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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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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.

Margaret

says:

Thank you for the tips,I will definitely try my best.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Margaret. Let me know if you have specific questions or need anything.

Ramosidi

says:

my son is struggling with reading and spelling and he cannot think independently I need help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your son is struggling so, Ramosidi. There are great tips in this blog post for struggling learners. You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post and our Free Resources helpful.

Kydra

says:

I have 4 year old twins that would be in Pre-K this year. But because of the Pandemic we missed the cutoff to enroll. So I’m doing homeschool lessons with them at home. One of my twins is a struggling learner. But he really tries and puts forth an effort. My daughter is very smart but refuses to do any work. Which is very frustrating. So I’m trying to find different resources to help them both. As I don’t want them to be behind. This article was very informative.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kydra,
I think you will find All About Reading’s approach helpful for both of your children as its multisensory approach as something to offer for all students.

Let me know if you have any questions, need help with placement, or need anything else.

hlumelo

says:

My 6 year old is struggle to read and focus

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hlumelo,
Yes, 6-year-olds often struggle with focus. They just have so much energy.

Keep reading and learning time short; no more than 20 minutes at a time. Then allow your child to do something else before starting the next subject. Short lessons done daily are the best way for young children to make progress in reading and other learning!

Let me know if you have any questions.

bheemanna maroorkar

says:

MY 7 year old son very slow in study. if learn morning he forget that in evening, what can do to increan learning skill.
please give some usefull tips or ideas.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Bheemanna,
I think you will find our Help Your Child’s Memory ebook very helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions or other concerns.

Phumzile Maphanga

says:

Thanks a lot I’ll try all the above tips promise to help my grand child

Kay

says:

Great read. I am learning that ‘Review’ is key.

nia

says:

help how can i teach my 7 year old girl interested to read and shes also a slow learner.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nia,
I think you will find a “No Gaps” Approach to Reading the best way to teach a child, especially one that needs a little more time to be successful.

It is best to start by teaching children Phonograms, the basic sound units of English. We also have a Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post that you may find helpful.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions.

Diane childs

says:

I don’t know we’re to start with my granddaughter she is 12 years of age and can’t read she is getting no help at school and doesn’t won’t to go I would like to help her

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Diane,
I am so sorry your granddaughter is struggling and not getting the help she needs. In some cases, it takes a strong advocate for the child to get the school to provide the help required for success.

If you are interested in helping her with All About Reading, you will start with our placement tests. An older child that struggles this much may be missing foundational reading readiness skills. If this is the case with your granddaughter, she will have difficulties with the level 1 placement test. If she does, please let me know. We have free resources for building up those skills.

You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful.

Please let me know if you have any questions or need more information.

Prisca Ezinne

says:

These tips will help alot but l need more help on how teach my 10 year old daughter because she finds reading and spelling very hard

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Prisca,
I’m sorry your daughter is finding reading and spelling so difficult. She may need remedial instruction to allow her to have success with reading and spelling. Orton-Gillingham based programs like All About Reading and All About Spelling can make a difference if you are able to work with her most days. You may find our Signs of a Reading Problem blog post helpful as well.

Please let me know if you have specific questions.

Nokwethemba

says:

Thank you so much I find this useful for my struggling learners. They struggle with reading English fal since their home language is isizulu.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for your students, Nokwethemba! Yes, English is difficult for those learning as a second language. We have a Real Moms, Real Kids: English Language Learners blog post you may find helpful.

ANWULI

says:

Please I need ways and method to teach a four years old child who can’t read and write thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anwuli,
It is normal for a four-year-old child to be unable to read and write. It is uncommon for a 4-year-old to be able to read, and it is quite rare for one to be able to write more than his or her name or maybe a couple other words. Four-year-olds are just beginning to learn letters and other readiness skills necessary to have success with reading.

I think you will find our How to Teach the Alphabet to Preschoolers and our Reading Readiness: The Top 5 Skills helpful. Both are full of free activities to use to teach your child.

And once he or she has mastered the readiness skills, our Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post can help you teach him or her to read words.

Innocentia

says:

Thank you I think your tips will help my child

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Innocentia!

Portia

says:

Will you pls help me my daughter she’s 11yrs she’s at grade 4 she’s struggling at school even now l want school for slow leaner atBrakpanwill you pls help me

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Portia,
I’m sorry your daughter is struggling in school. This blog post that you commented on has a lot of ideas for helping struggling learners succeed. I think you will find many of our Free Resources helpful as well.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions or need more information.

Rukaiyah

says:

Happy reading your tips

Stephanie

says:

Great article! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Stephanie! 😊

caroline nwosu

says:

This y the best l have read so far, thanks

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