How to Improve Reading Struggles for Children with Learning Disorders

April 29, 2021

There are about 10 million children who struggle to read. For some children, a learning disorder may pose a barrier to reading fluency and proficiency. However, reading programs via apps or perhaps more formalized programs through schools may help struggling readers become more proficient, confident and more fluid readers.

Readability’s CEO Ameeta Jain talked to educator Robin Getsee about her experience in helping children with learning disorders overcome reading struggles. Getsee discusses her experience with Readability and the success some of her students had with the program.

About Robin Getsee

Robin Getsee currently teaches English-Language Arts to middle school students with varying disabilities. She has been teaching at Woodland Heights Middle School in Mooresville, NC since 2006. Getsee has been the lead teacher at her school for the past several years and was honored to be selected as the Iredell-Statesville Schools District Exceptional Children’s Teacher of the Year for 2018.

Prior to her current position, Getsee taught high school special education in both Florida and South Carolina. After having her first child, Getsee left full-time teaching to work part-time for the Opportunity Scholars Program at The University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie Campus as an English/Language Specialist. 

Getsee currently lives in Troutman, NC with her husband and two children. Her daughter began attending NC State University in the fall of 2020 to study Paper Science and Engineering. Her son is currently a sophomore at South Iredell High School. In her spare time, Getsee enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, and painting.

Readability’s CEO Ameeta Jain Interviews Robin Getsee

AJ: Hi everyone, my name is Ameeta Jain and I’m the CEO of Readability. And today we’re going to talk about how we can help improve the reading and comprehension skills for those kids that have varying learning disabilities or other disabilities. And I’m so excited and thrilled because today we have someone very special with us. Her name is Robin Getsee and Robin is a middle school teacher in North Carolina. Her students have varying disabilities and she’s been teaching for like 20 years, she’s a mom of two, and she also holds the honor of Exceptional Children’s Teacher of the Year Award for 2018. Hi Robin, welcome.

RG: Hi, thank you.

AJ: So I’d love to talk to you about your experience as a teacher working with students that have varying disabilities. I know you’re a middle school teacher so let’s talk about the age group and maybe define what those varying disabilities are.

RG: Sure so, I teach sixth, seventh and eighth grade special education. I teach the language arts. We have another teacher who does all of the math. Most of my students have, they range from students with learning disabilities. I have many students with other health impairments. Many of those have ADHD. I have several students with autism and that really about sums up the major categories of disabilities.

AJ: Okay. So what I’m hoping for today is that our conversation helps other parents and educators find resources, tools, tips, suggestions that can help their students improve reading and comprehension skills and really just help lift and advance those students. So I know that you have a very special story you’d like to share about one of your students.

RG: I do, so I learned about readability through a student with autism. He read painfully slowly at the end of last year, right before COVID. He was reading probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 words a minute. He also has a little bit of a speech impediment. So he stuttered and he read very slowly, working with him the best I could virtually through COVID. Summer rolls around, he comes back in August. We were very fortunate that our students were able to return face-to-face and he came back and I called on him to read and he was a totally different student. I could not believe how well he was reading. I could understand him. It was mostly fluent. His reading was still slow. And I called his mom that afternoon and I said, what have you done? Because this is, this was not a matter of my teaching, this was, that was going on at home. And she told me about the Readability program. And it was just absolutely fascinating to see his progress. Just absolutely amazing to see what he’s done. His comprehension has gone up from an early first grade level to an early third grade level.

AJ: Wow.

RG: His fluency is, I don’t have exact numbers on his fluency but like I said, we can understand him. His confidence has improved. He’s just a totally different kid.

AJ: That’s amazing. And do you remember about his reading level, from what level to what level he is now? Did he move up in his reading level?

RG: His comprehension is in early first grade and now he’s in an early third. I would guess he probably started somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 words a minute as a first or second grade level passage. And now he’s a lot more fluent, he’s up in the hundreds.

