Over the years I have used many different methods to teach reading/phonics. My first three students used ACE and Christi. This is a fun and easy curriculum. With my next set of readers, I used Sing, Spell, Read, and Write. This is also a fun and easy method. I recommend it often. The only reason I don’t use these methods now, is I have changed to a Bible teaching method. I have my little ones learn to read Bible verses and Bible stories.
My first year of homeschooling was a bit overwhelming. I had two students, Daniel age six and TylerAnn age 5. I also had Rachel (4), Lydia (3), Brenden (2), and newborn baby Bekah. I was excited about that first year. I ordered our materials, recommended by my sister. The Paces looked fun and easy, and my students seemed eager to learn. But soon there was a problem, my students were not getting it. We would go over and over the letters and sounds, we would do all the activities and lessons, and it just didn’t seem to be sinking in. Oh, Rachel and Lydia seemed to be catching on to the reading thing, just by watching the lessons, but Daniel and TylerAnn just seemed to be always forgetting from one day to the next. I was feeling like a failure as a teacher, I convinced myself it was my fault because I was dyslexic, I couldn’t teach them. My mom, an experienced homeschool teacher, encouraged me to keep at it, and to take the summer off. I took her advice, and as we all relaxed over the summer the letters and sounds and words started coming together for Daniel and TylerAnn. That next year we switch to Sing, Spell, Read and Write and Rod and Staff. This was a great combination. It wouldn’t be for a couple more years that we would find out that both Daniel and TylerAnn have language based learning disabilities. Daniel’s is genetic and TylerAnn’s is dyslexia. But, what I learned those first few years will be valuable as God continues to bless our family with many different children with different learning styles. The lessons I learned along with another experience a few years ago, have shaped our reading program.
About four years ago, I was doing a lot of research on the brain and stimulating new brain growth. I love this kind of research (yes, I am a nerd in real life), and I was also looking into how I could best teach my kids that had severe brain injuries in utero and as infants. I had seen parents and teachers that believed a child could learn beyond what the medical professionals believed possible do amazing things in children’s lives. I had been praying that God would show Jeremy and I the best way to teach our children, all of them. Specifically, I was looking for answers for our son Davey. He had suffered severe traumatic brain damage as an infant, and most of his brain was permanently damaged. He was now almost six years old, and he had accomplished more than any doctors ever expected. But, did that mean he had accomplished everything he could accomplish?
As I researched and prayed, I saw that there was a big movement going on. This was the teach your baby to read movement. This movement was started as a result of brain study in infants. It is truly a fascinating study (the creator of Monki See has some research information on her website, here.). After reading so much on brain growth and development, I decided not only did I want to order a “teach your baby to read” program for Davey, but also for my newborn. So, I started looking at the different programs out there, and found Monki See. I liked the website, I liked the look of the materials, and I decided to call and see if I could get it for a discount, because I didn’t have the funds for it. The creator of this wonderful program (another Christian mommy) answered the phone, and after we visited a while she offered to send me the whole program free. I was so excited. I began having Davey(6), and his brothers, Jeremiah(5), Joshua(3), Zach(2), and Stephen(under 1) all working with the program. They loved the program, videos, flash cards, and games. (Davey had hated anything that felt or looked like school before this, and would shut down whenever I would try and work with him on school type activities.) They wanted to watch the videos over and over, and do the flash cards all day long. Some of them seemed to be picking up the words quickly, and others just enjoyed the brain stimulation.
I still use this program with my kids ten and under. Of course, some of the boys are reading books now, but I find doing the program keeps their vocabulary growing quickly. I find that phonics is learned naturally. I will not say that this program on it’s own has taught my kids to be fluent readers, but I can say that it has made the learning processes of reading easier and more enjoyable.
So, how do I actually teach reading?
The materials I use.
Before I start teaching reading we use Rod and Staff preschool to learn our letters, numbers, and sitting still to learn. We also just make up activities to learn letters and numbers. Monki See also helps with the sitting still training.
I use Explode the code for phonics. Since I have dyslexia and so do several of my kids, I don’t focus in on phonics. I assign the kids two pages daily in Exploded the Code. They do it on their own. My sister uses the online version of the Code and her kids love it.
The Bible is our primary reader as I mentioned in last weeks post. All my students copy from the Bible and read from the Bible daily.
I also have them sit and follow along in their Bibles as an older student reads to them. This builds their sight word recognition. The better reader they become the longer they are required to sit and read orally to someone else. For example, Jeremiah is a third grader and reads at a third grade level, I have him sit and read orally 15 minutes a day to TylerAnn.
How our learn to read program looks.
In the morning as the big kids copy and do their Bible the younger ones, use Exploded the Code and read orally from the Rod and Staff readers. I like the Rod and Staff readers, they are very Biblically sound and give the students a firm Bible foundation. They are well written and enjoyable to read. The student isn’t just reading silly nonsense, but actually learning to read and comprehend from the very first book. I do not do the workbooks at this time with my students, because they do the copy work and other Bible studies with the rest of the family as their writing work. The workbooks are good and useful for training in reading comprehension and phonics. I would recommend them if you are not doing some other kind of writing assignments.
