Thursday, April 11, 2013

Helping Struggling Readers, Part 1

I have loved watching Eli begin to read.  I noticed early on that he reversed a lot of his letters.  He has always been left handed and so I began watching for signs of difficulties with learning letters and their sounds, because a higher percentage of left handers have dyslexia than right handers.  He is making progress in learning to read, but he continues to make letter and number reversals when he writes.  B and D are also hard for him.  As Eli has been working on his letters and reading this year, I have had a growing desire to understand how children learn to read and how to help them when they struggle.  So, I've set out to try and understand reading difficulties better.  I began, of course, with books.

The first was a college reading assessment textbook that I read last summer.  I wouldn't recommend it, so I'm not going to mention it by name.  It gave me a good, thorough review of educational theories, though.  It also explained the current theories about how children read.  Here is a link to an explanation of one of the models explained in that book:  If you click on the white illustration, you can view a larger version of the picture that is readable.

After reading that book, I contemplated how our educational system views children and reading.  I called a local private school that helps children specifically with reading difficulties.  It was interesting to learn that they don't use any of the assessments mentioned in the books.  The director I spoke with explained that those tests are all for statistical purposes.  As I thought about it more, I realized that our educational system has turned kids into statistics--in more ways than one.

State standardized tests turn kids into group statistics.  But, reading assessments also do this in their own way.  It is as if a child's difficulty with processing alphabetic symbols in particular sequences can be given a number or group of identifying symbols will tell everyone exactly what's wrong and how to fix it.  The problem with approaching reading this way is that every child is unique.  God made them that way.  There are commonalities in their difficulties, but I suspect that no two children are exactly alike.  But, even if they were, should we treat them that way?  Probably not.  Their personalities are different as well as how their brains work.  So, what can we do instead?

I read a book a few years back that theorized that rather than diagnosing kids, we need to identify their weaknesses and help them learn to cope--to focus in on teaching them the skills they needed.  That book was in regard to mental illness.  But, I think the same might be said of helping a child learn to read.  As I read two different books about dyslexia, I realized that dyslexia covers a wide range of processing disorders.  I even spoke to a dyslexia tutor and she told me that there was no standard program for all of the students the agency she worked for used.  Every tutoring regimen was different based on the needs and struggles of the individual student.

So, where to then?  I realized after I began writing this that my introduction to auditory and visual processing disorders actually came from Melinda Boring's book Heads Up Helping.  I love this book.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone who's child lives with ADD, ADHD, or who struggles with focusing.  Her book taught me that a parent can be the best teacher of a child.  I had thought special education teachers were the best ones to do that.  I'd been indoctrinated by my grad school and public schools about this.  I'd also never known anyone personally who homeschooled a child with a learning disability.  I learned through my conversations with Ms. Boring that you can.  My belief is that God gives us the children who needs us and who we need.  After reading that book, I realized how little I understood about visual and auditory processing disorders when I was teaching and how little I learned in master's program.  I wanted to learn more. 

I found two helpful documents online that discuss learning disabilities.
The first can be found HERE.  I like this paper because it explains learning disabilities plain and simple.  It also lists some strategies and tools to help children (or adults).  The second document HERE, focuses specifically on working memory.  I found this document when I was trying to help a friend of mine articulate where the struggles in reading and math are for her daughter.  

End of Part 1.

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