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Free Speech in School

Free Speech in School

The Importance of Speech and Objectivity: Part 1

By Courtney Duke Graves

Since the ratification of the Constitution, America has enjoyed a level of free speech unseen in many parts of the world. Laws and movements threatening to stifle this right crop up from time to time, but we rely on our court system to protect us from such trespasses on our liberty.

Unfortunately, this system isn’t always perfect. Very rarely do we see free speech hit by a blanket law from Congress. More often than not, it’s hit by smaller government agencies closer to home: public schools.

It’s up to us as parents, educators and students to know our first amendment rights when it comes to school. Click to Tweet

What does free speech look like in American schools?

This is by no means trying to paint all public schools as tyrants; school boards are made of concerned parents and teachers, and I believe most, if not all, have the children’s best interest at heart.

The McCollum v. Board of Education Supreme Court case set precedent when it decided a public school board violated the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause when it allowed a private group to offer voluntary religious classes on school property, and during school hours.

Teachers aren’t allowed to “proselytize” students to their personal religious/political/ideological views, and schools cannot officially sponsor any religious/political activity. However, this rule sometimes goes so far as to wrongfully ban teachers from participating in speech and activities they have a right to.

Schools limit the speech of students while they’re on campus, too. Almost every school in the U.S. has a dress code that disallows expressions of profanity, violence, sex and drugs on clothing. Furthermore, all 50 states have laws mandating children attend some form of school, so public schools can legally discipline students for participating in walk-out protests.

In English and literature classes, the issue of free speech gets even stickier, for both teachers and students.

Teachers can’t pass out Bibles, Qurans or other religious texts, but they can assign passages of religious texts to study literary devices, ancient history records, or to explain religious symbolism and references in other texts.

How should teachers and students exercise their first amendment rights in school?

1. Express beliefs in the appropriate situations.

If a student asks a teacher outside of school about what they believe, the teacher is free to express his or her beliefs to the student, so long as he/she doesn’t use their authority position over the student to influence the student’s opinions.

2. Promote civic and religious activity of all kinds, without discrimination, outside of school-sponsored functions.

Schools may offer their grounds after-hours to host churches, political meetings, and other functions, so long as school employees aren’t directly involved in administering it, and the grounds are equally available for other similar groups to use.

3. Know your rights, and bring a case to court if you feel your rights have been infringed upon.

Schools don’t have a right to limit or punish student, staff or faculty speech outside of school. This has serious impacts for our increasingly technological world. Under certain situations, principals may search a student’s private property, such as a coat or backpack. Does that mean they can search a cell phone? Can schools punish students for cyber-bullying another student at the school? These questions have come up in court systems, but decisions have been varied and conflicting, so there’s no straight answer as of yet. The only thing that will give us a clearer answer in the future is to continue using the court system to protect individual liberties.

For the most part, students are allowed to bring and/or pass out whatever books they want to school, as long as it doesn’t interfere with instruction time and it’s not obscene. That will bring us to our next post: “Free Speech in School, Part 2: Book Banning.”

YesPhonics writes about everything education-related, from homeschool advice to the latest issues facing schools today. To learn more subscribe to our blog or Youtube channel, and feel free to request topics for us to cover in the future!

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iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

How much technology is too much?

iPads in Schools: Pros and ConsSome things about the back to school days never change. Teachers are still asking for #2 pencils and composition notebooks. Parents are still taking photos of their kids as they get on the bus for the first day.

But some things have changed: as schools become more technologically advanced, they’re also becoming more technologically dependent. Smart boards and rented Chromebooks and iPads are now commonplace installations in classrooms. As with almost any situation, this one brings its own trials and benefits. The important thing is to be sure parents and teachers are kept informed of what types of — and how much — technology is best for a child’s learning and development.

What type of technology is best for your purposes?

Out of all the options available for school technology, there seem to be three that dominate the market: SmartBoards, Chromebooks and iPads. It can be a little (or a lot) daunting at first to decide what technology, if any, is best for your students, but a little bit of research goes a long way. Here are a couple common advantages and disadvantages to the popular tech items:

 SmartBoards allow teachers to retain control over the device the entire time it is in use. Students can engage with the board and also play a variety of educational games on it (think Jeopardy with trivia from recent lessons or a two-sided race to click all the prime numbers). This is a big advantage over personal devices for students because it greatly reduces the chance of off-task multi-tasking.

