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Failing First Grade
Q: My first-grader has behavioral problems such as making noise, talking, and not sitting still. He's on a different curriculum than the other kids, but isn't doing well. When I told him he may be retained, he panicked. He already has low self-esteem. I'm part of the decision to retain him. I was hoping I could get him "Hooked on Phonics" and some tutoring for the summer. I hate to see him held back. What should I do?
A: The best chance you've got for making a difference with a child who is having trouble learning how to read is to start an intervention early. First grade is a really good time to take action. I would hesitate to plug your son into a program like Hooked on Phonics. He needs a well-trained professional to work with him who will know what to do if an intervention isn't working. No commercial program can do that for you.
It sounds like you need to begin by having a comprehensive evaluation done that will address not only your son's learning needs, but also his behavioral and emotional ones. You say he's on a different curriculum, but I'm not sure what that means. Has he already been evaluated? If not, my first move would be to get as much information as you can about what his special needs are. You have the right as a parent to have a free evaluation done at your local school or school district. If you have trouble getting this done, see if there is a parent representative at your school district who can help you. If that doesn't work, contact one of the toll-free numbers of a learning disabilities advocacy group like Learning Disabilities Association of America 1-888-300-6710 or International Dyslexia Association 1-800-ABCD123. Ask if either of them has a branch in your community. Someone there should be able to walk you through the process of evaluation and also let you know what programs are available to you locally for the summer.
Frequently, colleges or universities sponsor free or reduced-fee tutoring over the summer and/or during the school year, where graduate students in training to be teachers work with kids one-on-one under a professional's supervision. If you can afford to pay a private tutor, ask the head of the college's learning disabilities or reading program for a recommendation.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.