I’ve been getting a lot of emails recently asking how we homeschool our dyslexic kids in 7th grade. I think that the concern lies in that we know our middle school aged kids are getting older and that more and more is going to be required of them academically in the coming years. If our kids are struggling to learn because of dyslexia, this time can be worrying.
The middle school years are transitional in many ways. There are significant physical and emotional changes that are taking place during these years that were part of the reason that middle schools were started in the first place. Middle school students from 6th through 8th grade don’t quite have an elementary school mindset and are not quite ready for high school.
Middle school is a time to help our kids understand their growing minds and bodies and also to begin to prepare our kids for higher level learning that will be required of them as high school students. This understanding has been helpful for me as I plan for how to homeschool my dyslexic middle schoolers.
In the younger years, we focus a lot on experiential, hands-on learning. We learn history by reading good literature. We learn science by planting a garden, studying nature, raising animals, and doing simple experiments. We learn to organize our thoughts for writing by practicing writing’s precursor, narration.
Homeschooling middle school is a time of transition to a future of more independent learning. Since I am homeschooling with the end in mind, I am looking in the middle school years to what skills my kids will need as they enter in to their high school years.
Remediation for the Dyslexic Middle School Child
We’ve talked about remediation – building (or repairing) a strong foundation in reading, writing, spelling and math. This can be done at home but can also involve intense, systematic instruction or tutoring from a qualified dyslexia tutor in areas of academic weakness.
I continue to offer remediation for my kids during the middle school years. However, if your middle school-aged child is still significantly behind – say 3rd grade or below in reading level – I recommend seeking out the help of a certified dyslexia tutor. In my experience, even our kids that did not receive the benefits of my current knowledge of what really works with dyslexia, most of our kids were beginning to read decently on their own by 12 years old. If your child is still struggling significantly – they would definitely benefit from some intensive help.
In our home, middle school remediations have been:
- Continuing with an Orton-Gillingham reading program; especially this one
- Finding a certified dyslexia tutor
- Modifying curriculum to the child’s ability
- Working one-on-one in other trouble spots like math and spelling
Middle school is also the time when I begin to introduce more in the way of accommodations. Accommodations will help kids become more independent learners.
Accommodations for the Dyslexic Middle School Child
Accommodations are tools that we give our kids so that they can express themselves at their intellectual ability despite their slow or inaccurate reading, writing, and spelling skills. I love how Brock and Fernette Eides of The Dyslexic Advantage look at accommodations.
“As a wheel chair requires a ramp to enter a building so a dyslexic learner needs accommodations to show what they really know.” Remember, if the goal of our instruction is that our kids gain knowledge – what difference does it make how they attain that knowledge. Read this post for more information on accommodations that are helpful for students with dyslexia.
It is in the middle school years that I ramp up on the accommodations, introducing helpful assistive technologies so that my kids can continue to learn at an increasingly complex level as independently as possible.
Accommodations we have used in middle school:
- audio books
- curricula with audio and video components
- text-to-speech apps
- speech-to-text apps
- spell checking apps
- allowing narration of papers (in the absence of speech-to-text apps)
Setting Goals for the Middle School Child With Dyslexia
The beauty of homeschooling kids with dyslexia is the freedom to create individualized lessons for our kids. In that vein, it would be somewhat pointless for me to list a set of ‘goals for middle school students’.
However, by looking forward to the skills we want our kids to have before they leave home, we can set some long term goals and then work backwards to set individualized goals for our kids today.
Long-Term Homeschool Goals
These are some of the long terms goals for our homeschool family:
- Be able to take notes during a lecture or talk of some kind
- Be able to write a 5 paragraph essay (I said long term – stop freaking out!)
- Be able to learn from a text book
- Be able to take a test confidently
- Be able to discuss ideas articulately
- Be able to manage time effectively
- Be able to perform higher level math
- Be able to understand their learning strengths and weaknesses
- Be able to fluently use assistive technology where needed
- Understand the flow of History
- Understand the vocabulary and workings of basic physical and life sciences
Depending on your child’s goals for after high school, some of these goals may be unnecessary. Choose goals that fit your unique child!
