Problems at rtlogotype
Handling a Reading Problem: Strategies & Attitudes

Success is built of skills, strategies & attitudes.

To label or not to label?

Diagnostic labels are appropriate when they are useful.

How useful is the label 'dyslexia?' How useful is the description 'reading problem?'

  • Every situation is different.
  • I cannot guess the answer for you.


However, you may wish to consider:

To many people, a label of 'dyslexia' may suggest a stable condition.

It may suggest a cookie-cutter solution.

Some students may take on this label as an identity, or a dead end.

These are not the useful attitudes that lead to progress.

No dead ends should be assumed in advance.

On the other hand, the humble description 'reading problem'
does not sound specific and may lead us to ask,

"What exactly is the problem?"

This is a useful question.


Stay calm.

If parents or teachers are anxious or doubtful about the student’s abilities, the chances are that the student will be doubtful, too.

Remember that learning to read can be complicated, because language is complex.

Some students will have difficulties along the way, but do not assume that there is anything permanently wrong.


Demonstrate to students that they are competent learners.

Students who have had problems in the early stages of learning to read, may have lost confidence in their ability.

When fear interrupts their thinking processes, students need reassurance--demonstrations--that they can learn to read.

So find things that are readily learn-able by your student,
right where he or she is.


If you don’t know how to do that, seek out someone who does, and let them teach those things to your child.

Then let your child ‘teach’ them to you.

Make those do-able things into games that are fun,
for lots of repetition.

Lighten it up.

When children are discouraged or fearful, the atmosphere needs to be changed.

Discouraged or fearful children do not learn well at all.

This problem is easily confused with ‘dyslexia.’

I once took such a child in my arms and flew him, Superman-style, over his flash cards.

I said a word, he pointed to it, and I swooped him down over the carpet so that he could pick it up.

His mother came into the room.

“Mom! I’m flyin’ and learnin’, flyin’ and learnin’!”
(He didn’t have to repeat the first grade, after all.)


Let students know that 'This is all work you can do.' (Thank you, William Glasser.)

1. Back up to a point of success.

Begin at that point of success.

2. Count on fluent repetition, not struggle or difficult work, to lead to mastery.

  • Re-teach the troublesome areas.
  • Do whatever it takes to keep at the level of success.
3. Under-estimate what your student will be able to do accurately--give them something they can readily do--and let them insist on doing more, on doing it ‘by myself.’

Be amazed.

Stay at the level of success.
For example,
Using Natural Language Stories:

When it’s time for the student to start reading his story, begin by having him simply imitate one sentence at a time.

  • Then two sentences.
  • Then a short section.
As independence grows, give as many hints--and whole words--as he needs, to keep the story flowing.

Count on repetition, not struggle, to lead to mastery.

Use drill-games

For example: Drill letter-sounds (or Jiffy Words) beginning with a small set the child already knows well.

  • With two of each card, you can play a ‘memory match’ game: Each player says the sound of the letter (or reads the word) as she turns it over.

  • Make mistakes on your turn and challenge the student to ‘catch’ you and make you lose your turn--or else you ‘get away with it.’

  • Gradually add new sounds, or words, to the student’s set.

  • You might even name the new cards for the student, until she insists on naming them by herself.

Read, re-read, and re-read text the student has already practiced.

This builds fluency; and fluency allows for comprehension.


Emphasize accurate practice.

We learn what we actually do.

When we struggle, we are only learning to struggle.

Provide an easy warm-up for children who need a refresher each time.


If a child is struggling, change the task to make it easier.

In other words, change what he is expected to do.

For example, if he’s been struggling to name words on flash cards, you say the word instead; and have him find and point to it.

Or if that is too difficult--just have the child match:

  • Write one of the sounds, or words, on a new card.

  • Take advantage of the opportunity to say the sound, or word, several times in the process of writing the new card, as though you are thinking out loud.

  • Then show the new card. Have him find the one that looks the same in his old set.

Matching is easiest; then pointing; then naming.


When students respond easily--even with lots of help--they are learning to respond correctly and easily.

When students respond correctly and easily with help, they gradually learn to respond independently.

We learn what we actually do.

When we falter, when we make lots of mistakes--even if we immediately correct our mistake--we are not on a path to success.


Make the task easy enough so that the student can practice at about 85 % accuracy.

That’s better than eight out of 10 correct responses.

If the child keeps tripping over certain little bits, separate them out and find ways to practice them very accurately.

Once the child can manage them smoothly, replace them into the bigger set.

If you need to do a ‘warm up’ on the troublesome little bits every day to prevent too much tripping, then do it.


Notice what student is doing right, however small.

Dwell on that in your own mind.

Radiate approval and expectancy.

Think of the process of learning to read, as a process of connection.

The learner is connecting her spoken language system, to the printed word.

The student is not starting from 'scratch,' but is starting from that existing language.

If need be, take one tiny step at a time.

There is a limited amount of information for a beginning reader to learn, to connect to.

It is finish-able.

Quit while you are ahead.

Some students can rehearse for a longer time than others.

Don’t practice so long that your student starts to feel burned out.

Finish with a few correct responses in a row, if possible--change the task to make it easier if you need to--and then stop.

Better yet is to be having fun with the drill or activity, and leave them wanting more.


Treat older students with respect.

Older students, especially, need credit for what they already know.

If you need to back up to a level they feel they’ve already learned, be specific about the reason.

  • “You know these sounds; we just need to build your speed and power.”
  • ”You know these sounds; we just need to make sure they’re right the first time, and that you can name them without thinking about them.”

Turn the tables: Let the student explain something to you--something that he understands, and you do not.
  • For example, let him tell you how to do something.
  • You might take the role of the student’s 'secretary':
  • Jot down his ideas, help him to formulate them into a one-page paper without much effort (you do the typing!), and use that as a reading text.

See the Natural Language pages in the Connect to the Tree section of The Reading Treehouse.


Use repetition.

Practice the same skill with different variations.

You can make match games, board games, get a stopwatch and race . . .
use your imagination.

Once the student has learned to read a page or a story fairly independently, find authentic reasons to re-read it again and again.

Seven times is not too many.


Some ideas:

  • Have the student read it to each parent, to baby sister, to the dog.
  • Read it in a different, disguised voice.
  • Re-read in order to look for a certain bit of information, or word, or cool part.
  • Call Grandma and read it to her.
  • Record it on tape.
  • Play the tape and read along with it.
  • See how easy or difficult it is to read a week later; two weeks later.


Give students the credit for learning to read.
Helpers deserve credit too, but acknowledge that no one is learning to read for the student.

The student is doing it!

Short Cut Through the Treehouse ~ The Whole Treehouse

More on this topic: Dyslexia & Reading Problems

f the tour, games and materials here have been useful to you,
I hope that you will help others to find them.

I’d love to have your comments. Contact Me

This is the end of The Reading Treehouse.
Thank You for Visiting.

Please stop by the STORE and check out Playful Sounds:
The Sound Foundation for Speech & Reading