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Student with Decoding Problems



I was just wondering if anyone has any insight on students with decoding problems. I have one student whose reading fluency is far below grade level. English is his first language, he doesn't appear to have any vision problems i.e. doesn't squint or complain of not being able to see clearly (though i am checking with the school nurse to see if she has tested his vision), he has great phonemic awareness and great comprehension skills when stories are read to him orally. He does really well in other subjects, but when it comes to reading he still struggles - decoding most words sound by sound. He is in the second grade - and also exhibits difficulty with spelling and copying words from the board/ or from a page.

A little background - this is my first year teaching and this student is new to my school. He went to private school last year so I do not have any information as to prior references for special services. I am in the process of getting him into an SST - but I'm still a rookie with that whole process and my resource specialist hasn't exactly been helpful. I'm also concerned about telling his parent - who isn't exactly keen on thinking that something may be "wrong" with the child, just that I am expecting too much from him.

Any advice/insight would be greatly appreciated.

J Taylor

go to PAVE on the web. It is about children who have vision problems - not eyesight problems. This child probably has a visual memory deficit and should receive a school based, psychological evaluation to see if he has a learning disability. YOu can recommend that, but the parent probably has to approve, in the end. You might help the parent to understand that this would only help YOU, the teacher, have more resources and support to help THEIR child. (Be careful - some administrations may discourage you from recommending testing because of a back log in this area, but don't give in, insist on making the recommendation - push for it - and put it in writing, every time, with a copy in the file, or to the parent if you feel appropriate. The squeaky wheel will get the attention first.)

This problem is fixable, but takes patience and work. A school based OT can help with a vision therapy program, and there are also private resources, depending on the motivation and financial status of the family.

This child could also benefit from daily work with flash cards of words he is having trouble recognizing. Pick ten words he has trouble with and use another student to flash the cards until the student demonstrates mastery with all ten words at least 3 times, 3 days in a row. Work up to the point where the student has 3 sets of flash cards he is working on, per day and try to "retire" about 30 words per week. You can encourage the student with a "reward" system -ie stickers, treasure box, etc.

You will end up using a lot of flash cards, but it is rewarding to see those words hit the "retired" pile. (for flash cards I cut 3x5 cards in half, and if they are blank you can end up using both sides) As the student builds his visual memory, decoding and fluency will increase, as well as self-esteem.

As far as the "dysgraphia" goes, again, a school based OT should be able to give help on fine motor strengthening exercises. To engage your student, try some different approaches, and make them available to ALL you students, so your one student doesn't feel left out, or "different".

Try different styles of pencil grips, and then use "sensory" based center activities (try to have at least one each day) where the students can use letter tiles to practice their spelling words, shaving cream, or finger paint, tracing sandpaper letters (use the schools die cut machine and make your own, which can be glued on card board ) and find some books on sensory teaching/learning for other ideas.

Give this student "near-point" copies and accomodate his difficulty by sometimes allowing him to write on worksheets, or give him a copy of the overhead to follow along at this seat. Obviously, sitting near the board, overhead and you are helpful too.

Develop a spirit of cooperation among the other students - and try small group instruction more frequently, where the student will be able to receive more assistance from fellow students.

Above all -- praise, praise, and praise all efforts. This student is probably working harder for you than any other student in your class and it will only be a matter of time before that changes to discouragement and low self-esteem without the proper supports for him AND YOU.

Stick with it and I applaud you for recognizing and wanting to help with this problem.

philip maenza


Dear Taylor: My son has a decoding problem but he's a freshman in HS. What can you recommend?