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A Homeschool Mom’s Simple Tool to Help Struggling Readers
This is Part 2 in a series to help homeschool moms equip their struggling readers for reading success. In this second part, I am going to share with you one simple tool to help struggling readers at home. If you have not read Part 1, please do so. 🙂
Like many homeschool moms, when I began homeschooling my girls almost 10 years ago, my first goal was to make sure my oldest daughter could read. It seemed that all of her preschool-age friends were getting ready to go to traditional kindergarten and soon I was dodging questions from their respective mothers.
“Why are you homeschooling her?”
“Aren’t you worried about socialization?”
“Public school was good enough for me, so its good enough for my kids.”
My First Educational Goal
In response to the inquisition I experienced from well-meaning mom friends, I naturally became a little internally defensive. Like many ladies who make the decision to homeschool their children, I began my homeschool journey with a specific goal in mind.
I MUST TEACH MY KID TO READ.
This was my mantra. I figured that once I taught her to read, I would feel a little more at ease as I navigated the homeschool skeptics.
Searching for the Perfect Reading Program
In my effort to teach my oldest daughter how to read, I perused the local homeschool store. I am so fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is very popular. The community of homeschool families is HUGE and so yes, we have a local homeschool store that could rival Target in its ability to suck me in for hours. It is a haven of books, beautiful boxed curriculum, phenomenal art and composer study materials, maps, Bibles… math manipulatives… it is a homeschoolers dream!
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Mountains of Books
I cannot count the number of hours I have spent sitting on the floor of the local homeschool store surrounded by mountains of books. Honestly, those memories are heavenly. Anyway…
Needless to say, I searched and searched for the perfect reading curriculum because I was determined that my daughter would read. I had to accomplish that goal and fast. No, my motives were not pure, but God is merciful and I have learned better now.
Ultimately, it wasn’t an expensive boxed reading curriculum that ended up being the key to effective reading instruction for my daughter. Nope. It was a $15 paperback book that opened the world of reading to both of my girls.
Interestingly, both of my girls (and their momma- aka Me) have since been diagnosed with ADHD. I did not realize this at the time because I was of the belief that ADHD was a “fake” diagnosis. I believed that my solid Christian parenting-style would eliminate any unwanted hyper, impulsive and distracted behavior in my children. Ugh!!! That is an entirely different story that you can read about here. So sorry for that rabbit trail… like I just mentioned… ADHD.
Just be aware that my girls both have attention-based learning issues and one of them has been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder. APD is an auditory disorder in which the child has normal hearing ability but the brain is unable to accurately process and distinguish that auditory information. This can hinder reading and language development. You can read more about Auditory Processing Disorder here.
Back to that amazing reading program that I soon discovered. Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons was the program that I was able to use with my hyper and highly-distracted girls.
This book offers highly effective reading instruction for children with special learning needs. Quite frankly, I think it is a great remediation resource for older children who are struggling with their ability to decode and blend words. The goal of this book is to get the ball rolling per say. Decoding skills and fluency are developed quickly using this method. Reading comprehension methodology is not specifically addressed.
100 Easy Lessons uses an instructional strategy called the SRA DISTAR Method. Prior to being introduced to this Instructional Book, I had no familiarity with the method despite my education training in graduate school. However, I found the logic and reasoning behind the teaching method to be absolutely fascinating and extremely effective for me as an instructor and for my children as students. The PARENTS GUIDE at the beginning of the text is extremely important to read as it explains the logic and reasoning behind the program. For geeks like me, it is also mesmerizing.
The DISTAR method (Direct Instruction System for Teaching Arithmetic and Reading) is a very methodical teaching program. It has been shown to be an extremely effective and simple tool to help struggling readers. This methodology was used to develop the 100 Easy Lessons program written by Siegfried Engelmann over 40 years ago.
Modified Alphabet System
The system uses a modified orthography system (fancy way to say the alphabet symbols used to represent speech sounds). This alphabet provides visual clues to indicate which sound is associated with the letter as it is used in a printed word.
For example, the letter symbol “e” is modified slightly depending upon its positioning and therefore, its use in a word.
- The “e” in “led” is says the short e sound.
- The “e” in “like” is silent and therefore has no sound. It is therefore shown in a smaller text size in order to cue the student to it’s silent role in the word.
- The “e” in she is long and says its name (which is noted with the macron above the “e”.)
The smaller size of the “e” indicates the “silent e.” All silent letters are initially introduced in a smaller font to point out that the letter symbol makes no sound.
In the initial lessons of the book, the modified alphabet are used as a scaffolding technique (extra supports to help the learner). These visual cues are extremely helpful for children with special learning needs.
They are gradually removed as the child begins to fluently recognize (whether consciously or not) the letter patterns and sounds. The logic is that as the modified letter symbols are gradually dropped, the student is able seamlessly transition to reading and decoding using traditional letter symbols. The child’s brain has incorporated the letter patterns and their usage and no longer needs the extra visual cues.
