Saturday, September 3, 2011


I went to the school last night to learn about the curriculum. My grandson has two teachers. His home room, math and science teacher is a man. Jonah says he is the best teacher ever. He has math homework every night. They are doing graphs. I met his language and reading teacher for the first time. She seemed very nice but I am worried.

Jonah has struggled with reading. He repeated kindergarten. His teachers have been involved and caring. He has gone to summer school for reading every single summer. He has had tutors. We knew he had some learning difficulties but it took a long time to get him tested. When they finally tested him, the results were inconclusive. He didn't have dyslexia but he had a very difficult time staying on task. Finally, my daughter took him to a doctor and insisted that he take medication for ADHD. He started on a small dose of Concerta and that has helped a lot. But by then he was in fourth grade.

To make things worse, his younger cousin, Jill, is one of those children who seems to read very naturally and easily. She is in the gifted program at the same school.

I have helped in his classroom every year, come in for lunch sometimes and chaperoned many field trips. He likes that, but it was only in the middle of last year when he finally started really letting me help him with his homework. We worked on a long project on the computer and he got an A. After that, he started to cooperate. Every afternoon he came to my house and we did his homework. I was horrified. He had great ideas and a good vocabulary, but he couldn't sound out words and his spelling was almost unreadable. I think the final straw was when he kept spelling the word "make" as "mack". I admit to freaking out when I realized the depth of the problem. Even then we did start having success. His behavior was perfect and his grades improved a lot.

I made him write sentences. "I bake a cake and take it to the lake." and "I pack it in a sack and take it back." That got to be a joke with us except that I still see him do it. Just the other day, I saw it again - "mack". I also made him correct every single paper he did for spelling and grammar. He resisted a little but he did it. Sometimes his teacher gave him extra credit for that. He had a tutor at the beginning of the summer who seemed to help. I took him and stayed for the lessons. She said things like, "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking." I was feeling hopeful, but then it came time for his annual visit with his dad in Tennessee. That trip was very important to him. He didn't get back in time to make up the tutoring. Now I'm wondering. Am I sure he knows his vowels?

His mother tries to help him but she has her hands full working all day, taking care of Jonah's little sister and making supper every night. She investigated a special school last year that seemed tailor made for Jonah but it was very expensive. There was a possibility for a scholarship, but then his grades improved and she let him stay on with his friends in the neighborhood school.

So now I met the language teacher and this is what she said.

She said they were doing a lot of independent reading. She talked about the importance of finding the right level book and the book they read at school should be the same book they read at home. I have never been able to get Jonah to finish the most simple book. Even when I read to him, he loses interest. He loves books, but he wants the encyclopedia-type books about snakes and dinosaurs, etc. The teacher said that they meet in small groups or one on one while the class reads independently. She said she doesn't want to know what happened in the book in these meetings but how the child feels about what he read. Jonah can read a page or two and have lots of feelings. She said the school library will be open next week. She talked about AR where they get points each time they finish a book and take a test on the computer. Then she said this is an FCAT testing year which is pass or fail to go to the next grade. She said they don't worry about spelling at this stage and they don't have spelling tests. They study the structure of words such as endings, etc. Spelling tests and the grade that followed seemed to be the only time he learned to spell new words.

One mother raised her hand and said her son kept spelling little words wrong. The teacher said, well, they shouldn't be making mistakes on sight words. So, Jonah is not the only one. Time was up. I didn't bother to ask any questions. I am going to write a note to the language teacher and explain why we are correcting all his papers and ask her to be supportive.

I have some flash cards for sight words and multiplication tables. They are going to grow a garden in science class and do their science projects at school. Jonah will like that. I feel like this year is our last chance.


  1. I hope Jonah has a great year. I'm a former English teacher, and in my experience kids will get better at reading if they have a book they really want to read. I would let Jonah read the encyclopedia-type books if that is what interests him. They make books about animals that are suitable for different levels. You might subscribe to something like National Geographic Kids magazine for him, too.

    One of my granddaughters had problems reading. It was a disorder similar to dyslexia. She discovered manga (Japanese comic books) and her reading really took off! Now she is in high school, and I would say she is an above average reader.

  2. Thanks, Susan. I have been so worried.

  3. It is wonderful that you have been there for him to support his struggle. I sure hope this will be a good year for you both.

  4. Shari,
    There are a lot of great poetry books out there. Try to find some with funny short poems, but with some great vocabulary. Read it to him first, then time him when he reads it. Have him read it over and time each time. I do this with my students and they enjoy watching the time go down as they are practicing fluency.
    Theres a game you can play with words. It's a bit hard to explain, but often helps them start recognizing that words are made up of parts.
    From something make several colors of small cards. Lay the cards down so a different color matches each syllable of a words. Let's same remarkable re (blue card) mark(yellow) a(red) ble (white) point to each card as you say the syllable, then play around with the word. Remove a card, now what does it say? Put the card back, say it right. Add another color and call it another syllable, such as a black card will now be "ly." Exchange two syllables, pull it apart and say it like a robot. Always go back to pointing to the cards as you say it correctly. Enough practice with this helps a child to easily add "re" or "ly" to a known word and any practice while hearing and seeing a word is beneficial.

  5. Oh yeah. When I see a child who is good in math, with great ideas and a good vocabulary, I know they have some sort of learning disability. As a teacher, I can't rest until I find a book they love. Who would want to read when it's so very hard. I don't care if it's an encyclopedia, if they read, that's all I'm worried about.
    In addition to telling how he feels, he should also be summarizing, but just let him do that orally with you.
    How blessed he is to have a grandma like you to care so much.

  6. Gramerly,
    Thank you so much for your comments. I know you have had a lot on your plate lately and a lot of worries. I was hoping you might have some ideas. I will try them all. Shari