Articles, Literacy

Literacy & Reading Intervention:

Boy leans against the back of a chair looking despondent.

Why wait for failure and its repercussions?

Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the development of your child’s literacy skills is a dangerous game to play and may have ramifications for their self-image, success in other subjects, your back pocket as well as your family’s leisure time.

Language literacy & the Foundation phase (Grades 1-3)

The goal of the foundation phase is to develop a child’s language and number literacy in preparation for the inter-sen phase, which begins in grade 4 in South Africa. In the foundation phase children ‘learn-to-read’ but in the inter-sen and senior phases they are required to ‘read-to-learn’. Therefore your goal as parents and our goal as foundation phase educators should be to focus on…

  • building a strong foundation by developing phonemic awareness and reading fluency
  • growing a love of reading in each child
  • solving problems related to literacy as they come up
  • overcoming obstacles related to reading before our children reach Grade 4.
  • understand that after Grade 3 there is little to no time within the curriculum for teachers to help children with basic reading skills.

A child who cannot read at grade level, or whose skills are not well cemented, will often begin to drop in marks across all subjects, as they move up past grade 4. Parents, whose children have always done well in Grades 1-3, may find that their child’s marks begin to drop considerably and their child may even end up failing subjects like Maths, as they progress through the inter-sen phase into the senior phase. This drop in marks is mainly because subjects now become more language-based e.g. story sums in math, understanding what is required when reading a test / exam question. Children fail because they can no longer cope with the amount of information they are presented with or the speed at which they need to read & process this information.

The result is that the gap between the struggling child and their ‘speedy reading’ peers continues to grow and so does the burden of catching up. The problem multiplies as time goes by.

Take responsibility and do not ignore signs of struggle.

Your child’s issues from last year may not be apparent just yet, but could still be bubbling under the surface. Do not ignore what you already know. If you have any inkling that your child is struggling, help should be sought straight away. At the first sign of trouble with a child’s reading ability that you feel ill-equipped to deal with, seek help from a reading therapist or specialist remedial teacher.

As a parent, you need to be involved in reading with your child one-to-one on a daily basis. This is not optional. The only way that you can pick up problems is to be reading side by side with your child on a regular basis. The only way you can foster a love of reading is to be reading to your child daily.

For more information on developing a reading culture in your home, please click here. If you’d like to know why you can’t miss out on reading to your child daily, read the following article by clicking here.

The consequences of waiting until they fail

  1. Damage to your child’s self-image and confidence levels.
    Failure can result in a child experiencing feelings of shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness. A child who feels this way no longer feels open to learning and no longer feels brave enough to participate in class..
  2. Reading resistance
    A child becomes resistant to reading when the reading tasks that everyone else copes with becomes too difficult for them to cope with. We find that they begin to avoid reading at all costs as it makes them feel bad about themselves. This results in decreasing opportunities to practice their reading skills, thus widening the gap between the child and his/her peers even more. The problem starts to multiply.
  3. Extended recovery/catchup
    Waiting to intervene means that the recovery / catchup period has to be much longer and is more challenging for your child. The fact that the intervention will take longer also means that it is more expensive. The earlier you intervene the easier it is to get the child reading at grade level again, which might save you having to assist them with other subjects at a later date.
  4. The gap between the struggling child and his/her peers widens
    The more a child falls behind the more they miss out on opportunities to practice their reading skills. This results in the gap between the child and his/her peers widening, as the others gain momentum with each bit of progress they make. As a result, the child who struggles falls further and further behind and it increasingly becomes harder to catch up, until it eventually becomes impossible.
  5. A love of reading does not develop
    A child who struggles with reading usually does not develop a love of reading. For this child, there is no pleasure, joy or meaning to be found in reading. This means that they seldom become independent readers who are able to read independently and teach themselves. They remain reliant on teachers and other adults for learning to take place.
  6. Knock-on effect with other subjects
    Other subjects become more complex as children move up the grades. A child’s ability to engage with a subject is limited by their literacy level. If they are not fluent readers and not yet reading at grade level then they are unable engage meaningfully with the subject and will not take away from each lesson as much as their peers are able to. Their scores in subjects such as Math may start to drop after Grade 4. This is because from grade 4 onwards math becomes more and more language-based e.g. story sums and written instructions.
  7. Behaviour issues
    Children who do not cope, who know that they are not coping, often develop behaviour problems in class. This could be due to feelings of inadequacy and uselessness, lack of self-worth, frustration, fear, humiliation and embarrassment.
  8. Prevention is always better than cure (remedial)
    Preventing reading-related problems is much easier than taking remedial action later on, when the problems are more complex and firmly entrenched. Adolescents who do not find a cure for their reading woes, or who start with intervention too late, often find it difficult to persevere and stay in school through high school. Quite often they drop out before they matriculate.

