How it Happened
It was March and one of my second grade students, Karen (not her real name), had been stuck at a 1.3 reading level (1st grade, 3rd month) since December. I was trying everything I could think of. I decided to ask Jared, my 18-year-old son, to come read with her. I shared with Karen that my son has dyslexia and had really struggled to learn to read at her age. She had met Jared before and was very excited to have this tall, handsome young man coming to see just her!
On the day Jared read with Karen, I told him to read a page to her, then choral read it together, then let her read it alone. Karen returned from their session walking on a cloud! She was animated and excited…traits that she rarely displays. She was reading with a fluency I had NEVER heard from her! I was floored and couldn’t resist doing a quick test to find out her reading level. She was reading at a 1.8. That was a 5-month increase in 30 minutes! The Jared Factor was at work.
My AHA Moment
Yet the very next day, her reading returned to the previous level. So, it appeared the Jared Factor wasn't permanent. A paragraph from Dr. Judy Willis’s book Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom (2007) leaped into my mind. It says:
“When activated by emotion, the RAS (Reticular Activating System) sends messages to the frontal lobes’ executive function and memory centers. When the RAS is below normal activity levels, the decreased stimulation of these frontal lobe centers can result in learning and memory difficulties and impaired self-control” (page 64).
I speculated that Karen must need higher than average levels of positive emotion to push messages through her RAS. Clearly I needed to have Jared visit more often! Unfortunately that wasn’t possible. I couldn’t think of any other handsome teenagers I could enlist either. My first idea was to have her read a book to Jared on a video. However, that can only work so many times. I finally decided to try being extra animated and excited myself on the days I work with her (I’m a very animated person to begin with!) and to try to get her to act the same. I finally started seeing a steady increase. By the end of school last week she was consistently reading at a 1.9.
What I’m Going To Do Now
I’m tutoring Karen this summer. My goal is to teach her BrainSMART strategies to use on her own to help her get extra positive emotions flowing for learning. This is part of my BrainSMART action research project. I can’t wait to share my results in about 3 weeks!
What To Take Away From This
I think the most important message here is that some children with reading difficulties simply need higher positive emotions to get messages through to their frontal lobes. Since Jared isn't available on a daily basis, you may need to be extra animated and positive when working with them! If you have a struggling student who is very low-key, this could be the answer.