Literacy, Reading

The plight of older children who can’t (yet) read fluently.

Is it ever too late to step in and help them learn to read?

Imagine how a 13 to 18 year old child feels at school if they are still unable to read fluently? Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how it must feel to have to go on with your academic schooling even though you do not have adequate knowledge and skills in place to cope? The one most important skill, reading, is one of your biggest daily challenges. You duck and dive to avoid doing it.

The minute the teacher starts calling on students to read aloud in class your anxiety skyrocket. You start to sweat. Your eyes water as your heart rate increases. You are so focused on your fear that you cannot listen to the lesson. You can only think about what would happen if the teacher calls your name. It is fear-inducing. It is distracting. It is debilitating. Each year gets harder and harder for you.

This person may feel…

  • humiliated
  • embarrassed
  • inadequate
  • stupid
  • frustrated
  • overwhelmed
  • shy
  • anxious
  • burdened
  • hopeless
  • resigned
  • excluded

These types of emotions are a burden. These are all very negative emotions and when felt continuously, on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time, they could have a damaging effect on a child’s sense of self-worth, their confidence levels, their dreams for the future as well as their sense of social standing. More importantly, it also makes it more difficult for a child to stay the course and remain in school until their final year.

It is never too late to learn to read

By the time a child reaches high school, it seems that everyone, including themselves, has given up on them ever being able to improve their reading skills or to catch up with their peers. They often get unfairly labeled as someone who can’t be helped. The beliefs behind giving up are …

  • it’s too late to learn to read in high school
  • he/she is slow / stupid / not the brightest
  • if he/she was capable of reading they would have learned to read already
  • if everyone else managed to learn to read why couldn’t they do the same
  • primary school is when you learn to read, not high school
  • there isn’t time to focus on developing reading skills now

In contrast to these beliefs, I believe that it is never too late to learn to read. I have taught several adults and teens to read or improve their reading and it has completely transformed their lives. Their image of themselves and their sense of place in this world transformed too. In the same way, improved reading fluency can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Ensuring that a child is literate and fluent in reading is worth every moment of time spent teaching them and every cent spent in getting them there. It is an invaluable gift that can never be taken away from them. It opens doors, creates choice and possibility and completely changes the learner’s perspective.

How to help a teenager that cannot yet read at grade level?

  • Be sensitive to their self-consciousness around reading.
  • Be honest with them about what their inability to read means for their future.
  • Brainstorm ideas with them about how increased reading fluency can make life easier for them and open doors in the future.
  • Connect reading with their dreams, passions and interests to motivate them.
  • Find examples for them of role models who have dyslexia and have managed to overcome it (Baigelman, L.)
  • Stress the fact that, as their parent, you believe that with the right help they will be able to improve their reading fluency.
  • Knowing that someone sees potential in you is very powerful and motivating.
  • Hire a reading specialist/reading therapist whose work is based on the science of learning to read and who will focus on building their self-confidence.
  • Ensure that the lessons are one-to-one and not as part of a group.
  • Read aloud to your teen and ensure that this time is bonding time, relaxing and fun. There is evidence that reading aloud to teens has many benefits.
  • Never criticize their reading. This way they’ll know that you’re on their side.
  • Never give up on them – everyone can learn to read.

Further reading

The Science of Reading by Lianne Bantjes

Literacy & Reading Intervention by Lianne Bantjes

10 Ways to Encourage your High-schooler to Read by Louise Baigelman, MEd (Understood)

What is Literacy? by Lianne Bantjes

Why I read aloud to my teenagers by Guilia Rhodes (The Guardian)

Articles, Literacy, Reading

The Science of Reading

References to ‘The Science of Reading’ are popping up all over the place. Globally there is a push to have the science behind learning to read brought into teacher training, classroom practices and professional development. This is because on an international scale we seem to be failing children in developing their literacy skills at a time when it has become more important than ever.  READ MORE about how literacy is defined today and why it is even more essential than before by clicking HERE.

Reading fluency and strong literacy skills are developed in a child when there is cooperation between the school and home environment. For things to be optimal, both places have to play their part. Being able to read does not happen as a result of 30 minutes of phonics instruction per day.  It takes much more than that – it takes exposure to books, storytelling and people reading in a child’s everyday environment as well as the opportunity to practice access to reading material.

