Having been in this business of education, psychology and school struggling for some time, there are a few “old school” concepts that I think still apply and are important for parents to keep in mind. These old school concepts reside in the dustbins of the forgotten attics of education. Just because they are tucked away and forgotten does not mean they do not have value.

Here are the three:

Stages of Reading Development

The first old school concept is the one Stages of Reading Development. This concept comes to us from the renowned researcher, the late Dr. Jeanne Chall. She emphasized that all children (not just those who are struggling) pass-through expected stages of reading development, but some children get stuck in a stage and their progress is greatly delayed. There are five essential stages. Stages 1 & 2 are primarily involved with the development of phonological decoding and reading fluency. Children with reading disability/dyslexia are typically struggling in these stages.  

The stages provide a roadmap and help you to know where your child is at any given time. For me, the stages are extremely useful.

Instructional Levels

The second “old school” concept to understand is the notion of a child’s Instructional Levels. There are three instructional levels.  These are:

  • Independent level means the given task is easy for the child and no assistance is needed to perform the task. In reading, for example, the words would be read smoothly and effortlessly and text would be comprehended. It’s a “piece of cake.”
  • Instructional level means the child can manage the task, but needs a degree of assistance. A real world example would be a child who can mostly make her lunch, but needs some support.
  • Frustration level means that the task is simply too hard for the child even with assistance. Perhaps the text is too dense to understand in terms of the vocabulary or the words are simply too hard to read and are overwhelming.

Task Analysis

The third old school concept, largely forgotten and tucked away deep in the attic is “task analysis.” With task analysis the idea is that any end-point task that you want someone to master can be broken down into sub-tasks to help the person move along a continuum toward mastery of the skill. Breaking down the steps of the task helps us to understand all the steps the child must go through to achieve mastery. Teaching cognitively impaired children to brush their teeth successfully was the classic example used to illustrate task analysis as there are a number of steps involved with successful teeth-brushing.

Dust off a few of these ideas.  They still apply.


(Adapted from “School Struggles,” (2012), By Dr. Richard Selznick, Sentient Publications)