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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 (support@allaboutlearningpress.com).

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Mantsane Mahlatai

says:

My son who is 7 yrs old is doesnt finish schoolwork in time

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is having difficulties, Mantsane. I hope you find the tips in this blog post helpful. Let me know if you have specific questions, however.

Magreth Nandjira

says:

My learner is having problems of copying his name. How do I help him?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

How old is the child, Magreth? Using pencils or pens and writing letters can be very difficult for young children, especially those below the age of 5 or 6. If your child is young, consider working on strengthening his hand muscles and his core muscles to help him be ready to write.

You can work with hand muscles with activities like playdough, crafts, salt trays, using scissors, and so on.

Make sure to incorporate lots of large-muscle play in his day with running, jumping, climbing, swinging…anything that strengthens core muscles and gross motor muscles. These are incredibly important to handwriting. Many people think of handwriting as only a fine motor activity, but the large muscles like the trunk muscles that hold the body up so kids don’t lean on their arms as they write, the shoulder and arm muscles that control arm movements, and so on are really important as well.

If your child is older than 5 or 6 and still struggling with writing, you may find our Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? blog post helpful.

Amanda LUBAMBO

says:

Thanks for the encouraging stages of support shared on this platform. WHAT DO I NEED TO CREATE INDIVIDUAL RESOURCES FIR SUPPORT.
#identifying shortcomings
#intervention
#outcome
#further recommendations
#parent communication
#referral

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amanda,
The procedures, paperwork, and even steps to identify and provide support for students in need varies depending on what country, state or province, and in some cases even what school district you are in. You will need to go through your school’s administration to find the answers to these very good questions. I’m sorry I cannot help you.

Miriam Litabe

says:

What do I have to do, in case I have a number of them in a higher class, like identify them when you first teach them in grade 5 maybe?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m not sure what you are asking, Miriam. Typically, you can identify those students that are struggling at a much younger age than grade 5. But even with older students, once you see that they are struggling, the tips suggested here can help.

Patricia

says:

My son is at grade7 this year but he doesn’t know how to read and write spelling he is 13 yes old I am worried he is going to high school next year because at their school in grade7 is pass1 pass all how can I help him because I am stressed even if I can get some1 who can teach him or something pls help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I am so sorry your son is struggling, Patricia! Often older students like your son struggle because they are missing foundational skills or knowledge necessary for them to have success with reading and spelling. Our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling fills the missing foundation so students can succeed.

Cordelia Akinyemi

says:

Thank you so much. I truly appreciate.

Mandlenkosi khumalo

says:

This is a great eye-opener strategy of dealing with learners with difficulties in reading especially to facilitators who are coming from disadvantaged and ill-resourced learning environments.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Mandlenkosi!

Pauline Hermitt

says:

Thanks for taking the time out to post that very informative information. I am sure that appling the suggestions given, will yeild positive results.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Pauline. I do hope these suggestions will be helpful and lead toward positive results. If you have specific concerns or questions, please let me know.

Thandazile Mkhize

says:

I have a child that srugles to read and writte

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Thandazile. I hope the tips here will help. You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem helpful as well.

Johanna kubeka

says:

i have a child who strugle to read

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Johanna. I think you will find the tips on this blog post helpful, and also the information in our Signs of a Reading Problem article.

Yanie

says:

I have a niece is 5 years now, but is struggling to talk, most of the time he will say things not the way they are called. It is difficult to tell him a simple instruction or when you send him to take something h is not going to come back with what u asked and even fail to report to you that why he didn’t come back with what you have asked. He will go take something and not sure that this is what you have asked. He will take something and then put it down and look at you to confirm. He can’t wear his shoes correctly. At school he forgets easily what they have taught him, he cannot follow instructions. He will write his own things totally away from what is expected or told to write.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry this child is having such difficulties, Yanie! What you describe does make me wonder if he maybe has a partial hearing loss or another issue. Have you or his parents spoken with his doctor about all of this?