At what point should you intervene?

At the first sign of difficulty, you should start to monitor your child’s progress and look for clues as to what might be going on. It is never too early to intervene or to consider screening or assessments.

How you intervene can make an enormous difference to how a child feels. Any intervention needs to leave the child feeling good about themselves, that they have improved in some way, that catching up in more manageable than they thought, that they are supported, motivated to try again next time and also having enjoyed themselves. It needs to be a positive experience. This is where dads sometimes go wrong when they decide to help. They turn into drill sergeants and every session ends up in tears.

What do parents need to understand?

  • All parents need to understand that literacy development starts in the home.
  • Talking and engaging with your children in robust conversation around interesting subjects is a good start.
  • The dinner table is the perfect place for this to happen regularly.
  • Having books visible and accessible in the home environment is also essential – even if they are library books.
  • Your children must also see you setting the example by reading yourself.
  • Reading aloud to your children on a daily basis is not negotiable as it lays the most important of foundations for literacy development.
  • All of this gives the teacher something to build on.
  • If your child is going to school without this foundation then your child already suffers from a deficit in comparison to his peers – before he/she has even started.
  • Don’t despair, as it is NEVER TOO LATE TO START READING ALOUD and helping your child along the path to literacy.
  • START TODAY!

What does intervention look like and where do you start?

  1. Visual screening
    Your first move should always be to have your child’s eyes tested by a behavioural/pediatric optometrist. Reading difficulties can be a result of poor eyesight but they could also be due to problems with the movement of the eyes and how well they work together. Sometimes eye strengthening exercises are all that is required, and not expensive glasses.
    1. Ariella Meyerowitz at Sunny Road Optometrist in Glenhazel – https://sunnyroad.co.za/
    2. Spectacle Centre in Linden – http://spectaclecentre.co.za/
    3. EyeTek at the Pick n Pay Centre where William Nicol Dr & Republic Rd meet – https://www.eyetek.co.za/
    4. UJ Optometry Clinics – https://www.uj.ac.za/faculties/health/Optometry/Pages/Optometry-Clinics-.aspx
    5. Dr. Larry Berman Optometrist – https://larryberman.co.za/
    6. For more information and all you need to know about children’s eyesight, please click here.

  2. Auditory screening
    Hearing plays a very important role in learning about sounds, and the symbols that represent them, when learning a language. A child who does not hear well, either because of a physical impairment or because of a processing problem, will struggle to learn to read.

    If you detect any problems, take your child for a hearing test to eliminate loss of hearing as a cause for not being able to hear sounds accurately or clearly.

    Have your child tested further if your child shows signs of difficulty with auditory processing. Auditory processing is how the brain perceives and processes what the ears can physically hear. In other words, your child may be able to hear perfectly but for some reason have difficulty with processing what he/she hears. In this instance, the brain and the central nervous system cannot process sound properly. So the child can hear just fine but they are unable to process the information correctly and meaningfully. This is more common than you might think.

    Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) needs to be diagnosed by an audiologist from around the age of 7 onwards, once the brain functions are fully developed.
    For more information about the signs of APD, please click here
    1. Geraldine Rowell – Speech Therapist & Audiologist – geraldinerowell@gmail.com or 082 850 6328
    2. Nicolene Vlok & Partners at Hear Care Plus with branches in Linden, Linksfield, Mulbartan, Waterfall and Constantia Kloof- http://www.hearcareplus.co.za/index.php/contact-us/
  3. Hire a Tutor
    Your child may simply need some one-to-one assistance providing repetition and more opportunity to practice the skills and code knowledge that they have learned. Every child is different and some children need more repetition & practice than others.

