Prepping my Dialectic Dyslexic for Challenge A

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Me: “Are you excited for Challenge A next year?”
My Boy: “I’m a Dyslexic Dialectic! I’m thrilled and terrified!”

8 years into our walk with Classical Conversations and we now find ourselves on the threshold of Challenge A. I’m his Director next year and he is my student in the class and at home. What a gift.

A few weeks ago someone asked how I was planning my year out for my eldest, who has been open with our sharing of his homeschool walk with Dyslexia. I thought I’d share the process with you in this post.

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Whenever I am lost in the mire of information that tends to follow the triple letter learning disabilities, I remember to go back to the core of what it is we are aiming for. This is always the first step in my planning. What is the end goal and are my tools lining up to serve the end goal? This has helped me shave off hours of unnecessary therapy hours, look for more creative avenues for achieving goals and, most importantly, keep pressing towards a beautiful education.

As my eldest moved towards Challenge A, my thinking during the last year fell along these lines:

How can I use the tools within Challenge A to give my son a beautiful and robust education this year and how can it help shape who he is becoming and his understanding of whose he is and where he is going?

I began by reading “The Question” by Leigh Bortins, who addresses the above question in her opening chapter, and discovered all the tools presented inside to be workable for my neurodiverse family. The book is packed with practical help. Learning and practicing the five common topics over the last year was certainly helpful. But the greatest value for me was reading the book cover to cover multiple times, which helped me remember my goal over and over.

It would be an impossible expectation to say: I want my son to know everything by the time he graduates. Instead, my goal is teach him how to learn anything by gathering knowledge, asking good questions and applying wisdom. This year is not about his reading speed, its about teaching him to look for truth and goodness and beauty. Its setting a foundation of wisdom. Rather than try to learn everything, we’ll be equipping him to be able to learn anything.

Classical education is hard.  It’s beautiful, it’s worthy and its hard. Truth, goodness, beauty, sweat and tears. For nuerodiverse kids, you can add an extra few helpings of sweat and tears. I don’t say that to discourage, merely to acknowledge the fact that classical education is work! And yet, the longer I am in CC the more equipped and encouraged we both feel, even as we go about the inescapable reality of hard work.

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In a typical classroom setting, students are often measured against one another and most measurements are scaled towards discovering what a student doesn’t know so they can be penalized accordingly. Part of the beauty of learning in a classical Christian community is the weekly demonstration of gathering with fellow students to share what they do know and discover truth together by pooling their collective knowledge banks and asking questions of one another. Naturally, every student has his strengths and weakness, but all together they contribute what they can and cover each other in beautiful ways. We can already see, just in the friendships already established in the group, that when they shine, they spur each other on. This is hard work, but it is good work indeed. He’s not behind when he’s working beside them.

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So let’s get to work.

We spent the last year getting a good handle on potential stress areas, equipping him to verbalize his frustrations and needs in a clear respectful way, and we gave him extra tools for conquering the daily ins and outs of learning to the best of his ability. Here are a few steps I took over the last year to start preparing for Challenge A.

First, I thought about what a typical week looks like for my boy, his particular challenges (Dyslexia & mild Dysgraphia, low executive function) and the subjects that require a lot from him. I thought about his strengths (incredible auditory processing skills, high memory retention, etc) and the things that breathe fresh life into his lungs. He is twice-exceptional, meaning he is gifted and has a learning disorder. Its been the work of years to get the gifts and disorders to work in tandem and we are still working on it! (See this book and this book).

Next, I invited him into the conversation about his schedule and routine. His schedule is written in pencil right now, all these plans are tentative. He’s a child, not a machine. We also have to live through it a bit before we can fall into a rhythm together. I asked him what parts of the day are most important to him and what he wants to spend his free time on. I’m so glad I asked this question. It really changed the way I approached his schedule and helped us take those steps towards letting him begin to plan on his own. We’ve put chores and daily goals in pockets of time that won’t interfere with the things he really wants to do during the day. He told me that beach days are a must, now and forever. We put those things in first and then we scheduled (tentatively) our order of study.

Finally, I thought about the language of the dialectic/challenge years and the language I used in teaching here at home, and I tried to align myself more and more with the language of the dialectic years. We had already been doing this for many years, but it was helpful to keep mindfully refining.

After contemplating all this I wrote out the six challenge A strands and thought about what each one would require from him in terms of time and energy. I began a rough outline of thoughts for each strand. Its important to note that this is my plan for my particular child. I am sharing more for the thought process itself rather than the actual nuts and bolts of what we did. I have linked items here just to save time later in case people ask for links. But this isn’t meant to be a shopping list.

