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Just Read More October 16, 2008

Posted by Mistress B in Family, Kids, Learning Difficulties, TJ.

Is what TJ’s teacher told me when discussing with him about school reports and ways to help him with his English.


TJ has more books, comics and magazines under his bed than cars, loves word puzzle books, doesn’t spend all afternoon sitting in front of the pc or Nintendo, is encouraged to write emails/letters to family members and friends, plays lots of board games using language and maths skills (boggle for instance) and is struggling with his English.

Earlier this year I discussed how as a little tyke he had a very limited vocabulary, and how I thought this was impacting his reading development now. What I didn’t discuss at the time was that he also has some organisational issues and concept issues. He finds it difficult to look at a task and break it down into steps that make the task easy to finish. He had to by physically taught things like big, little, under, over, all those little concept words that are the beginnings of our descriptive language.

These three problems are now having a great impact on his writing.

We all know there is a bit of a process to writing. We get an idea in our heads, we start roughing it out. We take a look at it and might flesh out some of the paragraphs a bit, fix up the spelling and grammar, tie it all together at the end.

Now imagine trying to do that and not instinctively having those steps in your head and not knowing all the words you need to get the picture or idea in your head onto the page.

Then imagine the frustration you would feel when you tried what used to work with your spoken language so substitute a word you know instead, and then you try to put all your humongous ideas on the page in no particular order, only to find that despite all your effort that it doesn’t work because your writing just ends up making no sense at all when you read it back to yourself and then mum tells you that you don’t have enough descriptive words in it anyway (like your teacher asked for) because all those descriptive words are incidental to you.

‘Just get him writing more’ is the response to that discussion.

You’re telling me that I should force him to spend more time doing something that he finds so incredibly difficult that he starts throwing his books around the house in frustration and that will be helpful?

Come on!

Any kid experiencing that kind of frustration with a task really learns to loathe it when forced to do it. I don’t want him to loathe writing.

And he needs a procedure dammit!

And I’m not a trained frickin’ educator. I’m just a mum struggling to explain a process that I instinctively do to a child who doesn’t always think the way I do.

When the task put to him is clear cut, like questions relating to find dictionary meanings, or synonyms or answering questions after reading a text or punctuating sentences, he’s not too bad. But like any other task that requires organisational thinking, story writing just throws him for a loop. I’m even seeing his maths starting to frustrate him as the working out for the questions becomes more involved with extra steps and this is the solid, clear cut stuff that he’s always been good with!

And the vibe I’m getting from his teacher is that he thinks I’m not putting in the effort to help my son.

*shakes head*

I got his NAPLAN results back on Monday and just wanted to cry, then I wanted to scream with frustration. Just reading more and just writing more obviously isn’t working. His results, while not as bad as they could have been if I truly was an uninvolved twat of a parent, weren’t great, weren’t even good.

Perhaps the speech therapist will have better luck explaining to his teacher that my son is wired a little differently when it comes to language. I got in touch with her yesterday and he’s back on the waiting list.

Two to three months she said. Oh well, it’s better than the six months it took to get in the first time round. It’s quite usual for kids with TJ’s problems as a little fella to be impacted by them again at about this stage of their schooling she said. I wish someone had told me that earlier, but at least I can stop mummy guilting myself now because it really isn’t all my fault.

Edit – I have talked to some other parents since posting this and we have come to the conclusion that perhaps this teacher, while GREAT with the kids, isn’t too sure of himself when dealing with their parents so doesn’t come across well. It’s a pity, but it happens.


1. Naomi - October 16, 2008

GAH no wonder you’re frustrated! For that matter, no wonder HE’S frustrated.


I’m no therapist, k?

But I’m wondering if something like this might help:

– Decide the subject (eg the family’s last holiday)
– Write it down in the middle of a piece of paper (eg. Our Holiday)
– Write down some describing words in a circle around it (eg Fun, Sad, Boring, Wet, Happy, Blue)
– In a semi-circle around each of THOSE words, write down a word or a phrase describing the reason for them (eg. Fishing, Sitting in the Car, Dad threw me in the water, I sat on a bee)
– From each of THOSE, write a sentence
– Stick ’em all together

No promises. I have very little experience with therapy for differently-wired kids. BUT it might be worth a go? It’s basically a mind-map designed for writing stories and essays.

I might just try that with him. That is basically what I was trying to do with him breaking it down into steps, but I hadn’t thought of writing it down in a mind map fashion. Thanks for the idea 🙂 ~ B

2. Jayne - October 16, 2008

My friend has had no end of trouble with her son’s teacher this year, who claims that the child is “simply lazy” when she has had 3 reports from the adolescent psychiatrist (and several phone calls), neurologists reports, GP’s letter and a large round table discussion with medical professionals at the school about the fact that the boy has learning difficulties.
Poor TJ doesn’t need more pressure from an ignorant teacher who is supposed to be helping him learn.
You have no need to feel guilty at all, you’re a terrific mum who puts in the hard yards with her kids every day, Bettina. Good luck with the speechie 🙂

Thanks Jayne. It’s just so frustrating to have an inkling about what’s going on and not feel heard.

