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When grades start to drop –  How to make it through to the break

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It’s December! For students in the US, that means we’re in the home stretch for the fall term. For many, the semester ends in a couple of weeks before a break for the winter holidays. Others will return in January to finish up their work and take exams. We’re so close to the end and it’s a time of year where I often hear from concerned parents, worried because “my child’s grades are dropping!” 

Why does this happen and how can we support students to help them finish the term strong? 

Why are my child’s grades dropping now?

It’s partly the kid…

In most middle schools and high schools in the US, the school year is divided into 3 marking periods – the first ends sometime in October or November, the second sometime in January, and the third at the end of the year. Eight or 9 weeks is a long time for a student that age to focus on and work toward a goal like getting an A in English.

For young students, teachers set very short-term goals – read this chapter today, or learn these vocabulary words by Friday. As students enter middle school and high school, the deadlines get farther out and the assignments get bigger. But their brains don’t necessarily grow at the same pace. Sometimes students’ grades drop because they don’t understand (or can’t do) what it takes to get a good grade on an essay, or a mid-term exam, or a large project.

If your child’s grades are dropping, sit down with them and look at the grade book. Make a list of any missing assignments they can still turn in, and look at the big projects ahead. It’s a good idea to take the December calendar and write down, in pen, any firm due dates or commitments. Include sports, dance or activity meetings, and family commitments like holiday travel.

Then look at the list of what needs to be done and plug that work into the “white spaces” on the calendar. If there’s a math test on Wednesday, but your child has events on Monday and Tuesday, he’ll have to make sure he does most of his studying the weekend before. This type of planning doesn’t come naturally to adolescents (or to me, for that matter!) so using concrete tools like paper and different colored pens or highlighters is much more effective than just saying it out loud. 

If there’s no way to fit everything in, it’s time for triage! It may be that your student has fallen behind this term, or that her courseload is just overwhelming right now, or she has overcommitted to activities. It does happen that sometimes there is just more work than time. Some things to think about as you prioritize together what work absolutely needs to get finished:

  • Value of the assignment – If making and studying flashcards will take hours, but the Spanish quiz is only worth 5 points, that might be low on the list. On the other hand, if a large history project will make the difference between passing and failing the class, it should get a lot of time on the calendar, even if it’s not due for a few weeks.
  • Grade goals – if your child is a straight-A student, you probably stopped reading this post a while ago. Students who are struggling in a few classes might need to prioritize to get the grades they need. If they are failing one class but could turn in missing work and get the grade up to a C-, that’s probably more urgent than doing great on the math test that could take them from a B to a B+. Every teacher will say their class is important, or they are all important, but if your child’s grades are dropping, you need to do the math and find the true priorities.
  • Motivation – Sometimes it’s a teacher they don’t get along with. Sometimes it’s a subject that they just hate! For some students, they idea of pouring all their effort and time into their most hated class just feels like torture. Pick your battles. If they understand the consequences of neglecting that awful class, and it’s the best way to get them to move forward in their other classes, that may be the best option. As a parent, it’s very difficult to say “well, don’t do that one, then.” But if they are making the choice between a bad grade in one class, or bad grades in multiple classes, the choice is pretty clear. If putting aside the requirements for their hardest class gets them moving on other things, it can be the right tradeoff – in the short term.

It’s partly the school…

Isn’t it weird that one summer, we pick up an elementary schooler at the end of the last day of school, and somehow, magically, we send a middle schooler back to school in the fall? All of a sudden, they enter this new world of junior high with lockers, and changing classes, and maybe a new device, and new people. But they are the same kids! 

Nothing magical happens during that summer, so it makes sense that lots of kids are still learning skills they need to succeed in a more challenging junior high environment. Too many middle and high school teachers have an attitude like “they need to be more responsible” or “they need to understand that they can’t wait until the last minute” but they haven’t taught the skills that lead to “being more responsible.” 

Some skills and tools schools should be offering include:

  • One consistent system for notifications/reminders and assigning work. Students shouldn’t have to check Google Classroom and Canvas and that one teacher’s website and the school calendar to find out everything that’s going on.
  • A practice of consistently and effectively using planners. Students need to be taught what to write on today’s planner page, what to write on the assignment’s due date, and how to use all that white space to, well, plan their week. Learning to do this can take up a significant amount of time at the beginning of the school year, but I believe it pays for itself for the rest of students’ lives by giving them a set of tools for managing their work through school and into adult life.
  • Instruction on goal-setting and planning. Not everyone is shooting for 100% in every class. But students need to understand how to calculate their average and understand what a poor test grade or missing assignment can do to their grade for the term.
  • Models and templates. Especially at the beginning of the year, students need their teachers to model what an organized notebook looks like. Also, a clean locker, a completed page of homework, an effective paragraph. We cannot take for granted that kids just know what we mean when we tell them to produce these things!

If poor or disorganized writing is holding your child back, you may be interested in our small-group paragraph writing class. These classes are short and focused on the academic paragraph, the basic building block of longer writing.

It’s partly the world around us…

My focus isn’t at its best in December, either. There seems to be a tipping point around Halloween and after that the year just flies by! All those things we need to do before December 31st make us busy and stressed. For young children especially, the anticipation of the holidays can take up a lot of room in their brains! But older kids are feeling it, too. 

In September and October, we’re very focused on our school routines, and by December, some things have started to slip and others have been totally replaced by seasonal needs. Gotta go Christmas shopping. Gotta rehearse for the winter concert. Gotta go to Aunt Sally’s this weekend for her annual cookie swap! 

With so much going on around us, it’s especially important to go back to basics. Make sure your child is getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and getting some time to rest and relax. We can combat that seasonal and end-of-term stress by keeping the predictable routines that worked for us last month. Those routines will give them the support and structure they need to focus on their school work.

This, too, shall pass

It’s temporary, this seasonal stress. The marking period will end. The gifts will get wrapped. The concert will be performed. The days will get longer and we’ll turn our attention to the next challenge. But don’t forget the tools and skills that you and your child needed most in this challenging time. What lessons can you take from this situation that will help your child avoid the pain and stress of getting overwhelmed by poor grades. Next year, instead of “my child’s grades are dropping,” I hope you’ll be saying, “OK, December is coming. Here’s our plan for prioritizing, using tools from the school and managing our energy so we can all make it through in one piece!”

One way to help your child manage their energy in a difficult class is to make sure their basic skills are solid. That’s why I’m offering our paragraph-writing class this winter for middle and high school students. Check it out and leave your name in the contact form to make sure you catch the updates!

Christmas gifts for second graders

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My mantra lately has been “less.” I try to talk less, let my kids figure things out more. Work less, rest more. Eat less. Buy less. Worry less. Gradually, “less” of the things I don’t want is making room for more of the things I do want – time, space, energy, reading.

