Topic | Direction for a Struggling Learner

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  • Veveme

    Hello, I’m in need of some direction.  My sweet 10 year old daughter has been able to thrive in our CM home school environment even though she struggles with what I’d consider (unofficially diagnosed) dyslexia.  We do family school together with her two older siblings which has enabled her to learn many things even with poor reading skills.  We do science, literature (read-alouds), geography, history and other enrichment type studies all together.  I require verbal narrations from her along with the others, and she uses a junior science notebook for our science studies, although she requires help in filling it out.

    She and I work together on her math (she is progressing well in math and at a “normal” level for her age). She still needs me to read the word problems in her math book.  She is capable of reading it, but once she puts all that effort into decoding the words she has forgotten to pay attention to the meaning.  We also do a therapy type reading program together each day (Dianne Craft’s Right-Brained Brain Integration Therapy).  I have seen a vast improvement in her reading skills since starting this program about a year ago, but I would probably have to place her at a 2nd to 3rd grade reading level if I were forced to do so.

    I am looking for suggestions on how can I broaden the scope of her education without overwhelming her?  I have never compared her with her older sisters (ages 13 and 11) and have individualized things for her, trying to stretch her and yet not overwhelm her at the same time.    At this point her two older siblings (ages 13 and 11) are doing written narrations as well as reading lots of individual literature selections, with additional supplements in their areas of interest.  It seems though that each of these things require a level of fluency in reading that my 10 year old could not handle.  She would need everything  read to her, although she would understand the concepts.

    What kinds of things could I do to encourage more independent learning?  Is what I would consider “the basics” (math, science, history, geography, read-alouds) enough? Would it be way off base to begin to ask for any sort of written narration- i.e. 1-2 sentences?  I feel like that would completely overwhelm her but at the same time I want to stretch her.  She is a bright girl with so much potential.

    I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  Thanks so much!



    Hi Valerie – I am in a very similar situation with my 9 year old boy, so I just wanted to send you a virtual hug. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job with her! I’m following this thread to see what good advice the moms have for us.


    I also have a struggling learner. 11 year old DS and he is 3rd grade reading/writing. But 4th grade math. I’ve been having him do copywork and oral narration as if he is in 3rd grade. No spelling yet. Although I have recently gotten out the McGuffey reader and I’m having him write the words in the passage as spelling practice. He doesn’t complain and loves that he can spell a few words now. I TOTALLY understand the stress that comes from this on a mom, and I’ll be following this thread also to see what other mothers say.


    Can you have her use audiobooks for some of the literature selections you would like her to read, or for additional “reading” in her special interests? Your library may have audiobooks you can borrow through an app like Overdrive.

    I think you could try having her do written narrations, but maybe start by having her dictate her narration to you and then (AFTER she has finished it orally), write down the last sentence on her own. You might have to remind her of what she said for her last sentence, possibly multiple times as she’s writing it. You could also look into having her use some sort of text-to-speech program to write her narrations as she dictates them if you want to have her do them more independently.

    Have you considered using a reading/spelling program like Barton Reading with her? I researched reading programs for dyslexia pretty extensively for several months for my kids and it seemed like various programs would well for *some* dyslexic kids, and helped others a little, but Barton was the only one I could find that worked well for almost all kids (based on parent reviews on various forums). It is very pricey upfront but you can buy levels used on eBay and resell each as you go along for about the same price as you paid so that your overall cost won’t be too much. I have 3 dyslexic children, ages 11, 8, and 6, and we started using Barton in December. The older 2 have made quite a lot of progress with it already, especially the 8 YO.


    I am also in a very similar situation with my 12 yo son.  He’s always been behind in reading, writing and spelling; lately I too have realized that he’s most likely dyslexic, and not just a “slow learner”.

    Audiobooks and read alouds for us have been HUGE!  He speaks well and has a broad vocabulary, not to mention he knows a lot about a lot of things he never would have known about if I’d have been just waiting for him to read on his own.  Never underestimate this!  We have read hundreds of books as a family, and he has listened to hundreds of audiobooks on his own.  I buy audiobooks (because he does listen to them over and over, so I can justify the cost), and we also get them from the library.  Missionary stories written by the Benges are superb and among his favorites.

