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.


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.

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

Should the cutoff point at which we must get students reading on grade level be as late as third grade?  Perhaps we should rethink our starting point and begin to remediate all struggling readers in the middle of first grade, when the gap is not nearly so great.

Ohio is one of 14 states that plan to retain students who do not achieve grade level in reading by the end of third grade.  Writer Alexander Russo recently posted this 8-minute PBS NewsHour clip that questions the value of this approach.

Twenty five years ago, educators said if we provided kindergarten for all students, then all children would enter first grade ready to learn.  Back then, we expected to teach the A-B-C’s to many, if not most of them, in first grade. So we provided free kindergarten for all students in our public schools. Did it make a difference in reading achievement?

Fast forward 25 years. Now, we say we need to provide preschool for all students so they will enter kindergarten ready to learn.  Now, as then, some children enter kindergarten with no skills, some knowing the alphabet, and some already reading.  Now, as then, we have an achievement gap. We have an achievement gap that begins BEFORE children even enter school.  Kindergarten did not solve the reading problem, and if we do not change how we teach, preschool will not solve it either.

Approximately one third of students enter school not knowing the names of the letters of the alphabet.  These same students are the ones who are still behind at the end of third grade.  These students should be receiving extra help at the beginning of first grade because they can catch up if they are provided with an intensive, systematic reading program.

Is this an unrealistic expectation?  Just how much can we expect to achieve with a good reading program? Watch how well this student reads:



Approximately one third of our fourth grade students cannot read even at a basic level, another third read at a basic level but are not proficient, and about a third are proficient readers. This has been the case at least since the early 90’s. No significant change in reading achievement.

Children who come from low income families are more likely to start behind, but this is not always the case. Low SES does not mean kids can’t learn—but they may have more obstacles to overcome.  Factors that influence student learning have been well documented—issues with hunger, safety, parent education level, parent involvement, attendance, student behavior and motivation will all influence student outcomes in achievement.

Schools have greater influence when it comes to choosing what reading programs are taught to students and mentoring teachers so they can learn to be more effective.  Principals, teachers, and school leaders have an obligation to research which reading interventions produce results and then use them.

If the curriculum that our teachers are provided to teach our children with does not work for a third of our students, it’s time to take a look at what does work, and change what we are doing.

Every child reading on grade level by the end of third grade?  No! 

Our goal should be:  Every child reading on grade level by the end of first grade!  With this goal in mind, we should be using 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!

See statistics here:

Beginning Reading and Learning Handwriting – Part 1

Some children are interested in learning to write at a very young age while others are not interested at all.  Learning to write A-B-C’s and numbers and one’s name are considered to be very basic writing skills and some children learn how to do these things before entering school.

Some school programs teach children to write only capital letters in kindergarten and then teach writing lowercase letters in first grade.  They do this because it is easier for children to write capital letters when they begin to learn to write.  Children who learn to write only the uppercase letters may find reading difficult until they have also learned to recognize and write lowercase letters.  This can have a negative effect on early reading because stories are written mostly in lowercase letters. Capital letters in stories are used only where necessary, such as at the beginning of sentences, for proper nouns, and in titles.

There are many handwriting practice booklets on the market that will help your student learn to write letters.  Some programs begin with vertical and slanted strokes and then combine them to make letters such as: A, E, F, H, I, K L, M, N, T, V, W, X, Y, and Z. They then move on to teaching students to form circles and half circles and then teach them to write these letters:  B, C, D, G, J, O, P, Q, R, S, and U.

If children are able to write capital letters they can learn to write lowercase letters. These are just a bit more difficult because they have more curved lines (a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, j, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, and u) than capital letters do.  Many handwriting booklets just present letters in alphabetical order.  Keep in mind that short practice sessions are easier for young students to tolerate than long sessions. You can determine which type of handwriting program is best for your student.

If you want to teach writing and spelling in conjunction with learning to read as recommended in Sound Bytes Reading, have your students practice writing lowercase letters in the order that they are presented in the reading program.

Phonetic Analysis of Fry’s 25 Most Common Sight Words

In the two previous posts we examined why teaching a long list of sight words should not be necessary when students are taught to read using a strong phonics reading program.  In fact, many struggling readers find memorizing these words very difficult.  In the chart below we will examine the 25 most common sight words to show why most of them do not need to be taught separately to beginning reading students.

The regular phonetic components in each word are underlined. The irregular parts of words are not underlined (including the schwa sound, although it is very common). Notice which words on this list need to be learned as sight words and how many can be learned as part of a strong, intensive phonics reading program.

Should You Teach Sight Words to Your Beginning Readers? Part 2

Would you rather spend the time it takes to teach your students 70 phonograms that will allow them to read almost all English words easily, or would you rather teach a sight word list of 220 words that will allow them to read about half of all written words? Of course, they may not be able to read all of the other thousands of words that will allow them to understand what they are reading because these are only function or service words—no nouns are included on the list.

One of the problems with teaching sight words is that each one must be memorized as a unit, yet many of them look very similar.  When students try to memorize each word as a unit, it is very difficult because they’re not processing every letter of each word from left to right—they look at the shape of the word and the beginning and ending letters of the word. Consider how similar looking these “sight” words are in which only one letter changes to make a completely different word:

Teaching a very few sight words is necessary if we want students to be able to read stories before they have learned the entire code of 70 phonograms.  Even then, most sight words become decodable as soon as students learn all of the phonograms and should be taught as such.

Some estimates are that there are nearly one million words in the English language. Half of the words that students need to be able to read in any given text, including all nouns, are less common words. Make sure your students learn the phonetic code of English first so that they will be able to read the many thousands of words they will encounter and so that they will have the decoding tools they need to be fluent, successful readers from the very beginning.

Next week we will examine Fry’s short list of 25 common words that children are expected to memorize as sight words.

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!