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How to Tutor a Remedial Reading Student

Remedial reading tutoring is a much needed service that is easy to do. It is also very rewarding to watch a student's whole demeanor change as they learn to read. It’s easy to do, this webpage shows you how to quickly and easily find students and teach a remedial student. (There are a few differences for a remedial vs. a beginning student.)

Teaching remedial reading as a volunteer gives back to the local community, helps by being a positive force in the lives of your students, and is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Everything you will need to teach a student is linked at the end of this web page and is available to use for free.

More than a third of all Americans, 43%, read at the lowest 2 literacy levels according to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL).

In 2009 nationwide, 67% of 4th grade students, 75% of 8th grade students, and 74% of 12th grade students were not reading at a proficient level according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

70% of those in prison and 70% of those on welfare read at the lowest 2 literacy levels according to the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey.

Literacy is more highly correlated with earnings than IQ. You can see a graph showing the relationship between literacy level and earnings here.

Adults are hard to find and teach unless you work with prisoners. However, there are children everywhere struggling because of poor reading teaching methods and too many sight words. These children are easy to find, just give out the NRRF reading grade level test to every parent you know with school aged children. Most schools teach sight words and random lists of spelling words, so there are plenty of children will need remedial help.

It is best to teach students at least once a week, twice a week is better. The faster you can get them through the basics, the faster they will learn. They are overcoming bad habit patterns from the way they currently read, so the total time to teach is longer the less often you meet with them.

40L volunteers recommend having your students watch the online phonics lessons on the days you do not teach them. If they do not have a computer, they can watch them at their local library. The local libraries in most the cities and states have computers with headphones available for patron use. Most students who watch through these online movies gain 1 to 2 reading grade levels.

Here are the basics of teaching remedial reading.

Your number one task is to get them to stop guessing and start sounding out each and every word from left to right. Nonsense words are key, they help prevent guessing. 40L's concentration game makes both real and nonsense words. Syllables are also helpful, you can use the Blend Phonics Reader (it helps show how guessing is a bad strategy by showing words with similar configuration together) followed by Webster’s Speller. Here is a step by step guide to using Blend Phonics that also adds in syllables, spelling and phonics rules, syllable division rules, and syllable division exercises. There are also readings from Hebrews 12 that can be added to show progress through the program.

While Webster is especially helpful for ESL students and anyone with any speech or language processing issues, it is very beneficial for all remedial students, and helps them gain practice in sounding out multi-syllable words.

You can start off for free, using only the Blend Phonics Reader and Webster’s Speller and the phonics concentration game, but eventually you may want to purchase the following books:

The ABCs and All Their Tricks by Margaret Bishop

Prescription for Reading: Teach Them Phonics by Ernest Christman

And, if your student needs more nonsense words,

We All Can Read by James Williams (3rd grade to adult)

The concentration game makes nonsense words and is a fun way to practice the basics while helping to reduce guessing problems. Recently, a 3rd grade student would even try to guess a nonsense word, even when he knew it was not a real word up front! 40L volunteers had him sound out every sound for every word before he said the word for a while, that worked. (We had him say /c/ /a/ /t/ cat, etc.) Nonsense words are faster, and work for the majority of remedial students.

When finished with the basic phonics in the Blend Phonics Reader, use Webster’s Speller, starting with the syllabary, and them move on to the words of 2 or more syllables. After they have a few lessons of 3+ syllable words, have them read from books at different grade levels, having them read a paragraph from each until they get to the point where they are missing a few words. Write down the words they missed and the portion they are having trouble with. The next lesson, or later that lesson (give them a 5 or 10 minute break while you look up similar words), look up more words with that pattern in Blend Phonics and another phonics book that you own and work on the sounds they were having trouble with. Then, alternate teaching between Webster’s Speller multi-syllable words and easier words that the student is having trouble reading. For lists of easier words, you can use any good phonics book., There are some cheap and free phonics resources here, and Don Potter also has an excellent collection of resources on his website.

For assessment purposes, give both of the grade level tests (the Quick Screen Test and the NRRF test combined with 40L's test for grades 8, 10, and 12) and the MWIA at the beginning and after 10 to 20 hours of tutoring when they have learned all the sound spelling correspondences. (Give the MWIA I to students reading 2nd grade level or below on the NRRF test. Give the MWIA II to students reading 3rd grade level or higher on the NRRF test.) It is best to give the tests again when the student works through a fair amount of multi-syllable words in Webster, and when the student’s parents or you have decided that they may be finished with tutoring. Do not teach to these tests, they are for diagnostic purposes. The MWIA shows how damaged they are from sight words, when they read the phonics words within 15 to 20% of the speed of the holistic words, they have mastered what they need to know well enough that their phonetic reading skills are automated. An older student may never get to that point, stop when they are reading several grade levels above grade level and have mastered all phonics sounds and rules. There may be an initial slowdown in reading speed as they start to learn phonics, it will speed up with practice as the process of phonetic reading becomes automated.

To tutor a group of students, use the instructions in the step by step guide to using Blend Phonics that also adds in syllables, Spelling and phonics rules, Syllable division rules, and Syllable division exercises. There are also readings from Hebrews 12 that can be added to show progress through the program. These instructions were used to teach a group of students. Then, 40L volunteers worked with the students in small groups of 2 - 5 students, having each student read a line from Blend Phonics or Webster's Speller in turn during small group work. (Groups of 2 - 3 students are best, but larger groups were sometimes required due to volunteer availability.)

In summary, here are all the things needed to teach a single student or a group of students:

1. Before and after tests--the Quick Screen Test, NRRF test, and the MWIA.
2. Phonics concentration game.
3. Blend Phonics Reader
4. Guide to using Blend Phonics incorporated rules, explains how to teach syllables, rules, and Webster's Speller.
5. Spelling and phonics rules.
6. Syllable division rules.
7. Syllable division exercises.
8. Sample Schedule.
9. Readings from Hebrews 12 marked to show progress through program.
10. Webster's Speller.

For a quick version of the above, use the above links but use the following Webster's Speller Excerpts and the checklist below. Read and spell a few words of each type for things your student knows well. Read all and spell a few more for word types your student does not know well. Use the phonics concentration game as needed to curb guessing habits.

11. Blend Phonics and Webster Excerpts Progression Checklist
12. Webster's Speller Excerpts (from Don Potter)