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.

 

Common Core and Reading Assignments—What Are We Missing Here?

SnipBlog99What a concept! Some teachers assign books to their students that they can actually read instead of assigning them to read books that are far above their reading ability! Is this surprising? Is it a bad thing? Are policy-makers suggesting that students should be assigned to read books at an instructional level that they cannot read because those students are in a grade based on their age?

The Thomas B Fordham Institute published a report on October 22, 2013 titled, “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments.” Here is a quote from the press release:

The CCSS emphasize the centrality of texts in the English language arts curriculum. Yet the majority of teachers still report that their lessons are dominated by skills and are more likely to try to fit texts to skills…Indeed, an astonishing 73 percent of elementary school teachers and 56 percent of middle school teachers place greater emphasis on reading skills than the text…

The Common Core asks teachers to assign texts that provide language complexity appropriate to the grade level, but significant proportions of teachers—particularly in the elementary grades—are still assigning texts based on students’ present reading prowess. Specifically, the majority of elementary teachers (64 percent) make substantial efforts to match students with books that presumably align with their instructional reading levels…This means that many youngsters are not yet working with appropriately complex language in their schoolbooks.

It appears that because students need to be learning complex language, they had better be reading complex words. That is all fine and good if the student is a strong reader and can actually read those complex words. But many students are not strong readers due to poor instruction and through no fault of their own.  What are we to do?  Start where the student is, not where you want him to be.

Let’s say you go out to the mountains and you are just learning how to ski, so you can barely stay standing up on your skis. Your instructor takes you out to the bunny slope and gives you some tips on how to fall safely (because you are going to fall!) and how to point your ski tips and whatever else they teach a beginner. But the resort owner comes out and tells the instructor that you need to be practicing the giant slalom because that is what skiers should be doing at your age.  Wonder how well that’s going to work?

What are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be. You cannot start where you want them to be if they have not learned the skills needed to function at that skill level and expect them to be successful. That is a recipe for creating dropouts.

If students are reading at a first grade level, then they need to begin at that level and be taught the skills that will allow them to quickly improve their ability.  We have programs available that will do exactly that—but we aren’t using them nearly enough and our students are paying a high price.

We can teach students the complex language in higher level books—but we can’t expect them to read those texts on their own until we have taught the reading skills that they need to do so. We should not discourage struggling readers—we must start where the student is. We know that students learn much of their extensive vocabulary from reading a lot of books—but students who cannot read well have been left behind.

Instead of insisting that we force difficult or impossible reading assignments on our struggling readers, we need to put a much greater effort into first teaching students to read well. We need to think in terms of teaching students to read well by the end of first grade rather than by the end of third grade. But if that is not where they are—what are we to do? Start where the student is, not where you want him to be!

 

 

See the Thomas B Fordham Institute report  “Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments” here:                         http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/common-core-in-the-schools#

Sound Bytes Reading helps struggling readers learn the basic skills they need to become strong and independent readers.    www.SoundBytesReading.com

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.

Diagram

Learning to Talk & Learning to Read – Part 1

Some educators in the past have postulated that learning to read happens easily and naturally and is just like learning to talk. But is this theory true?  If so, why is virtually everyone who can hear able to speak, but not everyone can read easily and with little effort?  Why is reading so difficult for many children?

Children learn to talk by listening to speech. The process of learning to read is actually quite different than the process of learning to talk. Reading involves visually matching written symbols to speech sounds and then learning to decode those symbols. This is the first of two charts that show you the steps involved in each process.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Diagram

 

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

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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. https://www.apa.org/research/action/reading.aspx

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… https://www.apa.org/research/action/reading.aspx)

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!

www.SoundBytesReading.com

Reading for Pleasure

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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.

