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Help! My Child Can’t Learn Phonics!

March 16th, 2008 by admin

 Your child is first or second grade, but the reading just isn’t going well.  The school or your homeschool curriculum is phonics-based, which you’ve heard is the best way to teach reading.  Still,  your child just isn’t succeeding.  What could be the problem?  Is it possible that phonics isn’t the right reading strategy for your student?

Well, there’s an outside chance that phonics isn’t the right method for your child, but that’s not a likely situation.  A very small number of seriously learning disabled individuals truly cannot learn phonics.  Instead, there are two far more common explanations.  Success at learning phonics can be limited by intellectual maturity or by a mismatch between learning and teaching style.

Most parents would say in a heartbeat that their child is mature.  However, there are different aspects of maturity.  Being able to share toys or act responsibly doesn’t necessarily equate with reading readiness.  A child’s age also does not guarantee readiness, even though our school system mandates that everyone start by six years of age.  Many aspects of maturity, including attention, coordination of eye muscles, visual and auditory perception, and fine motor coordination, mature at different rates.  In addition, beginning readers need solid phonemic awareness skills and basic cognitive skills such as understandings of same and different, comparison, opposites, and so forth.  It’s fairly common for one or more of these skills to mature more slowly than the rest.  And of course, a delay in even one of these areas can interfere with the acquisition of phonics from early phonics instruction.  They mature a bit later, but by then the group at school has moved on.  Parents and teachers notice the problem in the middle or upper grades and assume that the student cannot learn phonics.

Other students struggle because of a mismatch between their learning style and their teacher’s style of conveying information.  It can be hard to take in difficult information under those circumstances.  If a student learns best through the visual channel, he or she may have trouble benefiting from lessons presented primarily through the auditory mode.  This sort of mismatch can cause children to miss vital information that is foundational to the process of learning phonics skills.  Like the students who couldn’t learn due to a lack of readiness skills, these children begin to struggle with reading in the middle to upper elementary grades.  They slowly lose ground until parents and teachers notice the problem.  Once again, some adults will declare that phonics doesn’t work for this student, but generally, no one offers a viable alternative.

Help is available for both of these kinds of learners.  Since they make up the vast majority of struggling readers, this is great news!  Most really can learn phonics strategies; they just need to be retaught at the right time and in the right way.  Parents and teachers need to educate themselves about the many structured phonics education programs available, and find a practitioner for the program that best suits the student.  Many effective phonics programs are based on Orton-Gillingham techniques, and introductory material or documentation should mention that.  These programs boast a number of common strategies that improve their effectiveness, including multisensory activities, attention to decoding, comprehension, spelling, and written expression, teaching beyond the mastery level to the point of automaticity, and strict adherence to structure and record-keeping. 

If you’re concerned about a struggling reader, there is help available.  People do not have to go through life with this kind of disability.  It is preventable!  Find a reading clinic that specializes in this sort of intensive remediation.  Check in a city near your home for a Thirty-Second Degree Masons group-they have a national initiative to run such reading clinics.  Ask your school for recommendations of teachers or tutors who are certified in Orton-Gillingham methodolosy or the Wilson System.  If you’re interested, I also run an online class called Help for Your Struggling Reader.  It’s never too late, even for an adult, to benefit from this kind of help. 

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 16th, 2008 at 6:41 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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