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.

Articles, Literacy

Activities to help develop a child’s working memory

Weak working memory skills can have a negative impact across different subject areas, including reading and math. The signs of a weak working memory usually appear early on. The ‘Symptoms of weak working memory in children‘ are outlined by Nikki Bush in her article published on her website, 16 May 2016. Once identified, there is much that can be done by parents and teachers to help develop a child’s working memory and overcome this barrier to learning.

Creating an environment that is conducive to learning and teaching your child strategies that help them cope with memory requirements will go a long way in ensuring that they experience success at school and in life.

Know where your child is at

In order to meet your child where they are at, and to mediate effectively, it is important that you know your child well and understand the current limits of their working memory. If you do not know what your child’s limits are, you can begin by observing them carefully while they are doing school work, completing chores or processing instructions to follow. It will quickly become apparent if there are problems.

If your child continually loses track of what he / she is meant to be doing, is easily distracted and seems to be overwhelmed by simple tasks, then you will know that they have reached the limits of their working memory.

Help your child’s teacher to know where they are at

Be open and honest with your child’s teachers so that they also understand where your child is at. They see your child in a group setting and so the way that they experience your child and their understanding of your child may be different from yours. You have much to learn from each other about your child. The communication between teacher and parent is one way to ensure that you work as a team, for the good of your child, and that what is taught at home and school correlates. Your child’s teachers will appreciate being kept in the loop and will be much more open to cooperating when they see the understanding you have and the effort you are putting in.

Below are some suggestions for strengthening working memory skills. This is not an exhaustive list of activities. These will give you a starting point, won’t break the bank and will hopefully not make you feel overwhelmed in terms of what you should and could be doing for your struggling child. Use these suggestions as a starting point and build from here if you feel more intervention is required.

I have included additional reading links at the bottom of this article for anyone who would like to investigate further.

1. Create structure through routines

  • Routines create structure and familiarity where repetitive daily tasks need to be learned and carried out.
  • Routines lower a child’s stress levels, making their day more predictable and feel more achievable.
  • When a child is able to automate a task it means that they no longer need to rely on their working memory to get it done. This will reduce the working memory load/burden your child experiences, which frees up their working memory or cognitive space to deal with new information, learning and problem-solving.
  • Consistency goes a long way in setting up routines – ensuring same time, same steps, same sequence are all important.
  • Setting up routines will need to be done at school as well as at home. Some children struggle with routines such as keeping their desk tidy, packing up at the end of a lesson, following lineup procedures and bathroom routines.

2. Chunk information into smaller pieces.

  • Help your child to break down what is required of them.
  • Slow down the pace of the delivery of information so that they have time to process it.
  • Break tasks into smaller, simplified and more manageable chunks.
  • Address one chunk one at a time and in sequence.
  • Use simple language.
  • Be specific and keep to short simple steps or instructions.
  • It often helps to write the steps down or to create graphic organizers to depict what needs to be learned.

3. Work on visualization skills.

  • Working memory forms part of a group of skills that make up executive function.
  • According to Michael Greschler of SMARTS, visualization strategies are a powerful way to engage executive function processes.
  • This strategy works by decreasing the working memory load and freeing up cognitive space for new learning.
  • It may also decrease a child’s anxiety around task completion and performance.
  • When a child is asked to visualize something, they learn to create visual representations of what they are hearing.
  • For many children, recalling visual information is much easier than recalling auditory information, as it becomes more concrete and less abstract for them.
  • Visualization strategies are not just applicable in childhood but can be seen as the development of a life skill and coping mechanism that can be carried through to adulthood.

4. Get them to teach what they have learned.

  • To check a child’s understanding and to cement the steps of a task in their memory, it can be helpful to ask them to repeat it back to you or to teach it to you or someone else in the family.
  • Teaching forces the child to make sense of the information they are holding on to.
  • It also forces them to break the task down into steps and to place them into a logical sequence and to check themselves.
  • If they experience a hiccup in either of these two areas while teaching, the problem can be rectified before they have to actually carry out the task in real life.
  • Through the teaching process, they soon discover any missing links in their understanding. They often fill these gaps themselves right in the moment or they may ask for help. Either way, the goal will have been achieved and learning will have taken place.
  • Teaching can be seen as a trial run. Knowing that they have this opportunity to test their knowledge and understanding may also have the effect of reducing stress and anxiety levels.

5. Play card games that improve memory.

  • Games that require a child to hold on to information for later use while remembering the rules of the game are always beneficial.
  • If a child experiences enjoyment during the game they are likely to play that game repeatedly, giving lots of opportunities to practice their skills and develop their working memory. The best part of all of this is that they won’t realize that they are learning as they’ll just be having fun.
  • Games like Go Fish, Crazy Eights (how to play with a standard deck of cards), DOS and Uno are classic examples of great memory games.

6. Encourage active reading.

  • Active reading strategies can be a powerful way to help your child cope better and hold onto information for longer. They should be taught these strategies from as young as possible.
  • Making use of colour when underlining and highlighting, as well as sticky notes, can make an enormous difference to a child who struggles to hold onto information needed to answer questions.
  • Reading aloud, discussion, asking questions, creating graphical depictions of the information and consciously connecting known information with new information can help a child with working memory.
  • This type of active engagement during reading needs to be taught and practiced. Once again, this is an essential life skill that a child can carry with them through to adulthood

Links

Visualize Executive Function by Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMART Director
https://smarts-ef.org/blog/visualize-executive-function/

Working memory: Kid Sense.
https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/working-memory/

Working memory boosters: Understood.
https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/learning-at-home/homework-study-skills/8-working-memory-boosters?_ul=1*4hwhxs*domain_userid*YW1wLUlxQWlsaXhKNzBxS3BYU3RCRzNGcnc.

Working memory? What it is and how it works?: Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/working-memory-what-it-is-and-how-it-works

Additional reading

What is working memory and why is it important? by Lianne Bantjes
https://lbliteracy.co.za/what-is-working-memory-and-why-is-it-important/

15 Amazing Memory Games For Kids by Parenting: First Cry https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/15-amazing-memory-games-for-kids/

How to Help Kids With Working Memory Issues: Supportive Strategies by Rae Jacobson
https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-kids-with-working-memory-issues/

Edge Toys. Educational toys for children of all ages
https://www.edgetoys.co.za/

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