3. Gemisht - October 16, 2008

This all sounds familiar to what I am doing at the moment with my daughter. A friend and I were discussing the sorts of things that we are doing at speech therapy and we decided that they need to be re-named as Communication Therapists as there is so much more to what they do than just speech and language – there is spoken language, there is body language, there are social skills and there is all the higher order language.

Communication therapists is right!! There is so much more to speech therapy than just verbal language skills.

I feel for you and TJ and what he is going through at the moment. I can understand his frustration, and yours. In my unspecialised opinion, the worst thing that you can do is to get him to write more when he struggles with it. He will feel that he is failing and that will do his self esteem no good at all.

Yes, which is exactly why I’m not pushing it.

I really like Naomi’s idea and to add to that, can he use descriptive words more easily in conversation than in writing?? If so, maybe try having conversations with him and get him to describe things to you – how the vegies look and feel, whether the leaves are smooth or not – that kind of thing. Like I said, I am not an expert in this but maybe if you get him thinking like that it may help it to be easier for him.

We do a lot of that anyhow. It was something we started when Lou was little and just continued on with lol

And if you get him to practice his writing maybe start with 2 or 3 sentences that make sense as a goal and then build on it. A whole blank page can be vary daunting when you feel that you have to fill it with writing that doesn’t come as second nature to you.

Essay over, sorry that got so long.

Feel free to write me an essay whenever the mood strikes you lol 😉 And thanks for the encouragement. If it the problem was rearing itself in his spoken language again, then I’d know how to combat it, it’s applying the principles to his written language that has had me a little stumped. ~ B

4. Riayn - October 16, 2008

I hate to say it but most teachers just don’t have the skills to deal with students who have learning difficulties. Your teacher is probably telling you to get TJ to read and write more because she just doesn’t know how to teach a child with LDs.

Does your school have anyone there that does work with kids with LDs? Some schools do have the resources for an aide to help kids who need extra assistance. If not, they may be able to recommend someone. I would really go above the teacher and directly to the principal to discuss your concerns with TJs education.

Yes they do have some fantastic aides who work with the LD’s kids. And you’re right, I’m going to have to approach this from another direction.~ B

5. Kin - October 16, 2008

Same disclaimer as Naomi k?

K 😉 lol

If he’s less open to mind map, here’s how I teach “writing” using Naomi’s example

1. Choose the topic. (holidays)
2. Choose three things (things you did – movies, sewing etc)
3. Write down three things you felt about those three things (movies: fun, family time, happy)
Put those three things into a sentence: We went to the movies as a family and had fun. It made me happy.
4. Write 2-3 sentences about each of the three things.
5. Write an introducing sentence or two (on our holidays we went to the movies and did some sewing)
6. Write a summarising sentence (Pick out important “feeling words” from the main sentences: our holidays were fun and made me happy).

This is how I taught 12/13 year olds to write. You can adjust for his age if necessary. Start with something he knows (I use family).

To this day I STILL use this general approach to writing essays and even blog posts (shh!). I need a formula and list to follow.

And ((((hugs)))) for having to deal with a difficult teacher – that’s never any fun!

Thanks for the suggestions and ideas Kin. I’ll certainly be trying them. 🙂 ~ B

6. Pure Evyl - October 16, 2008

I am in the same boat. Hopefully smoother sailing is ahead for both TJ and my son. Until then just keep plugging away. With luck your work will pay off in the end.

I know it will in the end, it certainly did with Miss Lou. Smoother sailing for our boys would be nice wouldn’t it? 🙂 ~ B

7. river - October 16, 2008

Oooh I Love Naomi’s suggestion. To that I would add one point. After writing the one sentence from each circle, ask him which thing happened first, second etc, and have him write the sentences in that order. Voila! A story. Eventually, he may be able to picture the circles in his mind and work through them on his own?

Yes it was a good suggestion. I’m sure that when we find a process that works for him that it will get a lot easier.

8. Dina - October 17, 2008

I’m sorry you’re going through this : (

I think we put too much faith in teachers. They’re not miracle workers and they don’t always know enough to help our kids.

You say you’re “just a mom”, but look at all that you KNOW. From your post, it sounds like you’re an expert on this whole situation. Or at least your beginning to be.

Please don’t downplay your role in your child’s education. You know your child more than anyone else and you have the intelligence to help him. At the very least you have the intelligence to seek out the help your son needs.

