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10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner

a struggling learner featured graphic

When your child is a struggling learner, it can be scary.

My son struggled with reading and spelling, so I know firsthand what that fear feels like.

You feel responsible for making sure your child grows up being able to read and spell proficiently, because you know that your child’s future options will be limited without those essential skills.

You don’t want to see your struggling learner blocked from reaching his full personal potential, and you would do almost anything to help him overcome his struggles.

What Is a Struggling Learner?

A struggling learner has to work harder than others around him in order to accomplish the same task or learn the same thing. The child may be a year or more behind grade level in one area or in all subjects.

There are many possible reasons for the child’s struggles. He may have physical disabilities that affect sight, hearing, mobility, or coordination. Or he may have learning differences such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or auditory processing disorder. Interestingly, a struggling learner may be gifted in some areas, such as a child who is amazing with math but does not read.

One very common reason for learning struggles is that the child has not yet been taught in a way that works for him. For example, he may need the structure and logic of a phonetic approach to reading, but he is being taught with a whole language approach.

struggling learner quick guide graphic

10 Tips for Teaching a Struggling Learner

There are very specific teaching methods that you can use to help your struggling learner succeed. One of the most important things you will want to do is to use curriculum and teaching strategies that can be customized to meet his needs.

Even if other methods have failed to work for your child, the ten tips that follow will help you reach your struggling learner.

  1. Teach Through Direct Instruction

    Direct instruction is a proven method in which the child is taught exactly what he needs to learn. With direct instruction, the information is presented very clearly through well-tested materials that rule out the possibility of misinterpretation and confusion. And your child is shown exactly how to apply the information, too. The explicit teaching of language rules and patterns means that your child doesn’t have to guess or struggle to figure out how to read or spell a difficult word.

    Pages from All About Spelling Teacher's Manual
  2. Choose an Incremental Approach to Lessons

    Incremental means that lessons start with the most basic skills and gradually build up to more advanced skills. Each lesson builds upon previously mastered material, and gradually increases in difficulty.

    Incremental instruction provides a “no gaps approach” that allows your child to learn one new piece of knowledge at a time in a well-thought out, logical sequence. With this approach, kids can successfully climb to the top of the learning ladder—step by step by step—and reap the rewards of mastery in reading and spelling without all the struggles along the way.

  3. Understand the Importance of Multisensory Instruction

    Multisensory learning happens when sight, sound, and touch are used to learn new information. Children learn best when they can use all their senses. When children can see a concept as it is explained, hear about it, and then do it with hands-on activities, it is easier for them to learn and retain the new information.

    In a multisensory spelling lesson, for example, your child can see a new word spelled out with letter tiles, hear and see a demonstration of a related spelling rule, try out the spelling rule for himself by manipulating the letter tiles, and say each sound of the new word as he writes it out on paper. This combination of activities uses multiple pathways to the brain.

    Image representing seeing, hearing, doing
  4. Give Your Child an Advantage by Teaching the 72 Basic Phonograms

    Kids who struggle with reading and spelling often have a misconception: they think that the key to reading and spelling success is memorizing strings of letters. But the fact is that it’s very difficult for children to memorize words this way. They often just get frustrated and give up.

    There’s a better way. Teaching phonograms helps kids see spelling as a doable task. A phonogram is a letter or letter combination that represents a sound. For example, CK is a phonogram that says /k/ as in clock; OY is a phonogram that says /oi/ as in oyster.

    Woman holding Phonogram Card 'ck'

    Each sound in a word can be represented by a phonogram. If your child learns the phonograms and which sounds they represent, reading or spelling the word will become so much easier. If he knows that the sound of /j/ at the end of a short-vowel word is spelled with DGE, the word bridge becomes simple to read and spell.

  5. Teach Just One New Concept at a Time

    When you dump too much information into your child’s mental “funnel,” your child’s memory can only attend to a certain amount of the new information. Teaching one concept at a time respects the limitations of your child’s short-term memory, and allows concepts and skills to be more easily stored in the long-term memory. And that means significant amounts of meaningful learning can occur.

  6. Teach Reliable Rules

    Children are really helped by knowing a few reliable spelling rules. For example, knowing the rules about doubling consonants at the end of words can help them spell words like floss, sniff, and fill. When your child learns trustworthy spelling rules—like the Floss Rule—he’ll have some guidelines to help him make the right letter choices.

