This year I have been blessed to have a wonderful teacher by the name of Mrs. Deborah on my team. She tutors my daughter once a week in reading and math. I interviewed Mrs Deborah back in November on the ins and outs of teaching reading. The interview went very well and, Alhumdulilah, I learned quite a few strategies I can use to teach reading. I thought I’d share our conversation so others could benefit as well, inshalah. I think you will find the interview as informative and inspiring as I did. You can read part one HERE. The following is part two of our conversation.
Mrs. Deborah: So that’s the foundation. Now you want to know what happens when all those things are in place, then what do you do to move forward if you notice that your child is still struggling with reading. The one thing is if what you’re doing is not working try to find a good Orton Gillingham reading program. Sometimes people use things and they’re not really research based and so it might teach the child in a way that isn’t really brain friendly for reading. So make sure you know about the program that you’re going to use.
If you’re still concerned after trying a different method of teaching, go to your EF (education facilitator) or if you’re at a public school go and tell the school that you think your child has a learning disability and you want to start the SST process. That’s the Student Study Team. And so what happens is they come in and they’re looking at a different way of teaching. It’s called RTI which is Response To Intervention. So they have to look and see why the child is not learning. Maybe it’s the program the teacher’s using or they’re visual learners or something else. And that usually takes 6 months to a year because you want to try the RTI first before you actually have the student tested for special ed. You really don’t want the child to have to be tested unless there is an issue. Sometimes it’s just instruction, sometimes it’s the teacher. It could be a lot of different things. So you want to make sure you’re not recommending this student to be in a special ed program if it’s not necessary. If that intervention isn’t working and whoever is the teacher in the public school or the parent is noticing that the child is not improving, then that’s when the process goes into the special ed department. They should be referred there to be tested. That’s when a psychologist comes in and other services that may be needed and they do a series of tests. Also the special resource teacher will do an academic test. Then what happens is we gather that information and there is a criteria that the psychological and academic testing should show. She has specific guidelines, from the federal government, that tells her how to determine if the child qualifys. Now if there’s something different going on, like lets say the child has some attention issues that’s going on, the school cannot recommend that you go and have testing for that done. The school can’t say, “Oh it might be this, go to a doctor”. I don’t know why but that’s not something we’re allowed to interfere with. So if the parents feel like there’s something going on, then they can go to their doctor. They can go to the doctor and get that confirmation and then the child would qualify for help.
Me: The school doesn’t test for dyslexia?
Mrs Deborah: No that is not under the guidelines because dyslexia has to be identified by someone who is an expert in dyslexia. There is no test or anything like that. And dyslexia isn’t actually a specific learning disability. It could fall under the umbrella, because whatever the child’s struggles are it would come up as some other type of learning disability.
Me: Would you recommend a parent go and get that testing done on their own? I saw some documentaries and listened to some programs on NPR, where the parent decided to get the testing done on their own and found out that their child actually did have dyslexia. And also can you tell us what are some of the signs that a child has dyslexia?
Mrs Deborah: I’ve heard about some things that are going to start being done for children with dyslexia. In the future that might be something that’s part of the IEP process, but as of now it is not. Right now it would be up to the parent to get the testing done. It can be very costly. Reversal of letters is common, but it’s common for some kids not all. What is really going on with a child that has dyslexia is the processing. The sounds are coming in, but it is very difficult for the brain to make the connection between what’s written on the page, and how that’s supposed to be processed in the mind, and then come out as words. For a child that has severe dyslexia it’s almost like reading another language. You know when a child is struggling with something like that. Some have mild dyslexia characteristics, but you could go on the dyslexia association and see some of those characteristics. Orton Gillingham programs show significant gains when working with dyslexic children and children who struggle with learning.
I went through training to teach children with dyslexia. We worked with students one on one and it was two hours a week. Then we would send home material for the parents to work with them at home. Sometimes it would be 3 or 4 years before the student would be up to grade level. Now, I’ve had a lot of success with the Barton program. I actually wrote back to my instructor in Ohio after I started using Barton. In Ohio we had to make up all of these things on our own. It was beneficial, but time-consuming. I’m so impressed with the Barton. I’m working with a student who started the Barton a year ago, and now he is on a 5th grade level which is amazing. It’s so exciting to be able to see the growth. To be with a student and see the progress that they’re making. Anyway, I really think the Barton is a very good program. It’s very parent friendly. It has a script. It is an expensive program though. We are very fortunate to have access to it. The school I was with before did not provide an hour of help or any work for the student. They just gave the IEP and left it up to the parents. So we’re really fortunate. Brandy is really good about having these programs. Each of these kits are about $250. There are other programs, but I think this is a really good one for parents.
