Our Experience With Classical Conversations Challenge A With Dyslexia

by | Nov 23, 2016 | Resources, Uncategorized | 22 comments

Can a 7th grader with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD succeed in Classical Conversations Challenge A program?

We are wrapping up our first semester of Challenge A. The rumors are true. The Classical Conversations Challenge program is, well, challenging.  However, it is the highest quality education I have seen in my 20+ years of homeschooling and well worth the investment of time and effort.

Challenge A is rigorous for all students whether dyslexic or not.  Our daughter did complete two years of Foundations and Essentials.  After much counsel, we held her back from starting Challenge until her 8th-grade year so that she could have one more year of Foundations and Essentials.  Many families go this route and I do not regret for a minute making that choice.

Can a 7th grader with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and ADHD succeed in Classical Conversations Challenge A program?  I am answering that question and more in this break down of our experience with CC Challenge A with dyslexia.

Our Classical Conversations ‘Challenge A’ Experience by the Course


In Class:  Rhetoric for the first semester of Challenge A consists of weekly reading assignments in It Couldn’t Just Happen as well as memorizing three new ‘catechism’ questions each week.  Catechism questions are key points taken from each week’s reading.

At Home:  Because of the volume of material to be memorized each week, we opted right away to use the Quizlet app to review the catechism questions.  While handwriting has been linked to better learning and memory, that is not always the case for students with dysgraphia.  We began by reading It Couldn’t Just Happen (ICJH) out loud with her 6th-grade sister who will be in Challenge A next year.  We have had a ton of great conversations.  After a few weeks, my daughter took charge of the reading that is broken down into very manageable daily assignments.

The study method that CC teaches the kids to use is an excellent lifelong tool for learning non-fiction from a text. Weekly assignments are broken up into smaller daily assignments in seminar each week.

  • Day 1:  Scan the assigned chapter’s title, charts and graphs, section titles, images, and captions and write a sentence or two on what you think the chapter will be about.
  • Day 2:  Read the chapter like it is a novel, ignoring pictures and graphs, etc.  Make a list of vocabulary words not known, and highlight in blue things you found interesting.
  • Day 3:  Using the Rhetoric Study Guide from the CC Challenge A Guide write down each section title and write in one sentence the main point of that section.
  • Day 4:  Read through assigned chapter again and review questions at the end of the chapter with parents.

The content of Rhetoric is highly engaging and our dyslexic daughter had no issues with the content or assignments.  Consistent review of the catechism questions will be important for mastery.



In Class:  Science in the first semester of Challenge A consists of weekly research assignments on an assigned topic from the field of Natural Science.  Students research the topic using simple books with the key being similar to the ‘summarizing a text’ lessons in the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) program.  Kids in grades 4- 6 who participate in the Classical Conversations Essentials program will have three years of IEW instruction.  Students illustrate their papers and include the paper and drawing in a Science Journal.  During the weekly Challenge A seminar, students present their paper and drawing to the class.

At Home:  At first, our daughter’s papers were fairly short.  The goal of Science in Challenge A is to improve research skills.  Our dyslexic daughter already enjoys researching and she also loves to write (although she types and spelling isn’t 100%) and so was not too much of an issue.  Two years of IEW was a big help.  Prepping to present her paper was not an issue either since she has had 2 years (the program is 3 years long but we started late) of weekly presentations in the Classical Conversations Foundations program.



In Class:  Geography in the Challenge A program involves learning to draw the world by memory and labeling territories, countries, states, capitals, major waterways and land masses over the course of the year.  Students also learn 5-6 geography terms each week.

At Home:  Sheppard Software World Geography Games was a life saver for my daughter.  She was able to learn all of the territories and capitals of Canada during the first week and easily drew the maps each week.  Learning the entire United States in 2 weeks brought her to tears so I recommend having your kids really work on learning this some before entering Challenge A.  All of the kids had trouble with this and all of the parents allowed some scaling back.  At the end of the first semester, students are to draw the entire western hemisphere from memory to the best of their ability.  We scaled back on how many physical features she was required to learn, focusing on countries, territories, states, and capitals and major bodies of water and landforms.  Even with this scaling, she has a vast knowledge of world geography.

Composition With the Lost Tools of Writing

Composition in the Challenge A program consists of learning to use the tools of the Five Common Topics in developing a persuasive essay.

I was very pleased with the writing program used in Challenge A – the Lost Tools of Writing (LTW) from the Circe Institute.

The program systematically introduces each of the 5 Common Topics (Definition, Comparison, Circumstance, Relationship, and Testimony) kids write rudimentary persuasive essays; one paper every three weeks based on the current literature assignment.

The teacher’s manual gives a good overview and summary of each essay and the online video instruction is a must watch, extremely helpful tool.