  7. Teach Reading and Spelling Separately

    On the surface it may seem to make sense to teach reading and spelling together. But in reality, although they are similar, reading and spelling require different teaching techniques and a different schedule. Reading is easier than spelling, and teaching these subjects separately is much more effective for most kids. Separating these subjects allows kids to progress as quickly as possible through reading while taking as much time as needed in order to become an effective speller.

  8. Make Review a Priority

    Consistent review is the key to getting spelling facts and spelling words to “stick.” Teaching something once or twice does not mean your child has actually mastered it. Mastery takes time—and practice.

    Review doesn’t have to be boring, either. Have your child practice spelling concepts with letter tiles and flashcards and through dictation. Use a variety of techniques to ensure that your child retains what you are teaching.

    Child using a hands-on game from All About Reading
  9. Keep Lessons Short but Frequent

    Short, frequent lessons are much better than longer, sporadic lessons. In a short lesson, your child’s attention is less likely to wander, and you’ll find that you can actually accomplish more. Keep the lessons upbeat and fast-paced, and use teaching tools and activities that engage the child’s interests.

    Start with 15-20 minutes per day, five days a week. You can adjust the length of the lessons up or down according to your individual child’s attention span and specific needs. (Here are guidelines for lesson length for teaching reading and teaching spelling.)

  10. And Finally, Recognize the Power of Encouraging Words

    In the ups and downs of the daily grind, we sometimes get so focused on teaching and “improving” our kids that we forget to encourage them. The first nine tips are all built into the All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, but putting the power of encouraging words to work in your homeschool is all up to you!

    For many people, using encouraging words doesn’t always come naturally, so we created a way to help moms and dads remember how important it is. Be sure to visit our blog post on 7 Ways to Be the Teacher Your Child Needs and download the free poster as a reminder.

Teaching a struggling learner can be difficult, but the tips above can help make it a lot easier—and I know that from experience. Just take it one day at a time. Before you know it, your struggling learner will be doing things in life that you never dreamed were possible!

Is your child struggling in reading or spelling? We’re here to help! Post in the comments below, give us a call (715-477-1976), or send us an email ([email protected]).

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Eusebia Yayra Kusse

says:

I love the tips for reading and spelling. I’m beginning their use today and hope to see changes in my child.

Oluwatobi Adarabidan

says:

Thanks Andrea for this great article. I a home tutor, I have a student who finds it difficult to comprehend topics of the subject taught in her school.
I observed that when I pay attention to a particular subject using different teaching aids, she grasps it but it comes with extra effort.
It is slow and it hurts to know I can’t teach all subjects she offers in school. What can I do ?

Comfort.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your student is struggling, Oluwatobi.

When a student struggles with learning is it very important to focus on teaching the student where she is at and not worrying about what other students her age are learning. It is not reasonable to teach a child how to do multi-digit multiplication when he is still struggling with simple adding. You must address the foundational skills first before moving to more complex studies.

However, I think you may find our free Help Your Child’s Memory report very helpful. It addresses specific techniques and concepts for helping students learn and remember more easily.

Justina shindele

says:

My 8 years old boy, he is slow learner

Adetola

says:

Good day ma’am, I have a child who’s 6 years and can’t read, spell or blend words what method can I use for her, how do I begin, where do I start from. Thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Adetola,
I’m sorry your child is having difficulties in learning to read.

To start, please go over our Reading Readiness article. Ensure your child has mastered all the skills necessary for reading success. The article includes links for activities and free printables to help you help her in these areas.

Once your child has mastered the Reading Readiness skills and concepts, she will be ready to learn the sounds that the letters and phonograms make. Our How to Teach Phonograms blog post will be very helpful for you for that. And once she has mastered at least the first sound of each of the 26 letters, she can begin learning how to Sound Out Words.

I hope this helps you to get started. If you are interested in using a program that has everything laid out for you in detailed lessons, check out All About Reading. We have placement tests to help you determine which level your child is ready to begin with.

If you have questions or need additional help, please let me know.

Andrea Alert

says:

This is very informative

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Andrea.

