Pressure to Read – What To Do If Your Child is Behind in Reading

Are you worried that your child is behind in reading?

You thought everything was fine and then the teacher tells you it’s not fine? And, that if you don’t do something . . . he will repeat the grade, he will require summer school, he will be in serious trouble . . . ?

This happened to Nichole in my Book Love launch group. We hung out on Google + last Friday night to chat about a recent conference with her son’s first grade teacher. Apparently her son would flunk if he didn’t get from level C to level I by the end of the year.

What I found, and what is very common, is that Nichole had NO reason to worry.

Behind in Reading

behind in reading

Trickle-Down Pressure to Read

Developmental experts and reading specialists know that age does not equal reading ability. You don’t suddenly become a reader (or ready to read) because you turned five or six. Yet, because of the federal pressures to perform on standardized tests, schools are pressuring the teachers who are pressuring the parents and students.

I honestly feel so much compassion for teachers. It’s a stressful time to be in education.

But, pressuring kids to read is:
1) not going to help them love reading,
2) developmentally inappropriate (in kindergarten especially) grade,
3) not going to work. Read what you should see in your child’s classroom for reading.

Do This: Don’t Worry

Nichole told me, “My son only knows 40 of 42 sight words!”

And as I listened, I thought, how awesome is that! He knows all but 2.

But, her son’s teacher felt this was a serious problem.

Really? 40 out of 42 is not a problem. 9 out of 42 might be concerning. Isn’t it interesting that perspective?

And, Nichole’s son has 9 months to get to level I so why is the teacher telling Nichole to worry? Pressure from administration, probably.

Do This: Make Reading Fun, Not Stressful

The reason I wrote Book Love is to give you a resource you could easily flip through and use for ideas right-this-second to make reading fun for your kids.

Consider these two reading scenarios — which would encourage Book Love?

#1. You set the timer, sit and read with your child while your other kids are playing. She painfully sounds out the words, and then repeats reading the book over and over as required by the school. Then you have to log in the book, title, and author.

#2. You ask your child to choose a books from his special book shelf of books. .Together you go to his favorite cozy reading spot, decorated with beanbags, pillows, lamps, and posters. Then, you take turns reading and chatting about the book. You might even have special reading snacks and drinks. You glance at the clock but aren’t too worried about the time because you know it will be around 10 – 30 minutes depending on how many books you read. You’d rather you read for joy than worry about the time.

Of course, scenario #2 is much more likely to encourage Book Love. That’s the goal.

Do This: Modify the Reading Homework

Consider why the school is requiring your child to do the reading activities and homework — for her to learn to read, right? Your goals are the same. However, you can modify the requests of the school to make it more fun and to better fit your child’s personality and still meet the reading goal. Explain to your teachers your homework modifications, and how you are going to be working toward the goal of reading comprehension improvement BUT, in your own way. Assure the teacher that you want the same thing as she or he does.

Most of the time, the teachers are very happy to know how involved you are and are wiling to be flexible.

P.S. Remember, Don’t Worry

I want you to know that you are doing a good job. Children develop on their own timeline, and if we can just allow them to grow at their own pace, they’ll usually be just fine. Really. But, if it seems that reading is just not clicking, and there is no growth, then you do need to investigate.

*Next week, watch for a post about the signs of a learning disability.

Click here for a sneak peak at Book Love!! Have you seen the over 30 endorsements for Book Love yet? I am so thrilled!!! It will be available October 23, 2012 on Amazon.

  • chloesmommy

    Really happy to have found your page via Pinterest! I felt a sigh of relief while reading this particular post. My daughter is 6 and we have daily struggles in so many areas. Homework 3 nights out of 5 usually includes 2 math pages and reading from 2 books. So much for such a young age. I just want her to develop without pressure. When someone says the words “It’s time to grow up”, to her or any child, I cringe! Why pressure them to do something that happens naturally? I feel it breeds a lack of self confidence and a low self esteem. With that said, Thank you for sharing all of these resources and ideas!

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      it really is damaging long term! Now with my second daughter, I just tell the teachers that we’ll do some but not all homework – and none of the busy work that comes home. I figure unless she’s behind, which she’s not, there’s no argument to convince me to do it.
      Can you modify the work and just tell the teacher you will only be able to do 1 page?

