Can Your Students Comprehend Texts That They Cannot Read?

Absolutely! Students do understand texts that are read aloud to them that are above their independent reading level. But if they are struggling to read text on their own that is too difficult for them to decode, they will not have good comprehension.  SnipBlog100Struggling students in the upper grades are increasingly expected to read texts that are above their level of reading ability, because they need to learn complex subjects. This presents a problem. Does it make sense to require students to read texts that are above their independent reading level?

Some teachers understand the futility of requiring reading at a level that is above a student’s ability, so they look for and assign books at the students’ actual reading level.  These teachers sometimes endure criticism for doing what they believe is best for their students.

With so many struggling readers in our schools, we ought to be looking at why we have this problem. We first fail when teaching our children basic reading instruction. There are many reasons why children fail to learn to read, including bad reading programs and inconsistent attendance. But we continue to pass children who have not learned basic decoding skills on to the next grade level. Then we blame the teachers in the upper grades when their struggling students fail to progress.

Students need to learn to read well by the end of first grade!  If a student is not progressing, change the program.  Students who are not reading well by early to mid-first grade should be given a phonics reading program that includes all of the Orton-Gillingham phonograms, and that uses those phonograms in decodable stories. Nearly all struggling readers who are taught to read this way can learn to read.

Students can comprehend texts that they cannot read on their own. The short term fix may include reading grade level texts aloud to students who are struggling. But to be successful, students need to be able to read on their own. When students read texts independently, they will only comprehend what they can quickly and easily decode. We may provide accommodations for struggling readers, but we owe it to them to teach them how to read for themselves.


Learning to Talk and Learning to Read – Part 2

Learning to read is a process that involves both visual and auditory input.  Children must learn to match symbols to sounds and then connect those symbols to make words.  Some children have difficulty remembering the symbols if too many are taught at once.  Reading can be made easier by teaching only a few sound-symbols at a time and then using them to practice decoding simple words.  Students should practice reading short stories using the same words they are learning to decode.


Reading for Pleasure


How many students spend any significant amount of time reading for pleasure?  How many students spend a great deal of time playing computer games?  Are our children experiencing the joys of reading for fun—or do they read only what they are forced to read in order to get their schoolwork done?

Some schools have created a “Reading for Pleasure” elective course which has proven to be very popular.  This shows that kids ARE interested in reading for pleasure, but they may not be interested in reading and analyzing the traditional books that are assigned in English/Language Arts courses.

We know that students first need the tools to decode words quickly and automatically. Only then will they will be able to think about and enjoy what they are reading.  Reading books also expands students’ vocabulary acquisition.

Once students can read well, we can help them learn how to choose books that will be entertaining or educational or both.  You might even consider reading the same book your child is reading so that you can discuss the stories together.

Step 1:   Teach students how to decode phonetically.  This requires a strong phonetic reading program for beginners or an effective phonetic reading intervention for struggling readers.  Chose a program (such as Sound Bytes Reading) that includes decodable stories  that match the phonics instruction so your student will get plenty of reading practice at her instructional level. Once students are strong readers, they can go on to the next step.  If an older student is a struggling reader, you might consider reading interesting books aloud to him/her so that   he/she will have the benefit of the exposure to enriched vocabulary while he/she is still learning how to read.

Step 2:  Find out what your students are interested in and then provide books on those subjects.  My kids loved reading DK Eyewitness books which have a lot of interesting pictures as well as text. You can find many interesting fiction or nonfiction books at various reading levels at your public library.

Step 3:  Broaden your students’ horizons by pairing fiction with nonfiction books.  So if your child is interested in dogs and reads at about a 3rd grade level, he could read “A Boy in the Doghouse” paired with the DK Eyewitness book, “Dogs.” At a 4th-5th grade level, a child might enjoy reading “Henry Huggins.”

At the high school level, look for nonfiction biographies to pair up with students’ history lessons.  Reading “A Long Way Gone” or “First They Killed My Father” will educate students about the difficulties faced by real people who have lived in war-torn countries. This kind of paired reading can lead to some very interesting discussions and a much broader view of the world we live in.


Why Is Reading So Difficult For My Child?

