Summer reading programs are not what most parents and children think about. School ends soon and students are looking forward to having fun and not doing any school work. Most look forward to two months without reading assignments. Parents of children with learning difficulties know their children need extra help and/or support. They want their children to do well in school, so they want to know how to help their children with reading. Unfortunately, many students no longer receive extra support during the summer, because budget cuts have eliminated summer school except for those who lose all progress they make in school when there is a long vacation. This blog entry is a response to a reporter’s questions.
If your child has dyslexia or other reading disability, do they need a specific summer reading program or is plain reading tutoring good enough?
That is a very global question which can be answered several ways, usually with a “waffle” of maybe. It really depends upon several factors:
- The relationship the student has with his/her summer reading tutor. Obviously, the better the relationships and how well they like each other, the more likely there will be progress.
- The skills of the summer reading tutor. The tutor needs to know what the child’s problems are and how to teach the missing skills. Just because someone can read does not mean they can teach reading to children with learning problems.
- The student’s attitude toward summer reading programs. Many children resent having to go to summer school or tutoring during vacation, because they don’t want to keep doing what they are not good at. When they see they are making progress, they are more willing to engage in the instruction. When they have already given up hope of making progress, they will superficially comply with instruction but not put out greater efforts.
- How much progress the student has made to date using the researched method(s). Sometimes the school textbooks and approaches work for the child; sometimes they do not. For some students, they have been reading the same textbook for years. There can be underlying problems that the researched method does not address, and in this case the student will continue reading at his/her same level regardless of how much instruction (s)he receives.
- The severity of the child’s disability. Sometimes a child’s disability affects his/her memory and/or comprehension to the point that no matter what a teacher does, the child makes no progress. The good news is that those children are not the average child with a learning disability.
- The underlying predisposing deficits that contribute to the child’s disability and whether or not anyone (usually never) addresses those deficits. This is the most important factor involved with a child learning to read. For example, when a child has difficulty with producing and/or comprehending language, that problem will also be part of his/her reading difficulties. Without addressing the language problem, the reading difficulties will not go away regardless of how much tutoring and effort happens.
Do those who continue a specific intervention in the summer fare better in the fall?
Any time a child has practice over the summer, (s)he will do “better” in the fall, but that improvement may not be sustained, as the summer intervention actually worked to prevent falling back to previous levels. It has been my experience that learning disabilities students never have their language deficits worked on, so they tend to struggle throughout school, because comprehension, not phonics or decoding skills, is the underlying issue in their poor reading. They may be able to read well and fluently aloud, recognize words and decode them reasonably, but they are simply “word calling” because they don’t understand the language structure and vocabulary above 3rd/4th grade reading levels. A good guideline to figuring out if a child has a language problem is to find out what his/her reading level is. A general rule is that when a child (upper elementary to high school) reads between 2nd and 4th grade levels, (s)he has a language difficulty.
For concerned parents, teachers, or tutors, more information about teaching reading and language difficulties is available at Parents Teach Kids.