Three Brothers

Without going into a lot of detail out of respect for their privacy, I was soon working once a week with three brothers, all in grade school. I worked with each individually for about an hour at a time, using the procedures described in Reading Reflex.

Diane McGuinness makes the valid point in Why Our Children Can’t Read that reading instructors rarely do formal pre-testing and post-testing to determine progress objectively. Instead, they observe and subjectively assume that their students are making sufficient progress. To overcome this natural bias to credit one's own work, I have always tried to obtain objective measures of progress for clients of OnTrack Reading, and started doing so immediately with the three brothers. In fact, I still have their records, along with the records of all of the nearly 200 children (and a few adults) that I’ve worked with since.

In spite of obvious progress in their reading skills, in that each boy was becoming more confident in his ability to approach print, the test results at the end of the series of lessons were not as encouraging as I'd hoped. The authors of both Why Our Children Can’t Read and Reading Reflex give the definite impression in their books that phonics was the key, but they are only partly correct. Phonics instruction enabled all of the brothers to make significant gains in their ability to read, but they did not reach grade level.

However, they did gain between one and two years in ability over the three to four months that I worked with them, and remember, these were boys who had always been gaining significantly less than one year’s reading ability with each passing year of school. Furthermore, they became quite proficient at the essential reading skills of blending and segmenting, but more on those skills later. They also significantly improved their knowledge of the English code, that is, their phonics knowledge.

I evaluated each of the boys a year or so later and they retained all of the blending and segmenting skills and most of code knowledge they’d been taught and they continued to make reading gains, and at a more normal rate. That is, over that year their reading level increased about one year each. However, each remained below his respective grade level as regards reading ability.

Ultimately, I was encouraged enough by the results that I decided to open a private reading instruction business. I should add that the boys’ mother was quite pleased with the results. However, had I known then what I know now, I believe each of the boys would have had a far better chance of achieving reading levels at or very close to their actual grade levels, assuming proper resources were available.