A Cautionary Tale for Parents of Slow Readers!

In my previous blog posts here and here, I began educating parents and drawing attention to some of the concerns to be aware of when considering having assessment and standardized testing completed.

Of course, most people seek testing and assessment to then find a solution – they start looking for treatment and therapy.

I cautioned that there are some dangerous programs and dangerous people out peddling their wares to unsuspecting parents of children that have trouble reading.

(While this definitely creates some drama and intrigue, in my experience, most people who are trying to help children speak or help children read ACTUALLY have a good heart and are well-intentioned.)

Nonetheless, being under-educated or mis-informed CAN be dangerous.  Why I say this is because people who are under-educated, or deliver programs that don’t accurately reflect research, convince parents that they have the solution for their child.  So, the parents relax, and invest (waste) their time and money.

I frequently encounter parents who think that their child is already getting the support they need.  Often schools will offer programs such as Leveled Literacy Intervention and/or Lively Letters, and children may get extra time in small group or individual support.  However, research shows us these programs have value for many learners but are INADEQUATE to address the specific learning needs of certain individuals that have a different learning profile (especially when these programs are used alone or in isolation!)

Who has a “different learning profile”? Any child that is slow to acquire the skills needed for speech, communication, reading, writing, or spelling.  Children with speech and language delays.  Children with Autism.  Children with ADHD.  Children that can’t learn letter names.  Children that have trouble forming letters.  Children that can’t accurately sound out words.

Research estimates that this could include up to 40% of children!!

Who are these 40%?  Any child that does not learn at the same rate as their peers, when they are sitting in the same classroom getting the same instruction.  THAT SAME INSTRUCTION DOESN’T WORK FOR ALL LEARNERS! (And neither do the “programs” or “intervention kits” or “training methods” that are used for extra help).

You will want to start to pay attention to job titles.  In my experience, a “reading tutor” is someone that tries to help kids apply strategies (like “I before e except after c” or “when 2 vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”) … those strategies don’t count for bupkis!  The prompting strategies don’t actually TEACH the child anything!  When is comes down to Brass Tacks, often a tutor is someone who has years and years of experience sitting with kids while they struggle to read and guess at words.

Do you want that person working with your child?

Also watch for “reading specialist”, “reading expert”, or “dyslexia specialist”.  If you are any sort of expert or specialist, then you will have familiarity with several theories of learning and bodies of research, and you will be drawing from a number of methodologies.

Already working with an “expert”?  Ask them what their theory is regarding how children with learning disabilities learn to read.  I bet you they will say that they follow the ____ approach or that they are “trained in the ____ method” or have the “____ certification”.

If you speak to someone who is “trained in the ____ method”, RUN!  And call me.

In my experience, that person has bought into one commercial system or product that appealed to them.  And literally, bought in.  They likely invested a couple thousand dollars to get certified to teach that method.  And now they need to make that money back!

I know how this works.  I have several certifications.  I spent a couple thousand dollars, attended the training, and bought the kit.  And while I draw from all of those trainings, theories, perspectives, and resources, the reason that I have several is that I haven’t found one certification that works for all children.

RUN!!  That person likely has ONE approach that they use with ALL kids that walk through their door.  And it doesn’t work.  Not for a learning disability.  Not for dyslexia.  Not for a speech and language disorder.

These programs, and the providers of these programs, DO NOT understand the INDIVIDUAL, CUSTOM needs of EVERY STUDENT that has a different learning profile.

For example, I meet parents who are taking their child to see someone outside of school.  In the afterschool program, they may trace, highlight, or copy letters and words.  This does NOT WORK to teach children to read, write and spell!

Another scenario I encounter are programs that focus exclusively on sound processing and sound awareness.  While these are necessary foundational skills, you CANNOT teach sound skills in isolation!

A READING intervention that doesn’t actually integrate letters?  How can you teach children to decode, if you TAKE AWAY the code?  I feel like I am taking crazy pills!!