And as we head into the holiday season, I’m also planning to buy less. We’re experimenting with the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” model for buying Christmas gifts this year. My kids are both at the age where they see things in commercials and instantly want them. They don’t know what they are or what they do, but that commercial makes them look like so much fun! They have lists a mile long, but the toys they do get are often exciting at first and quickly forgotten.

My favorite part of Christmas shopping is the “Something to read” category. I get so excited picking books for kids, trying to give them the excitement I felt over getting the perfect book . But if you don’t read as many children’s books as I do, how do you get gift ideas for 2nd grade students when you’re holiday shopping?

Know your audience

Chapter books for second graders

At some point during second grade, most students will be ready for books with chapters. Some come into second grade already reading these, and others stick with beginning readers, graphic novels and picture books for longer. It has to do with their skills and also their interests. Here are some excellent chapter books to pick up as gifts for your second graders.

  • Magic Tree House books are a popular series with many, many, many books to choose from. The main characters, Jack and Annie, magically travel all over the world and all through time, solving mysteries and problems. This set of the first 4 books Magic Tree House books is a terrific place to start for second graders ready for chapter books.
  • Bad Guys is a fun series, sort of a hybrid between graphic novels and chapter books. Early in second grade, they convinced my son he really is a reader and he blew through them before I knew it! Here’s a boxed set of the first five Bad Guys books that will keep your action-loving reader busy for weeks
  • Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors of children’s books. And a great way to start kids off with Kate DiCamillo is to introduce Mercy Watson, the beloved pet pig of Mr. and Mrs. Watson. In this collection, Adventures of a Porcine Wonder readers will join Mercy on her first 6 adventures.

Graphic novel gifts for 2nd graders

Not all second graders have the reading stamina or patience to read chapter books independently by the time you are shopping for gift ideas for 2nd grade students. Graphic novels are a fun, valuable reading experience that can help kids bridge the gap between short picture books and longer novels that require more patience and time. Some popular graphic novels for second graders include:

  • Narwhal and Jelly might be my personal favorite graphic novel series for this age. The pages are simple, the jokes are cheesy, and the characters are adorable!
  • Investigators . Get this. They’re alligators and they investigate mysteries. They are INVESTIGATORS! Bad guys, gators and spy gadgets. What more could a kid want?
  • Dog Man by Dav Pilkey has a bit less potty humor than the author’s Captain Underpants series, but it still appeals to kids this age because of the goofy humor and fast-moving plots.
  • Guinea PI: Pet Shop Private Eye is a really funny graphic novel series by Colleen AF Venable. The first book, Hamster and Cheese tells the story of an enthusiastic hamster and a reluctant guinea pig that team up to solve mysteries in the pet shop where they live. 

Books to share with your child

Second grade is a year that is all about increasing independence for many students. They become independent readers. They might start to have more homework to do on their own. They might move from more group lessons on the rug to more individual work at their desks. But it wasn’t so long ago that those big, independent second graders were little people who loved to cuddle and hear stories. Maybe it was within the last 24 hours, even! 

Shopping for book gifts for 2nd graders doesn’t mean being limited to books they have to read on their own. Second graders are a great audience for rich novels and beautiful picture books that you can read to them! Here are some of my favorite read-aloud books for this age group:

  • The Wild Robot by Peter Brown, along with its sequel, The Wild Robot Escapes, are excellent for reading aloud. They can be enjoyed at different levels, from younger children who appreciate the silly situations the robot gets into when she lands on an uninhabited island, to the more science-minded students who appreciate the technology and ecology learning woven through the story.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle is a great choice for a read-aloud with second graders. Some of the vocabulary and situations are unfamiliar to young children (even before the Murry children begin their journey through a tesseract to find their father, a scientist working on a dangerous secret project). It’s the beginning of a wonderful fantasy series that I reread every few years, whether any kids want to hear it or not!
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo is a beautiful read-aloud choice for animal lovers. It tells the tale of a young girl who is new in town. She rescues a stray dog who has gotten himself in trouble in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket and as a result, she builds friendships with both children and adults in her new home, and comes to understand her father better, too!
  • Your favorite book from childhood. I’ve read my kids Little House on the Prairie, while my husband has read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and parts of The Lord of the Rings. Even for kids who can read to themselves, read alouds are a great way to expose them to new stories and expand their vocabulary and imagination!

So many books to choose from!

It’s really difficult to go into a bookstore and pick the right books for Christmas gifts for second graders. They could be anywhere from the very early stages of learning to read to plowing through novels on their own. If you’re not sure where to start, ask the kids in your life what they’ve been reading lately or what books their friends are reading. And if all else fails, a gift card always fits just right!

What was your favorite book in second grade? Comment below and let us know!

What if the school doesn’t see a problem with my child’s reading?

We’re coming up on fall teacher conference season in my area. I’m scheduled to see my child’s teacher in a few weeks to take a look at some of his work, here the good and bad news about his progress and make plans for how I can support him at home as the year goes on. Usually, my son’s teacher and I are on the same page about what he’s great at and what he needs. But what you go in with concerns about your child’s reading and the teacher doesn’t share them?

When to worry about your child’s reading

When is dyslexia diagnosed?

Learning to read in kindergarten, first and second grade can be a messy process. Students all come to school with different levels of skill and different language backgrounds. They are learning how to be students – how to line up, sit at desks, follow directions. And somewhere, in all of that, the teacher is taxed with teaching students how our system of written language works. Yet for most kids, by the end of about second grade, they are reading fluently and ready to take on new books and new challenges! Nancy Young, creator of The Ladder of Reading & Writing model, estimates that about 45% of kids learn to read in a way that seems pretty effortless. 

The other 55% of students (that’s more than half!) need consistent, explicit instruction in how reading and spelling work. They need to be taught the sound represented by each grapheme (letter or group of letters that spells a sound in words). They need to learn to manipulate language sounds out loud (phonemic awareness) and blend sounds together smoothly to form a recognizable word. They need to be able to work with syllables and notice if a word has a prefix or suffix that affects the meaning. 

Within that 55% of students who need explicit phonics instruction, some – 10-15% of all students – will need lots and lots of intensive practice and teaching with phonics. This number correlates roughly with the number of dyslexic students. That doesn’t mean that all struggling readers are dyslexic, or even that all dyslexic readers will struggle to learn to read. But those numbers taken together do suggest that in a class of 20 first graders, at least 3 will need some intensive instruction to become readers. 

