If your child is 10, 12, or 18, and this is the case, I wish we could say that this was unusual, but it’s not. Let’s look at how this happened and fix it.

The Causesrobert riddle sm

Chances are high that your child’s reading progress was sabotaged by one (or more) of these situations encountered in school:

  1. The “He’ll never read; he has Down syndrome” attitude. Astonishingly low expectations = distressingly low results (little or none).
  2. A teacher who would like to teach your child to read, believes that maybe it can be done, but doesn’t know how to do that effectively. Tries and gives up.
  3. The “move her on anyway” policy: the student begins to learn, lags behind, and the teacher moves on without her, using (discouraging) materials beyond the child’s level.
  4. The student begins to learn reading, does well with a teacher who does believe in him and knows how he can best learn—and then the student gets a new teacher/school/school district and the ball is dropped.

The Current Problems

So now your once-eager learner probably exhibits some of these difficulties:

  1. Discouragement
  2. Reluctance/opposition to read at all
  3. Fake It Syndrome, also known as Wild Guessing: making up words when unfamiliar words are encountered in a sentence—or skipping them entirely. The desire to please and to appear to succeed converts this rapidly into a firm habit.
  4. Allergic reaction to correction
  5. Total lack of confidence
  6. FOF Attack: Fear Of Failure, resulting in refusal to even try

The Cure

So what do we do now? We have to back up the train, flip the switch, and redirect the train onto a different track…the one that encourages success. Here’s our plan:

  1. We offer reading material that is (a) on a topic of very high interest to the child/teen/adult, and (b) is at a level that they have mastered—no matter how low that level is! We want to offer them reading material with 95% known words. Does this mean you will have to create some personal books? Almost certainly. And maybe modify some really cool books? Probably. [Also use the blog search box to the right: type “personal books” and “modify” for more links.]
  2. Is it okay to use materials and books at the learner’s current level that are of low/moderate interest to him/her? No. Also, no. Furthermore, no. That’s not going to cut it. Not at this “stalled” point.
  3. We follow this plan until the student has regained some confidence. Our hidden message is, “You can do this! Piece of cake.”
  4. We take a good look at “high frequency word lists” (see www.mrsperkins.com for free downloadable/printable lists and flash cards) and find out where the holes are: which words on the lowest list has the child not yet mastered? While we liberally use new high interest words, we don’t move on with new high frequency word lists until those high-frequency holes are filled, or we’ll create frustration and discouragement. Those lists are called “high frequency” for a reason: they occur most frequently in the English language. Not learning first lists first = high frequency frustration! Over and over and over…
  5. So we create materials that use those particular high frequency words repeatedly, and teach those “missing words” with the Fast Flash method.
  6. Once that’s solid, we move on to higher word lists, longer sentences, more sentences on a page, etc. Does this mean you will have to continue to create more high interest personal books and modified books yourself? Probably. Why? Because it works.

Why Does This Work?Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 6.27.09 PM

Because we go in through the heart and teach to the brain. In other words, we grab and hold the learner’s attention by targeting topics that totally float his boat, his favorite things, people, etc; and we teach in a manner, with a method, that maximizes the ability of the brain to recognize and retain the information. In through the heart and right to the brain. That’s our goal.

To be sure you’re covering all the bases–large type, no visual clutter, phonics, comprehension, etc.–you can review the Success Steps (1 to 13) on my blog [use the search box to the right: typing “success step” will bring them all up for you.]

This is simplicity itself, but works only when we keep both elements: the high interest topics and brain-friendly methods and materials. The proof is always in the pudding, and this recipe is a winner.


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  • Liz Tree

    Thanks thanks and thanks
    just in time for summer, this is the kick in the pants to make some new books!

    • Natalie Hale

      Thumbs up! You’re welcome!

    • Kay Trevillion

      Hello Natalie.
      I love what I’ve read so far, but I’m working with a mobile phone and new to all this information technology:I haven’t been able to find success step (1-13) on your blog, and therefore haven’t been able to find your search box to the right as you described. Can you please help me.

      Many thanks,


      • Natalie Hale

        Hi, Kay- You’re going to have to use a computer to access all the info I’m trying to give you. I don’t think you’ll see the “search this blog” box on a mobile; you need a full screen for that. So go to a computer, click on the blog page, and on the right side of the screen, half way down, you’ll see the search box. Type in “Success Step” and all steps will appear. Good luck!