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Ask the Experts

My Tween Has Problems With Reading

By Kathy Glass, Consulting Educator

Question:

My daughter is now 12, and she can only pay attention to reading if it's a magazine, directions, comics, etc. but rarely stories. She can read and understand modern girly books and she loves writing them too but when it comes to books such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, Shakespeare stories, etc. she just can't do it. Her teacher

assigned an essay on The Scarlet Pimpernel about examples of courage or loyalty. I hired a tutor for her and she is still struggling right now and I need advice.

Answer:

Students come in all shapes and sizes, and the recurring educational phrase "one size doesn't fit all" applies here. You might talk with the teacher and ask if she could modify the assignment in any or all of the following ways: It seems that your daughter might benefit from reading a less complicated text and complete an assignment that is not as rigorous but still challenges her at her ability level. The teacher could assign a different book that has the same themes as The Scarlet Pimpernel (or whatever she is currently reading) but that would be at her level of readability. The accompanying essay could be slightly modified so that she could respond to it with confidence rather than with anxiety. It could be modified by length, such as writing a four-paragraph essay as opposed to a five-paragraph one. Or she could tape-record her response to the essay instead of submitting it in written form. Another way to alter the assignment is to ask for a different writing prompt that would be more at her level. Lastly, suggest that she work with the teacher and tutor to identify themes and supporting evidence for each theme before she begins to tackle the appropriately modified assignment.

Not all tutors are equal. I have learned this firsthand when finding a tutor for my son. We have since switched tutors and the difference is startling. You might find that you have to get her someone who is an expert in writing essays and also one who she has a good rapport with so your daughter feels a bond. Suggest that the tutor contact the teacher directly and offer some guidance so her lessons are in concert with what goes on in the classroom.

You have a great advantage because your daughter is a reader. Celebrate this fact. Evidence of this is that she enjoys reading other sorts of material. Talk with her teacher about this so she knows that your daughter is not reluctant or unable to read in general. It is merely a question of the choices of reading selections, so work together to find an appropriately challenging text that matches thematically with the teacher's unit goals. For example, when I taught a unit on the Holocaust, I provided students with a myriad of thematically related choices that tapped into their interests and that also provided appropriate challenge in terms of the level of text.

In short, the key is open communication and collaboration between parent, student, tutor and teacher. Together you can do wondrous work as long as all parties have the same goal in mind: to educate your daughter in a way that taps into her interests and takes into consideration her level of academic readiness.


Kathy Glass, a former middle school teacher, is an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction. She wrote Curriculum Design for Writing Instruction: Creating Standards-Based Lesson Plans and Rubrics (© 2005, Corwin Press) and Curriculum Mapping: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Curriculum Year Overviews. Currently she is writing a book with Carol Tomlinson and other authors of the Parallel Curriculum Model. She can be contacted through her Web site.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

02/22/2008:
"Reading comprehension< how can i help my 9 year old?"
10/29/2007:
"I agree! I have a midle school student that was having trouble reading and became very disinterested. Any time she would show interest in a subject, I would run out and get a book on it. Chihuahuas was a big one for her. Another was mummies. When we were given an assignment for class we requested to be able to do it on a subject my daughter was interested in. Most teachers were open. We also needed to request adjustments in some reading assignments so she could feel successful instead of frustrated. She is an 'A' student with a few modifications, we always knew she was bright, but also marched to her own tune! I think that's OK! I would like to personally thank the teachers that were open minded enough to 'bend' their assignments a bit so my daughter felt challenged, but not overwhelmed, we often recieve notes from her teachers saying what a good student she is and what a pleasure it is to have her in their class, she is also been class president for 4 years. I think it is d! irectly related to her feeling confident and happy in school."
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