Teaching Remedial Students

A remedial student needs to be continually reassured that they are not stupid, they are smart; their troubles are the fault of the method used to teach them to read, not anything they have done. They need to read a lot of nonsense words. This helps eliminate guessing--they will never be able to guess a fake word! The phonics lessons use nonsense words. "We All Can Read" also has nonsense words and is good for remedial students. 40L's Language Lessons are also a form of nonsense words. Other good methods for remedial students are "Rx for Reading, Teach Them Phonics," "Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons," or free online at Don Potter's Education Page, Remedial Reading Drills by Hegge-Kirk-Kirk. Don Potter has recently had great success with his remedial students using Blend Phonics. You should follow Blend Phonics with 40L's online phonics lessons, "Rx for Reading, Teach Them Phonics," or The American Spelling Book by Noah Webster. This famous and effective bnook is also know as Webster's Blue-Backed Speller.

The phonics concentration game is also good practice because it makes both real and nonsense words. If you do not have a high speed internet connection, you can find useful free phonics lessons in both written and mp3 format at Don Potter's Education Page Scroll down to his Free Downloads for a number of free online choices. The 3rd one down, "Through the Phonics Barrier," also includes mp3 audio files. Mr. Don Potter says of the 72 exercises at the end of Rudolph Flesch's "Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About It,"

Right now I am using Flesch's 72 Exercises for most of my tutoring. I like Flesch for several reasons, but especially because it is easy for the parents do a few of the Exercises every day. Alpha-Phonics is also good, but not as easy for the parents to have the kids read the words until they have achieved automaticty in decoding. For older kids with dyslexia, I doubt that there is anything better than Flesch.

One warning about Flesch's book: it is quite negative and sarcastic. While this is understandable due to his 30+ years of trying to get phonics into schools with only limited success, William Wilberforce showed that it is possible to persevere in a positive manner. Wilberforce fought against slavery for 18 years in Parliament. We at 40L believe that we should be, like Wilberforce, positive voices for truth.

Don Potter has recently had even better success with remedial students, including several dyslexic students, using Blend Phonics with his Blend Phonics Reader. It is a powerful method, don't let its small size fool you, it is more powerful than many programs that are much longer and much more expensive.

You need to make sure your student remains focused on sounding out every word from left to right. You can see an explanation of how the brain learns to read and how to undo the bad habits formed by sight words on my dyslexia page.

You also need to make sure your student can write all their letters neatly and have them write some of the words they are learning. This helps reinforce the shape and sound of each letter in the brain as they actively write the letters. Free handwriting sheets are available online at handwriting for kids.

There are several important things that need to be taught when teaching with phonics. First, students need to know the sounds of letters and letter combinations. Then, they need to learn how to blend them from left to right. Blend Phonics has good directions on how to teach a child to blend a word from left to right. Using word families (at, cat, bat, etc.) can be counter-productive for some children. It is better to teach words in groups of the same vowel when learning a new vowel (at, man, sad, etc.) and then groups of mixed vowels after they have learned several vowels (at, fun, sip, etc.) to keep them focused on sounding out all the letters from left to right. An important step, absent from most phonics programs today, but widely taught in the 1700's and early 1800's, is syllables. Webster's Way really is the best way. Students are taught the syllables in a syllabary and then words divided by their syllables will be able to read almost anything after working their way through Webster's Speller. They should be reading and spelling almost anything after working through Webster's Speller (how to use this free method explained here. An easy way to learn to read books above their reading grade level is to read books divided into syllables based on the rules in Webster's Speller.

Once you complete a whole phonics program with your student, you can have them read something a little to tough for them to read (use something above their grade level, where them miss about 1 word for every 20 words.) Write down the words they miss and the part they mispronounce. Once they miss 5-10 words, let them go take a break for a while. If they miss a consonant, just go to a dictionary a make a list of 5-10 words starting with that sound. If they miss a vowel, make up a list of words with that vowel. For example, if they pronounce “fail” as “fill,” make a list of bail, dain, fait, Gail, kaip, lail, paip, quail, traid. Be sure to include nonsense words in your list. Then, have them write a few words, for example, mail and pain. If they get stuck, help them out. “The first sound is mmm. What letter makes a mmm sound? Right! Write a letter m. The middle sound is long a. Long a within a word can be spelled ai or an a with a silent e. (a_e as in male) This word has an ai. The last sound is an ul. What makes the ul sound? That’s correct! Write a letter l. Now you have the word!” Keep working with them, writing down words they miss and making practice lists from these words until they can read anything.

Proper spelling also reinforces reading. Our online spelling lessons are useful, and our spelling pages have more ideas for the phonetic teaching of spelling. Good spelling books for remedial students are "How to Teach Any Child to Spell" by Gayle Graham and its companion Spelling Notebook, "Tricks of the Trade," available inexpensively online at Common Sense Press Spelling. Continue the tradition used succesfully by American children over the ages and try The American Spelling Book by Noah Webster. As a bonus, it teaches spelling and reading at the same time. Plus, it's free online from Don Potter!

It is good to teach dictionary usage so your student can look up words they can not figure out on their own. If your student keeps guessing at words, use paper squares on each side of the word so that they can only see one sound at a time, then move up to one syllable at a time. You can also break up long words with dashes to help them look at each part: pic-ture, dic-tion-ar-y. Use a lot of nonsense words and keep emphasizing that they need to read each and every sound from left to right. Tell them you would rather have them read slowly but accurately than quickly while guessing. Speed will come with time and ACCURATE practice.

A good stepping stone to dictionary usage that will also help your remedial student focus on sounding out every letter from left to right is the use of Unified Pronouncing Print, a self-pronouncing print that keeps the underlying spelling of words intact while marking their correct pronunciation with small letters and dictionary markings above the letters in each word.