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 reasons for concern. This list will give you an idea of what to look for or to 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 blend 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.

Reading in the Foundation Phase

It is worthwhile keeping in mind that ‘learning to read’ is one of the most important learning outcome of the Foundation Phase. From Grade 4 onwards, children 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. Ideally, intervention should take place in grade 1.

Reading in the Intersen Phase and above

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 more effort than it would with a younger child, but they can be helped. It can be life-changing for a young person who struggles daily. The intervention process may take longer because with older children the reading therapist would most likely be dealing with additional issues such as a lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and hopelessness.

There is a knock-on effect of falling behind in reading, which leads to academic delays in other subjects. Learners who find reading difficult and who avoid reading based activities have weaker vocabulary and comprehensions skills, as they are exposed to significantly less text and have less repeated exposure to words in a variety of contexts. They often end up with a language deficit in comparison to their peers. 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.

Conclusion

As I said earlier, it is always advisable to respond as early as possible to any signs of difficulty with learning to read. If your child is in grade 1, this is a good time to keep tabs on the development of their reading skills and if you have any doubts to put in place remedial intervention.

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

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.

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.

Articles, Literacy, Reading

The Joy of Reading Aloud to ‘M’

An elephant on a patch of grass holding a sign and a giraffe driving a car indicating the use of imagination when reading books.

It is not just children that need to be read to.

I read aloud to ‘M’ three times a week. This is one of the most precious times during my week and I wish I had more time to offer her. We are currently reading a book about Sawubona animal sanctuary that is being taken away from the family that founded it. It is about the relationship between a young girl, her grandmother, a game warden, the animals they care for and the man who is trying to take away everything that they have built. I read this story aloud to her.

As I read ‘M’ is riveted, entranced, filled with wonder and oozing need. I feel it pulling at me. I don’t think anyone has ever read to her before. Can you imagine that? Watching her unfold as we go through this reading experience together is magical to me. Although she is a woman, not a child, she generally sits facing me and while I read she does not take her eyes off me. I realized this the second time I read to her. I looked up after two long pages to find her frowning in concentration and focus, leaning forward, her eyes intense and wanting, pulling at me. By the end of our reading session she stretched as if coming out of a long dream. She was grinning uncontrollably and could not stop saying how much she had enjoyed it. She did not want to stop.

Over time, her intensity and anxiety around understanding has lessened and now I find her face more relaxed and fluid, her expression changing along with mine, her comprehension growing. I stop every now and again to check that she understands or to explain a word or phrase that I feel needs clarification. We move on.

Hooked on books

To this day ‘M’ still watches my face like a hawk, for any change in expression, trying to eek out every bit of understanding that she can. But now there are added emotions – WONDER, ANTICIPATION, BREATHLESSNESS for what comes next, PLEASURE and JOY. This is where I wanted to be with her. In a place where she experiences the sheer PLEASURE of reading and storytelling – the MAGIC and the DESPERATENESS of needing to know what comes next. This is what turns people into readers. She is hooked. For life. After years of teaching, I know the signs.

‘M’ is a young South African woman who did not finish her education. Sadly, she was forced to drop out of school very early due to family circumstances. We all know this South African tale very well and we know, even better, the consequences thereof.

‘M’ moved to Jozi a while back and has just started her working career, following in her mother’s footsteps. The only problem is that she struggles a great deal with communication, which means she will always struggle to get work and to keep a job. I decided to offer her reading classes as she lives in close proximity. I have discovered that she is very keen to learn and to perhaps complete her schooling at a later stage.

‘M’ has turned out to be an avid learner. She practices reading at home even when she hasn’t been given homework. We took a trip to the library, a first-time experience for her, and she became a member there and then. She has been a bit intimidated by the staff, as the librarians are quite stern, but I think she is now feeling confident enough to visit on her own. She loves the fact that she can go shopping for books for free.

Playing it forward

What is important to note though is that in teaching, reading aloud & doing remedial reading with ‘M’, I know that I am not teaching just one person. She is young and does not yet have children, but I know that when she does have children she will ensure that they also join the library. She will set an example by reading herself. She will be a mother that passionately reads to her kids. I know that she will read to them every single day that she possibly can. I know that she knows that this could change the trajectory of a person’s life. What we are doing in our lessons now is going to seep into the future, develop a life of its own, and have a positive impact on more than one individual’s life. ‘M’ knows the value, magic and joy of reading to someone and the power that it has. She will use that power going forward.

Many people regard reading aloud as something that you only do with very young children. This is absolutely not true. Research tells us that there is much value in reading aloud to older children – even those in their late teens. Truth be told, we all enjoy a good story.

The benefits of reading aloud

Reading aloud to someone develops their auditory skills and builds and grows vocabulary and comprehension. It is an integral part of becoming a fluent reader and a literate person. Therefore, if an adult has not learned to read it is really important that they are read to by someone. This way they can be exposed to words and phrases that they are not yet able to read for themselves. Having opportunities to build & expand vocabulary is just as important and being able to read. This together with Buddy Reading (Phono-Graphix terminology advocated by Jenny Taylor of Read for Africa), where you support a learner who is reading aloud, you can make a world of difference to a persons literacy levels in a short space of time.

The befits of reading aloud to children, tweens, teens and adults

  • Positive modeling of pronunciation
  • Positive modeling of tone, intonation and expression
  • Builds vocabulary
  • Improves comprehension
  • Improves listening skills
  • It helps with discussing difficult issues with older kids
  • It’s a way to work through the classics with older kids
  • It’s a way to introduce different genres with older kids
  • It sparks curiosity
  • It contributes to a thirst for knowledge & learning
  • It’s good for bonding
  • It is very satisfying and enjoyable
  • It is a stress relief for older kids

The challenge

If every literate person in South African could take on one fellow illiterate or semi-literate South African in their immediate environment, and humbly dedicate 1-2 hours a week to improving their literacy levels by reading to them, we could, despite our Government and a broken education system, make an enormous change in our country. Building a literate nation cannot be left up to our teachers and a few volunteers. The task is too great for them as this requires many many hours of one-to-one time and teachers in South Africa do not have that luxury, unfortunately. It needs to be done on a massive scale, with everyone who is capable of reading, playing their part.

ARE YOU UP TO THE CHALLENGE?

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.