The six strands within Challenge A are:

Logic (Math)
Grammar (Latin)
Research (Science)
Reasoning (Analogies/Fallacies)
Exposition (Writing and Literature)
Debate (Cartography)

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GRAMMAR: LATIN
Years ago I spoke with my friend Bev about the Latin portion of Challenge and knew that my boy would benefit from a head start. He needed time to develop the muscle for this one. If the words looked familiar it would take him less time to decode the letters before beginning to decode the language itself. This year we finished our third course with Memoria Press Latin (Prima Latina and Latina Cristiana 1 {2xs}) and the benefit has been tremendous. The boys would watch the instructional DVD, complete their workbook, quiz each other with flashcards, play games and finish reviews and quizzes at the end of the week. When we finished the final exam last week I teared up with thankfulness at the solid foundation they received from Memoria Press. We cracked open the Henle book and he took a great big sigh of relief! “Mom! I already know most of these words!” It wasn’t said with a hint of bragging, it was complete gratitude that he had a better handle on one of the strands.

NOW HEAR THIS! If you did not study Latin beforehand its ok! Remember that what the students learn in Challenge A is repeated again first semester of Challenge B. Then in Challenge 1 all of the Latin from Challenge A & B is repeated. Its a bit like Essentials in that you get three rounds with parts of the same Henle 1 book. 

Here are some other things I have put in place to help him with the Latin strand this year. These are small practical helps. If your child is Dyslexic, than you likely have discovered that making accommodations to ease small areas of tension or difficulty help free their head space for the enormously difficult task of being able to process what they’re reading.

Flashcards: In Challenge A, students make flashcards for their Latin vocabulary. I’ve heard repeatedly from Directors everywhere that making flashcards by hand helps a great deal in furthering memory and retention. This is one example where I needed to count the cost of this exercise for my son and make a call as the parent/teacher! Because he already has a head start in Latin and because writing is such an exhausting ordeal for him, I decided to purchase a set of ready made cards so that he could save that writing energy for other strands.

The Books: My friend Angela, Challenge Director extraordinaire, held a Latin Boot camp over the course of several summers. Her first piece of advice? GET THAT  BOOK SPIRAL BOUND! That Henle book is small and thick and does not lay open with ease and adds one more element of frustration. We spiral bound both books and they now lay flat when open. We also took tabs and labeled all the sections for declensions, conjugations, tenses, etc. It was worth the work! They are easier to navigate and lay flat for study time.

Latin Workspace A: its an optional resource but again, any time I can limit the amount of writing he has to do I go for it!

Tools: Colored reading strips, no bleed highlighters, visual edge slant board (recommended by his behavioral optometrist).

CARTOGROPHY
A few years ago we started to kick up our cartography game here at home. We would practice often with our Pin it Maps and CC memory work. Pin it maps were a very helpful resource because the words were positioned on flags instead of a flat lay on the map. He could distinguish features and locations far more easily with the pins. We also purchased a globe to keep on hand so we could look things up whenever we read about a new place. It really helped that geography interested the boys greatly! They each always wanted to be the boy that got to find the spot on the globe.

We eventually began using the Draw the World Series by Kristin Draegar which took our free hand drawing to the next level. I know some parents that use this series during Challenge A, but I don’t want to add more work to this strand. We will keep using these during the summer months and once CC starts again we will switch to the Cartography book.

There were no tricks in our cartography study these last few years. He would use the white board side of his slant board to draw the same countries over and over and then would pull out a sheet of paper, place it on the board and try to draw again from memory. The greatest thing we did was to make geography a habit. Every day, we did at least 10 minutes of geography. While he doesn’t have the whole map memorized yet, he does know his way around a map.

Things in place for Cartography next year-

Timing: This is one strand that my son has expressed a lot of interest in. Because of his deep fascination with political maps and history, he is very familiar with the world map. This strand is something he is looking forward to! I have blocked off time in his schedule accordingly. This strand will go between two more difficult strands to give him a break and a switch to other hemisphere skills.  I have scheduled it during a block of time when his siblings will likely finish their work early so I will “be around” either cooking, doing laundry, or tiding up, but available should he need help.

Scribe/witnessing: After drawing and placing things, I have a hunch that he will be a bit tired. I plan to let him either show me his map and point and verbally tell me where everything is OR I can point to things, he can tell me what they are and I will write it down for him. As long as he demonstrates that he knows it! In class he will have to draw and label maps with the group so he will get plenty of time to practice the skills together, but at home when he is trying to finish the lion’s share of weekly work, I am fine with making these adjustments.

Scaling: This is one strand where I am fully prepared to scale terms when necessary.

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EXPOSITION: LITERATURE AND WRITING
We read the Challenge A books out loud as a family over the course of 2 years.  This book list is purposefully easy so that students have more time to focus on the writing portion of exposition and the ease of the list made it a great fit for family read aloud time. Now, my son was a late reader and we had a very rough start with learning how to read. I had to repent from the many mistakes I made and I’m so thankful that my son now loves reading. It takes him longer than some of his younger siblings, but he still loves it. Having these books tucked in his memory before the year starts, takes some of the pressure off. He is already looking forward to experiencing them again.

