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.


Is Reading Achievement Improving?


News reports this month lauded improvements in reading achievement but there has been very little improvement in the eleven years since 2002 as you can see in this graph from the NAEP website:

To access reading scores in place of mathematics scores, click on the bar just under the caption, “Are higher and lower performing students making gains?”

READ SnipHere is their explanation of the terms, basic, proficient, and advanced:

READ2 Snip

Several years ago in the Introduction to Sound Bytes Reading, I wrote:

 According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 % of fourth graders in the USA read at only a basic level and another 34% read below a basic level.  In eighth grade, 43 % read at a basic level and 27% read below a basic level.  Our goal should be for all students to become proficient readers, yet 68% of fourth graders and 70% of eighth graders cannot read at a proficient level.

Recently the following statement about the 2013 Nation’s Report Card was made by the president of The Center for Education Reform, Kara Kerwin:

It’s a disgrace and truly incomprehensible that after decades of mediocrity, we celebrate today the fact that only 34 percent of our nation’s 8th graders can read at grade level and only 34 percent are proficient in math.

Other news sources made these statements:

While overall performance remains poor, this year’s report card does show improvement. Nationally, math scores were higher in 2013 than they have been since 1990 for both grades and for all student demographic groups. What’s more, the percentage of students who scored “advanced” on the tests was higher in 2013 than in any year since 1990.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress from the U.S. Department of Education shows that many high school seniors are graduating unable to read at grade level, and one in four cannot read at even the most basic level.   Just 38 percent of 12th graders were proficient in reading.

In an article, “NAEP Results Show Math Gains, But 4th Grade Reading Still Flat,” Erik Robelen wrote:

The nation’s 4th and 8th graders have inched up in mathematics, new test data show, but the results are more mixed in reading, with 4th grade scores flat compared with two years ago.  Overall, achieving proficiency in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as “the nation’s report card,” remains an elusive goal for the majority of American students. Only about one-third reached that level or higher in reading.

The 2013 Nation’s Report Card can be seen here:

Have we really improved reading achievement?  Not much.  But we could improve a lot more if we followed the guidelines outlined in the April 2000 “Report of the National Reading Panel.” They outlined what a good reading program should include:  Phonemic Awareness instruction, Systematic Phonics Instruction, Vocabulary Instruction, Guided Oral Reading, Independent Reading, Fluency Instruction, and Comprehension Instruction.

The components of a good reading program should not be taught in isolation.  Children who are learning to read should be learning the sounds of the letters, decode words using those same letter-sounds, and read a story using the words they just learned. Make sure students know the meanings of new words before reading a story. If students can decode well, fluency will not be difficult. Check comprehension by asking questions about the story.  Let’s follow good practice and improve reading instruction!

Dyslexia—What Is It and What Can We Do About It?


Is your child struggling with learning to read?  Is your child dyslexic? What is dyslexia?

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines dyslexia as “impairment of the ability to read, often as the result of genetic defect or brain injury.”  The online Encarta Dictionary defines it as “impaired ability to understand written language; a learning disorder marked by severe difficulty in recognizing and understanding written language, leading to spelling and writing problems.  It is not caused by low intelligence or brain damage.”

When a child is not learning to read, parents may wonder if there is something very wrong with their student.  Parents are often advised to see an eye doctor (not necessarily a bad idea) and/or to have the student evaluated by a specialist. While optometrists may effectively evaluate deficiency in eyesight, they are not usually trained in the causes of reading difficulties, so parents need to be cautious.

Many students who are struggling with learning to read will be doing some or all of these things:

  • Guessing at unknown words based on the first letter of the word or the shape of the word (Example: saying “horse” instead of “house”)
  • Guessing at unknown words by looking at the pictures for clues (eyes are moving all over the page—this is sometimes diagnosed as an eye-tracking problem)
  • Skipping over words
  • Sometimes saying “a” in place of “the”
  • Looking frequently at another reader’s face instead of looking at the text on the page
  • Repeating lines of text slightly after another reader (when several students are doing choral reading together)
  • Not reading fluently (reading is choppy, not smooth and expressive)
  • Not knowing what they read after reading it (low comprehension)

There is good news.  Whether or not a struggling reader has been diagnosed as dyslexic, he or she can learn to read.  Researchers have discovered that the brains of students who can read look different than the brains of students who cannot read—BUT—after those students were taught to read, their brains looked the same as the brains of good readers.  Learning to read changes a child’s brain!

“…using new before- and after- images that show what happens to children’s brains after they get systematic, research-based reading instruction, the images show that the right teaching methods can actually normalize brain function and thereby improve a child’s reading skills.”   See Brain, See Brain Read… American Psychological Association, January 2, 2006.

Researchers believe that children who have difficulty learning to read may have more difficulty gaining phonological awareness—that is understanding how sounds map to letters of the alphabet—so they will need more explicit instruction in how that works.  That means that these students will not figure reading out by themselves and will need to be systematically taught the sounds of letters and how the letters work together to make words.

