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Helping Struggling Readers: Errors Students Make When Decoding


I just had the opportunity to attend training for Orton Gillingham's multi-sensory approach for reading instruction.  This was by far the most beneficial training I've ever attended.  I walked away with strategies that I could use the very next day in my classroom.  If you teach reading and ever have the opportunity to attend Orton Gillingham training, I highly recommend it.

So now I'm here to share with you guys some of the awesome things I learned in training.  


One of the first things covered were the types of errors that students often make when decoding.  


I know you've seen all of these errors before, since I've seen them many times.  I never thought about how important it is to identify the type of error so that I would know how to correct the error.  These errors aren't exclusive to just students with learning disabilities or dyslexia, but they are often seen in students with disabilities.


Reversals with b and d are so common!  Our trainer brought up some great points.  B and D reversals are developmental.  But dismissing parent concerns by saying it's developmental probably isn't the best way to go about it.  At what point is the reversal no longer developmental?  Are we dismissing a legitimate disability if we say it's just developmental?  Instead of saying the reversals are developmental, we can tell parents that "We're working on it."  I love this approach!  It validates parents concerns and let's them know we're trying to help their child.


Rotations can signify a more severe learning disability, especially if they are confusing 'n' and 'u'.  Rotations are often harder to correct than just B and D reversals.


Oh man, I see this one every day with my students.  The short sound 'e' and 'i' seem to be the most commonly confused vowel sounds for my students.  They do sound similar after all and really require the student to listen carefully and master the sounds of each letter.


This can be a tricky error to correct, also.  The students are reading all of the letters and the word looks similar.  So it can be hard to convince students that they are reading the word wrong.


We just started working on reading short vowel words with blends.  This error was so evident in my students' reading.  Over and over again, they would leave off one of the blend sounds.  I'll often see students insert an 'r' or 'n' sound when reading words.  My class is going to need a lot more practice to make sure we're reading all of the sounds in a word!


This one is also a frequent error I see.  Students just don't know (or don't apply) the phonics rules to reading.  The Magic E rule is one that is frequently not used.  I've listened to so many students read the work 'make' as 'mack'.  

Our trainer pointed out that 50% of students do not need to learn all of the phonics rules in order to be successful readers.  The other 50% will need that explicit instruction and direct practice of phonics rules to successfully learn to read.  I don't know about you, but I don't believe I was ever taught phonics.  Maybe I went to school during a time when the whole language approach was popular?  It wasn't until I became a teacher that I learned phonics rules.  Even now, I sometimes have to double check the rules to make sure I teach my students the correct way.

Next up in this series will be the correction procedures for when students make these errors.  Now that we know the different types of errors, we need to learn how to help students read correctly and that can be the tricky part.

I hope that this was helpful information!

Words of Wisdom for Special Education Teachers


Teaching is hard.  Teaching special education is hard.  I have no doubts that teaching general education students is hard, but I can only speak about my experiences so far.  

This week, I'm going to have my first student teacher.  This is her first experience in a classroom will be observing and starting to take on some instructional duties.  It really made me think about what are the most important things I wish someone had told me.

So hear you have it, a random blog post about my jumbled up thoughts.


1.  You can only do the best you can do and that's it.  This has been so hard for me.  My students often come to me super low.  Learning and school can be really hard for my kids.  I've beat myself up about the slow progress, lack of progress, or behavior problems I've seen in my students.  I'm my worst critic and take their success and progress very personally.  There's so many things out of my control, but I can only do the best I can with the resources and schedule I have available.  Honestly, that's all you can do, too.  Don't beat yourself up over things.

2.  Every day NEEDS to be a new day with a fresh start.  This can be SUPER hard if you have a challenging student with behavior issues.  If you can some how greet that student with a positive attitude and let go of what happened yesterday, you will have a starting point for building a positive relationship with the student.

3.  Teach those procedures and routines like nothing else.  It doesn't matter if the students spend 30 minutes or the entire day in your classroom.  They need to know what to do from the second they walk in the door.  I try to make sure my kids have something that must do immediately.  That gives them a purpose for being in your room.  Idle time is time that behaviors you don't want often begin.

4.  Yes, you will need to differentiate for your students.  And yes, you will often have students at various levels.  However, try to group them as much as possible.  It is possible to differentiate so much that you're doing nothing well.  If the differentiation makes you so overwhelmed that you can't keep a handle on the amount of time, instruction, or work it takes.....it's not working.  I've tried that and ran myself ragged.  There's only one of me and so many of them.  What you do has to be physically manageable for you.

5.  Celebrate those small successes, even if they're really small.  Your students have probably had a long history of struggling and failing.  That takes a toll on their self-esteem and confidence.  

One of my 2nd grade students started this year knowing 8 sight words.  On Friday, he knew 15!  We've worked hard for those 15 words!  I practically threw him a party.  Since he was so excited, I gave him my lowest decodable to read.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that he would do ok.  And you know what, he did great!  Needed some small help but he did it almost independently.  Then he looked at me and said this:


I seriously almost cried!  Best words a student has ever said to me right there.  

