Thoughtful Parenting: When reading is harder than it should be
Don’t be fooled by the title; learning to read is hard. Stanislas Dehaene outlines in his book, “Reading in the Brain,” our brains were not originally designed to read. Our brains were designed to hunt for food and look out for predators, not to create meaning from symbols on paper.
To further complicate the reading process, English is a complex language with roots in Greek, Latin, Old English and French. These layers of the English language give us the rich language loved by William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway, but can also make it difficult to crack the reading code.
At times, we have all been frustrated by the strange rules and many variations in our language due to the multiple origins of the English language. Learning to read is not easy.
Some students, however, have an even harder time learning to read than most. These reading struggles can persist even when students have average to above average cognitive abilities and explicit reading instruction. Fortunately, in recent years, new research has allowed us to better understand how to help readers for whom this is true.
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Current statistics from 1in5leaningally.org indicate one in five students or 20 percent of people struggle with learning to read. Regardless of whether a student has a diagnosed reading disability such as dyslexia, if a child is struggling with decoding words, the treatment is often the same.
In “Overcoming Dyslexia,” Sally Shaywitz highlights that struggling readers need intense instruction that is systematic, research-based and multisensory. There are many programs that Shaywitz discusses in her book such as Orton-Gillingham based programs and Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing Program, or LiPS. Any program should include intensive instruction in phonology, which is the ability to hear and understand how sounds are organized in words, since this is often considered the core deficit in students with reading challenges.
In addition to getting students intensive reading intervention, there are other ways to support students with reading difficulties.
- Most importantly students need to understand that their struggle to read does not make them less smart. It simply means that this particular skill is harder for them to master.
- With the proper intervention, a lot of time and hard work, students will learn to read. Sometimes the progress seems slow and painful, but big gains can be made.
- As students learn to read independently, it is important they have higher level books read to them. This ensures they are being exposed to books that will continue to build their vocabulary and comprehension as they are also improving their decoding skills.
- It is essential that struggling readers find an area in which they feel confident and successful. This can be a different school subject such as math or science, a sport, an area of the arts, etc.
- There are accommodations and ways to use technology, especially as students advance, that may help them to be successful in school. This may include extra time on tests, a proof reader on written assignments, books on tape or speech-to-text technology.
- The grit, determination, persistence and self-advocacy that students learn while overcoming reading challenges will help them succeed in other areas of their life.
At the Parent Connection Summit on November 8 at CMC, adults and students will share their stories of navigating school and life with reading challenges. Join us to hear first-hand what their struggles were and what helped them overcome their challenges.
Meghan Alexander is a Title One teacher, Elissa Chapman is a second-grade teacher and Danielle Skov is a reading interventionist, all from Soda Creek Elementary School.
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