A friend has a child who is having difficulty learning to read.  So I asked my friend about her child.  Did he frequently guess at an unknown word by saying another word that had the same beginning letter? Was he looking at pictures for clues when he didn’t know a word?  Were you told he has “eye-tracking” problems? When he read a passage, was he unable to tell you what it was about (comprehension)?  Did he have problems with fluency (not reading smoothly)?  Yep—reading problems!

But this same child is a whiz at math, can easily remember in great detail anything that is read aloud to him, and is highly skilled in other areas.  Why does he have so much difficulty with reading?

It should be obvious that a child who is highly skilled in many other things and has a very good memory for math is not learning disabled.  A child who has genuine problems with memory will also have problems with math.

The real problem lies in how reading is taught.  Children are often taught to look at the first letter of a word they do not know and make a good “guess.” They are taught to look at the picture to help them figure out an unknown word.  They are taught to skip a word and go back later so they can use context to figure out the word. These things create so-called “eye-tracking” problems, because the child was taught to look all over the page.

These things also create problems with fluency and comprehension.  When children spend a lot of time trying to guess what a word is (and usually they are guessing wrong) they will lose track of what the reading passage is about.  Some of these kids appear to be pretty good readers because they have memorized a lot of words—but they cannot figure out new words without help—and so they struggle more and more as they get older.

The only solution is to teach struggling readers how to decode words by looking at all of the letters in the word and going from left-to right. It also helps if each new sound pattern (such as ou, ow, ea, etc.) is taught separately. Kids who think in a linear, logical way need to be taught to read in a sequential manner so that each new sound pattern they learn builds on previous knowledge. Reading material should use the sound patterns children have been taught.  Stories should not be filled with sound patterns they have not yet learned.

My friend is teaching her child to decode words phonetically now, and I hope to give you an update on their progress in a few weeks.

Parents, you can help your struggling reader become a confident and capable reader in just a few weeks. It’s easy, and everything you need is available in one book, including all of the reading material. Don’t wait—get a copy of Sound Bytes Reading from Rainbow Resource Center or at Amazon and watch your child begin to experience the joy of reading at last!


You Can Teach Your Child To Read! Week 10

If you have enjoyed this series on teaching your child how to read and would like to continue, you can purchase Sound Bytes Reading – Teach Anyone to Read at:

How Do I Teach Phonics to Beginning Readers?

What is “phonics”? Phonics is teaching beginning readers that written letters represent sounds, and that we can connect those sounds to make words. It is one of the five components of a good reading program.*


Letters of the alphabet do not actually make sounds—they represent sounds.  We name this letter, M, (“em”), but it sounds something like “muh” when we pronounce it in a word. If we add the letter O (“oh”) which represents the sound “ah” (this letter also represents three other sounds), and another letter M, we can write a series of symbols that represent the word “mom.”  We do not read this word by using the letter names (em-oh-em).  We read—or decode—the word by using the sounds the letters represent (muh-ah-muh). This is what phonics is.

Teaching phonics is a matter of telling students what sound (or sounds) that letters represent, and how to connect the sounds to make words that they will recognize and that have meaning.

During phonics instruction, beginning readers learn that these symbols, c – a – t, represent sounds that are  pronounced in a specific way, and when the sounds of the three individual symbols are blended (or sounded) together quickly, they make a recognizable word which represents this picture.


Teaching phonics does not have to be a complicated process—but it does need to be taught using a well-thought-out systematic and sequential reading program.

Beginning readers learn phonics quickly and easily if they are required to learn only a few new sound-symbols at a time (preferably not more than three). Beginning readers should practice decoding words using those new sound-symbols (letter-sounds) immediately after learning them.  This word decoding practice should then be reinforced with practice reading a short decodable story or a few sentences using the new words.  One short-coming of many reading programs is having insufficient decodable stories for beginning readers.

If a reading program teaches too many letter-sounds at one time, or if there is insufficient decoding practice following the introduction of new letter-sounds, students will have difficulty remembering them. This can lead to reading failure. Beginning readers should not be asked to read words that they have not yet been taught the letter-sounds for.  The only exception should be a few sight words such as the word “the” so that your students can read stories right away.

Choose your reading program carefully!  If you have students who are struggling with reading in their current program, do not blame the students for not trying hard enough.  Instead, find a well-designed reading program so your students will learn to read and learn to love reading!