  • Michelle Anthony

    Hi Melissa,
    You know I LOVE you and love your stuff, but I think this post needs to separate the school pressure to conform to rigid ways to teach reading/reading expectations based on arbitrary measures (and the way that squeezes the love of reading out of children), and the need for parents to recognize and support kids who are indeed struggling to learn to read. This post, to me, addresses the former. But I have found in my work that so many parents are told to not worry about kids who really do struggle with learning to read that they wait way too long to help their children, and kids wind up years (!) behind. Research points out that if kids are behind in reading by the end of 1st grade, it is extremely difficulty to catch up without intensive intervention (see Waiting Rarely Works: Late Bloomers Usually Just
    Wilt: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/11360/: “there is nearly a 90 percent chance that a poor reader in first grade will remain a poor reader”). That does not mean we should pressure kids to read or just decode, decode, decode. But waiting until the end of second grade, if kids really are struggling to learn to read (as opposed to struggling to learn to love to read), is losing too much time that we never get back, developmentally speaking. You have great ideas for ways to help children love to read. To add to this, check out my article on ways to support struggling readers: http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/how-to-help-struggling-readers/.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      I guess I should have been more clear — I hear a lot of parents bragging about their super readers and see the listening parents cringe. I like to remind parents that it doesn’t matter if you read earlier than your neighbor, it’s all going to even out for the most part by second grade. I will revise my general comment above. Thanks.

    • EvelynKrieger

      I agree with you, Melissa. I am a reading specialist and see far too many kids who were just moved along and then in fourth grade their disability really becomes clear. Yes, we pressure our youngest kids too much and have made first grade and kindergarten overly-academic. There are certain signs that can indicate a possible learning disability. So I hope that Melissa will adress these. Two big ones: the inability to rhyme and name letters rapidly. While giving kids time to grow developmentally, we should grow their love of reading, which is what Melissa is advocating.

  • AmyP

    Keep writing these posts. These are important conversations we all need to be having especially with all the high stakes testing. What I got out of your post- you still need to read with your child, just not make it a chore. Parents have to take the time and make it enjoyable. This is not as easy as it sounds with the other demands we have as parents. In the perfect world, we would all lovingly sit down and read in our special places with our little ones. However, I think many parents are exhausted, have to make dinner, clean up, and do whatever chores they have to do for the next day. Reading can become a chore and we want to set the timer and check it off our list. Reading for twenty minutes-check. I have to make an effort to make it a special part of our day. I have a first grader that reads on a fourth grade level. However, my second grader has needed more encouragement. I have to lovingly push her along. When I feel it becoming stressful, I back off and refocus. I want her to love to read just like I do.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      yes, think fun and creatively . . . you are doing it!! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1419264127 Andrea Gardner

    This is fantastic! I opted to homeschool after moving from a fantastic school district to a district that taught to test. I was afraid my son who loves to read would end up hating it and my son who hates to read because it is just so darn hard for him would never learn the real joy in reading.
    Son #2 has developmental disabilities and I can see how he could have fallen through the cracks at a school that teaches “to the level” or “for the test.”
    This is such a great reminder to all of us that reading isn’t about hitting certain goals by a certain time but instead it is instilling love into our kiddos.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      thanks, Andrea! :)

  • http://twitter.com/Nikki_S Nichole Smith

    I’m the Nichole in mention in this post and we have been working at home every evening (reading, practicing spelling words, you name it). He comes home with a worksheet homework every night, most often in Math though. He reads for me just fine but we don’t push the repetition reading they want us to do night after night. We rotate books so that he’s still reading the same ones but not over and over again every night. I hadn’t heard anything positive or negative from the teacher after our parent teacher meeting until this morning when I dropped him off and I was told about a melt down he had at school because while I was out of town on business they didn’t work on spelling words, (just reading) so he had a bad grade on his spelling test. Clearly I now see the pressure that he must feel he is under because he has never broken down at school before!

    A short while later, while I was at work, I get a phone call from the school secretary telling me that they are scheduling an IAT (Intervention Assessment Team) meeting for him and what time do we want to make that for(???). I had no idea we’d be doing anything like that and the teacher never mentioned it to me when I saw her at drop off. I feel like I’m being blindsided. I signed at paper at conferences saying we’d do the work they were asking (basically committing to an additional 30 minutes in addition to the 90 minutes every week he gets outside of regular classroom time!)

    I feel like he’s being pressured, and he’s going to hate reading which hurts me. I don’t know what to do at this point.

    • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

      Poor baby! I can believe that he’s under stress – that’s so not okay! I would hope that the teacher could help him with breathing and other strategies.

      I’m shocked about the IAT – what is their reasoning? That seems like an over reaction? I would agree if he were farther behind but I’m so confused. Are they using this to get more intervention in class? What is the point of the assessment?

      So, I think your instincts are dead on, Nichole. He is being pressured and frankly, it would be a miracle if he loved to read in this pressured environment. If the school won’t work with you to move at his own pace, back off and see what happens, let him read different books and not the same book 100 xs, . . . I’d consider any and all other school options if that is possible. If that is not possible, you’re going to have to make some waves — and it may or may not work. (Do you know my back story about how this happened to us and it turned into a big huge mess? http://imaginationsoup.net/2011/09/i-support-my-school%E2%80%A6-my-way/

      I will do anything I can to support you! Fight for your baby, Nichole!!!

