Should Tutors Help Students Who Haven’t Done ANY of Their Own Reading?

Sometimes I tutor students who have been allowed to advance to a grade far beyond their reading level.   Special help (other than ordinary private tutors) is not available in my country.   So my problem is how to help these students.

This week I had a student in upper middle school who was supposed to read a book of classic literature written in about 1880.  The student wasn’t able to read the book at all (not even one page).  I taught this student many years ago in an early elementary grade and he was weak then.  He is even weaker now.  This student is now approximately four years advanced beyond his reading level.  There is no question that this boy has a learning disability, but there are no facilities or specialists for testing such things in my country.

When this student left my class five years ago, I told his mother that what he really needed was as much encouragement as possible to stay in school.  Today I see that the student is still interested, motivated, and DOES try in spite of not being able to read anything for the class.

I began by trying to rewrite the classic book as a much simpler story so that I could read it with the student.  It’s quite a long book, so I was only able to rewrite a quarter of the book in a few days.  I finally gave up on the rest (done in my free time for no pay).  I did read through this easier version with the student, and he enjoyed it; however, there were still many common words in English that he did not know, which people who are native speakers might know.

Once we got though what I’d written, we only had an hour to summarize the rest of the book before my student has a test on it in two days.  So I quickly tried to highlight the most important parts of the story and dictated four or five paragraphs of the rest of the story, which my student copied.  He relies on copying things down and trying to memorize them.

Should I do this?  When the student came to me, he was already getting an F.  If he fails, he will drop out of school.  Our school is a high-standard college prep school.  There are no other alternative English-language schools within 300 miles, and those are three times the price of our school, to say nothing of this student not having any family or other support to attend a school far away.  The student cannot switch to a school in another language at this late date.

While I’m sure this student will not make it to college, my objective here is to help this student get his grade up to a C (or higher), to stay in school as long as possible,  and to get as much as possible out of his education.  It’s not ideal, but the student is definitely learning, is still interested, and still positive.  Learning anything is better than learning nothing.

Siobhan Curious, who teaches introductory college literature, wonders how to motivate students who don’t want to read.  This is a similar problem to motivating my students who can’t read.  I think part of the answer is to try to get them excited about the story itself, sometimes even helping them to read it– which gives SOME the incentive to want to read it on their own.

What do others think?

–Lynne Diligent

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8 Responses to “Should Tutors Help Students Who Haven’t Done ANY of Their Own Reading?”

  1. Judy Says:

    I think you absolutely doing the right thing. You are being a true educator for this child; in unusual situations like this grades are really not important. It sounds as though what he needs are simplified versions of these books … you can actually buy them. Here are a couple of sites I found just by Googling http://www.easyreaders.eu/home.aspx and http://www.sterlingpublishing.com/catalog?series=Classic+Starts%26%238482%3B+Series&limit=10 Although whether he has the means to buy them is another thing.

    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Thanks, Judy, for letting me know you think I’m doing a service for this child. Children in countries with currency restrictions would not be able to purchase from overseas, even if their families did have the means. However, I will check out those websites for myself. Thanks for suggesting them.

  2. Jim Taggart Says:

    You could transplant this story in many Western countries, such as Canada and the United States (indeed, the latter ranks something like 17th among OECD countries on reading. Math and science are just as dismal). You have a real challenge. As the saying goes, “You can’t push on a string.” I’m off-topic somewhat, but I watched a fascinating docu last week comparing South Korea and Finland on how they approach education. South Korean parents are exceedingly demanding with their children (one fallout is suicide among young people). The Finnish approach, in my view, is compelling. I believe the show was on CBS 60 minutes (check it out online).

  3. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Thanks, Jim, I will check out that Finnish documentary.

  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    A friend emailed me this comment:

    “Actually I was not much of a reader until 6th grade. My mother was an avid reader and quite worried about me. So I thought that she hit upon what, in retrospect, I think was a brilliant plan. At the time, I was quite interested in the Wild West and also the Marines. My mother found juvenile books written on both subjects and presented them to me. I read both, the book on the history of the Marines twice. Then she gave ‘Lydia Bailey’ written by Kenneth Roberts. This was definitely not written for youngsters, but she assured me that part of the book involved the Marines and their storming of Tripoli. So I read that one, too, and I was hooked on Kenneth Roberts. I then read every one he ever wrote and moved on to other authors and subjects. Therefore, I believe you right about leading a student to reading by finding subjects that interest them. “

  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    That’s actually the exact approach with kids I took over many years, leading them to easy versions of what interested THEM. I find too many adults trying to shove reading down the throats of children on subjects that KILLS any interest they had. Often the children’s “award-winning” books are about things that ADULTS feel the children should read about or be interested in, but they are not.

    One year, I took a book I had in the house written by a professional hunter about his experiences hunting tigers in India, and wrote a simplified version of his hunt for a man-eating tiger to save a village in India, probably about 1900. I read it to my third-graders. They were riveted. I was a bit worried I might get complaints from parents, but luckily, I didn’t get any. But some of the kids really wanted to check out similar books, and I had to tell them that sadly, books like that are not usually written for children, and that our school library didn’t have any. Anyway, this was just one example. I was trying to expose kids to a great variety of genres in reading especially to help the reluctant readers find what is interesting to THEM PERSONALLY.

  6. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Katherine J. Kaye: Your student can’t read, which isn’t the same as won’t read. He might learn to read based on whole-word recognition and word-shapes backed up by reading out loud, and he would benefit from Cliff Notes being read to him: he sounds classically dyslexic. So ideally you’d work on two fronts: his comprehension of texts to pass tests, but remedial work on his actual reading skills.

  7. Lynne Diligent Says:

    In this case the Cliff Notes are far above what the student can understand. Too much unknown vocabulary. Also, the student only sees me two hours a week, so I have to compress the maximum possible into each lesson.

    I wish we had help somewhere here for students with learning disabilities, but there is neither testing nor help.

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