A key takeaway for LTW is that students in Challenge A are being introduced to the tools of writing. Like an inexperienced carpenter’s apprentice, students are taught what the tools are and how to use them but not expected to make anything highly skilled.  Remember that LTW will be repeated the following two years in Challenge B and Challenge A.  I understand this year to be one of exposure, not mastery.

I read somewhere that a better name for the Lost Tools of Writing would be the Lost Tools of Thinking. I can see that my daughter is learning to think more deeply about her proofs and I love being able to walk with her through this process.


Math in Challenge A consists of an hour of math discussion and mental math activities based off weekly lessons (completed at home) in Saxon 8/7.

After much counsel with other Challenge A parents and our daughter’s Challenge A tutor, we decided to stick with Teaching Textbooks for Math.

The reasons for this are:

  • she was doing really well with Teaching Textbooks
  • she can do it independently
  • I didn’t want to have to learn a new math program as well as all the other new programs in Challenge A

So, how did it go?  Just fine.  She didn’t always know all of the math that was being discussed but it didn’t stop her from enjoying and learning from the conversations.



Latin in Challenge A uses the Henle First Year Latin text.

If you’re like me, Latin was a big unknown and was approached with more than a little trepidation.  There are three other dyslexic students in our Challenge A class.  One is only learning the vocabulary in Latin and I have always held that option in the back of my mind for our daughter.  So far, I haven’t felt the need to play that card.

Much like the Classical Conversation’s Essentials program, Latin in Challenge A feels a lot like being thrown in at the deep end of the pool without a ‘floaty’.  There is a LOT to learn and although they are working through the text slowly, keeping up with Latin has been a challenge.  Now in our third year of CC Essentials, (an in-depth grammar and writing course for kids in 4-6th grades), I understand the 3-year cycle.  Year 1 was a blur and we were able to master a small portion of the material.  Year 2, we picked up more, and now, in Year 3, we are finally mastering the content.  I believe that that will be the case with Henle Latin and so we press on.

Our creative, experienced tutor has done a fabulous job teaching Latin and one of the parents, who has had several kids go through Henle Latin, hosts a Latin study group each week for two hours where the kids go through their exercises together.

So while initially, I tried to keep up with the Latin, after about 6 weeks, I had to let go.  Our dyslexic daughter is a whiz with the vocabulary and enjoys the challenge of learning new words.  The grammar has been more difficult.  I should mention that our daughter is a super easy-going kid and doesn’t sweat not knowing everything (unlike her poor mother).

I am reassured after speaking to several moms of Challenge A kids with dyslexia, that her knowledge of Latin will come together.  Dyslexic learners like to understand the big picture first and then add details.  I prefer to understand all the little pieces and fit them into one big whole.  I am trying to let go of how I think Latin study should look and am in close communication with our daughter’s Challenge A tutor on her progress.

Latin is definitely a difficult class and a lot of work.  Remember each subject should take only an hour per day. After that, parents should scale the work to meet the needs of their child.

Key Takeaways for Challenge Program and Dyslexia:

There is a huge learning curve during the  first 4 weeks.  You will likely feel like you can’t keep up and that you will never get organized.  Not true.  You will.

  • Find a designated workspace as soon as possible
  • Try making a checklist for each day’s work.  We used a dry erase board but you could use a student planner or spiral notebook.
  • Know that developing a daily routine will take some time because there is just so much to organize.

Spending only 1 hour per day, per strand.  This is a CC guideline.  If you find that you are taking longer, look for ways to scale back.  There are lots of scaling tips in the CHA guide.

  • Use these struggles to teach problem-solving and time management skills.  Talk through each difficulty and brainstorm ways to manage them.
  • If you have weekday activities, plan on spending some time in the evenings and weekends to finish Challenge A assignments.

Look for accommodations to help with areas that are taking a lot of time.

Find a good balance of independence as soon as possible.

  • Working alongside your student will help you to see the areas in which he or she might be struggling.  Do this until you get systems in place that help with this.
  • Talk about how it’s going regularly.  Find out what is working and what isn’t and brainstorm together ways to help.
  • Encourage grit.  If your child learns nothing but that value and discipline of hard work, your year will be a success.  Of course, they will learn much more than that!


Because I have younger kids in the Foundations and Essentials program, I am unable to sit in class with my Challenge A daughter.  I do check in with her tutor at the end of every class to see how she is doing and to be certain that she is participating in class and keeping up.  I love that her tutor knows her character so well and encourages diligence, friendship, and flexibility.

Unlike the Classical Conversations Foundations and Essentials program, the CC Challenge tier is a drop-off program.  I strongly recommend, however, staying highly involved with your child’s learning. This includes checking all assignments each week for completeness, quizzing kids on their memory work, and keeping in regular communication with your child and their tutor.

