TEACHING READING: HOW OFTEN AND HOW LONG?
How often? How long?
This is not only a good question, it’s a vital one. Barring other issues which may need to be addressed, such as vision or tracking problems, behavioral issues, etc., you’ve basically got only two options.
One works and the other doesn’t. So here they are:
Plan A: Pedal to the Metal
This is the one that works.
You start teaching daily, beginning with just 5 minutes twice a day, and you don’t stop until your child is launched as an independent reader. End of story.
Actually, end of labor for you. Your job is over, and you will never teach your child reading again. So that’s the up side; the down side is that this takes time, energy, and consistency.
You put pedal to the metal until your child reaches orthographic, or skilled, automatic, reading. I suggest 5 minutes twice a day to start; build from there. As confidence and success increase, so does enthusiasm for reading: the time spent teaching increases effortlessly.
Your job gets easier and easier, and then it’s over and done.
Plan B: Stop and Start Forever
This is the one that fails, and I have seen it many times with my students. Instead of “pedal to the metal,” it’s more like a lurching start-and-stop jalopy.
The typical scenario is this: a child may start out well, learning sight words at age 5 or 6. Since progress is looking good, parents assume that it will continue. They may also assume that the school system will know how to teach their child with Down syndrome.
I know I expected that! I would have continued in ignorant bliss if someone hadn’t pulled me aside when Jonathan was 5 years old and said, “Jonathan could read today if you knew how to teach him. Spend time with me, and I’ll show you how.” I did, and he did, and the rest is reading success history.
So let’s say the child starts out well; but teachers get moved, children change schools, school systems vary. What I have seen happen again and again is that somehow the ball gets dropped along the way, and the child becomes a discouraged teenager who still can’t read.
The Reason Why Plan A Works and Plan B Doesn’t
Let’s talk about the BRAIN again.
Long-term storage of information taught happens not in the short-term moment you taught it, but in the interim of relaxation, sleep, etc. This has been well researched.
So if we repeatedly put information into little brains in short bursts (not hour-long marathon teaching sessions), and do it daily, we’ve done exactly what the brain folks say is most effective.
A typical problem I see is that a learner with Down syndrome may know a word at, say, 10:00 in the morning; by 3:00 in the afternoon, he’s never seen it before in his life. Is this normal? Yes. Is this a problem? No. It’s part of the process if getting that information into long-term storage.
But if we keep at it, keep pouring that visual information into the brain (the Fast Flash Method I’ve blogged about is critical here), it eventually sticks.
If we start and stop, it gets seen and lost, heard and lost, seen and lost, heard and lost…
Consistency and sticking to it is everything. That, and intuition! Each child will have a different learning style; tune into what works for that child, and you’re off and running. Or driving.