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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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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

Lena Collom

says:

My daughter totally refuse school …difficult in education…totally absent minded when we started doing schooling at home

Mirasol

says:

Hi! I’m a high school teacher. I have a tutee who’s struggling. He struggles in reading and spelling. He’s go in 8th grade once the class re-opens

Tiffany Henry

says:

Hello, I have a 5th grader who is struggling in every subject. He is so far behind in his learning that I feel like he needs to start from scratch. I think he is very capable of doing the work but he does not want to and is a totally different person in school. He just sits there all day and will do nothing. I try to teach him things at home but I am not a teacher. I really need help in setting my son up for success I dont want him to go to the next grade until I feel he is ready.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tiffany,
I’m sorry your son is struggling.

The lessons in All About Reading and All About Spelling are laid out in an orderly and step-by-step form for the teacher so that each day you can simply open and go. The programs are easy to do at home without special training or previous experience. You can learn How We Make Reading and Spelling Easy to Teach here.

Please let me know if you would like more information about All About Reading and All About Spelling or have questions about specific things your son is struggling with.

Bellz Mgilane

says:

My child is 12 years doing grade 5.she is struggling to read or she can’t read at all.Please help me to help my child im very confused.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Bellz,
I know it can be difficult and worrisome when your child struggles like this. This blog post that you commented on is full of ideas for struggling learners. Also, we have many free articles and information on Free Resources page.

Let me know if you have specific questions or concerns.

Sixoliso

says:

My son is 7years old and in first grade.He doesn’t seem to understand lots of things I’m in need of lots of help and thanks for the tips .

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sixoliso,
I’m sorry your son is struggling. Is he in school? Have you discussed your concerns with his teacher?

The tips and information on this blog post are a great place to start helping you help your son. Another helpful blog post is Signs of a Reading Problem.

Let me know if you have specific questions or need more information.

V. Smith

says:

Hello. I am a mom of 5. Oldest is 19 out on her own. My 7th grader and 6th grader enjoy school. One second grader does well in school and getting his work finished. He does struggle with writting assignments. He will do them. We are having an extreme struggle with his brother ( fraternal twins ) also a second grader. Since the beginning of first grade he is constantly off task refuses to sit and do any work especially worksheets. I am at a loss. His siblings didn’t have any where near this hard of a time. After reading this article. I am praying you can help. Both of the school districts we have been in and currently in. Have not been able to help or figure out his way of learning. They keep suggesting autism. Yet the evaluation process takes almost entire school year to even start. I am afraid with all the distance learning they have to do due to covid 19. He is going to be even further behind his classmates. Please help I am at a loss at teaching my child the things he needs to be successful in academics and life. I forgot to mention he has quite the vocabulary. He uses words that adults don’t use. His imagination is healthy and always working.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your little one is struggling so.

The fact that he won’t sit to do his work and especially dislikes worksheets actually sounds very familiar to me. A couple of my children were that way and it’s somewhat common with young learners. They want to move and do and sitting and boring worksheets are just terrible to them.

The good news is there are lots and lots of way to teach children that learn like this. Our blog article on Multisensory Teaching for Reading and Spelling discusses how effective it can be to use teaching methods that encourage learning with sight, hearing, and touch all together. Our 19 Activities for Kinesthetic Learning blog post is full of ideas on how you can take the subject off the worksheet and make it into active learning.

Ask yourself, “What is the goal of this worksheet?” If the goal is to practice spelling or math or to learn about some subject, then you can take that goal and meet it in all kinds of ways that don’t involve sitting still and filling out the worksheet. Math problems can be done orally while jumping up stairs, or written BIG with dry-erase markers on a window, or practiced by baking cookies and doubling the recipe. We have two blog posts on how to make flashcards fun and active, one for reading and the other for spelling. The ideas can be adapted for math facts and other types of flashcards too.

With my active learners, the only time I required them do the worksheet was when it was handwriting practice. And then I set a timer for 5 minutes and let them know when the timer went off, they were done but they had to work well for that 5 minutes. It made a world of difference in their willingness to do it, as they knew it was just one worksheet and it would only last a short time. And, I didn’t require them to sit if they didn’t want to sit. One of my children preferred to do his handwriting worksheet while standing at a counter and the other squatted in her chair. As long as they were fairly neat and focused for the 5 minutes, I didn’t mind.

Because of your school suspecting autism, you may find our blog post Teaching Reading and Spelling to Children with Autism helpful as well.