Seeing the Big Picture

I am looking at this year as an enormous catalyst for character and habit growth.  If she learns half of what she is studying, and learns to be diligent with her studies and enhances her ability to think, I will be a very happy mama.

The biggest complaint that I hear from parents of dyslexics about the Classical Conversations program is that their kids are not performing as well as other students.  For example, their child is not as quick to recall facts, not as detailed in their maps, or not as quick to understand and remember Latin grammar rules.  This very well may be true.

In my experience teaching kids with dyslexia over the past 20 years, I have to say “Stop comparing your kids to other kids!”  Your child is uniquely gifted and those gifts are different from other kids.  The freedom for our children to be who they were created to be is a HUGE part of homeschooling in the first place.  Even more importantly, is teaching our kids to understand themselves and appreciate their differences.

That was an epic post!  Please leave your comments or questions below.  Let’s start a conversation!

More Posts on Classical Conversations and Dyslexia

Classical Conversations and Dyslexia:  Yes or No?

Accommodations and Modifications for the Dyslexic Challenge A Student



  1. Haley

    Thank you, thank you for this post!! I have a dyslexic daughter who has done 3 yrs of Foundations and 2 in Essentials. We have been trying to decide if moving on to Challenge A next year is the best choice. Your post has helped me with that decision! Thank you.

  2. Amy

    Do you have any suggestions for making accommodations and modifications for a Dyslexic Challenge B Student? My son is currently enrolled in Challenge B and is struggling with Latin. He is overwhelmed with the amount of information there is to memorize and the fast pace at which the lessons are being presented. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Marianne

      Hi Amy. My recommendations would be similar to those offered for Challenge A.
      So far in Challenge A my daughter is able to keep up with Latin if she studies hard each week. She is definitely not the top of her class in Latin and I AM OKAY WITH THAT. All Challenge families scale back from one degree to another. It is expected. I would scale back on the Latin, perhaps only requiring your son to learn the vocabulary.

  3. Amy Summers

    Thank you for your post. We just finished up our first semester of Challenge A and my son is dyslexic as well. We used Shepperd for geography which has been such a blessing. We ended up dropping Latin because it was too frustrating for him (his dyslexia is severe). Instead we are using our dyslexia tutoring (Barton) in place of Latin and will eventually end up doing American Sign Language as a language (which is recommended for dyslexic students since mastering a foreign language can be almost impossible for some). For research, my son uses Learning Ally. We download his books and he listens to them. As he is listening, he stops the audio and types or speaks into his computer (using Dragon software) a fact that he finds interesting. He then continues through the book and lists facts as he goes. After he’s read all the books and listed his facts, we group them (similar to LTW) into similar groups. It has helped him not feel so overwhelmed at the volume of information he finds researching. We have also lifted the requirements from one research paper a week to every other week so that he can really focus on the process of researching and not be stressed to just get “something done.” That has helped tremendously. I would love to hear how dyslexic students do in Challenge B, as we are looking into that for next year. Thanks again for your post!

  4. Dawn Trogdon

    Thanks for your blog post! We are in our first year of Foundations/Essentials at age 11. I don’t think we are ready for Challenge yet. Your comment about about starting Challenge A as your daughters 8th grade makes me happy. I am a little concerned about the social aspect since my son has made friends this year that will move to Challenge next year. Any comments on how you handled this?

    • Marianne

      It was a minor issue. We talked about why it would be better to have her wait a year and since she agreed with the reasons, and was a little afraid of Challenge A, it worked out fine. This particular daughter is super easy going and not overly self-conscious. If she was that way, I may have considered starting her in 7th grade.

  5. Patty

    My daughter has dyslexia and just finished the first semester of Challenge A. She only had one year of Foundations and Essentials. We scaled back on Geography as you did. She can label a blank map but it takes her forever to draw one freehand. We used geography songs to memorize the countries, capitals ECT. She loves Latin but is not the best in her class. She is very happy where she is and completely enjoys the program. She types all of her literature papers. We are very pleased with her progress this year. It is hard work but she really enjoys it.

    • Marianne

      Your attitude is very similar to ours Patty. Overall, I have seen HUGE growth in organization, motivation and the ability to THINK. I don’t mind if she doesn’t master everything they are being taught. 🙂

  6. Amy

    Love this post! We are in our very first Challenge A year with my dyslexic daughter and I was so concerned about it as well that I almost quit CC after a five year investment! Knowing there was no way we could give up something we love so much, we moved forward and I don’t regret it for a second! SO thankful that you wrote about your experience! Loved your daughters story!!

  7. Deborah

    My daughter with dyslexia has been in public school. We are considering CC for 7th grade/Challenge A. Will it be a hard adjustment jumping into it without having done CC previously?

    • Marianne

      I think if you plan to work with her and get her, that she will be fine. The Latin is rigorous even with a background in the earlier levels of CC. If you learn it with her, you will know what types of scaling will be most effective for her. That would be the only area that I could see a potential issue.

