That Nagging Feeling that Something is Not Quite Right

Faith Borkowsky

By Faith Borkowsky, Certified Dyslexia Practitioner and Founder of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching

Recently Nessy asked Faith Borkowsky, founder of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, to author an article for our blog. Faith was kind enough to share the minutes of a consultation she had with a former client, a teacher whose son has dyslexia. The interviewed parent offers a unique perspective on dyslexia, how it’s viewed in schools, and the importance of systematic phonics and early intervention.

“I know there’s something not quite right, but the school assures me that they are doing everything they can to help my child.”

Below is an excerpt from one of my interviews with a former client. What makes this interview unique is that the parent is a teacher whose child has dyslexia. 70% of my clients are teachers and administrators! If parents are waiting for the school to recognise and remedy their child’s reading difficulties, they might be in for a rude awakening. This parent was savvy enough to look outside the system because she was in the trenches. Teachers are more aware of the expectations, they know when something isn’t working, and search when they need to find answers.

But what about the typical parent? Many will put all their trust into the professionals and wait. And wait. And wait… A cautionary tale as parents are advised to “give it [dyslexia] time.”

What were some concerns you had about your child’s reading progress when he began school?

Before my child started kindergarten, I was concerned that he couldn’t rhyme or match letters to their sound, say the alphabet in order, or pronounce familiar words. He was so ahead in other areas but the “nitty gritty” was off. He made little to no progress as he moved to first and second grade.

Did your child have delays in any developmental milestones or difficulties with speech and language?

As a baby/toddler, my child did not have any delays in developmental milestones. In some areas, he was “ahead of the curve.” However, there was always a deficit in the phonological awareness piece. When he was in kindergarten, he received early intervention in speech and language to help with his difficulty in rhyming and blending letter sounds, etc. It was in first grade when everything fell apart.

Did you share your concerns with his teachers and administrators? What was their response?

I did share my concerns, and they listened and did agree with some of my concerns. In infant school, he was given speech (1x/cycle), OT (1x/cycle), and reading (Levelled Literacy Intervention -LLI- 3x/cycle). In first grade, he received reading 5x/cycle (4 days LLI and 1 day of Explode the Code – to address the “decoding” deficits). Unfortunately, the area he struggled with the most was serviced only once every 6 days.

Did anyone at the school recognise dyslexia and was anyone equipped to teach him?

No, they did not recognise dyslexia. His K/1 reading teacher was not equipped at all and had no input/ideas on how to help him. She just kept following the LLI path. It wasn’t until he received outside help and changed reading teachers within his school.

When did you realise your child needed outside help? How did you feel when you couldn’t help your own child to read?

I realised in first grade. He wasn’t making any progress. He was failing every Wilson Foundations test, a classroom phonics program, and no one seemed concerned that he was consistently getting 30% or 40% on them. He didn’t know the sounds, was unable to spell, and couldn’t grasp their expectation of sight words. I requested a full evaluation and was denied special education services. I was told his reading services would increase to everyday and a new program, Explode the Code, would be implemented to help with the phonic deficits. I hired a reading teacher from another school to work with my child but, as much as she tried and wanted to help, she was not equipped. It was really just an extension of LLI. With LLI, my child was able to compensate for his inability to decode. In second grade, I found High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching. Reading your bio, following your blog etc., I knew this is what he’d been missing.

I felt like a failure, that I couldn’t help him in the way he needed. I couldn’t believe that his mother, a teacher, couldn’t crack this code. I tried! I researched different dyslexia institutes and printed out anything Orton-Gillingham related that he and I could have done together but it wasn’t enough. I would often cry in private. It’s heart-breaking to watch your child struggle and then slowly realise that he struggles no matter how hard he tries. My tipping point was when he earned 100 on a math test, but his teacher took off one point and made it a 99 because he wrote all the number 3s backwards. To watch my second grader come home from school, run upstairs, close his bedroom door, and listen to him cry and talk to himself and question why “he is like this” was absolutely heart-shattering.

What happened when your child received explicit, systematic phonics? What did you learn about reading along the way?

A whole new world opened! It was not all unicorns and rainbows. It was hard work, consistency, and lots of encouragement. What took years to attempt was actually working within a few sessions. I was watching him retrain his brain. His school noticed as well and acknowledged that it was the outside tutoring that was making the real difference.

About Faith Borkowsky:

  • Faith Borkowsky is the founder of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching and is a Certified Dyslexia Practitioner with thirty-five years of experience in literacy instruction - as a classroom teacher, reading and learning specialist, regional literacy coach, administrator, and tutor. 
  • Ms. Borkowsky provides professional development for teachers and school districts, as well as parent workshops, presentations, and private consultations on science-based literacy practices.
  • She is the author of the award-winning book, Failing Students or Failing Schools? A Parent’s Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention, and the If Only I Would Have Known… series of books, conceived as a roadmap for literacy readiness and success for parents of young children. In 2021, Ms. Borkowsky was a finalist for the World Literacy Foundation award for her significant contributions to literacy.