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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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Priya

says:

My son is in 3rd standard and he doesn’t likes to sit read and write,if he does so he can’t remember anything,he will be so confused with the answers so am trying very hard to help him out in this some times I feel am failing to teach him so please help me

Robin

says: Customer Service

I’m so sorry your son is having such difficulties, Priya! I hope you find the tips in this blog post helpful.

Often older students like your son struggle because they have gaps in the foundational knowledge and skills necessary for reading and spelling success. Check out The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling.

Let me know if you have specific questions I can help with.

Jack calvonce

says:

Good content.It was really helpful for my assignment.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you, Jack!

Jack calvonce

says:

Good content.

Omolara Fasina

says:

This is lovely and of great help but am not in UK.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Omolara. However, we aren’t in the UK either. We are based out of the US, but we work with and help people from all over the globe!

If you have questions or if there is anything we can help with, please let us know.

Little Pear

says:

Awesome blog post! Your information is very informative! Thanks and keep it up…!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was informative for you! Thank you!

Modinat

says:

This is awesome. I have a struggling 8 year old girl. I get so worked up teaching her because I feel the things she is learning are easy. She also miss out letters or complete words when writing from the board at school

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Modinat,
I’m sorry your girl is struggling. I do hope the tips here are helpful.

It sounds like there may be some “curse of knowledge” in your teaching. This is when a teacher knows something so well, so deeply, that we forget what it was like to learn that thing or all the little bits and pieces that go along with it. Check out our article on How to Avoid the “Curse of Knowledge” as You Teach. I think you will find it helpful.

Also, if she is having trouble writing from the board at school, she may have problems with her vision. She may need glasses, for example, or another vision issue. Trouble writing from the board is concerning.

I hope this helps some! Let me know if you have specific questions I can help with.

reyhan

says:

terimakasih infonya keren banget mantap

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Reyhan!

Little Pearl

says:

Thanks for the informative blog post..!

Ruth okiemute

says:

We need your help

Ruth okiemute

says:

My son is 11 he is very slow in reading and writing, we have try so many methods,nothing is working, please we need your help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is struggling, Ruth. I hope you find the tips and suggestions in this blog post helpful. Often, older students like your son struggle because they are missing foundational skills or knowledge. These can be addressed with The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling.

Here are some other blog articles you may find helpful as well:
Signs of a Reading Problem
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
Segmenting: A Critical Skill for Spelling

Please let me know if you have specific questions I can address.

Hajara

says:

She’s 13 years old but she can’t pronounce words and she’s a slow learner how can you help us please

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hajara,
It sounds like your sister needs to work on the foundational Reading Readiness Skills necessary to be successful in learning to read. It sounds as if she has gaps in her learning. The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling can help.

I would be happy to help if you specific questions.

Honour

says:

Hi I have a sister who is 9 years old and she doesn’t understand how to teach yourself how to write

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your sister is having difficulties with writing, Honour. However, most children do not teach themselves how to write. Most students learn to write by being taught by teachers. Have you discussed your sister’s difficulties with writing with her teacher?

We have a blog article on Dysgraphia: How can I help my child? that may help, if your sister is struggling with writing even with teaching.

Hajara

says:

My younger sister is struggling to read and spell, she’s struggling with her studies and I’m doing my best but still, she only cramp alphabets and cramp the words but can’t understand them to write on her own, so please help us with what to do, she’s 13 years and she can only read the alphabets but can’t pronounce the word, thank you as you help.

Taiwo Egbebi

says:

Aboy has been struggling in reading and spelling ,in September hegoing to be in year 4, yet he is reading like year one student. What approach can I used to help him?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Taiwo,
When older students are struggling to read and spell, it is usually because they have not learned the skills and concepts necessary for success. The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling was developed to help students of all ages master those foundational skills so they can be successful in reading and spelling.

Aluwani lucy

says:

What would you recommend teacher to support learner who struggles to learn to read

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question! We recommend The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading.

Sithabile

says:

Help me with my strugling leaners to read and write

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your learners are struggling, Sithabile. I hope the tips in this blog post can help. Here are some other posts that may also be helpful:
Signs of a Reading Problem
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling
How to Teach Phonograms

If you have specific questions, I would be happy to help.

Sister nonhlanhla

says:

My child struggling to focus and read

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling. The tips in this blog post should be helpful. Here are some others that may be helpful as well:
Signs of a Reading Problem
How to Teach Phonograms
Helping Kids Sound Out Words
How the “Funnel Concept” Affects Learning

Justine Minnie

says:

It help me a lot

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful, Justine!

Maria Mahlangu

says:

Thanks well presented and promising

Mbedhli LP

says:

Tips are good. It will help me and my learners, thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome! I’m glad these tips are helpful.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Maria!

Maria Mahlangu

says:

Hello

Hellen Katushabe

says:

Thank you so much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Hellen.

Winaz

says:

Exellent tips,be blessed.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Winaz.

Angelique Pretorius

says:

Please help me my son is in grade 2 and failing English spelling and reading

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your son is struggling, Angelique. Hopefully you will find the tips and suggestions in this article helpful.

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

T R picah

says:

My child is 13 years he can read and he can’t finish writing sentence but he like writing maths only

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your child is struggling. I hope you find these tips helpful. Here are some other articles that may be of use to you as well:
Signs of a Reading ProblemHow to Teach Phonograms
Break the “Word Guessing” Habit
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling

Let me know if you have questions about specific difficulties your child is having.

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.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you find these tips helpful for your child, Eusebia. However, if you have specific questions or concerns, we are happy to help!

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.