I hope this helps some, but please let me know if you have questions, need more ideas or information, or anything else. With creativity, I think you can help your little one have success with learning. I’m happy to help.

Sannah

says:

Sannah
My child is in grade 4 and she’s struggling with reading,spelling and maths, please help me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sannah,
I’m so sorry your child is struggling. Our All About Reading and All About Spelling programs are specially designed to help take the struggle out of learning to read and spell! Check out Why Our Programs Work.

Let me know if you have any specific questions or concerns. I’m happy to help as best as I can.

Johanna

says:

My son is in grade 4 and struggling to read and spell in English,help please.

Ntombifuthi

says:

Thank you so much but my problem is that the learner is in grade 6 now and in the class we have 48 learners with different difficulties they are struggling to understand the instructions in English please help me to help them

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ntombifuthi,
I’d love to help. What is it, exactly, your students are having trouble understanding? Learning to speak English? Read? Spell? Write? Or are they struggling to understand instructions given in English?

Sue McCabe

says:

Hello folks, my son Emilus is a 4th grade his school gave a whole lot of assessment he a very struggle trying my best to help my son . I myself dont know much an understand his assessment.

Zandie

says:

Hello Robin
My 12 year old son, is struggling a lot. He has repeated grade 2 and 4, got promoted to 5 due to his age, this year august he’ll be 13. He has a reading problem, cannot understand what he is reading at times and understanding the words to make sense is a huge problem. He says he likes maths but never gets a pass mark in it. He is eating too much and is obsesse, has 2 friends which are his cousins. Dosen’t want to play sport at all. Forgets quick and easily. Please help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Zandie,
It sounds like your son is having a lot of challenges! I would start by talking with his teacher and his doctor to see what they suggest. He may need remedial reading instruction. An Orton-Gillingham based program like All About Reading can help if you are able to work with him daily on reading. You may want to read our article Signs of a Reading Problem. I think you will also found our free Memory Report helpful for his forgetting.

If you have any specific questions, let me know and I’d be happy to help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you have any specific questions, Sue? I’d love to help, but I need to know what you need help with.

Anita Hendricks

says:

Good day
I would like the information cause my grandchild is struggling with spelling and grammar and reading.
Would appreciate it.
Thanks
Anita

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anita,
All About Reading and All About Spelling take the struggle out of learning to read and spell! Here is a video that discusses Why Our Programs Work. If you have more specific questions or concerns, let me know. I’d love to help.

Rumpa Sarkar

says:

I am interested to know more about teaching ‘reading’ to slow learners.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rumpa,
Here are some ways that All About Reading can help kids with learning struggles:

– Each lesson time is simple and explicit, and will include 3 simple steps: review of what was learned the day before, a simple new teaching, and a short practice of that new teaching.

– Incremental lessons. AAR breaks every teaching down into its most basic steps and then teaches the lessons in a logical order, carrying the students from one concept or skill to the next. Each step builds on the one the student has already mastered.

– AAR is multisensory. Research has shown that when a child is taught through all three pathways at the same time, a method known as simultaneous multisensory instruction, he will learn significantly more than when taught only through his strongest pathway.

– AAR uses specially color-coded letter tiles. Working with the All About Reading letter tiles can make the difference between understanding or not understanding a concept.

– AAR is scripted, so you can concentrate on your child. The script is very clear, without excess verbiage.

– AAR has built-in review in every lesson. Children with learning difficulties generally need lots of review in order to retain concepts. With AAR, your child will have a Reading Review Box so you can customize the review. This way, you can concentrate on just the things that your child needs help with, with no time wasted on reviewing things that your child already knows.

– AAR has lots of fluency practice. One of the things that Marie noticed when she was researching reading programs is that few programs have enough review built in for kids who struggle to gain fluency. AAR has fluency sheets or a story to be read with every lesson, so children can practice reading smoothly with expression and confidence.

All About Reading has a one-year guarantee. You can try it, and if for any reason you feel that it isn’t the right match for your child, return it for a full refund.

I hope this helps! Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Preet

says:

Yes my child is in grade 8 still struggling to read

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your child is struggling, Preet. You may be interested in seeing Why Our Programs Work to take the struggle out of reading and spelling. If you have any questions or need more information, please let me know.