Often, schools use a “response to intervention” approach to identify students with learning disabilities (dyslexia is an example of a specific learning disability in reading and schools tend to use that term instead of dyslexia). That means they may put the student in small groups, give them extra instruction in the skill areas where they struggle, or bring in additional materials. Done well, this process can fill in skill gaps for students who struggle and also help to identify students who need the most help. Done poorly, this process can waste a child’s time with unfocused or ineffective instruction and delay testing and identification that gets them the support they need. 

Dyslexia is diagnosed by a qualified professional, through a combination of formal testing, observation, and an educational history. It is often left to the parent to initiate and push through this process. But deciding to “wait and see” can have grave consequences for children as the months and years tick by without their reading problems getting solved!

Will dyslexia go away?

Nope.

Dyslexia can be remediated, meaning the skills a child struggles with (repeating multisyllabic words, decoding, spelling, fluency) can be taught. But a child with dyslexia grows up to be an adult with dyslexia. 

With the right teaching and plenty of support, many dyslexic adults are successful. They may choose careers where reading isn’t a barrier. They may also choose to tackle lots of challenging reading that is worth it to them because they are curious and passionate about what they are learning. But they are still dyslexic. They will benefit from accommodations and tools like audiobooks, spellcheck, note-taking strategies, speech-to-text, and a family member or friend who will edit their written work. 

Will dyslexia go away for children whose needs aren’t met in school? 

Double nope. 

Ignoring a child’s reading struggles in the hopes that they will “catch up” or believing that they are “late bloomers” is a harmful practice leftover from the days of whole language teaching. Teachers used to think that if we just fostered a love of reading and read to kids enough, they would eventually catch on. 

In many schools, these “late bloomers” don’t bloom at all. Instead, they become below average students who “miss a lot of details,” “have a bad attitude” about schoolwork, and become anxious, depressed, or disruptive in the classroom. And who can blame them? They’ve been sitting in these classrooms for years, being told to “try harder” when their educational needs are being ignored! 

If this describes your child, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!

So what should parents do about dyslexia?

If your child is struggling to learn to read, they need your love and support, and they also need better instruction. Often, it falls to the parents to advocate for their children. This may begin with asking the teacher for data about your child’s reading, from classroom assessments. Be sure to get your child’s score and ask what the expectation is for students in their grade at this time of year.

If classroom instruction isn’t moving your child along to where they need to be, you can request a special education evaluation from the school district. Even if your child attends private school, your local school district is responsible for conducting the testing and, if necessary, offering services. 

Once the testing is complete, the school may offer an IEP, or Individualized Education Plan. This document, written for a student with an educational disability, lays out the instruction your child needs to make effective progress in the curriculum. It will include goals (what the district plans to achieve in a year), accommodations (supports like study guides and audiobooks that will help your child access her schoolwork) and services, a specific number of hours or minutes during which your child will get specialized instruction, every week, throughout the school year. 

The IEP process is complex, but there are lots of resources out there to help you make sense of it. I recommend starting with your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter. Decoding Dyslexia is a network of parents and professionals working to improve education for students with dyslexia. They are an incredible resource for information and advocacy as you support your child.

Conclusion heading

Watching your child struggle with reading is disheartening and scary. We know how much reading they are expected to do in school, how many tests they must take between now and graduation. We picture them struggling to read a menu or a job application. We hear them cry over homework or fight over getting ready for school.

Becoming an expert in dyslexia and reading challenges on top of supporting your child through her school days is a lot to take on. But the rewards – a happier, more confident child, proud of her new skills and ready for new challenges – is an outcome worth fighting for.

If your child is struggling to learn to read, contact us for a consultation today to find out how online Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring can help your child succeed!

What We Miss When We Don’t Read

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I was chatting with a friend the other day about garden flowers. We each grew up around gardeners (her father, my grandmother) so we’ve heard lots of flower names over time. With the help of Google, we were able to find the names of some flowers we like and decide what to plant. 

And then she brought up a flower I know my grandmother had in her garden, “gladiolas.” “I think I overwatered my gladiolas.” “Did you see the gladiolas out front?” And that’s how I typed it into Google: gladiolas. I was switftly corrected by the search engine: Did you mean gladiolus? 

Hmm, I had heard about these flowers, but I guess I never saw the word in print. Does that matter?

Is it better to read or listen to a book?

Learning by listening

My friend and I have knowledge of flower names that is broad, but shallow. Names sound familiar to us. When we try to recall a name, we know it’s something with a G or it sounds like a person’s name. We might pull out the right name from memory but that’s about it. 

This is the kind of knowledge a novice, like a student in elementary school, might have about the planets in the solar system. They know a few names, and a few facts, but they aren’t clear on the relationships. So they might say the moon is a planet because it goes around the sun. Seeing models and diagrams, with labels, makes a huge difference in a child’s understanding of the subject, and helps them remember the facts better than listening alone.

So audiobooks are bad, right?

“But I thought you were all for audiobooks!”

Yes, I will talk all day about how much audiobooks can support comprehension for struggling readers, exposing them to challenging content that they are not yet ready to decode on their own.

But that’s not enough.

I often hear stories of school districts saying “We give a 504 for dyslexia, not an IEP” or offering accommodations like a scribe for written work, an adult to read aloud, or audiobooks, as the end point for supporting students who struggle to read. 

But if students only hear Shakespeare say [double entendre], they may miss the fact that [homophone] Their understanding will be less rich and less complete than that of a person who read the play with their eyes. Shakespeare wrote his works to be performed, though, so even that isn’t as bad as listening-only access to something like a history book or a scientific article. Academic writing is complex, with subtle punctuation choices (semi-colons, colons, and m-dashes, oh my!) and long sentences. Glancing up to the previous paragraph or flipping ahead to a diagram are an important part of understanding the text.

If your child is not getting enough support for reading and writing at school, contact us for a consultation to see how we can help through online Orton-Gillingham tutoring.

Making in the invisible visible

Seeing words and understanding morphology adds a whole layer of richness to our understanding of words. Kids may be able to memorize definitions of math and science words (centimeter, milliliter, quadrilateral) but if they don’t have the skills to take the word apart into its morphemes and notice the meaning connections to other words (centimeter, century, cent) they are missing a layer of undertstanding.

So what do we do? For kids who struggle to read, we often have to prioritize. They have fallen behind, so we choose between devoting time to shoring up basic skills or helping them to push through their current workload, relying on accommodations to save time and substitute for weaker skills. 

Teaching morphology – the meaningful building blocks that make up words in our language – is working smarter, not harder. Once students have the basics, they can continue to learn (and even teach themselves!) the meaning of new vocabulary by taking words apart into their morphemes and using that information to understand the new word. 

Managing time and energy

In life, and especially for our students who struggle, we have to manage our time and energy. We can’t expect slow reading students to both sound out all the words in an act of Hamlet and understand Shakespearian language and learn the definitions of a half-dozen vocabulary words in the play. 