In the average sized grade school classroom, these distracting activities aren’t usually an issue anyways. School-owned devices can be programmed to block non-educational sites, and there’s often a teacher or aide walking through the desks to help students and ensure they’re doing what they should be. But it is important to stop bad technology habits early, before students go into college or the workplace. A 2012 study found that university students who didn’t text, email, use social media during lectures significantly outperformed those who did. The study concluded that “attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

The fact that it’s not a personal device, however, also limits a SmartBoard’s capability. They can really only be used for group activities and lectures. Students can’t work independently with it, which means the activities can’t be tailored to their individual needs. Students can do the same educational activity on a personal device, and be able to go at their own pace, track their progress, and repeat parts they had difficulty in.

Technology should always be used for a purpose — not as a substitute for natural play and family interaction. Click to Tweet 

With all this technology, how much is too much?

There have been multiple studies over the last five years on the impact iPads and other personal devices have on learning, and all have shown some positive benefit.iPads in Schools: Pros and Cons

In 2014, the International Machine Learning Society published data that said the biggest educational advantage that mobile devices have (compared to traditional print materials) is not a better teaching strategy, but simply more motivation factors for the students. Those factors include control over the students’ own goals, a sense of ownership, an entertaining platform, and continuity between contexts afforded by the devices’ portability.

All benefits have their limits, however. The Pediatrics Societies Meeting analyzed parent-reported screen times of 900-plus children aged 18 months, and gave preliminary results in 2017. One out of every five children had about 30 minutes of screen time a day, and as screen time increased, so did the likelihood of up to 50 percent of the children developing a speech delay.It is suggested that children only start using educational technology sparingly, and only after their basic speech patterns have already developed. For most children, this means don’t worry about iPad games and educational television shows until the child is at least two years old.

Then, once you do start introducing technology, ensure that it has set goals, start times, and end times. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that smartphone or tablet use during “family times” such as meals, outings and game times — by parents or children alike — could foster feelings of abandonment and encourage bad behavior by children in attempts to get more attention, and increase distracted thinking (and therefore fatigue) in parents.

For more parental and educational advice, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

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What Happened to Block Scheduling?

What Happened to Block Scheduling?

What Happened to Block Scheduling

Might I suggest a visit to our school?

A guest post by Ann Michaelsen

What Happened to Block Scheduling?I just read this article: “Fiddling with Time in Classrooms” by Larry Cuban, and found it quite interesting. First of all, block scheduling in the USA seems to be very different from what we do in our school: “Block scheduling takes the traditional daily schedule of 6-8 classes a day of between 45-50 minutes–a schedule that dates back to the 1920s–and reorganizes the day into blocks of 60-90 minutes for various subjects on different days of the week.”

In our school, block scheduling is usually no more than two blocks with two subjects. As an example my English class this year is on Mondays from 08:30 until 13:10 with a half hour lunch break from 11:00 till 11:30. Below you can see an example of our schedule for year one students. Color codes tell you that 2 blocks are the most we do each day, and most days we only do one. Tuesdays are covered by the same teacher who can choose between a whole day of geography or social studies. Wednesday the science class has a break in the middle with PE.

Our school has done this successfully for over 12 years now and most students and teachers really love this way of working. (I don’t think you could ever say that everyone in an organization is satisfied at all times). Reading Larry’s post, I found the research that was provided in the article fascinating. Like this one:

Learning in America is a prisoner of time. For the past 150 years, American public schools have held time constant and let learning vary. The rule, only rarely voiced, is simple: learn what you can in the time we make available. It should surprise no one that some bright, hard-working students do reasonably well. Everyone else-from the typical student to the dropout- runs into trouble. (National Education Commission on Time and Learning, 1994)

I know a lot of people in different countries are working on changing the concept of time as the constant. I wrote about that in this article about mastery learning here. There is more from the research Larry provided that you can find here.

Teachers participating in a 4×4 block schedule see fewer students per day, teach fewer classes per day, and have longer planning periods (Rettig & Canady, 1996). Thus, teachers develop closer relationships with their students and are able to provide students with more individualized instruction (Canady & Rettig, 1996). Teachers waste less time on administrative tasks, such as taking roll, announcements, start-up activities, and wrap-up (Irmsher, 1996). In addition to utilizing more engaging instructional strategies, teachers have time to implement more varied and authentic assessment strategies (Freeman & Maruyama, 1995).