  8. Robin

    Hello. Thank you so much for your post. I am considering Challenge 1 for my son next school year, 2018-2019. He has dyslexia, but your post has helped me to see that it is possible! I am wondering if you finished Challenge A and moved on to Challenge B this year? How is it going? Thanks!

    • Marianne

      Hi Robin. Yes, we did! I need to write a post about that. Challenge B has been excellent. Again, it is a challenge but it is such a rich learning environment that my daughter loves it. She doesn’t always finish her assignments each week but she is engaged and loving the learning and community. I am beyond blessed that she loves to learn and works hard.

  9. Tamra Millikan

    Thanks for this great information. We have done CC Foundations for 4 years, Essentials last year, and IEW Live On-Line class this year instead of Essentials. Our boys will be 7th grade next year and we are considering Challenge A. Can you please compare/contrast IEWs Writing Program with the Lost Tools of Writing? How are they similar and/or different? Thanks so much!

  10. C. P.

    Hi everyone!
    Thank you for such a wonderful post. I feel completely alone in this. My son 13, has dyslexia and dysgraphia with short term memory issues. I feel he may not be capable of doing this course (A). He can’t organize his thoughts to write effectively, punctuation is lost on him for the most part, he has struggled to remember the months of the year in order, and he struggles in remember math facts as well. However, he can remember every word to a song he likes, and verbally he is on level. Should we even attempt CC, or would it frustrate him to the point of not even trying again. He is a hands on learner, and definitely not a word/book smart kid. He is highly intelligent, and capable of learning but maybe not in this capacity? What do you all who have experience suggest? Thanks, C.P.

    • Marianne

      First of all, you definitely aren’t alone! Lots of us wonder about this. 🙂
      Has your son had any CC Foundations or Essentials? They are super helpful for preparing kids for Challenge. My observations on this are that you would be surprised by how much your child can actually do. A lot of parents have to help and support their kids during Challenge A to make sure they are understanding the assignments. It does pay off though and kids usually rise to the occasion. The reason it works so well with our dyslexic kids is that the learning is so connected and a lot of seminar is discussions on what they worked on at home the previous week. I think it would be a good idea to try it for a year – expecting to need to support him – and then reevaluate. There is a lot of flexibility in CC for scaling back if needed. From our experience, different kids excel in different areas in class. I imagine that your son will find a way to shine as well.

  11. Sue

    Thank you for this post. It is encouraging to hear that other dyslexic students have done Challenge A and done well. We, too, will be starting Challenge A in the fall. We have had 5 years of Foundations and 3 years of Essentials. So we have done the prep work. My concern is that David gets overwhelmed easily. One of his greatest challenges lies in his slow processing. This just means things take him longer to do than others. I believe he can do the work, but not at the same pace. We will do some scaling.
    I am most excited about Challenge A because David is a thinker. He enters into discussions easily. He will so enjoy and learn from the weekly meetings!

    • Marianne

      Because they do the prep work for class at home, they can take as long as they need to finish. Challenge is excellent for thinkers! He will love the discussions and friendships.

  12. Christa Bryant

    I’m so glad to read this. My daughter is 14 and will be starting Challenge A. She has had 2 years of f/E. I’m nervous for her, but she loves the little class she is with and the tutor knows her. It is so gratifying to hear that others have found success in the scaling. I tutor Essentials somImwill only be able to spend the mornings with her. Basically I’m just scared!!!

    • Marianne

      I think even parents of traditional learners are nervous about moving up to Challenge! I am glad that you are encouraged though!

  13. Amanda Thoma

    This is our first year doing CC. We had a lot of fun with homeschool the last 3 years, very little writing, lots and lots of oral testing of comprehension and such. Lots of hands on Feild trips and fun videos. I wanted to offer her something more substantial as a high school experience. My daughter has both Dyslexia and Dysgraphia and we are drowning in challenge 1! It’s just the first 3 weeks but I’m seriously questioning my sanity in thinking we could handle this! So much writing and memory work and they expect so much independence. I also can’t sit in there with her, tho I would like to, because as you know, that calls more attention to her that she already doesn’t want to be singled out for. Her anxiety is already through the roof. I’m just not sure this is going to work out. Even using learning ally I can see my daughter falling back into that same public school darkness we fought so hard to get free from.

    • Marianne

      Hi Amanda. Starting CC in Challenge I would be very difficult for anyone! I would recommend having a talk with her tutor about ways to scale back the curriculum. For example, I would only do vocabulary for Latin. The other kids have had 3 years of Latin already and the program moves quickly. Get the Quizlet app to study Latin vocab. The American documents strand should be done with a parent because of the old language used. You may be able to scale back enough that she can still enjoy the class discussions without feeling totally overwhelemd!



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