100 Easy Lessons uses scripted step-by-step instructions for the teacher. This may seem to be stifling to the teacher. However, the scripting is one of the many reasons that instructional tool is effective for kids with special learning needs.
The modeling provided using the script, is verbalized aloud to the student. The letter sounds and words are easily repeated by the child. The child follows the visual text both with his eyes and his pointer finger. Quick progress and smaller incremental goals are achieved which is ecouraging to child and teacher.
Minimalism Limits Distractions
The 100 Easy Lessons pages are very minimalistic with no pictures and very little color.
On the surface the text may appear dry and boring. Again this is one reason why the system is so effective for children with special learning needs. Highly distractible children tend to become overly stimulated with lots of visual input .
These students are set up for success. The eyes are focused on the text only. The text does not have to compete with the visual input of illustrations. (This is not to say that illustrations are not of extreme value. They are so incredibly valuable.)
The goal is to teach students the basics of reading (phonemic awareness, decoding skills and growing fluency skills). Therefore, limited visual input is a benefit during specific and direct instruction. Once the basics of reading have been mastered and the child requires less mental effort to decode words, the addition of illustrations to books is less of an issue.
Minimal Time Commitment
The lessons are extremely short (no more than 20 minutes a day). The lower time commitment makes learning to read very manageable for both the child and teacher. When I used this system with both of my girls, I often broke up the lessons into 10-minute sessions. I would break up the lesson into a short 10-minute session in the morning and a 10-minute session before lunch.
The point is that this book can be modified to fit the mental capability of the student. If the student is older the student may be capable of more than one lesson per day.
Regardless, I highly recommend modifying ANY curriculum into smaller chunks of time when necessary. I especially receommend shorter lessons with your younger children and any child who struggles with executive functioning.
Short but consistent lessons over time is so effective. Forcing longer lessons is more likely to lead to a resistant and frustrated student. That leads to a dead end. A child’s level of interest and motivation is one of your greatest weapons when teaching your child any subject area.
Please save yourself from the mistake of “forcing” your student to work through longer lessons when they clearly have reached their limit.
This will only create more resistance to engage when it is time for your next lesson. A frustrated child leads to a frustrating teaching time. Frustration within the brain of a child only leads to mental shut down. Forced instruction when a child is mentally shut down is a certain guarantee that nothing taught is retained. It is not worth it. Trust me. I have made that mistake.
Unfortunately, in our culture, we have believed a lie that says more is better.
This is not always the case. I argue that longer lessons are definitely not effective with students who struggle with learning differences. When learning a non-preferred subject area, I always recommend shorter and manageable lessons.
Additionally, I highly recommend reducing anxiety in your child by preparing them IN ADVANCE for what is expected. Before your lesson, clearly tell your student your expectation of reading time over the next 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Time length should be based on child’s capacity at that time. If a child knows what to expect and when to expect an end point, success is more likely.
Whatever you do. Follow through on your end time. If you set the expectation that you are asking for 10, 15 or 20 minutes, stop at 10, 15, or 20 minutes. Be a trustworthy coach to your student and cooperation is more likely to follow.
Overall, I highly recommend Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for the beginning reader as well as for older students who are struggling with traditional phonics-based lessons.
As mentioned earlier, the lack of illustrations usually targeted to a younger audience is removed which reduces the older student’s potential feelings of embarrassment and shame when using introductory level reading instruction.
Additionally, the book can be modified for older remedial students in that more than one lesson can be addressed each day if appropriate.
The scripted lessons, while some may intitially find stifling, are so helpful for the homeschooling mom or dad who may be nervous about his or her lack of reading instruction experience. The book can also be used by parents wanting to supplement reading instruction over summer vacation.
Bottom line… Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons is very user-friendly, requires no prep time for the instructor, is extremely well-priced (around $16), and is extremely effective for a multitude of students.
Don’t Forget… Every Child is Unique
I will say it once, and I will continue to repeat myself… Forgive me.
Children are not all the same. Teach Your Child To Read In 100 Easy Lessons using the DISTAR teaching method has been proven extremely effective with many children. However, it may not be a fit for you or your student for one reason or another.
My goal is to bring to the forefront a variety of teaching tools and methods that can be implemented depending upon your child’s wiring. Check out this post on the Orton-Gillingham method of reading instruction which has shown incredibly helpful for children who may have dyslexia.
Praise the Lord for options as we educate our children. They are a gift but they are many.
What about you and your student? What areas of reading skills does your student struggle in? Phonemic awareness? Decoding skills? Fluency? Reading Comprehension? Send me your concerns and I will do my best to address them in the coming weeks. I really want to hear from you. Please reach out. 🙂 lindsay at a heartforallstudents dot com
You’ve got this, Teaching Mom!