Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Reader Madness

At the tender age of 4 or 5, I narrated the kindergarten play because I was able to read the script better than anyone else in my class. My mom tells me that on the night of the performance, she was surprised because she didn't know I could read so well. So I didn't learn how to read as a result of direct instruction from my parents, and I don't remember the steps of being taught. As far as I can remember, I've always known how to read, and it was always easy.

It's due to no merit of my own that I read early. I just had a knack for it, as some kids can draw or dance. But the upshot is that I don't remember the process of learning to read, and it's frustrating for me to work with a child struggling with reading. So far I've taught four children to read, and they've turned out all right. None of mine, so far, have been as voracious a reader as I was, but the older ones have all had their click and read independently and proficiently.

I'm hitting my Waterloo with my current reader-in-training.

My seven-year-old daughter is having a tricksy time with phonetics, to an extent I don't recall with the others. Her short-term memory for words and sometimes even letters is very scattershot -- she often won't remember a word she read in the sentence before, and doesn't always remember basic sounds like short e. The other day she couldn't remember the sound of "m", the very first letter sound she learned. She has a few sight words -- the, to, I, a -- but everything else she sounds out piecemeal, often as if she's processing each letter for the first time. She often reads predictively, guessing "can" for "cat". She adds sounds that aren't there, or will say some entirely different word after laboriously sounding out a word bit by bit. When asked to say the whole word she's just sounded out, she sometimes puts the ending sound first, and often doesn't remember the word so we have to start the process over again.

Rules such as silent e or "when two vowels go a-walking, the first one does the talking" don't seem to stick well, and although we've finally gotten the "th" sound down, other common blends such as "ar" or "sh" or "ch" require reminders. She consistently mixes up d, b, and p.

Some days are better than others, but her reading is very very slow. The eye doctor says her vision is fine and shouldn't be an impediment. She doesn't show any signs of having learning difficulty in other areas, though (as with all my children at this age) I usually have to sit on her to make her do her work. She isn't really interested in learning to read and doesn't do much independent sounding out of signs or books.

She can write her letters and spell at the basic level her phonics workbook requires. (I figured there wasn't much point in working on formal spelling until she could read a bit better.)

My sense, from years of parenthood, is that this is just going to take time and daily work and perseverance on my part. But if you have any encouragement or advice, throw it my way -- I could use it.


Banshee said...

I guess the first question is whether it's dyslexia or other processing problems, or just somebody who's not terribly good at remembering visual stuff. It sounds like you've concluded that it's the second.

Okay, fine, that's doable too.

If she's not good at certain kinds visual stuff, you want to work with other modes. Tracing letters. Feeling letters. Shaping dough into letters. Walking around a path in the shape of a letter. Shaping the child's body into letters. Alphabet blocks. Animated letter characters with names and personalities. Different colored inks or fingerpaints for different letters, so "b" is blue for going up to the sky, and "p" is brown for underground. That sort of thing.

Heck, it was years that I was telling my left hand from my right by spotting which hand made an L with the forefinger and thumb. So obviously these sorts of things are more developmental level differences than actual intelligence levels. There's nothing wrong with using a few tricks as crutches, if the tricks work for the child until the skill becomes second nature.

So yeah, you would be the one to know what your kid is "good" at, and you can use that as a route to figuring it out.

It may also be useful to deal with familiar texts as well as unfamiliar texts. As long as she doesn't get into guessing, a familiar text like a nursery rhyme might "remind" her what letters are associated with what sounds. Fill in the blank stuff as writing practice, maybe.

Some kids are very competitive, so games that they have to read can help. There are Old Maid or Go Fish decks with people's names or object names on them, for example. The kid has to read the word to call for the matching card.

I know Jerry Pournelle's wife has a reading program on their website, Chaos Manor, and she was a very good reading teacher for a lot of years.

My mom was a tutor for years and years at all levels of reading, including learning disability. I will ask if she has any good ideas.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

This sounds so, so much like Ben. He's 8 and he's just within the past month or two reading simple CVC words. For the longest longest time I kept trying different tactics, but he wasn't much interested in learning to read and he could not seem to remember the letters and sounds. He'd learn them and then forget and learn and forget.

