Reading Problems

It is often easy to recognize reading problems. Children simply can’t read at grade level or they can’t comprehend what they do read. Sometimes they read so slow that they aren’t fluent. Reading problems fall into two categories: word recognition difficulties and comprehension problems. In the word recognition difficulties students have not mastered the letter-sound combination and in the comprehension problems, they have not mastered the meaning or understanding skills. Both word recognition and comprehension skills are required for fluent reading.

One of the most popular strategies for assisting students with word recognition difficulties is the phonetic method, often called the grapheme-phoneme association, where students learn sounds for letters and blends. By this method students can sound out unfamiliar words. Research has supported this method as being effective with most children. However, not all students respond to this strategy, especially those with reading disabilities.

children reading together

from The Mary Frances Cookbook by Jane Eayre Frye – illustrations by Margaret G. Hays and Jane Allen Boyer

The word-say method works with some children who do not respond to the phonetic approach. That is, they learn words by the word spelling or configuration, rather than sounding out the word. (It has been found that they probably use some phonetic strategies even with this approach.) Many of the most basic words do not lend themselves to a phonetic approach so a combination of the two approaches can be used.

For comprehension, there are several ways to improve reading comprehension. Strategies that have been found to be effective are: modeling (showing how to comprehend), providing test questions before reading (giving readers a set as to what to look for as they read), paraphrasing (stating what one has read in his/her own words), and networking (organize what has been read). More information on these strategies can be found in Parent and Teacher Rules.

However, the big question is how to help children with reading problems to learn how to read.

We now are learning more and more about how children learn to read. For one thing, the teacher is an important factor. Research has shown that it is not so much the reading program that is used to teach reading as it is the teacher’s skill. Most reading programs have been found to be effective if used by an competent teacher. So the first step in helping children to become a more efficient readers is to select the best teacher possible.

A major factor that seems to influence the effectiveness of the teacher is the class size. The fewer students teachers have in their classes, the less likely children are to have difficulty in learning to read. Also, peer tutoring seems to help children learn to read. If done effectively, it is practice for the tutor, provides a model of a fluent reader, and offers immediate feedback for the learner.

Now what kind of program is most effective for teaching reading, a phonetic or word-say? Research that used computers to simulate learning how to read have found that a combination seems to be the most effective. Some words just do not lend themselves well to a phonetic analysis. Yet, learning sounds enables children to unlock many words.

The Easy Readers takes both of these approaches into consideration. It is mainly a program for directly teaching words while being a supplement to a phonetic program. It is based on the most frequently used words in the children’s literature up to the 9th grade (example story). It allows children to start at a level when they can experience success. For more information see here.

If your child has a reading problem that you consider serious, you should contact you school and make arrangements for a school psychologists or other specialists to examine your youngster. The schools should explain the results of their assessment to you and make suggestions for the most effective intervention program that matches your child’s difficulties. ~ Donald J. Dickinson

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