    Hiring a tutor may be recommended by a teacher if it is evident that you do not have time to consistently assist your child. This may require that the tutor works with your child a few times a week. In the long term, this may ensure that your child gets one-to-one assistance with reading, spelling, vocabulary, comprehension and writing.

    Keep in mind that you will have to look at the qualifications of the tutors you hire as anyone can be a tutor – even high school students. Tutors are unregulated and come in all shapes and sizes in terms of experience, qualifications, knowledge and ability. They are also usually less expensive than trained specialists, but keep in mind that where tutors are concerned you get what you pay for.
    1. First Tutors – Click Here
    2. Straight A Tutors – Click Here
  4. Remedial Teacher / Reading Therapist
    If you are serious about helping your child in the shortest time frame possible, then you may want to contact a reading therapist or remedial teacher. If your child shows a combination of a few of the following:
    1. Your child complains whenever you suggest reading.
    2. Your child is unable to read the readers sent home from school and tends to learn them by rote.
    3. Your child gets fatigued after a short period of reading and is not able to decode words they read yesterday.
    4. Your child gets anxious about reading aloud at school.
    5. Your child frequently guesses what the words in front of them are based on the first letter, rather than decoding them.
    6. Your child reads impressively fast but when you actually listen to them you realize that they guess many of the words, add in words that are not there, omit words that are there, adds sounds to the ends of some words and leave the sounds off the end of others.
    7. Your child sometimes confuses ‘b’ & ‘d’, ‘m’ & ‘w’, ‘t’ & ‘f’ , ‘p’ & ‘b’ and reads some words backwards.
    8. Your child frequently misreads words that they know well.
    9. When writing words your child leaves off the ending sounds, leaves out letters for sounds in the middle of the word, writes letters backward and spells words creatively e.g. ‘blek for ‘black’
    10. There is a fight before or during reading time.
    11. Your child’s teacher indicates that your child is not keeping up with their peers and voices his / her concerns.
    12. If there are clear signs that your child is not reading effectively or that he/she has problems with spelling, you can and should contact a reading therapist who specializes in the explicit teaching of reading in carefully planned stages.
      1. Read for Africa has a list of certified reading therapists across several provinces and many suburbs – Click Here
  5. Educational assessment & screening with a Psychologist / Psychometrist
    If you or your child’s teacher have any other academic concerns on top of their concerns related to reading, then take your child for a full psycho-educational assessment. This will give you a clear picture of what to focus on and where to start seeking help.
    1. Samantha Leader – Educational Psychologist – Randburg / Pine Park – 083 226 8401
    2. Aileen Morrison – Educational Psychologist – Randburg / Greenside – aileenpsychologist@gmail.com
    3. Melanie Smith & Chenelle Cohen at Psych Assess – Psychometrists – Bordeaux South – melanie@psychassess.co.za / chenelle@psychassess.co.za – To find out more, please Click Here.
  6. Pediatric Occupational Therapy should this be recommended by a teacher, GP or an educational psychologist
    Occupational therapy can help with certain issues related to reading, such as not being able to cross the midline.
    1. Tracy Angerson & Associates Occupational Therapy in Blairgowrie – 082 786 8552

In conclusion

There is so much that can be done for children who show the slightest signs of struggle with reading. Always start with the basics – bonding & discussion around stories, books available in the home environment, bedtime stories – then make time to help them grow their skills and knowledge on a daily basis if you can. If you can’t, then hire an extra pair of hands that can help. If you suspect the problems are of a more serious nature, then have your child assessed or consult a reading therapist.

Whatever you do, try to intervene before failure becomes an issue.

To explore working with Lianne (online or face-to-face) in Johannesburg, (Strathavon in Sandton, Pine Park / Blairgowrie in Randburg), contact her to find out how she can meet your needs.