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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  1. LOVE this! I’m sharing it on my page, and do you mind if I include it in the November blog carnival for CC?

    • Marianne Sunderland says:

      Thanks Mary. I was going to ask you about how best to share this post. When I was researching about dyslexic kids doing CC, I was not able to find much. So far CC has been a lot of fun and Essentials a good challenge. It is actually an excellent fit for dyslexics – not just okay or tolerable. Makes this mom of many pretty happy!

  2. Classical Conversations might work for some dyslexic children…especially those with mild dyslexia without auditory processing issues or memory weakness. One of my children is a profound dyslexic and CC was extremely frustrating. We spent hours working on memory work together and this child would spend lots of time reviewing independently. The groups games were terrible, favoring those with standard reading skills. My child always felt under so much pressure if there were “relay” type games, etc. Quick-thinking is not the strong-suit of many dyslexics, especially when under the pressure of being on a team competing for the win. Many dyslexics need time to process when reading, so that they read correctly (if they can even read all of the words…some of the words in CC are challenging for those with reading deficits.). My other children excelled with the CC format; however, for a profound/severe dyslexic…I would definitely recommend visiting a community and trying to do some of the memory work on your own to see how it works with your dyslexic child. The weekly memory work in Foundations quickly spirals up and requires adequate memory skills, which often are lacking for dyslexics. You also need a lot of time to review past weeks’ material so that they remain fresh in the memory. This all takes quite a bit of time, which is in addition to the other school work the child is doing. I found that the Latin, in particular, was hard for my dyslexic child. There was no context for the declensions. This was not a problem for my other children who did not struggle with Latin or dyslexia; however, it was not working at all for my dyslexic child. I ended up just going back to teaching Latin from a full-curriculum, with songs, vocabulary, etc. That made much more sense to him.

  3. Interesting. We don’t do Classical Conversations but my eight year old dyslexic child loves the Veritas self paced history which also Classical. I do need to sit beside her to help with the reading but much of what is read is also read aloud which has helped her. The parts of the programme that she finds difficult are the dates which we try to put in context: the Minoan first date is in a song which she remembers and a civilisation lasts a period of years not one year etc. The only other issue is the occasional word to spell: these are difficult and not really words that she needs to spell at present. We have an agreement that I tell her how to spell these words. Overall, she has learned and benefited from the multi-sensory nature of the course.

  4. I am writing as someone who has one child that has excelled in Classical Conversations. She was a “Memory Master” multiple years and is in her 3rd year in the Challenge program. However, my second child is severely dyslexic and has a auditory processing disorder. CC Foundations ended up being a nightmare for him when he got be 9. I found there were so many activities that were verbal that he was completely lost. He begged not to go back. At 9, one can look at the kids in the class and see the ones who are excelling and the ones that are struggling. It just wasn’t my son. Also, the tutors were not all the same. When I suggested that they include some visual clues during the memory work etc. I was told that was “frowned upon” by CC Corporate. Have no idea if this is true or not. All I know is that I had a little boy whose self-esteem was shattered because I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. He felt like he was “stupid”(his word) and I felt like I had to be major cheerleader every CC day. Teaching Latin to a dyslexic who didn’t even understand the English language and grammar to begin with not great either. After 3 years, I took him out of the program and his whole demeanor changed for the better.
    I have a love/hate relationship with Classical Conversations. On one hand, I love CC for what it has taught my daughter. However, I don’t think the Classical model works for every child.

  5. I totally agree with Lisa – we were part of a CC community for 4 years, with my older, non-dyslexic child enjoying it. She was a memory master 2 years in a row and had no problems with the memory work and participating in class. Not so with my dyslexic sin. It was incredibly frustrating for him. The disjointed, out-of -context Latin made no sense to him, and the math skip counting songs were absolutely impossible for him. He had a difficult time during review games and often said he felt “stupid”. In comparison to the other kids. Really learning and mastering the memory work does require a lot of at-home practice time, and frankly, I need that time to work on basic reading, math, and spelling with him. However, there are positives about CC – we were exposed to many things we wouldn’t have been otherwise. I also say that it depends on the child. We’ve since pulled out so that I can spend more time on the basics and exploring other meaningful and applicable curriculums.
    Marianne, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and experiences through these heartfelt and encouraging posts. They have tryouts inspired and encouraged me in my journey of homeschooling a dyslexic child.

  6. I am glad to hear of your success! Sounds like a good fit for your family!

    I would only caution that what works for one family does not always work for another. Dyslexia is a cornucopia of learning disorders, and so each student will have different strengths and weaknesses. As a result, the results will vary.

    I have four children, three of them learning challenged. Even within my own family, I have had to provide different means and methods for each child. It would be lovely to use a blanket method – but in the end, I discovered it was not feasible.

