Dear Dr. Fournier:
I have been contacted by my daughter’s third grade teacher, who requested that she be placed in resource because she is not reading very well. I have never been in favor of separating children into reading groups, because I believe that grouping struggling readers together is a sure way to keep the problem going. I feel like these children need the exposure to more advanced readers to learn from them.
If my daughter isn’t going to learn to read with some consistency by the third grade, when is she going to learn? What can I do? If my child is labeled early and set aside, I am afraid that the consequences will be long-term, if not permanent. I hate to sound so stand-offish over this, but this is my child! Why should school immediately determine she is “slow” in reading? Perhaps they should consider themselves “slow” in teaching instead. Help!
When someone passes judgment on your child, the reaction is typically one of pain and anger, though not necessarily in that order. Although these emotions are a natural reaction, they should not cause you to disregard the entirety of the message.
From the teacher’s perspective, situations like this one create a dilemma. Teachers are faced with the daunting task of teaching curricula that was set by others, and they are expected to comply with the pacing of those curricula. When a student is not ready to move along at state-mandated speed, teachers are left with little recourse but to call the parents.
When the teacher calls, it is important to listen to and understand the message. Is your daughter reading too slowly, or does the curriculum demand that the teacher move too quickly? In your daughter’s case, the teacher is not saying that she has trouble learning; she merely has trouble reading, which is one of the building blocks of successful learning.
Whatever the cause, the result is that the teacher cannot slow down and your child cannot instantly speed up. Your child needs added time and assistance.
Because you are opposed to the resource system, there are some other things you can do to help. However, you must set aside your pain and anger and be willing to collaborate with the teacher, while volunteering to help your child at home.
What To Do
Ask the teacher for a duplicate set of your daughter’s books that you can keep at home. If the school cannot supply them, purchase the books from a used bookstore or look for them at the library, online or for digital copies on a tablet or e-reader.
Request a parent teacher conference to go over the curriculum with the teacher in person, and ask for the syllabus for the next two weeks. At home, plan on a calendar to pre-read what your child will need to read in school. Make sure your child learns different strategies for this pre-reading. At times, have her read with a highlighter so she can mark the words she has difficulty with. At other times, have her listen to reading you have pre-recorded, following along with her book and again highlighting words she cannot read. You can quickly do this if you have a Smartphone with a voice memo function, or you can record an audio track voiceover in a standard editing program on a computer. This way, your daughter can hit the space bar to quickly pause the reading when she begins to fall behind, or needs to make a notation on a word.
For all reading exercises, keep a separate cumulative list of all the words that seem to give your child trouble. Just as with math mistakes, the key on lists of this sort is to look for trends. Take or send your list to the teacher and collaborate to determine a strategy based on your cumulative findings. Does she have trouble with double vowels, like ‘ie,’ ‘ae,’ ‘ou;’ or could it be double consonants such as ‘ch’ or ‘sh?’ It might be that when she finds a new word, she does not automatically use the phonics skills she already has. Whatever the difficulties are, it is important to identify and isolate them so that they can be targeted for mastery. She will then find that the problem is not nearly as big as previously thought. Suddenly, the catchall label “slow reader” becomes something more like, “normal reader with some difficulties with ‘x’ or ‘y.’
Once you have determined the problem, work with the teacher to decide how your child can overcome it.
This extra reading practice will help give your daughter confidence that she can do the work asked of her. It will also help you and the teacher pinpoint the strategies that work best for her and identify the ways that your daughter processes information. By separating reading from learning, you have secured her success in school without slowing the pace of learning.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER