As I’m preparing for the upcoming homeschool year, I’m going to take a break from book reviews to touch on a related literary subject–struggling readers. I have one of these. In fact, I have two. The younger one is a typical boy who’d rather spend time outside and therefore commits way less than his full abilities to the school subjects at hand. As a result, he’s a moderately low reader. My older son is highly motivated, yet he’s extremely low–even after years of personalized, one-on-one instruction.
Though I hold a teaching degree, I do not have specific training in reading disabilities. Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed. And it is a little embarrassing for a teacher/author to have a child two grades behind in language arts. I’m supposed to have all the answers, right? NOT! Occassionally, I wonder if I should let the state take over. They have trained professionals. They can diagnose disabilities. (I strongly suspect dyslexia.) But then I think, this child would never keep up in a regular classroom. He’d be labeled a “dumb kid” and would most likely fall through the cracks of an already overburdened system. So I plod on, celebrating each miniscule victory, and doing a lot of reading on the side.
I recently read Helping Children Overcome Learning Difficulties, by Jerome Rosner. It’s a bit dated, but it had some really good stuff in it. Like most of the books I read, it bolstered my confidence, assuring me that I am cut out for this job–the teaching tips and methods given are always instinctive to me. This particular book didn’t add anything new to my repertoire of reading activities, but it did recommend three ways to deal with a child with a learning disability that I found extremely helpful and reinforcing, because I’ve done them all at one time or another: wait, remediate, or accommodate.
Waiting means not progressing with a grade, subject, or concept until the child acquires the developmental skills required for mastery. Example one, story problems. My son couldn’t do them independently to save his life. So we’d work them out together. Then one day–a year or two later than it was “supposed” to happen, they just clicked. Example two, grammar. This requires abstract thinking. We put it off till he was ready and didn’t worry about what the “experts” said. For reading, however my son is way past the age of waiting. We need to move on to another option.
Remediation means to fix the problem. Relearn. Redo. But remediating in the standard classroom means that while the child is relearning, he’s not keeping up with his classmates on new information. In other words, he’s destined to fall behind. This book recommends not remediating with a child in third grade or beyond. I agree for subjects that don’t require systematic accumulation of skills, like health or history. But for reading? No way. In fact, we’ve been remediating for years. That’s why he’s so far behind. We’re reading and spelling at his level, not pressing on before he’s ready. It’s a slow process, but I see steady progress being made, especially when I reread the notes I’ve made along the way. And we’ll continue to remediate. I’ve got the time and the motivation to keep plodding along. And who can judge mastery and readiness better than me?
Along with remediation comes acccomodation. This means changing something in the child’s instruction so it departs from the standard. Well, isn’t homeschool the defintion of accommodation? Instructor, classroom, and curricula are all modified in the child’s interest. Within our homeschool framework, we’ve also modified our methods. For example, instead of using books to suppliment the concepts he’s learning, we often watch videos. As an auditory learner, it’s amazing what that child can glean from a documentary! We also do a LOT of hands on work (build models, create charts, etc.). And when written work is required, I can modify the rubric to target exactly the skills I expect mastered, and we can learn new skills incrementally. We also team read text books. In other words, by designing his schooling around his strenghts, I’m helping my son succeed in his courses instead of setting him up for failure.
In conclusion, I often get down when I think about just how slowly my son is progressing and just how much work it involves. Though it was not my original intention, he will probably homeschool all the way through graduation. That means I’ll have to research and advocate to make sure he has opportunities I can’t give him, like shop class, or sports teams, or admission to the county technical/skilled trades academy. Sometimes it’s plain overwhelming. Sometimes it feel hopeless and unending. I have to remind myself often that that’s not the case. If any of you are dealing with a similar situation, I’m hope this post reminds you of the same thing. Slow and steady (homeschool, in our case) really is in a child’s best interest.