  7. Marianne Sunderland says:

    I am thrilled with all of the feedback on this post because when I was researching whether CC would work for my kids with dyslexia, there was not much out there. I totally agree with Yvonne that what works for one family does not always work for another and there are many facets to dyslexia that affect ability to learn. One thing that I have noticed with my dyslexic kids, my 7 year old in particular, is that the tutor makes a big difference. My son can be strong-willed and easily frustrated but the way his tutor works with him has been a true recipe for success. Each situation is surely unique. 🙂

  8. Oh man, I am so glad I found your website searching for right brain dominance help. Thank you for sharing how CC can be good for children with these issues! So far we have an Irlen Syndrome diagnosis but I know my oldest is somewhat dyslexic also. I feel like I have been searching and searching, and you have thrown me a life line in a sea of ridiculously expensive potential disappointments. I hope we can start CC next school year, even though my oldest (the child with the learning issues) is already 10.

    • Marianne Sunderland says:

      Hi Holly. I’m so glad! Have you seen my new site – Homeschooling With Dyslexia? It also has a lot of resources and information. Also with regards to CC, we have an 11 year old that has just started. It is important to talk with your director about your child’s learning issues. See how understanding and one they are. Our group has been fantastic! As with any program, you may need to adjust expectations and modify some. Our kids really enjoy CC even if they are not the quickest to remember – they are learning and enjoying making new friends. 🙂

  9. Please provide and update. How did your dyslexic student do in the Challenge program?

    • Marianne Sunderland says:

      Hi Laurie. Actually, our dyslexic 11-year old just finished her first year of Foundations and Essentials. I feel that she did very well. She learned a LOT and improved in many areas. Was she as quick to memorize as the other kids? No. Did she enjoy it? Yes. Was I satisfied? Yes. As far as Challenge goes, she is old enough to move up to Challenge A (7th grade) next year. After talking with our Classical Conversations director, whose son in Challenge 1 is severely dyslexic, we decided to keep her in Foundations and Essentials for one more year. Our director spends about 3 hours a day with her dyslexic 9th grader to help him complete his school work but he loves it and is doing very well. 🙂 Hope this helps.

  10. Leslie Coleman says:

    Marianne, im new to your blog and I LOVE it! thank you for all the resources and information. I have been greatly blessed already. Will all of your children that were in CC last year be returning this coming fall 2015?

  11. This is our second year in CC my severely 9year old son is doing very well in CC. He loves the chanting, songs and the out of the box memory work. We have incorporated Sue Barton reading and spelling program along with math u see. He’s doing very well. He loves CC. However, I have decided to wait until he turns 10 next year to begin Essentials as I don’t feel he is ready to start that program yet. We are waiting until he has reached at least level 4 in his Reading Program before he begins Essentials.
    We hope to continue with CC for all of our cHildreth through Challenge.

  12. This will be our 7th year in Foundations with my severely dyslexic/dysgraphic/auditory processing disorder daughter. Her two younger sisters (no learning issues) have also done CC since they were 4. WE LOVE CC!! Much of the community day success depends upon a tutor who can adjust to the needs of the class. For instance, quick-thinking individual review games are a big bummer for my dyslexic daughter. But she holds her own just fine in cooperative games with time to think. No, she doesn’t memorize every fact perfectly, especially confusing dates and still (6 years in!) confusing her skip-counting numbers. And there is no expectation that she needs to achieve Memory Master. When she turned 9, we started doing a “Subject Memory Master” within our family, and she was able, with MUCH effort, to memorize all 24 History Sentences last year with all correct dates. We celebrated like CRAZY!! She does notice that other students memorize more easily and accurately and have faster recall (her 5-year-old sister skip-counts better than she does), but we just try to explain as much as we can about her fantastically amazing dyslexic brain and she is proud of her creativity and zest for life. I would encourage other dyslexics to give it a try…with the long view in mind. I am so glad we stuck with it for all of these years.

    • Marianne Sunderland says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this Nicole! You described a fantastic example of what a healthy balance of expectations and abilities that parents of dyslexics need! 🙂

  13. Great topic, and so many great comments. I have 2 kids, 1 severe dyslexic, and we are going into our 5th year of CC. It’s been a great blend for our family and two very different learning styles. My dyslexic connects with anything put to music! For her, the oral nature and the music and motions have given her extreme success. She’s 9 and now looking at Essentials. We may wait one more year, simply so we have the time to focus on her reading/spelling program one more year. But I appreciated your experience with the oral and dialectic nature of class time really inspiring your girls. It’s been amazing for my older, not dyslexic but would rather be building forts all day. Know your child’s strengths and find ways to maximize them!

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