How to set Short-Term Goals in Middle School
Remember that many of these goals are the end product and will take years of practice to perfect. Students with dyslexia benefit greatly from direct instruction in how to learn.
Essay writing: Our kids grew up liking to write even though they were terrible spellers. I learned early on not to correct spelling (unless asked) on recreational writing. As our kids neared high school we used several resources (see below) to help them think more about how to organize their writing. Our goal was not perfect writing but a certain ease with the written word so that when they entered high school, they had a decent understanding of how to organize a paragraph or paper and could focus more on style and technique more appropriate for that stage of learning. Read this post for more ideas on Teaching Writing to Kids With Dyslexia. We also did a lot of narration before my kids had the bandwidth to tackle formal writing. Read this post to learn how to use narration in your homeschool and why it is an excellent introduction to formal writing.
Note-taking: I started our kids on note taking while in church. I just sent them with a little notebook and asked them to take notes during their class. Note-taking is a skill that develops over time and with practice so get them started now.
Learning from a text book: Partially because I was looking to teach this particular skill and partly because I had a houseful of young kids that still needed a lot of my time, I purchased several classes of Switched-On-Schoolhouse for my middle schoolers beginning in 7th grade. History and Science were the subjects that seemed to be slipping through the cracks so these are the subjects that we chose. What I liked about SOS was that it followed a typical scope and sequence and style of a traditional textbook curriculum and, since it is all on a computer, offered a text-to-speech option that was very helpful. Read this post on the SQ3R Method for teaching kids to learn from non-fiction sources like textbooks.
Be able to take a test confidently: Using SOS (see above) was also helpful in teaching my kids about test taking. The SOS program allows highlighting of text so that our kids could easily learn to highlight what was important in a passage and then go back later and reread those passages to study for a test. We also discovered the Quizlet app (a flashcard app) during this time and completely love it for its flexibility and ease of use.
Be able to discuss ideas articulately: The middle school years are a time when our growing children’s minds are beginning to change from concrete understanding to more abstract reasoning. Ever notice how much your tweens love to argue? It is important for kids of this age to be able to discuss points of history or what ever else they are learning about. Make time for this!
Time management: We have some kids who are naturally organized and motivated and others who are not. Every day I write each child’s school requirements in a spiral bound notebook for them to check off as completed. We also have chore lists. It has been said that it takes 30 days to build a habit. I have seen this to be true. If I implement these check lists and patrol them faithfully for at least 30 days, the activities become habit. Kids with dyslexia often have trouble with executive function (a fancy term for organization) and many will also have some kind of attention deficit. If you’re looking for what to do about the child who is constantly ‘forgetting’ to do their chores or schoolwork, read this post.
Be able to perform higher level math: I’ve had kids who could solve Algebra problems in their heads and others who struggled with Algebra throughout their high school years. What I have come to know is that the kids who were not strong in math – despite much effort – went on to pursue careers that did not require math. I don’t say this to dissuade you from teaching higher level math but to encourage you not to over worry about this area! That said, take the middle school years as a time to really assess what your kids know. Some kids can skip a 7th grade curriculum – that is mostly review of previously learned information – and some do well to really hone their basic math skills before moving on to Pre-Algebra. Take the time needed to build this foundation and don’t feel pressure to be at or above grade level if your child really isn’t there. Read this post for more information on teaching Math to kids with dyslexia.
Be able to understand their learning strengths and weaknesses: As your child is pushed to perform at higher levels of learning, you want to begin to hone in on how your child learns best. While my kids were doing SOS for History and Science, one child absolutely needed the text-to-speech function of the program to get through the material while another child preferred – after some experimentation on her part – to simply read the material. One child loved the Quizlet app for vocabulary review while the other learned that she needed to write down the definitions on flash cards in order to remember. Helping kids to understand that all people learn differently and to look for ways that they learn best has been an important life skill for all of our kids to learn.
