A few weeks ago I met a young man who, due to life’s circumstances, started school many years after most children. His native language is Spanish, although I would not have known as he spoke so well.His caregivers called me to see if I may be able to help him with his reading. The computerized assessment he was given had him reading at a primary level, even though he is a freshman in high school and is several years older than most of the others in his class.
When I arrived, I introduced myself and explained that I am like a reading detective, trying to figure out what’s going on. He was very polite so when I asked if he struggled, he answered simply, “Yes, ma’am.”
I started like I always start with older learners, with a Sound Check using #Souns. It was evident pretty quickly, he only knew letter names and was trying to convert them into some variation. He did not know any sounds besides /f/ when I went through the first half. I stopped there as I didn’t want to embarrass or frustrate him and thought carefully about what reading passage I wanted to begin with.
I should mention here that the computerized reading assessment ‘s results said he knew his beginning sounds and blends?!
I pulled out a few phonetic phrases and he read them fine. I looked at him and said, ”Wow. You are smart. You have memorized an awful lot of words to be able to read to me what you just read.” Again, he answered, “Yes, ma’am.”
So, I told him that learning his letter sounds will help. It will help him figure out new words he hasn’t memorized. We began and after practicing with a number of Souns at a time, he wrote. He wrote pot and mop and dog and cat. Three letter words were difficult for him. This is not at all surprising as it reveals the confusion with the short vowel sounds that get well hidden by word memorization. I asked him if he remembered how they taught him to read when he started school since he started late. He said the first book he every read was “Up and Down” and he recited it to me. It sounded like a sight word book.
So we continued to work and build. I would hear him going through the sounds in front of him while I was fumbling through the tub with the Souns symbols. I asked if he thought it would help him and he said, “Yes, ma’am.” He shook my hand and thanked me quite genuinely for coming before I left.
I went to meet with him a few more times. Both visits were the same: sound practice, word construction, and basic reading practice. By the end of the last session, he recalled 21/26 letter sounds and three of the six digraphs. The vowels are still the most troubling.
The most telling thing about his reading experience thus far was the miscues that he did as I asked him to read passages for me. We read from the McGuffey Reader.
Instead of pen, he read open.
Instead of pen, he read pan.
Instead of run, he read ran.
Instead of song, he read sound.
Instead of pond, he read pound.
Instead of bank, he read blank.
Instead of bead, he read bread.
instead of beak, he read bake.
Instead of quite, he read quietly.
Shapes of the words were similar. The words looked a lot like the others. He is putting in so much mental energy into recalling each individual word, comprehension is not happening. He is extremely bright, so once he does catch on to and start processing the language code, I suspect reading will improve. The time and practice must take place, though.