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Ask an Expert: Help for son struggling with reading

Teacher educator and mom Ann Morrison offers some tips to a Littleton parent whose son is falling behind in reading.

Q. My son is in third grade and reading two grade levels behind. We are paying for a tutor and read with him regularly. The school is not providing any individualized instruction for him. How do I get school resources for him?

A. Advocating for a child’s needs is an important role for a parent. Advocating for your child in a school setting can be difficult, however, because families frequently have longstanding relationships with their child’s school. Positive relationships with school faculty and administrators are essential and can also be delicate.

My suggestions for successfully getting school resources for him are as follows:

  • First, collect any tests results assessing his reading and writing level from the last one to two years. The vast majority of schools in the Denver area administer the Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA-2) in the fall, winter and spring in the primary grades, so it is possible that you have those results. You may also have others.
  • Next, email your son’s teacher and tell her you would like to get together to talk about your son. If the teacher suggests meeting during parent-teacher conferences, insist that you would prefer to meet at another time. This conversation is better had without the next family standing right outside the door and the teacher feeling pressure to keep the conference schedule moving.
  • When you meet with your son’s teacher, share that you are concerned about your son’s literacy skills. Show the teacher the test results you prepared before the meeting. Point out the results that show he is reading below grade level. Ask the teacher about his or her observations of your son’s reading.
  • As your son’s teacher shares his or her observations, ask probing questions about instruction he is receiving. Reasonable questions include: What reading and writing skills are they working on in class? Is he involved in any small group literacy instruction and if so, what skills are they working on and who teaches that group? Try to stay open to the possibility that your son may be receiving instruction that you don’t know about.
  • Bring paper and pen to take notes.
  • Then, ask the teacher what the two of you can do to help your son. Use the word “we” because until you know for certain otherwise, you and the school both have your son’s best interest at heart. “How can we work together to help my son?” It is likely that as you ask this question, you will be thinking about the tutor you are paying, but try to put those ideas aside for the time being.
  • Based on the teacher’s response, come up with a plan. Some options for the teacher could include: consulting with the school’s reading interventionist, conducting additional testing to find out more specific information about what area of reading your son is having trouble with, or increasing the frequency, intensity or duration of the instruction your child is already receiving.
  • Have your son regularly read something to you that he finds interesting. If he is reluctant to read, don’t try to teach. Instead, create a safe place for him to read. Be encouraging. Help him enjoy reading and writing.
  • Last, agree on a date to check in on the plan you created. Four to six weeks is a reasonable time period, depending on the plan.

In the spirit of preserving your relationship with your son’s teachers and administrators, be sure to give them the benefit of the doubt. Teachers generally have their students’ best interests at heart. If your son’s teacher is not responsive to your concerns, however, then go to the school principal. If you have to do this, again begin by sharing concerns about your son’s achievement, asking questions and emphasizing your willingness to problem solve with the school.

Although you may feel frustrated, avoid blaming the teacher or the school. Allow your relationship with the school to become adversarial only as a last resort. Instead, maintain a strong relationship by acknowledging school faculty when they are responsive to your concerns and your child’s needs.

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