Readers who struggle

Most young kids come to school eager to read and write and learn. If all goes well, teachers tap into the knowledge that kids have developed during their first years of life and provide the experiences that launch these fledgling learners into the world of schooling.

But we all know kids that haven't connected easily with school, and the reasons vary. Do you recognize stories like these? This site is dedicated to transforming them!

1. Scott was a kid who struggled with the simplistic reading books used in his first grade classroom, yet loved planes and would sketch jets and browse books about them by the hour. He came to my multi-age primary classroom as a second grader, and a beginning reader who had few literacy skills. He lacked confidence as a learner in school.

2. Tyler was reading when he started kindergarten, and there was a clear mismatch between the curriculum that focused on learning letters and sounds and his literacy skills. His teacher viewed kindergarten as a place to teach beginning readers and said she wasn't able to teach him within that context. A year later, he entered a 1st-3rd grade multi-age classroom as one of the youngest students, as a very experienced reader, yet disengaged from school.

3. Anne was the mother of a quiet and deliberative six-year old daughter. Anne volunteered in the classroom twice a week, and was unsure if her daughter was on target as a first grader. What could help her know?

4. Phil was a business owner who reported that he struggled to read the materials that could help him advance his work. His perceptions of himself as a reader were shaped in his first years of school, and were further defined by being the only sibling in his family without a college degree. His view of his reading skills was a mismatch with the thoughtful adult I spoke with who reads the New Yorker for enjoyment.

5. Nick was entering the fourth grade reading like a beginning reader. Based on the school's recommendation he had attended two years of remedial tutoring and summer school. Although he was bright in many ways, his literacy skills had not developed despite the suggested help. It was getting harder and harder for his mother to get him up for school.

In some small or large way I have been helpful to each of these readers, and I share details of how with the hope that the information can be used to help others. This blog is dedicated to ending the frustration that people feel when there's a mismatch between a kid's learning and the experience of school. There's nothing I love to do more than think through the issues and problem solve together.

But first, a little more on why readers struggle.

Learners "struggle" for a reason. The reason usually becomes clear when we spend time with them and pay close attention. The problem is rarely that there is something wrong with a reader. Usually, they become confused about reading as a result of their experiences in learning to read. This confusion might happen at home, or at school, and is rarely intentional. Clearing up their confusions is the first step toward successful learning.

One final point: I haven't found it helpful to label children. Referring to learners as lazy or learning disabled or at-risk (the latter two relate to funding categories) hasn't been helpful to me in teaching children to read. What we can do instead is listen to children and learn from them. I am committed to helping you do the same, whether you are the parent, grandparent, teacher, or foster parent of a kid whose learning is not yet on track.

Do you have a story of a struggling reader? Please share it!

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