Most children learn to read despite the method used; however, approximately 20 percent of school-age children demonstrate significant struggles learning to read. As evidenced by the work of Sally Shaywitz, M.D., this struggle in reading is no longer viewed as a hidden disability. Dr. Shaywitz reports a difference in the activation of neural pathways when comparing skilled readers to those with dyslexia. She reports that skilled readers demonstrate strong activation in the back of the brain and less activity in the front. In contrast, as struggling readers age, brain imaging studies reveal increased activation in the frontal regions.
So, how does a child become a fluent reader if he/she is among the 20 percent who struggle to learn to read? The “Report of the National Reading Panel” (April 2000) reviewed evidence-based research and made recommendations for reading instruction. The panel’s recommendations included the need to identify children before third grade who were “at risk” for reading failure and to begin remediation strategies as early as possible. This panel stressed that a wait-and-see approach to intervention can have serious impact on a child’s academic gains, as well as on his/her self-esteem.
Among some of the recommendations from the National Reading Panel:
- Students need intensive, specialized instruction four to five days per week in a group no larger than four students.
- Students should receive approximately 90 minutes of reading instruction on most school days for approximately three years
- Students should be provided high-quality instruction by highly qualified teachers
- Struggling readers must receive explicit, systematic instruction in reading.
- The panel recommended that a high-quality reading program should contain five instructional components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Fluent readers understand that words are made up of small units of speech sounds. This skill is known as phonemic awareness. Another early step toward becoming a skilled reader is a child’s ability to turn letters into sounds, blend these sounds together to read words, learn different patterns of letters, and learn the rules and the exceptions to rules. This process is referred to as phonics.
Below are several suggestions that you can implement at home to help your child become a fluent reader:
- Read with your child at least three to five nights each week. The “brain learns by practice” (Shaywitz, pg. 188).
- Have your child listen to you read while following along with his/her finger or a guide.
- Practice reading lists of irregular words that do not follow a pattern (e.g., what, have, was, said). You can make games with these words.
- Read together (“choral read”) with your child - you and your child read at the same time while using a guide (or finger) as you read.
- Re-read the same book at least four times. Memorizing a story, however, is not reading.
- Read, re-read and then tape a favorite story and send the tape to a relative.
- Allow your child to read many books or poems at his/her independent reading level and read them more than once.
It is critical that struggling readers be identified early. They also must receive systematic, explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics. It must be delivered in small groups and last long enough to show positive results. Then, children should read material many times that will increase his/her fluency and be taught to apply acquired skills in their reading and writing.
- Hayes, D.A. & Stahl, S.A. (1997). Instructional Models of Instruction. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Meyer, M. S. & Felton, R. H. (1999). Repeated reading to enhance fluency: Old approaches and new directions. Annals of Dyslexia, 49,283-306.
- Shaywitz, S. (2006). Overcoming Dyslexia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Taylor, B., Harris, L.A., Pearson, P.D., & Garcia, G. (1995). Reading Difficulties(2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc.