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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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Leave a Comment

Dyan Croushore

says:

Thank you for these tips. I have a five year old son who is having trouble blending sounds. I am very interested in your reading program. I like the idea of learning all of the phonogram sounds from the beginning rather than introducing them later as “special sounds.”

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Dyan,
All About Reading doesn’t teach all 72 phonograms at once. Rather, AAR 1 starts with just a few letters a lesson, teaching just the first sound of each at first. By the end of AAR 1, however, students will have learned all the sounds of all the 26 letters plus all the sounds of 6 additional phonograms (th, sh, ch, ck, ng, and nk). Other phonograms, including the vowel teams (such as aw, ou, ay, and so on), are taught bit by bit as you move through the levels.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Lynette

says:

We started All About Spelling with my second grade daughter just under 2 months ago. I am seeing concrete, measurable progress. Better yet, neither of us has cried about her spelling!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Lynette,
Measurable progress, and not crying! Awesome!

Holly

says:

Love everything about this curriculum!

Michelle

says:

Love your program. I use for all 3 off my small kids. I highly recommend!

cynthia lilley

says:

We love the reading program and are looking forward to the spelling program, our dyslexic son went from not reading to reading on his own in a few lessons, what a difference it has made to his self esteem, Blessings

Brie B.

says:

Thank you for this wonderful post! We are using AAS with our oldest 3 sons, and looking forward to using it with our younger 3 boys as well! We are very thankful for AAS and how it has helped our sons!

Teresa Deuel

says:

My son who was in sixth grade last year has always struggled with reading and spelling. We had tried several spelling programs. When I talked to him about All About Spellng and wanting to start at the very beginning, he gave an enthusiastic yes because he knew he needs help. We were able to get through two levels last year and are going to complete two levels this year. His spelling has improved greatly! He is really learning the reasons behind the spelling of words. All About Spelling has also improved his reading. Don’t be afraid to go back to the beginning!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Teresa,
Thank you for telling us your son’s story, and for being so encouraging. Two levels a year is a good pace!

Jocelyn O.

says:

Thank you for the informative, encouraging post!

Loreen G

says:

I love this,”the child has not yet been taught in a way that works for him.” You have been such a blessing to our family. We finally found a “way” with the help of your AAS curriculum.

Elizabeth

says:

Great tips! Thank you!

Marissa

says:

Thank you so much for the encouragement. Often it is easy to plow through something without our kids ever really learning anything.

Jocelyn

says:

Love All About Reading! Short lessons have been key for us – especially for my younger guys!

Amy

says:

Love AAR and AAS! I have seen so much progress since switching to them!

Jassica

says:

Yes, yes, yes! My second grader is just completing the first level of AAS and AAR (in only 4 months!) It is such a pleasure to see all the progress he has made. I think reading and spelling are finally making sense to him due to the multi sensory approach and the clear, simple spelling rules. Thank you!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Jassica,
This is GREAT! Thank you for sharing his progress with us. Keep up the great work!

Carrie

says:

Wonderful reminders! I especially need to remember about the encouraging words. It’s something that doesn’t come as natural to me. Thanks!

Kristy

says:

Thank you. Very good information!

Magela Gonzalez

says:

Thank you for creating this program and for sharing your ideas on how to teach reading and spelling.

Melissa

says:

Your idea to teach reading and spelling separate from each other is brilliant!

Jen

says:

Thank you for this wonderful curriculum!
I personally think it is the best out there!

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Awww, thank you, Jen!

Elizabeth

says:

My daughter is in eighth grade and a great reader. However, she has significant challenges with spelling. She understands phonics, but struggles with memorization of spelling words and will even spell the same word differently on the same page! I’m wondering if your program might be what she needs.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Elizabeth,
Our All About Spelling program is very likely to help her. For example, we find that many students simply memorize easy words like “cat” and “kid” but have no idea why one uses a C and the other uses a K, or that the same rules that apply to these words also apply to higher level words such as “concentrate.” Other students switch letters or leave out letters entirely. This usually occurs because they don’t know how to hear each sound in the word. Level 1 has specific techniques to solve these problems.

We do recommend that most struggling spellers start with level 1 to build a strong foundation in spelling.

All About Spelling is a building block program with each level building upon the previous one. The rules and concepts learned in Level 1 are applied in Level 2, and then those are applied in Level 3, and so on. Placement for spelling is based on the student’s knowledge of spelling rules and concepts rather than grade level, reading level, or the words a student has memorized.

The article Should We Start in Level 1 or Level 2? has more information on the concepts taught in level 1 and will help you decide the appropriate starting level.

Level 2 of AAS focuses on learning the syllable types, when they are used and how they affect spelling. This information is foundational for higher levels of spelling. Three syllable rules are introduced in Level 2, and then more in Level 3 and up. For this reason, we don’t recommend starting higher than level 2.

We encourage parents and teachers to “fast track” if the student knows how to spell most of the words but does not understand the underlying basic spelling concepts. In this case, very quickly skim the parts that she already knows and slow down on the parts that she needs to learn. Pull out several words as examples. Make sure she understands the concept being taught, and then move on. This blog article has a good example of how you might fast track.

Lastly, we offer a “Go Ahead and Use It” one year money back guarantee.

Laurie W

says:

thank you for this post. Especially loved the reminder to keep lessons short but frequent.

LeighAnn

says:

Thanks for this post! I plan on bookmarking it in case we ever reach a tough time with our kindergartener in the future!

Monica Lopez

says:

I need the phonogram tool for my daughter. She enjoys it online.

Monica Lopez

says:

Thank you for your blogs, you have such wisdom.

Dr. Dolly

says:

#5 I agree…not just for kids, but adults, too. Otherwise, things can get muddled. One new concept per subject, but lots and lots of review!

WL Boyd

says:

This should help with my struggling learner.

Jen

says:

Love AAR and AAS! Finally something that is helping my daughter spell and read!

Carrie King

says:

Can’t wait to try AAS.

Gale

says:

I disagree with number 7…at least for some struggling learners. Two of my children could spell simple words phonetically BEFORE they could read. And while the order is different sometimes (sometimes things that are more difficult to spell are easier to read and vice versus), for some things combining reading with a lot of the same phonemes or blends with spelling, and teaching these simultaneously (th, sh, and ch for instance) can be helpful.

Gale

says:

PS: And I should mention while one of those children was ahead the other was a struggling learning.

Robin E. at All About Learning Press

says: Customer Service

Gale,
We recommend students learn reading and spelling separately at their own unique pace. Most students will progress more quickly in reading, some much more quickly, but an occasional student will get a bit ahead in spelling. However, by separating the two the child can move faster or slower in each as best serves their own learning needs.

Beginning reading and beginning speller are often fairly easy to do together, but spelling becomes more difficult as reading advances. That is why we have only 4 levels in our reading program but 7 in our spelling program, with both taking students through high school level words.

Tiffany C

says:

I love AAR. I am using AAR1 with my K-er. Hands on tasks and games cannot be beat.

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