I would like to find more current research on the topic.

One of the success criteria in block scheduling is that teachers move from traditional lecture classrooms to more student-centered learning. Click to Tweet

If you can help me there, I would be very happy to hear from you, but what I can add from my own experience is this:What Happened to Block Scheduling? More time for each student, easier to connect and work on student relationships, ample time to help each individual student. When students are absent a day, they only have one (at the most two) subjects to catch up on. (We offer workshops in the afternoons in math). Teachers vary their instructions accordingly, knowing that almost 5 hours is too long a time to spend on traditional lectures. Using technology and exploring deeper learning makes sense when you have block scheduling. I really recommend it! If you are a school leader considering this, please pay us a visit!

Ann Michaelsen is an administrator, teacher and author of 2 books. An American and Norwegian citizen, she is currently working as a Pedagogical Development Leader at Sandvika vgs, a high school in Norway. You can read more from her blog at

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How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have fun

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Child Motivated and Excited

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have funSummer’s coming to a close, vacation trips are over, and back-to-school gear is popping up in all the stores. More important than your kid having the right three-ring binder and matching notebooks is that they have the right mindset for the new school year.

How can you reverse the summer brain drain while still enjoying the last bit of summer?

It used to be said that summer learning loss was only a problem in America, where the average summer vacation is longer than that of most international schools. As a result, most of the research on the topic focuses on American students. A 2015 UK study looking at American vacations and standardized test scores estimated “that students’ learning at best stagnates, or, worst case scenario, losses of up to one month of grade-level equivalent learning occurs. Furthermore, the long summer vacation creates a gap of approximately three months in achievement between children from high and low socioeconomic status households.”

Recent European studies (in which a summer vacation is typically 6-9 weeks, compared to America’s 12), however, have indicated the problem is shared among all schools with any amount of vacation.

Any quality curriculum will assume at the beginning that the student may need a refresher on the information from the previous session. But that refresher is only brief, and if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do now, a couple weeks in advance, to get a major head start on that refresher. These exercises are designed to be built into your daily life activities, so your student will thank you when he or she doesn’t have to sit in front of a textbook for hours, while his or her friends are all out playing.

…if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

How do you start?

How to reverse the summer brain drain These exercises are set up into three weeks, but you can adjust the pace depending on how much time you have until school starts. Most of the activities take ten minutes or less per day, so they can easily be combined.

Week 1: Dig up old curriculum

  • Look up some of the lessons and projects your child worked on in their last session, and bring them up in frequent conversation. Perhaps even show them projects you saved, and ask them how/why they made it the way they did. Simply getting your child to talk about things they learned can jog their memories. Even if the memory’s hazy, the more they talk, the clearer it is likely to become. It’s like a book report without the book.
  • If your student is at the stage where he or she is just beginning to spell, the critical knowledge for them is more procedural. This means it’s more important they know the steps and strategies to sound out words, write the shapes of letters and recognize sight words than it is for them to memorize a specific word list. Try the variety of free PBS games online to reinforce these skills, or make up your own game. Or for a more hands-on approach, you can play the letter drawing game, where you take turns writing a large letter on a piece of paper, and having the other person draw something around it using that shape. (A “Y” for example, could become the trunk and branches of a tree.)
  • Apply lessons to everyday activities. Have them figure out which product gives a better deal at the grocery store, or how many gallons of gas you can get for $20. Talk about chemistry when they’re playing with slime. Ask them to read out the recipe and measure ingredients when you’re cooking.

Week 2: Follow their own interests

  • How to reverse the summer brain drain Take a family trip to the library and let them pick out books that interest them. Many libraries also have children’s story hours or “maker space” time. See what your local branch has to offer.
  • Have your summer movie night be something educational and entertaining like Planet Earth, Dead Poet’s Society, The Great Debaters, Matilda or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Just make sure it’s age appropriate.
  • Take a career field trip. If they want to work with animals, take them to the zoo or a local animal shelter. If they want to be a doctor, find one who would be willing to show them around a clinic. Most people enjoy talking about their jobs, and will more than likely be excited to help an interested young student.

