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)