Kids with LITERACY DIFFICULTIES need to PLAY with Language

Child and box shine light. Call for help and hope. Help me

Kids with literacy problems often don’t get to “play” with written language in the same way other kids do. This means they don’t predict, try out patterns such as rhyming, are scared to experiment with new vocabulary and generally view the literacy area as a serious of momentous tasks!

I see this in my primary and secondary tuition students and watch with dismay as they gradually become more and more turned off to reading, will only borrow very easy “thin” books and write the minimum number of words. (In case the spelling is wrong.)

We need to still take time to nurture the playful aspects of learning for these kids. This means doing lots of reading aloud, discovering word patterns together, encouraging playful use of language and tolerating some spelling mistakes in the interest of growing creativity.

Even phonic blending and drills can be carried out in fun ways. Use your imagination and try to see the tasks through children’s eyes. As soon as you mention the word “game” children visibly relax so try turning even the most boring but essential drills and tasks into games.

Play is ESSENTIAL to all children.

There is a balance of course and spelling and grammar are essential.

There is something more to language – a non-definable element that shows itself in an author’s tone, style, freshness of vocabulary and often playfulness with words. If we only concentrate on grammar and spelling, kids with learning difficulties will miss some very big areas of literacy development as well as form negative attitudes to literacy-possibly forever!

There are ways to help these kids-

  • Make sure they get to do lots of oral work daily.
  • Read, read, read aloud to students. (all ages)
  • Read to them and with
  • Never make a student read aloud in front of their peers if reluctant to do so.
  • Play with rhymes and substitute words so children can learn to make the language their own.
  • Occasionally record their words/stories on speech to text software so the words just pop up- you can then get the student to simply copy. This helps kids relax and let the words fly!
  • Use charts, videos, hands-on games and have many attractive picture books available for children to enjoy. Have some art/craft based comprehension activities. Minimise worksheets. Utilise digital media such as Kahoot to reinforce boring facts that must be learned.
  • Consider using the MASTERY LEARNING FOLDER approach. This really helps to individualise learning and WORKS so students can then apply basic skills and display their creativity.
  • Don’t (EVER) give them homework tasks they cannot understand. This just compounds the problem and causes frustration at home. One of my secondary students has just spent the entire year from February till now trying to cope with tasks he cannot possibly understand. He does not have the vocabulary and comprehension skills needed to complete the set tasks and is becoming more and more frustrated each week. That would be like asking me to read and comprehend a medical text and use the information to write reports, essays and offer my own opinions!

I’ve been a teacher for over 30 years so I DO know how overloaded and stressed teachers are BUT someone has to curriculum adjust for these children. Teachers need to be given time to do this properly and develop workable IEPS.

It doesn’t matter if students can’t read every word. It DOES matter if they hate books- so relax and help kids to enjoy playing with language, dive into poetry- sometimes ditch your rules and PLAY with words.

Keep your sense of humour and learn to laugh – kids also need to laugh and relax and using a light-hearted approach can diffuse many tense and unhappy moments. I tell jokes, have many joke books and encourage children to share jokes as often as possible.

Let’s try to help kids with learning difficulties to develop a more optimistic, positive and relaxed attitude to literacy. Personally I think helping kids to develop growth mind-sets and ENJOY learning are the keys to improving  results and encouraging a life-long love of words!

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