The Antidote to Readers Who Are Stuck

“He’s already decided he wants to fail 1st grade”

Whaaaat????”  you may be thinking to yourself.

What a crazy statement!

But I actually heard these words from a 1st grade teacher in my first job as an instructional coach.

True story.  [But one with a happy ending.  Stay tuned.]

And….I heard it in October of the young 6 year-old’s first grade year.  🙁

Like you may be feeling right about now, I was deeply chagrined.  

How could the child’s teacher already be giving up on him, with the school year just having started?

You may want to paint this teacher in your mind as “one of those teachers,”  but I urge you to pause–give her another consideration.

As I worked more and more with her and observed her classroom, I discovered she actually had a deep love for her students and sacrificed for them out of this love.

BUT, she was worn down.

Her school was a school in crisis.

Every.  Year.

There were few personnel resources and the principals that came and went as on a merry-go-round were mercurial and unreasonable with their demands on teachers.  ALL of the children were from low-income environments, too.

So, when a feisty young student who wasn’t making gains in reading also resisted doing work, she said what she said,

“He’s already decided he wants to fail 1st grade.”

A tragic statement for any teacher to make indeed.  

Who would believe in the young boy….if his 1st grade teacher didn’t?

Do you have students who are stuck?

And yet, unless you’re in a rare school where all the kids are above average like Lake Wobegon, you’ve probably felt something like this before.

The discouragement.

The resistance.

If you’re like me and you’re honest with yourself, you can probably admit to wondering,

“Is there really anything I can do for this student any more?…..I’ve tried everything!”

Usually this little thought crept into my consciousness sometime in the spring of the year.

The year was waning on…..and on….Few school breaks were in sight.

And so, some “settling” may have taken over my mindset.

“Well, he’s still behind, but I’ve done all I can.”

“Well, she can’t really read yet, but we’ve only got 8 weeks left of school!”

Have you heard these kind of whispers in the midst of a tired day?

I’ve been there!

Your Tools Matter

But now I have a different tool set.

And that makes all the difference.

Many, many obstacles lay in the way of the teacher who seemed to have given up on her student.  The teacher in the above story initially felt this way about her feisty young student because, among many of these reasons, she had poor tools for the teaching of reading.

He just wasn’t getting it with her tools.   

Many kids, every year, face the same troubles in school because they realize—they know–they aren’t getting this reading thing.

Other kids are moving along.  Learning to read.

But they aren’t; so they get discouraged.  

They misbehave.  

They withdraw.  

They resist learning.  

Again, even if you live in Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above-average, you still must have heard that in the U.S. nearly 65% of 4th graders aren’t proficient at reading (according to the NAEP).

So you know these types of students are not the rare occurrence.  

Here’s a hyperbolic picture of the tools the teacher had available for her student.

What if you were trying to nail a hole in the wall with these tools?

Here’s what I picture when I think back to the tools the teacher had for her student who was struggling with reading acquisition:

Floppy tools.  Not much power or traction in these kind of tools, right?

Of course he was having a hard time learning to read!

Of course he was discouraged!

Of course the teacher was discouraged!

An Improved Tool Set

When she learned about a few different techniques for teaching reading, however, her tool box was transformed.

She tried the forerunner to Switch It and realized that her students were rapidly gaining phonemic awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and decoding and spelling abilities.

She used the Blend As You Read approach during Read It and during Guided Reading and discovered that what used to seem opaque to her students now was clear.  They were decoding more and more words!

She adopted a way of sorting Advanced Phonics knowledge like Sort It and students more rapidly learned those tricky long vowel spellings (i.e. ee, ea, ie, e_e, y, ey, etc.).

This teacher slowly began to see more hope in what she could control in her classroom.  Bit by bit a little less negative.  That year for me as an instructional coach was still a hard one–I cannot tell a lie.  

But change was in the air.

The young boy wasn’t given up on.  In the spring, there was no more talk about his “deciding he wants to fail 1st grade.”

The tools you use matter.

So, as we move past spring break into that interminable stretch towards end-of-year testing and counting the days till summer, my friend, please consider the least of your readers.

Is there someone, or several someones, in your class who you think won’t really become a reader this year in your class?  Is there too little time left?

Would you consider, even in the last, harried weeks of the school year, that you can still help a struggling student become a reader?

Do you have access to tools that unlock the code for every child?

The Reading Simplified Tools

With Reading Simplified activities, I regularly observe children gaining 1-3 years of reading achievement growth….after only 12 hours of instruction.  

12 hours.

Beginning readers, struggling 4th grade readers, dyslexic high school readers, adult readers.

In other words, you still have enough time left in the school year to make a whale of a difference in the life of beginning or struggling readers.

From the Files of a Reading Tutor

Here’s an example from my files as a reading tutor:

An eighth grade boy, we’ll call “Jaden,” was experiencing intense frustration and a sense of failure with reading and spelling.  His mom wrote this about his literacy experiences during his first assessment:

“Jaden has struggled with both reading and spelling all of his school years. Reading in K and 1st grade was a horrible experience for both him and my husband and I.  It was torture to try to help him with reading homework.  He hated it and really struggled.

