Many kids with dyslexia are not working at ‘grade level’. Here is how to teach them!

I received this email from a concerned parent recently.

“I have a 4th/5th grader who is way behind in English and math. How do you catch up when you feel like a sinking ship?”

First of all, you are not alone! Many kids with dyslexia are not doing math and English at ‘grade level’.

This is actually 100% normal.

The reason for this is that it takes a child with language-based learning difficulties a lot longer to master the art of language. It’s not called a language-based learning disability or in my own opinion a learning difference/difficulty without reason.

Accepting that is the first step in this kind of situation.

If your child was in a traditional school setting, they would be marched along with the other 80% of kids without learning difficulties and would get further and further behind.

This is obviously not ideal. The only other alternative is to teach them at their level and at their pace. This is similar to what a tutor would do. A tutor doesn’t teach a 12-year old student at a 6th-grade level if they’re working at a 3rd-grade level.

That is what the traditional schools do mainly because they don’t have a place for a 12-year-old who is reading at a 2nd or 3rd-grade level – even though that is the case for many 12-year olds with dyslexia.

The truth is that most kids with dyslexia don’t become independent and fluent with reading until about 12-14 years old and spelling mastery comes much, much later, if ever.

Teaching language arts when your child is not at grade level

Your primary goal early on is to help your child become a fluent reader. There are a few options for this. You can hire a local dyslexia tutor. Here’s a post on how and when to hire a dyslexia tutor. Or you can teach them yourself using an Orton-Gillingham reading program.

Here is a link to a review of the top 4 OG programs that are designed to be parent-friendly, meaning that you don’t have to be a trained dyslexia tutor to use them well.

Choose the program that you prefer and have your child take their placement test.

Links to Placement Tests

All About Reading
Logic of English
Reading Horizons (there is no placement test for RH. Use Discovery for kids ages 4-9 and Elevate for ages 10+)

Choose the level that matches your child’s ability and start there. It is recommended to teach reading a minimum of 3 times per week. You won’t usually finish a lesson a day. Some lessons may take a day and others several weeks depending on your child’s ability to master the info. Our kids need a LOT of review. That is part of it.

Teaching spelling to kids with dyslexia

I’m not a big fan of spending a lot of time on spelling until my child is a fairly fluent reader. Decoding (reading) takes time and energy to master and encoding (spelling) takes a LOT of energy to master. In my experience, weak working memory makes teaching spelling to a child who hasn’t mastered a certain level of reading a waste of time.

It’s for this reasoning that All About Reading and All About Spelling remain one of my top OG language arts programs. They separate reading and spelling so that your child can move ahead with reading without being held back by their weak spelling skills.

Teaching writing to kids with dyslexia

This is where teaching language arts to kids with dyslexia can get tricky. In traditional schools, kids are writing paragraphs pretty early on. It’s important to match your child’s writing instruction to their reading and spelling ability at least to a certain extent.

Some experts recommend waiting until your child is reading at a 3rd or 4th-grade level to begin teaching the skill of composition.

Use one of these free reading assessments to know what grade level your child is reading on.

You can teach writing in whatever way feels like the best fit for your family. We have been a part of co-ops where our kids were in a writing class. I offered a TON of support by scribing, and guiding them through the lessons, gradually giving them more independence as they were able.

Accommodations like scribing for your child or allowing the use of speech-to-text programs to get the words on paper so-to-speak are a great option.

I have also done no formal writing until middle school and my kids were able to do high school level writing in high school with no major issues.

Every child is different and every family is different. If you have the time and opportunity to focus more on composition, by all means do it!

Teaching math to kids who are not at grade level

You’ll want to take the same approach to teaching math to a child who is not working at grade level.

Find a program you like. Our favorites are Math U See, Teaching Textbooks, and CTC Math.

Go to their web site, take the placement test, contact customer support, and start them at their level of ability.

Since math builds on concepts previously learned, it is never a good plan to rush them through math. Take your time.

Common concerns when kids are not at grade level

I can hear you guys from across the Internet!

What about high school requirements? What if my child isn’t ready for high school level math in high school?

It’s very possible that your child will not be ready for Algebra in 8th or 9th grade. Worrying about high school and college in middle school or before is counterproductive. There are many options for after high school that do not require higher level math. It is still the best plan to teach your child at their level and work towards mastery.

I hear what you’re saying but I’m still so worried!

It can be difficult to watch your child progress slowly or even seem to regress at times. There are some days that nothing seems to ‘go in’. My kids just aren’t open to learning for whatever reason. This is SO common!

I’ve learned to take a break. Do some review. Play some games. Read a few extra chapters in our read aloud and try again the next day.

Know that this different learning trajectory for math and language arts is normal. Your child will learn to read, write, spell and do enough math to be 100% fine in the world.

Still worried about your kids being behind?

Read this post for more understanding and encouragement: Help! My homeschooler is Behind!