When a student can say the letters of the alphabet and can sit and focus, I start them on book A of Go For the Code. I also start having them read unit 1 of grade one from the Rod and Staff readers. Each of my kids have started at different ages. To me learning and teaching reading is sort of like potty training. Some parents are eager to have their child train to use the toilet and begin very young taking them into the bathroom and having them sit on a toilet, others wait and start them much later. Both methods work, it is just a matter of how much time and energy you want to put into the training. I am LAZY. So, I wait until my children are ready to use the toilet. This method works for me, my kid are usually completely potty trained in less than two weeks from the day we start. This is the same method I use in teaching reading. I wait. Zachery just turned six last week, and he loves school and sitting and doing lessons. So, I started him in his lessons before his fifth birthday. All the rest of my sons, thus far, have been six before I started their lessons. My girls have varied, Rachel and Lydia both taught themselves to read, before they were five, just by watching and listening. Every student is different.
Once they start going through the lessons we customize the pace to the student. Some students fly through the materials, and therefore I have them do several lessons a week. Others need to work slower to grasp it and may only do a few pages and only one lesson a week. The pace is set by the students ability, not their interest. If I can tell they are just being lazy and need encouragement to move forward, we keep moving. But, if they are truly struggling to get the concepts, we slow down.
Each student works through the Exploded the Code books until they are fluently reading and comprehending. Some stop at book 4, and others have gone all the way into the Beyond the Code series. I have even had a student repeat a book if I felt they truly didn’t grasp the concepts taught.
Each student reads every lesson/story in the Rod and Staff readers from grade 1 to grade 4. If they are struggling to complete a lesson, I have them re-read that lesson for several days until it is smooth. This builds their sight word vocabulary, and also strengthens their reading comprehension.
You may be wondering if I work at such a slow pace with some students how do they ever get done with schooling. It is my experience that all students come to a point where everything starts coming together quickly and smoothly. When that happens they beginning moving through the materials very quickly and often catch up to students of the same age.
How do you teach the severely dyslexic student?
Most of my readers have read in my past blogs about my own struggles with learning. Here is a post that mention my struggles. I am grateful that God gave me good parents and many good teachers over the years. When we finally realized that Daniel and TylerAnn both struggle with language based learning disorders, they had both already worked through their struggles and were readers. What I learned from this was consistency pays off, and reading to my children makes a difference. Since I truly didn’t become a fluent reader until I was a teenager, I had a lot of catching up to do. Not really, but once I began to read and understand what I was reading I couldn’t stop reading. I loved being able to read and learn knew things through the written word. So, as a new mom I loved reading to my children. I would read them children’s stories, I would read out loud to them when I was reading the Bible to myself, or a even a book for pleasure. They seemed to like to listen to me read, and so I would read out loud whenever I was reading something, anything. My pleasure for reading cultivated a desire to read in them. By reading all kinds of different materials to them I built their vocabulary. I truly did not realize at the time what I was doing.
Once I started teaching my kids to read, I kept at it. This seemed to work with most of my kids. Then Bekah came along. Bekah is extremely dyslexic. The whole alphabet was just a crazy bunch of shapes and squiggles to her. I needed to find a better way for her to learn. So, I read the book, The Gift of Dyslexia. It was an interesting read, and I got some great ideas from it and their website.
Here is some tricks I have learned for teaching the dyslexic student.
1. Take it slow, but keep at it.
(there is no benefit to stopping and starting. Find a reading program you like and use it and keep at it until you complete it, even if it takes two years to do a half years worth of lessons. I have even repeated the same materials two years in a row, or I have used one kindergarten program for a year, then done another kindergarten program. Take the time you need to in order to assure reading is fun and learned.)
2. Read to your child, have others read to your child.
Read their science and history lessons out loud to them. Have others read fun books to them, even chapter books. Read the Bible to them and other character building books. Just read and read to them.
(Read for fun, pleasure, and learning.)
3. Don’t teach in frustration, it overwhelms the student.
(If the student is stressed or overwhelmed, they can NOT read, a dyslexic student has to be able to relax and control their mind to stop the words, numbers, letters, shapes, etc. from shifting.)
4. Do relaxing activities before reading. Deep breathing, Koosh ball activities, even stretching.
5. Make the words real to the reader.
The Davis Program uses modeling clay to do this, but it can be done in many ways. For each word your student needs to master, they need to create a mental image of that word. They can do this by writing the word, drawing a picture of the word, and repeating the word and pointing to the picture. Then they need to place that word in their mind, by placing the picture with the word in their mind.
I do recommend the use of the Davis Program, but once you learn it, you can adapt it to work for your student. Once you have taught your student to practice mastering a word, they can do it on their own over and over and quickly master lots and lots of words.
6. Do NOT stress on phonics.
Some dyslexic students do use phonics, but most master one word at a time. As they master words, some dyslexic students will naturally grasp phonics concepts. But as a rule phonics overwhelms them and causes them to lose focus.
7. Take a break.
If your student is fumbling over words, especially words you thought they had already mastered, then they need a break. For a dyslexic student to focus to read takes a lot more skill than the average reader. So it can be very tiring. They will get a headache and may even need a nap if they spend too much time reading.
8. Have them write (copy).
Have them copy letters, numbers, shapes, words, sentences, paragraphs. As they write the words even if they don’t know them they imprinting them on their minds. After they copy the words, either have them read it to you or you read it to them , depending on their ability. I usually use words from our Bible lessons, verses, etc.
9. Leave things around for them to read.
make lists, charts, recipes, anything and leave it for them to find and read. Especially, if they are very curious they won’t be able to not try and read it.
These are a few tips I have learned in no particular order. I am sure there are many more. I would encourage anyone with a child with any type of learning challenge, to research it on the web. There is lots of good advice out there. Then make a plan and stick to it. Remember, if you keep positive and keep encouraging them, they will want to learn. Learning should never be an overwhelming or frustrating experience for a beginning reader. Relax and take it slow.
Next week I will share about how I teach math, and I will touch on teaching the dyslexic math.