Dianne Marie Hess

says:

I am helping a 14-year-old boy who has supposedly ADHD and ADD. He cannot read or do the math. Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, all of the children are at home now doing their school work. The school sent this packet. They had everything from a number line to story problems to double-digit adding. There is no structure to this madness. Then, they sent home letter paper for the alphabet he is supposed to practice. Along with this, he has filled in the blank words but he doesn’t know his sounds such as sh, ck, st, etc. I am frustrated as to how they think he can learn when they are jumping from a low end beginning teaching to a higher skill of reading all jumbled together in a so-called packet. I have never seen anything like this. The items I have taught him in the little time I have him

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Dianne,
I’m so sorry your student is having trouble like this and not getting the help he needs! We have some free resources on our COVID-19 Quarantine Schooling Resources blog post, but I think you may find our All About Reading and All About Spelling products the most helpful. They are an approach that teaches reading and spelling with No Gaps and no skipping around. Just explicitly taught incremental learning.

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

Mbekiseni Ndlangamandla

says:

Thank you so much, I’ll try it with my boy

Kashifa Syed

says:

This post was really helpful as my son is good ay reading.Needs improvement in spellings.

Jana Miller

says:

Wonderful article that will help struggling readers!

Morgan Musto

says:

This is a great read and I can’t wait to start doing this with my kids on Monday

Abby

says:

Helpful tips! Number 6, 7, and 9 especially for me in this season.

Kendra S Mackenzie

says:

This is very good

Cori

says:

It can be so discouraging to have a child that isn’t understanding a concept. We are currently in level 3 of All About Spelling and my daughter has improved so much! She doesn’t dread spelling anymore. Our family loves AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is so wonderful to hear, Cori! I’m glad to hear that All About Spelling is working out so well for your daughter.

Mandy

says:

Thank you! I found this very helpful and appreciated the poster of encouraging words in the linked blog post. I have used AAR for 3 of my kids who are voracious readers. Now working with a struggling reader, and the approach is good for him too. Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Mandy. All About Reading does work equally well for advanced and struggling readers because it is so adaptable to each unique learner.

Leighann

says:

A few years ago I e-mailed with customer service because my daughter was struggling with reading. I had a few teachers tell me that it’s normal for kids who are very good in math to struggle with reading. But I still felt like on some level it must be my fault. I took some time and used the suggestions you offered. We went through AAR1 twice; taking our time and using repetition to go over fluency sheets and the readers. Level 2 took about a year. Now on level 3 she is ZIPPING through it! She says she loves to read. It looks like we will be ready for level 4 sometime in the next 2 months. I am SO grateful that this program helped her to overcome the challenges and learn to love reading. I kept saying; I’d rather she learn to love to read than read early or on someone elses timeline. Taking our time helped her build confidence. Homeschooling has allowed us some freedom from comparison too. I am one relieved mother! Listening to her read from a grade level History textbook is amazing!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is so, so wonderful, Leighann! Thank you for getting back to us and sharing your daughter’s success. I’m going to make sure the entire AALP team sees this!

Your daughter’s story is much like my youngest child’s, only my girl isn’t all that great with math either. But you are so right! Learning to enjoy reading is so important and worth the extra time!

Katie

says:

I’m so glad I found this post. It can be rather discouraging when my 11 year old still has very, very poor spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katie,
I think you may find our Using All About Spelling with Older Students blog post very helpful. All About Spelling works very well with older students, even teens and adults.

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

Katie

says:

Thank you, Robin!

Kiyomi

says:

Our schools focus on reading and spelling so much and both my kids struggle (ages 8 and 11). They have been tested and both have above average IQs, but can’t seem to grasp reading and spelling (or handwriting…that is also very bad). I have been researching anything I can do to help them, but so much is contradictory. Thank you for making more resources available

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kiyomi,
There is a lot of contradictory ideas on teaching and learning reading and spelling. To sort it, look for information and programs based on research and not just ideas that sound good. Both All About Reading and All About Spelling are Orton-Gillingham based. This is a proven approach for helping students with dyslexia and other learning struggles. Marie Rippel, author and creator of the programs, is a member of the International Dyslexia Association and has instructed graduate-level courses in Orton-Gillingham Literacy Training offered through Nicolet College in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. She is also a member of Pro Literacy, has previously served on the Board of Directors of the Literary Task Force in Wisconsin, and tutored students for more than 20 years.

Here is a video of Marie giving an overview of Why Our Programs Work. Please let me know if you need more information or have questions.

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