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  • Writer's pictureJanay Neufeld

A Guide From Struggling First Grade Reader to Second Grade Reading Success

In this blog post, I'm excited to share the inspiring reading journey of a smart, funny, and hard-working second-grade student named Emma, whom I enjoy working with through My Online Reading Tutor. She is undoubtedly a bright student, making significant progress in her reading journey. Emma's story is one of commitment, dedication, and fostering a love of reading.


Janay Neufeld of My Online Reading Tutor shares a second grade student's reading success story


Where she began


When Emma first came to me for extra help, she was at the beginning of her 1st grade school year. She took an ESL class (English as a second language) at school because she speaks Mandarin as her primary language at home. She was strong in spelling and pronouncing some words but had difficulty recognizing grade-level sight words and with reading comprehension skills.


Emma's Mom was reading with her and doing sight words at home, but she contacted me for additional support. Although apprehensive because she was easily distracted, her Mom signed up for online reading classes, and we set a goal to read on grade level, better her reading comprehension, and get her reading books by herself!


Building a Strong Foundation


The first thing I like to do when I receive a new student is a free reading assessment to see if they missed any essential building blocks to reading in their literacy skills and if there are any new concepts I can teach to fill those gaps. This assessment looks at all the critical skills essential to reading: recognizing the letters of the alphabet and identifying their sounds, word recognition (sight words), phonemic awareness (individual sounds in words), phonics skills, fluency (reading speed), and comprehension. Then, I build a personalized learning plan with the help of the parent(s) and start plugging away at the essential skills I see fit in creating a better reader in that child. This assessment also allows me to evaluate how many hours of instruction are necessary each week to close the reading gap.


Then I reassess and send the family an updated reading assessment every three months to ensure progress and update them with their child's successes and struggles.


To sign your child up for a FREE Reading Assessment, click the button below:



When Emma first came to me, she tested as a struggling reader because she was instructional on words at an early kindergarten level (meaning she needed help from an adult to decode this level of words). Late kindergarten words were too hard for her. Our goal was to help her to recognize up to grade-level words without hesitation.



A snippet of a second grade student's Reading Assessment with Janay Neufeld at My Online Reading Tutor
A snippet of Emma's Initial Reading Assessment with Janay Neufeld at My Online Reading Tutor


Next, we get to work. Emma signed up for one hour of instruction per week. The more repetition, the better, so I like to see students two times a week for half an hour each. I try to make learning fun, but I also teach the necessary skills to move them up and build their confidence as fast as possible. Hiring a tutor is a great way to do just that!


With a student at Emma's level, I plan to first work on sight word recognition, picking up on words within her instructional level (starting on early kindergarten-level words). One of my favorite tools for working on sight words with young readers is Eyewords multisensory cards. They are an evidence-based approach to learning sight words, including visual aids, hand movements, auditory cues, and more.


Click the video below to see an example of me working on Eyewords with a student:




To order your own set of Eyewords multisensory cards, click the button below:



Working on phonics patterns is also a great place to start. In elementary schools, it's common for students to miss essential skills as their classroom teacher has a range of students and must keep moving before all are ready. Tutoring is spectacular for filling in those gaps, as I don't have to worry as much about the common core state standards or grade-level curriculum. I can meet students where they are, teach any helpful information, focus on critical areas sequential to learning to read, and focus on single student progress. Important phonics patterns to check for mastery include closed or short vowels, open vowel patterns, magic e, two vowels, r-controlled vowels, etc. One of the many ways I work on this with students is to do word sorts like the one below:


Janay Neufeld of My Online Reading Tutor shares one vowel pattern strategy she uses with students: word sorts
Example of a word sort activity I might do with students to work on vowel patterns. Working online students have the oppurtunity to draw, write, and fully participate as they can have control of the screen!


Once a student knows their phonics patterns and how vowels can play a vital role in decoding what a word says, we move on to working on syllication rules. Syllabication helps students know exactly where to split a word into smaller chunks and sound it out successfully.

Janay Neufeld of My Online Reading Tutor shares a syllibication technique she uses with students to help them decode any word that comes their way!
Spot and dot is a syllication technique I teach my students that helps them conquer any word that comes their way!

Simultaneously, we would work on simple stories to build her word recognition, reading speed, and comprehension skills. Other essential comprehension skills we have touched on are a text's main idea and details, the author's purpose, cause and effect, analyzing characters, and sequence of events.


Challenging Her Along the Way


Tutoring can be tricky because if I don't remind students how proud I am of them and how far they have come, it can feel like they are always struggling. That's because as soon as students master a sight word, I throw new words their way. As soon as we reach her reading fluency goal on one level, we move her up to the next. I must keep pushing and challenging her for progress to continue.


Once she can master more word recognition and get her reading speed up, I move on to more educational evaluation of her comprehension skills, or in some cases, parts of speech or any key elements I see they are struggling with during our time together.


For Emma, being an English language learner, vocabulary acquisition was a challenge. Therefore, we worked on comprhension skills, such as looking for context clues to understand unknown words in a text.


​How Far She Has Come

I am incredibly proud that Emma is now reading independently on 2nd-grade sight words, has mastered all her phonics patterns and syllabication rules, and can read independently on grade-level fiction texts. She has moved up a total of 5 reading levels since the beginning of our journey together! She is now a strong reader and a more confident second grader!


Janay Neufeld of My Online Reading Tutor helped her student move up five reading levels and become independent on 2nd grade level reading

Emma's journey is a shining example of what can be accomplished through hard work and a passion for learning. Her success is a personal triumph, an inspiration to her peers, and a testament to the supportive community we've cultivated here at My Online Reading Tutor​.

How Long Will It Take for My Child To Improve Their Reading?


This is a question that I get all the time. The answer is a challenging one to answer. I consistently implement the best practices I know, keep up with the science of reading, and conduct further research on how to help my students best. Some kids will pick things up quicker than others. I have had kids reach their goals and move up a couple of grade levels in a few months, while others need more individual attention and time with the material for a more extended period. Either way, research shows that it is crucial to intervene early!

Janay Neufeld of My Online Reading Tutor Shares that all students are on a different reading journey and it's hard to say how long improvement might take. But it's important to intervene early!

That being said, my students, with family members working on the material at home between sessions and staying consistent, make the most progress. I do give students access to online resources to work on during sessions. Working in between tutoring sessions keeps kids reading a variety of texts at their specific reading level. It gives them the right amount of challenge to keep progressing in their reading while working at home.


Note that for older students, their learning plans will look dramatically different. Depending on the child and their needs, we may work on more critical thinking skills regarding comprehension. For example, students often struggle with implicit comprehension questions. Those are ones in which they must use their prior knowledge and clues from the text to draw their conclusions for an answer. These comprehension questions are not explicitly stated in the text, and it is more challenging because you can't look back at the text to pluck a line out of the story to answer the question.


For additional information about tutoring for your child, please visit my website or feel free to ask any questions!


About the Author


Janay Neufeld is an online reading specialist and confidence coach for kids. Her unique approach can help children worldwide increase their confidence and reading skills with positive mindset training, helping them reach their full potential!

She has ten years of experience helping children feel like skilled, confident readers. She has her multiple-subject teaching credential, Orton Gillingham trained through the Institute for Multisensory Education, and she has a Master of Arts in Education. She is also certified as a life coach for kids through Adventures in Wisdom.






To sign your child up for a FREE Reading Assessment, click the button below:





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