At around 4-5 years old when children are becoming emergent readers, they are learning how to differentiate letters and sounds and understanding how words work. They begin to notice the reading direction and grow their awareness of upper- and lower-case letters.
The enormous amount of print children get exposed to in their environment helps to reinforce their knowledge of words and creates a curiosity about reading.
At this stage, the child’s goal is learning to read. This lasts until about 8 years of age when phonics, spellings and sight-word reading are solidified so that the child can start to read fluently and independently. The world of reading is then open to them and they can now start to read a wider variety of novels, stories and non-fiction books.
Children are able to cope with more complex plot lines and vocabulary words once they are proficient readers. As this starts to happen, a very important transition takes place for the learner: they shift from learning to read to reading to learn.
This transition enables the child to make full use of their reading and literacy skills so that they can perform a range of academic tasks like: researching, following instructions and independent writing, for example. At this point, any child who has not yet mastered independent reading is at a significant disadvantage. They may start to lose confidence at this point since learning becomes difficult. When this happens, struggling children need support to catch up quickly.
There’s a cyclical pattern that develops when children are not strong readers and cannot read to learn independently. While good readers continue to fine-tune their ability to cope with increasingly challenging books and academic tasks, the struggling readers’ progress in reading, vocabulary and often academics can put them on a different cycle: a cycle of low-achievement. This is one reason why some children can make very little progress from year-to-year: they simply cannot access higher-level reading materials or the vocabulary required for their continuous learning.
Reading for learning is one of the most important skills a child can achieve. If we look at the chart below, we can see the impact that reading has on student achievement scores:
Student A who reads for 20 minutes per day can expect to read about 1,800,000 words by age 12, while Student B who reads for only 5 minutes per day will read about 282,000 words in total. Alarmingly, Student C who reads for only 1 minute per day will be exposed to a mere 8,000 words by the age of 12! When we compare, this means that Student A will read 225 times more words than Student C. This is an enormous difference.
It’s not surprising that the children who read the highest number of words scored at the 90th percentile on achievement tests while those who read the lowest number of words performed at the 10th percentile on their tests. These lower-achieving students would be at least 2-3 years or more below where they should be academically.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
- Monitor your child to ensure that they are making consistent progress in their reading and overall literacy skills. Parents’ gut instincts are often correct, so if you feel something is not quite right, be sure to ask your child’s teacher how they are progressing.
- Make sure your child has had a fairly recent vision and hearing screening to rule out any medical issues which could explain their challenges. Ear infections and history of glue ear can be a huge problem in the UAE and can often go unnoticed, affecting a child’s hearing, developing speech and literacy.
- Parents whose children are struggling at the learning to read stage, should not simply wait and see if their child catches up on their own. Since reading (and the range of literacy skills) are so important and have such a far-reaching impact on other academic areas, it’s important to make sure that a struggling child receives help from their teachers in order to move them forward as soon as possible. A common question parents have is, “how long should I wait to see if they improve?” A reasonable answer to that is no more than 6-months. Any longer than that will simply make the gaps widen and 6 months is enough time to allow them to improve with internal, school support.
- If the child is not able to access any additional support at school then parents should consult a literacy specialist to do an assessment and find out what will help their child fill in the gaps. In most cases, struggling children can benefit from short-term intervention which is goal-oriented and targets their particular needs and literacy development.
- Issues can also arise if a child has made a good start to their early reading development but then does not continue to make progress. In many cases, this is a problem with not enough ongoing reading to expose them to the right vocabulary and complexity of text. In this case, a greater emphasis on making reading part of the child’s daily routine is necessary. While reading at home can feel like a chore sometimes, if it is incorporated into the regular aspects of a child’s day, it can begin to feel natural and they can even start to enjoy it. This can have a positive impact if parents also demonstrate a positive attitude towards reading.
- If a child has already had intervention, it is necessary to continue to monitor them to make sure they are consistently moving forward. Getting a child to the point where they can read independently does not guarantee their continual progress but in most cases, simply keeping the child reading books at their “just right” level is enough to give them the necessary exposure to vocabulary and challenge so that their progress continues advancing.
- Students need to read for approximately 15-20 minutes a day once they are established readers. Parents should also ensure that children are reading enough at school as well. If they are not reading an average of 20 minutes per day at school, then it becomes even more important for parents to follow-up and get them reading at home.
- Even reading aloud with struggling readers can help them develop valuable reading skills like comprehension, inferencing (reading between the lines) and vocabulary development. Another great benefit of the adult reading to a child is that it enables the child to enhance their listening and attention skills.
If you are concerned that your child is struggling with reading or other areas of literacy, you can contact IngeniousEd. at 04-421-8443 to talk to our consultants about your child’s situation or to schedule a one-hour Literacy Assessment. Our Assessments are FREE for the month of April. You can also email us at: email@example.com