How to Respond to “Your Child Just Needs to Read More”

Stack of books

Stack of books

One of the most common recommendations that families with struggling readers get is “your child just needs to read more”. Let me analyze why this phrase is not helpful and in some cases might be hurtful.

There is an implication in this statement that a child is not spending time reading. At the International Dyslexia Association conference, it was stated that a fluent reader reads in two days what a struggling reader reads in one whole year. This is jaw dropping for parents and teachers. The thought might be, lets have those struggling readers read more. One of the flaws in that statement is that a struggling reader is expending a lot of energy when they read. That student is often exhausted when they read for the same amount of time as a fluent reader. A struggling reader is decoding every syllable in every word. That last sentence has 20 syllables and 10 words. So instead of quickly recognizing the 10 words, they are stopping to process each 20 syllables, deciphering the vowels, determining schwas, and that’s not to mention the dropped schwas. As far as time goes, a struggling reader would need to increase their reading time by 182. That is logistically impossible.

There is another implication of “your child just needs to read more” is that the practice of reading leads to improved reading. It has been found that guided reading does not improve decoding skills. It increases compensatory skills which mask decoding difficulties. Asking someone who wears glasses to take of their glasses, look at an object and “see better” would be a ridiculous request. That is how someone who is struggling in decoding feels when they are told to “read more”. The skill that will help them read better relates to explicit, direct multi sensory instruction, or an Orton-Gillingham based approach. Another common approach in schools is for kids to take home a passage and read it 5 times for the week to increase fluency. This task teaches a dyslexic student to memorize the passage, because that is a compensatory skill they learn when they aren’t allotted the skill of decoding.

So I am asked, “how do I respond to that request?” Education is the answer. Sometimes it needs to be put into perspective. This may be different if it comes from a teacher verses a friend. Teaching others about the multitude of processes your child endures while reading helps them to understand it is not about “more time” reading. It also helps them to see that reading doesn’t click for everyone the same. Educate people about the skill of decoding and what works. Explain to them that reading is not accessible unless the skills of decoding is present. The time focus for a struggling reader should be on instruction and not leisure reading, until the student masters ALL the tasks of decoding. Once a student has mastered decoding then reading more will be a decision between the student and the child, but until a student is decoding, it’s best to spend that time in a more fruitful way.

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