Some time ago I stopped doing the Reading Kingdom with Victor because his home life didn’t support him doing the program on his own. As a result, he had only been doing the program with me and once a week isn’t enough for it to be effective. (The program is a curriculum which requires students to do it 4-5 times per week for optimal learning.)

Instead, I’ve been helping him with his homework (mostly math, sight words and sentence writing) and the 20 minutes he is supposed to read every day. This part of the school reading curriculum is ineffective with Victor, because the books he reads bear no relation to the vocabulary he learns on his worksheets and he has no adult guidance or instruction. He is left on his own to slog his way through books that are frequently too hard, or poorly written. It’s one of the many significant problems with current reading education that the Reading Kingdom is specifically designed to address — in the Reading Kingdom children are only given books to read after they have learned the meaning and correct usage of all the words in a book.

The sad thing is that Victor really wants to read. At Christmas I gave him a Harry Potter book, because he asked for it. Knowing it was too hard for him to read by himself, I told him it was book intended to be read to him. Since then he has been carrying the book around in his backpack like a reminder of what he thinks he should be able to read, or wants to read, but can’t.

Even sadder were his recent reading test scores. They spurred me to reintroduce him to the Reading Kingdom, as Victor desperately needs a reading curriculum where learning is built in stages like a house with a solid foundation.

I created a new account for him and he took the skills survey test again to see where he should be placed in the program. I was crestfallen when the results of the test placed him back at square one – Letter Land and Seeing Sequences – which was where he was a year ago. How could this be? I decided that maybe it was because he hadn’t practiced on the keyboard in a while. The next week, I had him take the test again. Victor applied himself, knowing that the more exercises he did correctly, the faster he would advance. He made it through the beginning stages and was placed in the first reading level, one step above where he tested to last time, but behind his grade level.

“How is this helping me?” Victor asked, sincerely, after doing a session.

“Excellent question,” I replied, “It’s teaching you fundamentals of how to read that you’re not learning in school.”

He listened.

“For instance, you know how you often miss the plurals on words when you read?” I asked.

He nodded and he gave me several examples of how he missed questions on tests because of this mistake. It was an error caused by a weakness in a key skill (visual sequencing) that the Reading Kingdom teaches.

“And you know how you read books, but have trouble understanding them?” I asked.

“Yes,” he exclaimed, jumping off his chair.

“Well, the Reading Kingdom teaches you how to read so you understand what you’re reading.”

(Introducing books to children only after they have learned all the vocabulary in them is one way the program does this.)

Victor pulled out a book from his backpack. “They give me a book and tell me to read, but I try to read and it’s too hard. I read the words, but I don’t know so many words.”

He opened the book and began pointing to the words he didn’t know, relieved that I understood his difficulty, happy to have a witness to his struggle. I thought about how difficult it would be to not know half the words on a page. If my experience of reading was a constant deciphering of words, I’d find it hard to understand what was going on too.

“No one is teaching me how to read!” he exclaimed, “They just expect me to read.”

I now confront my own test: how can I enable kids like Victor to benefit from the Reading Kingdom when they do not have the support to use the program at home?