Benita Blachman, PhD, of Syracuse University, and her colleagues reported in 2004 that children in second- and third-grades with poor word-reading skills who got eight months of instruction in letter sounds and spelling while reading text (an experimental group), instead of regular remedial-reading programs (a control group), showed significantly greater gains in reading real words, non-words and passages, in reading rate and in spelling. When re-tested a year later, they had mostly held those gains. (See Brain, See Brain Read…

While there are a number of phonetic reading programs that are available, not all of them are student and parent friendly.  Some are very expensive. Some require keeping a notebook and doing a lot of copy work.  Some use special markings that are not in regular story books and which may confuse children.  Most require that a student learn all of the sounds of the phonograms (alphabet letters and combinations of letters) before beginning to read stories.  Programs like this can be difficult for students who are already struggling with reading.

If your child is struggling with reading, and you want a strong phonetic reading program, try Sound Bytes Reading. Sound Bytes Reading is affordable, student and parent friendly, and can help  your child quickly become a successful reader.  Is your child dyslexic? Struggling reader?  Not anymore!

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!


Teaching Your Child to Read – Get a Head Start Right Now

Have you decided to teach your child how to read? Looking for an effective and easy method to teach reading? Rainbow Resource Center is now selling Sound Bytes Reading at a discounted price to homeschooling families–so if you’ve been meaning to pick this book up to teach your beginning reader or your struggling reader, check them out.

Here’s a quote from the review they wrote:

Indeed a sound approach to reading, this program is a solid, phonetically comprehensive program with reinforcing reading text incorporated directly in the book. It reminds me somewhat of a cross between Alphaphonics and Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, but with improved teacher instruction, lesson implementation, and textual presentation. As in those popular programs, your child will begin reading as soon as the first letter sounds are taught. And, in a mere 90 “byte-sized” lessons, your child will be reading at a beginning 3rd grade reading level. This program is also recommended for both remedial and ELL students. In fact…

Read more on their website right here:


You Can Teach Your Struggling Child to Read – Now!

Is your child a struggling reader?  Have you tried to help your child learn to read and it just doesn’t seem to click?  Learning to read does not come easily for many children, so you are not alone.  Many people will tell you that some children just need to wait longer—but that is just not true!

Children struggle with reading because the method used to teach them is too difficult or it introduces too many new things at one time.  If your child is taught in a sequential step-by-step way that allows him/her to focus on only one new letter-sound a day and practice reading that new letter-sound in a story that does not include anything the child has not learned yet, you will see your child begin to experience success in reading and grow in confidence.

One of my children had difficulty with reading (the only one that I did not teach at home first) and I was told that my child might not be “ready” to learn to read until 3rd grade—but I knew that was not true.  So I taught my child every day after school. That child was at the top of the class in reading at the end of the year. If I had waited as recommended, it would have been very difficult to catch up later on.

Here’s what one parent wrote to me:

“I had spent week looking for the perfect reading instruction book. First of all let me start by saying what an awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome (and I can’t say it enough) book Sound Bytes Reading is. My daughter has dramatically improved in her reading plus she keeps saying reading is so easy. She went from being a struggling reader to the very best in her class in a few weeks!! Your book makes reading so much fun. Particularly, for me as an extremely busy working parent with a tight schedule, it was easy for me to follow and teach.  My kid never once got confused or overwhelmed. She continues to excel and exceed reading expectations for her grade level. Your book is so well sequenced; every child would no doubt feel like a winner reading from your book.  (Ida Joiner-Elliott, Technology Executive, Sugar Land, Texas)

Another parent wrote:

“I wanted to tell you what a wonderful book you have written. My daughter has always struggled to read and up until January she had never been reading at grade level. My husband and I read with her each night, talked with her teachers, and shopped for different “How to Learn to Read” books and tapes. From everything I read regarding early readers, if you weren’t at grade level by the end of first grade there was an 80% chance you would never read at grade level. This was a terrifying thought since [she] is very bright and excels in all other subjects.  “When Mom gave Sound Bytes to my daughter we could see the change take place over the course of the next six weeks. Prior to this time she would actually say that she just wasn’t going to be able to read. With this book she felt successful. Your way of zeroing in on a few sounds in each chapter was just the approach she needed. Also, she enjoyed reading the book. Some nights it was a struggle to get her to put the book down. Currently she is reading just above grade level. Thank you so much for this wonderful book. It has been a critical part of my daughter’s success in reading.”  (Stacy Smith, Parent)

A parent with a four-year-old beginning reader wrote this:

“My 4 year old son and I loved Sound Bytes Reading. The book is comprehensive and covers reading, spelling, writing, and testing. It goes step-by-step and has fun stories. It also covers more phonics and blends than other books I looked at. The program is so easy and takes about 15-30 minutes a day. (This is not one of those reading programs that make the process of reading so complicated that they intimidate you.) By the middle of the book my son was reading easy to read books from the library and sounding out new words without difficulty. Every day he asks to read to me. It’s one of his favorite activities.”  (Theresa Nelson, Author, English Teacher, and Parent)

If you love to read and you want your child to love reading also, it is difficult to see him/her struggle with reading.   Don’t wait to help your struggling reader. Parents, you can help your child learn to read in as little as 15 minutes a day whether he/she is a struggling reader or a beginning reader.  In just four months (with instruction given five days a week), your child can be reading at a beginning third grade level.  Try it and you’ll love the results!