Week 3: Get a head start on the new stuff

  • Take a look at the upcoming curriculum to see what’s in store for your child. If you homeschool, you should already have the materials, and if you do public school, a rough curriculum and reading list should be available from the school administration. You could have your kid start reading a required book or practice some of the first lessons ahead of time, or you can take a more informal approach like with the curriculum in week 1.
  • Emotional preparation is just as important as educational preparation. If you sense your child is nervous about the upcoming school year, it may help him or her to tour the classroom or talk with the teacher before school starts. Or maybe they just need a new back-to-school outfit to increase their confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy them all the trendiest things. As long as they know they have a reliable support system at home, they’re set to have a good school year.

So go out there, enjoy the last few days of summer, and sneak education to your kid like vegetables in spaghetti sauce. For more fun lesson ideas and other educational resources, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

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Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

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Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

For most of my childhood, I had problems with my speech. As mentioned in Part 1, speech errors are normal while children are first learning to talk, but the errors should resolve themselves naturally by the time the child is in kindergarten. My errors, however, weren’t resolved until I was in fifth grade. It took years of speech therapy classes for me to finally pronounce words properly. Looking back, I realize now that there were a few lessons I had back then – both from my school and my family – that I had to unlearn before I could progress.

What should you avoid doing?

Over-emphasizing phonemes

There are three effective speech therapy methods for those with a phonological processing disorder (discussed in part 1):

  1. Demonstrating how to pronounce the sounds correctly
  2. Having the student identify which sounds are correct and incorrect
  3. Having the student repeatedly practice troublesome words.

The first method is where we come to our first common mistake. When teachers and parents demonstrate the correct pronunciation of words, they often over-emphasize phonemes (the units of sound in a word). If a child is dropping his or her r’s, for example, the first reaction is to make the r’s stand out in the demonstration. Rather than saying “rabbit” or “bathroom” normally, many are inclined to say “R-R-Rabbit” and “bath-Room.” This can lead to the student developing disjointed speech patterns, or over-emphasizing the phonemes themselves.

Phoneme awareness is a useful method for articulation students, but should be implemented only after the student is able to read. A 2010 study found that “most children in the study were not cognitively ready for more advanced, abstract phoneme manipulation tasks” until they were able to read, anyways. That way, phonemes can be emphasized more on paper by highlighting/pointing to letters than by vocal cues.

Limiting therapy to professional sessions.

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in TherapyAnother important aspect of therapy is that it should be constant. Professional therapists are helpful, but they can only interact with the student for a couple hours at a time. The role of parents as therapists is increasingly praised in current research, and should be encouraged as often as possible.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities (story time, play time, shared meals, etc.) to make speech therapy seem less like a chore. Check out Mommy Speech Therapy or Home Speech Home for speech therapy activity ideas you can do at home.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities… Click to Tweet 

Allowing people to “parrot” your child

Let’s face it, some speech mistakes are cute, especially when little ones make them. Some mistakes are so cute that adults or other children are inclined to adopt the words themselves. My cousin used to say “namik” for “napkin” when she was two, and our whole family started telling her to wipe her hands on her “namik” at dinner because we thought it was cute. This made it more difficult for her to break the habit when she grew older.

Hopefully, knowing the current research on speech therapy can help parents and educators avoid some of the same difficulties I faced in my education.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


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Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the BasicsSpeech-language impairment has been called the “most common and least diagnosed disability of childhood,” affecting approximately one in every 12 children. 46 percent of children enrolled in early intervention programs have communication impairments, while 26 percent have developmental delays in multiple areas, usually including language skills (NIH). If not identified and treated early on, a child’s communication disorder can lead to behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems later in life.

Nobody expects a baby’s first words to be perfect. They’re going from gurgling to learning a sophisticated language in a couple of months. Bumps in the road are to be expected. Speech development errors are very common in English-speaking preschoolers. These errors usually resolve themselves naturally by the time the child reaches kindergarten. If the errors persist by the time the child is six, or if a younger infant or toddler is missing several milestones, it may be a sign they need extra help from a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist.  before we can help them, we must understand the root of the problem.

What causes speech disorders?