Teaching Reading Strategies: Sight-Reading
Me: Someone was telling me that sometimes it’s better to teach children sight-reading. Like how you teach sight words. Is there a such thing as a sight-reading teaching method? Not teaching them how to decode, just having them memorize the words?
Mrs. Deborah: No, you really need to teach children how to decode. When I first started homeschooling my kids back in the 80’s. It was new and there were some gurus who were in the homeschool movement, especially for reading. I had started to homeschool my kids because my son hated school. He never had an IEP but they did take him out and started working with him. It was just so ridiculous. They would get mad at him because he was looking out the window, but they were building a school which he found interesting, and they were like, he’s not doing this and that and it was just a very frustrating thing. So I found a group of 35 families and we met once a month while the dads watched all the kids. The moms got together and we planned out our month. We did not have a school district. We went to the school district and tried to get them to be involved (this was in Temecula) but they wanted no part in it. Now it’s so different. So we 35 families worked together. Someone would say, I’m going to teach writing class. So then the other mom’s kids would come in and they would do some extra writing. Me and another parent did art. And so we had 10 to 12 kids that came and we taught them. It was so cool. We had play day on Friday so we went to the park and the kids got their socializing in and we would talk. Someone might say,” Hey I’m struggling here what are you doing?”, that kinda thing. So it’s always nice to have a community for support.
One of the ladies that started the homeschooling movement was a reading teacher for like 25-30 years. She was saying that because of sight-reading there were so many adults in my era who weren’t strong readers, because the teachers disregarded phonics teaching and just did the sight-reading. Phonics have these rules we just didn’t learn in school. The teachers didn’t teach us because it was too laborious. We had gotten away from teaching phonics. Now if you have kids that have incredible memories, than yes. Because some kids see patterns and they can figure out the patterns. But you don’t know if a child is going to be able to figure that out or not and that’s probably rare. So when you’re teaching phonics it’s fine to teach sight words because there are some words that don’t fit a pattern but the emphasis should be on phonics. I think sight word reading only, is a dangerous place to go. Because eventually, if the child doesn’t learn the decoding skills, there are going to be words that the child encounters that they don’t know how to pronounce. When you give them the decoding words they learn to break apart those syllables, how to pronounce them, and how to spell them. The research just does not back up sight-reading.
Me: OK thanks for clearing that up for me. I taught my kids how to read phonetically, but I wasn’t sure if sight-reading was another alternative. I heard others talk about it and I even saw a lady teaching people how to do it on youtube. So I wasn’t sure if that was something parents should consider.
Mrs. Deborah: I would say stay away from it but do introduce the Dolch word list. Those are words that they’re going to be encountering more often so it helps with the fluency. They would be separate though, so you would still be teaching the phonics but maybe go over 2-5 sight words at a time.
Me: Alright, thanks. In closing is there anything else you would like to share with parents about teaching reading.
Mrs. Deborah: Well, I think consistency is really important. Making time 5 days a week, you don’t have to do it on the weekend, but have the student read a book. Taking them to the library regularly. That’s also important. They get to engage in and see lot’s of different kinds of books. Especially if you’re not able to have a large library of your own. And there’s something about taking them to the library that shows that the family values book. Have them try different types of books. Have them turn off the television, give them a certain amount of time for reading. Like for a half hour everyone gets a book and we’re all reading. Read at night, tuck the kids in and read with them. I think the more you do that the more consistently you’re going to see success with the child’s reading abilities.
Another thing is some kids know how to read by first grade, but some are just not ready. As an educator they don’t really tell you that. They say the kids have to learn how to read by a certain time. But as homeschoolers we know kids are ready to read at different times. That doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything with them. Do all the reading with them, taking them to the library, etc and they will learn at their own pace.
easycbms stands for curriculum based measurements. You can sign up free as a teacher. It might need a bit of navigating, but it might be easy for you. They have 9 different levels and tests at each level. So if you want to test them once a month and see if they got a concept, you can actually target a concept. You can see which ones they’re having a problem with so you can go and identify that and then have them work on it. It helps you to figure out what the student is struggling with.
So, it’s not an easy thing, you know. I wish I knew what I know now (back when I was teaching my kids). But I really believe that homeschooling is an important thing. I think families can do a better job than the public school system, they just need some guidance.
Me: Ok Mrs Deborah, thank you so much for your time
Mrs. I hope it helps. Please let me know if you have any more questions. Don’t hesitate to ask.
Me: Alright enjoy your weekend Mrs Deborah
Mrs Deborah: You too. Nice talking to you.
Me: You too.
Here is a list of Orton Gillingham books you may want to purchase:
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