Raising kids is a hard job, but does it have to be this hard? For any parent, it's heartbreaking to see your child struggle at school. But not knowing how to help might be even worse. For almost 40% of our kids, learning to read is a real challenge. Most parents wait too long to get help. Find out how to identify some early signs of reading problems and learn about ideas for getting your kids the help and support they need.
Fighting for Your Child
Emiliann is in the second grade, and she's finally starting to enjoy reading. But the feeling is bittersweet - Emiliann's success hasn't come easily. Emiliann's mom, Jennifer, struggled with Emiliann's first school and even moved her family to a new district before she found what Emiliann needed. And how did she know what to look for in a school? That's the bittersweet part of the story. Her mom, Jennifer, has been through this before - with her 19-year-old son, Keith. So when Jennifer noticed Emiliann having speech problems in preschool, she took action immediately. Jennifer Simpson was finally on the right track. While older readers like Keith can get help, one of the best things a parent can do is recognize signs of trouble early.
Emiliann Simpson is finally getting what she needs in her IEP meeting - a team of people committed to making sure she becomes a good reader. An IEP is an individualized education plan required by law for any child in special education. This meeting with seven other people is a time to review her work for the year, talk about areas where she's still struggling, and make plans for next year. In an IEP meeting you, as a parent, have the right to ask any question you want.
Jennifer says she's finally found people who can help Emiliann - and who will do whatever it takes to teach her to read. In many schools pulling together a team like Emiliann's has may be difficult. But your job is to keep searching for help - either inside the school or out- because so much is a stake.
Bryana Hargrow was waving a red flag for reading problems at eight months old. That's when her mother found out Bryanna was hearing impaired. From the moment they're born, our kids send us signals about how hard reading may be for them - in the way they speak, the way they listen, the way they respond to us. It's our job as parents to watch for warning signs.
Bryana's mom got help for her right away. The decision was tough, but she decided that Bryana would have surgery to receive a cochlear hearing implant. Then, she took advantage of every available early learning opportunity - from head start to summer programs at the university. And she's watched Bryanna carefully for problems.
"Imagine how you'd feel if you had a job where you couldn't do most of what you were asked to do, you didn't particularly like the people you worked for, you didn't particularly get along with the people you worked with, and you had to go and do that every day, six hours a day. You'd be pretty unhappy by the end of the day, too. And kids go to school for a living, and this child is failing at his job."
Rick Lavoie has worked with kids with reading problems for more than 30 years. But today he's working with their parents. He wants to help them understand what it feels like to be a struggling reader…to understand what their kids go through every day.
Mr. Lavoie's advice to parents is to toughen up and recognize that your child needs you. "It sounds pretty serious. And it is. Parents sometimes worry that they're overreacting when their child isn't reading in first or second grade. It's really not possible to overreact to that. The reality is you need to stand up for your child. He's not old enough or capable at this point to advocate for himself. You do need to stand up. It is uncomfortable sometimes, but you've got a right to ask questions. You've got a right to receive those answers."
Good Reading Instruction, Portland, Oregon
Ms. Darby is a kindergarten teacher at Metzger elementary. Kindergarten is a critical time for developing early reading skills, sometimes by using nonsense words. One of the hard parts about teaching kindergarten is that kids come in at all different levels. Metzger handles that by assessing each student on a regular basis.
Some kids are already at risk. Kids who don't know their letters have trouble with rhyming. Or who may speak a language other than English. They get an extra dose of explicit small group instruction every day. Ms. Darby helps the kids break the 26-letter code of our alphabet by being very clear with them about what each letter looks and sounds like.
So when you're trying to figure out if a school is doing a good job, here are two questions to start with: One, do they assess all students regularly? And, two, is the instruction explicit? In first grade, Metzger continues to teach the five elements of good reading instruction - phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. These are all skills that parents, with practice, can reinforce at home.
Every three months, Metzger's school district comes in to do its own assessment of each child. That's in addition to the weekly or biweekly assessments that the school does. At Metzger they also use flexible grouping, small groups, a variety of research-based teaching methods, a variety of interventions for struggling readers, and regular, ongoing assessment. When the teacher's assessment over time shows that a child is not responding to intervention, the school has a legal obligation to consider testing by a professional team to figure out what's going on - why a child isn't learning to read.
As a parent, you have several options for testing. You can ask that the school perform the tests. You can pay to have it privately done. But one thing is constant: you have to educate yourself about the process. If your child goes through a round of testing, and the school doesn't see a problem, you have the right to ask for further testing. If your child isn't learning how to read, the school needs to try something different.
Reading and the Brain
A lot of parents wonder, "Why is this so hard for my child?" The answers aren't clear. But scientists have discovered that the brain of a kid with reading problems handles reading differently than the brain of a strong reader.
Nine-year-old Jonathan Brown-Berkey was a struggling and frustrated reader. Testing revealed the cause of Jonathan's frustration - dyslexia. MRI scans show how different areas of the brain react in struggling readers, like Jonathan. His doctor sees the potential for, one day, using MRI's to diagnose dyslexia very early in young children. But there's more to these brain scans than just gathering data for the future. Jonathan received good intervention in time and it's made a world of difference. Now, Jonathan loves school, and he can't wait for Monday to come.