Tag: observations

The struggle is real

In my year and a half of tutoring struggling reading elementary students, I’ve learned a great deal about the actual struggle. Though I can’t see what’s happening inside the brains of the students, I can observe behaviors and this is what I see:

  1. The young student who struggles with reading will use a variety of clever techniques to avoid instruction from chatting about random events, to looking away, to squirming around, to asking for drinks, snacks or a break to interrupting the reading with talking.
  2. As the student reads, fatigue is shown by yawning, blinking, rubbing eyes and changing body positions during the lesson.
  3. The student’s attempts to sound out syllables does not sound typical. Or the student replaces unknown words entirely.
  4. The student’s success rates at reading improve when they’re given a chance to talk about what they know about the topic, before the book, passage or article is read.
  5. The student appears to know they struggle and shows lack of confidence when asked to read books by asking to replace the book or providing their own and sometimes this is okay.
  6. The student shows progress in an inconsistent back and forth pattern. For example, one week progress and confidence seem improved, while the next week, it appears to regress, but if looked at in a broader context, it is overall improved.

There are more, but I would like to end on a positive note by providing some ideas that I use to ease and work with the struggle rather than against it. Here are some ways I’ve adjusted my tutoring sessions:

1.) I share the reading. Since the tutoring time is limited, I’ve found that saving the read aloud time for last gives a child a chance to “rest” the part of the mind that struggles.

2.) Taking small chunks of reading, such as poems can be helpful and less intimidating way to practice reading.

3.) Echo reading, partner reading and modeling reading with expression is helpful for the struggling reader to gain improvement with comprehension.

4.) Finding books that the child is interested in has been most valuable.

5.) Teaching the elements of a story throughout tutoring will help a struggler to grasp the meaning of the story.

6.) Using humor in teaching, books, characters, games all helps ease the pressure and anxiety during tutoring.

7.) Though I’ve used some reading apps, most recently, I’ve used the iPad less because I would like to see improvement with reading the printed word in books. I’ve found the two to be different.


Good struggle

I’ve been tutoring young students for over a year and with each new student, I gain more knowledge about how to tutor and how to make the most of the hour I spend with each student.

One thing I’ve noticed in some of the students I tutor is the lack of decoding skills when encountering a new word. Most of the time, a student will either substitute a similar word, or attempt to sound out, but give up too quickly. It’s hard as a tutor to allow a bit of struggle (at first) because a good tutor knows that there’s a fine line between struggle and frustration. And it takes some time to help a student unlearn the fear of struggle and instead to face the struggle a little bit at a time.

It’s in the struggle that a student can gain confidence. But, in order to face the struggle, a student must first be taught how to use strategies for decoding. One way I found to teach strategies is to deconstruct words. I show a student a “difficult” word and show them how to divide by syllables or to see if there are any pre-fixes or suffixes. But also, it helps to use pieces of nonsense words to practice sounding out. Like putting consonants and vowels together and saying letter sound by letter sound. P-r-o….or f-l-a…

I am encouraged when a student pronounces, even incorrectly a difficult word. This is okay and should be encouraged. Sometimes when a student does this, I say, “hmmm… try that again,” or I say, “Does that sound like a word you know? And other times, I encourage a student to re-read the sentence and when the word is reached again, the word can often be decoded by combining the meaning of the sentence with the decoding. When I reach this point with a student, I’ve met my goal of reaching what I call, good struggle.

Good struggle is facing, without too much fear or frustration, something that is hard with increasing confidence. Once I see a student reach this point, I introduce books at the instructional level. I define this a book in which a child is interested in reading, but also expected to run into some unfamiliar words, but not too many that meaning gets lost in the struggle.

I may clarify this post at a later date or update it as I work on this goal my students. For now, and always, thanks for reading.

~Peace in the struggle.



A Year of Tutoring

I’m excited to announce that next month, I will be celebrating a year of tutoring young children with Book Smart Kids. It’s been a year of learning and learning some more. A year of tutoring struggling readers has strengthened even more my belief that though a student struggles, early intervention can greatly improve a child’s confidence, skills and love for reading.

By the way, when I use the word child, understand that I’m a mother of 3 grown children. So, a child to me is anyone from the age of 3-ish to 15 or so. (And seriously even older 😉

But, anyway, reading is the foundation for the learning that a child will do throughout his schooling years. No matter the subject, reading is key. But, just pronouncing the words correctly is not true reading. Think about it: Have you ever found yourself deep in a book at first reading, then loosely scanning words and the next thing you know, you’re on Facebook or Pinterest  planning dinner. The ability to refocus yourself or to change what you’re doing and restarting does not come automatically for a child. But, they can be trained to focus, to restart, to begin again. A student can be encouraged to read and to read well. I’m not saying focus is the only thing a student’s struggles with while reading. It’s just an example of one of the many things which may be going on while your child attempts to read.

But, if you notice your child resists time to practice reading or avoids printed books, or shows other signs of frustration, then it could be time for help. This article could help.

In my experience, a child who struggles with reading is often frustrated because they are overwhelmed and confused without knowing or having the ability to put in words how or what they need help with.

Finally, I want to add that I’m also in this business to give a parent some much-needed encouragement and guidance. The parents I have worked with are cooperative, involved, caring and some, super busy. When they hire me, I hope to give them exactly what they are hoping for, which is to (at least for one hour) work with their child in a very focused and concerted way in order to meet the mutual goals of getting their child to gain confidence and skills needed to read at or above grade level.

~Peace in reading peeps.

Building a Successful Reader

I write about my tutoring sessions in order to document observations, share insights with interested parties and to advocate for the early intervention of reading help a.k.a, tutoring.  Perhaps tutoring has historically been a term equated with the older student and to tutor a young student makes no sense. But, after a year of observation, I beg to differ. It should be a no brainer. A confident, successful reader will love books and in the process love to learn. The earlier a child can master the task of reading, the more enjoyable their school experience will be.

To be clear, I am not advocating developmentally inappropriate practices, for example forcing a pre-schooler to sit quietly at a desk “pushing papers”. While there is a place for some amount of practice using worksheets or flashcards and such, being taught too early in a style meant for a much older student can do more harm to the learning process than good.

Most children have a natural drive to learn about their world and books can be part of this experience. If books are introduced to children while in the lap of a caregiver, the natural drive of learning will create positive experiences with books. It should be built into the child’s routine to have time to sit in the living room exploring a variety of books while the caregivers are nearby reading themselves. Building a reader can also include taking a child to a fun story-time at a local bookstore, or even just visiting the local library and perusing the various books in the child section.

Have a good week putting books into your daily routine.