When parents work with their struggling reader, lessons can get tense. Jacob was a struggling reader in 2nd grade. He loathed reading lessons and when his dad tried to sit him down at their kitchen table to conduct reading lessons, Jacob ran around the house in an attempt to play hide and seek. After Jacob’s dad finally coaxed Jacob out of hiding, Jacob hung his head, dragged his feet over to the table and plopped reluctantly in his seat. Jacob sighed and rolled his eyes. Before the lesson even began, everyone was frustrated.
This probably sounds familiar to many parents of struggling readers. Kids are often very disappointed that they’re not learning at the same rate as their peers. For struggling readers, literacy lessons can spark feelings of inadequacy. I’m supposed to know how to do this, yet I don’t, the child might think. Parents are not trained reading professionals, so they may not know how to tailor lessons at the student’s level. Oftentimes, unfortunately, teachers send home activities that are counterproductive and that can instill bad guessing habits.
Kids are often justified in their feelings of exasperation, because the adults in their lives are not targeting their unique reading level. Many adults also expect kids to memorize long lists of words, which does NOT build transferable reading skills: the child may be able to read the memorized word on a list, but not in a book.
Your student is likely frustrated during reading lessons because you are not targeting his unique reading level.
This is the most common reason kids are extremely annoyed and brought to tears during their reading lessons. It is the elephant in the reading room: the child wants to learn, yet no one is matching their level correctly. Is your student running from you before every single lesson? Does he cry during the lesson and persistently say things like, “I must be dumb!” or “Do I have to learn how to read?” These are big signs that you, the educator, are not giving him material at his level. It’s very likely that you’re giving him material that is too hard.
So how do you improve your pedagogical skills?
Be diligent in your record-keeping. At the beginning of every lesson, have your student read a book. Learn how to find his accuracy on that particular book. Time him for one minute. Write down the number of words read correctly and number of words missed. Divide the two and you have his accuracy rate. Do this 3x on every single text he reads. Mark each accuracy rate on top of your lesson, file it away, and watch him progress over time. Most importantly, if you mark his accuracy rate down, this will hold you accountable and ensure that you’re reliably giving him a book at his level.
For example, if he read 82 out of 88 words correctly, his accuracy rate is 93%. Make sure your student is reading a book at 92% accuracy or above. This is critical to keep him engaged, keep him believing in himself, and to keep the session peaceful and productive. No one wants to read a book that’s too hard. This includes you. Us adults also continually avoid reading material that is above our level. We also would want to cry if our boss expected us to read something we were incapable of reading (and understanding) at the current moment. For example, you probably won’t catch a lawyer reading an article that’s published in a medical journal.
Make sure you’re not giving your student reading lessons that are too hard (or too easy).
Mainly, I see people try to overreach and give kids material that’s too hard. They do this under the guise of wanting him to “rise to the occasion” because they “believe in him.” This does the opposite of what the educator intends. It is downright harmful. In this situation, the child is setup for failure. If kids work on reading material that’s too hard, they feel incompetent, dumb, and frustrated. Make sure you target his unique level, making the activities neither too hard nor too easy.
In general, your student should get about 70% of the material correct in each phonics activity- notice that I wrote phonics activity, not book reading. When your student reads a book, his accuracy rate should be 92% or above (as outlined above). In contrast, in phonics activities, his accuracy rate should be about 70%, hovering between 50-80% correct. If he receives above 70% correct consistently across each phonics activity, he’s ready to learn a new phonics sound.
In sum, make sure your reading lessons are leveled correctly. Some frustration in reading lessons is normal. However, if your student is excessively frustrated, this is a sign that you aren’t tailoring lessons to his unique level.
To allow your student to practice reading phonics sounds, check out our printable phonics books.