A few weeks ago I started tutoring a couple of new students. Both are boys, one aged 7 and the other 9. As usual for the first session with new students, I like to have a bit of a general chat as well as conduct some diagnostic assessments.
To mix things up a bit, between assessments I ask the students some general questions around reading, writing and spelling. Questions could include:
- How do you feel about reading?
- What could you do to make you a better reader?
- Who is a good reader you know?
- Is spelling important? Why?
- What do you do if you don’t know how to spell a word?
I have about 10 questions for each topic. I don’t always ask all questions, but just use them to help me have a discussion with the students. I find this is a good way to gauge not only how students feel about reading and spelling, but also find out what strategies they already use and where they think they need to improve.
If you’d like copies of the questions, then click the below link.
How the students feel about reading
When I asked both boys how they felt about reading and spelling, the older one responded, “I hate it.” The younger student responded, “I don’t really like reading and spelling it’s not important for the kids, they don’t like it.”
When the older student was asked what happens inside his head when he reads, his response was interesting, “I get frustrated cause it’s hard and annoying and I can’t get it right.”
Introducing the reading book
As I also like to do in the first session, I have a reading book that I use to get the student to read aloud. I use this to see what strategies the student may already be using to decode as well as ask some comprehension questions and see how fluent their reading is.
I’ve started using reading books from PhonicBooks. In particular, the ‘catch-up’ range of books are great for students who are a bit older, but due to a number of reasons may have fallen behind. They may also have a loss of confidence and self-esteem when it comes to reading.
I showed the following book, ‘The Man in the Mist’ from the Magic Belt Series to my younger student.
I was waiting for a response, ‘Uuggh do I have to read?’ But it didn’t come…..instead the boy’s eyes went wide, and he grabbed the book from my hand and started flipping through the pages. We had a bit of a chat about the cover, what he thought the book may be about and how the book was set out.
Well, he couldn’t wait to get started with the reading….much time was spent analysing the pictures on each page and asking questions, followed by independent reading. When the student got to the end of the book, he quickly realised it was the first in a series of 12 books. He asked when he could read the next one. At the end of the session, he also took the book out to show his Mum.
Well, to say the least, I was quite relieved…..I don’t think I will have any problems getting this student to read during our sessions or to practice at home.
Now on to my older student who ‘hates reading.’ I didn’t feel overly confident….the first session hadn’t been going great, and the student was very reluctantly participating.
I pulled out my magic weapon, ‘The Man in the Mist book.’ But this time no wide eyes, no grabbing the book from my hands, no flipping through the pages and inquisitive questions. I must admit I felt a bit deflated.
So I suggested we flip through the book and see what we think it might be about. Mmmmm was that a little bit of interest I see, okay maybe it’s not all bad. But when I asked the boy to have a go at reading for me his whole body seemed to slump. He took a deep breath and then sighed. He read the first page and it was barely audible.
Okay, this is not working, so I suggested that maybe he might like to let me read the story. Well, talk about a change in body language. The student sat up a little straighter and looked interested.
When we got to the end he also noticed the other books on the back page in the series.
He began to ask some questions and he also noticed the little rocks in the bottom corner of each book and started to speculate about what they could be about.
This student has a severe lack of self-confidence when it comes to reading; even before he started he thought he couldn’t. The other thing I noticed through getting him to read aloud was how reliant he was on decoding each word. This took away the joy of reading as he was solely focused on getting the words correct. Even for words that I knew he would know by sight, he would say each sound in the word before reading the whole word. No wonder he said he didn’t like it.
How the students are responding to the reading books
Move forward to our 3rd session…..my younger student is just soaking up every book I give him and can’t wait to get each new book. He said to his Mum the other day, “Mum, I’ve now found the key.” His Mum mentioned to him a while back that when he finds the key to reading it will open up a whole new world for him. So just after a few sessions of one-on-one tutoring using a targeted intervention programme and appropriate books, he now feels like he has this elusive key. His Mum seems super pleased, and I have already noticed a significant improvement in his reading and spelling, which is pretty amazing for such a short period and for a boy that has been totally switched off from reading in the past.
I felt like the other day I had a bit of a breakthrough with the older boy. We got to the end of the session where I introduced Book 2: Ten Rocks. He grabbed the book from my hands and started flipping through the pages. He was keen to get started and he even just began reading the first page by himself. On the first page, there was only one word that he said the sounds for before reading. All other words were said fluently.
In our second session I introduced taking turns in reading; we alternated the pages we would read. This strategy worked extremely well, and he did not feel so overwhelmed to read the whole book by himself. So the other day after he read the first page, I didn’t jump in but waited to see. He said to me, “Come on it’s your turn to read.” We continued to take turns reading and the improvement I have also seen in such a short time is also quite astounding.
After my initial sessions with both boys, I was feeling a little bit apprehensive and nervous and wondered if I would be able to assist them. Now I feel that together we are moving in the right direction, and I am confident that we will see further improvements in both their reading and spelling.
If you’d like to read more about the program I use to teach reading and spelling then definitely check out my article:
Stay tuned for part 2 where I share how I’ve been using these books with some of my other students as well.