AJ: That’s amazing. That is, that’s heartwarming for sure that some, you know, we’re helping kids out there improve because if we can help lift our kids through reading, really set them up so that they can read well and comprehend well, then they can do anything. And that’s how we feel here. So that’s such a great story. And I know that, that’s when we connected, you know, with all this that was happening with this one student, how could you help your other students? So tell us a little bit about how you feel like if you were to share with other educators and parents, what about this program, is helping a child who, you know has a little bit of a speech impediment, is reading super slow. What do you think is important about this tool that will help other students?

RG: The biggest piece of feedback I get from my students is that they like it. I have some students, one particular student said “You mean I can do this and my mom doesn’t have to listen to me read?” And he was so excited because he gets embarrassed and he gets nervous when he reads in front of people, he’s worried his mom’s gonna yell at him and I’m gonna correct him. And he was so excited ’cause he could take this iPad and go in his bedroom and read by himself. And nobody knows he messed up except him and the computer and he’s willing to do it. And I think that’s the most important piece of a reading program, regardless of what program you use, the kid has to be invested in the program. They have to want to do it. It’s not gonna work if they’re not using it consistently and it’s not gonna work if mom is beating on them, trying to get them to, you know, do the program, do the program. They’ve really wanted to do it. And I find my students really like the program. They, I’ve got one that comes to my room before his eighth grade language arts class every day. And he reads for 15 minutes during the class change and they want to do it.

AJ: I think that is amazing. That’s amazing. And I think for parents and educators, when you have a full classroom and when parents are so, you know they’re strapped for time, their time is spread so thin and to have a tool that actually monitors the reading because we know that Readability does track the time spent reading and it does provide key performance indicators, right? Like read words per minute and the fluency and decoding. So that is important, so a child can go in their bedroom and a parent knows, okay my child is reading based on what Readability is telling them. So I think that’s important to note. And so what would you, you know, what other tools have you used with students that also help with reading? What would you say, before Readability, what were you doing?

RG: Before Readability I was, you know, kind of throwing in phonic skills as we did reading comprehension. If a student would miss a word, I’d just kind of throw in EA, make the “e” sound and we’d kind of throw them in but I didn’t really have a systematic approach for teaching that reading fluency. My, we call it resource class, it’s students who only have IEP’s and have special needs. And in that class it’s a replacement for the regular language arts class. So not only do I have to teach these phonic skills that they’ve missed, I’m also responsible for teaching the whole language arts curriculum and all those skills. I teach grade-level skills at lower reading levels. So I really haven’t had a systematic approach to being able to teach phonics before Readability. It was just kind of whatever spelling lesson I could throw into whatever we were reading that day. So Readability has really given me a chance to give those students time, just to work on those phonic skills that they’re missing.

AJ: That’s amazing. I’m so happy to hear that. And you know, collectively, that’s the goal. That’s my passion behind Readability, is to really lift every child, give every child a chance for success in life. And it all starts with reading, I truly believe that. And we so appreciate you Robin as a teacher for what you do especially working with children with varying disabilities because we know that job is not easy and we honor you, we respect you. And we’re so happy that you could be with us here today. And so just for any parting words, advice that you have for other parents and teachers alike, when it comes to their children who have varying disabilities.

RG: I think that the biggest piece of advice I have is just keep your kids reading. Regardless it doesn’t matter what they’re reading. I have so many parents that are worried that their kids aren’t reading at a high enough level or they’re not reading something educational. They’re reading something with pictures in eighth grade. It doesn’t matter; just read. And if it’s Readability and they love that great, if they wanna read a comic book or the back of the cereal box, it doesn’t matter, just read and talk about what you’re reading. That’s where they’re really going to gain those skills.

AJ: I love that. I love that, I think that’s a perfect note to end on. We’re so happy to have you here. And we would love to have you back especially after you’ve worked with more students, to hear their success stories. Thank you, Robin.

RG: Certainly. Thank you, Ameeta. I’ve enjoyed it. I appreciate you.