Be able to fluently use assistive technology where needed: Our Resources page has lists of assistive technology and apps that are specifically appropriate for people with dyslexia. Choose an area that your child needs to work on and teach them how to use some form of assistive technology that will help. Dyslexics will likely need this kind of support through much of their lives.
Understand the flow of History: I love the Classical method of teaching history. Beginning with Ancient History and moving chronologically through to Modern Times in cycles that repeat over the elementary and middle school years has been a great way for our kids to grasp the basic flow of history. If you feel that your kids don’t have this down yet, try working with a timeline through the middle school years. Creating this visual can be super helpful for holding events and people in their place.
Understand the vocabulary and workings of Physical and Life Science: See our curriculum recommendations below.
Our Favorite Middle School Curriculum for Kids With Dyslexia
These are curricula that our family has used and enjoyed. That being said, some kids liked them more than others depending on their preferred style of learning. These are suggestions not absolutes. You will need to experiment with your kids to find a good fit.
- All About Reading: An Orton-Gillingham based curriculum that teaches the way kids with dyslexia learn.
- Reading Horizons: The Reading Horizons Elevate online program is an excellent Orton-Gillingham based curriculum for older struggling readers age 10 and up. Our young teens have used this successfully as a form of remediation. Read this post for my complete review of Reading Horizons Elevate program.
- All About Spelling: An Orton-Gillingham based spelling program from the makers of All About Reading.
- Sequential Spelling: Not O-G but uses a systematic way to find the patterns in words. Many dyslexics love this program.
- Easy Grammar: An easy to use program that teaches parts of speech by first recognizing prepositions and prepositional phrases.
- Daily Grams: Short daily practice in punctuation, capitalization and other basic sentence writing rules.
- Winston Grammar: A hands on approach to learning parts of speech.
- Write Shop Junior : Recommended for up to 6th grade but can be useful in delayed 7th or 8th graders. This is an excellent introduction to the writing method. Systematic instruction that is fun!
- Jump In: A Workbook for Reluctant and Eager Writers: Recommended for grades 6-8.
- Essentials in Writing
- Progeny Press: Literature guides by grade level. Choose several to go through per year.
- Sonlight: A literature-based curriculum full of wonderful living books. Many people use their reading lists to create their own curriculum or read aloud schedules.
- Math U See: a hands on approach to math
- Teaching Textbooks: No reading required. Lessons presented in video format. Enter the answers to each problem write in to the computer. Learn how to do missed problems immediately.
- Switched on Schoolhouse: A computerized program that is purchased by subject. Pick a subject or two that your middle schooler might be interested in to teach them how to learn from a traditional textbook format.
- Story of the World: History taught through story. Get the activity book to round out this curriculum with hands on activities and living books that correspond to the period of History that you are studying.
- My Father’s World: A Christian curriculum that combines the study of all subjects (except Math and Reading Instruction) based around the study of History. A great, interconnected way to study that is also designed to be used easily with more than one student at a time. Your whole family will study the same things, at different levels.
- Switched on Schoolhouse: I’ve mentioned this program several times now in this post. This program serves the purpose of helping kids to become more independent learners by use of accommodations.
- TOP Science: Tons of hands on science activities for all ages.
- Real Science 4 Kids: Offers grade-level kits as well as unit study materials for a wide range of subjects geared for the middle school crowd.
A Parent’s Mindset
It is important to note that although this post talks a lot about traditional learning and grade levels, homeschoolers should exercise their freedoms when teaching their own unique children. While we certainly want our kids to be well-educated, it is okay for that to look different for your family.
We can (and should) look for own kids’ interests and abilities and tailor their curricula and requirements accordingly. We are looking for progress here.
Most kids, whose love of learning has remained in tact, begin to really thrive in middle school. This may be in 6th grade or 8th grade – or maybe later. No two kids will learn the same so be open to your child’s unique needs and abilities.
Whew! That was a long post. I heard it said a while back that the most important years to homeschool are the middle school years. Our kids are particularly vulnerable during these years. Homeschooling your middle school child may not be the easiest thing to do but it is often the best thing that you can do!