Articles, Literacy, Reading

How to Identify Reading Difficulties

The signs listed below can be informative for parents who want to stay on top of their child’s reading and literacy development, as well as for those parents who suspect that there may be reason for concern. This list will give you an idea of what to look for or take note of.

Does your child…

  • have difficulty recognizing rhyming words?
  • struggle to identify words that start with the same sound?
  • struggle with associations between letters and their sounds?
  • still confuse vowel sounds?
  • have difficulty manipulating the sounds in words?
  • guess words based on the first letter rather than sounding them out?
  • leave out/skip words in a sentence?
  • add words that are not there?
  • struggle to recognize repeated words, sounding out the same words repeatedly?
  • constantly reread words or parts of a sentence even when they are familiar with the words or have read them correctly?
  • occasionally read words in reverse? E.g. ‘saw’ is read as ‘was’
  • make visual errors where they confuse letters such as b, d, v, w, f, t, m, u and n?
  • leave off the endings of some words? E.g. ‘games’ becomes ‘game’
  • add endings that are not there? E.g. ‘play’ becomes ‘playing’
  • struggle to segment the sounds in words? (Segment means to break words up into sounds = spelling)
  • struggle to blends the sounds in words? (Blending means to push the sounds together to form words = reading)
  • make no attempt to self-correct?
  • show signs of resisting or avoiding reading activities?
  • read excruciatingly slowly, one word at a time, sounding out each and every word to the point that all meaning in the sentence is lost?
  • read words in isolation with inappropriately long pauses between each word in a sentence?
  • making advanced phonic errors because they do not know the language code? E.g. Reads

The good news

The good news is that there is no need to panic if your child is showing signs of difficulty in learning to read. Most children can overcome any difficulties they experience with relative ease, especially if caught early on. With the right intervention – in the form of direct, systematic, explicit instruction – your child can be reading at grade level in a relatively short period of time. Responding early to your concerns is key to making sure that there is minimal disruption to your child’s education.

It is worthwhile keeping in mind that ‘learning to read’ is the most important learning outcomes of the Foundation Phase. From Grade 4 onwards, they need to be able to ‘read to learn’. Reading is the foundation for all other mainstream education. Therefore, if intervention is required it should ideally take place during the Foundation Phase. If a child can read with ease every other aspect of their education journey is going to be easier for them.

For those parents with older children who still struggle, you’ll be pleased to know that they can still be helped to overcome their reading challenges. Intervention may take more time and a bit more effort than it would with a younger child, but they can be helped and it can be life-changing for a young person who struggles daily. The reason why the process may take longer is because with older children the reading therapist would most likely be dealing with issues such as a lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and hopelessness. The knock-on effect of falling behind in reading would be academic delays in other subjects. This young person would then have to catch up in reading and literacy as well as all their other subjects, making their academic burden that much greater.

As I said earlier, it is always advisable to respond as early as possible to any signs of difficulty with learning to read.

Further reading

The Science of Reading by Lianne Bantjes

The plight of older children who can’t (yet) read fluently by Lianne Bantjes

Literacy & Reading Intervention by Lianne Bantjes

What is Literacy? by Lianne Bantjes

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

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

Grade R & Russian Roulette

Smiling Grade R children sit on a bench while doing an activity with their teacher.

Do you know enough about Grade R to make an informed decision about where to place your child? If your child has already been placed, do you know what your role is during this year, in laying strong foundations for literacy development?

Nursery School

You can ask any parent what a child does at nursery school all day and they’ll be able to give you a list of activities, that tumble off their lips before you’ve even finished asking the question. Everyone knows that at nursery school children play, draw, cut & paste, paint, sing & dance, mold play-dough into shapes, build with blocks and play games. We also know that they learn about colours, numbers, shapes, days of the week, months of the year and seasons. Add to that vocabulary, how to wash their hands, how to look after their belongings, table manners and that ‘caring is sharing’. These are the obvious things, but of course, there is more – much more. By having fun at school kids become smarter, a little more independent and ultimately ready for ‘big school’.

Grade R – the reception year

How many parents with children entering Grade R within the next couple of years can state, with as much certainty, what takes place in a Grade R classroom? You may have a few ideas in your head, but are you certain? Are you one of those parents that thinks that Grad R is all just play and is not very important in the grand scheme of things? Are you one of those parents that think that Grade R is just like Grade 1? Do you know the difference between nursery school and Grade R? Is there even a difference? Grade R is a bit of a mystery to most people and parents are not enough ‘in the know’ about this fundamentally important year that can really make a big difference academically.

Grade R was initially introduced by the Department of Education to bridge the gap between affluent schools and impoverished schools, and also to meet school readiness needs across the board. It has been part of the General Education Training Band (GET) since 1998. It has been around for a while and is now offered as the reception year at most public schools, some nursery schools and many Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers across the country. Unfortunately, this extra year has so far reportedly not contributed hugely to bridging the educational gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, but has actually widened it.

With Grade R being so widely available, many children attend some form of Grade R before entering Grade 1. This could be through a public school or through a private center. This should mean that these children are entering Grade 1, ready to learn, on an equal footing with their peers. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some.

