Amazing EBLI Stories: Owen Vettraino

Beyond Reading Instruction: Addressing and Overcoming Student Anxiety

by Nora Chahbazi

Owen had crippling anxiety and knew every avoidance tactic in the book.

Owen Vettraino began his sessions at OOPRC in January of 2014 (the middle of his first grade year) and was wrought with anxiety about reading. Many of the students who come to our center have extreme anxiety when it comes to reading.

Often by the time they get here they have experienced numerous other programs, both in and out of school. Typically they have a label and believe something is wrong with them, feel ashamed, and try to hide their struggles. Panic and avoidance are common when they’re confronted with books they can't read and school work they are unequipped to accomplish.

Owen had crippling anxiety and knew every avoidance tactic in the book. Many of them involved using his charming and vivacious personality in an attempt to deflect the focus from the instruction. He worked with Hannah, and ended up being one of her greatest teachers!

Though he hadn’t been attempting to read for long, Owen had learned very well the strategy of looking at the first letter in words and guessing – and it was not working for him. Hannah worked diligently to both teach him to read and decrease his anxiety.
In addition to intensive EBLI instruction and vigilant error correction with reading, writing, and spelling, the following are a few of the strategies that Hannah used with Owen and that we use regularly at OOPRC to help relieve students’ anxiety:

1. Intrinsic motivation

We realize the importance of fostering intrinsic motivation with our students; when they are motivated to do something for their own reasons and when they become aware of the progress they are making, they are much more likely to keep at it and continue improving. For Owen, this meant reading to his younger brother Hudson and reading about the outdoors and video games.

2. Getting to know our students

We do all we can to get to know the students well and quickly. In our first session, we ask them about their favorite hobbies and sports, as well as their pets and siblings. Not only does this help us get to know them, but it also assists us in choosing reading material that interests them and learning what they are passionate about and what motivates them.

3. Connection

Owen would get extremely uncomfortable whenever a book was brought out to read. This brought out intense anxiety and avoidance behavior. When this happens with students, we often gently place a hand on their arm. This helps students become more focused and connected which often lowers their anxiety significantly. We ask permission from the student before doing this.

4. Point Game

We can’t teach without it! This is, far and away, the best behavior management and habit changing strategy we know of, whether we’re teaching one student or forty. The point game is a t-chart with one side for students and one side for the teacher. Students earn points whenever they do what the teacher is asking and what they’re supposed to. Teachers earn points when the students are not doing what was asked. We use this game to help create and reinforce effective habits such as saying the sounds as they write and reading the word all the way through as well as to bring ineffective habits (for Owen: guessing and avoiding) into students’ consciousness in order to more quickly change them.

5. Allowing students to stand and move

Anxiety ridden students will often get very antsy when asked to read or attempt reading. To help manage their physical overflow we allow them to stand as they work, on the floor or on a rocker board. We also have disco seats which are air filled discs that students sit on to move as they learn.

Owen worked with Hannah for a total of 36 hours.  His anxiety decreased significantly and he transitioned from being a guesser to an accurate and fluent reader.

Owen used to be in the red on the clip chart every day, and he would cry before going to school.  Now he happily heads off to school, and every evening he updates his family on his great day.

You can click here for a video of Owen reading an EBLI Sound Poem.  His writing also improved greatly.  The #1 image below happened within the first month of Owen's EBLI sessions, and was the first thing he voluntarily wrote at home.  The rest of the writing pieces illustrate his progress throughout the year.


Owen’s mom, Becky, was a champion for him from the beginning. She shared about her EBLI experience in an email to Hannah:

“You truly have no idea how grateful I am for you. Owen was so difficult for you, I watched it with my own eyes, but you never gave up. Him being challenging became your challenge that you were bound and determined to conquer, and you did. You both really inspired each other. I applaud your patience. That showed me that this was not just your “job.” Helping children, adults; it’s your passion. Your success isn’t based on how easy it was that day or the amount of money you bring home at the end of the week but instead, how much you got through to someone that day, how much you were able to teach and know that with each day a little more progress was made and by the end of the sessions there was success in the form of a reader/writer. How amazing is that?!!!”

We are so proud of Owen’s progress! Along with teaching the world to read, we are dedicated to making life less stressful and more successful for all learners.

Sign up for our mailing list to receive more stories like Owen's in your inbox.

As always, THANK YOU for reading, commenting, sharing, and being an integral part of the EBLI community!

Please share by clicking the buttons below if you know anyone else who would benefit from learning Owen's story.


                 ▼Story Categories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *