Posted in Personalized Learning, Reading

When Students Have Difficulty Learning to Read

If your child is having trouble learning to read, it means that child is either not developmentally ready or is not a print learner or both. Please, don’t jump to labels – like learning disability or dyslexia. And please don’t force it. That will only lead to the student deciding that reading is too hard and “I’ll never get it,” or “I’m too stupid to learn,” or “I hate reading and never want to read.”

These beliefs and feelings can last for years and continue to haunt people as adults.

Also, please note that most reading-spelling programs and curriculum are very poorly put together and too confusing for non-print learners. There is a way to teach reading that works and even makes it fun!

#1: Do not introduce sight words (words that don’t make sense) and ask kids to memorize random words for reading and spelling. Begin with sounds and 3-letter words and stay there until the student is confident.

#2: When kids aren’t ready to learn to read or while they are learning, use audio books. I once had a 2nd grade homeschooled student who was traumatized by the idea of reading so she started listening to audio books. She loved them and she would draw the most amazing pictures of the characters, setting, etc – those was her “book reports.” She had a talent for drawing so this approach also acknowledged this gift and gave value to it. Over the next few years she listened to hundreds of books and had whole sketch books full of her reports. Meanwhile, she became relaxed and gained confidence in herself, and by 7th grade she had become a reader!

#3: Student: “You mean some words just don’t make sense, and it’s not that I’m not smart enough? No one ever told me that before.” I’ve been asked this question by countless students, as well as adults attending my workshops. YES! Many words just don’t make sense – don’t pretend they do. Tell your students right off that English is weird and that a lot of words don’t make sense phonetically. Tell them we need to learn tricks to remember the weird words. Once they can sound out 3 and 4 letter phonetic words, begin introducing sight words (like was, what, come) and make a game of it.

#4: The first time an adult literacy student said to me (many, many years ago!), “Oh, I get it, the letters go together to make a word – you put the sounds together and you get a word – no one ever told me that before,” I couldn’t believe my ears! Didn’t everyone know that words are made from putting letter sounds together? Well, they don’t! So… imagine being a child, not understanding this basic concept, and wondering what the point is of doing all those letter / sound identification worksheets – you already know the alphabet and the sounds – what does that have to do with reading words in a book! If that link hasn’t been made, then all those worksheets are a waste of time and become irrelevant busy work activities.

#5: When students have difficulty with reading, please don’t insist that they must read for a certain period of time each day, unless they are able to “read” by using audio books of their choosing. Another option is to read together – meaning that an adult reads while the student follows along – again this works best with books that are of interest to the student. Sometimes students also like to pick out books at the library or bookstore that might be above their reading abilities but are about topics of interest and have a lot of pictures. This allows them to still interact with books and have the delight of choosing the books, before they are able to actually read them. This helps build a love for books and shows students how valuable books are for gaining knowledge – as long as there is no judgment or reproach from teachers or parents.

As with all other learning that is developmental, respecting a student’s timetable for learning to read is one of the most important gifts a teacher or parent can give a child!

copyright 2020 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis
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