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Lack of Motivation or a Learning Disability?

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My seven-year-old son is repeating first grade this year. He is still having problems reading and completing assignments in the classroom. When we do his homework together, he's able to complete it with very few problems, but if he's left alone he has trouble. What can I do to motivate him to be a better student? What signs should I be looking for to see if he has a learning disability?

A: One of the reasons that we are not too enthused about retention is that little is done to provide retained children with the specific help they need. This seems to be what has happened with your son. No one has addressed why he is having problems with reading.

Your son probably started off well this year because he was able to handle the easy and familiar work. However, when reading became more challenging, once again he was facing the same problems that went untreated last year.

Motivation is not the issue. Go back to the school and talk to the teacher and/or principal to insist that your son be immediately tested to pinpoint why he's still having problems learning to read. Then, the school can use test results to formulate a plan to improve his reading skills. Your son may need to be taught using a different method. Perhaps he needs more phonics instruction or would thrive with a whole language approach. His reading problems could be so severe that they will need to be handled by the school's reading specialist instead of his teacher.

Children should not be labeled as learning disabled just because they're struggling with a subject. Your son could have a learning disability that's causing him to have problems with reading. Discuss this possibility with his teacher. Either you or the teacher can request that he be evaluated for a learning disability.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.


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