Removing Roadblocks to Reading

Gwen Miller

Three of my four children have learned to read by using phonics. I had taught second grade for five years and had observed that the better readers were those with a strong foundation in phonics. I had seen 7- and 8-year-old students who could sound out words phonetically and read multisyllable words independently. They were generally exceptional spellers as well.

familyreadingNow that I was homeschooling, I fully intended to teach my first phonics as a basis for reading and spelling. After a very frustrating year teaching kindergarten, I felt like a failure. Luke could only read words and stories he had memorized. I would work with him on phonics, but he couldn't use those same phonetic sounds to figure out new words. The letters seemed to get jumbled. He might see the word "bat" and read "at" or "tab." Other times there was no rhyme or reason to the sounds he would give to certain letters in a word. Quite frankly, I was stumped. How was I going to teach a child who couldn't learn phonetically? After all, it was the only way I knew to teach him.

I went back to square one. I prayed. I asked God for wisdom to teach my distinctly bright little boy how to read. I began to read voraciously about successful homeschooling parents. I read about other children who were similar to Luke in their learning styles. I attended a seminar by a home-school mom who had some expertise in learning disabilities. I recognized that Luke had some of the same characteristics of a child who is mildly to moderately dyslexic. I never used the terms dyslexic or reading disability with him because I didn't want him to lose confidence or feel labeled. My goal was to gain the knowledge I needed to teach Luke successfully.

Thankfully, I had gotten some very good advice from all the sources I had checked out. I felt more confident than ever in continuing what I had already been doing to educate Luke. I was now convinced that reading aloud to Luke was the most important thing I could do to help him become an independent reader. We had already read several of the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Charlotte's Web, some of The Chronicles of Narnia, and other literary classics.

The Spoken Word

More than ever I began to immerse Luke in the spoken word. At night he went to bed listening to unabridged books on tape. Often times he would carry a portable CD or tape player to listen to stories as we drove in the car.

I began to teach to Luke's strength instead of the way I felt he needed to learn. I knew he had an outstanding memory. He had learned to read many stories by memorizing each word in the story. So I quit expecting him to read new stories to me. I read the story first then he would read it back to me. I had quit having Luke narrate the reading back to me because he disliked doing so. But since dyslexic students often have a problem with processing and organizing their thoughts, I committed once again to having Luke narrate the stories he heard.

Gaining Confidence

Luke preferred to read familiar stories instead of tackling new ones. Since I knew he needed to continue to develop in his reading, I used various things to pique his interest in reading new stories. I would begin reading the story aloud to him. He would follow with his finger pointing to the words. Then I would systematically stop on a word in a sentence, and he would read that word aloud (like filling in the blank). Our shared reading made his reading time seem less laborious. As his reading skills improved, I might begin by reading the first few pages of a chapter book, and he would read a single paragraph. Then I would read several more pages, and he would read another paragraph, and so on.

Now Luke loves to readMore and more he gained confidence in tackling new material on his own. Now at the age of 13, Luke really likes to read. He has always loved being read to, but now he chooses to read on his own. He often reads while we are in route to the grocery store or to home-school activities. Just recently he read Robinson Crusoe on his own in about a week. There are times his personal vocabulary surprises me. He has always had impeccable reading comprehension, and that continues to be a strong point. Slowly I am seeing his spelling and writing skills improve. Since good readers are generally good spellers I know it will come in time.

I am in agreement with many homeschool parents who say they learn as much as their children learn on their journey of home education. I am confident that God will continue to shed light in areas where I lack wisdom from the elementary grades to graduation.