Ask Reading Kingdom: How Did College Prepare You for Beginning and Struggling Readers?


In over 40 years of research and teaching, Dr. Marion Blank has helped thousands of people learn to read.  One of Reading Kingdom’s main specialties is in teaching beginning and struggling readers the literacy skills they need to become successful later in life.

Angela (teacher) asks:

How did college prepare you to teach beginning and struggling readers?

Dr. Marion Blank ( Founder) answers:

My initial focus on reading came through the work I was doing on a master’s degree in school psychology. At that time, a large part of the school psychologist’s work was testing children who were having difficulty in school. So that placed me in the fortunate position of gaining lots of one-to-one experience with children and seeing the world through their eyes. As my responsibilities required, I would write reports listing all the skills that the children were “missing” that led them to fail in reading (e.g., they could not blend sounds, they did not know the letter names, etc.)

This approach was, and is, based on a key premise. It is a “given” that the curriculum is effective; any failure to master the curriculum represented deficiencies in the children. It was only with further experience on my part that my understanding of the challenges children face evolved.

After I completed my PhD, I was conducting experiments contrasting children who were and were not failing in reading. That expanded my one-to-one encounters in ways that proved invaluable. Instead of being limited to textbook categories, I saw what was happening in the real world. For example, in textbooks on reading with beginning and struggling readers, the whole emphasis is on what material should be presented to the children (e.g., what letters, what sounds, what books, etc.) But what I saw was endless failures on the part of the children when they were faced with this supposedly ideal material. Not only did it not work; its major effect was to lead to error and demoralization.

I began to see the “given” in a new light. I saw that the supposedly best teaching programs were, for many children, cauldrons of failure that did the opposite of what they were intended to do. As a result, instead of loving reading, they hated it. No program that causes feelings of pain and inadequacy is going to be successful.

That led me to start writing about the wrong response (i.e., the children’s failures) and what curricula have to contain (a) to limit its presence and (b) to overcome the errors when they did occur. This is a critical component to successful teaching—although aside from rare instances, it still receives almost no attention.

So I guess the best way to answer the question is to say that my university experiences brought me into the field and gave me the beginning tools for working with the children. Significant progress for me however came by freeing myself of a dictum that basically imprisons the field: a dictum which judges the curriculum as good and any failure in the children as stemming from the children. The change in perspective has had an amazing influence on my work and the success we have been able to achieve.

Reading Kingdom’s work changes the future for beginning and struggling readers.  Get started with a free 30 day trial and see why our online reading program has been called the new and better way to learn to read.  We’ll see you soon!