Hi Jim,

I (and Makaela's mom, Sarina) appreciate you following up on Makaela's progress with the reading program. Thank you!

Makaela is in grade two in an Edmonton Public School. Her Progress Report late last November stated she was "reading below grade level expectations". The report also said that Makaela "receives reading intervention 4 times a week. Her reading goal this term is to practice skipping unknown words, reading to the end of a sentence and going back to make a good guess." (You may recall I had emailed you awhile back for feedback on this unusual reading strategy.) 

Quick Note From the Author (JIM): Parents, this is the WORST possible advice a school could give to a struggling reader! NEVER teach your child to SKIP words, and NEVER teach your child to GUESS what a word is! Teach your child how to read an unfamiliar word by "decoding" it (sound it out).

That disheartening report told me Makaela needed reading help - now! That's when I found  your program. We didn't start the program until after classes resumed in the New Year. I have been picking her up weekdays at daycare right after school ever since, going across the street to the library, and guiding her through lessons as well as having her do extra reading.

Makaela comes from a broken home. The weeks she is with her mother, she occasionally does additional reading at home, but not daily. The weeks she is with her father, there is no attention given to her education. She has supper after she gets home, and is sent to bed by seven.

Needless to say, you can see that having Makaela read three times a day, as you suggest in your program, is pretty much impossible. We're fortunate if she reads twice a day. Most weekends, unless she sleeps over with us, are a total write-off. Still, Makaela and I went through the individual letters of the alphabet, and the blending of them, quickly. It was fairly familiar territory for Makaela.

It was a different story, however, when we began the digraph lessons. Although we have recently completed Lesson 18 in Stage Two, we are needing to spend much more time on each lesson, and we are constantly reviewing the digraphs we covered. Outside of 'sh' and 'wh',  Makaela was not at all familiar with any other digraph sounds, or even what a digraph was (shouldn't a grade two student who is also receiving reading intervention have already been taught digraphs??!), and although she is steadily progressing, digraphs (and some sight words) still pose some reading difficulties for her. Once she recognizes that the letters are digraphs, however, she can usually decode the word.

I also have to often remind her to check to see if the word she is trying to read has a long vowel or not. Once the recognition of a long vowel is there, the decoding easily follows

She just got her March Progress Report and it states: "Makaela is reading at a beginning grade 2 level. She receives Levelled Literacy Intervention 3 times a week."

Sarina and I don't agree with her teacher's assessment and believe that Makaela is at least at an "adequate" grade two level, but we have no way of being able to accurately and objectively make that determination. After recently speaking with Makaela's teacher, Sarina and I have reason to believe that the teacher's assessment is considerably more subjective than objective, and thus probably skewed. We, including my wife, have all seen a significant improvement in Makaela's decoding of words, and under the circumstances, I believe she has progressed significantly.

Last week, she was told (as were we) that, after the Spring Break, she would no longer be receiving reading intervention. Personally I am glad, as is Sarina, because we are both of the opinion that the reading intervention only served to confuse poor Makaela, and hamper her real reading progress.

I do have some minor concerns with Makaela's reading, however, but have not yet expanded the effort to educate myself about them. One concern is that she occasionally tends to skip a line when reading.

Another is that she sometimes substitutes a word for the actual word on the page. At times the substitute word is obviously 'suggested' by one or more letters of the real word and she's then guessing at what word might be. The real word in question might just as easily be a word she knows well as one that she can't read.

Other times it seems like she's guessing at what a word in a sentence should be because of what she's read so far, ignoring the actual word there. I am quite often reminding her to slow down and just see the letters, and thus the words, that are on the page. That does make a difference.

Occasionally, she'll also miss the endings of words completely, or get the ending wrong (guessing again) - or even skip an easy word altogether. 

I believe that a lot of Makaela's problems are the result of her reading teacher coaching her to guess at what the word she's stuck on should be, and to skip words she doesn't know and then come back to them and guess some more. Her teacher also apparently wants her to read "fast".

2nd Note From the Author (JIM): What's described above is exactly what happens when you teach a child to skip and guess at unknown words! It is extremely frustrating for the child, and also for me, as the remedial reading teacher, because to teach my students properly, I have to first un-do the bad reading habits their teacher has taught them...

Despite these difficulties, however, we are very pleased with Makaela's progress with this program. She has come a long way, and she is beginning to apply the reading strategies she has learned from this program more consistently. She herself reports that she finds reading is now far easier than before she started this program. It's not uncommon for her now to start reading a book and insist on finishing it because she wants "to see what happens."

For me personally, going through this program with Makaela is such a rewarding experience. Makaela has given me permission to be her 'tutor', and for that I feel honoured and grateful. Seeing her fight through difficult words and successfully decode them puts just the biggest smiles on my face. I love it! 

So thank you, from all of us, for your reading program.

Walter R.