An All Too Infrequent True Story


I have been working with children who are at-risk for 50 years. I’d like to tell you a story of one of those kids and how it changed both of our lives.

It was a dark and stormy night – no, that’s not it. Let me start again.

Once upon a time in a land far, far away … no, not that one. That’s how the story I read last night to my grandson started … one more chance …

As I sat in the back of the 7th Grade classroom watching Darwin, I noted that he would get “in trouble” about every 10 minutes.

His teacher would reprimand him and after several ineffective warnings, would send him to the Principal’s office.

Being a behavior management specialist, I was there to set up a program to change Darwin’s behavior. The intervention, which I borrowed from Ed Kubani’s research, worked like a charm. Darwin stopped getting kicked out of class, was no longer being sent to the Principal’s office, nor sent home, nor getting banned from:

  • The library
  • The cafeteria
  • Recess
  • The school bus
  • And the gym

He became a star because Darwin earned points for his entire class so that they could get things they wanted,

  • A pizza party
  • A night with no homework
  • An extra gym period
  • A movie
  • And more

Instead of provoking Darwin into battles with his teacher, his peers now encouraged him not to get into trouble. He loved the attention, the points and the power. Everyone was thrilled with the new Darwin. He was a star.

One day about three weeks into my weekly visits, as was back in his classroom, the students were doing a seatwork assignment on math word problems. After about 10 minutes, I wandered past Darwin’s desk. His books were open, his pencil was in his hand, but there was not a single mark on his workbook page.

“Are these hard,” I asked him, pointing to the word problems.

“Yes,” he admitted, looking down at his scribbler.

“Tell me what’s hard and I will help you.”

“It’s some of the words.”

“Point to them and I will help you read them.”

Darwin looked up at me with his large, 12 year old, brown eyes and muttered “It’s all of them”.

Darwin could not read almost any of the words on the worksheet. He was like 35% of elementary school students who cannot read well and I had completely missed it.

I had failed him.

I had turned him into a “dead man walking”. He looked and acted like a student, but he was learning nothing except compliance because he could not read.

That is the day I learned that most behaviour problems have underlying skill problems, just like the wetness under the mould in ceilings, floors and walls of poorly maintained buildings.

That is how the Maloney Method was born.

I was trained at the doctoral level as a behavioral research psychologist, so I did what my training dictated. I went looking for bona-fide research articles on an effective remedial reading program. I found Zig Engelmann and his colleagues at the University of Oregon. They had just finished first, by miles, in the largest national special education research study ever done. They had a system for teaching struggling students like Darwin.

I flew to Oregon, met Zig, got trained, returned home and started remedial reading programs, with Zig’s help, for kids like Darwin. Zig came the next year to help train teachers.

When I started to get incredible push-back from within the school system, I left and started North America’s first private, behaviorally-based, for-profit learning center.

That was 40 years and 100,000 students ago. The center is so good that it provides a money-back guarantee for learning for every student. It also shows parents how to check progress in a minute or less so that they can hold us accountable.

So far I have helped a couple of dozen colleagues to establish their own learning centers. Many start by learning how to use the Maloney Method programs.

Tomorrow I will show you how to launch your new skill set and earn your CEUs (continuing education credits) so that you too can help some of the 35% of students who are not currently being taught to read.

You get to change their lives as well as provide hope and relief to their desperate parents.

It’s a huge problem, but together we can overcome it one child at a time.

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