Can Kids With Dyslexia Succeed in Classical Conversations?

Can Kids With Dyslexia Succeed With Classical Conversations

After homeschooling kids with dyslexia for 20 years, I’ve tried just about every homeschool curriculum out there.  At least it feels that way and a quick look at my bookshelves pretty much confirms it.  Trying, tweaking and switching out homeschool curricula is just part of the homeschool experience whether your kids have dyslexia, as 7 of my 8 kids do, or not.

One thing I never considered for more than 5 minutes, however, was Classical Conversations.  If you aren’t familiar with Classical Conversations (CC) it is a homeschooling approach based on the 3 phases of the classical education model;  Grammar, Dialectic and Rhetorical.

When most people think of CC they think of children of superior IQ chanting long lists of Latin verbs and reciting elaborate passages from memory.  No parent of dyslexic child would dare to consider such a rigorous program, right?  And then a friend of mine, whose son is dyslexic, started a CC group in our town.  I emailed her and asked her how her dyslexic son managed such a rigorous academic load, full of foreign language, grammar and {gasp!} memory work.

He was doing great and here’s why.

Classical Conversations is designed in the elementary years, or in CC terms, the grammar phase also known as Foundations, to have a tutor teach the kids (and parents who stay with their kids throughout the day) once a week and then the parents choose how much or how little their kids do during the week between the weekly CC community days – days that all students and parents meet for classes.  In the grammar phase, during Foundations, kids learn and memorize the vocabulary from Geography, History, Science, Art & Music, Math, Latin, English Grammar, and Public Speaking.  Seems daunting doesn’t it?

We just finished our first 6 weeks of Classical Conversations with our 4 youngest kids in the Foundations Class and our experience so far has been amazing.

classical conversations dyslexia 2

Questions about Classical Conversations That Parents of Dyslexics Want to Know

The following questions have to do with the Foundations program for kids preschool to 6th grade.  I’ll talk more about the Essentials Program which is a writing and grammar program for kids from 4-6th grade that takes place in the afternoon after Foundations later in this post.

How much reading is there?
Really none.  All of the learning takes place using the songs,  games and hands on activities.

Do they have to write?
No.  They do draw during the Art session but there is no writing required in class.

How on earth can they memorize so much random information?
The vocabulary learned is learned through songs, chants and games.  The new information is introduced each week and then parents review the info at home using materials available through the CC website.  The method is multisensory, hands on and interactive.  Our dyslexic kids are loving it and are learning as well as any other child in their classes.

Classical Conversations dyslexia 3

Essentials and the Dyslexic Student

Essentials is an English grammar and writing program for kids in 4-6th grades that meets in the afternoons for 2 hours after Foundations.  Essentials is a complete language arts course but there is surprisingly little writing that goes on in class.  Students compose sentences and learn the rules of writing by talking about them (called the dialectic model). Parents learn about English grammar and writing, too, because they sit in class with their kids. They watch the parent tutor (teacher) model the lesson and then teach as much or as little as they want their kids to learn from the lesson at home.

Writing and Grammar
My initial reaction to Essentials was to be completely overwhelmed.  There is a lot of detailed grammar information presented in the first weeks that was completely over my head even as a college graduate with 6 total years of foreign language study!  However, we stuck with it and as time has progressed our tutor (teacher) has been systematically laying a foundation of grammar knowledge and usage that is making more and more sense.  The dialectic model of discussion takes the pressure off of kids.  They can participate if they want to and I have found that my kids both are inspired and encouraged by the dialogue and are eager to participate.

Math Drill
Grammar instruction lasts for 45 minutes followed by 30 minutes of math practice.  During the math drill, kids practice mental math computations  by playing games with numbers. Using dice, whiteboards, cards, and fun games, the games drill students in multiplication tables and other operations in order to gain speed and improve accuracy in math computation.  As a dyslexic student this looks like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?

Dyslexics are known for having difficulty memorizing rote information such as math facts.  The use of mental math games forces them to rely on and push their infamously weak working memory.  Yet my two daughters in Essentials (one dyslexic and one not) enjoy the game format and competing against their classmates.  Proponents of using exercises to improve working memory know that it is a matter of using it or losing it.  I see the math drill section of Essentials as a much needed exercise in improving working memory as well as math facts – two areas of great need for most dyslexics.

Using the writing curriculum from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, kids are taught to write paragraphs and essays, and practice using stylistic techniques in a fun environment.  Students write papers about topics they are covering in the Foundations program, so the learning is connected, which I love. Tutors model a few writing techniques in class, allow students to practice the techniques, and then suggest a writing assignment to complete at home.

A typical writing class looks something like this:

The tutor demonstrates a writing technique such as using metaphors.

She gives several examples of metaphors, then goes around the room and asks each student to make up his or her own metaphor.

She may also model the structure of a good paragraph and ask students to compose sentences together to construct a paragraph that she writes on the board as they go.

Students are asked to write a paragraph at home the following week using that structure and a metaphor for further practice.

This interactive setting has been tremendously helpful for our kids.  Kids with dyslexia have great, creative minds that get bogged down when required to read and write.  The dialectic method of discussing information being learned relieves this burden and frees our dyslexic kids to really focus on learning.

Can Kids With Dyslexia Succeed in Classical Conversations?

We have only completed the first 6 weeks of CC so far with our 4, 7, 9 and 11 year olds but to date they all love going to CC and love learning together every day.  I’ll continue to post as the year goes on about our experience and try to share our experience as we go.

How about you?  Has your family participated in Classical Conversations?  What did you like or dislike?


Marianne Sunderland

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