 

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 2

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6 – Diagnosing Children with Reading Problems

This blog post will begin to address the difficulties of struggling readers and how parents can begin to understand the problem and help their students.  Reading can break down at any of these points when students are not explicitly taught the sound patterns in English.  We will cover each step in the next few blog posts.  Part One in a Series of Fivehttp://bit.ly/10jioWR 

7 – Preparing Young Children to Learn

What makes children ready to learn? What can parents do to help prepare their children to learn?

Whether your children will be attending school or are homeschooled, they need to be prepared to learn.  Being prepared to learn involves many things.  This includes developing self control, learning to pay attention, managing your time so you can get assignments done, and a willingness to co-operate with others and take turns.  Educational leaders have labeled these things as “soft skills.” Read more here: http://bit.ly/14t04Li

8 – Preparing to Learn—Teach Children How to Clean Up

Children appreciate cleanliness and a sense of order in their lives—but they don’t usually know how to achieve it. It is our job to teach our children how to clean up after they play and how to keep their things organized so they will be prepared to learn when they begin school. Read more:  http://bit.ly/15dX8Pm

9 – 12 Great Activities to Help Prepare Young Children for School

Child’s play is really child’s work.  You can easily provide your children a wide variety of fun activities that will help them develop small motor coordination and finger strength and dexterity. This will also help them be well prepared for school activities. Here is a list of 12 activities that can help your older preschoolers develop their skills and prepare them for more formal learning.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11wo55q

10 – Why Is Reading So Difficult For My Child?

Does your child frequently guess at unknown words by saying another word that has the same beginning letter? Does your child look at the pictures for clues?  Were you told he/she has “eye-tracking” problems? After reading a passage, is your child unable to tell you what it’s about (low comprehension)?  Does he/she have problems with fluency (not reading smoothly)?  But this same child may be a whiz at math, easily remember in detail anything that you read aloud, and be highly skilled in other areas.  Why does your child have so much difficulty with reading?  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1a092nC

Bonus: 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 your child just needs to wait longer—but for most kids that’s just not true!  You can help your child become a strong competent reader.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/1c0a81z

 

Sound Bytes Reading: Top Ten Blogs in 2013—Part 1

SnipBlog691 – All Students Reading at Grade Level by the End of Third Grade? 

The goal:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade?  No!  The goal should be:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of first grade!  With this goal in mind, we must  use effective research-based reading interventions as soon as we see children start to fail—before the end of first grade—and before they have fallen so far behind their peers that many of them will never catch up at all. Teach every child to read by the end of first grade!  Read more:  http://bit.ly/145VDFK

2 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 2

This blog is part of a series on spelling.  It includes a game to help your children learn to spell.  Beginning readers often ask us how to spell words they want to write.  When students ask you to spell words, you can help them develop phonemic awareness by telling them the sound of each letter in the word as they write instead of telling them the names of the letters.  This is what phonics is about—learning to associate letters with speech sounds rather than learning words as a whole unit.  The more we use the sounds associated with the letters the more quickly students will remember them and use them when trying to spell words.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/VFdeTD

3 – Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

Spelling is an important part of learning to read.  Learning to spell helps students learn to read and reading phonetically can help students learn to spell.  If you give your beginning students word lists that have consistent spelling patterns, they will learn to spell much more quickly and they will not forget what they have learned.  Read the blog here:  http://bit.ly/Wj1UJV

Get the FREE Spelling Game for beginning readers here:  http://soundbytesreading.com/assets/files/Spelling-Game-for-Beginning-Readers.pdf

4 – Five Spelling Tips for Teaching Beginning Readers 

Our brains are designed to recognize patterns that make sense.  For beginning or struggling readers, learning that is based on consistent patterns will make reading and spelling new words much easier.  Here are five tips to help you teach spelling.  Read more:  http://bit.ly/11TpQcL

5 – Should You Continue to Read Aloud to your School Age Children?

Reading books that are above your children’s reading level will help to increase their vocabulary. Even though they can read for themselves, older children enjoy having longer stories read aloud to them.  Get the book list and read more here: http://bit.ly/ZlKWw

Next week: Part 2