s it possible to learn if you struggle with reading? Absolutely! Why is it widely thought that students can only learn through books?
Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying here; I love to read, and I am all for encouraging people to read. However, forcing them when they are not ready only leads to anger, resentment and, often, a permanent dislike of reading.
So, first we have to acknowledge that there are many ways to learn. For many people (even adults who can read) reading books is not the most effective way. Information can come from a variety of sources: videos, charts, pictures, audio tapes, internet, hands-on activities (such as drawing, dancing, acting, taking things apart, building, making something), songs, puzzles, timelines, models, working with someone (internship)...the possibilities are endless!
What does all this mean in practical terms for a school program? Here is an example:
A student in fifth grade is studying ancient history. This student can watch videos about ancient civilizations (including programs on Discovery, The Learning Channel, etc.), look at pictures in National Geographic and other magazines, do hands-on projects with archeology kits, visit museums (real field trip or online), make a scrapbook or poster story board.
What if the student is in ninth grade or 11th grade? The same strategies apply. This student can do all of the above, perhaps with higher level projects such as making his own video, “interviewing” ancient characters and tape-recording the process, building a model of an ancient city, and so on.
What about literature? Surely you have to read the books if you are doing American Literature, for example. How about audio books? How about movies of the books? How about acting out parts of the book, discussing the historical setting, mapping the story line, drawing the characters, cooking food of the time period, researching the fashion of the time on the internet?
The main thing to remember is: reading is a skill, not a subject. A student can learn all about any subject, no matter what level he has achieved in the skills of reading/writing. The reading/writing skill level should not interfere with learning the subject. Reading and writing can be dealt with as skills when the student is ready developmentally and with the appropriate materials for his learning style.
Most “struggling” readers are not lazy or unmotivated or learning disabled. They simply have their own timetables and learning style needs.
Here are some suggestions for making reading interesting:
—If you have backed off from reading and encouraged your students to learn subjects with methods such as those discussed above, you have already begun the process of getting the struggling reader interested in reading. First, students relax, and then they become interested in finding out more — often from books!
—Reading to the student or providing audio books for auditory learners can also help students become interested in reading.
—Encouraging students to learn about what interests them is a powerful strategy that motivates learning and, often, an interest in reading. We have had countless “non-reading” students who basically learned to read on their own after we told them they didn’t have to read and they could learn about any topic they chose. One student who comes to mind began collecting all the airplane books he could get his hands on — and started reading them!
Once students are interested in reading one of two things happen:
—They just learn — almost on their own.
—They need a reading program that fits their learning styles so they can experience success
When shopping for a reading program, make sure you get the advice of a professional who views this as a positive learning style situation rather than a negative learning disability situation. (The most effective reading programs for non-print learners follow an Orton-Gillingham approach.)
All of the strategies we have discussed here can work for traditional school settings as well as homeschooling situations. The important thing to remember is: Not all people are print learners. Those who are picture, hands-on or other types of learners need parents and teachers who will recognize this and focus on their strengths. Plus, all of the methods discussed here will also work for those few students who truly are dyslexic.
Remember, no child just decides, “Gee, I think won’t learn to read.” All children want to learn to read eventually. Most “struggling” readers are not lazy or unmotivated or learning disabled. They simply have their own timetables and learning style needs.
Labeling a student with any label is not helpful. Finding out how that person learns best and coaching for success is.©2012 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, M.S.
Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis is a California credentialed teacher and holds a Master's Degree in Special Education. She is co-author, with Victoria Kindle Hodson, of "Discover Your Child's Learning Style" (Random House) and "Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten." For many years a Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, she attends Mission San Buenaventura. Contact her:firstname.lastname@example.org.