Olwethu

says:

My nephew is just starting a new school he approached his teacher tell her he cant read and the teacher finds that when he is asked a question he just burst into tears how can I help him

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your nephew is having such trouble, Olwethu. I hope the tips on this blog post may help. We also have a Signs of a Reading Problem blog post that may be helpful as well.

Phumza

says:

My child struggling in reading and spelling

Hitesh Dama

says:

If Personal talk possible then please tell me.
it will more helpful

Hitesh Dama

says:

hello,
my brother is 15 year old but he can not read or write any language, we tried a lot to teach him but he is not interested in learning this or any other studies, he uses mobile phone but with voice control.
can you please help with it…

thank you in advance

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I am so sorry your brother is having such difficulties, Hitesh. I hope you find the tips outlined in this blog post helpful, as well as our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post.

It can be difficult when dealing with a student that has no interest in learning. Maybe our How to Motivate Your Child to Read blog post will have some helpful ideas as well.

Patricia Norwood

says:

I’m a Foster Grandparent, where we go into the classroon to help students who are struggling with their reading and math skills, grades k-2. Since the pandemic, we have not been able to go into any classrooms. We now have the task of writing letters of encouragment to students geades 3-6. Can you give me examples for each grade level? This will be a great exanple of what to write for each grade level. Thanks in advance.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a great thing, Patricia! I love the idea of writing letters to students at home.

However, I cannot help you. All About Reading and All About Spelling do not follow the grade-level approach to teaching reading and spelling. They teach words grouped together in a logical manner based on similar rules or patterns regardless of their supposed grade level, which allows students to progress quickly and confidently. I do not have access to grade-level lists of words for reading and spelling.

Sri

says:

My Daughter is 8 years old and having very difficult times in reading english. But she speaks well. Am trying to make with phonic approach but not really helpful. And am not good in teaching too. Any suggestions on learning flow or materials would help greatly

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is having difficulties, Sri. Maybe you will find our How to Teach Phonograms and Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog posts helpful.

All About Reading was specifically designed to be easy to teach.

Let me know if you have questions about placement or anything else.

.Deborah

says:

My granddaughter is a great reader and spellerBut has a hard time with math. She is eight years old an being homeschooled with second grade material. Any advise would help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is having such difficulties with math, Deborah.

As with students that struggle with reading and spelling, we recommend searching out a program that uses multisensory and incremental teaching. Look especially for programs that incorporate hands-on learning and math manipulatives. Math isn’t our specialty, but here are some ideas:

– Math-U-See (My coworker Merry and I have used this to good success. It is multisensory, incremental, and mastery-based, using short video lessons once every week or two.)

– Teaching Textbooks (Marie liked this for her struggling math student. It is also incremental and uses computer-based lessons.)

– Right Start Math (This is heavily multisensory and uses game-based learning quite a bit.)

– Shiller Math (This is also multisensory as it is a Montessori-inspired approach. It’s designed to be open and go for parents.)

I hope this helps some.

Nicola

says:

Looking forward to news letters

Debrah

says:

Thank you so much, I have adopted a child who will be doing grade 6 this year, and he is really struggling, he can’t write one up to ten in words, I’m willing to help him but I don’t know where to start as his foundation was bad he is doing grade 6 already and he knows nothing. They told me he is a slow learner, please help on how to help him

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your child is struggling, Debrah. It sounds like he does not have the foundational skills necessary to be successful with reading and spelling. A place to start would be with a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling that would allow him to build up his foundation as quickly as he is able. You may also find our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful as well.

Lucy Pennington

says:

How do you suggest progress monitoring?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you mean assessments, Lucy?

Lucy,
Our article 12 Reasons Teachers Love All About Reading and All About Spelling has progress tracking documents that you can download.

What some tutors and teachers do is give a pre-test. Choose a random selection of word cards from 5-10 lessons and see how many the student can read. Track whether they guessed or sounded out the word or if they knew it automatically. Then you can check them on those words again after completing those lessons.

