Here at The Learning Room, we believe in celebrating the successes of our students, big and small! Whether a student has achieved a personal or academic goal, student success is at the heart of our work. In our new series, Student Spotlight, we will highlight what a partnership with a Learning Room academic coach can do for struggling learners.
As a rising 8th-grade student, Scotty was struggling to read at a third-grade reading level. An ADHD diagnosis as well as other health obstacles, made learning to read on grade level very difficult for Scotty. Scotty's struggle with short-term memory required a unique approach to help him not only master phonics skills but help him retain the tools he needed to read more successfully.
After several tutors and 1:1 private schooling, Scotty's mom chose to homeschool him, even getting her degree in education to support his learning needs better. Attempt after attempt without results left Scotty's mom not knowing what to do next.
Enter The Learning Room
Working with Jessica for two hours per week, Scotty reached grade-level reading in a year. In addition to working with Scotty on phonics and reading, Jessica worked with Scotty's mom as an IEP advocate to ensure a smooth transition back into public school. Scotty is no longer a student at The Learning Room since he was able to discontinue services due to his wonderful grades in 8th and 9th grade! Scotty is an amazing student-athlete who has the grades to choose what college he wants to attend in the future.
So...how did we do it?
Every student that comes to The Learning Room begins with an assessment. When Jessica assessed Scotty, she quickly realized that he was reading by sight. This happens when learners memorize a lot of common words so it seems like they can read. However, as grade-level texts get harder, these readers cannot sustain this practice. Reading by sight can create a cycle that is hard to break kids out of because if they struggle when reading, reading becomes harder, they don't want to read as often, which makes the deficit larger. This cycle repeats and repeats until there is systematic intervention with an emphasis on phonics skills. When learners are exposed to consistent phonics and decoding instruction, they don't need to rely on memorization and they have the tools to decode new and unfamiliar words instead.
What we did
In this section, Jessica will take us through Scotty's learning journey from the beginning of instruction to Scotty's 'graduation' from our services!
My challenge was finding materials that would support Scotty’s phonics instruction but not make him feel like a baby. I did a lot of research for materials and found some great options, and I created many things specifically for Scotty. It was important that Scotty's instruction was developmentally appropriate in both phonics skills and relevant content to a rising 8th grader. Many phonics kits and books are geared toward younger children, which may make older learners frustrated.
In the beginning, our lessons were heavily focused on phonics and practicing reading words and text that included the phonics skill we were practicing. When he was ready, I added reading passages at his reading level that gave him more opportunities to decode new words and practice his fluency. To start, I would read the passage to him first so he would hear the correct pronunciation and fluency. Then we slowly transitioned to him reading the passage first, then I would read it, and then he would read it again. Finally, Scotty didn’t need me to read the passages at all, and he was able to find reading success independently. Scotty went above and beyond and would read one of these passages each day he didn’t see me! This really helped us tackle his memory challenges and expedited his progress. In many cases where learners are struggling with phonics and reading, consistent practice never hurts!
As Scotty mastered each new skill and his reading progressed more and more. The final element I added in was longer texts. An 8th-grade student would be expected to read and comprehend a longer text than a younger student, so doing this helped us work on reading stamina and harder comprehension analysis. I worked hard to find stories that would pique Scotty’s interest. Many times he would come to the session ready to find out what happened next in the story we were reading. During the last few months we worked together, we read a chapter book, The City of Ember. This really helped us discover learning techniques that Scotty could continue to use throughout his school career, as some of his obstacles will be lifelong. We discovered that if Scotty listened to the audiobook chapter before our sessions, it increased his reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. We found that simply letting a chapter play in the background of other tasks benefitted Scotty as well.
With an IEP that covered all of his needs, strategies to use when reading, and a massive amount of growth, Scotty was ready to ‘graduate’ from our services! We are so proud of his progress!