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.

What is a Phoneme and Why is Phonemic Awareness Important?

A phoneme is a unit of sound or sounds. A phoneme allows a student to hear the three separate sounds of “cat” – /k//a//t/. There are some phonemes that carry more than one sound, for example the “q” and “x”. The “q” has the sounds /k//w/ and the “x” has the /k//s/. Some may argue that it is two phonemes, but it is really 2 sounds that make up that one phoneme. Likewise there are some sounds such as /sh/ that have a 2 letter grapheme, “sh”.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear all the sounds in a word. For a word as easy as “cat”, there is three /k//a//t/. The struggles come in with the blends. “Mold” is often hard for some dyslexic student to hear the separate /l/ and /d/ at the end. The word “wild” is similar. Beginning blends can be difficult for dyslexic students to hear the /r/ or /l/, such as “blind” or “grand”. The purpose of phonemic awareness is to teach a student to break down what they hear, to ensure they are recognizing all the sounds present for a word. When a student is unable to master phonemic awareness, letters are often omitted, especially “r” and “l” at the beginning or “l” or “n” neat the end. When this skill is not mastered, they will struggle with reading, and even more so with spelling.

cat

/k//a//t/

What is the Importance to Teaching Nonsense Words to Dyslexic Students Learning to Read?

nonsense words for use in decoding

nonsense words

Nonsense words are words that are not in the English dictionary. The use of nonsense words are used to practice reading consonants and vowel patterns. Children with dyslexia can guess words from pictures in stories and do well at “word prediction”, which falsely makes it look as though they are actually decoding. This is one reasons that sometimes dyslexia is not identified until 3rd grade, as that is when chapter books begin and there are no more picture clues to help the dyslexic child. Here are some nonsense words:

cat vs. vit

most vs. blost

my vs. gry

nine vs. scrine

The first word is a regular dictionary word. The second word is a nonsense word. The idea is that the second word can be decoded using the principals of the first word. Therefore “vit” would be said with short vowel and “blost” would be said with long vowel. The “y” in “gry” would say a long i sound. “Scrine” would have long i and silent e. There are crucial decoding skills.

If a student is unable to master the nonsense words, there is a significant deficit in their ability to decode. Sometimes students will master one segment of nonsense words, but not others. So it is important to pay attention to the nonsense words carefully.

An older child with dyslexia using Orton-Gillingham approach

It is possible to use the Orton-Gillingham (OG) approach with an older student with dyslexia. An older student has the advantage of more schooling and exposure to reading and spelling rules. The problems is that some of them have stuck and some of them have not. The OG method allows for the systematic review of the phonological process to see areas of need.

I love to help older students because it is like being a detective in a real world mystery (where no death has occurred). The OG method give me a secret treasure map of where to find the treasures needed at every turn of reading and spelling. The students come with some negative experiences related to reading and writing. I have always felt that half of my job is keeping them positive, while the other half is teaching the actual skills they need. We work together to gain mastery over the weak area. The students are always amazed at some of the things that they never learned in elementary, middle school or even high school. Sometimes it is something they have never learned, and sometimes it is looking at it from a new perspective.

If you would like me to work with your older student, contact me.