If a family shows an interest in books and reading then their children get the message that reading is important and not solely a school-based activity with little practical application in the real world. This message is very powerful to a young learner who may be struggling to learn to read.

The Science of Reading involves not just regular phonics instruction but instruction in all the types of knowledge that forms the foundation of skilled reading. It also advocates for exposure to language and text in a multitude of ways, both at home and at school.

Written language is a code

It is generally accepted that written language is a code for the sounds that we make when speaking a language. Letters, or letter combinations, represent our spoken sounds – they are pictures or symbols that represent these sounds. Mastering this code allows learners to read words. Reading words, however, is not enough as the reason for reading is to seek meaning. Therefore, the process of reading to learn goes beyond this. The Science of Reading stresses five keys to learning to read effectively.

The Five Keys to Reading

  1. Phonemic awareness
    • It is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
  2. Phonics
    • Phonics is knowledge of the relationship between sounds and letters.
    • Phonics instruction requires a good foundation in phonemic awareness.
    • Phonics instruction, without sufficient phonemic awareness in place, results in slow progress, frustration and ultimately a disinterest in reading because it becomes too difficult.
  3. Fluency
    • If children cannot decode what they see on the page, they cannot become fluent readers.
    • Fluency is when they move beyond decoding and are able to recognize words automatically, accurately and quickly.
    • When recognition and understanding connect it results in fluency.
  4. Vocabulary
    • Children need to gain meaning from the words they read otherwise it is pointless.
    • Reading vocabulary refers to the words that can be read AND understood.
  5. Comprehension
    • This refers to reading comprehension
    • Reading comprehension is the sum of a child’s decoding ability, their vocabulary knowledge as well as their language comprehension.

There are two essential components of reading instruction:

  1. Instruction must be explicit
    • Clear and straightforward instruction is necessary when exposing learners to the code.
    • Direct modeling of skills making use of  ‘I do’, ‘We do’, ‘You do’ practice to move towards mastery.
  2. Instruction must be systematic and sequential
    • The presentation of sounds must be in a logical order.
    • Easier skills must be mastered before moving on to more difficult ones.
    • New learning must build on prior learning.

Working memory

While learning phonics children make use of their working memory. This is a higher order skill and forms part of our executive function.  Phonological memory is essential for learning phonics and decoding skills. Children need to be encouraged to expand the use of their working memory.

Auditory processing

Children who cannot distinguish small changes in sounds tend to struggle with phonics instruction. When teaching reading it is often assumed that auditory processing skills are fully developed. However, this is not true for all children, especially those that are learning English as a second or third language. This often means that they have not yet had enough exposure to the English language and therefore their brains are not wired to process these sounds. In mixed classrooms, it would be wise to build in compensatory activities giving additional exposure based on the use of numerous information processing techniques.

Two sides of the same coin

When reading you decode and when writing you encode. They are two sides of the same coin using the same code. Improvement in one of these two skills usually has a positive effect on the other.

Links & references

How the Brain Learns to Read by Sousa, D.A
https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Read-David-Sousa/dp/1483333949#:~:text=A%20modern%20classic%2C%20updated%20for,the%20Brain%20Learns%20to%20Read.

The Science of Reading Research by G. Reid Lyon and Vinita Chhabra
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar04/vol61/num06/The-Science-of-Reading-Research.aspx

Lyon, G. R. (2002). Reading development, reading difficulties, and reading instruction: Educational and public health issues. Journal of School Psychology, 40, 3–6.

Moats, L. C. (1995). The missing foundation in teacher preparation. American Educator, 19(9), 43–51.

Moats, L. C. (1999). Teaching reading is rocket science. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Shaywitz, S. E. (2003). Overcoming dyslexia. New York: Knopf.

Further reading

What is literacy by Lianne Bantjes
https://lbliteracy.co.za/what-is-literacy/

What is the Science of Reading by Timothy Shanahan
https://www.readingrockets.org/blogs/shanahan-literacy/what-science-reading

The Phono-graphix Reading Company
https://www.phono-graphix.com/index.php

Develop a culture of reading in your home by Lianne Bantjes
https://lbliteracy.co.za/develop-reading-culture/

Why you can’t skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day by Lianne Bantjes
https://lbliteracy.co.za/why-you-cant-skip-reading-to-your-child-for-20-minutes-per-day/

To explore working with Lianne online in Randburg / Sandton and other areas in Johannesburgcontact her for a consultation to discuss how she can assist you.