So is it better to read or listen to a book? It depends on your purpose. For an overview of a complex chapter or essay, or to understand the plot and character development in a novel, audiobooks are great! You can adjust the speed, pause, rewind if you need to hear something again. You get the benefit of hearing a professional reader imbue the story with energy and meaning through expressive reading. But if the goal is the nitty-gritty details of vocabulary, word choice, and spelling, it’s best to turn to the printed version to get all the available information.

I’ll be getting my garden-planning books in visual form and saving the audiobooks for taking in stories while I commute or clean the kitchen.

If your child is struggling to read and write at school, contact us today for a consultation to see how online Orton-Gillingham literacy instruction can help.

The embarrassing reason I didn’t finish my grad program

Like a lot of people who become teachers, I really liked school. I liked the predictable routines of reading a chapter, answering the questions and then taking a quiz. In college, I hit a few speed bumps, like papers I wrote at the last minute or an overwhelming volume of completely uninteresting reading but I came out of it unharmed. Even my master’s program was pretty comfortable, with lots of reading and writing, but nothing that really stumped me. Teachers frequently gave us templates for writing essays or reports, or examples from previous classes that gave us guidance as we planned our own writing.

But to advance in my teaching career, I needed to earn more credits after my master’s. I enrolled in a CAGS program (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study) at a local university and had the opportunity to choose my focus (literacy and special education) and select classes to gain a deeper understanding of the subjects. I took lots of classes on literacy development, the assessment of reading difficulties, and different approaches to teaching reading. So far, so good. But then it was time to plan my capstone project: a thesis or an action research project. That’s when I got stumped. 

Why are templates important?

Catch-22

The thesis process at that university goes like this: First, choose your topic and develop an annotated bibliography and proposal. Then, find a professor to serve as your advisor. After that, work with their guidance to complete the research and write the thesis. But when I submitted my annotated bibliography and the roughest sketch of a topic to my program advisor, they said I would need a LOT more before they could connect me with an advisor who knew my subject matter.

And that, dear reader, is when I quit.

I was pregnant with my second child and working full time, and as much as I wanted to finish this degree, I just couldn’t see how. I had spent hours Googling random combinations of words like “graduate thesis education,” “thesis proposal template,” and any other phrase I could think of that might give me some insight into what was missing from my proposal. And asking for help from my program advisor turned out to be a dead end. That person wasn’t in the same field as me and either I didn’t know how to ask or they didn’t know how to tell me what my submission was missing. 

My plan was to take some time off and then try again. And I did the first part, but never the second part. Oops.

Should students get templates for writing essays?

Now imagine that instead of a thirty-something educator, I was a ninth grader, assigned my first high school essay. Or a middle schooler writing my first lab report. All that knowledge I had in my head about reading and education, and all the writing I had done in my life up to that point, didn’t prepare me to write this proposal because I didn’t really know what it was

It reminds me of The Great British Baking Show, where the characters are given just the vaguest outline of a recipe and they are supposed to use their knowledge of baking techniques to reproduce one of the famous hosts’ classic recipes. When you give vague directions, you can’t expect the product to turn out like you imagined. And the same is true of templates for writing essays. The more specific a teacher can be about what he is looking for in an essay, the more opportunities the students will have to succeed with those expectations!

If your middle or high school writer needs to strengthen their academic writing skills, check out our small group offerings. A new session of our paragraph writing course will be offered in Winter 2023. Contact us now to get on the list when enrollment opens.

What is a writing template?

Templates for writing essays are documents that lay out all the parts of the assignment, including models for what should be included in each part. For example, a simple template for a 5-paragraph essay would look like:

  • Introduction – include a thesis statement
  • Body paragraph 1
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Body paragraph 2
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Body paragraph 3
    • Quote 1 and explanation
    • Quote 2 and explanation
  • Conclusion

Most students will need more detailed guidance, and would benefit from a paragraph-writing template. I like to use the TBEAR model for most middle school and high school writing. It looks like this:

  • T – thesis statement: This sentence makes an arguable claim that the writer will support with examples
  • B – brief explanation: A sentence or two (not much more) to give the reader background about the part of the text you will discuss. 
  • E – evidence: This sentence will either directly quote or paraphrase a sentence or phrase from the text that supports the thesis statement. (A good body paragraph usually has 2-3 pairs of evidence and analysis sentences.)
  • A – analysis: In a sentence or two, explain why the evidence above supports your thesis. Make the connection between your thesis and the quote clear.
  • R – relate: Show how your evidence relates to the big ideas of the reading. This could be relating the section you analyzed to the whole book, making a connection to real life or your own experience, or a connection back to the main thesis of the essay, depending on the exact assignment.

Why are templates important in writing?

Often, we show students examples of good writing and hope and expect that they’ll be able to produce something similar. But the problem is that weak writers don’t know enough about good writing to tell the difference between good and bad essays. They don’t know what to imitate because it’s not clear to them what makes the writing good. 

A template for essay writing goes further than just providing examples. Instead of “do what the author did here,” a template makes the instruction explicit. “Just like the example, your essay will have 3 body paragraphs, each with 2 pieces of evidence quoted from the text.” Now that is a direction students can take action on. 

And by writing, students become better writers! Once they have produced some essays, they will become better at recognizing good arguments and understanding the structure of other people’s writing. And that’s why templates are an essential part of good writing instruction for all developing writers.

If your middle school or high school student is struggling with essay writing, let me know. I’m looking forward to offering our paragraph writing class in the winter of 2023. If you are interested, drop your email in the contact form on that page and we’ll update you when the class is scheduled.

How to Help a Slow Reader

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Slow reading can lead to stress, overwhelming time spent on homework, poor grades, and loss of confidence. Students who read more slowly than peers will end up reading less over time – that’s just math. If you’re here wondering how to help a slow reader in your life, you have a big job ahead of you, but one that can be very rewarding!

Reasons for slow reading

What does it take to read fluently?

Listening to a young child read is painful. They are slow and they are working so hard for every word. It’s not until around second grade that the average child’s reading starts to sound like “reading.” For many children, this ability develops later, or they continue to struggle. For a child to read fluently, they need to be able to automatically recognize and blend all the different spellings of all the different sounds in English. They have to have a robust vocabulary to recognize words in context. They have to have sufficient knowledge of punctuation, sentence structure and stories to read sentences smoothly and anticipate what’s going to happen. They also need enough background knowlege about the topic to anticipate what’s coming. For a reader to be fluent, these elements need to come together all at once. There are lots of different things to go wrong, which means there are lots of options for how to help a slow reader.