Today, reading is still always a struggle.  He often stumbles over words when reading aloud. He struggles with homework and asks for one-on-one help nightly.

Language arts is his weakest class. Spelling and vocab words are extremely hard for him.  The “spelling rules”/phonetics are extremely difficult for him.  They simply make no sense.

A teacher once told me “when he’s in college he will just use spell check anyway.” But looking things up in a dictionary is impossible because he has no idea of how to spell them to look it up.”

When I assessed this 8th grader, I could see why he was frustrated. He had an oral language ability better than 81% of students his age.

And yet, his word reading and decoding abilities were vastly different:

Woodcock-Johnson Reading Mastery Test–Word Identification   6.4 grade equivalent

Woodcock-Johnson Reading Mastery Test–Word Attack   4.6 grade equivalent

Morrison-McCall Spelling Test   4.7 grade equivalent

His ability to read words in a list (Word Identification) was 2 years behind his grade level and even many more years behind his language aptitude.

His ability to attack nonsense words (Word Attack), which demonstrates his underlying sound-symbol processing skills was 4 grades behind!

I didn’t have much time with Jaden because of his distance from me and because of the parents’ limited budget, but I knew I had tools that could change these scores.

Here are the tools that I used with Jaden:

After less than 4 hours of instruction over 6 weeks time, Jaden turned around as a reader because of the tools that helped him crack the code.  He learned how to decode unfamiliar words.  The written code started to make sense for the first time.

Here’s what his mother wrote about Jaden’s reading after those 4 sessions:

“I really value everything you have offered and invested in Jaden’s life.  We just got his first quarter report card, all A’s and B’s.  This is the best by far he has ever done in middle school.  I am so grateful.  After his assessment and time spent with you, he truly believes that he is not “stupid” anymore…His confidence has skyrocketed and he is truly a different person.  For this no money could ever pay you for the value this has given him/me. Eternally grateful.”

Jaden had given up.  Many of his teachers had given up.  But after a short instructional period, his life as a reader, learner, and student changed.

Not every child has this fast of a turn-around.

But I do expect similar changes in terms of instructional hours.  Not semesters.  Not years.

Which student are you wondering about right now?

That student who you are not starting to hope may learn to read? Or will become fluent?  Or, perhaps several students?

Try the Reading Simplified activities with them:

  • Build It will establish basic phonemic awareness and early letter-sound knowledge for those who don’t know most of the consonants and short vowels.
  • Switch It will jumpstart a host of reading challenges/needs.
  • Read It will be the “Aha!” that the student has been missing all along.
  • Sort It will be the fastest way for the student to begin to recognize all those harry vowels.
  • Guided Reading of mostly decodable texts will quickly develop underlying word-reading strategies.
  • Re-Reading will help oodles of high frequency words be learned each day.

Invitation to the Reading Simplified Academy

If you don’t want to mess around with teaching yourself these few activities and taking the time to learn through trial-and-error, please consider joining our Reading Simplified Academy.  

Inside the Reading Simplified Academy, we guide you through:

  • how to teach these activities,
  • when to use them and with whom,
  • how to give smart feedback, and
  • how to meet every learner’s needs
    with a simple framework.  

In addition, the Reading Simplified Academy also includes hundreds of differentiated student materials for grades K-6….

AND a discussion board where you can get any question answered by me every week day.

As a private reading tutor I use these activities mostly on a one-on-one basis, but most of the participants in the Reading Simplified Academy use these handful of activities in small groups.

As I said earlier, on average, I see students move 1-3 grade levels in just 12 hours with the Reading Simplified system.  

Do you have about that much instructional time left in your school year?

What might you achieve in the home stretch?

Here’s what one participant experienced with a student after just 2 months inside the Reading Simplified Academy:

There were even times that I wondered if he was dyslexic or something…He has gone from spelling out almost every word while reading and being unsure of his sounds to READING quite fluently it’s amazing !!!!!! I rushed through the course because I had become quite desperate to help him. It was like air to a suffocating person?

The “read it” part of the course was HUGE like a lightbulb moment for me. The “sort it” part has also been amazing I thought that it might confuse him but it didn’t. He got it so quickly, we are still working through some of the exercises but the improvement has been unbelievable.

Truly truly I am so so grateful.

Many many many Thanks

She tried a different set of tools with a 9 year old and in just days and weeks she turned the tide of failure and frustration for him.

Whether you join the Reading Simplified Academy or study the resources on this blog, please take action right now.  

Will you commit to try another set of tools?

Will you commit to squeezing every last drop of instructional power out of the last few months of school?

Not because you’re going to stay up late killing yourself with the same old tools. But because you are trying a powerful set of tools.

Many will read this hint of much greater possibilities and then turn back to the TV or the dishes and forget.  

But what if?  

What if you are different and you commit to one more attempt at something new?

Just imagine how you would feel if your action provided the transformation that the children described above experienced.  

Your tools matter.

Your Turn: Do you have a student(s) who is stuck? What would you like to see transformed in her/his life? Please comment below!

Join the Reading Simplified Academy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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