Last year I bought the first books in the Explode the Code series, the Before The Code, books A, B, and C. It's basically lots and lots of letter drill. And that combined with daily copywork, focusing on writing short CVC words with the letters he's been practicing, and reading practice with the Bob books.

He's finished the Before the Code books and moved on to the first book of Explode the Code and it feels like we're finally making progress. Now there are only a handful of letters he's struggling with, mainly vowels and there are at least a dozen words he's regularly reading without having to stop and sound them out every time.

Bella was a late reader, too. Not much progress for years and then finally at around 8 she had a breakthrough and something clicked. She still struggles a lot with spelling and I think she probably is dyslexic, but we're using Uncovering the Logic of English, weekly studied dictation, and daily copywork and that seems to be helping. Very slowly.

Banshee said...

Forgot to say that sometimes what looks like a visual difficulty is really a weakness on audial processing or audial memory. The child is having difficulty remembering the sound of the letter, or remembering to associate the shape with the sound.

Again, though, you usually attack that by finding other routes and other ways to connect the facts and the memory. I am not sure that an exact diagnosis really matters, per se, because as long as you find some way to make it stick, it will be okay. And if you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, something will stick.

But it might help to know what direction to throw the spaghetti.

Does this child know a lot of songs and rhymes and tunes by heart, and does the child stay in tune? That would maybe be a clue that the kid's skills aren't less developed when it comes to audial memory. If the child only can follow along when other people are singing, that would indicate something different.

Some stuff is just harder than others. I learned to read English early, but took a lot longer to write. In college, I learned to read Cyrillic pretty easily, but I really stink at reading any of the Japanese writing systems. I also never managed to remember or recognize those weird organic chem molecule diagrams, except for a couple that were easier.

But then, I've never moved to Japan, and I've never managed to really get serious about practicing reading Japanese every day. (Partly because it's harder for me.) Likewise, I never had a pressing need to learn organic chem in depth.

OTOH, having something I wanted to read in Latin, and which I could not read except by reading and translating a little bit of the Latin every day, taught me much more Latin than I ever managed to get from school. I still have trouble remembering case and tense endings, when it comes to reciting them; but now, I just know them, like I read English without thinking about why I know what it means. It was a very stupid and lengthy process, but it worked for me.

Grim rote persistence (or having a bizarrely interesting project) every day can be hard and boring, but it also works. Usually. As long as there's no actual brick wall between you and the knowledge.

But some developmental difficulties are awfully hard to see through, until you finally grow out of them.

Banshee said...

I forgot to say that reading comics is the classic way for kids to become motivated to read, especially older kids. You have pictures and dialogue, but the story moves along more quickly than a picture book. If you want to find out what happens, you have to keep reading, and yet even a long storyline has lots of short "chapters", in the form of single issues and single pagespreads.

I don't know what comics or webcomics today would be suitable for a seven year old, unfortunately.

Barbara C. said...

First I would have her eyes checked, especially for strabismus.

If her eyes check out, I would consider that she might be a kid for whom phonics just does not work. While the minority, that is sometimes the case.

Or she might just need another year for things to click. The range for reading ability is between 4 and 8.

Sherwood said...

A child with various flavors of dyslexia can have perfect vision. This is a processing issue, not one of vision.

Here is a possibly useful page:

Linebyline said...

Webcomics, you say, Banshee? I have some recommendations. I tend to prefer things that are a little more on the adult side (though I generally don't care for *ahem* "adult" stuff) so parental discretion is advised, but here are some of my favorites that I think are more or less appropriate for kids:

First, Harpy Gee. Fantasy about an elf making friends in a small town, going up against various monsters. Light-hearted and funny. A few scary monster encounters, and a non-gory, on-panel death not too different from the one at the end of the first Shrek movie. Kids might have trouble with the stylized lettering, though.

Next up is MAiZ. Fantasy about an archaeologist searching for answers about an amulet, and a boy she meets with his own mysteries. Scary action scenes, but nothing much over TV-Y7 level. Very mild language (occasional "bloody ratbags"). Occasional made-up fantasy names and phonetic spellin' of accents might trip up learners, but most of it sounds out okay.

