My Child is not reading well – is there a problem?

I was recently asked what to about an 8 year old child whose reading was not bad enough to warrant remedial help at school yet his mother felt that he wasn’t a competent reader.

By 8 many children are capable of reading independently. “The Hobbit” and novels of a similar difficulty would not be outside the interest or capability of many 8 year olds and yet standardised reading tests do not expect children to be able to read at this level.

The problem is that if they can’t read well by this age they often falter in increasing their reading skills and they just seem to stop progressing. There is very little targeted reading skill instruction in the primary years so many of these children go on to have difficulty completing work in later years. They can read – sort of – but so much energy and time is expended in reading that they struggle to complete tasks that involve reading.

Is there really a problem?

  • Go for your gut feeling here. There are lots of tests but if something is worrying you then you are probably right.
  • Listen to them read a real book, is it smooth or are they taking time to think out more than 20% of the words?
  • Do they understand what they are reading – ask what the page was about?
  • What do they do when they come across a word they can’t recognise. Look for use of different strategies
    • Sound out a word
    • Read past the word and go back and work out something that would make sense
    • Break the word into syllables (parts)
    • Attempt the word and say it so it is a word they recognise
    • Make a rough attempt and move on (particularly if it is an uncommon word – names in Russian novels)
    • Do they read alone or become “wrapped” in a book? If they giggle or share funny bits with you then you know they are understanding it. Not many kids will spend ½ an hour reading quietly if they don’t get it!

What can I do?

  • Read to them every day  – don’t let them miss out on enjoying books that are at their reading or interest level
  • Don’t kill their confidence or risk taking – encourage use of all of the strategies above
  • Check out their sight word and phonics knowledge. There are plenty of resources on the web. You will probably find that they are stronger in one area than the other and have learnt to rely on that skill only. Work on both.
  • Find out what their strengths are, capitalise on them and use them to build confidence but also work on their weaknesses. Let’s try to build those pathways so they can use all the reading / decoding strategies available to them.