(I have this picture in my head of trying to teach a child to read BLINDFOLDED – just by speaking and listening.  It actually makes me chuckle out loud that someone thinks this could work!)

…  And then I CRINGE … because I realize this is REALITY.  Parents of children with dyslexia are wasting their money with these programs, and program providers.  WORSE, they are wasting their child’s precious time – because these children are falling FURTHER BEHIND and are not likely to EVER get caught up.

SERIOUSLY!  The whole idea behind reading is to take this man-made, artificial symbol system, and connect it the sounds and words that we know from speaking.  And someone is trying to teach that WITHOUT using the symbols!  This baffles me.  (Pardon me while I take a short break to bounce my head off my desk a couple times).

Many programs designed for early learners have a heavy phonics and phonological awareness approach.  While these are fantastic programs FOR early learners, they are NOT appropriate for children beyond the end of Grade 1!

They are NOT functional, integrated programs that are going to help children learn to apply speech AND language skills to the letter-based tasks and functions of reading, writing, and spelling.

And just so I am being clear for any critics out there, these programs CAN have value, and CAN be part of a holistic and comprehensive program.

However, let me be equally clear – I have seen, over and over, that these programs are being used as STAND-ALONE programs!  As the one, single intervention that is going to make the difference!  Used by themselves, any program that is one dimensional and focuses on one aspect of literacy, is NOT going to make the difference.  I am ADAMANT about this!

Any program that focuses only on sound awareness, sound processing, or “feeling what your mouth does when you say sounds” should be beneficial for students learning foundational skills.  A student in Kindergarten or early Grade One will benefit from this (*along with systematic instruction on LETTER-SOUND correspondence).

However, it is BORDERLINE CRIMINAL to use a program like this by itself for a student in Gr. 3, or a student diagnosed with dyslexia.  It is a disservice.  That time could be better-spent with a multi-linguistic, multi-sensory, functional integrated literacy instructional program.

In isolation, a program that focuses on sounds is not going to teach reading.  A program with cartoon letters is not going to teach reading.  A program to help a child recognize the sounds in words is not going to teach reading.

For a child with a learning difference, A structured, systematic, explicit phonics program is not, ALONE, going to teach reading.  A whole-language approach that focused on contextual guessing using a MSV 3-cueing system, is DEFINITELY not going to teach reading!

Not when we are working with children with a learning difference.  For these children, their brain does not access speech, language, and visual symbol information in a typical way.

Any program that focuses on one skill, or activating one isolated area of the brain, is not going to teach reading.  These programs may help lay a FOUNDATION for the pre-requisite speech and language skills, which is why these programs have some use in K or Gr. 1 AS PART OF a comprehensive literacy program.

However, to use one of these programs in Gr. 3?  Great, you have now taken a year to teach the foundational skills for reading.  Now what?  Now the child has the needed foundation, and they are in Gr. 4!

Who is then going back and doing 4 years of explicit teaching on the letter-sound correspondence, letter combinations, and spelling expectancies, not to mention the grammatical complexities and writing conventions that are needed for adequate literacy skills in Grade four, and beyond?  NO ONE.  That is why newspapers are written at a Gr. 6 level so people can access the text in them – there are so many people who just don’t advance past the Gr. 6 reading level!

SO … what is a parent to do??

There is a lot of information (and dis-information) out there.  There are a lot of programs that provide “parts” or “components” of what children need to learn.  This can sound appealing … but now you have been warned.

I offer a free consultation.  We will review your child’s learning history; the assessments, the programs, the methods that have been used; all of it.

We will make a hypothesis about how your child learns, and we will look at what parts of their current program are adequate – and which parts are NOT being addressed (and any parts that should be outright discarded).

We will look at assessment options if there are questions that we don’t know the answers to!

From there, we will have created a Learning Profile, and can then create an informed, customized, individualized Learning Plan.

And then YOU will be an educated parent who can make informed decisions and be a strong advocate for your child’s education.