Speech is more than simply knowing what sounds go with what letters. There are a lot of complex processes that go on in a person’s mind and body for them to be able to speak. First, he or she must hear the sounds correctly, both as someone else is saying them and from their own mouths. This is where phonological processing disorders spring from, including:

  • Fronting: when a sound that should form in the back of the mouth forms in the front (e.g. saying “baf” for “bath” or “sue” for “shoe”).
  • Backing: when a sound that should form in the front of the mouth forms in the back (e.g. saying “gog” for “dog”).
  • Consonant deletion: skipping one or multiple consonants in the beginning, middle, or end of words (e.g. saying “seep” for “sleep” or “ouse” for “house”).
  • Metathesis: switching the order of sounds in a word (e.g. saying “pasgetti” for “spaghetti” or “aks” for “ask”).
  • Gliding: substituting “liquid” L and R sounds with W and Y (e.g. saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “yady” for “lady”).
  • Syllable deletion: skipping “weak” syllables, commonly in the middle of longer words. (e.g. “bum-bee” for “bumblebee” or “te-phone” for “telephone”).

photo credit: marcoverch <a href="">A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>The good news about phonological processing disorders (PPDs) is that they are a mere matter of auditory perception. There is nothing physically or mentally stopping a person with a PPD from making the correct sounds. He or she must simply pay attention to which sounds are right and wrong, break his or her old speech habits, and learn new patterns.

Other speech disorders are much harder to overcome with speech classes alone. Physical traits such as poor motor skills or a cleft lip may affect speech, but often require medical attention in order to jump that hurdle. In the same vein, speech disorders can coexist with psychological issues (e.g. trauma or autism), and may call for the help of a counselor or mental health professional.

How effective is treatment?

It will take time, hard work, and patience, but almost all communication disorders can be improved by therapy. Click to Tweet 

According to an Indiana University study in 1998, “children who receive phonological treatment exhibit both narrow and broad changes in their sound systems that enhance their overall intelligibility and general communicative functioning.”

As a bonus, we have more resources available at our fingertips now than previous generations ever dreamed of. In addition to therapy, people with communication and speech disorders canlear secondary language skills (e.g. writing, sign language) and take advantage of modern communication aid apps. We’ve also included an in-depth guide for everything you need to know about communication disorders. 

So don’t give up hope, and look out for our next post, “Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Common Mistakes in Therapy.”

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


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The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

Reading and the Link Between Language Development

The Effects of Reading to InfantsWe’ve all heard the saying, “start them young.” These days, the starting point for formal education is getting younger and younger. People are buying computer coding books for babies and sending three-year-olds to prestigious preschools for $43,600 a year. But don’t worry. One of the best head starts you can give your baby is a lot cheaper: reading to them.

That may sound like common sense, but there’s a lot of science behind the practice of reading to babies. And with science comes questions. Why is reading important? How young should you start? How much time should you spend per day? Do you really have to read Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time? The following information should help you answer all these questions for yourself, while encouraging you in your choice to do what’s best for your child.

Why is reading to infants important?

Studies have shown that there’s a clear link between reading and language development. The more babies hear language being used, the more their brains are stimulated. The more they are stimulated, the more likely they are to start speaking at a healthy age. Establishing this routine when they are young also makes it more likely they’ll enjoy reading when they’re older, because they associate it with valuable family bonding time.

Outside of academics, there are also several emotional benefits to reading to babies. Babies in the womb begin toThe Effects of Reading to Infants hear at 18 weeks. By seven or eight months’ gestation, they can recognize their mother’s voice from other voices, and they respond to it by calming down and lowering their heart rate. For newborns, hearing their mother’s voice is one of the only familiar constants they have in this new world outside the womb, and it can have a powerful calming effect on them. Reading to infants provides emotional benefits to the parents as well. Babies aren’t the only ones going through major life changes in the time after their birth, and reading has been shown to provide parents with a much-needed sense of control, intimacy and normalcy with a newborn.  

How should you do it?

There’s no exact recipe for healthy infant reading habits; the most important thing is that you do it, and do it while they’re still young. Click to Tweet

How young is up to you. If you want to start before they’re born, go ahead. If you want to wait until you can physically hold them in your arms, that’s good too. If you get tired of reading baby books, feel free to read from one of your books, magazines, or newspapers. They’ll develop language skills and bond with you regardless of the content. Both you and baby should enjoy this time, and you should do whatever you need to do to make it not feel like a chore.

