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6 ways to support reading and spelling at home, at school or as a private tutor

Updated: Jul 12

There are some really simple and effective strategies to use for learners who find literacy challenging that will lighten the learning load. Here are 6 that work for teachers, parents and private tutors. Obviously all learners are different, and not everything will work for every learner, so try them out and adjust to fit.

1. don’t insist on reading aloud

It’s usually very effortful to read aloud if you struggle with reading. If asking a child to read aloud causes any kind of anxiety or shame then it’s better not to insist on it. If you want to assess how a child is reading, give them small amounts of text to read and do it privately so they are not embarrassed by their poor reading in front of an audience. If you want them to read at home, do some tandem reading where you read one part and they read the next part - whatever part is comfortable for your child. Expand what reading means. Audio books are a great way to become very well read, and graphic novels are often an easier read with pictures to support understanding.

2. use a reading ruler

Some learners have what are called tracking difficulties - it’s hard for their eyes to move smoothly over a page and they often lose their place. A reading ruler is a simple tool to help keep their eyes on the line they are reading and make it a bit less effortful.

3. look critically at word “games”

Those fun puzzle-type games like word searches, unscramble the word or identify the incorrect spelling are often anything but fun for some learners. Over-designed and cluttered pages are often visually stressful too. It’s best to look critically at “fun” word games and activities to see if they play to a learner's strength and aren’t over-challenging them because it’s something they have difficulty with.

4. alphabetical order might be difficult / choosing a dictionary

Sequencing skills are hard for learners who may be on the dyslexia spectrum, so learning the alphabet can be hard or even impossible. Telling some learners to “use a dictionary” if they can’t spell a word is sometimes not the helpful suggestion it is intended to be. It’s best to just spell it for them if they find using a dictionary difficult. Online dictionaries are also a good alternative as they have drop down menus for alternatives, so it might help to provide the beginning of the word if the child isn’t sure. Being able to click to hear the word is brilliant, and extra helpful if you are working with a child who might not have English as a first language. The best online dictionaries for upper primary learners are ones for learners of English as a foreign language because the definitions use a limited vocabulary, making them easier to understand. Check out the Advanced Learner’s dictionary from Oxford University Press as a good example.

5. pen grips

Reading and spelling challenges may co-occur with motor skills difficulties which makes it difficult to hold or control a pen. Larger, triangular pencils or rubber pen grips can be a great help. It’s not worth insisting on beautiful handwriting if your learner has weaker motor skills. If possible, learning joined up handwriting might also really helpful to create muscle memory that makes writing, and especially spelling, more automatic. If writing really is hard, learning to type might be helpful.

6. practical homework help

The best homework help for older primary school children with a lot of text to read is to read the text to them. Read comprehension questions to them and check they understand the question before answering. Younger learners, and especially dyslexic ones, often have challenges developing strategies and tend to dive into the work without structuring how they are going to go about it. Helping them impose order and structure on how to complete the work is really helpful.

And finally, the golden rule is to help for as long as it’s not stressful. If either you or your child are losing your patience, that’s the signal to stop. No successful learning takes place in stressful situations when tempers are running high. Pace yourself! Look after yourself 💗

Please post questions or comments below and I will get back to you!

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