Help! My Smart Kid is Flunking Third Grade!
The Third Grade Wall
I’m a dyslexia tutor. I get most of my new students around third grade. Why? Because they hit the “third grade wall.” The wall refers to what happens to bright curious kids with dyslexia when the learn-to-read stage of school ends and the read-to-learn expectations start. The wall shuts them out of success at school. It walls them off from pleasing their parents and teachers with their hard work. It even prevents them from seeing what everyone else in class sees.
Parents often ask if I think they should pay for testing to determine if their struggling student is dyslexic. I ask some questions before I answer. First, what do you hope to accomplish with testing? Do you need a diagnosis for your own peace of mind? Or, do you need a diagnosis to assure that the school provides some sort of extra help? Perhaps your child wants to know why school is so hard, and a diagnosis would provide relief. Testing usually costs a lot of money, and all it delivers is a diagnosis, so be sure that’s what you want.
Parents to the Third Grade Rescue
Even if your child has a dyslexia diagnosis and the best third grade teacher on Earth, that teacher manages an entire classroom of individual needs. That allows very little one-on-one time with students. Meanwhile a struggling reader requires one-on-one time to climb over that third grade wall. You don’t need a degree in education to provide the necessary help, but you DO need time, patience, and tools. I recommend setting aside at least 15 minutes every day for six months. Short daily sessions work better than longer sessions less often. If you tend to become impatient or tense with your child, don’t feel guilty — just hire someone else to work with him/her.
The Tools of Reading Success
The first tool you need is multi-sensory phonics. Great teaching resources include The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read…and How They Can Learn, Why ‘Tyrannosaurus’ But Not ‘If’?: The Dyslexic Blueprint for the Future of Education, and The Reading Remedy: Six Essential Skills That Will Turn Your Child Into a Reader. Whatever method you choose, be sure to involve as many senses as possible. Ron Davis uses clay to help children literally mold meaning into the sounds of the words. Touching, hearing, seeing, talking about it, even smelling when possible build solid memories. Those memories need to be happy to last. A lesson that causes stress only imprints anxiety. Long term memory happens in an unstressed state.
Cut the Chains and Soar!
Too many dyslexia programs stop after phonics, or even worse, keep repeating the same material endlessly. Once the student masters the idea that letter combinations represent sounds, move on. Don’t wait for oral reading fluency, since this can get in the way of joyful silent reading. Introduce audio books paired with paper books, then help the student learn to track (read along). Apps such as Farfaria or Dr Seuss Treasury provide read along practice on an iPad. Mom or Dad reading aloud while the child watches the words produces far more progress than forcing an unhappy child to read aloud. Ways to make this even more powerful using scanning and silent re-reading are explained in my book, Dyslexia Tool Kit for Tutors and Parents: What to do when phonics isn’t enough. A great book to read with your third grade dyslexic student is Niagara Falls, Or Does It? 1 (Hank Zipzer), by Henry Winkler. Reading along, or tracking, moves students from sounding out words to silently reading and comprehending sentences. Before long, you’ll find that dyslexia doesn’t need to be chains. It can be wings, instead!