Sometimes Things Don't Stick...Then What?

Sometimes Things Don't Stick...Then What.png

We know that systematic and explicit instruction that is designed to build on itself is the best form of intervention for students struggling with reading and/or spelling. So if you are working through concepts that are delivered in this way, what do you do when your student just is not getting it?

Some programs tell you to stay on that concept indefinitely, you can't move on without providing a very strong foundation which means you cannot move on.

Other programs will tell you to just keep going at their pre-prescribed rate of instruction.

So how do you know what you should do?

We believe that we need to take a bit of both of these approaches when working with struggling readers. We want to make sure we are building a strong foundation but we want to be careful not to stay on a concept indefinitely if a student is just NOT getting it. What should I do if the concepts aren't sticking?


If the student is not understanding a specific concept here is what we would do:

  1. Try explaining the concept in another way. This is a HUGE part of the reason we incorporate so many games into our sessions. Games offer an opportunity to review and reintroduce a concept in a way that may make more sense to that specific student. Part of the reason that we really hate scripted programs (even though we provided a script for ours) is because it makes educators feel nervous about deviating off the words provided on the page. We KNOW that some of our students need a concept explained differently. We always make sure we have tried to explain a concept in many ways (verbally, through self-guided inquiry, through activities, through games) before moving on.
  2. Review the concept on another day. This is another reason we use games all the time. This is a fun way to review without making students feel bad about their difficulty with the concept. We also use tons of structured review activities. Sometimes students need a bit more repetition before they feel comfortable and really understand a rule or concept. One of the reasons that our struggling readers have so much difficulty in the classroom is that the pace of the classroom just moves too quickly for them. We want to make sure we aren't providing that same environment in a small group or 1:1 setting. If you are working with a student in a classroom setting and things aren't sticking, it would be worth talking to parents to see how they can support the needed review.
  3. Move on. So clearly, this is our last choice. We don't just want to move on and leave a child "in the dust" so to speak. But - we also don't want to stay on a concept indefinitely. This ultimately may do more harm than good. I cannot even tell you how many times we have heard that "OG-based" instruction just wouldn't work for a child because he or she couldn't move past a certain level and then got defeated and gave up. We DON'T want this clearly. What's important to recognize is that systematic, sequential instruction should be building on itself and systematically reviewing previously instructed concepts. Because this review is built-in the child may just "click" with a specific rule or concept later in their instruction. We want to be very aware of what areas are creating a struggle so we can make sure to hit that review consistently but it's just not worth risking a child throwing in the towel to focus on one specific rule forever. It's also important to realize that because many of our rules are very similar in nature, allowing a child to move on may just give them the background information they need in order for the concept to stick.

So that's it - when a concept is not sticking, trying explaining it in another way, review with fun games or activities that are motivating for the student, and then move on. You can always come back to a specific rule or concept that isn't sticking after the student has received more instruction. In our view, it's of utmost importance to give them as much knowledge as you can as quickly as they can handle - note as quickly as THEY can handle which may be different from student to student. Then come back and solidify those concepts once they have a solid base. From our experience it is essential that you DO NOT hold them in one concept forever!

Corey Pollard