In the early 1950s, Rudolf Flesch wrote “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” He lambasted educators for failing to teach phonics and questioned how students could learn to read only by memorizing words. There were actually “reading wars” in the 90s in which children were caught in the middle of programs designed to improve standardized test scores and programs that emphasized explicit multisensory, structured reading approaches. The International Dyslexia Association in 2019 stated, “Successful literacy instruction and interventions provide a strong core of highly explicit, systematic teaching of foundational skills such as decoding and spelling skills, as well as explicit teaching of other important components of literacy such as vocabulary, comprehension and writing. It is also important for children to be given ample opportunities to apply their developing skills in reading texts they can decode and comprehend.”
As a learning specialist, I have worked on child study teams to identify children who were struggling in school and required specific strategies to improve their learning problems; a majority of struggling learners experience some form of reading difficulties. It is also very important to note that not all children with reading weaknesses are dyslexic, but as parents, you should understand your child’s reading needs and progress. The term dyslexia is a “specific learning disability that is neurological in origin.The term should not be used casually, unless the student meets the criteria and has been properly evaluated. It is often characterized by difficulties with accurate and or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often “unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities.” Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experiences that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
For years, researchers and educators questioned if dyslexia was a developmental lag that children outgrew or a deficit in reading that would remain persistent. Dr. Sally Shaywitz revolutionized the scientific understanding of reading by studying the brains of dyslexics using functional MRIs. Her team wanted to learn why very smart people have trouble reading. Their research showed that so-called “good readers” activate highly interconnected neural systems for reading that encompass regions in the back and front of the left side of the brain. The ability to simply glance at a word and identify it quickly is the hallmark of mature, pleasurable reading. Unfortunately, automaticity in reading is difficult for poor readers. The good news is that today, many schools, public and private, provide so-called “evidence based” reading programs to teach reading and help students obtain important foundations.
To briefly understand how a child learns to read effectively is to be aware that the child needs to pay attention to all the letters (graphemes) in a written word to link them to the sounds (phonemes) heard in the spoken word and then decode them. Reading is more than associating letters with sounds. Neural pathways link letters to their sounds and as a child’s vocabulary builds, the neural connections begin to accelerate. The more the child reads, the more developed are the pathways and he can identify a word more rapidly with fluency. As a child successfully reads more books, he comes across more words to decode and increasingly makes stronger connections and neural linkages so that the meaning of words is associated.
For students with reading difficulties, learning to read can be slow and frustrating. The grade level benchmarks appear delayed and the child may be inconsistent. Many require more exposure to a printed word over a longer period of time and rely on context clues to help them derive the word and its meaning. Scientifically-based evaluations and diagnoses of specific learning disabilities are made by trained and certified psychologists and learning disabilities specialists who understand the evaluation process and can administer and interpret tests.
Some Suggestions for Parents:
Introduce your child to books even before instruction in school.
Read aloud and together taking turns, stop frequently to talk about what was just read.
Every day, practice reading 10 minutes silently and 10 out loud.
Some Signs to Watch Out for When Your Child Reads:
Spends the same amount of time on easy passages as difficult ones.
Can’t quite come up with the main idea or summarize.
Has trouble remembering details and making predictions.
Struggles with decoding and is disfluent.
Avoids reading out loud and would rather do anything else but read.
Our understanding of reading issues has come a long way with the help of researchers who have studied the science of reading. The concept of systematic evidence-based techniques is important when it comes to remediation and there are several reading programs that offer this type of approach. I consider myself a lifelong learner with an open mind to what works best for each child. I have been involved in giving professional workshops, speaking at local and national conferences and educating teachers and parents regarding many aspects of learning. I love literature and enjoy recommending appropriate books to my students and encouraging readers to not just read the Cliff notes for school assignments, but to actually read the text. There are many compensatory strategies to help youngsters read required reading. For students in all grades, I provide techniques for comprehension as well as help them make study guides to study. As parents, it is essential to always be mindful of your child’s reading and carefully monitor progress, even in older grades. We have come a long way from guessing why children don’t enjoy reading and we can do something about it together. For more information about my private practice and individualized support, please reach out and set up a consultation. I work with students who might just want a few sessions to get through a project as well as those who need more intensive support.
Patricia London, M.Ed., CAGS, is an experienced certified LDTC, school psychologist, resource teacher and counselor. Her tutoring practice is located in Englewood and also online and provides diagnostic prescriptive tutoring for students in grades K-12 plus college. She is a recognized expert in the field of executive functioning, ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, and all language based learning problems.
Patti works with students with a wide range of needs and has achieved recognition in public and private schools and on the university level. She helps provide students and families with techniques to understand subject matter while learning efficient study skills. The London Learning Center provides tutoring for students and offers individualized programs for both remediation and enrichment. Support in all subject areas helps students gain confidence and become successful learners. We also offer support in all levels of math and science. Visit the London Learning Center website and call for a free initial consultation.