Take the Fear Out of Reading Aloud
by Ashley Burgess
Molly is an eight-year-old girl who loves school; at least she did until this year. Stomach aches. Fever. Monsters in the classroom. She has tried all these excuses and more to stay home from school. Molly’s worried mom met with her teacher to find out what caused this once ebullient, jovial child to turn a cold shoulder to school. The teacher said Molly was refusing to read out loud in class. Her mom was distraught. Her daughter had never been shy. Her teacher told her to work with her child. But, the mom wondered, what does that mean? She already worked with her daughter every night on homework.
Does this scenario sound familiar? The teacher is correct in suggesting the mother work with her child. But parents often want more specific guidance. Here are some concrete ways to build Molly’s confidence.
If the mother doesn’t already have a copy of the reading text at home, she should see if the school has an extra one she can borrow. If not, find out the ordering information from school and get one for home use. Find out what story the class will be reading at least a week ahead of time.
Make a recording of the story. Let Molly listen to it a few times.
Have her skim the pages and place a sticky note next to five words that seem particularly difficult. Put those words on index cards and keep in a recipe box. At dinner, pull out the words for her to read. When she reads it correctly, let Molly put a mark on the card.
When she has five marks on all five cards, celebrate with a special reading dessert.
The goal of this strategy is to help Molly feel more comfortable reading out loud. Having a set of textbooks for home use has many other benefits, yet in my experience, parents rarely request them. As a teacher, I even had extra copies of the story on tape for parents to take home. Having a textbook on hand is helpful for parents whose children always seem to forget the book critical for the evening’s homework. If a parent buys the textbook, the child can go crazy with the highlight pen, and this can help with studying and noting context clues.
As for Molly’s sudden hatred of school, there are many reasons why a child turns on school. A few possibilities are trouble with friends, feeling overwhelmed with the workload, inattention in the classroom, difficulty juggling school work and activities, problem with the classroom being too structured or not structured enough, and a learning disability.
The first step is to schedule a meeting with the teacher. As shown in the example, the teacher can shed some light by observing classroom behaviors. In this case, the teacher noticed Molly was afraid to read out loud.
If I were Molly’s teacher, I would look for clues in what preceded her fear of reading out loud. If I could figure out the triggering behavior and come up with a strategy to eliminate or lessen the trigger, I would not worry that her reluctance to read was masking a learning problem.
To find the root cause, I would talk to her privately and find out if there are any changes in her environment such as a new sibling, the death or illness of a beloved grandparent, even a new pet. If that yields no clues, I would then concentrate on academics. I would have her perform reading tasks to see if it is a comprehension or fluency problem. Maybe she is sitting near someone who is distracting her, maybe she can’t see the text or the board well, maybe she is distracted by daydreaming or something she is playing with at her desk. In other words, I would not immediately jump to the conclusion that Molly needs special education services. Only if her problem persists despite interventions at home and at school, other reading problems arise, and I can rule out home life changes as the cause, would I begin thinking about a learning disability.
As a parent, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teachers for strategies you can try at home. We have a million of them, and we are happy to share!
Ask Ashley: Do you have a question about home strategies for your special education or regular education student? Ashley is full of creative ideas that have worked with her students. Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org