When I ask parents of children who are struggling with reading what is being done to correct the problem, I frequently hear something like, “he’s getting in-class support.”  When pressed further to explain what remedial method is being used, I usually don’t get much of a response.

Understand this, “in-class” support is fine for what it is.  But, you need to contrast “in-class” support with “direct instruction.”

Direct instruction provides a child with specific and very direct instruction and feedback in the context of skill development.  If the child does something correctly, he is reinforced.  If it is not correct, then the teacher models and offers feedback.  Effectively, the child is told in other words to try again, but with a different strategy.

I’ve taken tennis lessons for many years.  I’m a slow learner apparently, because the instructor keeps same the same basic thing over and over.  The instruction is very direct – “drop the racket lower,”  “respond sooner,”  “follow through to the target,” “bend your knees more.”  When I do these things he tells me I’m doing them right and when I don’t, he corrects it.  This is done on the spot.

Good reading instruction is no different.  Why individual remediation or small group (no larger than two or three) is so important, is that the teacher can offer so many opportunities of reinforcement and correction.  (In fact, as I am writing this I am hearing one of our teachers working with a child.  Probably in the course of an hour, she modeled sounds for the child she was working with at least 25 different times in a 45 minute period.)

The Orton-Gillingham methods and their offshoots embody direct instruction.  The child is directly taught sounds and how to blend them in words.  Later he or she is taught more complex syllable types and patterns.  Nothing is done indirectly.  Everything is explicitly taught.

One of the things Orton-Gilliingham programs do not do is worksheet a child to the point of excess.  If your child is coming home with worksheet after worksheet from his classroom, there is probably little direct instruction taking place.  Instruction by worksheet is not teaching.

I guess that’s where “in-class support” comes in to play.  When worksheet confusion overwhelms the child someone has to support him.

Just don’t confuse it with direct instruction.