Help for Struggling Readers

I see posts on social media daily from parents asking if anyone has help for struggling readers.  

After 19 years in the classroom, I’d like to share with you my “secret sauce” for struggling readers and how Charlotte Mason Narration can be life-changing in both the home and classroom. 

The Secret that can be help for struggling readers

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with a READING INTERVENTION SPECIALIST. Lori with Literacy Lights was so patient and kind to me. I was conducting a product review for her. The problem was, I didn’t understand her product. This was NOT Lori’s fault. You see – WAY BACK IN THE DARK AGES… when I got my credential, they didn’t really go into the fundamentals of teaching reading. 

I did not have a reading intervention strategist at the school I worked at, nor in my home. I had to develop my own “secret sauce” to help struggling readers over the years. 

Child looking down at book frustrated, he is struggling to read. His hands are over his ears and his elbows are propped on the table.

I’m not suggesting this replace any training you HAVE received on helping struggling, or late-blooming readers, however, my method didn’t kill anyone. I have experience with both struggling and late bloomers. 

I have had many children over the years who, for one reason or another “couldn’t” read. In my second year teaching, I had one such student. In fact, her parents scheduled a meeting with me before school started so I would be aware of their daughter’s reading frustration. I listened, took notes, and assured them I would support their daughter in all academic areas.

Our private school did not have pull-out classes, testing, and specialists – I was a  teacher, special education teacher, school psychologist, nurse, etc. all wrapped in one! 

Imagine my surprise when on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL, this bright young lady raised her hand when I asked for volunteers to read. I certainly wasn’t going to ignore her. I  called on a few others and was walking the room. When I called on “Amber”, I made my way over near her desk. Whenever she came to a word she didn’t know I just gently whispered it to her. I didn’t make her “sound it out”  or try – I just told her the word and she kept reading. When she finished her section I told Amber what an excellent job she had done and how impressed I was with her reading. I looked her straight in the eyes when I delivered this complement. It wasn’t a lie. Amber DID an excellent job reading!

The next day I received a handwritten note (this was long before email) from Amber’s parents who were BLOWN AWAY by her experience, and the fact that she came home telling them she could read and it was going to be the BEST YEAR EVER! Amber got stronger and stronger, as did others I discovered in my class that year and many years beyond.

My secret that can be help for struggling readers is this:  I never made a child struggle for a word, I always just provided it and they read. After they read, I complimented them sincerely on a job well done. 

Late Blooming Readers 

I consider myself very blessed to have 3 children who enjoy reading as much as I do. Their pleasure reading time is currently limited due to college coursework, but I strongly feel that they will spiral back to books when the time is right, just as I have. Each of them learned to read at varying ages. My middle daughter in fact didn’t really read on her own until about 3rd or 4th grade! She is what I like to call a late blooming reader.  Social media posts are inundated with concerns of parents who want to know what to do when their child who *should* be reading is not. I want to know who determined the magic reading age?

 I  will never be one to push reading and believe it is something that comes in time. What a pleasure it is to just sit and read to a child, no matter their age. If you believe there is an issue for which you would like help, by all means, I encourage you to follow your heart. I also want to reassure you that modeling reading and giving a child time is perfectly acceptable as well!

My thumb-sucking daughter had her older sister read to her because 1.) She preferred it, and 2.) She could suck her thumb! I didn’t push the issue and knew that when she WANTED to, she would read. When this late-blooming reader discovered the Harry Potter books, that is what it took. I’m fairly certain her sister told her NO, I’m NOT reading THAT to you…but that produced the perfect situation and my daughter became a reader! From that day forward, she devoured books. So my secret for late bloomers is this: Leave them alone. They will read when there is a NEED. Making it an *issue* only makes it an issue! Again, if your Mommy instinct feels your child should be evaluated for a deeper cause for non-reading, by all means, follow your heart. 

Using Charlotter Mason Narration

Using Charlotte Mason Narration techniques can be life changing for all readers. Narration is a skill that many homeschool families use effectively. It is also easy to implement inside a classroom. I loved using narration both at home and in my classroom to help strengthen reading comprehension. It also helps you struggling readers in surprising ways.

Whether children can read, or are being read to, understanding what is read is the KEY! Reading Comprehension is essential in every subject area. 

Simply stated: Charlotte Mason Narration is a child recalling and retelling what has been read in their own words. This method of Reading Comprehension is what I used across ALL SUBJECTS!  

Whenever you read with children  you can easily read a small section and then ask them to tell you everything they can remember about what they just heard. It works the same if they read for themselves. In the case of a child like “Amber” – have Amber read, but another child completes the narration. Amber was working hard on READING THE WORDS. She has likely has NO IDEA what she just read! Having another student complete a Narration AFTER a Struggling Reader has read helps CLOSE THE GAP. It gives them time to digest what they red, and what their fellow classmate is saying about the reading. This is life-changing, I promise!

Give your struggling reader the chance to narrate after another student reads.  Over time work up to completing a reading and a narration in one sitting using much praise. 

If you are reading to all your children or in a classroom, just take turns and go in a different order each time you stop to narrate. You can mix it up sometimes having the reader do their own narration, other times having a listener do the narration.   

Smiling little girl in a green dress. She is holding a composition notebook and standing next to her desk completing a Charlotte Mason Narration.

Some tips for Charlotte Mason Narration:

  • It’s important that you only read whatever it is you are reading once. This helps train the children to listen. Whatever they can recall is excellent. They will get better and better with practice. Reading the section again doesn’t make them better, just moving on and reading a NEW section and narrating again is what builds improvement. 
  • If at all possible avoid interruptions. If you are going to focus on narrations, turn off your phone so it doesn’t make noise. Don’t let your child stop you for questions, etc. When your child is giving their narration, there is no need to say anything while they are talking like – “great” yes- good, you’re right, keep going…anything else… etc. They may struggle at first, but let them do their best until they say they are done. 
  • Gently redirect a child who simply repeats word for word what you have just read. The ideal narration is a summary, with thoughts and opinions FROM the child’s own mind. It’s not an exercise in memorization. 
  • As you complete narrations more and more consider expanding to written narration, drawings, and even little puppet shows! Legos were a favorite narration activity in our home.

Narration is a form of Assessment

The reason narration is so popular in homeschooling is that narration is a form of assessment. By listening to our children narrate, or having them tell about the project they produced, we quickly check for understanding WITHOUT giving question and answer assignments or tests. Anytime you can encorporate more student directed learning options it’s a win-win.

If you would like to try the technique of using narration in your home or classroom The Homeschool Holiday team has put together a list of TRIED AND TRUE activities that work in BOTH! You also get a brief overview of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy included.

Graphic of a library shelf with many books. Over the top of the books are 2 worksheets. One is a description of the Charlotte Mason Education method, the other is the list of Charlotte Mason Narration ideas.

More from Homeschool Holiday

If you’d like to learn more about Homeschooling methods, including the Charlotte Mason Method, Check out our post: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT METHODS OF HOMESCHOOLING?

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