Monday, September 19, 2011

Struggling Readers

This post ought to be something I think about a lot more than I'm going to.  I want to be nice and profound and maybe even a bit eloquent.

Instead, this is going to be something where I just talk.  So grab a cup o' Joe (or whatever) and just sit and listen to me pour out my heart tonight.  And then please, comment back.  I'd love a discussion.

See, the thing is, I've seen a whole lot lately about struggling readers.  And even from people I really respect, I hear misinformation.

Just don't label your child as a struggling reader, some will say.  Self-fulfilling prophecy and all that.  As though when I was in total denial about how my kid was doing he wasn't struggling.  Labeling him made a world of difference... for the better.  I stopped thinking that time was going to cure his issues, I stopped thinking I had messed him up.  I started working with him where he was.  I started understanding that he wasn't doing stuff just to frustrate me.  He does see the world differently.  And he started to actually make progress.

And if the person giving such advice actually knew a struggling reader, she'd also know that the label is only acknowledging what everyone knows already.  The label is NOT creating the problem.

Just find something they are interested in and they'll come around.  But you see, my struggling readers are NOT reluctant readers.  They have PLENTY of things they desperately want to read.  The issue is that they can't.  At least not easily. They are both getting better.  Lots better.  But providing interesting reading material alone isn't going to do it.

Just read aloud.  Lots.  From birth.  If you read great stuff aloud they will naturally become great readers.  And you know what?  I have.  Check my read-aloud posts on Thursdays.  I read aloud to Thomas, Richard and Trina the day they came home from the hospital.  I wasn't quite as on top of it with William, but by the time he was three months old, I was reading aloud to him every. single. day.  Connor, however (my only GOOD reader) was almost two before I started making reading aloud a habit.

The people who spout this little myth always have lots of statistics to back them up.  About how kids who come from a print-rich environment read so much better than those who don't.  And kids who regularly visit the library read better.  And kids who see their parents read will be great readers too.

It doesn't always work that way.  We have lots of books.  Thousands.  My kids see both of us reading.  A lot.  We visit the library and generally have 50-60 books out at any given time.  We have library cards at three different libraries, in fact.  And my severely dyslexic kid just spent his summer Saturday mornings volunteering with the summer reading program.

All of the above has given him an amazing vocabulary.  But it hasn't turned him into a fantastic reader.

Just don't worry about it.  When he is good and ready to read, he just will.  Uh-huh.  Both my struggling readers want it.  And maybe it's true that when they are good and ready, they will read.  So HOW do I get them good and ready?

Just use a good solid phonics program.  Or just use... whatever little pet program the speaker happens to love.  It isn't that easy.

So... for everyone on Facebook...

I started thinking about the book Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco.  If you haven't read it, check your library, check the bookstore... get this book.  Like many of Polacco's books, this one is autobiographical.  The little girl in the book is desperately wanting to go to school and learn to read.  But when she gets there, she doesn't learn to read.  The letters don't make sense, they don't cooperate for her... and she falls further and further behind, enduring the taunting of her classmates who are calling her dumb, and probably worse.

And then this cool young teacher, Mr. Falker, starts teaching her 5th grade class.  And he sees something in her, recognizes her issues, and truly helps.  Patricia Polacco, like the girl in the story, struggled with dyslexia.  They weren't dumb. 

I cannot get through the book without sobbing.  I can't write this up without crying.

I keep praying that if I'm not "Mr. Falker" for my kids, that whoever that person is will come along soon.

Meanwhile, I need to stop reading advice for struggling readers that is being given by people who have never struggled with reading themselves nor have they had kids who actually struggled.  Or go ahead and read that advice, but plaster "She doesn't have the first clue!" all over it.

I have to stop letting stuff like that make me feel inept.


Modest Mama said...

I hear you! My oldest is an awesome reader, my second-born struggles. I "love" people who say that my oldest will be a scholar and my next son with be the athlete. And they say it with that "all knowing" tone. Ugg! Drives me crazy!

Mary Prather said...

Thank you, Mr. Falker is one of my favorite books. :-)

I enjoyed your post. My two were early readers, but when I taught I did work with struggling readers. Who knows what makes everything "click", right? I pray for peace for you and easier reading, too.

The Happy Homeschool Mom said...

I agree Debra! I wrote a post on this recently too. I have read advice recently for struggling readers that quite honestly made me very angry. The writer wasn't a struggling reader, nor was she teaching one. I wish it could be as easy as some advice given but every day is a struggle. Praying for the day it all makes sense to him and he can really enjoy the wonderful world of books that is out there.

Debra said...

Thanks for the supportive comments! I was a mess last night and was really worried that I hadn't written anything rational. LOL.

Lisa! Your post

is on my iPod, and I've meant to TYPE in the blog address so I could go comment on it. LOL... I know my post was at least partially inspired by yours.

And I'm betting we read the same post. I was so angry I could have spit... and I used some rather colorful language in describing it to my husband. Not family friendly.
I'd like to say I don't use those words, but at least nowadays I do tend to reserve them for really special occasions.

Michelle Smith said...

Thanks for saying this, Debra. I have been feeling rather inept myself lately. And, you know what? I do read to my kids a great deal. And we listen to audio books. And I encourage them to read.

Yet some of them struggle with reading. But they love it when they are read to, by me, my husband or an older sibling. There seriously is more to the picture than some would have you believe. They do see the world differently. And some days I really do all I can and fall into bed exhausted.

It does get better with hard work and experimenting to find the right approaches, but pointing the finger and implying that you "aren't doing enough/the right things" only encourages guilt. And that is the last thing some of us who really work hard at helping our kids need. Thanks.

Susan said...

The world seems to be full of people who think they know better, doesn't it?

This isn't one of our particular struggles (yet, anyway), but I know you work so hard with your children and can understand why that sort of "advice" would make you angry. I hope you can look away from those messages...I know they mean well...Ok, I think they mean well...but they need to be quiet. Really. I've been a "victim" of enough of that "well-meaning" advice (concerning other issues) to know.

Unknown said...

I also have some struggling readers. I just want to thank you for linking to this blog post from TOS facebook page. Glad I could read it!

Pebblekeeper ~ Angie said...

If your list was true, I'd have two great readers. Myths for sure.