How to Help Your Struggling Reader: What You Can Do

If you suspect that something is wrong:

• Consult with your pediatrician to rule out vision and hearing problems, advises veteran elementary school teacher Barbara Fisher. When Fisher took her own son in for a checkup, she was told that he was “blind as a bat,” she recalls. His teachers had concluded that he had a reading problem when, in fact, he just couldn’t see.

• Meet with your child’s teacher. “Your immediate goal in kindergarten and first grade should be to find out what the school can do for your child,” says Hall. Many schools now use assessment tools that enable teachers to predict which children are at risk of reading difficulty before they even begin learning to read, she says. “These screenings usually take less than 15 minutes to administer and typically are given three times a year, beginning no later than mid-kindergarten.”

Assessing Your Child’s School

You can tell whether or not your child’s school is actually doing a good job teaching kids how to read by determining whether the reading instruction is explicit – specifically, whether it is isolating the five steps of learning to read.

G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, explains this process:

1.  Children first begin to have phonemic awareness, or the understanding that language is made up of individual sounds.

2.  Next comes phonics, where these sounds become associated with letters of the alphabet.

3.  The application of phonemic awareness and phonics to the printed word leads to language fluency, or the ability to read smoothly.

4.  After this, children need to understand what they are reading, which is where vocabulary development comes in.

5.  Finally, bringing it all together, children need help with text comprehension.

Julie Wood, Ed.D., author of Literacy Online: New Tools for Struggling Readers and Writers, cautions that some schools may be unwilling to administer screenings to young children. In this case, Wood suggests that you consult your pediatrician, or alternatively a knowledgeable reading tutor who can assess your child’s skills. The last few years have also seen the growth of numerous Internet sites where parents can find help, including Reading Rockets, LD Online and Schwab Learning (see Resources).

With appropriate, early instruction, most children will learn to read.  Only those who have severe reading disabilities will need more specialized help. If your child does not respond to intervention within a few months, your school has a legal obligation to assess the child’s abilities. Submit a written request for an assessment to your child’s principal, who must set up a team of experts, and this team must respond to you within 15 days.

Helping at Home

Fisher offers these practical suggestions for parents trying to help a struggling reader:

• Continue to read aloud to your child every day, regardless of how old he or she is.

• Keep books on hand that match your child’s interest.

• Purchase books on tape.

• Model reading yourself.

• Become a good listener.

• Carefully take in the advice of teachers.

She also adds this note of caution: “Not everyone loves to read!”

“When children don’t want to read, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t,” Fisher says. “Some children would rather play soccer than go to the library. Others would rather watch television to learn how to do something, than read about it. Reading is the most accepted way to gain information, but not the only way!”

--Judy Molland

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An Action Plan

Help Early On for Your Struggling Reader