A Few Tips to Help Struggling Readers

A Few Tips to Help Struggling Readers

Everything was splendid at the Bowles’ house until Josie started her first grade in school. Josie’s mother, Michelle noticed it first. The sweet, dapper girl perched at the end of the study table with Little Red Riding hood open at the nose was haltingly reading words that the pages didn’t contain.

It then, dawned on Michelle that Josie was making up the words to fill in for the difficulty she was facing in making out the light green letters that depicted the cunning wolf’s conversation. They decided not to give up and they tried everything they could to improve her reading skills. But the problem with struggling readers is that the more they get old, the lesser are the chances for catching up. And this looming scare was becoming an ominous reality when Josie moved up to the fourth grade and the problem persisted.

Then one day in October 2007 Josie was encouraged by her school teachers to try the FastForword program. FastForword is a family of educational software products that accelerate learning by developing the student brain to process more efficiently. What happened then has been a roadmap to success. Josie now, not only reads out cereal box texts fluently, but has developed a knack for it, not just cereal box text, but she gobbles up books too!

Statistics say that 40% of students struggle to read making their path for literacy much more difficult and the outcome far more uncertain. But PRESS (Path to reading Excellence in School Sites), thinks otherwise. PRESS is a literacy initiative by the Minnesota Center for Reading Research (MCRR) in partnership with Minneapolis Schools, Minnesota Reading Corps, and the Target Corporation. PRESS is conducting interventions with hundreds of students throughout six schools in Minnesota.

We have composed a few tips that can be put into action to help struggling readers overcome the struggle and become fluent readers. If your child is a struggling reader, then this article could come in handy.

Identify the problem – Is there really one?

My cousin sister has always been a helicopter mom. In case you are trying to form an image of a lady pilot tackling a helicopter, here’s a reality check. She doesn’t actually hover in the atmosphere, but around my nephew’s head all the time. She was a huge fanatic of the couch laughing and cuddling every time my nephew uttered a ‘baa’ or a ‘moo’ while she was enacting a made up story. This is when my nephew was 3 years old. And suddenly my sister came up with a crazy worry. ‘Why isn’t he reading yet?’ I remember the late night calls she used to make, crying, to my mother and lamenting the sad story of how she thinks her son is a struggling reader. But things changed with time and my nephew is now 7 years old and a proud gobbler of books, mostly on space. And my sister realized that she had been panicking in vain.

My point here is, are you panicking in vain? Most kids start reading at the age of 5 or 6. There could occur a relaxation in some cases, but that is not a reason to panic. Why does this happen? It’s a Science thing. Researchers believe that until that age, most children have not yet formed certain neural connections that allow them to decode printed letters and then mentally combine them to form words. You could consult a specialist to identify whether your child really has a problem or wait it out till the right age for your child to start reading.

The 5 factor approach

Try this: The next time you sit yourself down with your child for a reading session, take up each word and break them down into easy syllables for them to comprehend. Be patient and repeat. Let him listen to you and watch him say it out loud slowly. A halt is likely to accompany the first attempt, but give it time and the fourth attempt might actually work. Then write it down for him to read and again give it a few more attempts. Once successful, ask him to pick the word out of a sentence that you have written with the word he just learnt in a bunch of others. That achieved, urge in accuracy with speed and then try for other words.

What you would be doing here is, the 5 factor approach:

  • Phonemic awareness: Breaking apart and manipulating the sounds in words.
  • Phonics: Blending letters of the alphabet together to form words.
  • Fluency: Speed, accuracy and proper expression.
  • Vocabulary: Word knowledge.
  • Comprehension: understanding the meaning of texts.

Build on your child’s strength

“He fails every spelling test. He can’t spell anything.” – isn’t a solution. If your child has a learning disability, it is likely that he may really struggle with spelling and remembering even very basic word patterns. Here’s the secret: that’s okay. Teach him to cope. Find out what your child is good at. You can fold spelling into the clay game or the Lego blocks game that he loves to play. In this way, you are basically honey-coating spelling with something your kid is good at. Which kid doesn’t love a bit of honey, right?

Encourage little activities – not every step has to be big

It doesn’t always need to be complicated. A few things you can do with your child:

  • Try out a role reversal. Be the students and let you cupcake be the teacher. Try out your intimidated and on-the-verge-of-tears face when you ‘accidentally’ spell a word wrong and watch him giggle.
  • Teach him to grab a camera or recorder and record videos or audio notes of himself reading and then follow along with them, checking the errors in reading.
  • Read to your child the story he loves the most. And then, you could arrange with your family to enact the story with costumes and dialogues the next Thanksgiving.

Support them

Your frustration should not manifest on the conversation you are having with your child. If your child is reading below a mid-second grade level, don’t worry about fluency or speed, focus on accuracy, or reading the words correctly. If you don’t support them, they would feel isolated and this could result in drastic consequences. They need to know that no matter what happens, you would support them and love them. If you teach your child to cope with his disability now, then you are doing him an incredible favor. But do it with love.

You should consider having a talk with your child’s teachers, arrange a motivating session for your child or take him to an expert in this field. It’s not always that the halt in reading stays, anything is possible, even a miracle. Here’s looking forward.


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