I have worked extensively with children who struggle with reading. What I have learned is that if there is a gap in understanding, it might as well be a mile wide because of how effectively it stops the child from progressing. If the struggling child is in kindergarten, adults tend to not worry too much because they think surely with more repetition, the child will begin to catch on and all will be well.
It is a lot harder to be sanguine about a child in sixth grade that is still rooted to the same spot as they were in kindergarten or first grade. Unfortunately, now the child has experienced failure and when you add failure to inability to learn, the problem seems insurmountable.
What the child is missing might be something simple
Many gaps arise from our traditional system of teaching reading in a sequential, highly left-brained manner. Children who are strongly right-brained will simply not learn and retain material that is presented verbally, sequentially, and through symbols. These children will greatly benefit from tools which utilize visuals, movement, or story to create a path to understanding. It is easy to ignore the gap, and yet it is not hard to remedy, to provide a visual or kinesthetic bridge just in the nick of time. The issues have multiplied because by now the child has undoubtedly lost confidence in their ability to learn.
At times, concerned parents object to using visual materials, concerned that their child will end up never moving past the visual to really knowing. I can totally understand this concern. I wouldn't like having my high-schooler still singing the ABCs in order to identify the letters of the alphabet, for example.
The great news about visual tools is that they truly bridge a gap in learning, but the moment the child skips across the bridge that spans the gap, they understand the concept and do not consciously depend on the visual tool any longer. If you use visual tools as you teach, the bridge will not stick to your child’s foot! They will walk over it and move on.
Visual tools and how they work to close gaps
If you have a child that finds it hard to relate number name to symbol, create a visual out of the number so there is a memory prompt embedded in it. In Right-Brained Addition & Subtraction you will find stylized numbers and a song with body motions to teach them, which makes it easy for even toddlers to learn their numbers. I discovered by accident that some younger siblings of preschoolers could locate a number on demand because they had overheard us singing the number song and talking about the stylized picture of the numbers. While I am not a proponent of urging younger and younger children to count and read, my point is that visual tools are nearly magical for conveying learning effortlessly.
Our image for number 8 is the snowman. The child can learn that 8 is the snowman who ate a carrot. At first, in order to recall the name of that symbol, the child might call the number “snowman.” But be patient. It won’t be long before the visual fades and your child will just see an 8 and will say “eight.” Using the visuals just makes learning effortless. Visual learning is effortless.
It can be tricky for a young child to remember which digraph makes which sound. They all look very similar. All have an h, for one thing. Including pictures with the digraphs helps your child quickly learn and remember. Take SH for instance: Most children will be able to recall a time they heard a baby crying and maybe even heard a mother saying “Shhhh.” Making the S in the digraph into the crying baby, and the tall H into the mother who is saying “sh” makes it very easy for your child to learn and recall. The obvious hand motion to go along with this digraph is the one the mother is making. This visual/kinesthetic tool is simple and powerful. Find a set of digraphs included (List E) when you purchase SnapWords®.
Teaching Sight Words
Some children, including those with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and even ADHD, simply will not have much success learning all their letter names, then attaching a sound to each symbol, then learning to combine these into parts of words (such as blends and word chunks). By the time they are finally asked to make a word and remember it, they are snowed under with a myriad of details they have no idea what to do with. It is a well-known fact that a large percentage of the population is global in the way they perceive and process information.
Globals have a tough time with steps and sequences when they don’t know what the point is. In other words, globals struggle to learn anything until they have seen a picture of the goal. If you take stylized high-frequency words and enjoy them with your young child, then most of the time, having seen the purpose or the final goal behind learning letters and sounds, breaking the words apart is child’s play. If we assume reading has to be taught in a step-by-step sequential manner, we are going to keep on teaching that way, and we will keep on losing a large percentage of our children.
The power of using visuals and motions in teaching
My experience with kindergarteners who struggled to remember anything about letters and their sounds was that once I began using the stylized materials with them, I could hardly keep up. That is how powerful the visuals and the motions are for these young children. It did not take more than a few passes through the list of stylized words before the children were reading the plain backs of the cards. In fact, after ONE pass through the cards, the next step is to have the child call out the words on their own. The third step is to turn the cards over to the plain font side and see how many the child can read without the visual prompt. Usually, the child can read a large percentage of the words. Those they cannot recognize will be set aside to enjoy again via visuals.
The visual is the bridge to memory, not a crutch or a permanent condition. Using visuals and body motions is the best way to bridge the gaps in learning. I promise.