Decoding issues

One reason kids read slowly is that they don’t know how to sound out words. We can memorize a certain number of words, but trying to memorize them all will lead to errors. Our brain stores words we read automatically in the language parts of our brain, not the visual parts. Think about though/through/thought/tough – they all look similar and our brain isn’t good at memorizing the details. If students aren’t able to connect each of those spelling “chunks” with sounds, they might mix up those look-alike words or other words with similar visual features.

Students need to learn how to decode words with all the many spelling patterns in English, as well as how to chunk words into syllables, or into root words and their prefixes and suffixes. Without the skills to segment words into syllables and individual sounds, students have to rely on their visual memory, which is not as detail-oriented as the language system for decoding words.

So if you are trying to figure out how to help a slow reader, one answer is you have to find out what is behind the slow reading. For many kids the cause is inefficient word recognition. What they need is some solid instruction in phonics and morphology (root words, prefixes and suffixes) and when that  need is met, their fluency will be just fine.

Bad habits lead to slow reading

Most kids I’ve taught read slowly because they were still learning to decode. But sometimes if you want to know how to help a slow reader, the answer is: read to them and read with them.

  1. Some kids read as fast as they can, not stopping at punctuation or varying their reading speed or tone. The result is flat, rushed reading and poor comprehension. And they may also skim over their errors without correcting them, so they miss important information. The solution is getting kids to think about “sounding like a storyteller” or an actor. 

How to fix it:

  • Take turns reading. Hearing you read every other page, or every other paragraph, Point out things you’re doing, like how you read a sentence with an exclamation point or question mark. 
  • Read a short selection a couple of times, and give them feedback after their practice. The goal is not to memorize the words and read it super fast. Comprehension and fluency support each other, so having a handle on the story will improve fluency. Repetition will also help them anticipate tricky sentences.
  • Record them, either on video or just audio. Have them read something they feel comfortable with out loud. Help them (kindly!) critique their reading. Pick one thing to focus on – like pausing at punctuation or not repeating words – and have them practice a bit and then record again. 
  1. Other students read accurately but very slowly. Sometimes this looks like a lack of confidence. But there’s usually something behind it. Either kids have learned to accurately decode, but they aren’t automatic yet. For that, keep offering practice at that same level, text they can decode. Sometimes slow reading is related to slow processing speed or inattention. For these kids, the strategies above help, but their progress might be slower. A few students with the greatest difficulty may never read at an average speed. But they can make progress and learn to read fast enough for comprehension.
  2. Another bad habit that some readers develop is pausing every time a thought pops into their heads, or pausing to ask questions about the story that will be answered by the end of the sentence! Remind them to “read all the way to the period, then ask” their question. For readers distracted by things other than the story, focus on a peaceful reading environment, picking a really good book, and gradually building up their stamina. At first, taking turns by paragraph or page will help them move through the story quickly enough to hold their interest.

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How to help a slow reader get through this book

Often, slow reading becomes a significant problem for older children. They may have gotten away with listening to teachers’ instruction, reading part of the text, or learning from talking to other students for years. But sooner or later, whether it’s 6th grade, high school, or freshman year of college, slow reading begins to catch up with them. There’s a book report due or a discussion to prepare for. 

The best option for giving a slow reader the gift of time is to provide the audiobook version of a text. These are widely available through local public libraries and from services like Audible. Many classic books are available from LibriVox . Some audiobooks, either commercially produced or read by teachers or other volunteers, are available on YouTube. Some of these uses violate copyright laws, so use your own best judgment when choosing this option.

How to help a slow reader in your life

No matter what stage of learning your slow reader is in, becoming a faster or more fluent reader will take time and practice. Whether it’s finishing their knowledge of sounding out words or practicing to make their reading sound smoother or more animated, slow readers will need lots of practice.

If the reader you are helping is your own child, make a point of keeping reading a fun, positive, family activity. Your child needs to practice consistently and that will be an uphill battle unless they begin to enjoy the process. Short periods of focused practice most days of the week – start with 10 minutes in the evening and work your way up – will benefit your child more than long sessions of drilling. 

For older readers who are already feeling the pressure of trying to keep up in school, offering them audiobooks can take a lot of the pressure off because it frees up their time for the hard working of thinking and writing about what they read. I recommend listening to a chapter first, then rereading to take notes or complete assignments. 

Helping a slow reader can be time consuming and challenging. But watching your child grow through consistent practice will make you both proud!

The best parts about teaching with the Orton-Gillingham approach

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What the heck is the Orton-Gillingham method?

The Orton-Gillingham method to teaching reading and spelling is an explicit, systematic approach to teaching literacy, based on the work of Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham. In the early 20th century, Dr. Orton’s understanding of the brain and language development was brought together with teaching materials and methods compiled by Anna Gillingham to create an approach to reading instruction to support people with dyslexia. In 1935, Gillingham published The Gillingham Manual along with Bessie Stillman. Although there are different organizations that train and certify OG tutors, and their methods vary, The Gillingham Manual is still the foundation of the Orton-Gillingham method as it is used today.

Teaching using the Orton-Gillingham approach involves assessing a student, determining what graphemes (letters and combinations that represent an English sound) the student knows, and systematically teaching the ones they don’t know. Students also learn grammar, vocabulary, syntax and comprehension in the same step-by-step way. The underlying principle of the Orton-Gilling approach is that struggling readers need to be explicitly taught how written English works, including the history and spelling rules that make us think English is “weird” or “crazy.”

I love my job!

Working 1:1 with students

I was trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach while I was a public school special education teacher. On paper, I was responsible for a lot of the same things I do now. But here’s the big, exciting difference: Where I used to see group after group during the week, often for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, now I get nearly an hour, two or more times a week, with my students! 

Instead of trying to help them catch up in their classwork while working our way through the Orton-Gillingham learning sequence, in my 1:1 work with students I can prioritize the student’s needs and work through the Orton-Gillingham sequence of skills in a focused way.

Directly connecting with families

Another bright spot for me as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor is that I get to connect more directly with parents and families than I did as a teacher. I work with all my students online, using Zoom, so parents can pop in at the beginning or end of a lesson to chat, or can observe what their children are doing in lessons. I also have time to check in with parents by email or phone, share details about the student’s work, and make suggestions for materials for home or school. It’s easier to share progress and concerns with parents this way than it ever was when I taught kids at school and parents and I had to try to catch each other during the busy day!

Responding flexibly

One of my favorite things about working as an Orton-Gillingham specialist is the flexibility I can bring to my teaching. There are some great OG-based reading curriculums out there, like All About Reading, Barton, and Wilson. Many students get excellent results. The limitation of these programs is that they are designed to be taught in a particular order, over a specific number of lessons. Some students get excellent results from these programs! 

