Review: The Struggling Reader Assessments and Teaching Materials
Reading is not only the foundation for academic success, it can also be a source of joy and delight. If you’re teaching a student who struggles with reading, reading may even become a source of stress for the whole family. Whatever it is for your family, it’s something that can’t be ignored. I know that reading well can transform a student’s life, so I’ve spend the last couple of months reviewing William and Kristen Eckenwiler’s The Struggling Reader system.
There are five key elements that must be present in reading instruction in order for a student to read well. These are phonemic awareness (the ability to distinguish between sounds), phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. Many programs focus on one or another of these areas, but The Struggling Reader system takes a structured approach to assessing strengths and weaknesses, then addressing them through targeted learning activities.
The system includes focused assessments for each of the five reading essentials, plus a wide array of engaging instructional activities, many with a kinesthetic (hands-on) component. Activities are generally short and simple and most can be done with one or more students at a time. For each assessment, there are instructions for how to administer the test, including where to begin and where to stop, based on the child’s responses. Each of the components is accompanied by a brief (10-15 minute) audio introduction of the material to help you understand what it is and how to use it.
The importance of these assessments cannot be understated. Instead of piling on extra workbooks, more drills, or switching curriculums when a student struggles, a parent is able to pinpoint exactly what areas are causing difficulty, then turn directly to the specific brief, enjoyable learning activities that will help the child progress. It’s possible to hire a reading specialist to administer these type of assessments and create a program tailored for the child, but it’s extremely expensive. The Struggling Reader places the tools for diagnosis and learning directly in the parent’s hands, making it possible for homeschool families to work more effectively with children who struggle with reading.
I corresponded with one parent who used the system, and asked her for feedback on how she had used The Struggling Reader with her daughter. She wrote, “It was helpful to discover just where Amy had holes. And we did spend more time concentrating on those areas. I began to realize that a lot of Amy’s issues were because she wasn’t consistently focusing as we worked through regular materials. When I pointed out an area as one we had to work on and get creative with (keys to keeping her focused) she improved. At the end of the school year I tested her through the same Struggling Reader materials and the size of the pack of words she had trouble with was reduced by at least 3/4 of the deck.”
The Eckenwilers, both credentialed reading specialists with advanced degrees, homeschool their own sons. They understand that parents don’t necessarily have all day to focus on one child, nor are they likely to have the specialized vocabulary needed to understand the terms that reading specialists use. Each book provides definitions of uncommon terms, detailed instructions for administering assessments (including suggestions designed to put the child at ease), and plain English explanations for instructional activities. The Struggling Reader offers no busy-work; just targeted, focused activities that directly address the child’s specific needs.
I believe that reading is the most important academic skill we teach our students. Students must learn to read well before they can read to learn, so it’s important to create a nourishing home environment where books are read and enjoyed, ideas are discussed, and written and spoken communication is a natural part of everyday life. If you’ve created that strong foundation and your child still struggles with learning to read, there’s usually a discoverable cause. In The Struggling Reader system, the Eckenwilers have provided the tools for diagnosis, and the means for teaching what is needed. I recommend it.
You can learn more about The Struggling Reader at the Eckenwiler’s website: www.TheStrugglingReader.com
*Note: Review materials provided by the publisher.