial four afternoon sessions is yet to be finalised. Anyone interested is welcome to contact me on 0417 949 179 for further information and costs.