Having a student repeat a year is often not an effective intervention as exposure to essentially the same program under the same conditions tends not to address his needs. In addition, repeating a year carries the likelihood of negative social and emotional consequences.

Therefore, it is recommended that a student be promoted even though he has not achieved the class standard. However, this approach should be in conjunction with remediation such as tutoring and special accommodations. To review the guidelines on these areas, refer to the earlier posting titled Tips on Choosing a Tutor and Modification of a Student’s Curriculum.

Though this approach does not imply that the student will attain the class standard within the next year, it will foster academic growth and this growth coupled with naturally occurring neurological development will best allow him to further his potential.

The next three entries will be on homework. The first will address parental supervision.

Modification of a Student’s Curriculum

When a student experiences persistent difficulties, in addition to tutoring, the need of having his classroom program modified should be discussed with his teacher.

Accommodating a Student with Learning Difficulties

If deemed advisable, the modifications could take the form of a reduction in the level of difficulty and/or quantity of work. For example:

  • re spelling: an overly demanding program could become manageable by providing the student with a simplified word list or by requiring him to learn only a few words from the class list;
  • re geography, history and science: the most pertinent information in these courses could be highlighted for study;
  • re written assignments: not only should the student receive assistance with the outlines but these assignments should also be reduced in length.

Another issue that should be discussed with the teacher is the ranking of the subjects which are difficult for your child. The objective here is to determine which subject should be addressed first during a homework or tutoring session. For instance, if the child is experiencing persistent reading problems, reading should be ranked # 1 as it is the basis of learning.

Despite the somewhat limiting effect of a modification approach, it is recommended because such adjustments can prevent the overwhelming and disheartening effects of persistent failure while still allowing for the acquisition of a reasonable academic basis. In other words, it is the successful experiences – not the stressful ones – that foster learning. It should also be kept in mind that naturally occurring neurological development in conjunction with effective tutoring could with time reduce the need for this form of accommodation.

The next posting will address Promotion.

Reading Remediation – Not a Quick Fix

Even when remediation results in substantial and rapid progress, it is important for parents to understand that if regression is to be prevented, it is highly likely that remedial sessions will need to continue for quite a few months or even a couple of years. However, as the child’s skills develop, the frequency of the sessions will gradually be reduced from once or twice a week to once or twice a month.

Reading Remediation Takes Time - Even with rapid progress, remedial sessions should continue for at least a few months to prevent regression.
The next posting will address the modification of a struggling student’s curriculum.

Techniques that Promote Comprehension

Finger Pointing and Reading Aloud

Finger Pointing

The neurological condition of Learning Disabilities tends to cause jumpy eye movements. This results in an occasional word being snatched from a nearby line and incorporated into the one being read. As comprehension in the early stages of remediation is often poor, these displaced words tend to go unnoticed.

To overcome this problem, instruct the student to slide his index finger under the words as he reads them. The rationale here is that physical guidance encourages a smooth eye tracking motion and thereby can significantly decrease the unintended relocation of words. Finger pointing has an additional benefit as it aids in directing the reader’s attention to the task on hand.

Reading Aloud

During the early stages of remediation, the tendency not to notice misread words increases during silent reading. To correct this, have the student read aloud as this enables the brain to receive information from the ears as well as the eyes. It is this increase in sensory input that helps the brain detect that something is askew.

For instance, when the sounds the ears hear do not match the letters the eyes see, the reader is alerted that something is not quite right and this encourages him to reread the sentence. Therefore, until skills become well established, reading aloud even if it is only in a whisper is highly recommended.

The next posting will address the need for ongoing remediation.


Comprehension is the essence of reading and if one’s skills are poor, one is not reading but is simply barking at words. To develop comprehension one must start with its forerunner skills as they promote fluency – a factor which is essential for comprehension. Once the forerunner skills are established, the student is then prepared to focus on the other components of comprehension. These are fact gathering and critical thinking.

The following anecdote substantiates the significance of the forerunner skills.

A grateful parent of an 11 year old related how her daughter’s reading progress significantly enhanced her self-esteem and confidence and consequently her social life. This development occurred within the three weeks as her problem was easy to remediate – it simply involved teaching her the forerunner skills to comprehension.

The next posting presents techniques that promote comprehension.

Factors in Remedial Reading That Deserve Respect

The Need for Suitable Reading Materials

The following anecdote emphasizes the importance of having a weak student’s reading materials well-suited to his ability.

