George Lucas Educational Foundation

Personalized Learning for struggling readers in the early grades

Personalized Learning for struggling readers in the early grades

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Having a child who struggled with reading, I know from experience how important early intervention is to prevent later problems. This means taking a close look at struggling readers and even evaluating them for learning disabilities if necessary, as early as possible. While my son attended a school for kids with language-based learning disabilities through fourth grade, I know reinforcing good reading habits at home was helpful as well as his exposure to Orton Gillingham and other reading programs designed to help kids who struggle to learn to read. In order to personalize learning, you have to look at individual kids and see what kind of problem are they having with reading. Are the books they can read simply too boring and fail to hold their interest? (The BOB books are a great example of good phonetics, deathly prose...) What can you do to help motivate kids to want to read and tackle improving reading if what they are reading is, well, not even silly or amusing? Here's a few suggestions of what worked for us: One thing we found incredibly helpful was the use of audio books of all sorts. My son had a pretty sophisticated sense of what was interesting to him that far outstripped his ability to read books of interest at his reading level. "Hop on Pop" was deathly boring, but listening to things like "Junie B. Jones" and even "Harry Potter" on CD made books come alive for him in a way they weren't as he struggled to improve his reading. Eventually, his reading level soared and he was reading the Da Vinci Code by age 12, largely because the audio books kept showing him what cool adventures and worlds he could visit in books, and this kept him motivated to work through the other steps to get him to where he could read these things independently. At home, we also took all of our kids books and put them in a box in an order of difficulty- step one through step three. We also set up a sticker chart and when he had read 10 books aloud to me, he got a small prize- I think it was a comic book, or Yu-Gi-Oh cards; and every 10 to 15 books an additional prize, until we reached a big prize at 100 books, which i think was something like going to his favorite restaurant or Hershey Park in the summer- something he wanted to do. This kind of structure worked really well, and as he worked through the books, his reading level improved, and he had a real sense of accomplishment at the same time. While this might look like a bribery system, the advantage to it is that with reading, it's a skill that once you master it, there's no going back to being a bad reader once the incentives go away. And once you have a kid "hooked" on reading, there's little going backwards as well- a whole new world has opened up. This may not work for every kid, but it may not be a bad idea for parents who'd like to help support their kids at home and make it kind of a game at the same time. Your mileage and that of the parents of your students may vary, but I think tackling the skill of reading by engaging kids, showing them how fun books can be, and providing small external incentives until they develop the skill and a sense of internal incentive for reading can be a pretty good recipe for helping the reluctant or struggling reader.

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