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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The power of thought and expectations

Mikey struggles with reading.

He used to love it when he was younger and there were lots of pictures in the books. Now the pages are full of a jumble of letters that he struggles to decode. He made a few mistakes when reading out loud in his reading groups, and while his friends did not laugh at him they did correct him and he felt he had “failed”.

When he was asked to read in the classroom, he often found an immediate need to go to the toilet. Or that something was in his eye. Or he simply uhm-ed and aah-ed until the teacher or his parents or friends filled in the words he didn’t know.

Until Miss G came along. She insisted, in a kindly and supportive way, that he “have a go”.

His response was, “I can’t. I’m stupid.”

No-one likes to make mistakes, or not be able to do things that peers can do. For Mikey, who is great at debating, good at sports and is popular on the playground, the sense of failure when it came to reading was demoralising.

He came to believe that there was something wrong with him. That he was in some way “dumber” than other children. So he stopped even trying to read anything that looked too hard.

So Miss G incorporated graphic novels (comics), DVDs, large-text books, books-read-aloud and one-on-one reading time into the classroom. Sometimes she projects the text onto the Smartboard and they all read along together.

Sometimes Miss G makes mistakes, or “gets stuck” so that the children know this is okay. And it lets her model problem-solving strategies. She hung posters on the walls and gave students bookmarks which told them what to do when they faced a word they didn’t know. She praised and celebrated, not just when her children got a word right, but when they “had-a-go”.

She’d give specific praise, like:
“You got the beginning sound right! Well done!”
“You remembered to check that the word fit into the sentence, very good!”
“You found smaller words in the big word. What a great effort!”

Hearing this repeatedly, Mikey rarely uses his “I need to go to the toilet” or “uhhm” avoidance techniques any more. He almost always “has-a-go”. And because he gets to read with one peer, or his teacher, or everyone together (instead of having to read aloud to a group of students) he feels less embarrassed.

Now Mikey is a reading buddy for a few Kindergarten children. He is so proud that he can help them with their reading.

And Mikey is starting to love reading again.

Some important rules in Miss G’s class:

“Have a go!”
“Tell your friends what they did well.”
“It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn.”
“It’s OK to ask for help, but only when you have tried your best.”

Visit SPELD (Australia) for some good resources on helping your child with literacy, as well as a list of books that have been adapted for children with literacy difficulties.

LD Online (USA) also has some great information and resources.


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