Some also do a “timed reading” using the readers. Choose a story several lessons ahead, and have the student read a page for 1 minute. After they’re done, count how many words they misread, and then how many words they read overall. Later on, after you complete the lesson that teaches the words for that story, have them try it again. Once again, count how many words they misread and how many words they read overall.

They approach spelling much the same way. They dictate a random selection of words from the next 5-10 lessons (or if doing an assessment once per year, from the index of the book), and dictate the phrases and/or sentences from the last Step in that selection of lessons. They keep that and measure progress again after completing the lessons or level.

Does this help? Let me know if there is something else you have questions about.

Lebohang

says:

My son is struggling with concentration and reading ,he’s shy to speak most of the time and he’s doing well in maths but struggles with reading , this year we didn’t get good marks marks in English , please advice as to what can I do to assist him he’s going to grade 7 next year and he’s 1 grade behind , please any advice will help .

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your son is struggling, Lebohang. Often when students are just one grade behind, extra practice with reading can help a lot. Consider having him read aloud to you daily for about 20 minutes. It will help you to have a better idea of how he is struggling, as you will be able to hear if he is guessing at words, or if skipping words, or some other issue. Then you can begin to help and correct him with that.

Also, the Matthew Effect in Reading shows us that more reading leads to easier reading leads to more reading leads to more reading and so-on upward and upward. Daily reading practice will help your son improve.

I hope this helps some. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Lizz Sanchez

says:

My brother struggles on reading and writing and it’s hard for him to remember.

Anil

says:

Hello good day, I have a child who was removed from an unfit home about six months ago. She’s about 7 yrs old and can’t even speak properly. She’s been struggling a lot to learn even the basic things. She’s like lesson zero. I read the tips, I will try them and see. Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anil,
In this sort of situation, it is best to start with increasing her exposure to books and English. Reading aloud to hear daily is a great way to accomplish this.

You can also work with her on the Reading Readiness Skills to ensure she has the foundation necessary to be ready to begin to learn how to read. This blog post has further links with printable activities and information for building these essential skills.

I hope this gives you a starting point. Thank you for wanting to help her.

Mandisa

says:

My 8 years boh is in grade 2 he is struggling to read and to write and he get bored when it comes to books he is no even interested, and i dont have skills to teach him can you please help me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mandisa,
I’m sorry your child is struggling. So often student’s “boredom” with books is not true boredom, but rather that they are struggling so much that it doesn’t make sense at all. If you cannot understand something, it would be boring.

Very often students struggle like because they have gaps in their knowledge that have not been addressed. You may find our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling blog post helpful.

Mavis

says:

My last born is on ADHD disorder his at special school still struggling get bored to write and write.

Mavis

says:

old one is struggling to write and read. The young one is struggling to read and write cant express himself but he can listen the story and told you. I am very worried cause they are getting old doing nothing at home.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mavis,
I’m so sorry your kids are struggling so!

Very often older students like this struggle with reading and writing because they have gaps in their knowledge that have not been addressed. See our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling blog post.

Mavis

says:

my kids are on the age of 19 & 16 years old pls help.

Bester

says:

Thank you for the tips I wil tryto help him

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Bester.

Kgabo

says:

Thanks I will try the strategy.my son is struggling a lot he can’t even understand the sounds and phonics and he is 9’years old doing grade 2.i m very worried that he will fail grade 2 and he failed grR and1.i am thinking of taking him to special school

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kgabo,
I’m so sorry your son is struggling so. It sounds like your son needs to focus on those foundational skills he didn’t get earlier. All About Reading and All About Spelling have a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling that can help. Let me know if you have any questions.

Geraldine

says:

My daughter is 10 years old.She was diagnosed with ADHD disorder.She is at a special school.She is clever in Maths and English,but she is struggling to write sentences and to spell.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is struggling, Geraldine. Do you have any questions or concerns?

In addition to the information in this blog post, take a look at Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? and Is All About Spelling Right for My Child?. Let me know if I can help you with any questions.

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