Reviewing homeschool resources with a child on the autism spectrum has been an incredible journey, a roller coaster of ups and downs.
My first year of reviewing in 2008 began not long after I withdrew my daughter from public school, and, interestingly, we received many, many products that allowed me to feel successful with her. I learned that she can indeed learn and that there are products that can scaffold the teaching process for me, while at the same time, scaffold the learning process for my girl.
This year of reviewing, my second, ending this month, has been drastically different. At times, depressingly different. The products I've gotten this year have had a different theme for me. Instead of spotlighting areas of success, I'm learning where, exactly, the gaps in learning and development are, and what are my girl's splinter skills, in terms of communication and academics. Instead if feeling successful, I've spent a lot of this review year facing exactly how far behind we are. Sometimes, that information, while necessary, is difficult for me to face.
The English for Life®-The Madsen Method® is one of the resources that quickly illuminated some gaps. I am deeply indebted to Joe and Sharon Madsen for that.
I listened to several borrowed audio CDs on the drive to the Midwest Homeschool Convention in Cincinnati in April of 2009. One of them was a presentation by Sharon Madsen about English for Life®-The Madsen Method®. I knew then that Madsen Method was on the potential list of vendors for the fall Crew voyage and that I might possibly have a chance to review the program. When I heard her talking about the method our forefathers used, I have to admit, my first thought was with a scrunched-up nose kind of "old-fashioned". We've learned a lot since the time of our forefathers, I thought. Surely we have better methods, now.
(I was wrong. In fact, the more I see the approach our forefathers used, the more I want to learn from the materials we have from that time. In fact, sometimes I wish I had access to a one-room schoolhouse for my homeschooler, where she could interact with children of all ages and grades and work at her own level.)
FOUR NEUROLOGICAL LEARNING AVENUES:
He SPEAKS; He HEARS what he said; He DOES what he heard; He SEES what he did!
Crew members were asked to view video lectures prior to speaking with Joe Madsen as we made a decision to review this product. I wondered to myself, have we given my daughter enough opportunities for interaction and reciprocity to begin something like this? Developmentally, she's a lot like a four-year-old, although her words and vocabulary are much older than that. After talking on the phone with Mr. Madsen for nearly an hour about my daughter's challenges, I was ready to give English for Life®-The Madsen Method® a try. Mr. Madsen walked me through some sample lessons during our conversation, and he answered a lot of my questions about using the program with a child who has the attention challenges that we continue to remediate as part of an autism intervention. He told me it might not be easy in our situation.
He told me about his and Sharon Madsen's experiences using the program with special needs learners, with students who were considered unteachable. He sent me stories to read. He gave me hope. I'm inspired by the stories of children who not only were able to learn, but excel, when they were not expected to be able to learn. He encouraged me to believe in myself and my child. He believes in my child. That's important to me.
The Madsens offer quite a bit of "hand holding" for purchasers. Okay, most of you call that "support". For me, it's "hand holding". I like how they supply the teacher with all of the tools and are standing by to offer support, too.
At this point, I have to modify most of what we do together. We use a lot of hands-on learning, math and reading in while cooking and baking in the kitchen, writing to-do lists, etc. Sitting down at a table sends my daughter's anxiety sky high, and she begins to itch and scratch, and shriek, resist, and protest. Games on the floor and hands-on learning are better for us. Madsen Method is a sit down at the table activity.
So, we sat down with the first lesson - and I immediately encountered a problem. I saw a developmental gap. And modifying the lesson wasn't going to work in this case. We had some work to do before we could get to the part that I can modify.
I'm not sure I can accurately define the issue. Here's one attempt: We'd never defined terms with her. Mr. Madsen told me up front that we'd have to describe and define words and terms using language she'd understand. But I'd never done that before. I assumed she completely grasped meaning with use of words and terms.
Did you know it's possible for a child to use words and terms appropriately and in context and not fully grasp what they mean, that use of words can be a splinter skill with no foundation?