You can subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice. Happy reading!


Lariviere, Janice and Janet Rennick. “Parent Picture-Book Reading to Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as an Intervention Supporting Parent-Infant Interaction and Later Book Reading.” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 32(1). Jan. 2011. Web. 1 June 2018.

Marx, Viola and Emese Nagy. “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch.” Public Library of Science 10(6). 8 June 2015. Web. 1 June 2018.

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The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: How to Manage Your Child’s Progress

The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: Grade Level

If there’s one question a homeschooled kid can’t easily answer, it’s what grade they’re in. Sure, your six-year-old is reading at a third-grade level and can identify every species of dinosaur known to man, but a math lesson designed for one day takes them two or three days to complete.

The biggest advantage to homeschool education can also be the biggest challenge; the student is often free to go at his or her own pace. Click to Tweet

A little tipping in the scales of subject areas is normal. High schools offer – and fill – both remedial and advanced subject classes every year for a reason. Some unbalance can even be helpful, as it leads students to develop a “hook,” or an area of expertise that top colleges look for. While parents aim to raise well-rounded individuals with A’s across the board, colleges aim to have well-rounded classes, with a top concert pianist in one slot and a prize-winning robot designer in another. That means the kid who is unremarkable in one area and would rather spend all his time honing his talent in another has nothing to worry about.

So when does falling behind in one subject become worrisome?

Each student and curriculum is unique, and there is no set line dividing what is and isn’t acceptable. Special needs students are even harder to gauge. There are, however, a few research-backed guidelines to help you determine of your student’s academics are within a healthy range.

-Is the student more than one grade level behind in any subjects? In public school, being held back in a remedial class once is okay. Twice is a serious issue. If you homeschool in one of the 23 states with educational neglect statutes, your student being more than a year behind in a subject could spark legal investigations.

-Is the subject in question English, Math or Science? These are called core subjects for a reason, and struggles in them should be addressed early on to avoid problems in the future. If you intend for your child to eventually take a GED, SAT or ACT exam to get into college or get a job, being up to speed on these three subjects is important.

-Does the student’s academic struggles coincide with problems in your parental relationship with him or her? Do you find yourself fighting with or having to comfort your child after every hard test or lesson? A 2016 homeschool study found that a parent-child relationship in homeschooling can have an indirect effect on academic stress by affecting the child’s self-esteem. These issues, if left unresolved, could affect not only the student’s grades, but their mental health.

What can you as a parent do about it?

Don’t fret if your situation matches any of these scenarios. There are several resources and methods at your disposal homeschooler’s balancing actto help get your child back on track, including:

-Switching curriculums. What works for one student may not work for another. It could be they need a different style of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) or they need a program that reinforces the same information through multiple subjects.

-Encouraging the subjects they excel in. Don’t slow down on the lessons they’re advanced in just to allow the slower subjects time to catch up. Having an area of expertise can do wonders for your child’s self-esteem and college portfolio.

-Hiring a tutor or counselor. If academics are affecting your relationship with your child, or the subject matter isn’t your strong suit, having a third party help out can lighten the load, while still giving you control over your child’s education. If money is an issue, look to see if another homeschooling parent would be willing to teach a subject, or if you can receive a mini-grant for homeschooling costs. If you simply need a counselor for emotional stress, many health insurance plans will cover that.

-Doing a little each day. Cramming to meet short-term deadlines is a recipe for disaster. They may pass a quiz enough to graduate to the next lesson, but a week later, they’ll likely forget everything they learned. If catching up means they have to do a little work over weekends or vacation, so be it.

As a parent and a homeschool teacher, you know the needs of your child best. Don’t worry. There’s support for you around every corner! Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice.


Heaton, Elizabeth. “What Kind of Hook Do I Need to Get Accepted Into an Ivy League College?” Huffington Post. 10 August 2017. Web.

“How to Report Educational Neglect in Homeschool Settings in Each State.” Coalition for Responsible Home Education. August 2017. Web.

Mulyadi, Seto, et. al. “The Role of Parent-Child Relationship, Self-esteem, Academic Self-efficacy to Academic Stress.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Vol. 217.) 5 February 2016. pp. 603-608.

