We know for most children, the school year will unfold in a typical fashion. Routines and expectations are laid out, students fall into a learning mode and parents/guardians become supporters for the typical day-to-day application of grade level curriculum.
To confirm their child is off to a good start, communication with their child’s teacher in the first 30 days of the school year becomes critical, especially in the formative years (grades JK to Grade 3).
But what about those children/students who struggle with the mainstream and did not get off to a good start? How can parents advocate for them?
It’s important for students, struggling with grade level curriculum, to receive intervention/support as soon as it becomes evident, especially in grades JK to 3. The first five years, the primary division, are critical as these are the formative years for learning to read.
Without a sound foundation for reading and writing, children will struggle going into the junior division (Grades 4-6) and beyond. From Grade 4 on, the emphasis shifts to “reading to learn." So as one can imagine success in grades JK to 3 often predicts what will happen from Grades 4 to 12.
In addition to maintaining basic learning strategies, identified by John Hattie in our last article (Comprehension, Vocabulary, Spaced Practice and Clarity of Purpose), parents may require their child receive more formal interventions in order to arrive at a ‘Reading to Learn’ stage.
What do interventions look like?
Interventions vary, often simple tweaks, like giving a child more time to complete tasks, but for students consistently struggling, more intensive intervention is necessary. Often interventions are described as informal or formal.
These interventions, when first introduced, can be very stressful for parents as the process for accessing formal interventions are foreign for most. The educational jargon, systemic processes (meetings with support staff), testing requirements and time demands on parents can be daunting, confusing and frustrating.
It is extremely important that parents understand the process, as it will ultimately determine how their child will be supported and hopefully provide them the tools to attain the ‘Learning to Read’ skill set.
It is really important to note that studies have shown students not reading at grade level by age eight will have tremendous challenges fulfilling grade level expectations for the rest of their elementary and secondary years. So it is critical that any gaps in reading are targeted and closed as soon as possible.
As a parent/guardian, make sure you understand the effects of programming interventions that may influence or pre-determine your child’s ability to attempt and complete secondary school credits. If interventions, known as accommodations, are introduced, then the pathway for attaining a secondary school diploma is more likely. If an intervention, known as a modification, is introduced then take note — often this route will restrict a child from achieving a secondary school diploma.
Caution: Modifications focus on interventions that reflect (typically) a student working two years or more below grade level. Again, students that fall into this pathway often struggle at the secondary level. So if I'm in Grade 4 working on Grade 2 curriculum, how do i make it up? The cycle of catching up is extremely difficult.
Accommodations allow for interventions that tackle specific treatable challenges associated while learning at grade level.
Working collaboratively with your child’s teacher, early in the school year, will help avert learning loss and give your child the confidence to stay at grade level and most importantly continue to make learning a positive experience. Advocating for your child, especially for children displaying early learning challenges, usually evident by their level of reading, is a must.
Don’t be shy about advocating for strong programming; should interventions be recommended, ensure you get the rationale for said interventions, such as why particular interventions are chosen for a specific child(clarity of purpose).
Second, ensure you understand what you are agreeing to when signing off on a recommendation and ensure you get to ask questions of the source for these recommendations. You might ask: Are these strategies evidence-based?
Third, the success of such interventions should be recognizable in a short period of time.
Finally, and most noteworthy, ask how and when the intervention’s outcome/progress will be communicated. This should happen several times throughout the school year.
There are great interventions provided to boards to support children working below grade level, the key is identifying early what supports are required to close any gaps. Newly introduced literacy programs, like Empower Reading, developed by Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, is one such program that has proven to be quite successful in closing reading gaps.
If your child is experiencing significant reading challenges you may want to advocate for this program.
‘Learning to Read’ is a foundational skill set that will allow for the gift of literacy to bloom. It is never too late to intervene — be a strong advocate for your child.
If you find your child in a situation that requires significant support you might consider accessing an advocate that is very familiar with educational programming. The Learning Disabilities Association of Sudbury (LDAS) is a great organization for parents to access. The association supports children struggling with a learning disability and helps parents navigate the rigours of testing and IPRC proceedings, a formal process for identifying a child with exceptional needs.
Norm Blaseg is the former director of education with the Rainbow District School Board.