    For spelling, I really believe that kids like these guys need intensive phonics instruction.  They don’t tend to have strong visual skills and simply need the structure of phonics instruction and spelling rules.  We use all All About Spelling, go slooooowly and thoroughly, repeat concepts and even levels when needed, and daily review, review, review!  AAS has some dictation exercises that I use more than they even recommend because I think that he benefits greatly from it.  I also make up my own dictation passages that encompass words/rules he’s learned already for even more practice.  He also still does copywork daily.

    For sight words (words that aren’t phonetically correct or just really common words that he really needs to know ho to spell NOW – days of the week, months of the year, etc.), I print a list of say 10 words and then record myself on my iPhone (audio only) saying the words and then spelling them, and he listens to this daily until he gets them and can spell them orally.  I label the list (“List 1”) and then label the audio on my phone also, so it’s super easy for him to get this done daily.

    With reading, I’ve found that he REALLY has benefited again from phonics instruction and syllabication.  I never understood why syllabication was important with my other kids because they learned to read easily.  With this son, he had no “attack” skills until he learned about how syllables are made and go together.  Another thing that’s helped a lot is having him read books a grade or two below his level OVER and OVER!!  He has balked about this, and I’ve worried so much that I was killing his future love of reading, only to have him later tell me how much it helped.  Every time his eyes and brain would go over the same words, they would become imprinted, and finally reading the next thing would go just a little bit easier.

    I think from the sound of it your approach with your daughter is great. When my son was her age I was so worried and stressed all the time about his abilities and his future.  Now I’m much more calm because I have seen a lot of progress.  I’d say it takes him about 2.5 years to make the progress that say my daughter made in one year, but he does progress!  I know someday he’s going to be where he wants to be, where when he was younger I wasn’t so sure.

    The All About Spelling people ALWAYS answer the phone, and they will talk to you about these things.  It has helped so much just calling and talking to them.  AAS was written by a mom who was told her son would never read, to just give it up!  So they are really focused on helping parents with kiddos like ours.  I highly recommend just calling them and telling them your story.

    HTH!  You’re doing a great job!

    -Michelle 🙂


    I too have a 10 yr. old son that I am pretty certain is dyslexic. For spelling and reading we first started (when he was 8) with Logic of English Foundations. Now we are working on the Essentials level. It has helped immensely. I believe intensive spelling/reading instruction is a must for a dyslexic child. He can decode any word now, it is mainly about speed, stopping at proper punctuation and not skipping words, for him now. I like MichelleG’s idea of having him read the same thing over and over. I will try that.

    I really wanted to comment on the writing. I am using things I have learned from IEW. I can’t go at the same pace as my older two do, with IEW. So, I started my son out by doing the following:

    1. I read a paragraph to him that is at or below his reading level. I usually pick something having to do with what we are learning in science or history.

    2. I have him go back through and write 3 key words per sentence that will help him remember what the sentence is about.

    3. Looking at his “outline”, he narrates back in his own words the paragraph. We continued doing this for a while, and stopped at this step till he got very comfortable with it.

    4. Now that he is comfortable with step 3, the next day after he narrates the paragraph, I have him write the paragraph out. He can look at his outline as he does it, and ask for spelling help where needed.

    5. I will soon not be reading the paragraph to him, but I will have him read it to himself and write the 3 key word outline on his own. I will only be needed for the narration. Then we will progress in length and I will add other IEW dress-ups, little by little.

    So far, this is working very, very well for us.

    He is also independent in typing, using With Fix it! Grammar, he only needs me for the first day of the week to introduce the new concept. The rest of the week, he marks his sentences and copies them in his notebook.

    I will be checking back in to hear what other have to say.


    I’ll chime in to say that the Barton Reading & Spelling Program is working super in our house.  I have one dyslexic daughter (age 11).  The other three daughters don’t have dyslexia.  So, my dd11, is in Barton Level 5, Lesson 5.  She can read well enough now to do math reading problems on her own.  (Mostly — sometimes she still misses what she’s supposed to do and just guesses that she should multiply or add or whatever.)

