Case Study 2- Perseverance Always Pays Off in The End

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So today, I am going to tell you about a student who we shall call Alan (this is not his real name and is used to protect his identity).

When Alan’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, he was 14 years old and had a reading age of 7 years and 5 months.  His spellings were also poor and he thought that punctuating sentences wasn’t important.  At school he was not getting any timetabled extra support.

I urged her to speak to the school again and to get him properly assessed for learning difficulties and specifically dyslexia.  Alan definitely had dyslexic tendencies, so I decided that he needed to concentrate on improving his reading.  This problem with reading held him back in other subjects.  I put him on our reading programme which consists of a series of reading booklets, accompanied by audio CD’s, computer programmes and workbooks specifically designed to tackle reading strategies.

The reading scheme would:

  1. Teach him how to break down a word into syllables
  2. Help him to learn the sounds made by different letter combinations
  3. Make him become more fluent by recognising sight words.  Sight words are the most commonly used words in the English language and must be learnt by rote.  An example of a sight word is the word “the”, which cannot be worked out by the sounds of each letter in the word.
  4. Free up some more working memory when he is reading so that his reading comprehension improves.

Alan has recently been diagnosed as having “mild dyslexia” by a professional and it is now acknowledged at his school. The school are now giving him extra one-to-one support in reading and spelling and he will be given extra time in exams.  We re-assessed his reading this week and found that his reading age had gone up by 11 months in just 6 months.  His attitude to learning has changed and he now “takes pride in his work” says his teacher.  When I shared this good news with his mum, she said that at the last school parent’s evening he got an “outstanding” whereas previously he was getting “satisfactory”.

Children like Alan can easily slip through the net and learning difficulties like dyslexia can go undetected throughout a child’s schooling.  But once it is diagnosed, then it is fairly easy to rectify.  In Alan’s case, he had to read and do certain reading drills 2 or 3 times a week each lasting at least 30 minutes and he had to attend the centre twice a week.  I remember at times we nearly gave up because the progress just didn’t seem to come.  So it was a big commitment and it paid off.   And I think I’ll end with an appropriate quote …

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” By Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) American writer and philanthropist.

When Your Child Needs Help With Reading

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So I have decided to share some of these stories with you and hope to add new case studies on a regular basis.

Do you have a gut feeling that (s)he is not ‘doing fine’?

We are constantly told by mothers who bring their youngsters for assessments that they really regret not having listened to their hearts and trusting their own judgments (often from a year or several years before), rather than listening to those who tell them that their children are ‘doing fine.’ One such mother was 6-year-old Zach’s mother.

Yet when Zach’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, she told me that he didn’t know his numbers beyond 10, and that he didn’t know the 45 high frequency words he had to know in reception year. She tried to help him at home, but didn’t have the expertise and knowledge to do so effectively. Little or no support was given by the school. His mother said the following: “I find it hard to put on paper what I feel in my heart. When I came to see you with my son Zach, I was so worried about him, yet his teacher said that he was doing fine.”

I tested Zach’s reading and discovered it to be at least a year below what it should be and he didn’t understand the concept of calculations in maths. He could count from 0 to 10, but not from 10 to 0, and he couldn’t recognise the difference between 13 and 30.

I decided to concentrate on his reading, and to teach him how to learn and work independently. One of the most striking things was his poor retention. For example, to login onto our computer programmes, children must type in their name with a capital letter and then press “enter” to start. In one lesson, a child can do up to 3 computer based activities which requires the child to follow the same login procedure. It took Zach 8 lessons to remember to do this without waiting for the teacher to prompt him. And I think that this was partly due to his poor memory and partly his over-reliance on adults (parents and teachers).

So, where are we now? Zach’s reading age has improved by 18 months in just 14 weeks, he is able to answer comprehension questions in simple sentences and he is reading more fluently and with expression. He comes to lesson and gets going without being told to, and asks for harder work. His mother can’t believe the transformation and he now holds his head up high. He says that schoolwork isn’t hard anymore. He believes that he can do anything if he tries.

Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys

It’s been entertaining watching Gareth Malone trying to teach literacy to this group of primary school boys based in a school in Essex.  

His target was to raise the reading age of boys.  In the first programme he teaches them how to debate, when most of them can’t even construct a logical argument.  In the second programme he teaches them the love for books and reading and in the final episode he tackles writing. 

At first glance it looks like the boys aren’t learning anything and that Gareth is a bad teacher. He’s not textbook, and he has made some classic mistakes like all trainee teachers but eventually he does get through to the boys.  His methods are totally against what is dictated to school teachers because he makes learning fun.  He makes it relevant to the boys’ interests and he praises their smallest achievements.  A lot of these techniques are what I use with my students. 

I encourage the children to try a new way of working out a maths problem, I encourage them to take many small steps to reach their targets and I encourage them to believe in themselves.  Yet I don’t hold their hand and confine them to their desks.  I use a variety of learning materials (including computers) and teach them how to work independently.  That way they feel a sense of achievement through their own efforts. 

But my parting questions are:

Why has a qualified professional teacher not helped him yet? Why is he not receiving additional input to better his reading skills? Perhaps the teachers haven’t noticed and have just labelled him lazy? Why has it taken a TV personality to come in to the school to notice this?