I didn't. And apparently the staff at the public school systems we left behind didn't know, either. Or if they did, they never explained that to me.
So, not understanding any of this stuff about definitions of words and terms, working knowledge of words and terms, I led us in the first lesson about the five mental muscles, trying to define them, describe them in terms she'd understand. My girl was an awesome student for this sit down at the table lesson (she usually balks because the table is too schoolish)! I wasn't sure I'd done a good job.
As we ended the lesson, and I looked ahead in the book, I realized that we'd not explicitly defined words and terms for her before. Overwhelmed. I felt over overwhelmed. How on earth would I teach her definitions in a way she'd understand without shutting her down? I decided at that moment to allow the two of us to spend several days on each lesson, so I could spotlight these definitions and terms over the period of several days, and wait to make sure she understood them before moving forward.
An aside: Before I give you the wrong impression, Madsen Method is not a program about definitions, although being able to define and explain new terms and concepts is necessary within the program. And it is that defining of concepts that seemed to be my hurdle.
In the next day or two, my entire plan changed. Why? My girl began to do something I'd never ever seen her do before, and she began this new something with intensity. She began to ask, "What do _______ mean, Mom?" (Yes, I know what needs to be corrected in that sentence. We'll get there.)
And it was with her increased curiosity and questioning that I gave up the plan to complete one Madsen Method lesson every few days. I decided to set aside those lessons until we'd had some time to practice and experience defining terms and words, allowing her many opportunities to ask her dad and me, "What do _________ mean?" and allowing me opportunities to ask her to define or describe terms to me.
Several months have passed and we have not done another Madsen Method lesson, although it is Madsen Method that opened up a *whole new world* for us. My girl is still asking me to define terms daily as they arise, in context. I know she's paying attention by her questions. Her curiosity has grown by leaps and bounds. Her ability to describe what she means has slowly and obviously begun to expand.
"What do 'unusual' mean?" she asked a couple of days ago. We talk about, discuss, define something new every day! I'm getting practice describing concepts in ways she can understand them - a pre-requisite for Madsen Method. And she's learning to define concepts and words for me and for herself, too, when I turn the question around on her and ask her, "What do you think _______ means?"
My question now is when to pick up Madsen Method and start again. How much experience defining terms and words does my girl need before we begin again? What knowledge and experience does a typically developing child have prior to beginning a program like this one? Has the practice we've done in the past few months laid a foundation that will allow us to begin English for Life® with fewer (or no) modifications on my part? I have lots of questions. I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with Joe Madsen a couple of weeks ago as he coached me through some techniques I can use now, even if I postpone formal lessons for another few weeks. We're practicing saying, seeing, hearing, doing together, away from the table and formal lessons, to introduce this routine before we begin again, formally. Mr. Madsen's "hand holding" is fabulous, and he "gets" the needs of learners like my daughter. He prayed for me before we ended our call, how precious that is to me.
So, you've probably gathered that this review turned out instead to be a pre-review, an opportunity for a discovery, and an opportunity to begin to fill in a developmental gap. Stay tuned. I will to continue to blog about English for Life®-The Madsen Method®, because we are still in the very beginning stages of it. If you have a struggling learner, I encourage you to take a serious look at this program that combines hearing, seeing, saying, doing in short lessons that are completely scripted for the parent in developmental order.
Part One of English for Life®-The Madsen Method® retails for $299.95 (Home Educators receive a 30% discount) with a money back guarantee.
The web site explains that "Part One is the first portion of our complete, ungraded language arts curriculum. It introduces the first elements of English what a student must know to be proficient in English, regardless of his age. In a graded classroom setting, Part One can be implemented as the complete English language arts curriculum for K-1, or it is the first part of a remedial program for an older student. Students completing our program are independently proficient in all language arts skills and content at 1915 literacy standards."
As part of The Old Schoolhouse Crew of reviewers, Madsen Method English for Life sent me a complimentary copy of English for Life®-The Madsen Method® Part One to use at home and review for you on my blog. I am not compensated for this review and am not obligated to provide a positive review.