What Now?

Written By: Amber Creamer

Lisa knew something wasn’t right. Her daughter, Lilly, was struggling to keep up with her 3rd-grade class. She had been told that it’s normal and she’ll catch up, but it just hadn’t happened. So Lisa went to a dyslexia center to see if Lilly’s struggles could be due to dyslexia. It turned out that Lisa had all of the telltale signs of dyslexia and would benefit from the use of their program. So, they enrolled Lilly, and she has been in private tutoring for a year now. Lilly is now working with multi-syllable words in tutoring and her parents (and classroom teacher) have been seeing a lot of improvement in Lilly’s reading. What a relief! Recently, Lilly was working on homework and was stumped by a word in her assigned reading, procrastination. Well-meaning and confident Lilly has made progress, Lisa says, “You can do this! Just sound it out”. Lilly struggles to do what Lisa just asked and ends up in tears over the frustration. Lisa thinks, “What just happened?! She should know this.” Lisa feels defeated. Lilly feels defeated. Lisa knows tutoring is helping, but why couldn’t Lilly do what she asked?

I’ve been working with students with dyslexia for ten years, always using the Barton Reading and Spelling System, and I can tell you, this program is incredible! For students who need to be taught reading in a different way, it is exceptional in breaking down our language, and teaching the how and why behind reading. But, there are some realities of this program to understand in order to truly know how to best help your child as they reconcile what they are learning in tutoring versus what they are expected to do at school. 

First of all, this program is NOT a quick fix to a reading struggle! Is it effective? YES! But, it takes time. We are teaching your child to read in an entirely different way than they’ve been taught their whole life, building an entirely new foundation for their reading success. Not only are we teaching in a different way, but we are also battling the guessing habits they’ve learned in order to cope with their school work. 

Barton is not a grade level program, therefore, being in Level 4 does not mean a child is reading at a 4th grade level. Barton is structured in a logical sequence and heavily emphasizes syllable types which will then allow the student to know what the vowels will say. So in a regular 1st grade classroom, students may be exposed to reading words like cab, kite, and coat. However, those three words just covered three out of the seven different syllable types in the Barton program. Just in those three words, think of the complexity: “Why are cab and kite spelled with different letters even though both start with /k/? Why is the A in cab saying something different than in coat? Oh, wait, is that a b or d in cab? Why is there an E in kite if it doesn’t say anything? Oh, to jump over and make the I long, that’s right. Well, what about the word have? Why is the E in that word? It’s not making the A long, so why do we need it?”  Friends, I could go ON AND ON AND ON. Language is tough! And for students who can acquire it easily, the strategy that works for most may be fine. But what about OUR dyslexic friends? THEY NEED TO BE TAUGHT DIFFERENTLY. From the ground up and with a completely different approach.

Next, those catch phrases that are designed to help kids read, “sound it out”, do you see part of the word you recognize, look at the picture for a clue, look at the shape of a word, etc, are not helpful for our friends. We do not want to encourage guessing. We are trying to break those habits. “Sound it out” may seem logical, but before our students should ever attempt to sound out a word, they are taught first to divide the word into syllables which will lead to them identifying syllable type and language rules. Then and only then should they read each syllable and blend it into a word. So keeping that in mind, let’s go back to our story. Lily was asking about the word PROCRASTINATION. By asking her to sound it out, Lily is already skipping so many steps that would ensure her success. But guess what? This word ends in -TION which Lily hasn’t learned yet. So she will fail at this word because there’s a component in which she hasn’t learned. 

But how are you, the parent supposed to know that? How are you supposed to help your child if you don’t know what they are learning? That is such a great question. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Sit in on your child’s sessions. I guarantee that you will learn more about language than you ever have! Most parents are simply amazed at what their child is being taught and wish they would have learned language this way. Most importantly, you will learn what your child learns so you will know how to help them outside of the tutoring room. 
  2. Become a Barton tutor yourself. Not necessarily to tutor your own child (most parents steer clear of that), but to give back and help another child who needs it! 
  3. Ask your tutor for guidance. They cannot break down the entire program for you, but if there’s a word your child is struggling with, simply write it down, bring it along to your next session, and your tutor will be able to guide you or your child to knowing if they have the skills to decode it.  
  4. Continue to provide your child with help. It’s ok to tell them what a word is or how to spell it. Teach them how technology can work for them in these instances. Continue to read to them or have them listen to audiobooks because we don’t want them to hate language. Yes, it can be tricky, but it’s a necessary and wonderful part of our lives. 

Let’s revisit Lisa and Lilly. Lilly comes to Lisa, “Mom, what is this word?” Lisa says, “That’s a great question. You know, I’m not sure if you’ve learned how to read that word yet. Let’s write it down so we can ask your tutor about it tonight. The word says /pro-cras-tih-nay-shun/. That’s a long one! I’m glad you asked.”