Dear Dr. Linda,
Let me begin by saying that I’m really concerned. Julie is entering second grade in September. As of February, she wasn’t reading on grade level and was turning seven early in March. Then COVID-19 hit, and she started online learning. I think her reading skills slipped even more.
We’ve been sitting with her every day doing flash cards and completing workbooks I bought from Amazon. She doesn’t seem to mind it, but I still don’t think she’s making any progress. Whether school will be online or in person with masks, we feel she’s going to struggle. We can continue working with her, but we really don’t know what we’re doing. Since we can’t afford a tutor, we need some advice.
Thanks so much,
Your email is one of many I’ve received in the last few weeks from parents of elementary school children in the same situation. Parents usually rely on their children’s teachers to recommend what they should work on over the summer in order to help their child and that process was obviously disrupted.
Teachers, as well as parents and children, were thrown into unknown territory. How do you evaluate a young child’s progress online? We have no data about how reliable or valid an evaluation by Zoom is. As a result, many parents have tried to help, but like you, aren’t trained as teachers, so they don’t know what to determine how they’re child is doing. So, they go online as you did and buy a variety of programs and piles of flash cards.
The problem is that many programs for parents are made up of a variety of activities without any game plan related to actual learning. Students move from one activity to another without connecting the dots of what they’re doing. They don’t follow up with practice activities to reinforce what they worked on previously. And I’m describing children who weren’t struggling in school when the corona virus arrived.
Are Julie’s reading skills slipping? How do you know? If so, in what area of reading is she suffering? What you really need is a professional reading teacher who will be able to evaluate Julie and then work on what she needs. But since that can’t be accomplished and one-to-one tutoring may be too expensive, you’ll need to continue working with Julie. The first step is to determine what’s standing in the way of Julie’s learning to read.
Let’s start by looking at where she may simply have gaps in the building blocks of reading. Begin by finding out if she knows all her letters, and can identify them in both upper and lower case? Does she know the beginning and ending sounds of consonants? Consonant blends and digraphs, such as sh, ch, th, bl, fr, st, etc.? Does she know her vowels? Does she know the sounds of the short vowels? Long vowels? Does she know sight words like “would” and “when”? Does she put meaning to the words she’s reading? In other words, can she tell you about what she reads in her own words or is she just reading individual words?
In order to make the summer tutoring worthwhile, try to obtain a good tool for assessing if and where Julie may have specific issues from her last year’s teacher, her upcoming teacher, or a friend who teaches elementary students. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know what the problem is. To assess most of what I described in the paragraph above, go to the Resources Tab of my website at StrongLearninggames.com and download my free Phonics Assessment. It will give you an idea if Julie has gaps in learning and an idea of what to focus on first.
By the way, reading isn’t the only subject in which unknown gaps occur. Just because we think children have learned every one of their multiplication tables doesn’t mean they have, and many children have difficulty with concepts like division and fractions in fourth and fifth grade and even higher.
Sometimes the issue that stands between a child (or an adult) learning something new is our simply not knowing what they don’t know and trying to build on a foundation that doesn’t yet exist.
Enjoy your time together,
To download our free and easy phonics assessment, go to Stonglearninggames.com. Plus, find more articles on my blog at StrongLearning.com
P.S. Oops! Several readers notified me that the answer to #16 on the 4th of July quiz was incorrect. Guilty as charged! I don’t know how I slipped up. In fact, as I typed it, I heard Kate Smith, who popularized the song God Bless America, in my head, but I still made a mistake and wrote down The Star Spangled Banner. Then, a retired music teacher informed me that the real title of the answer to #20 is “America,” although many people think it is “My country ’tis of Thee,” which is actually just the first line of the song. See? There’s something new to learn, no matter how old we are!
Thanks to all of you for contacting me!