I was working with a 7 year old who after making excellent progress for a several months had experienced a significant regression. After a chat, I discovered that she was using a school library book for her home reading sessions instead of the one I had assigned. As the library book was too challenging for her, she was no longer experiencing success. This caused her confidence to drop and she reverted to ‘reading’ the pictures that accompanied the text. However, once I pointed out to the parents the importance of using appropriate materials, the problem was quickly cleared up.

For a resource that contains detailed reading lists for youngsters through adults, refer to the Darwin Reading Program.

Student’s Fatigue Requires Attention

As learning to read is challenging for a struggling student, it tends to be fatiguing. Consequently, I recommend that the home practice sessions run for approximately 10-15 minutes 4-5 times per week. These practices should gradually be increased once the child has made appreciable progress. As the times presented are merely recommendations, don’t hesitate to end a session sooner than indicated whenever necessary.

Since a fair number of youngsters and adults experience literacy problems, consider sharing these postings with family and friends as you never know who might appreciate discovering a work that truly enhances lives. For more information on the Program, please explore the rest of the site.

The next posting will address comprehension.

Matching Reading Materials to a Student’s Ability

The following guide will help you determine the suitability of reading materials.

For an instructional session, the student should be able to decode 90% - 95% of the words without assistance and respond to simple questions with at least 80% accuracy. For independent reading, the student should be able to read 98% of the vocabulary without assistance and fully understand the text.

(Reference: Dolch Reading Levels)

If you’re having a hard time obtaining an ongoing supply of suitable materials, I strongly suggest the use of a basal reading series such as the original Ginn 360. Other benefits to most basal readers are as follows:

  • their vocabulary is well controlled as new words are introduced a few at a time and are frequently repeated;
  • their font is a good size and there’s also ample spacing between letters, words and lines – features students with reading difficulties appreciate;
  • the length of their sentences is well controlled;
  • their content appeals to the children;
  • their overall presentation is pleasant and thereby inviting.

As basal readers fell out of fashion years ago, they are now out of print. However, copies can be found on the internet.

The next posting will present an example that depicts the necessity of providing students with suitable reading materials as well as address the need to respect a student’s fatigue.

Tutoring Tips

– Tutoring involves more than simply assisting with homework. The effective tutor teaches the skills and knowledge a student must acquire in order to meet the class standards. Therefore, tutors, don’t hesitate to start teaching below a student’s grade level whenever necessary.

Tutoring Tip #2

– Tutoring should be carried out in a relaxed, non-threatening environment. For instance, the student should be assured that it is quite acceptable to make mistakes. Furthermore, any difficulties he encounters, especially in the early stages of remediation, should be addressed with prompt assistance – within 1-2 seconds.

– Always teach from a point that is well understood by the student.

– Provide students with materials that are well-suited to their ability because if materials are too challenging, they will become overwhelmed and discouraged. Remember, it is the successful experiences that promote learning.

– End a session on a positive note. For example, the reading or shared reading of rhymes is a fun way to achieve this. Recommended authors are Dennis Lee and Sheldon Silverstein.

The next posting will provide practical information on matching reading materials to a student’s ability.

Tips on Choosing a Tutor

Desired Attributes
& Determining a Tutor’s Effectiveness


Give priority to personality traits such as a warm and caring nature, respect for others and patience rather than an academic background. The reasoning here is that one can always acquire the science of teaching by referring to an effective program, but the art of teaching is inherent.

Tips on choosing a tutor


Weekly or bi-weekly meetings (phone meetings work well) for the first month or two in conjunction with the child’s reaction will help determine a tutor’s effectiveness.

The next posting will present Tutoring Tips.

Remedial Reading: Parental Participation – Help or Hindrance

  • Parental tutoring should only be carried out if the sessions rarely result in unduly stress and frustration for either the child or parent. The reasoning here is that negative emotions not only inhibit learning but, more significantly, they can also affect the child/parent relationship.

    Therefore, if parental tutoring isn’t going well an alternative approach should be considered. For instance, parents could:

    • hire a tutor – see blog entry 10 for tips on choosing a tutor;
    • look into having a trained school volunteer assist their child;
    • use the services of a reputable learning centre;
    • consider linking up with parents whose child also has a learning problem and tutor each other’s children.

Parents as tutors


Incidentally, a child’s limited progress doesn’t rest on his shoulders but on the shoulders of the teaching system. A system where far too many teachers graduate from university without sufficient knowledge on how to assist students with persistent learning problems and where the some teachers aren’t keeping up with their professional development..

The next posting will address tips on choosing a tutor.