      • Nichole Smith

        Right now I don’t really know the reasoning other than it’s to help get “new ideas” on what we can do and to see what we’re doing at home. We are already putting in about 45 minutes EVERY NIGHT which is over the 30 they asked me to commit to. We do sight words (unless they are in the books we’re reading), spelling, and reading every night.

        I spoke to the principal this morning and it sounds like there will be more intervention in class (when is he supposed to learn the other stuff?) and more that they will want us to do at home. I was told that the special ed consultant, the school counselor, teacher, principal and one of the guided reading instructors (or maybe the dean of students, they have the same last name) would be a part of this. It sounds like an ambush to me – as if we aren’t doing anything/enough at home but I was told that it was only to discover new ways to help him, come up with new ideas and again find out what we are doing at home (I was also told to ignore the title of “special ed consultant” she’s merely there to offer ideas).

        I had a brief talk with him this morning and kind of gave him options as to why he doesn’t like to read (he did tell me he didn’t like it) and his responses was that it is too tricky and it is to boring. He likes funny books or books on world war II (that was interesting to learn LOL) so we are focusing on the funny right now. We have not done any of the repetition reading (I think that’s where it gets boring for him).

        This is turning into a chore for both of us and I made it known that I don’t like that my son cried in the middle of a spelling test and to me it sounds like they are pressuring my son and I won’t put up with that.

        One other thing he said to me which broke my heart and makes me feel like he is hearing this A LOT from his teacher(s) is, “I’m a slow worker” (???) he was very sad when he said it to me this morning and I told him that there are a lot of very famous and smart people who were told that they were slow or that they weren’t smart and they did amazing things when they grew up. This perked him up but I’m sad that I had to say it to him. I just don’t know what else to do.

        • http://imaginationsoup.net/ Melissa Taylor

          What are your options Nichole? Are there any other teachers or schools? What happened at the meeting?

          • http://twitter.com/Nikki_S Nichole Smith

            I am actually updating and posting about it now. I wasn’t going to because I really didn’t want to blog about it but you’ve been such a huge help that I wanted to let people know what’s going on and to thank you!

            To answer your questions though, there aren’t other teachers. I think the result would be the same if I requested a different one and since we’re rural another school wouldn’t be the easiest thing to do. I am however considering homeschooling the 2nd grade if they insist on holding him back.

        • Barbara

          Oh, I am so sad for you and your son. I am just beginning on the reading journey with my five year old. I have a feeling we will be in the same boat as you. Good luck. Maybe you could read to him about some of the famous people who had a hard time with school.

  • jen | paintcutpaste

    i really feel like waldorf schools are onto something with their approach to reading: http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/02_W_Education/documents/Theresmoretoreadingthan.pdf and http://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2011/waldorf-reading.html are good reads on this.

  • Linda Zaveson

    my kids both read at a young age. my son was not even 5 flipping through flashcards like a 2nd grader. It had no benefit at all and made not one single difference in his education. (he’s 19 now) The only thing the teachers need to focus on and don’t is comprehension. My 14 yr old still has a problem with this and it’s been on her report card every year since she was 6, Every child in school has a different birthday, a different personality and a different way to learn. And “testing” and conformity means nothing to me . They are only worried about their test scores and honestly…who cares? what middle schooler or high schooler picks up a book and starts to read for “FUN”? NONE! they’re too busy! The same applies to sports and other things parent parade around thinking their kid is better. Unfortunately, they all grow up, they all go to college or work a job and the only thing that matters is their character.

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  • Angelina

    I couldn’t agree more that children should not feel pressured to read and that it should be fun and interesting! If introduced correctly and parents are involved in reading to and with their children, most children will develop a love for reading naturally!
    I love all the different perspectives from you amazing mothers. It just goes to show how each situation and child is different and it’s very hard if not impossible for public schools to give each child the proper care and attention he/she deserves. That’s why I homeschooled my kids for the last 14 years. I just put them in public school last year (I have 8 kids) for the first time for different reasons, but I do miss homeschooling for this very reason!

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  • tonijo

    As a reading specialist, I agree that the pressures from the govt to meet AYP and read earlier are not conducive to a love of reading. I don’t think that there are teachers who think you should cause pain while reading. Repitition is a proven strategy for learning to read fluently. :)

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  • Eddie

    I need some advice. My son just started the 5th grade and the teacher tells me his Star assessment is between 2.8 and 3.9 and his Lexile level is 480-640. I looked them up online and they both show that he is well below grade level. What can I do to get him up to his correct level. This really concerns me.