Q: My child is 4 years old and doesn’t seem very interested in books. Does that mean he won’t be a good reader?
A: Your son is too young for anyone to determine if he will be a good reader. (Some professionals disagree with me, but I have seen too many young children forced into reading too young). Reading to your child is your best bet for now. In fact, reading aloud to your children is important on many levels. The conversations we have in our everyday lives are rarely as sophisticated as the language used in some books. Reading aloud to your child may be the only way for your child to be exposed to more advanced language. In addition, by sharing your enjoyment of reading, you will be modeling good reading habits for your child.
Q: My son is eight and can read okay, but doesn’t spell very well. What can I do?
A: The processing abilities to make a good speller are some of the same processing abilities that make a good reader. Beginning readers who have trouble spelling often have trouble reading, too. In my experience, adults who consider themselves poor spellers are often phonetic spellers.
First, take a careful look at the spelling mistakes that your son is making. Do his mistakes seem to spell out the sounds of the word? (kuk for cook, hoo for who, nite for nigh, joos for juice, etc.) If your son is doing this, he is on the right track. He is putting the sounds of the words in order, a task some readers find very difficult. By spelling this way or phonetically, your son may need a bit of support to learn the actual spelling of the words.
Q: My daughter is working at a seventh-grade level. Reading and Spelling have always been hard for her. How can I help her?
A: Indeed, reading and spelling are not going to get easier for a seventh-grader without some intervention. (Instruction in reading is part of a school’s curriculum through the fourth grade in most states.) The first step to intervention is assessment. It will be important to know what her reading strengths and challenges are. As high school and then college approach, the expectation to complete larger and larger quantities of reading and writing will grow. So getting help now, rather than later, will be more effective. You also may want to think about taking an online assessment or have your daughter assessed by a local professional who can explain everything to you.
Q: My son is working at a 3rd-grade level and does not like to read. Does that mean he is not a very good reader?
A: He may not like reading because it is hard for him. Most anyone likes doing things that come easily. Third grade is a particularly critical time where reading is concerned. Third grade is the first time a student is required to read independently. A lot of readers realize reading problems for the very first time in midyear of third grade. Monitor his progress closely to make sure that he continues to make appropriate progress. Identifying a reading issue early is one of the most important things you can do for your child’s reading abilities. A child who is one year behind this year will likely be two years behind next year and so on.
Q: What is dyslexia?
A: The term “dyslexia” has become a catch-all term for any kind of reading trouble. If you look at the National Institutes of Health manual of all diagnosable diseases, “dyslexia” is a significant gap between your potential and your performance in reading. Dyslexia can only be diagnosed by a full psycho-educational evaluation. Sometimes the “label” for the problem is less important than the symptoms. If your child is having trouble with reading, finding out what his specific strengths and weakness are will help you to concentrate on improving his skills.
Q: What is phonemic awareness?
A: Phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish one sound from another in a word. A reader with good phonemic awareness can think about the separate sounds in the word as well as the sounds blended together.
Q: My son seems to mix up the sounds he sees and hears. Sometimes he sounds letters out with the right sounds and then says the wrong word. Once when trying to read the word “stump,” he sounded each letter and then said the word “stank.” Why does he do that?
A: The trouble you are describing sounds like “weak phonemic awareness” (see definition for “phonemic awareness” in question 6). Readers with weak phonemic awareness will have trouble sounding out words correctly and will sometimes have a hard time pronouncing difficult words.
Q: My daughter spells words differently every time. She spelled “straight” several different ways in the same paragraph. Why does she do that?
A: Sometimes these kinds of spelling errors are made because the speller has a hard time making a mental image of letters. This is “symbol imagery weakness”. Good spellers have the ability to picture a word in the mind’s eye. After the speller is exposed to the word a few times, they can hold onto the image.
This ability can be very difficult for some people. Several of the same learning processes involved with spelling are essential to reading, and in this instance can often time make memorizing words for reading difficult. It sounds as if your daughter has some strength with spelling if she is able to think of several ways to spell words. Determining the gap between her strength and weakness will help you to make the most informed decisions about instruction.
Q: My son can read very well. He reads the words but doesn’t seem to understand them. He just can’t seem to remember what the story was about. Do you have any suggestions to help him with his comprehension level?
A: It sounds like your son is doing quite well in the area of letter-sound relationships, so there’s a lot to build on. If your son can read the words but is unable to understand and/or remember the story, he probably has some of the same troubles with oral language. For example, he may not remember oral directions, and may not remember what happened in a movie. He may also have a hard time following a complex conversation. This kind of problem is sometimes classified as a “reading comprehension” problem, but it should really be called a “language comprehension” problem since the difficulty probably isn’t specific to just reading.
On the other hand, some children put so much cognitive energy into “sounding right” when they read that they don’t focus on meaning. In fact, I have observed this most often when the student is reading aloud to an adult. Think about when you have to read a passage that has very difficult words in it. Especially words that you don’t use often. (Like an engine manual for a tractor) By concentrating on sounding out these unfamiliar words, you may not be attending to the concept of the passage. Try to observe your child to see if he has the same kind of difficulties understanding and remembering oral conversations.
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More about the Author:
Amy Pedigo has the best experiences of two worlds: extensive face-to-face child and adult reading interaction and technology implementation for learning environments. As a Clinical Director for Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, Amy gained extensive field experience as she set up reading centers across the United States. Additionally, her work included hiring and training reading clinicians, consultants, and trainers. She worked with readers of all ages and skills, including adults and special needs children.
In 1998 she opened a Lindamood-Bell center in conjunction with the Dan Marino Foundation at the Miami Children’s Hospital. There she gained invaluable experience working with autistic and developmentally delayed students. As well as working with struggling readers and their parents, Amy trained teachers, reading specialists, and speech pathologists in phonemic awareness and language comprehension programs. Amy was invited frequently to speak at state and national reading conferences.
Then Amy moved on to become the National Project Leader for ProjectAchieve. There she set up training programs at the school and district level implementing ProjectAchieve’s web-based application tools for the teachers’ use. She is now leading the education team at Let’s Go Learn, Inc. She is heading the development of their online reading assessment now being offered by Homeschool.com.