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Helping Struggling Readers: Errors Students Make When Decoding

I just had the opportunity to attend training for Orton Gillingham's multi-sensory approach for reading instruction.  This was by far the most beneficial training I've ever attended.  I walked away with strategies that I could use the very next day in my classroom.  If you teach reading and ever have the opportunity to attend Orton Gillingham training, I highly recommend it.

So now I'm here to share with you guys some of the awesome things I learned in training.  

One of the first things covered were the types of errors that students often make when decoding.  

I know you've seen all of these errors before, since I've seen them many times.  I never thought about how important it is to identify the type of error so that I would know how to correct the error.  These errors aren't exclusive to just students with learning disabilities or dyslexia, but they are often seen in students with disabilities.

Reversals with b and d are so common!  Our trainer brought up some great points.  B and D reversals are developmental.  But dismissing parent concerns by saying it's developmental probably isn't the best way to go about it.  At what point is the reversal no longer developmental?  Are we dismissing a legitimate disability if we say it's just developmental?  Instead of saying the reversals are developmental, we can tell parents that "We're working on it."  I love this approach!  It validates parents concerns and let's them know we're trying to help their child.

Rotations can signify a more severe learning disability, especially if they are confusing 'n' and 'u'.  Rotations are often harder to correct than just B and D reversals.

Oh man, I see this one every day with my students.  The short sound 'e' and 'i' seem to be the most commonly confused vowel sounds for my students.  They do sound similar after all and really require the student to listen carefully and master the sounds of each letter.

This can be a tricky error to correct, also.  The students are reading all of the letters and the word looks similar.  So it can be hard to convince students that they are reading the word wrong.

We just started working on reading short vowel words with blends.  This error was so evident in my students' reading.  Over and over again, they would leave off one of the blend sounds.  I'll often see students insert an 'r' or 'n' sound when reading words.  My class is going to need a lot more practice to make sure we're reading all of the sounds in a word!

This one is also a frequent error I see.  Students just don't know (or don't apply) the phonics rules to reading.  The Magic E rule is one that is frequently not used.  I've listened to so many students read the work 'make' as 'mack'.  

Our trainer pointed out that 50% of students do not need to learn all of the phonics rules in order to be successful readers.  The other 50% will need that explicit instruction and direct practice of phonics rules to successfully learn to read.  I don't know about you, but I don't believe I was ever taught phonics.  Maybe I went to school during a time when the whole language approach was popular?  It wasn't until I became a teacher that I learned phonics rules.  Even now, I sometimes have to double check the rules to make sure I teach my students the correct way.

Next up in this series will be the correction procedures for when students make these errors.  Now that we know the different types of errors, we need to learn how to help students read correctly and that can be the tricky part.

I hope that this was helpful information!

Words of Wisdom for Special Education Teachers

Teaching is hard.  Teaching special education is hard.  I have no doubts that teaching general education students is hard, but I can only speak about my experiences so far.  

This week, I'm going to have my first student teacher.  This is her first experience in a classroom will be observing and starting to take on some instructional duties.  It really made me think about what are the most important things I wish someone had told me.

So hear you have it, a random blog post about my jumbled up thoughts.

1.  You can only do the best you can do and that's it.  This has been so hard for me.  My students often come to me super low.  Learning and school can be really hard for my kids.  I've beat myself up about the slow progress, lack of progress, or behavior problems I've seen in my students.  I'm my worst critic and take their success and progress very personally.  There's so many things out of my control, but I can only do the best I can with the resources and schedule I have available.  Honestly, that's all you can do, too.  Don't beat yourself up over things.

2.  Every day NEEDS to be a new day with a fresh start.  This can be SUPER hard if you have a challenging student with behavior issues.  If you can some how greet that student with a positive attitude and let go of what happened yesterday, you will have a starting point for building a positive relationship with the student.

3.  Teach those procedures and routines like nothing else.  It doesn't matter if the students spend 30 minutes or the entire day in your classroom.  They need to know what to do from the second they walk in the door.  I try to make sure my kids have something that must do immediately.  That gives them a purpose for being in your room.  Idle time is time that behaviors you don't want often begin.

4.  Yes, you will need to differentiate for your students.  And yes, you will often have students at various levels.  However, try to group them as much as possible.  It is possible to differentiate so much that you're doing nothing well.  If the differentiation makes you so overwhelmed that you can't keep a handle on the amount of time, instruction, or work it's not working.  I've tried that and ran myself ragged.  There's only one of me and so many of them.  What you do has to be physically manageable for you.

5.  Celebrate those small successes, even if they're really small.  Your students have probably had a long history of struggling and failing.  That takes a toll on their self-esteem and confidence.  

One of my 2nd grade students started this year knowing 8 sight words.  On Friday, he knew 15!  We've worked hard for those 15 words!  I practically threw him a party.  Since he was so excited, I gave him my lowest decodable to read.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that he would do ok.  And you know what, he did great!  Needed some small help but he did it almost independently.  Then he looked at me and said this:

I seriously almost cried!  Best words a student has ever said to me right there.  

6.  Have patience......lots of patience.  This is a hard area for me, too.  You will probably reteach and practice the same thing many times.  Your students might seem like they mastered a skill on Wednesday and then on Friday act like they've never even seen it before.  Sometimes I feel like I must be talking in a different language, because it's just not clicking.  These are the times that I need to remember patience.

7.  Sometimes you just have to stop.  Sometimes you have to realize that right now, at this very moment, these kids are not getting it.  Maybe you need to back up and teach some foundational skills.  Maybe their brains are fried.  Maybe they need a more concrete approach.  Instead of forcing through something that isn't working, you may need to just change gears and move onto something else.  Some day I'll have to get real honest with you guys and tell you my bluebird story from my first year of teaching.  It was not my proudest moment of teaching, and I always think about that lesson when I see the kids just aren't getting it.

There you go!  Nothing ground-breaking, but I wish someone had said these things to me.