Your situation reminds me a LITTLE of our situation with a local pediatric dentist. He’s almost a celebrity around here. He was highly recommended. He’s known as being great with children. And I think he IS great with children–but only a certain type of child. He was NOT good with Jack who is a bit intense and perhaps might have Aspergers. Their whole office was horrible with him and made me feel like a horrible incompetent mother.

Your son’s teacher might be great at working with children who have all their wires in a straight line, but might be completely lost when working with a child who has some difficulties. Instead of admitting this to himself, he might put the blame/pressure on you.

Anyway, I don’t blame you for feeling incredibly frustruated.

Thanks Dina. I don’t expect my kids teachers to know how to deal with everything, but I do expect them to be willing to communicate with me and to work with me in developing some strategies to help TJ improve. I have no problem with a teacher saying they aren’t sure how to approach an issue, because that says to me that it’s time to call in the experts which I have no hesitation in doing. 🙂 ~ B

9. widdleshamrock - October 17, 2008

I did the mind map thing Nomes suggested with Liam. Worked for him.

Yes, when children succeed, teachers pat themselves on the back, when children struggle, it’s the child or the parent.

Fragile little poppets our teachers.

Some are. lol Overall though in 8 years, 3 children and however many teachers later, I’ve only had one teacher who point blank refused to listen to anything I had to say and this one who is can’t seem to communicate effectively parents. ~ B

10. salisburymob - October 17, 2008

hey there B, I am not an uninvolved twat of a parent, but Master K’s naplan was SHOCKING!! He also has a lot of reading and writing difficulties, although he has an extremely large vocab. I would recommend going to an Occupational therapist, adn they can help you to see if he has any issues they can work on, such as convergance, vestibular etc etc.
Good Luck hun

Thanks darl. I didn’t meant to imply that any kid with a shocking naplan result had an uninvolved twat of a parent. Sorry.

Tom doesn’t have any convergance or vestibular issues. He does have a slight astigmatism in one eye, but nothing that would be contributing to this. ~ B

11. anonymum - October 17, 2008

To be a parent is the hardest job in the world without these types of things too….if had anything that resembled some type of idea, I’d say it, but the best I can offer is hang in there…
Teachers seem to make it up as they go these days don’t they?

some certainly seem to. lol ~ B

12. Casdok - October 17, 2008

How frustrating for both of you. I agree withwiddleshamrock.
I hope you get some joy with the speech therapist.

Thanks hon. ~ B

13. writerchick - October 18, 2008

Hey Bettina,
You know a lot children have trouble with language and I’ve come across some info that may explain it somewhat. Two things, one is that they truly don’t understand the words they are using or trying to use. They may have a surface understanding but not a true one. The solution to this is find a dictionary that consults the child’s current ability to understand the definitions provided. Even if that means it’s a remedial text that is below what would be considered their grade level. The idea is to really find something that consults their understanding at their current point, rather than forcing the child to try to understand definitions with even more words they dont truly understand. And when working with the dictionary, not to have the child just read the definition but to get them to give you examples of those definitions, using the word in sentences using that definition until they really get it. Generally they will seem brighter and more cheerful when it clicks.

The other issue is lack of practical application meaning – for example if a child had never seen a railway car then no matter how many definitions they read it would still be difficult for the child to conceptualize it. If however you took the child to a railway station and showed them a railway car then their ability to conceive it would increase a hundred fold. Descriptors often cause problems for kids because of this lack of reality – how can a child get a concept of nervous for example? It’s easier to show them a nervous person or cat or something that is actually demonstrating what the word describes than to plow through dictionaries.

I don’t know about over there but there is a type of learning called Montesori, which integrates this concept very well. Perhaps they have some sort of school like that over there, where maybe some tutoring can be gotten????

And you’re absolutely right – forcing the child to do something which only further confuses him will not result in any positive effect.


That’s some really interesting information there Annie. I’ve known for a while that TJ is a kinesthetic learner. He does much better when you combine action with the concept to reinforce it or pictures with a subject to help him visualise it etc. I can see how these two things you’ve mentioned would fit in with that. I hadn’t heard of Montessori, but having a bit of a look at it now, some of the methods recommended are actually being used at TJ’s school (though called by different names) including phonic based teaching of language. I will look into it some more though Thanks. ~ B

14. Louisa - October 19, 2008

Hi Bettina, Just a quick hello from WTBAY (where the blog are you?) Great to meet you! Hope you enjoy joining in the fun this week…I look forward to seeing you in blogland and having a closer look at your blog later in the week!! Cheers, Louisa

15. salisburymob - October 25, 2008

Hey B, I know you didnt mean to imply that before, its cool! How are things going now? K went to a montessori school for preschool, and it was great. Even now he has recommendations to do things like pour flour on the bench and write spelling words in it, or with shaving cream, the hands on things really seem to help.

16. leechbabe - October 26, 2008

Sorry you are having so much frustrations. Praying that something happens so you can get into speech therapy sooner and that the teacher communicates better with you and listens better.

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