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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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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.

Beatrix Korf

says:

My child fail this term and he is struggle with reading and spelling

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your child is not doing well, Beatrix. I hope the tips in this blog post can help. However, you may also found our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful as well.

Nthabiseng Motebu

says:

Hlw My daughter is on grade 4 and she repeat the grade struggling to write and read I’m so worried about her even thought when I’m teaching her @home she is short tempered pleased i really need your help🙇‍♀️😓😓

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is having difficulties, Nthabiseng. You may find the Signs of a Reading Problem blog post help in addition to the tips and suggestions on this page.

Often older students struggle because they have gaps in foundational knowledge and skills. Our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling can fill those gaps and allow for success.

Let me know if you have specific questions or concerns.

Linda

says:

Hi dear my son is on grade 8 and repeating the grade but still he struggled to read I’m scare due to his age he will give up what advice can you give me

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is having difficulties, Linda. Often older students struggle with reading because they are missing foundational skills or knowledge necessary for success. Our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling is designed to provide those missing skills and knowledge and allow students to succeed with reading!

Kori Kori Noti

says:

These are really helpful tips for children who struggle with learning, my children are really struggling with learning that is why am find the easiest way for them.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found these tips helpful for your children, Kori. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please let me know.

khululwa

says:

Thank you!

Verona

says:

My so is in grade 8 he has a problem reading and spelling plz help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is having such difficulties, Verona. Hopefully, you will find the tips and suggestions in this blog post helpful. Often older students struggle because they have gaps in the foundational skills and knowledge necessary for success in reading and spelling. You may find our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling blog post helpful as well.

Kipkemboi

says:

Commendable, I have recognized direct instruction and brief lessons very helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Kipkemboi!

Gifty

says:

Grateful for your write up

Phuti

says:

Please help I need to help my learners who struggle to complete tasks, find it difficult to read and write as that affect their self-confidence and esteem.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Phuti,
Often students struggle because they are missing some foundational skills or concepts necessary for success. Going back to the beginning to build up that foundation is sometimes necessary. Our “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling can help.

Rita

says:

Hi please assist my daughter is 7 yrs old and in grade 3 . She is struggling with reading and writing. She struggles to recognise words as a result she becomes frustrated and irritated. She is behind most of her class and so now she does not like to go to school because she is being teased by some kids in her class.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your daughter is struggling, Rita. I hope you find this blog post helpful, but you may find our Signs of a Reading Problem helpful as well. If you have specific questions, please let me know.

aie.edu

says:

Thank you so much for this kind and good service.your services is better than better.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome and thank you for the kind words.

Nokulunga

says:

Hi I have this problem my child is 10yrs old in grade 4 he can’t write or read properly I tried as mother bt he keep on falling subjecties now he is having an Anger because he cannot cope pls help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your son is struggling with reading and writing, Nokuluna. Often older students like your son struggle because they are missing foundational knowledge and concepts. He may need to go back to the beginning to ensure he has no gaps in his learning. Check out our The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling.

Thandi Sontaba

says:

Hi’my 11 years old boy he is in special school he canot read or write his name he is struggling,, he can’t pronouns the words correctly. But his speech is in proving . Please help he is talking nice with other kids but his speech is not clear but ican understand him… Please help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your boy is struggling in this way, Thandi. I’m sorry, but improving a person’s speech is not something we are experts in. However, one resource for improving English speech that I have used is Rachel’s English. It is focused on adults learning English as a second language, but I have found it useful for me to learn how to help a child pronounce words more clearly.

Nick

says:

Hi Robin/Thandi,

Another resource for adults that is great for English Pronunciation is http://www.englishlikeanative.co.uk, the pronunciation course is excellent and may be of use to you.

Bridie christoforatos

says:

Dear Meagan,
I am a psychotherapist and will suggest your doing all the right things. This past year has been brutal on all my student clients . Online learning has made it very difficult for students to catch up. The entire system has frustrated children and parents alike. It is a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Give yourself a pat on the back, you and your child are healthy. Extra loving time dedicated to what she is confused about will elevate her. Consider summer school.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Bridie, for sharing your professional perspective. This last year has been a difficult one for people of all ages!

Meagan

says:

Hi
My daughter is a grade 8 student. She has been Afrikaans all of her academic years and we switched her now due to career choices and further studies. I recently received her first term rapport and she failed all her subjects. I already started with a math tutor twice a week after school. I am a single working mom and does not really have time to sit with teaching her. What can I do to help my daughter pass grade 8 year. Please help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I am so sorry your daughter is struggling, Meagan! If you haven’t already, please speak to your daughter’s teacher and seek further help through her school. As you mentioned, she has been studying in one language throughout her school years, and suddenly changing to English is likely the cause of her struggles in all subjects.

Amanda

says:

My child is in grade 7, every time for me when it’s time to fetch his report from school I became stressed he always failed his subjects. That thing is not encouraging to him and to me as a parent and asked myself if teachers are failing to do their own job what about me as a parent…and w I go through his subjects in his work books he is doing fine when it’s time to get report it’s different story.
..

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is having such difficulties with learning, Amanda. I hope you find the tips in this blog post helpful. You may also find the Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful as well.

Oludaiye Remilekun

says:

Learn a lot

Mantsane Mahlatai

says:

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

Xoliswa

says:

My baby who is 7 is struggling with that as well. It is very frustrating for me because that makes him to be left behind with his schoolwork.

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!