    I think if the original poster were to add in audio books (and oral narrations) that would be all that’s needed.  As long as she’s reading (listening) widely, she’s expanding her vocabulary and her knowledge base.  By requiring ORAL narrations, she’s doing the act of knowing. (Learning Ally is a subscription that for $120 per year, you can access an unlimited number of books.  You need a reference, though — Susan Barton will provide a reference if you’re using the Barton system….otherwise, check with the developer of whatever system you’re using or get a diagnosis.)

    I would NOT require written narrations of any kind at this point.  If you want to scribe, fine.  That’s enough.  But I wouldn’t even make her copy her own narrations.

    I think if she’s doing the composition orally, she’s still composing.  The physical act of writing it out is less important than the brain-work of composing. And as her reading and spelling improve, that kind of work will become easier and she’ll be able to write narrations easier.  I would fear that the act of writing and the act of thinking how to spell something (even to just spell it wrong and get anything down on paper) is too much for her at this point.

    Ear reading is a huge deal!  The more the better! About all topics — historical fiction, historical non-fiction, fun books, all genres!


    Coral, it’s Michelle Gregory from Veritas in AZ!  So fun to see you here – we miss you!  I hope all is going well with your family in your new location. 🙂


    I like what you said you do with writing; I think I will do something similar.  I can’t lump my kiddos together with writing, because the aforementioned boy struggles just too much to keep up.  But he needs to write something, so maybe that would be a good place to start.  He also would benefit greatly from learning to type!  We need to get on that this summer.  I’ll check out the resource you listed above.

    It’s funny you should mention Logic if English, as I just received my copy in the mail today (the book itself, not the whole curriculum).  Denise Eide states right in the introduction that a whopping 34% of 4th graders CANNOT read!  She goes on to say that 48% of adults are not proficient readers – wow!  So, as sad as that makes me for the state of education in our country, at the same time I am SO THANKFUL that the Lord led us to homeschool, or else I’m positive that our boy would be in that 34%!

    I think for some kids like my other two, who have a great visual memory, (and no dyslexic issues) learning to read doesn’t need to be bogged down with a highly detailed phonics program.  But for everyone else, phonics instruction absolutely should not be missed.  It’s been hard as a parent who cannot even remember how she learned to read, let alone spelling rules and phonograms, to learn enough to feel like I could teach it.  But over the years, I’ve come to understand a lot about teaching reading and spelling this way, and now it’s not so intimidating.  I plan on reading Logic of English (single paperback on Amazon for about $12) as a brush up as we work through All About Spelling.  (The Logic of English curriculum looks very impressive, I just didn’t want to learn a new curriculum, and we’ve always had success with AAS).

    Anyway, rambling a bit I guess so I don’t have to do what I should – spring fever is a bear!



    Hi, Michelle!!! We are great! We really miss Veritas. I tried to send you a pm, but for some reason it isn’t working for me.


    Oh bummer!  I don’t know how to PM either 🙁   So glad you all are doing great — I’ll pass that along!



    I completely agree with all of what you said above.  The “ear reading” as you call it is essential; I have no idea where my son would be without that!  He’s very bright and interested in so many things.  He’s also a sponge, and retains things he’s heard astoundingly well.  He would be intellectually starving without his audio books!

    I was really torn about Barton — still might jump in, but for now its All About Spelling.  Learning Ally is definitely something I’m budgeting for this fall.  For those who don’t know, its a website where actual text is put to the audio reading of a book, and the text is highlighted as you go.  You can also (or the student) control the speed.  I think this will help so much.

    Not to beat the All About Spelling drum too loudly, but they also offer a screening/questionnaire that you can fill out to help you get qualified for Learning Ally.

    Thanks ladies for contributing to this thread — so nice to know I’m not alone, and great tips and discussion!


    Hi ladies,

    Well, it’s over a year later and I thought I’d give a little update. First of all, thank you so much for your great suggestions. We actually started Barton last fall and I’m so happy to say that it has been the answer we were looking for for our daughter. She is progressing so well and loves having reading and spelling rules that make it all make sense for her.

    Other than that we are focusing on audio and oral for now and hopefully in a few months will begin some of those concepts from IEW.


    I’m glad to hear about the progress you’re making! 😁

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