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.


The Brain – Processing Patterns and Learning to Read

SnipBlog77Our brains are programmed to perceive patterns.  Many people enjoy puzzles, whether they are jigsaw puzzles or manipulative puzzles or Sudoku puzzles. They all involve patterns. Art often uses patterns. Architecture and landscaping often follow patterns and they are more pleasing to the eye when certain patterns are followed to achieve visual balance.

Math follows patterns.  Many children who are poor readers do very well in math (except for reading the word problems) because math follows a pattern and if they understand the pattern, it makes sense. Algebra students soon find out that if they do not follow the correct pattern—the order of operations, they will not get the correct answer.

Reading involves patterns also, although many people who teach reading do not understand the patterns as well as we would like. Students who are very good in math enjoy the logic and sequence of math. What about the logic and sequencing of reading instruction? How does pattern perception in the brain affect learning to read?

The brain recognizes patterns.  When children understand the spelling patterns contained in words, it makes sense and they will remember what they learn. If we teach phonics, reading, and spelling together logically and sequentially, one piece of the pattern at a time, students will understand it and they will learn to read well.  But if we teach reading randomly by picking up a book and just pointing out words, many students will not learn to read well.  Reading does not make sense to many kids when presented randomly.  Just as we do not expect students to multiply before they know how to add, we should not expect students to learn to read without teaching it step-by-step, in a logical pattern.

How can reading be taught in a sequential pattern? First, teach some letters and the sounds they make, such as: a, t, s, c, f.  Build on that by making words with those letters such as: cat, fat sat. Then teach students to blend the sounds of the letters to pronounce the words.  Take it a step further, and teach a sight word like “A,” and make a sentence with your new words like this: “A fat cat sat.”

This kind of reading instruction is presented in a logical sequential pattern and it makes sense to students. It is easy to remember because all of the instruction is related.  Instead of teaching separate phonics lessons and handwriting practice with letters and words that are unrelated to the stories a child is reading, use the same letters and sounds students are learning in phonics lessons to sound out words, teach spelling, and to read stories. The same path in the brain is now being used for phonics, reading, and spelling so it will be a stronger pathway.

Each new lesson should add to and build on the previous lesson. This type of instruction makes learning to read easy and fun, just like putting a puzzle together. It makes sense. When we teach students to read by helping them build logical step-by-step patterns in their brains, they become strong successful readers.

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.

Reading Aloud to Children—Inspiring a Desire to Read

Children learn so much from being read to and they love to hear stories read over and over again.  It helps to develop their imagination in a way that viewing TV or playing games on the computer can never do.  When I was young, my siblings and I listened to books that were read aloud on a PBS radio station after school and I still remember some of the stories we heard.

Even very young children enjoy books.  With our own children, we just talked about the pictures in the books at first, and then, as their attention span increased, we began to read the stories to them.  We accumulated many wonderful books over the years and some of them were so well loved that we still quote lines from the stories to one another on occasion.

Reading aloud to your children is not a guarantee that they will learn to read without difficulty, but they will develop a far richer vocabulary which has been shown to be a factor in raising reading achievement.  They will also develop a broader, more colorful imagination which will be very helpful to them when they are asked to write creative stories of their own in school.

You can inspire your children to want to learn to read by reading delightful stories aloud to them often. Let them see that you enjoy reading their books to them—and that you also enjoy reading books of your own.

While you read together, teach your toddlers how to handle books properly so that they, and you, will enjoy your wonderful books for many years to come. Recently, eNannySource posted a helpful blog with tips on teaching children how to handle books as well as some additional teaching tips.  You can read it here:

Next week I will post my top 10 favorite books for toddlers—and then a top 10 list for preschoolers and kinders.  Enjoy reading aloud with your kids!

Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 3

This activity will help beginning readers and struggling readers build phonemic awareness by associating letters with their sounds. When students learn to spell words by associating the sounds with the letters and to put the letters in the correct sequence, they gain phonemic awareness, which will help them become better readers. 

Students need to know the sounds of each of the letters in this word list before you try to play the spelling game.  Give your student only the letters he needs to spell the words in the list you plan to use. You may want to start with only three or four words from this list the first time you play the game.

Pronounce words slowly and clearly—but do not distort them.  It is acceptable to drag out vowel sounds, as in “c–aaa–t”, but do NOT pronounce a word like “kuuh-aaaaa-tuuh.” Do NOT drag out the consonant sounds.  Show your child how to build and change words.  He may need assistance at first to learn how to arrange the letters in the correct left to right sequence.  (Note: Letters between slashes / / indicate that you should use the letter-sound rather than the letter name.)

How to Play the Spelling Game

  1. Ask your student to tell you the sound on each letter tile.
  2. Next, ask him to find the letters with the sounds /a/ and /t/.
  3. Tell him to put the two sounds together to make the word at. If he doesn’t understand how to do this, demonstrate it.
  4. Now, ask him to find the letter that makes the sound /k/ (the letter c). Tell him to put the new letter at the beginning of the word at to make the word cat. Ask him to read the word to you.
  5. Next, ask him to find the letter that makes the sound /s/ and then change the first letter in the word cat to make the word sat.
  6. Continue in this manner to make the words hat, fat, mat, and rat.
  7. Spend only a few minutes at a time with this activity so your child will want to do it again later.

Print Spelling Game here.

Spelling for Beginning Readers – Part 1

Many people tell me they never learned to spell well.  Others know immediately if they see a misspelled word—it just seems to jump out at them.   Why are some people able to spell well and not others?  Are reading and spelling connected—and if so—should that affect how we teach both subjects?

