Years ago when my daughter was young, I visited her first elementary school’s Open House.  This event is etched in my mind, as it confirmed my fears that she was a Struggling Student.  Having a background in education, I felt like I should have had all the answers. With my emotions (and pride) tucked away, I left her classroom trying to replace my fear and frustrations with a determination to help my daughter. I began to focus on her reading needs and spent numerous nights researching to gain an understanding of the skills required for her to become a proficient reader.

Perhaps you can relate to this story and have a Struggling Reader at home.  Perhaps you don’t know where to start on your mission to help your child.

First, Think Like a Detective

By thinking like a detective, you will be able to learn a great deal about your child’s reading ability.

  • Listen to how your child reads – is it fast, slow, choppy, omits words, skips lines, fluent, needs time to “think-up” a word?
  • Observe any patterns in reading – are there challenges with blending sounds together, remembering letter patterns, become tired when reading?
  • Logic – What seems to stand out about your reader?
  • Intuition – What is your gut feeling about your reader?
  • Take Notes – Keeping track of thoughts relating to your child’s reading will help you better understand his/her needs

 Second, Understand the Three Types of Struggling Readers

There are Three Types of Struggling Readers and learning about each type, will help you understand and possibly help instruct your Struggling Reader more effectively.

1.Struggling Readers with Phonological Processing Challenges

Readers in this category have difficulties with phonological awareness and/or phonological processing.  Simply stated, these students have difficulties recognizing, blending and segmenting sounds without letters.  For example:

  • Blending sounds together can be slow and laborious
  • Segmenting (pulling apart) sounds is difficult
  • Patterns and sounds in words are not often recognized (rhyming and categorizing)
  • Understanding syllables can be challenging
  • Sequencing sounds is difficult

Once this type of Struggling Reader begins to try to read, blending and segmenting words can be difficult and may also lack fluency.   Reading is accomplished sound-by-sound or word-by-word often with mistakes resulting in a lack of comprehension.

  1. Struggling Readers with Rapid Naming Challenges

Readers in this category usually have the ability to read words fairly accurately, but it can be painfully slow.   Naming speed skills are critical for fluency and achieving comprehension.

  • Reading is accurate, but is very slow
  • Often has difficulty “thinking up” the word
  • Has many stops, starts and hesitations while reading
  • Becomes easily tired when reading
  • Has poor comprehension
  1. Struggling Readers with both Phonological and Rapid Naming Challenges – (Double Deficit)

In the early 1990’s Dr. Maryanne Wolf and her researchers first presented the Double Deficit Theory (phonological and rapid naming challenges together) to explain struggling reader’s deficits.

A Struggling Readers in this category have BOTH phonological and rapid naming challenges.

  • Has poor comprehension
  • Difficulty understanding sounds with and without letters
  • Is inaccurate and slow when reading
  • Is easily exhausted when reading short passages
  • Has poor comprehension

Third, Build a Solid Foundation of Skills

Once you have identified the correct type of Struggling Reader in your home, it becomes easier to focus on teaching the specific skills needed to help him/her become a successful reader.  Each of the three types of Struggling Readers has unique skill requirements for improvement.

 Skills for Phonological Processing Challenges

  • Phonological and Phonemic Awareness Skills: Providing structured practice, children begin to blend and segment sounds.
  • Alphabetic Principal: To understanding that there are predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds.
  • Working Memory: Accommodations and working memory training provide children with better skills to hold information in their minds and use this information.  For instance, when a student needs to blend sounds together into a word, he/she needs to remember the sounds of the letter patterns, hold those sounds in his/her working memory and then blend the sounds together using the correct sequence to make the sounds into the word.  The same strategy is used to understand each sentence.  The words of the sentence need to be held in the student’s working memory, remembered in the correct sequenced for accurate comprehension.

Skills for Rapid Naming Challenges

  • Rapid Naming or Rapid Automatic Naming: (RAN) To improve naming skills of letters, words, or objects resulting in a quick and automatic manner
  • Processing Speed: to improve the time it takes a person to do a mental task
  • Working Memory: Processing speed and working memory skills are related. Since our working memory can only store information for brief periods of time, struggling readers end up processing things more slowly and quickly fill up their allotted storage time.

Skills for both Phonological and Rapid Naming Challenges (Double Deficit)

Struggling Readers with a phonological and rapid naming challenges or Double Deficit need all of the skills above to become fluent readers.  One way to help your Struggling Reader would be to individually teach the skills listed above (this is how I taught my daughter).  Another strategy would be to learn about RAVE-O, an intervention program designed by Dr. Maryanne Wolf.

While conducting Double Deficit research at Tuff’s University, Dr. Wolf began creating a new curriculum, RAVE-O, (Retrieval, Accuracy, Vocabulary, Engagement, and Orthography) to assist Struggling Readers. For years, Dr. Wolf’s research with RAVE-O and the “Reading Brain” was described in peer reviewed research journals before it was made available to the educational community.  In 2010, RAVE-O became available to purchase. On the surface, RAVE-O appears to be like many other programs for Struggling Readers, but it is different.  The 5 components of RAVE-O work together in a student’s “Reading Brain” to change the neural pathways to make reading possible.  Learn more HERE

As we celebrate my daughter’s middle school graduation this week, it has been almost seven years since that first open house. I can still remember spending many late nights researching and learning about Struggling Readers with Double Deficits. The time spent searching for answers and practicing the new skills, has been worth the effort.  My daughter will begin her freshman year a proficient reader.