5 Questions Parents Need to Ask Themselves if Their Child Has Difficulty Learning to Read.
Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than the answers.
That was the thought that came to mind following a recent assessment in my clinic. “Andrew” had been struggling in school. Specifically, his difficulty was learning to read and spell.
Andrew has normal intelligence and no diagnosis. The school system had identified the struggle and intervened using the Response To Intervention (RTI) approach and provided modifications and accommodations according to his 504 Plan.
His mother visited the school numerous times, hired outside tutoring, and kept open communication with the teacher, principal, and staff. She inquired about testing and was told he “did not meet the requirements”.
Still, Andrew struggled.
As time passed she watched Andrew’s self-confidence decline and his love for learning fade away. He no longer enjoyed going to school and she became increasingly scared. At the end of his second-grade year, she requested another meeting with his teacher.
This time the school agreed to have the county’s reading teacher observe him in class and offer recommendations for what she could do over the summer to prepare him for third grade.
Following the meeting with the reading specialist, Andrew's mother received an email from both his teacher and principal, copied below (names and identifying details are omitted). First, from the teacher:
Good afternoon! After speaking with Mrs. ( ) about the meeting with the reading specialist, she gave me several things for to work on over the summer to prepare him for 3rd grade. I am sending home a small packet of Summer Reading/Literacy Activities that you can do. I would go to the library often and let him pick things that are on his interest level. I have retested him on reading levels. “Andrew” is at a ( ). Confidence is huge, so books that are lower than ( ) are good. The reading specialist suggested him reading easy books over and over for him to learn to read them with fluency. After he does that with the first 10 books, take them back and pick 10 more for him to read over and over again. She also suggested checking out the books on tape for him to listen to and he can follow along in the books. Those can be found at the library as well. He needs to practice spelling tests at home. He could do the reading portions that she asked of him, but I believe the spelling part was a concern. Call out words and have him write them down. Go back over the ones that he got incorrect and explain why. You can always go over the Fry Words that came home at the beginning of the year. He should be able to read those with speed and not have to sound them out. If you need another copy of those, let me know and I'll send some home. I will be sending some more ideas home with everyone in the class that you can add to this list. Let me know if you have any questions.
And the note sent by Andrew’s principal:
Thank you again for coming in recently to discuss ( ). Our Reading Specialist for the district, Mrs. ( ) came in to meet with Ms. ( ) and “Andrew” yesterday. She was able to give Ms. ( ) some specific things to work on with ( ) at the start of next school year and Ms. ( ) can share those with you so you can also be working on these things over the summer like you requested. Also, Ms. ( ) feels like it would be best to do a dyslexia screener on at the start of next school year. This would not provide a diagnosis; however, it would be able to show us if there are characteristics of dyslexia. Even if there are characteristics, the strategies that Ms. ( ) will share are dyslexia-specific. Ms. ( ) mentioned that these strategies take time but are appropriate and is what will be best for “Andrew.”
So, to summarize, Ms. ( ) will be able to tell you what things you can work on with “Andrew” over the summer. After she meets with Ms. ( ) at the beginning of the year, reach out to me to request a dyslexia screener since some of his data indicates that this would be appropriate.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.
These responses prompted me to ask the following questions - and I encourage all parents to do the same.
1. Why are some schools following the “wait to fail” model before telling parents that there is a problem that the schools themselves can’t fix?
More than 88% of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first-grade display similar difficulties at the end of fourth grade (Juel, 1988). And three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school (Shaywitz et al., 1997).
Most children learn to read by first grade regardless of the type of instruction they receive. The children who don't learn, however, don't seem able to catch up on their own, and parents need to be made aware of this fact so that they have the option to seek outside assistance and other sources.
Long-term studies have shown that from 90-95% of reading impaired children can overcome their difficulties if they receive appropriate treatment at early ages.
2. What if the problem isn’t found in a diagnosis? What if it is just the symptom of the root cause that lies beneath?
Much can be gained by taking a root cause, resolution approach to teaching children to learn.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), studies have shown that in many cases reading struggles can be related to deficiencies in the way that the brain processes letter sounds - a language-based task, not a reading comprehension task. If no steps are taken to compensate for this defect, reading disability will persist through life.
3. If Dyslexia is the most common cause of reading, writing, and spelling difficulties, why is misinformation on its identification and treatment still being given in a large majority of schools today?
It's estimated that between 5-10% of the population has dyslexia. New educational approaches and advances in brain-based research are making it possible to detect dyslexia even in children too young to read.
John Gabrieli, head of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology writes “There has been a giant change in the last 15 years in the way dyslexia is understood. Though it is not a cure, stepping in early with targeted intervention could prevent reading problems from derailing a child’s education.”
4. Is RTI the BEST approach to helping students with reading problems?
Used in more than 70% of US school districts, RTI or Response-To-Intervention is currently the most implemented approach to reading instruction in public schools. But, in a just-released progress report from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and funded by the Department of Education, the research indicates that it doesn’t work.
RTI disregards what young students with dyslexia most often need which is a systematic and incremental multisensory education approach to reading.
5. How many more children have to suffer before we realize as a society that this is OUR problem and these kids are OUR future?
Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.
Dyslexia was identified by Oswald Berkhan in 1881, yet it is still misunderstood. While we have made much headway since then, children just like Andrew continue to suffer.
It is beyond my comprehension how another human could look into the eyes of a young learner, struggling to read, and not be convinced to help.
I believe education is a human right but learning will not be solved through laws. Problems are solved by humans.
For more than 40 years, federal law has required schools to identify and evaluate students with dyslexia and to provide them with an appropriate education. But, according to an examination by APM Reports, in many states across the country that's just not happening.
While 33 states have passed dyslexia-related legislation in the past five years, accountability is still lacking, funding limited, and confusion widespread throughout U.S. schools.
We have to ask questions and, in where it involves our children, we must wrestle with the questions long enough to begin a dialogue that moves us forward to finding a real solution.
I learned years ago, that if I waited on the school system to help me solve the academic struggles that I was seeing in my practice, then I would be waiting too long. Instead, I focused on what was staring me in the face: the student.
One by one - individually - I spoke truth, empowerment, and education into their mind, body, and spirit. Armed with the independence and their now discovered capacity to learn whatever they desired, I watched them emerge from their cocoon of silence and transform into the unique individuals they were designed to be.
If your child or someone you know is struggling to learn, I urge you to not wait another day to reach out and find a learning specialist who is eager to take that beautiful mind and transform their learning potential.
I offer a free 10-minute phone consultation where I can answer your questions and provide you with resources.
If you would like to find out more about the warning signs of Dyslexia you can click the link below, this resource at Understood.com as a great place to start.
If you're dealing with a child who is struggling and you want to finally get them the help they need to succeed, we urge you to book a free 10-minute call with Kyra Minichan of The Cognitive Emporium.
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