Other students need instruction at a slower pace, or they need more practice with a particular skill. With the Orton-Gillingham approach, I tailor my lessons to the individual student. So if we need to spend a few weeks on a concept, we spend it! We’re not “falling behind” or “stuck,” we’re just doing the next necessary step. By the same token, some older children know parts of what I teach, and we’re able to push ahead and introduce the skills they need as soon as possible. Either way, I’m able to give students what they need most, instead of being tied to a particular book or curriculum.

Some of the things I do with students fall outside the traditional Orton-Gillingham approach. Remember, The Gillingham Manual was written in the 1930s. We’ve learned a lot since then about the human brain, reading, dyslexia, and how people learn. As an Orton-Gillingham provider, I incorporate other approaches and resources for teaching phonemic awareness, fluency, morphology, and writing. For the most part, these approaches support the Orton-Gillingham method. Rather than replacing OG, many of these tools are supplements that let me give my students more of what they need more quickly!

More of the good stuff!

I loved many parts of my job when I was a teacher! I love the energy in an elementary school, especially at the beginning of the year. I love that point in the middle of the year sometime when we hit our groove and everyone is learning together. I love seeing children proud of their accomplishments and moving on to the next level of skills. 

But now, as a private Orton-Gillingham instructor, my days are filled with more of the good stuff! I get to see more students make more impressive gains because when I work with a student, I can zero in on the skills they need next and teach those. It’s incredibly rewarding to see students succeed and become more confident in their reading and writing.

If you are looking for an Orton-Gillingham-certified online reading tutor for your child, contact us for a consultation. Let’s talk about how the Orton-Gillingham method can help your child and whether online learning is a good fit for them.

What is visual dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association , dyslexia is: 

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Dyslexia looks different for different people and even the same person at different ages. It can be quite severe, making it difficult for a child to read or spell at all, even after lots of teaching and practice. Dyslexia can also be very mild and students might “fly under the radar” for years or just be considered “careless” spellers or “reluctant” readers. Students with this profile are sometimes identified as having “visual dyslexia,” to distinguish them from students who have difficulties with the phonological (sounds) part of reading and spelling. But what is visual dyslexia?

Are there different types of dyslexia? 

The International Dyslexia Association is widely recognized as an authority on the subject of dyslexia. They do not recognize visual dyslexia as a subtype of dyslexia. In fact, they emphasize that dyslexia is not a vision problem. And therefore, glasses, colored filters and vision exercises are not treatments for dyslexia. But just the same, kids with dyslexia can be very different from each other. Terms like “visual dyslexia” and “phonological dyslexia” have gained popularity with some professionals because they describe how students are unique and help evalutaors and tutors communicate about what students need.

What is visual dyslexia?

Visual dyslexia is also known as surface dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. These terms describe a reader who has difficulty remembering how to read and spell words, but who does not have significant problems with the phonological or sound parts of language. There is some research that shows this is a true distinction and may help us understand causes and improved treatments for dyslexia. However, these subtypes of dyslexia don’t completely explain differences between different students and there isn’t enough evidence to support giving these readers a different kind of treatment or intervention.

What is phonological dyslexia?

Phonological dyslexia is a term used to describe readers who have difficulty with the phonological or sound parts of reading. The might struggle with oral language skills like rhyming or repeating multisyllabic words when other kids their age are mastering the skill (kids who say pah-sketti for spaghetti beyond preschool, for example). Readers with this profile might not include all the sounds when they read or spell a word or might say the wrong sound for a letter they see.

Are there other types of dyslexia?

While there are not clear cut “types” of dyslexia, students can have varying degrees of need in different skills. They are similar, the same way a pink striped sock and a pink polka dot sock are similar. They might both match your sweater and be made of wool. That doesn’t mean they’re a perfect match!

Some people with dyslexia mainly have weaknesses in their phonological skills. They might need a lot of practice to learn to read long science words or a lot of practice counting the sounds in words and making sure to include all the letters.

Others might have no problem with phonological skills, but have a great deal of difficulty rapidly and fluently applying rules and patterns they know to words on the page. This often shows up in testing as a weakness in Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), the ability to quickly and accurately recall knowledge, like letter and number names. 

Still other students have difficulty in both of these areas. This profile is known as “double-deficit dyslexia” in which students have difficulty in both phonological skills and RAN. These students often make slow progress and need more repetition and review than those with only one deficit.

What helps with visual dyslexia?

If a student is evaluated and given a diagnosis of dyslexia, the chief recommendation is usually an explicit, sequential, program of reading instruction that includes instruction in letter-sound relationships, spelling rules, vocabulary and comprehension. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is one approach for teaching dyslexic readers. These approaches may also be known as “structured literacy” and, while OG is older and well-known, there are many other programs and instructional approaches that can also be quite effective.

Students whose signs of dyslexia are mostly visual (poor spelling) and not phonological (segmenting and blending sounds in spoken words) might need more spelling and morphology instruction, and less practice with phonemic awareness exercises or letter-sound drills. But this is still done effectively under the umbrella of structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham instruction. As an educator certified in Orton-Gillingham, I’ve taught students who fit each of these profiles, and some who didn’t quite fit any. I’ve had other students without a dyslexia diagnosis at all. For all of these different students, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been effective, as long as we are accurately recognizing the skills they need.

As different as these profiles seem, their needs are very similar, at the core. We use the language parts of our brain for reading (not the same visual parts we use to recognize faces or objects). So whether a reader is struggling with mostly spelling or mostly decoding or mostly fluency, the answer still lies in studying the English language. 

For example, I work with some middle grades students (4-7th grade) who are adequate readers and are good at spelling the sounds in words, but they forget which there/their/they’re or to/two/too to use. Their writing might be phonetically readable for other words, but not correct. They may spell compete as cumpeet or walked as wockt. It helps tremendously when they learn the patterns and rules behind English spelling. They learn about words that come from Anglo-Saxon, and those that come from French, Latin and Greek. They learn how often a certain spelling is used in English words so they can start to make educated guesses about words they aren’t sure of. They learn how meaning impacts spelling. Walk + ed sounds like /wokt/ but it means that someone did the action (walk) in the past (-ed) and that’s how we spell it.

So is it wrong to say my child has “visual dyslexia?”

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to use the term “visual dyslexia,” but I would say it’s imprecise and sometimes not a useful piece of information. Our scientific understanding of dyslexia and reading development has come a long way, but it is still growing. Scientists use brain imaging and studies of people with dyslexia over years to learn more about what kind of instruction is effective. We may learn something different through this research that helps us help students more promptly and more efficiently by tailoring instruction to their needs.

But for now, no matter how your child’s dyslexia presents, the most important thing is to get connected with teachers or tutors who are experts in the process of learning to read. Finding a tutor certified in Orton-Gillingham or an OG-based program (Wilson, Sonday, etc.) is one way to make sure the person has sufficient expertise. It’s more important to recognize that a child is struggling and give them the instruction they need than it is to give that struggle a specific label. 