Everblue is another fantasy about a young man and woman and their flying boat. Likable characters and gorgeous artwork. Some pretty scary scenes, though, including the current chapter with a scary baddie in a skull mask. I'd rate it about equal to The Incredibles in terms of violence.

Pepper & Carrot is a fantasy/comedy about a young witch struggling to make a name for herself and live up to the expectations of her aunts. Occasional, fairly tame, adult jokes. The biggest sticking point is going to be the one scene that uses summoning demons as a punchline. That they come off like something out of Monsters Inc. might make it worse instead of better. Most of the time it's over-the-top adorable. Also a completely open-source comic under a Creative Commons license, if you care about that stuff.

Finally, Taxicat. Fantasy (I have a type, okay?) about talking animals in an underground world. It's just getting started and in sort of an exposition rut right now, but very charming.

Some of these might already be pushing it for a seven-year-old, but I'll leave that for the parents to decide. Hear are some more to check out for older kids, maybe teens and up. I'll spare you the summaries and let you check them out for yourself.

Atomic Robo:
Beyond the Western Deep:
Sleepless Domain:
Stand Still, Stay Silent:

Now we'll see if this makes it through the spam filter.

bearing said...

Identical to my FB comment:
I think seven is too early to be truly worried about reading disability—sometimes it is just developmental and there have to be some normal kids on the later side of the distribution. You've had her vision checked, and that's a good thing to check early; I have had a friend whose daughter's vision problems weren't caught by the ped or the first eye doctor, is true, but what you describe sounds more like memory and attention. Trying different strategies is still a good option, and being aware that some kids do not teach themselves and really need to be taught, so: patience. I am not sure when the point is where you would be delinquent if you didn't seek outside intervention, but it's not age 7.

For strategies, I do have one to suggest: Try stopping having her work on reading books and sentences, and go back to lists of individual words with only rare forays into sentences and books. I had the best results when I waited to introduce sentences, and when the reading level of words in sentences I gave them was kept lower than the reading level of the words they could read individually. Like, a child could be reading "except" and "different" in a list, and I was only assigning "Ten kids are in Mom's bed!" for sentence practice.

I think the skills that a reader needs to understand sentences and texts are multiple and separate from what they need to decode a word. If there are still decoding problems, I like to minimize work on sentence skills. And when starting sentence skills, I like to ease the burden of decoding by using easy words. Then put the skills together only
when they are separarely proficient at the skills of decoding harder words and
of sentence-reading.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... I read a bunch of webcomics. The only one I can think of that MIGHT be appropriate for a seven-year-old would be jl8, which is about a bunch of DC superheroes as 7/8-yr-old children. There's one Victoria's Secret joke, but mainly why I didn't introduce it to my then-seven-yr-old brother was because two of the characters start "dating." It's all very innocent, but I didn't want him to think that children of that age should ACTUALLY have boyfriends or girlfriends in real life. So, use your own discretion.

The Zita the Spacegirl books might be appropriate.

Kathy said...

Have her tested for Irlen Syndrome. It made all the difference in the world for my goddaughter.

mandamum said...

My #2 daughter had a long journey to fluent reading (not helped by her little brother starting at 5). Long story short - we were working with eye therapy for different child, she was tested and didn't show any need in any area, but after hearing my description, the therapist did suggest I do visual memory work with her. What we did, when I remembered, over the course of probably a year: I took those wooden pattern blocks - red hexagons, blue squares, etc - and dealt them out so we each (#2, #3, possibly #4 and I) had the same set. I put up a book to provide cover, then arranged a pattern. Perhaps a hexagon, a square, a triangle, another square. Then lifted the book, gave a slow count of 5, and set it back down. Then they scrambled to reproduce it. My patterns could get pretty involved, using negative space or standing-up blocks. We played until they (or I) were done, then put it away until they reminded me to do it again. Maybe 2-4 times per week. She had been struggling to keep hold of the beginning letters/sounds of the word long enough to sound out the end, and that seemed to help. Probably the year's time helped even more. Memory work is generally good :) but I don't think about the visual memory as much.

Banshee said...

My mom says the kid probably just needs reading material she wants to read, aligned to her interests. If it's something totally different from what her siblings like, that might be even better.