Reading is a process of decoding.  That means that when we read, we look at a series of symbols on the page and use a set sound-symbol code to help us decipher each word.  So this symbol, h, by itself, is always going to make the sound /h/.  But if we add s to the h like this, sh, it is going to make a different sound (as in cash).  If we add a t to the sh, like this, tch, it makes yet another sound (as in catch).  When we learn the written code, we use it to decode words and find out what was written on the page.

Spelling is the process of encoding.  It is the opposite of reading, which is decoding.  When we write we use symbols that represent the sounds in our language.  We connect these sound-symbols to make words.  We need to be able to do this reasonably well if we want to communicate in writing.  In order to learn to spell and read well we have to be able to encode and to decode.  This is why phonemic awareness and phonics are important skills when learning to read and to spell.

How should spelling be taught to beginning readers? Does it matter how we teach it?  Is there a way to make spelling easier to learn? Which of these spelling lists would be easier for a beginner to learn?

You Can Teach Your Child To Read! Week 2

Last week we talked about teaching your child the sounds of the letters of the alphabet.  Your assignment was to teach your kindergarten age child two letter-sounds. This week you will learn how to produce your own letter cards on the computer, and you will teach three new letter-sounds to your child.

Make your own letters on the computer.  Use the Arial font because it has simpler letter shapes.  Make the letters BIG—in at least a size 200—while your child is learning the letter-sounds.  You will be able to print between 4 and 9 letters per page.  Print it onto cardstock if possible, and cut the letters apart.  As before, teach only one new letter-sound at a time, but continue to review previously learned sounds. This is important.  It may seem slow at first, but you want your child to have plenty of time to recognize the shape of the letter and to associate it with its sound before you introduce a new one.

These are letter-sounds to teach this week.  Note:  Teach the short sound of the letter o.  It makes a sound like /aw/ as you hear in the word dog. After your child has learned these first five letter-sounds, we will talk about learning to blend the sounds to make words.

Many children, especially boys, are not going to sit down, fold their hands at a little desk, and wait to find out what you want them to learn. So don’t ask them to sit if they want to stand, and don’t spend more than couple of minutes at a time teaching the sounds. The key to teaching active children is to teach a little at a time, several times a day. If you are working and are not home all day, you can still do this—you might want to teach one thing right after work, repeat the teaching just before dinner or just after dinner and repeat it again just before bedtime. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as there is repetition. After your child has learned these first five letter-sounds, we will talk about learning to blend the sounds to make words.

Does It Matter How We Teach Kids To Read? — Part 3

We have previously talked about why the whole word method of learning to read creates problems for many students.  Why is it important to learn phonetic decoding?  What are the advantages of learning to read phonetically?  Does it have to be difficult to learn phonics?  Do kids learn to read faster if they learn to read whole words first?

When students learn to read by decoding words phonetically rather than by learning each whole word as a unit, they learn the sound or sounds for each letter or letter combination.  At the very beginning of reading instruction, phonetic decoding may take a little longer than whole word reading—but in the end, will the students be stronger, more competent, and more independent readers?

Why does whole word reading create reading problems? As we saw in the previous blog, many words look very similar to other words.  In fact, many words have only one or two letters that make them different from other words, or the order of the letters may change.  (Example:  friend, fiend, fried, fired.) This makes it critical for a reader to pay attention to every letter in a given word, and in the correct left-to-right sequence to be able to read accurately.

Initially, beginning readers who read whole words will usually be able to read more difficult words sooner because the more difficult words may have unique shapes—at least until they have to read many words. (Compare the words from an early children’s story: Cinderella, slipper, and glass, to these words: umbrella, sloppier, gloss.) Over time, the whole word reading advantage is lost because students must learn to read many words that look very similar. Whole word readers must frequently re-read passages and use context to figure out words and make sense of what they are reading.

Most reading programs require a student to memorize the names of the 26 letters of the alphabet. Phonetic reading programs usually require students to learn the sounds of all 21 consonants and the five short vowel sounds before beginning to read. This works well for many students. Some programs require memorizing all 70 sound patterns before the student is allowed to read stories.  However, when a child is struggling with reading, he or she may no longer be cooperative with this approach (memorizing many sounds first) because of the discouragement of having failed.

Now I am going to put in a blatant plug for my reading program, so you can skip the next paragraph if you really don’t want to read it.  But if your child is struggling with reading, or you want to teach a beginning reader, I would encourage you to keep on reading.

Sound Bytes Reading takes a unique approach to teaching reading.  Students only need to learn the sounds of four consonants and one vowel to be able to decode and read all of the words in the first story.  The next day, they will learn a new consonant sound and read a new story.  Soon they will have learned all of the sounds and they will also have had a lot of practice reading many stories. Granted, the stories at the beginning level are very simple and very easy to read—and that is the reason why struggling readers are so successful with this program.  When struggling readers have had difficulty learning to read, they need to have success from the very beginning if they are to be motivated to continue to try.  And they are successful from the very first day!  There is no other program like this on the market today.

This takes us back to the discussion of just how quickly students will learn to read if they learn to read phonetically instead of learning to read whole words.  When students only need to remember a few letter-sounds at a time, they will learn to read very quickly.  In addition, they will retain the material better because we have not asked them to memorize too many things at one time and—because they know how to decode words, they will not have difficulty reading words they may have forgotten. They simply sound them out and go on reading. It is a simple and joyful and effective way to learn to read.

Students will learn to read quickly with an effective phonics reading program that is appropriately paced and they will not forget what they have learned as they move into more difficult material.  After just a few weeks, they will also have the tools to read many words that they have not seen before without asking for help.  This does not happen when students learn to read whole words.  Those students must learn and memorize each individual word separately, thousands of words, one at a time.

Next time we will talk about the limitations of memory and how that affects students who are learning to read.