6.  Have patience......lots of patience.  This is a hard area for me, too.  You will probably reteach and practice the same thing many times.  Your students might seem like they mastered a skill on Wednesday and then on Friday act like they've never even seen it before.  Sometimes I feel like I must be talking in a different language, because it's just not clicking.  These are the times that I need to remember patience.

7.  Sometimes you just have to stop.  Sometimes you have to realize that right now, at this very moment, these kids are not getting it.  Maybe you need to back up and teach some foundational skills.  Maybe their brains are fried.  Maybe they need a more concrete approach.  Instead of forcing through something that isn't working, you may need to just change gears and move onto something else.  Some day I'll have to get real honest with you guys and tell you my bluebird story from my first year of teaching.  It was not my proudest moment of teaching, and I always think about that lesson when I see the kids just aren't getting it.

There you go!  Nothing ground-breaking, but I wish someone had said these things to me.

Reading Wonders Curriculum in my Classroom (with freebies)


My school has recently adopted the McGraw-Hill Reading Wonders Program.  This is our first year using the program, and there has been a bit of a learning curve.  I've been using the program for the last 3 weeks and figuring out a way to best use it in my special education resource room.


It's taken some tweaking (and I'm sure I'll keep making changes throughout the year), but I have found a general routine that is semi-working.

I start each with these planning pages to help me get a good idea of what skills I'm teaching.  I feel like the pacing in the Reading Wonders program is WAY overwhelming and unrealistic (at least with my students).  I'd love to watch a lesson where they do everything in the program and stick with the time lines as suggested.

These lesson planning sheets help keep me on track and make sure I hit the major skills each week.


You can download the overview sheet from my friend Corinna at Surfin' Through Second {here} and you can read about how she's using Wonders in her classroom.  You can download my lesson planning sheet {here}.

My school has purchased the Reading Wonders intervention program, WondersWorks.  However, I only have one interactive workbook and 8 students.  So I've been doing a lot of supplementing.  One thing I don't like about the Reading Wonders program is the lack of hands-on centers and activities.   So I've started supplemental packs for each unit to give my students more visuals and practice.

I keep my morning routine pretty similar each day.  We do the phonemic awareness activity, review our sounds, practice decoding our phonics patterns, and use our SnapWords cards to practice our sight words.

As a group, we'll do some of the center activities found in my Reading Wonders units.  This is from Unit 1 Week 3 and focuses on sorting words with blends by the short vowel sound.


I also try to throw in some kind of activity that has us work on sorting, writing, or building words.  Making Words is our favorite activity so far.  I use these folders for the word building but use the Making Words activities from my supplemental units (beginning at Unit 1 Week 3).  Doing it on the carpet was perfect since the velcro on the letters sticks.  This way none of my students lose their letters.  :)
Or we might work on some of comprehension skills for the story, such as this visualizing strategy.


I try to do at least one writing about what we have read activity each week.  My students need extra support when writing and responding, so I made these freebie reading response sheets to go with Unit 1.


You can download them as a FREEBIE by clicking on the picture below.


It did take me a bit to figure out how I was going to assess my students.  The on-level and approaching tests are just too hard for my kiddos.  I have one who can semi-do the approaching level tests but needs support to get all the way through the test.  Those tests are REALLY long!

The weekly assessment in the WondersWork program is too difficult for my students to read independently, too!  I also didn't like the questioning format of the tests.  The directions would tell students to draw a box around the words that tell them so-and-so was sad.  Or some weird direction like that.  My students can't read the text!

I decided to take the passage from the WondersWork program but redo the questions.  I retyped the questions into multiple choice and added more questions.  I read the test and questions aloud to my students and this way I can assess their listening comprehension.  I may or may not upload these for you guys depending on how I feel it's working out.

I wanted to make sure my parents understood the level their student was being assessed on.  I made this quick sheet that I attach to the students' tests.  For the student who got 8/8 questions correct, I will give him the approaching level test (with me reading it aloud to him) next week and see how he does.


Since my students are struggling readers, I also want to make sure they are mastering the sight words and phonics patterns.  I made these Quick Checks to help me assess their progress each week.


I'm working on finishing the quick checks and uploading them to my TpT store.

For small group reading, I have been using the leveled readers from the WondersWorks program.  I will say that I've had a hard time figuring out how to fit it all in.  I do need to plan better so that I get more small group and one-on-one reading time with my students.  There's so much to do for the program that it can feel very overwhelming.

If you're interested in checking out my Reading Wonders units, you can download my sample Smart Start unit as a FREEBIE by clicking on the picture below.


You can also check out my activities for Unit 1 Week 1 by clicking on the picture below.


I will be making units to supplement each week of the Reading Wonders program.  I have currently finished all the way through Unit 2 Week 3.  

I hope this gives you a glimpse of how I'm using this program in my classroom.  It's definitely been a bit of trial and error to figure out a system.  I'm still working out some kinks but starting to feel like I'm finally getting into a groove.

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