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X does not mark the spot

Goals are great. They help you map where you want to go, are heading, or if you're working with a developing reader of any age, the place you get to stop and re-orient.

Reading fluency is a major X on the educational map. Your student (and you!) set out on a nice, straight path that seemingly leads from zero to effortless, smooth reading. For a lot of us, though, the map is not the territory: learning is rarely a straight journey. On our way to reading fluency, we all hit detours, and take service roads.

Thee territory can be frustrating, especially if you're suddenly thrust into it. Last week I suggested focusing on reading aloud and listening to your student read aloud, concentrating on developing one missing or weak skill at a time, and called out phonics.

It's mapped out with foundational skills and phonics-specific books. And this is where the territory is completely off the map: as your student navigates using those skills, they struggle. They see the word, start sounding it out, and there's a pause. Maybe some more sounding out, and another pause. Or they're able to sound out syllable chunks, but can't yet run those chunks together into the word.

Let them struggle a little. Breathe, and deliberately relax. After a few minutes, if it's clear they're at a roadblock: gently remind them they know the sounds the letters make, review the rule, and/or as they sound out the letters or syllable chunks, sound them out, too.

The pauses are where their brains are creating maps of the skills, and of which skills map together. Slow, accurate practice lets the pattern settle into their reading brain. Slow, accurate practice builds automatic recall. Slow, accurate practice gets your student back on the map, heading toward that X.

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