Michelle Isenhoff

Struggling Readers

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.

Yeah, sometimes I feel like this guy! (Courtesy of PhotoXpress.)
Yeah, sometimes I feel like this guy! (Courtesy of PhotoXpress.)

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.

Struggling Readers

14 thoughts on “Struggling Readers

  1. Well said, Mrs. Isenhoff. I know some kids who have trouble reading. I am glad there are so many different things to read out there (I seem to enjoy reading everything but I know all kids aren’t like me 😉 ).

    1. Erik, I always value your opinion on books. You guys like many of the same things, and you’re a good judge of reading level. I’ve often picked up books on your recommendation. Keep on putting those reviews out there! They are very useful.

  2. You are absolutely right! I’ve been there, done that, too, and couldn’t agree more. As a homeschooling parent, we take the time and energy to do what our children need.
    When my late-late bloomer daughter was taking a college class on working with special-needs children, she told me that if I had put her into school, all they would have done was label her and make sure she knew she was way behind. She knew she was behind, but she was grateful that I always encouraged her and said she could do it. Finally, when she was in 9th grade, she was ready to push the fast-forward button. Each child is unique. Homeschooling lets us follow God’s plan for each child!

  3. My daughter was a reluctant reader and had issues processing information. And, she was hearing impaired. Your children are really getting very special help when you work with them. At school, they have tutors, attend special classes, get labeled, feel different and could end up running with the wrong kids because of self-esteem issues. My daughter was always 6-9 months behind the other kids (i.e. tying shoes). She felt left behind, where as you work with your son/s where they are right now. That’s most important. It wasn’t until she reached high school that she began to read more and caught up. She also refused to wear hearing aids or braces — nothing to make her look different. I applaud what you are doing. I was not a teacher so I couldn’t do what you’re doing. You are creating the programs that will benefit your sons. Don’t hang up the towel.
    Emma Walton Hamilton has written a book called “Raising Bookworms.”

  4. I admire what you are doing with your boys. My son has a learning disability and struggled through school, being held back twice. He is now an adult with 4 children, has a great job as a road construction foreman and plays in a band on weekends and evenings. I couldn’t home school him but I did encourage him to concentrate on what he did best. He didn’t read much then but he reads a lot now, especially biographies of rock stars. I couldn’t be more proud of him. If parents believe in their children, like you do, they will do just fine.

    1. Thanks, Darlene. This is really encouraging, too. I love to hear success stories. 🙂 I try to keep in mind that my son does have strengths and he’s going to find his niche.

  5. Having worked with reluctant readers for most of my professional life, the progress they make is in much shorter spurts than you’d wish. One method doesn’t work for all. They may not become prolific readers, but through your efforts a small spark can be lit. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Greg. I have won part of the battle–both boys love a good story. They just prefer it read to them at this point. We’re doing a lot more team reading of “fun” books instead of JUST read alouds. Then they’re putting forth some effort for pleasure reading but not getting overwhelmed.

  6. Interesting. I’ve had this one on my radar since you published it and finally got a chance to come over here. It’s been fascinating watching the differences in my own children. My daughter was sitting and patiently listening to books as long as Dr. Seuss when the pediatrician was still giving us board books at her checkups (a practice which I really like, by the way, even though the books were younger than she was reading). My son, however, at two years old, will rarely sit through more than one book–if that–at the end of the day. I know boys are definitely different, but it makes me wonder what will happen with him in the future along these lines.
    It’s unfortunate that more educators don’t practice what has been preached to them. I received my license relatively recently, and differentiated instruction was all the rage (such as accommodations when it comes to different learning styles). Yet I think your concerns with traditional schooling are founded unfortunately. Obviously homeschooling provides the kind of one-on-one attention that just isn’t possible in a traditional classroom, but many teachers are still holding on to the old ways of teaching and assessing, and many of these methods just don’t serve as many kids as they should.
    Best of luck to you as you continue. I agree with Greg that the spurts are not as noticeable as you’d like (but they’re probably there, so keep fighting the good fight).

    1. Thanks, Paul, for the encouragement. Interesting to hear the perspective of a public school teacher. I think most teachers are well-intentioned. They’re just responsible for so many kids. And parental involvement is usually lacking as parents are overburdened, too. So homeschool just makes sense to me. Good luck with your kiddos!

  7. Reading this makes me sigh. I remember when I figured out that the reason some of my 11th graders were failing my history class was that they couldn’t properly read the textbook. I consulted with our “reading specialist” and learned all kinds of ways to help them…all of which involved about an hour of one-on-one work per day, per kid…for seven kids. Right. Sure. Sigh…..Knowing the problem is just as great for a homeschool teacher ought to make me feel better, but it doesn’t. What does one do when the problem is almost greater than the solution? I know–“almost” isn’t “totally.” There is hope. But it involves SO much patience, work, and time. My best to you and all the teachers, homeschool and traditional, who are engaged in this work.

    1. Thanks, Gretchen. Your example reaffirms my decision to homeschool. That’s exactly why I’m doing it. A public school teacher just can’t pour the extra time into my child like I can. Sigh. Sometimes I wish I could sift through the English language and simplify spellings. I know we’d lose part of the rich history of our language, but it sure would even the playing field for these guys who struggle so much.

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