Daphney

says:

My daughter is struggling to read and write

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your daughter is struggling, Daphney. I hope the tips in this blog post are helpful. Here are some additional articles you may find informative as well:
Signs of a Reading Problem
Break the “Word Guessing” Habit
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

If you have specific questions or concerns, I’m happy to help!

Fazlin

says:

I struggle with my son a lot

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is struggling, Fazlin. I hope you find the tips in this article helpful. Please let us know if you have specific questions we can help with.

Agnes Legodi

says:

Hello, I am an educator, teaching English first additional language and each and every year I meet 25 to 30 learners who can’t read and write, and they are older in the grade. In each class I have about 60 learners that need my undivided attention. How can I assist them to achieve their goals. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Agnes,
Older students that struggle with reading and writing often struggle because they are missing foundational skills and knowledge necessary for success. Sadly, many attempts to help such students focus on getting them to grade level without addressing the gaps they have. The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling is designed to meet students where their skill is regardless of grade level.

Shiela pokwana

says:

My son is struggling on reading and writing

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is struggling, Shiela. I hope you find the tips and ideas in this blog post helpful. However, if you have specific questions or concerns, I am happy to help.

Cebokazi ntshanga

says:

Very good and helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Cebokazi!

Tshepiso Malompe

says:

Can you please assist on how to deal wit a child who cnt read,write

Agnes Legodi

says:

Grade 8

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear this child is having difficulty with reading. I hope these tips in this blog post can help. Here are additional resources you may find helpful as well:
Signs of a Reading Problem
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

If you have specific questions, I’m happy to help.

Inamandla Mkhwanazi

says:

My niece shes 14 yrs this year she’s under forester care cs her mum she pass on and the grandmother takes care of her somehow shes battling to cope at school and the school decide to push her to other grade last year ,and shes failed grade 7 and the social worker and grandmother decide to send her to disable school which I did’nt agree concern that her condition its fine she very active with her hand and very talented young lady,to go that school was not good idea for me and my mom,so now, concern is I”ve tried to look for proper school for her in kwaZulu Natal South Africa but private schools are so expensive so now i am battling to get cheaper school ..and all school are full and beside they complain about her age,all i need school so urgent.or is there any other alternatives

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Inamandla,
I’m sorry your niece is having such struggles! Hopefully, you will find the tips and suggestions in this blog post helpful Here are some additional resources you may find helpful as well:
Signs of a Reading Problem
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

If you have specific concerns about difficulties with reading or spelling that your niece is having, please let me know.

Elenita

says:

Need to learn more

GLORIA BARTON TAYLOR

says:

I’m a season teacher with over 20 years in the classroom. I have been tutoring a kindergarten student for the last 2 months. We’ve been working on forming the letters a through g. We’ve done activities we’ve done manipulatives and when he came to tutoring last week he said I don’t even remember what the letters of the alphabet are.
He’s a boy who is very kinesthetic. Extremely creative when it comes to creating stories with manipulatives.
I’m a bit stumped. I’ve never had this happen before.
HELP!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Gloria,
I’m sorry to hear your student is having difficulties with learning letters.

My first thought was how often do you see him and are his parents reviewing what he has learned in tutoring on days you don’t see him? When students struggle to learn letters they often need to review daily for at least a few minutes to not forget what was covered.

Also, a through g is a lot of letters to learn at once. It may be better to focus on just three or four letters until those are thoroughly and completely mastered before introducing three or four more. But, when more are introduced, the ones already mastered need to stay in ongoing review as well. Otherwise, the first three or four may be forgotten as you work on the next three or four.

We have a free ebook on Memory that I think you will find helpful.

Anthea Okkers

says:

My son can’t read or spell and I was at school last year and I spoke to his teacher as well, it seems to me that there is no help for him at school, I’m assisting him at home. My concern is if you can’t read how do you understand the question.Please help me and my son I will really appreciate it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to help, Anthea.

Our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading is Easy to Teach with no prior training or teaching. It is based on The Orton-Gillingham Approach to Reading and Spelling. This is a proven approach for helping students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Marie Rippel, author and creator of the program, is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and has instructed graduate-level courses in Orton-Gillingham Literacy Training offered through Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Literacy Task Force in Wisconsin and tutored students for more than 20 years. Marie’s son is severely dyslexic, and being told by experts that he would never learn to read led directly to her creating All About Reading and All About Spelling. You can see a short video about her son’s story, Failure is Not an Option.