And that’s what we do at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc. We offer Orton-Gillingham instruction in a convenient, effective, online format. If your child needs explicit, systematic reading instruction, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson . Let’s talk about how we can help!

What to do after dyslexia diagnosis?

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If you’ve just learned that your child has dyslexia, or you are in the middle of an evaluation, you likely have many questions. Once you start following experts in the field and chatting with parents, your “to do” list, along with your “to read” and “to buy” will fill up quickly. Here are my recommendations for families who are wondering what to do after dyslexia diagnosis and are beginning their journey into dyslexia.

Learning that your child has dyslexia can be a time of intense emotions for you, your partner, your child, and other children in the family. You might feel overwhelmed by all the information, relieved to have an answer, guilty for not seeing the problem sooner, or something totally different from these. For many people, dyslexia isn’t even something on their radar until a child struggles with reading and writing. 

Some people like to gather all the information they can and they hit Google hard, bookmarking and highlighting and printing everything that seems useful. Others might feel like they are slowly drowning in reports and recommendations and just hope that some expert will throw them a life preserver. It’s important not to lose sight of your real goal: helping your child with dyslexia be confident, skilled, happy and successful. 

Tools for you, Supports for your child

Educate yourself

One of the first steps a parent should take when their child is diagnosed with dyslexia is to educate themselves about the condition. There are many widespread misconceptions about dyslexia, like that it’s an “old-fashioned” term we don’t use anymore, or that people with dyslexia physically see letters and numbers backwards. We have learned a lot about the brain and about dyslexia in the last several decades and there are many good sources of information. 

  • Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter – these groups are made up of parents, educators, and educational advocates. They are great sources of more local information about state education laws and local resources. My state’s Decoding Dyslexia Facebook group is very active and just by reading along I have learned so much about how the state and local school districts respond to dyslexia.
  • Find your local SEPAC – many school districts have a Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, a group made up of district parents that communicates with the school board or school committee about the needs of special education students. In some districts, the SEPAC also sponsors educational speakers or events that are relevant to needs of their students. 
  • Check out the International Dyslexia Association’s fact sheets – The IDA puts out lots of informative fact sheets, for parents and teachers, about a wide range of topics that impact people with dyslexia. 
  • Get some books. There are so very many good books you could read about dyslexia, education, parenting, and literacy. (Keep in mind, these may be available as audiobooks through your public library or through Audible.) Here are my recommended starting points:
    • For inspiration: Reversed by Lois Letchford is a memoir about how Ms Letchford taught her severely dyslexic son to read and write when the schools could not.
    • For the scientific basics: Overcoming Dyslexia by Dr. Sally Shaywitz. Dr Shaywitz is the co-director and co-founder of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and has an incredible wealth of knowledge about both scientific and practical aspects of dyslexia.
    • For the non-academic challenges: It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend by Richard Lavoie. Dyslexia can impact so much more than a child’s reading and spelling. It can also impact the way they communicate and process information, socially as well as in the classroom. Rich Lavoie has advocated for the social and emotional needs of kids with learning differences for decades and his workshop F.A.T. City is an eye-opening window into how it feels to be different in school.

Services for dyslexia

You’ve heard that dyslexia is life-long, that it affects many parts of a person’s thinking and achievement, not just reading and writing, and that it can be complicated to address. So, can anything be done for dyslexia? Absolutely, yes! The International Dyslexia Association recommends a structured literacy instruction approach. That means reading and writing instruction that addresses all 5 components of literacy (letter-sound relationships, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) and is systematic, cumulative explicit, and diagnostic. 

That means skills are taught directly (not inferred from lots of reading, which is something dyslexic readers find incredibly difficult or impossible). Instruction follows a purposeful sequence, usually from most common patterns to less common ones. It is cumulative and diagnostic, meaning skills are built and reviewed over time, until a child has mastered them, and that lessons are planned based on frequent assessments of a child’s particular needs, rather than adherence to a prescribed curriculum.

One type of structured literacy teaching is the Orton-Gillingham approach. It’s been around since the early 20th century, and has a long track record as one of the most effective ways to improve reading and writing in people with dyslexia. Many popular reading curricula are based on Orton-Gillingham, like The Sonday System, Wilson Reading, and Barton. No matter what approach you choose, instruction should be individualized and intensive enough to allow a child to make progress. At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we strongly recommend that students work with a tutor at least twice a week, for a 50-minute session. That’s pretty standard among Orton-Gillingham tutors. 

How to get the school to provide dyslexia tutoring

Even after you’ve addressed the first challenge of finding your child dyslexia services – understanding the different approaches – you may be dealing with the challenge of getting your child’s school to educate them appropriately. While some schools have dyslexia therapists or Orton-Gillingham or Wilson-certified teachers working intensively with students, other districts are not forthcoming with those resources. A child who is struggling with schoolwork due to an identified learning disability, including dyslexia, should qualify for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that includes appropriate literacy services. 

In order for a child to get an IEP, the school will evaluate them through testing and a review of their school records. This process can be daunting, but it is important to understand that you and your child have rights in this process, outlined in the Procedural Safeguards document the school must give you as part of this process. The details vary by state and it is worth reading and understanding. The bottom line is that those safeguards help ensure that your child gets the services and supports they need and that their voice and yours are adequately represented in the IEP process. 

What if the school isn’t?

But what if the public school isn’t providing the right services? This can happen for a lot of reasons, and it can be very challenging. For example, the school might respond to a dyslexia diagnosis by saying something like, “We don’t use the term dyslexia.” or “Dyslexia is handled under 504 plans.” Blanket statements like that are illegal, to put it bluntly. The term dyslexia is part of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act , which is the federal law that governs the IEP process and special education services. In many cases, the district has policies or common practices in place that aren’t in line with IDEA. Administrators sometimes get the mistaken idea that those policies take precedence over federal education law. This document from the US Department of Education from 2015 is a great starting point to share with them to help clarify their understanding of their responsibilities. 

Another reason schools sometimes fail to provide needed services is staffing. They’ll say, “We don’t have a teacher who teaches that,” when asked for a service like Orton-Gillingham reading instruction with a certified provider. If these services are deemed necessary, and the district does not have a teacher who can provide them, they need to a) train one (certification for Orton-Gillingham or another reading approach takes more than a year) and/or b) hire one. In some cases, the district finds a professional to hire or contract with, and in other cases, parents have been able to refer a tutor they have been working with to contract with the district instead.