As for the writing portion of Exposition, I am pleased with the foundation we received in IEW. We did not add anything else to our grammar or writing load, it was more than enough by itself. Additionally, after three years with Essentials he has learned how to portion off his work and be faithful with small bites every day. But even those small bites, take a lot of time.

I am constantly taking note of his mental energy throughout the day. He has several pockets of time where he is more focused and productive and other times when he needs a reset or a break. This is crucial information for me to have, especially as I try to faithfully homeschool my three other children (including one with special needs) while providing support and attention for my eldest. Exposition is one of the strands I have to be available for. Not only to help ask questions but to make sure he stays focused.  Therefore, I need to be wise about when we schedule this strand.

He is easily distracted and his mind is constantly asking for writing/reading breaks.  We have had great success in breaking up tasks within tasks and setting timers for him to complete the smaller tasks.  For example, if today’s writing portion has three steps, I’ll set the timer for 10 minutes and he will work until the timer rings. Then he gets a five minute break. Then he does another ten minute work round. He might finish all three tasks in three rounds, but sometimes he needs four or five rounds. Some days he doesn’t need a timer at all. He just naturally breaks up the tasks and does the work. It just depends on the assignment and the day.

Looking ahead through the LTW manual, I see several areas where I can help him out by scribing when he gets tired. This leaves room for him to free up his brain to think and process the writing rather than trying to think while decoding.

Tools for next year:
Audiobooks: Though he does have physical copies of the books to follow along with, we have been able to find most of the Challenge A books on other digital platforms (most for free-like Hoopla!) He loves listening to audiobooks and this will be a great strand to switch too after a more intense strand that tires him out.  I’ll schedule his “listening time” between two more taxing strands to provide a reset for him.

Focused Attention from Mom: Its in the schedule! While I will be helping him with other strands, this is one that will require a lot of focused attention from me. Planning ahead for this is critical! (I’ll be sharing in a future post about how I schedule my personal tasks for the day alongside my children’s tasks for the day).

 

RESEARCH: Science
He is bursting with excitement for this oneIf you follow “Jack” on instagram then you know how much he loves animals and science. This is a strand he knows he can contribute a great deal to. One area where he can stretch in is learning to not share everything he knows about an animal, but letting others answer too. This is probably the strand that will end up teaching him the most about group dynamics and productive conversation. His three years in IEW will also come in handy when he gathers all his information into papers to present each week

Creative Resources:
Again, thinking in terms of his energy limits for the day, we may be utilizing some of his favorite documentaries along with familiar books to serve as “source texts.”  

Put Spelling on the Back Burner:
Spelling is a huge source of stress for most Dyslexic kids. We have a deal about spelling. We don’t let it become a barrier to deeper learning. In other words, I don’t want him so panicked about spelling that he doesn’t write the paper or finish the outline or label the map. He gives it his best go and we’ll circle back later to adjust spelling. Usually I have to read the word and spell it out loud for him several times for it to slowly click.  ( One of the reasons we use IEW’s auditory based spelling program)

Make it a Puzzle:
Another trick we have when filling out a sheet with a word bank is to cut out the words and let him fill in the blanks with the word strips. (Thanks Essentials!)

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LOGIC: Math
We’ve spent the greater part of our homeschool life with Right Start Math. I have the Saxon book for Challenge A and will be drawing out problems little by little as we slowly transition over to Saxon this summer. But I am fully prepared to be flexible here too. Saxon might not work right now, and thats ok. We’re nearing the end of Right Start’s available curriculum. Once we finish G, he will have to transition over to Saxon, so we are taking baby steps in that direction while he wraps up his last year of Right Start.

Tools:

Family Conversations:
This is one area we want to invite Dad into. We’re practicing the five common topics as much as possible this summer during our math study. I never had a conversation about a math problem once during the course of my entire formal education. No one ever asked me to consider the problem and define its terms or explain the laws behind or compare it to something else. There is so much we are going to learn together this year. I can’t wait!

Numeracy:
We’re going to keep playing N2K and Quick Flip Arithmetic and all the other games in the Right Start Game book. Math Fluency is a big one for us.

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Reasoning
We’ve dabbled with logic during morning time and its always been a family favorite. Because this strand only requires one hour for the whole week, we’ve decided to tack it on to the end of morning time so we can take one small bite a day while the little guys clear off the breakfast dishes and finish up their morning chores. I am really looking forward to this sweet time together. No special adjustments for this one. Just time with my boy and a chance to grow in humility, wonder, and wisdom alongside him.
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I’m sure I’ll revisit this post later in the year with updates. For now, this is what we have done and plan to keep doing in the months leading up to Challenge. I’ve reached out to some other Moms of nuerodiverse CC kiddos and encouraged them to leave suggestions in the comments below.

 

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I’ll be posting soon about how I’m organizing our homeschool for the coming term and you’ll see more on there about getting my boy ready for Challenge A.

 

 

 

 

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