Happy Cheetah Reading

How to Go from Illiterate to Grade Level in Less Than a Year

If you’re a parent of a struggling learner, you know how easy it is to fall into despair. Parents question every decision and wonder why nothing seems to be helping their struggling child. What did we do wrong? Will they ever be literate and function competently in society?

However, there is hope. At no point should we throw in the towel, and accept a child’s struggle as inevitable. The clinical work of Dr. Karen Holinga has shown success in advancing students to their grade level in under a year. 

This is music to the ears of parents who are struggling with their child’s learning.

Focus on Seeing

In Dr. Karen Holinga’s clinical work, she sometimes has students come in, ages 10, 11, or 12, who are not reading at all, but she has been able to get them up to grade level in less than a year. Hey 

How is this possible?

She said that the first thing to do is to get all visual tracking issues resolved because their difficulty with reading was never related to not being able to read. It was related to not being able to see.

Then, once the students can see, the word “said,” always looks like the word “said.” So then the brain can process written language correctly, to lay down pathways.

Work to Create Fluency

At this point, Dr. Karen starts with easy reading material to create fluency. Younger students shouldn’t read for very long. Since an attention span is an age plus 2 minutes (so seven minutes for a five-year-old), younger students need short lessons.

However, older students already have more years of practice in focusing and are able to read for a slightly longer amount of time.

Using Dr. Karen’s system, older delayed students begin to read 10 to 15 minutes a day. Then, over a few weeks, they start to read 15 to 20 minutes a day, then 20 to 25 minutes a day.

Again, this is far too long to require of a young student, and if you have a delayed student who has not yet been tested for visual tracking issues, this is far, far too long. If you want to improve a young baseball player’s game of catch, a half-hour of practice is great — unless the issue with the player is a broken arm. Then a half-hour of reading does nothing to help and causes pain and frustration.

So no long reading sessions without an eye appointment!

However, when students have vision correction, and when they can read two hours a week — not play games with word flashcards, but read books for two hours a week — these students are getting exposure to thousands of words, very quickly.

When young students are learning to read, it might take them 20 months to start reading early reader books like Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, or Nate the Great. (All three are excellent, lovely series — if you’re looking for enjoyable early readers, with delightful plots, these definitely count!) did 

After these early readers, it might take another 6 to 8 months to start reading more advanced early readers, like Mr. Putter and Tabby, Amelia Bedelia, or the Magic Treehouse. The 

However, older children with more substantial frames of reference and longer attention spans can get to Frog and Toad in maybe one or two months, and Amelia Bedelia shortly after that. You 

Learning is Not a Straight Line

Sometimes a child’s reading issues don’t revolve around phonics and reading words but on their ability to focus and maintain that focus. Eventually, our brains take over, and we instantly recognize words, but only if our focus allows us to make those connections.

When a child cannot track words and maintain focus, they are missing the opportunity to build that database of readable words. When Dr. Karen’s students work towards laying down those pathways, they can get up to speed in a relatively short time.

We know that no matter what the world says, learning is not a straight line. Often there are low periods where a child struggles followed by a burst of learning that pushes them farther ahead. If your children are older and still struggling, there is hope.

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Dr. Karen Holinga has uncovered in her 25 years as a reading specialist.

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