As a former special education teacher, I would love to say “Work with your district! They know your child and have her best interests at heart! Trust them!” In many cases, that’s true at the school level. But there are still many cases where the district does not act in a child’s best interest. You may consider hiring a special education advocate (or at least bring a knowledgeable friend to the IEP meetings to help you take notes) to help you navigate the process and ensure that the IEP meets your child’s needs . Always request that the district put their decisions in writing.

An alternative if the district is not meeting your child’s needs is seeking services elsewhere. If there is a Children’s Dyslexia Center in your area, they provide free Orton-Gillingham tutoring to children who qualify. If you want to hire a private tutor, look for lists of certified tutors from the Children’s Dyslexia Center, Orton-Gillingham Academy or Wilson Reading . If there are not many tutors in your area, many tutors also offer their services online. If you want to talk about whether online tutoring with us would be a good fit for your child, contact us here .

Beyond seeking tutoring services, some parents choose to send their children to a private school (or even choose to move to a different location!) that will better meet their needs. This is an enormous change, and I think it speaks to how challenging it can be to get appropriate services in some schools! In some cases, school districts end up paying for a child’s private school placement when the local school is not able to provide needed services. This process is long and complicated, and often best navigated with the support of an advocate or special education attorney.

Another option if local schools aren’t the right fit is homeschooling. There are many parents whose homeschool journey began with concerns about children who weren’t learning to read. There are many groups of homeschool parents who teach using structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham, and many programs designed to meet the needs of parents teaching their children. For some families, this is a short-term decision to focus on getting reading skills up to speed, and for others it’s a long-term schooling change.

Recommendations for kids with dyslexia

OK, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a topic that’s a little lighter. Let’s talk about the rest of your kid’s life, outside of schooling. Here are some ways to support your child after a dyslexia diagnosis, outside of education decisions:

  • Get some decodable books: These books are written for readers in the process of learning to decode. They limit the word choices in the book to words the kids can sound out, and a small handful of irregular words (like was). These books provide essential practice while kids are learning to decode, as well as building their fluency, reading stamina, and confidence! Some of my favorites are listed below. Check out the whole list here
  • Read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco with your child. This picture book about a struggling reader who finally learns to read beautifully captures the experiences of embarrassment and frustration many children experience when they struggle in school, as well as the pride and joy when that begins to change. In this video version, Jane Kaczmarek reads the book .
  • Enjoy audiobooks! Audiobooks (from Audible or from your local library’s ebook collection) are a great tool for helping kids with dyslexia develop comprehension, vocabulary, and knowledge while their decoding skills grow. They can also be a helpful tool for older students who are trying to keep up with the volume of reading in middle and high school. 
  • Do things that build joy and confidence. Some things are hard right now, especially when a dyslexia diagnosis is new. The gap between your child’s reading and their peers can seem huge and overwhelming. Resist the temptation to overload them with services and tools and programs and whatever else. Leave time in your family’s schedule for laughter, physical activity, rest, and sleep. That means balancing multiple priorities, like tutoring, sports, dance, and family time. It’s hard and will need adjustments over time, but it’s worth it because happy, healthy kids learn better, too!

But first, breathe!

Choose your favorite inspirational meme, whether it’s putting on your own oxygen mask first, pouring from an empty cup, or boulders, pebbles and sand. Take some time to feel your feelings about this new aspect of your child’s life, write down your thoughts and questions, and plan your next steps. You won’t be able to conquer every challenge at once, but you can steps in the right direction!

For parents, navigating what to do after dyslexia diagnosis can be confusing, exhausting, frustrating, and expensive. Of course, you want to do what you can to get results as soon as possible, but remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll be guiding your child through the education system throughout high school and likely beyond. You’ll find resources and people that will help you fill in the gaps and meet new challenges. And you will get better at it as you go.

If you are considering online Orton-Gillingham tutoring for your child, contact us for a consultation and demo lesson to see if it is a good fit for your family.

What goes in a middle school homework toolkit?

We hope our kids are pretty independent by middle school. Ideally, we’d like them to come home, fix a snack, and dive into their middle school homework. 

In reality, lots of kids still need parent help to get organized, plan projects, and remember deadlines. But planning ahead on the “get organized” part, you can make sure that your child’s middle school homework doesn’t become your homework! 

Planning ahead beats problem solving

A place for homework 

Ideally, homework should be done in a quiet environment. Some kids strongly prefer to listen to music or have TV on while doing homework. Try to get them to do a scientific experiment – try one day’s homework without background noise and another day’s with. Measure how long it takes and how completely it gets done. For some kids it works, and for others it distracts them in ways they aren’t aware of.

I liked to study by spreading all the materials I needed around me on the table or couch. Other people like to have one thing out at a time. Talk with your child to come up with a consistent place to do homework where they can work comfortably. If they commit to working in one place, they are less likely to lose materials or run around looking for tools they need.

Tools to have on hand

Writing tools: pens, pencils, a sharpener, highlighters

Writing tools: notebook paper, graph paper, blank computer paper, sticky notes, index cards

Other tools: ruler, protractor, calculator, scissors, little stapler, tape

Technology: charger and a convenient outlet so they can keep working while they charge

Communication and accountability 

Your middle schooler should be keeping track of their own homework using a planner or calendar of some kind. Some middle schools have all kids use the same planner. Others post assignments to their websites or Google Classroom. Regardless of the school’s policy, I recommend some kind of simple planner or list tool for all middle school students. 

Writing down the assignment helps your child pay attention to the details and gives them an opportunity to ask questions about the assignment and make a mental note of how long the work will take. If kids have access to a homework list online, they might want to just list upcoming assignments on a whiteboard in their room, or a list app in their cell phone, to keep track of what’s due.

You may need to help your child navigate teacher’s websites or Classroom links. Unfortunately, many middle schools don’t seem to have a consistent policy about this. Teachers often do what works best for them rather than what easiest for the students to manage. Even if your child is successfully checking for and completing their assignments, you should still plan to check in with them regularly about upcoming deadlines and tests. This helps you keep them accountable for finishing their work and you can back them up by reminding them about tests or due dates.

Expectations vs. reality

Babies usually start to walk sometime between the age of 12 and 15 months. At 15 months and 3 days, you wouldn’t put your baby down and tell them to fend for themselves, would you? No, you’d keep guiding and supporting them until they could do it on their own. And if they were walking somewhere tricky, like on gravel or in traffic, you’d hold their hand or carry them, right?

Middle school homework is the same deal. Most kids can independently manage most middle school homework expectations. But some kids, at some schools, in some classes, for some busy seasons, will still need your help getting organized and managing their time. And if you help them do it in a systematic way, instead of dealing with late nights and bad test scores, you are giving them the tools to do a better job when they take it all over on their own!

If reading fluency or comprehension are holding your middle schooler back, contact us to see if online literacy tutoring is the right fit.