Shared Personal Literacy Stories

Nina's Story


My daughter Nina was always a fun, happy, and sweet child. She also is very bright. However, I noticed early on that she struggled with specific tasks (like learning the days of the week and the months of the year), more than other children her age. As a Montessori teacher, I teach my students the sounds of the letters and ultimately to read phonetically, which I tried to do with Nina, who also attended my school. However, something seemed to be amiss. Her teacher and I decided that her reading difficulties might be due to her being a very young student, given her birthday in her age-group. After completing her three-year cycle at Montessori, which ends after the Kindergarten-year, I decided to let her re-do Kindergarten in the public schools. Her teachers gave us mixed messages, she did have a teacher giving her extra help with sight words, etc., but all her grades were good.

Nina still seemed to be struggling with reading and spelling when she was in second grade. What had made matters worse for her was that her teachers in Kindergarten and first grade had taken a completely different reading approach than Montessori, resembling more of a memorization approach instead of learning to decode the words phonetically. I decided to ask a colleague who had taken an Orton-Gillingham course to read with Nina. She right away agreed that Nina was not reading on an average level.

When Nina was in third grade, the school confirmed that Nina was reading below reading level. She was now in jeopardy of having to repeat 3rd grade or at the very least go to summer school even though she was an A/B student, and her standardized testing was satisfactory. Yet, she was not reading on grade level, according to the Fountas and Pinnell reading proficiency chart. South Carolina has the 'Read to Succeed' law in place, which demands children to be held back in 3rd grade if they are not reading on grade level.

Luckily, Nina had started working with an excellent tutor at this point. A Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, this tutor was a blessing to both Nina and our whole family. Nina saw her for an hour twice a week, for a year and a half. I watched the lessons closely so I could work with Nina at home as well. The Orton-Gillingham approach right away made sense to me as it breaks down the language, explains the rules, and encourages reading phonetically. Nina's tutor not only helped her start to decode the words, but she also encouraged us to have Nina evaluated to see if she had dyslexia. In our hearts and minds, we knew she had dyslexia, and having a formal diagnosis from a child psychologist, helped Nina get the support she needed at school. Now Nina gets accommodations at school, like extra time for tests and assignments, which made it possible for her to succeed. With an I.E.P in place, she did not have to be on reading level to graduate to the next grade level. I don’t know what might have happened to my daughter and 'A student' if we did not get this outside tutoring and testing.

Nina's hard work and perseverance, as well as our willingness to work with her and to invest in her education by getting her a tutor and outside evaluation, has paid off tremendously! Nina is now in 5th grade; she is still a happy and sweet child who still loves school and is a successful student. According to her teachers, Nina is now reading on grade level. She can decode even the most difficult multisyllabic words because she has the tools she needs to succeed. Although Nina still reads slower than the other kids her age and reading long passages makes her tired, she CAN READ ANYTHING. Overall her teachers are thrilled with her, and she needs less and less support.

We are very proud of Nina, and I want to encourage parents not to give up! First of all, trust your instincts! Secondly, there are people out there who can help! Also, never forget Dyslexia is not a disability; it's a learning difference, and dyslexic children are often very smart! Did you know Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, and John Lennon all had dyslexia? Further, Whoopi Goldberg and Henry Winkler also have dyslexia, and both wrote very well written children's books, which my daughter loved to read, by the way! Hang in there, parents, and never forget to advocate for your children!!!

A Passion for Reading Despite My ADHD


What was your experience learning to read?

I am W. Ian Walker, I am a passionate reader, and I am also an ADHD survivor, author, and Arts Administrator, mostly specializing in Choral and Orchestral organizations. I own my business in Hamilton, ON, Canada. My book is titled Stirring My Soul to Sing, Overcoming ADHD Through Song (Word Alive Press, 2018).

It was 1966, I was six, and my mother would take my older sister Anne and me to the library where we could take out five picture books a week. Each night before bed, we would read these books with either our Mom or Dad. We would have these books for one week, return them and start all over again. My mother mostly read to us and taught us to read. I developed a passion for “reading,” and thus, after kindergarten, I was put in a “reading readiness” class, and I think that I was an advanced reader. As I went through public school and would be told that “I was a hyperactive child,” later diagnosed as an adult with ADHD in 1996.

All through public school, high school, and just before college, I would work part-time in the library, as I loved to read books and would get lost in doing much research with my passions in history and the arts. If you came into my office today, I have my extensive library now (when we renovated my office, I wanted a special place for all of my books), and just a few weeks ago, I rearranged it so I could find my books at a faster pace. I also have them all listed in an excel file I designed, so should anyone want to borrow one of them, I can provide the details and follow-up with friends who borrow my books, and I am persistent in getting any of my loaned books back!

What was your experience as a parent helping your child learn to read?

My daughter Christina was passionate about books like I was! We started her off on a unique “alphabet book” from the UK with beautiful pictures from A-Z. Each night we would sit together, and I would read to her; I would point out these items, say their names, and move on. Eventually, Christina understood, and she would say the word of the item on the page back to me and sound out the letters of the words that she was learning. Dad would mix it up a bit, to see if she could pick out a picture and say the name of the image, all on her own; she passed with flying colors. I was so proud of my daughter!

Christina is still as passionate about books as I am, and with two small boys, I know that she has her hands full. However, reading to them is a joy for her.

What is your success story?

My passion is reading, being curious, loving to learn, or experiencing everything that life, reading, and learning can provide for one’s self-esteem. With my ADHD, I attempted to work on a degree in music in 1982, and it wasn’t until twenty-seven years later, in 2009, that I was going to get my degree. However, I changed my major to “Theatre and Film” at McMaster University, Hamilton, ON.

There were many nights and years of wanting to throw in the towel, as with my ADHD. I did not always get it or study what I should have known from my notes for the tests or exams. There were many nights of reading and analyzing documents that needed to be processed to succeed and obtain that education and degree. I was so proud when both my Mom and Dad, who always believed in me, could see me graduate and become the professional Arts Administrator, an international writer, author, and baritone soloist. I finally discovered all of the talents and skills I was created with and became who I was intended to be! Thinking back, it was such a glorious day when my wife Elaine, my closest friend and mentor Robert Cooper (Canadian Choral icon and Order of Canada member), and my parents, Bill and Doreen Walker, were all there at my convocation ceremony to see me graduate. In 2010, my mother, Doreen, passed away from cancer. I was so happy that Mom was there on my graduation day and got to see this long-time goal accomplished with flying colors!

What were your reading challenges?

I think with ADHD, I would sometimes see the words backwards, but that did not happen too often, and when it did, I knew that my brain and eyes were tired, and it was time for a break. A reading challenge for me was to read everything in my library. I have almost succeeded in that goal, and I have dots on the books that I haven’t read but will read in the future. I still have books on my night dresser and around my room that I want to read very soon! I feel very proud and have accomplished many things from that young boy to a man who survived ADHD and still has a passion for reading!

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