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:
- Teach him how to break down a word into syllables
- Help him to learn the sounds made by different letter combinations
- 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.
- 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.
Many of us think that exams are everything and that the only way of measuring success is to look at improvement in test results. I cant deny the importance of exams and they do show what a pupil has learnt, but I want to share a story with you which may change your mindset.
I have been teaching a 6 year old boy called Ali for about 9 months. He is a bright boy and learns quickly but he hasn’t shown significant improvements in test results. He lacks confidence and test performance often depends on his mood. At school he is easily distracted and is under-achieving.
Last term his mother was invited to the end of year school play in which he was performing, but he kept his part in the play a secret. The 30 minute play was narrated by this little boy, who had been labelled as “the naughty one” in years past. He had memorised the whole script and kept it a secret from his mother to surprise her. His teacher had chosen him because she had noticed an improvement in his behaviour and attitude in class. He was also the best reader in the class.
His mother truely believes that he would never had done this if he hadn’t been tutored to give him the confidence that he needed. She felt guilty that she was pushing him too much yet she knew that he would benefit from it.
I never thought that a student could improve their reading age by 2 years after just 14 weeks of tuition. And I didn’t discover this until I started teaching at Kip McGrath.
The reading scheme we use is the best in the world in my opinion, and without telling you the trade secrets, here is how it works:
- teaching the child how to break down a word into sound groups (phonemes)
- drilling words over and over again
- drilling high frequency sight words to improve visual recognition of words. A sight word is to be recognised without being broken down into syllables and phonemes. For example the word “the” is a sight word because it cannot be “sounded out” as “t”, “huh” and “eh” and put together again.
- understanding what the sight words mean and using them in sentences.
I believe that if parents and teachers stick to the above 4 techniques when teaching reading, then progress will be much quicker.
I’ve just received this testimonial this morning and it has made my week.
“I would like to express my sincere thanks to you for the help you have given Emma and the flexibility you have shown. You have not only built up her confidence as we set out to do but you have managed to created an environment that Emma was happy to come to and enjoyed learning in, I can only remember one occasion where she did not want to go! I would happily recommend you and should Emma or her younger sister Hannah need help in the future I will not hesitate to be in touch.
I wish you every success for the future and again thank you very much.”
Emma started tutoring 2 years ago. She was bright but lacked confidence in Maths. She was particularly slow with mental calculations and didnt like problem solving. I put her onto our “timed tables” which is a computer programme designed to make learning times tables fun and to improve speed. In the first lesson her highest score was 12, but by the time she had done one term of tuition, she was getting 32.
Because she had made so much progress in Maths we then decided to do some english as well, and we have worked together with school and parents to overcome learning blocks in this area.
I wish Emma the best of luck in the future and will miss her – as I always do.
If you would like extra help for your child, call the Kip McGrath Education centre in Stevenage on 01438 746986 or the Luton centre 0n 01582 402225.