When I started out thirty years ago as a special education teacher, I never imagined I would become a school psychologist, special education director, university professor, education researcher, and author of an innovative reading methodology for non-readers.
I enjoyed my years as educator, but I felt terribly frustrated by that unreachable group of children who seem to exist in every school, defying instruction and never learning how to read anything. You know who they are because you all have them. They fall farther behind each year, eventually give up and then drop out of school. Unbelievably, there are almost a half million of these students sitting in America’s classrooms right now. Their average total sight word vocabulary is fewer than fifty words. That is a tragedy for each and every one of them.
No matter what I tried with my non-readers – and believe me, I tried everything – I just couldn’t help them. But eventually I realized there was a big difference between the poor readers, the struggling readers, and the non-readers. The non-readers were extremely deficient in vocabulary and background knowledge, and they didn’t respond to skills training. I started calling them “phonetically deaf ” because I could literally give them hundreds of hours of alphabetic instruction, and it still didn’t help! Clearly, they needed something very different.
Based on that experience, I developed the Failure Free Reading methodology, a compensatory methodology designed to scaffold vocabulary, fluency and comprehension for non-readers. My approach is not remedial like phonics interventions designed for the struggling readers who score from the 20th to the 50th percentile. Instead, Failure Free Reading meets the unique needs of the worst-performing students, those who score in the 0-15th percentile range. The program controls for three essential, research-based elements that together enable non-readers to finally be able to experience reading success: sufficient repetition, comprehendible sentence structure, and age and developmentally appropriate story content. I also found that by starting my students at their frustration level I was able to accelerate each student’s vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency — non-readers included.
Today, non-readers of all ages – even secondary students and adults who gave up a long time ago – are experiencing what it feels like to read for meaning, with engagement and confidence. In just the first lesson, they realize “I can read.” I’ve had the great privilege of seeing this happen again and again, and it never fails to inspire me. Trust me, it’s never too late to help your non-readers take their crucial first steps to becoming readers.
Dr. Joseph Lockavitch, Failure Free Reading Author and President