You can read Cathy Duffy’s recent review of Sound Bytes Reading here:

Cathy Duffy is the author of 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum.

Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems – Part 5

In the past four blogs in this series, I have shown you how to diagnose and remediate reading difficulties for your struggling readers in six areas. This week I will discuss the final step which often affects older struggling readers.

Previously, we covered how to teach skills to struggling readers who may be having difficulty in these areas:

1.  Does your child know the consonant sounds?

2.  Does your child know the vowel sounds?

3.  Does your child decode words or sight read?

4.  Can your student read words with blends?

5.  Can your student read long vowel words?

6.  Does your child have difficulty reading digraphs?

If your child can quickly and easily read all of the types of words discussed in the previous four blogs in this series without assistance, you are ready to go on to the next step.

7.  Does your child have difficulty reading longer words or multi-syllable words?

There are two parts to this step.  The first step, reading compound words, is quite easy to remediate.  Compound words look long, but they are really just two shorter words that are connected to make a longer word. Can your child read these compound words?

If your child cannot easily read compound words, cover the second half of the word and ask him to read the first part.  Then uncover the second part of the compound word and ask him/her to read the second part.  Next, show your child how to combine the two words into one longer word.

Some children have been taught to look for little words within big words that are not compound words—but this strategy does not work well for many words as illustrated in the example below.

If your student was able to read compound words without difficulty, ask him/her to try reading this list of longer words that contain some prefixes and suffixes.

Older struggling readers are often sight reading and because they have memorized so many words, it is hard to determine where their reading difficulty begins.  When these students get to the upper elementary grades or into middle and high school, they constantly need to learn many new words. They cannot keep up if they do not have the skills to decode new words on their own. Many students who struggle with reading longer words have not learned all of the decoding skills that have been previously discussed.

Spelling is also difficult for these students.  As with younger students, they need to know the vowel and consonant sounds, they must be able to sound out words with short and long vowels and with blends, and they need to recognize the many letter-sound combinations within words.

Older students who read well at all of the other levels, but begin to struggle at this level of reading should be taught prefixes and suffixes and some rules that will help them to break larger words down into syllables so that they are able to sound them out more easily.

There is too much material to cover on this last topic to give specifics on remediation in one blog post, as I have mentioned.  This level of reading, which includes instruction on prefixes and suffixes and breaking words into syllables, is not covered in the Sound Bytes Reading program. Use a program such as Megawords to remediate students who need specific instruction at this advanced level of reading.


Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems – Part 4

In the last three blogs I have shown you how to diagnose and remediate reading difficulties for your struggling readers in five basic areas. This week I will discuss a sixth area in which a reader may be having difficulty.  The steps previously covered are:

1.  Does your child know the consonant sounds?

2.  Does your child know the vowel sounds?

3.  Does your child decode words or sight read?

4.  Can your student read words with blends?

5.  Can your student read long vowel words?

If your child can easily read all of the types of words discussed in the previous three blogs in this series, you are ready to go on to the next step.

6.  Does your child have difficulty reading digraphs?

Digraphs are combinations of letters that appear as a unit in words and have specific sound patterns.  A few examples are:  /oy/ in boy, /oi/ in spoil, /ay/ in stay, and /ai/ in sail.  Some of them have more than one sound for the spelling pattern such as /ow/ in snow or in cow.  There are also longer combinations such as /igh/ which makes the long i sound in words like sight, might, and tight.

The following word list can help you determine if this is the level at which you child needs help with reading.  Can your child read each of these words easily and accurately without your help?

Spelling patterns should be taught individually and then students should read them in words.  There are 70 sound-spelling patterns (including the letters of the alphabet) and this topic cannot be covered adequately in this blog.  However, it is important that struggling readers learn to recognize each letter-sound combination as a unit so they will recognize them in words and be able to decode words accurately and efficiently.

If your child is struggling with reading at this level you need to use a good systematic synthetic phonics reading program such as Sound Bytes Reading that will make it easy for you to teach these concepts step-by-step at this level.  This program includes a story with each sound-spelling pattern so students can practice reading the new words in context.  This is the easiest way to fill in the gaps your student may have in advanced phonics skills at this level.

Next week, I will discuss the final step in diagnosing reading difficulty.