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Teaching ESL students

Teaching ESL students

Teaching ESL students

Advice for parents and educators

Teaching ESL studentsTeaching is hard, period. You know this whether you’re a public school teacher or a homeschooling parent. You take on an enormous workload, pull long hours with little or no compensation, and always need to present yourself with a fresh face, whether you’re truly happy or not. And yet there are some things about the process that you won’t even know you’ve been taking for granted until you have to go without them. One of those things is a common language.

Working with students who are learning English as a second language, or ESL, presents a unique problem, because whether they’re a child you’ve adopted or a student in your classroom, you likely won’t share a language with the child you’re teaching. This can be extremely difficult to work through, but if you work diligently, it’s doable. We’ll try to explain the best way to go about teaching ESL students in this post.

The pitfalls of conventional teaching techniques

Right off the bat, teaching ESL students is not like teaching any other students. ESL students are more than just non-native speakers of English; they’re often also very insecure about their lack of fluency in the language, and that might creep into your lessons in ways you don’t anticipate. Communication takes many forms, and it’s much more complicated than the grammar of the language you’re speaking. It’s important to keep that in mind, because you might get less mileage out of your standby teaching techniques when you use them with ESL students.

For instance, it’s standard practice in American teaching to expect students to respond to questions you ask, and to Teaching ESL studentsexplain what they don’t understand if they’re pressed. ESL students, though, might not know exactly how to respond to your questions, and that might frustrate them to the point that they check out. Then, if you ask what they don’t understand, you’ll be dealing with someone who’s substantially less receptive to your teaching than would be normal.

In my experience working with ESL students, they will often develop a dependency on your teaching. This is a problem for teachers in any configuration of languages, but it’s a particular risk for ESL students. Like I’ve outlined above, you might find that your usual Socratic techniques are not working. Your ESL student is not following your questions or has trouble responding to them, so you resort to working through problems with them on a very minute scale. At some point in this, the dynamic might switch to you supplying them with the answers. At that point, you’re just nurturing dependency in the student. Their English is not going to improve, because you’re effectively speaking for them, and they’re going to find it harder in the future to work on their own. In all the teaching you do, that’s the scenario that you should try hardest to avoid.

So what are you supposed to do? If your basic repertoire of teaching techniques is not available, how do you reach an ESL student? There’s no easy answer to that, but there is one rule of thumb I can always recommend.

If your basic repertoire of teaching techniques is not available, how do you reach an ESL student? Click to Tweet

Focusing on the language

Teaching ESL studentsThe key to teaching ESL students is to remain extremely focused on their needs. Always remember that their mastery of English is the most important thing. (ESL students tend to excel in math and science, where the language barrier is lower.) So when you’re working on reading and writing with them, make sure that you stop and work through every grammatical construction at whatever pace you need.

You will probably wind up learning a lot about English. It’s a nice perk of teaching ESL: you learn to explain things like when to use a definite article, when to use an indefinite article, and when to use no article, which you have probably never really thought about as a native English speaker. At first these things can be devilishly difficult to explain to a child who has grown up speaking Korean or Amharic, but it’s important that you work on it, because otherwise your student will develop a lot of linguistic gaps. You want to prepare your students as well as possible for the world they’re about to enter, so you owe it to yourself to slow down and work on the language at a granular level.

Obviously, this is easy if you’re homeschooling than if you’re in a conventional school. Being able to work on things for as long as you need without a district-mandated sword hanging over your head is one of the great advantages of homeschooling. Teaching ESL in a conventional school might require you to organize a special study group for ESL students, or use some quiet reading time to work with your ESL students. In a perfect world, the district would hire a dedicated ESL teacher, but if you’re being asked to teach ESL students yourself, you’re going to need to fit in dedicated language instruction where you can. Try to stay extra-involved with the students’ parents, who will likely be anxious that their children receives the best education they can. But whether you’re in a homeschool or a conventional school setting, remember that the most important thing is to make sure you’re working towards independent, confident English. If you can get even some of the way toward that goal, you’ve done an excellent job.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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Reaching out to struggling students

Reaching out to struggling students

Options for parents and educators

Reaching out to struggling studentsHomeschooling’s not easy. In some ways it’s the hardest thing in the world. Having sole responsibility, not just for a person’s upbringing, but for their education as well—it’s pretty daunting. And yet you can ameliorate most problems in homeschooling with a little help from the community. The internet and the proliferation of at-home courses of study are powerful tools for any homeschooling parent looking for solutions. There are some problems, though, where the little edifice of homeschooling solutions will not be a lot of help.

