Sunday, April 14, 2013

Helping Struggling Readers, Part 2

I understood a little more, but I was still faced with the question of how does one help a child who is struggling to learn to read?

I found this document online:  that gives all sorts of ideas for different reading struggles.  The strategies there are for struggling readers that don't have diagnosed learning disabilities.

My suspicion is that reading disabilities run a wide gamut--from very mild to profound.  Students with very mild disabilities would likely be able to "get by" in class and find strategies to cover up or cope with their difficulties.  I'm learning that it is difficult to get a child tested early.  One mom told me last week that she had to pay independently to have her first grader tested.  I know that if you are a homeschooler where I live, the county will test your child, but you have to go through a ton (!) of red tape to get it done.  This mom's story agreed with what other moms have told me in the past.  The hard part is that the state or your health care provider will pay for testing, but not until they are 8 years old or so usually.  And by this point, the child is often already far behind his/her peers in class.  There has to be a significant enough gap for them to justify testing.  But, there are organizations out there who will test.  The one I learned about in our area last week is Loyola Clincal Services.  They do test for central auditory processing disorder (CAPD) and though they do not specify that they can test for dyslexia, I suspect that they can if they can test for CAPD.  

If your child has been diagnosed then what?  What if they don't qualify for services, but do have struggles?  I recently met with a mom who had been search for a diagnosis for two years and finally received the diagnosis of dyslexia for her second grade son.  She was relieved, but also explained to me that her work has just begun.  How does she teach him?  They found a part-time homeschool program that teaches him in the mornings five days a week.  This is an option many families have chosen--special reading tutors.  This is quite an expensive option, ranging from a hundred dollars a week to thousands of dollars (upwards of thirteen)  per year for additional schooling.  

What if your family doesn't have such financial resources?  That is the question I've been pondering.  I think the answer is that parents fill in the gap.  Every time I meet a parent who has a child who has a language-based learning disorder, I have questions.  They can observe and understand their children in a way that I cannot as an outside observer.  My heart has always been to connect to people, to connect people with each other, and in this blog to discuss resources that might be helpful to someone somewhere...  

So, I've begun searching for books that are affordable and helpful.  My search has been very limited so far.  I began by reading Walter E. Dunson's book, School Success for Kids with Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties.  My husband disagreed with Mr. Dunson's explanation of how children acquire language skills and that is his field of study.  But, beyond that, I learned from this book the difference between Dyslexia (visual processing disorder) and Central Auditory Processing Disorder.  This book is more for classroom teachers than homeschool parents.  Why?  Because as a homeschooling parent, I have learned you have less time to plan and write your own curriculum than classroom teachers do.  This book gives a very thorough outlines of all the syllabication rules, phonics, and word construction rules that children should learn.  If a homeschool or classroom teacher is comfortable making their own manipulatives, worksheets, detailed daily/weekly/monthly lesson plans, and can take a lesson goal and turn it into a lesson, then they will likely feel comfortable with this book.  Also, if a parent is a natural teacher, rather than a learned teacher, this kind of book would work very well.  I am a learned teacher.  I need an outline and a few illustrations (which this book doesn't have) and then I can run with it.  But, the state standards overwhelm me.  They are too nebulous.  I have many friends who homeschool who are natural teachers.  They have this amazing understanding of a subject's content without having to dig in and get a big picture scope and sequence like I do of where we've been and where we're going.  

The second book I read is Why Can't My Daughter Read? by Ellen Burns Hurst.  I have to say from the beginning that for most of my friends, the first part of this book would rub them the wrong way--as it did me.   
For this reason, I'd recommend reading pages 6-14, which explain what Dyslexia is and what to watch for.  Then, skip to the middle, Chapter 6 and read to the end.  The second half of the book is very helpful, but I disagree ideologically with the first half.  I want to explain.  Ms. Burns makes her case for why girls are overlooked more than boys when it comes to dyslexia in these pages.  Statistically, more boys are diagnosed with dyslexia than girls.  Ms. Burns explains that girls tend to be more people pleasers and find ways to cover up their reading difficulties than boys.  I agree with this assertion.  So, it is true that we need to be more watchful.  But, I believe we need to be more watchful of all children--girls and boys and whether they are struggling to learn to read and why.  Ms. Burns focuses on girls and how our culture is biased against them.  But, truth is I think teachers overlook the reading difficulties of many children--both boys and girls!  I am coming to realize how blind I was when I taught in the classroom and how ignorant I was!  I simply didn't recognize the signs.  I could only pay attention to so much during a school day.  Parents who homeschool have so much more opportunity to observe and help their children than a regular classroom teacher can.  Reading specialists and special education teachers have very small classrooms and have the opportunity to work one on one with children, so they are able to observe more closely and assess students difficulties more accurately than classroom teachers.  I don't agree with Ms. Burns' premise that girls are slighted because of male teachers.  The percentage of elementary teachers who are men has dropped from 18% in 1981 to 9% in 2006 (see here).  I couldn't find any statistics about the percentage of male education grad school instructors who are male.  But, from my one personal experience... I had 2.  Two in my two and a half years at CU Denver.  Two out of fifteen.  I do not see how they could have biased the teachers they were training against the girls in their future classrooms.  I think the reason girls are getting overlooked is because teachers are overlooking a lot of students, but boys (who have a higher percentage of ADD/ADHD) get noticed more often and then their reading struggles also get noticed.  I suspect a lot of boys are being overlooked as well.

Aside from this point, the second half of this book is very helpful.  This book comes packed with a lot more easily accessible ideas for how parents can supplement and modify their reading instruction.  I would highly recommend it to parents who are looking for ways to help their children at home or over the summer if their children are in school.  I'd also recommend parents who have older children who have struggled with learning disabilities with younger siblings who are now learning to read.  If you just discovered that your child is dyslexic, though, I don't think I'd start with this book first.  Instead, I'd start with a more straightforward basic book.  I'm going to look for one I'd recommend and will review it here if I find one.  Back to the book at hand... One thing that I particularly liked about this book is that many of the suggestions can be implemented in kindergarten and preschool--when parents have suspicions, but not confirmed diagnoses that their children are struggling to make the connections that they need to.  I also appreciate that the author talked about several reading programs available.  The author's descriptions, unfortunately, didn't help me distinguish a lot between them, but at least I had names of programs to look at and research.  

The more I have learned, the more I have realized that language processing disorders are very complicated.  Parents and teachers have to become true students of their children. Can children be helped?  Yes.  I have read story after story of parents working hard to help their children and succeeding.

I think children CAN be helped and CAN learn to read.  It can often be a very long uphill road, but as one mom told me last week, she was so encouraged because just in the last month she's seeing improvement in her middle school son's reading.  Another mom emailed me a few weeks ago and said that vision therapy has finally helped her son be able to focus and now read.  I'm learning that it's a complicated path and there's so much information out their parents and teachers.  

*Please note that I realized how often I referred to "Homeschooling parents" as different than teachers.  The reason for this is that homeschooling parents take on two roles--parent and teacher.  Teachers only have one--teacher.  This causes their approaches, motivations, and time to be very different.  Homeschooling parents are not teachers any less than classroom teachers --in fact I always tell people that I have learned more about how children learn from homeschooling than I did from my classroom teacher.  

Please note that I receieved complimentary copies of Why Can't My Daughter Read? and School Success for kids with Dyslexia from Prufrock Press for review.  

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