But speaking as somebody weak on visual memory, playing a lot of Concentration card games probably won't hurt!

I forgot to say that a lot of kids who aren't that into fiction do like reading nonfiction. Sometimes on some pretty weird or strangely practical subjects. So if your kid wants to learn about the stock market or plumbing or mud, sometimes that's the gateway to reading.

Emily said...

You pretty much described my son, who's about to turn 7. My husband has a rather inflexible idea that I'll be a Bad Teacher and a Failure if he's not reading well by the end of this school year...which is an advanced repeat of 1st grade, mainly because of the reading issue. Also I think I was pushing him too hard doing first grade last year. That worked for my daughter at the same age, but she's a girl and has always been precocious. I used 100 Easy Lessons for her and it worked great, no additional materials needed. When we completed the book she just needed to read American Cardinal and Faith and Freedom readers to me for a few years to develop fluency and she's now a great reader. My son has been so different. We did 100 Easy Lessons all year last year. This year, since I am starting it anew with my 5yo, and it didn't seem to be cutting it last year, I couldn't bring myself to do it again with him. We're reading lists of words in Alpha Phonics. Writing CVC words that rhyme in columns. I even pulled out McGuffeys in my desperation. I feel inadequate and lost, trying to get through to him. He just isn't trying. He's convinced himself that it's hard, too hard to be worth it, and he's not trying.

I think part of it is, he really needs materials to practice reading that he is interested in and that he likes. Tonight he pulled out a book about the Declaration of Independence. He began reading, slowly and painfully, and read a whole page with some help. I didn't have to prod or beg or plead. He powered through the whole thing. I think I need to focus more on letting him choose practice materials. Do you think that might help your daughter?

Anna said...

I hope this doesn't accidentally end up posting twice... Anyway, I was an early reader too, could read whatever by age 3, just because I was read to a lot. The next in line didn't learn until about 8.5, partly because he was a later reader by nature and partly because he thought he wouldn't be read to anymore.
That brother was my encouragement with my eldest who did not learn to read until just after turning 9. We had tried some Bob books, done most of 100 Easy Lessons, and I had pretty much backed off from actively trying to teach her because it just made her frustrated (and she's a high-anxiety type to begin with). It finally just clicked for her (in part because she really wanted to read all our Calvin and Hobbes books which I refuse to read aloud on the grounds that if you're too young to read it yourself, you're too young to 'get it' and I refuse to explain an entire book of comic strips) and she now reads as fluently as any 10.5 y-o. The next in line is 8 and he's a bit ahead of where his sister was at this age. We used the Life of Fred readers, which he liked, and he's now confident enough to try some harder things on his own, though he still prefers to be read to. But I'm able to not worry about it with him, having seen that the "read aloud a lot and be patient" method worked fine for the older one. :-) The next is 5 and I'm pretty sure he can read more than he lets on given what he'll ask sometimes about billboards or whatever. We play Pictionary Jr. and he can often read the word list on his card with no attempts to teach him on my part (except for trying to have him sound out some of what he writes in the books he draws).
Don't know if that helps, but "late" reading isn't necessarily a sign of permanent reading problems. And I've never wanted to push it and end up associating reading with miserable drudgery.

ekbell said...

I've not noticed any long-term difference between my late readers and my early reader.

As someone with memory problems it's definitely worth trying different approaches.

The following is an account of my life with an undiagnosed inability

I didn't realize that "your mind's eye" was anything but a weird figure of speech until I was in my teens as my mind's eye is *blind* (I simply do not have visual recall) and it's amazing how many learning tactics depend on being able to recall what you see.

I still remember how it felt to to be so *blind* as to what was expected of me (hopeless, hapless & what was the point of even trying) and how freeing it was to realize that it didn't matter *how* I learned just that I did. I could consider spelling and reading to be completely separate skills and learn to spell with my fingers, I could learn math facts through tricks and drill, I could figure out how to translate reading into knowledge using a sort of theory/plot framework to slot facts into... And I could ignore all those useless references to 'seeing' what wasn't in front of my eyes! Even without anyone realizing the root cause of my problems simply being presented with different approaches to learning helped a great deal.