TYLER’S STORY–Part 1
By Rhonda Stone
My 5-year-old grandson Tyler was a whirlwind of energy. So much so that he was reluctant to sit with his older and younger siblings, parents, and grandparents while the adults read books to the kids. He’d last about five minutes before he was off and running.
Most of us know a Tyler or two. If they won’t sit still to enjoy a story, how do classroom teachers or homeschooling parents get them to sit still to learn to read?
Tyler’s case is an excellent example of an overly active child who, through participation in Read Right, successfully learned two things: 1) how to read and 2) to focus his energy on learning rather than on creating perpetual motion. In a world where ADHD diagnoses are common, how significant is that?
Starting in March 2023 with very little phonics knowledge, Tyler was tutored an average of three days each week for 30-minute sessions. Following this schedule, by the end of August he started reading upper Grade 1 books mostly on his own. In six months Tyler became a reader and is now working with me on Grade 2 books.
In two blogs (Part 1 and Part 2), here is Tyler’s story.
Part 1–Months 1, 2 & 3: “I HATE Reading!”
IN MONTH 1, Tyler could not demonstrate immediate recall of the 15 stable letters of the alphabet and their corresponding sounds. Read Right methodology requires that children know only the stable letters (b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v and w). Why? An excellently reading brain only needs to sample the phonetic information on the page. Eye-movement research conducted with passages of text confirms this. (See Insight From the Eyes: The Science of Effective Reading Instruction by Eric Paulson and Ann Freeman, Heinemann: 2003.) Additional evidence that this is true comes from the 1 percent of children ages 4, 5, and 6 who figure out how to read every year without ever going to school or receiving formal instruction. Research has documented that these children do not decode because they were never provided with intensive instruction in the task. Significantly, virtually all normally developing children “figure out” many other complex processes with minimal explicit instruction (e.g., crawling, walking, and talking).
For Tyler, his energy was a problem at first. He didn’t want to sit down for 5 minutes a day in front of a computer, let alone for 30 minutes! (I tutored him from nearly 2,000 miles away via Zoom.) His daily complaint the first month was “I HATE reading!” This was followed by tears and loud protests. Read Right methodology addresses this. Every Read Right tutor (myself included) is trained how to deal with resistance. One of the things I assured him was that, as soon as he learned to automatically and correctly identify the 15 stable letters of the alphabet and their associated sounds, we’d start to work with books that I promised him he would enjoy. Reading meaningful books is a whole lot more fun and engaging for a child than endlessly mouthing the names of letters and their sounds!
IN MONTH 2, virtually every tutoring session still began with “I HATE reading!” Yet, despite his protests, he achieved automaticity with 13 of the 15 stable letters and was close to achieving automaticity with the remaining two. So, as promised, I moved him from letter sounds into highly predictable books. With these, Tyler was explicitly taught the concepts of individual printed words (blank spaces between them) and the importance of sentences for telling a story (they convey meaning, and the punctuation we use in sentences has an important job expressing meaning). He was also explicitly taught to follow the words with his eyes as I read to him. Knowing the stable letters of the alphabet and the sounds represented by each helped him do this. This is called “tracking.” It’s extremely important that young children learn to do this correctly with printed text, and it takes some children longer than others to track successfully.
Tyler continued to protest throughout the month. My consistent response: “I get it. Reading is hard at first, but keep at it. We all need to learn to read so that we can learn about lots of things and have fun in school. Do you want to have fun in school? I promise this will get easier.”
IN MONTH 3, Tyler’s protests became fewer and farther between. During month three, he became very good at following with his eyes and relying on his memory to “read” the stories back to me—another important feature of Read Right methodology. But, the better he became at tracking, the more his body seemed to wiggle in his seat while his eyes remained glued to the words on the screen. It became obvious that his wiggling was diverting his attention from focusing on what is truly important about all printed stories—the meaning. Re-construction of the author’s intended meaning in the mind of the reader requires the brain’s full attention, in order for it to figure out how to integrate strategic phonetic information with knowledge of language and knowledge of the world (anything and everything we already know that helps us understand an author’s message). As soon as I realized Tyler’s wiggling was diverting his attention, I spoke with him about the importance of learning to control his body. I told him I knew he could do it because I’d seen him work quietly and without wiggling while doing things he loved to do—like building fun things in his favorite computer games. It took many reminders during our lessons, but I held firm. He finally succeeded (most of the time)!
In Part 2 of Tyler’s Story: “I LOVE Reading!,” learn how in Months 4, 5, and 6 Tyler started reading successfully on his own. He turned 6 years old along the way, and, by early September, was 1) controlling his body appropriately every day, without reminders and 2) transformed into a boy who loves to read because reading is easy, interesting, and fun! These same things account for the allure of video games for kids. Who wouldn’t want to sit still when reading is just as easy, interesting, and fun as video games!