Try these quick and easy-to-do foundational literacy assessments on your child.
Don Potter is an award-winning, incredibly successful literacy tutor who sees firsthand too many kids who haven’t learned to read, write, and spell. He has created a way to discover much of what’s missing in just one hour of informal assessments. This 74-year-old retired teacher worked successfully for 35 years in both public and private school settings before he answered his passion and calling for helping others; he started a tutoring business to save children who struggle with the essential foundational literacy skills.
Don’s work is grounded in the latest 2021st science of reading—he’s a lifelong learner—and he brings to bear encyclopedic knowledge of the history of teaching reading methods in America. He has lived through the continuous pendulum swings in reading education sometimes referred to as “the reading wars.” He knows the casualties are children. He knows from experience what works and what needs to be changed. Beyond that, Don loves and inspires kids with humor and compassion. I interviewed Don to see if he might share insights and inspiration.
Dr. Gentry: I’ve seen your work with scores of children. As a tutor, you fix reading problems in children who have struggled for years at what seems to be warp speed. What are your tips to tutors, parents, and teachers for figuring out what’s going on with their struggling reader?
Mr. Potter: I have five quick and easy assessments that I can complete in just about one hour. I follow up with more formal assessments but my quick-start assessments are fun to do and powerfully revealing. Any parent or teacher can do these.
Mr. Potter’s Tips
Tip #1 is an informal version of the more formal “rapid naming assessments” used by neuroscientists for research and by school and cognitive psychologists. Rapid naming along with phonological awareness are often touchstones for finding solutions for kids with severe reading disability. I created an informal format that even parents and teachers can use. I start with a list of the letters of the alphabet—the uppercase next to the lowercase.
I just point at random to the letters on my test sheet and ask the students to name them. I mark the ones they get wrong and record any notable comments they make such as “I have trouble writing that one.”
Importantly, I time how long it takes the tutee to say all the letters, calculate the words per minute, and record it on the test sheet. Fluency counts high on my tests because the automaticity of various components of reading is crucial to release the brain’s working memory for comprehension.
Tip #2 is as follows: I hand them a piece of paper and ask them to write the letters in ABC order. Much too often what happens is unexpected and tragic. I happen to live in a large school district that does not teach handwriting. Virtually all the kids who come to me have shockingly bad handwriting skills simply because they have not been taught. If a student doesn’t have fluency with writing letters and has to consciously think about how to make the letter it soaks up memory that is needed for reading, spelling fluency, and comprehension.
About the Author- J. Richard Gentry, Ph.D., is an expert on childhood literacy, reading, and spelling. He is the author of Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write—Baby to Age 7.