There are as many variations & interpretations of the Grade R curriculum as there are ECD centers and schools out there. There is a smorgasbord on offer. So how do you choose wisely between them? What do you look for? If you’ve already chosen one what should you expect?

Is Grade 1 a level playing field

In addition, there are still some children who do not have the luxury of attending any type of schooling, let alone Grade R, before entering Grade 1. On the other hand, there are other children that are already burnt out, stressed out and disinterested in school due to developmentally inappropriate learning tasks & activities, being under pressure to perform and the over-assessment that sometimes happens in Grade R classrooms. As a result, the Grade 1 classrooms can be an unpredictable mess of maturity levels, emotions, skills, knowledge, ability, anxiety and fear at the beginning of the year. The Grade 1 teachers are expected to level the playing field within 1 year, which is highly improbable unless they have class sizes of 10-15 children.

There can be consequences for placing children in Grade R to young

Parents are placing their children into Grade R as early as they possibly can, mostly for one of two reasons. One, which I have heard multiple times is that the fees for Grade R are lower than nursery school fees and the belief that if your child is already in Grade R, at your chosen school, then they will get preference when it comes to Grade 1 applications. The other reason is that parents want their children to have a headstart and an advantage over their peers. I must warn you that putting your child into Grade R prematurely is not wise and may not give your child a headstart at all. In fact, it may even backfire and have the opposite effect if they are not ready, or mature enough, to cope.

Parents dare not ignore the importance of this year for childhood development, school readiness and the building of a strong foundation for the development of language learning & literacy development. However, not all Grade R classrooms are made equal and you need to ensure you find a good one.

The role of the home environment

If you listen to what some parents are saying and their versions of how they approach schools and teachers, it is evident that parents believe that education is solely the responsibility of the school. They, therefore, believe that if their child is not doing well it is entirely the school’s fault. There are so many problems that arise from this type of thinking, however, there are good reasons for why it exists, which I won’t go into now. However, I want to challenge this thinking because after more than 20 years in the field of education I know that success is about teamwork and collaboration between the home and school and that this teamwork results in academic success and highly literate children, who grow up to be employable and have great prospects in their chosen field.

The home environment plays a critical role in providing stimulation, a love of learning, a good work ethic, as well as the development of emergent language & literacy skills. If the adults surrounding a child set a good example and, through their behaviour, send the message that reading and literacy skills are important, then the child will ultimately think so too.

A parent’s attitude towards education, the school and teachers can have a significant impact on a child’s views on attending school and learning. So be careful what you say in front of them and be aware of the behaviour & attitudes you demonstrate.

Raising Literate Children

“Learning to read for meaning is the most critical skill children learn in primary school. It is the skill upon which all other skills depend.” (Nic Spaull, Jan 2019). From Grade 1-3 children are expected to learn-to-read and to achieve being able to read for meaning. From Grade 4 onwards they should be able to read-to-learn. Little to no time is spent on developing reading skills after Grade 3. You will need to make an investment in a remedial intervention or pay an English teacher/tutor to assist your child in catching up. This has long term ramifications for your child’s self-confidence and your own time and money.

Literacy development is a team effort between the school and the home and the sooner you start the better. It is a daily task that slowly builds up to the acquisition of the desired skills and ability. There is no shortcut. There is no crash course and no quick fix. You can’t totally outsource it. The child loses out if one party is not doing its bit on a daily basis. It is a daily slog and grind, which if you commit to ultimately results in the gift of literacy, that can never be taken away.

Do you know & understand what it takes to raise literate children or are you just winging it in the hope that your child has a successful journey through 13 years of schooling? Are you going to leave your child’s literacy development solely up to a confused and ailing education system or are you, as a father or mother, personally going to contribute? Are you going to make sure that your child does not miss out?

Wouldn’t you rather find out NOW about

  • your role as a parent in the development of literacy skills
  • the ins and outs of Grade R
  • how Grade R helps build a foundation for future literacy (reading, writing, speaking and understanding)

Don’t play Russian Roulette. ATTEND one of my upcoming WORKSHOPS and find out all you need to know about brain development, school readiness, Grade R & developing literacy in your child as you close some of the gaps in your knowledge. These workshops are aimed at parents with children aged 3-5 years old (either in Grade R already or going into Grade R in the next couple of years).

These workshops are how I help parents of young children make certain that they find a good fit for Grade R and that they lay the most solid foundations for literacy that they possibly can, without leaving anything to chance. Grade R is now seen as the entry point into the school’s foundation phase, in which your child will learn-to-read and develop a solid foundation for learning at school. It is my job to show you, through these workshops, how to ensure that this happens so that by the end of Grade 3 your child is ready for reading-to-learn rather than still learning-to-read. 

If these are your goals too, then join me at one or more of my workshops and become informed on how YOU can positively contribute to your child’s education and future academic success.

See the ‘Workshops’ tab for upcoming dates.

References

Spaull, N. (Jan 2019). Priorities for education Reform (Background Note for Minister of Finance 19/01/2019. (13 November 2019) <https://nicspaull.com/2019/01/19/priorities-for-education-reform-background-note-for-minister-of-finance-19-01-2019/#comments>

Further reading

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