Stress and anxiety typically go hand-in-hand with learning disabilities. In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, we will share blog articles about the this important topic throughout the month.
Stress and anxiety are common emotions in my students as they begin their tutoring journey at Brainspring. Many of these students, especially those in upper grades, have struggled with reading and writing for a long time. They feel like they have failed over and over. The feeling of failure becomes a coat they bring with them into every situation where they are asked to read or write.
As they sit down across from me at the tutoring center, I can almost see them tugging the coat of failure closer and tucking it up under their chin. It shows up as indifference (You can’t make me care about this), defensiveness (This is dumb. Why do we have to?), anxiety, hostility (No, I won’t!), or sometimes a student just completely shuts down.
The emotions running across their faces break my heart. These young people have already had so many difficulties to deal with. Is it any wonder that they often hate reading and writing?
I let them hang on to their protective coat as hard as they need to while still trying to motivate them to “give things a try”. One student needed motivation at every step of the lesson, especially during oral reading. To help motivate him, he could earn a game or a sticker for trying his best. Another fought me about syllabication every step of the way with “this is dumb!” and “I don’t want to.” Recognizing the fear of failure, I gently encouraged him to keep practicing the steps and assured him it would help him read larger words.
What I love about the Phonics First® Orton-Gillingham program is how it provides constant opportunities for students to succeed. Instead of starting instruction where the school system says the students should be, we start instruction right where they need it, working to fill in the gaps in their phonics knowledge. Although still challenging for the student, the lessons are no longer impossible. The instruction follows a predictable pattern, all new concepts are clearly taught and the continual review helps students to remember previous skills. I can confidently say to my students, “Yes, you really can read this. You know all the skills in this story.”
Watching students slowly releasing their grip on the label of failure is exciting. As they begin to succeed in reading and writing, a quiet confidence starts to show up. The student who needed continual motivation starts to not need it any longer. He enjoys the successes he is experiencing and jumps into reading with more energy. The complaints about syllabication lessen and then disappear. Students realize the method works, and are pleased to be able to read bigger words. I am grateful to be part of the process of students learning to let go of the coat of failure and instead slowly replacing it with confidence and success.
Audrey Bon, A.B.Ed.
Audrey is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Plymouth.