If you have specific questions or concerns, please let me know. I am happy to help!

Bridget

says:

My child is in grade2 and hes struggle to read im super worried

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is struggling, Bridget. Hopefully you will find help in the tips in this blog article. Here are some additional articles you may find helpful as well:

Signs of a Reading Problem
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
How to Develop Reading Fluency
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

Cathrine Luwenda

says:

My son struggles to read and spell, he is in grade 3, what can I do to help him.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find the tips in this blog post helpful, Cathrine. You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful as well.

If you have specific concerns or questions, please let me know.

Herman

says:

My daughter is struggling with learning and reading, when you help her she listens and when you move from her to do it herself, it seems like she gets lost and everything that you showed her is forgotten. An advice please so that I can help her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Herman,
It may simply mean your daugther needs more help consistently over a lot of time before she is ready to move to independent reading. We recommend working with students on reading for approximately 20 minutes a day five days a week.

Roxley Seakgoe

says:

My son is in 5th grade and his struggling to read and spell. He is shy when it comes to crowed. May you please assist.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is having such difficulties, Roxley. Hopefully, you can find help with the tips in this blog post. You may find our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling helpful as well.

Paulina Dimakatso

says:

Greetings.
My son is in 4th grade and his struggling to read and spell please help us

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is struggling, Paulina. Have you seen our 10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner article?

If you have specific questions, I am happy to help.

Matusi

says:

Hi ineed help for my girl struggling in English but she is in grade7

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your girl is struggling, Matusi. Often when older students like this are having trouble, it is because they have gaps in foundational knowledge and skills necessary for success in reading and spelling. We offer a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling that can help!

Nomasonto

says:

My grand child is struggling in spelling and reading. She failed grade 8 and really need assistance in helping her.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your grandchild is struggling, Nomasonto.

Often when older students like this are having trouble, it is because they have gaps in foundational knowledge and skills necessary for success in reading and spelling. We offer a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling that can help!

Matilda Odum

says:

Wow very interesting is going to help me work on my struggling learner

Nomasonto

says:

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your effort.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for you and your learner, Matilda!

Diana

says:

My daughter is in grade 5 and
struggling with reading and spelling

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is struggling, Diana. I hope you find the tips in this blog post. You may find our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling helpful.

Rachael

says:

Thank you for these tips! They are a great reminder for me when teaching! Especially the encouraging words part!!😊

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rachael!

Taiwo Lasisi Y.

says:

I appreciate this piece. Your hands are BLESSED.

Pauline Mmokwa

says:

My learners struggle with reading reading and spelling, co could you please help me how to get them right. They are in grade 2.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry to hear your learners are having such difficulties, Pauline. Here are a few resources that may help:
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
Signs of a Reading Problem
Segmenting: A Critical Skill for Spelling

If you have specific concerns or questions, please let me know.

Boitumelo

says:

My son is a slow learner

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is having difficulties with learning, Boitumelo. I hope this blog post has ideas that you find helpful. If you have specific questions or concerns about English reading or spelling, let me know.

Nomsa

says:

Hey my child is struggling with her home language which is Afrikaans ..she’s 8 years old in grade 2…she writes slowly she tend to forget whatever you have taught her

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Nomsa. I hope you find the tips in this blog helpful. You may find our Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? blog post helpful as well.

Samantha

says:

My child is struggling with maths and English reading and writing please assist me his 8years old.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Samantha. I hope you find the tips in this blog post helpful. Please let me know if you have specific concerns or questions.

stephanie castro

says:

goodday my 11 yr old is struggling with his work

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Stephanie. Hopefully the tips in this blog post will be helpful. Let me know if you have specific questions or concerns.

Bontle

says:

Hello
How are you?
I have 9 year old son his struggling with spelling and reading. Can you please give me any help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is struggling, Bontle. Hopefully, the tips in this blog post can help, but you may find our Signs of a Reading Problem article helpful as well.

Often students struggle because they have gaps in their foundational knowledge. We also have a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling article.

Let me know if you have specific questions.