One of those problems is a failing student. When a student is apparently getting all the help they need and is still struggling, it can be a painful experience for everybody involved—but it’s also a thorny conceptual problem, and you’re not going to get a lot of outside help solving it. Despite all the resources at your disposal in the homeschooling community, nobody knows your children better than you do, and if you aren’t sure what to do, other people’s opinions are not going to be much assistance.

Still, there are heuristics you can use to figure out why your child is struggling. People tend to fail in predictable ways, and if you can figure out the particulars of your student’s difficulties, you can help them improve. We’ll try to provide some advice about those particulars in this post.

Listening to your students

Students in homeschooling situations tend to struggle for one of a few reasons. Do they need structure? Do they need expert instruction in a particular subject area? Do they need to develop study skills on their own? If you can figure out exactly what’s going on, you’re golden. But the rub is figuring out the problem in the first place.

A good rule of thumb is to listen to your student. They might not understand exactly what they’re struggling with, but if you listen to them, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to figure it out together. And I don’t just mean ask them what the problem is, although that certainly helps—you can turn it into part of the curriculum itself. A member of a forum I read while I was researching this post mentioned that her kids had always had trouble sounding out words when they were learning to read. Simply working more on sounding out words didn’t work, but when she asked her kids to write lists of words they had trouble with, a pattern emerged: they were words like light, gnome, and ought. So, she thought, we’ll step back and do some work conceptualizing silent consonants—and it worked. So as a first step, always ask your kids what they’re having trouble with and go from there.

That’s a pretty simple intervention, though, and if you have a student you think might really be failing, chances are you’ve already tried something along those lines. If you’re still not having any luck, we have some basic rules of thumb for what you can try.

As a first step, always ask your kids what they’re having trouble with and go from there. Click to Tweet

Potential solutions for teachers

One thing to try is a step back to basics. Remember, assignments are just a means to an end, and one of the great things about homeschooling is that it allows you the freedom to change your curriculum whenever you need to. When I was in high school, I was terrible at math and I could never seem to remedy the fundamental problems in my understanding of the subject. It was obvious that I needed to work on the foundations of my understanding before I would really be comfortable doing calculus, but with another assignment constantly on the horizon I never had enough room to breathe. Well, homeschooling gives you that room. If you have a student whose understanding of the concepts at hand just seems to have some holes in it, you may have gotten over-reliant on your curriculum, whatever it is, and you might need to take a breather, diagnose whatever conceptual issues your student is hung up on, and focus on those for as long as it takes. It’ll pay off in the long run.

Reaching out to struggling studentsAnother thing might be structure. This comes up a lot in the blogs I’ve read on the subject—a student without enough structure might be neglecting their assignments, and it might be on you to provide some of that structure. If your student seems bright and engaged but just doesn’t do the work, it might be good to implement a study hall as part of your homeschooling, when you stop teaching for a certain amount of time and let your child simply work on their assignments. This is different from simply letting school be out for the day—you should make sure they’re doing their work in a public space, under supervision, so that they don’t simply drift off. In my experience, even the most dreamy student will finish an assignment if they’re kept on track for the first few minutes of work.

(You might also want to radically reduce the amount of structure if you think your student would do better with more room to be creative. But that’s much more intuitive than the paragraph above, so I won’t belabor it here.)

If your student is struggling despite the fact that they seem to understand all the relevant concepts and be comfortable with the level of structure you’re providing, then the problem might lie with something outside the classroom. If you suspect that might be the case, I’ll return to my above point about talking to your student. There’s no substitute for good communication with your student, and that goes for personal issues as well as academic ones. In fact, if there’s one overriding heuristic I’d like you to take away from this post, it’s that. If you have a student who’s genuinely struggling, the most important thing is to let them express why. It’s easy to get so caught up in your teaching that you forget to communicate, but sooner or later it will become a classroom problem, and you should always address it before it gets to that point.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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