Category Archives: early childhood education

Colleges offer remedial reading and writing courses, but too late for most students

Many community colleges and four-year colleges in the US offer remedial reading and writing classes to incoming freshmen to raise lagging students to the base level expected for beginning freshmen.  These remedial courses offer no credit, so by the end of freshman year, students who pass these classes will not have accumulated the 30 or so credit hours expected for the first year of college education.  These students’ chances of graduating in two years from community colleges and four years from traditional colleges and universities are almost impossible.  And this means that many poor readers and writers drop out and never earn a college degree.

Colleges and universities are rethinking their remedial English courses for many reasons.

  • These remedial courses, in both English and math, cost about $7 billion each year.

 

  • Few freshmen who require remedial courses ever earn a degree.

 

  • 96% of two- and four-year colleges and universities enroll students in remedial courses.

 

  • In one state, California, more than 70% of community college students qualify for remedial English courses, and of those, only 60% pass the remedial courses and start credit courses, according to a 2016 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. Of those 60% who do pass, most never finish a college level English course with a C grade or better.  California is pretty typical of the rest of the country.

 

  • Starting in the fall of 2018, all such remedial courses will be eliminated at California State University, the largest public university system in the US. The stated purpose is to enable more students to graduate in four years.

 

What does this mean if you are teaching a young child to read?

Reading and writing are two of the most make-it or break-it life skills.  If a little kid is having trouble, now is the time to intervene.  The longer a student flounders, the more he falls behind and the less likely he is to catch up, even with help.  By the time a student reaches college, high school, or even middle school, it’s usually too late.  The time to learn to read and write is when a child is four, five, six and seven years old.

If you want your children to succeed, do whatever is necessary to ensure that they can read by the time they start third grade.

My child can’t read CVC words after finishing kindergarten. Should I hold him back?

“It depends” is not the answer you want, but that’s the best I can do.  Let’s look at some of the factors you should consider.

Young child writing C-A-T.

  • Is your child doing poorly in reading only? Is he struggling to read but doing fine in math, for example? This kind of disconnect could signal a particular learning problem with reading.  He might need a reading specialist or a tutor to work with him in first grade so that he can catch up to his classmates.
  • Is he performing at a mediocre level in reading, math and most kindergarten skills? If so, he might not be intellectually ready to move on to first grade.  Kids’ brains develop at different rates just like their bones do.  An extra year to grow can make a great difference in a child’s ability to learn.
  • Is your son one of the youngest children in the class? Younger children in a kindergarten or first grade class sometimes are immature compared to their classmates.  Their attention span is less.  They have more difficulty sitting still.  They are more impulsive.  If your son was barely old enough for kindergarten, chances are that he is barely old enough for first grade too.
  • Is he showing signs of stress? Is he more babyish than his classmates, more apt to cry or sulk when things go wrong?  Our emotions grow at various rates too.  A student with good self-esteem will be better able to weather poor grades in reading and not blame himself compared to an insecure student.
  • Did your son miss school often because of sickness, moving, or problems at home? Is he depressed?  How motivated is he to learn?
  • What are the expectations of the kindergarten curriculum at the end of the year? (You can go online to find out your state’s curriculum requirements.)  Has he met them?  Kindergarten reading skills provide a base for first grade reading skills.  Will CVC phonics be taught in first grade or will it be reviewed quickly with the expectation that students already know that?
  • Does your son’s school have a strong intervention plan and well trained teachers for outliers like your son? If so, how will it be determined if your son meets the criteria for this special learning?  And when will the intervention begin—in September or in January?
  • Does your state have mandatory third grade retention laws, so that if your son is still doing poorly at the end of third grade, he would be forced to repeat that grade?
  • Do you have the time or the ability to work with your son to catch him up? If so, can you commit to this teaching, knowing your son will fight you?  If not, do you have the money for a tutor to catch him up while he moves into first grade?
  • Is there a younger sibling? Will both children be in the same grade if the older child repeats?   If the older child continues to do poorly, will his family status be threatened?  Will his younger sibling become a star in comparison?
  • Are grandparents pressuring you one way or the other? If so, how knowledgeable are they about your son’s skills?  Is their status threatened if your son repeats a grade?
  • Can you talk to teachers who know your child well or who have taught kindergarten or first grade, educators who can give you first hand advice?

When you weigh all these factors, one is most important:  What is best for my child?

How to Raise a Reader, according to The New York Times

The New York Times published  an excellent article last month entitled, “How to Raise a Reader.”  You might find the article at your library in the Book Review section.  It is worth the effort.  Here are some highlights from “How to Raise a Reader.”

Become a reader yourself.  If you have let your reading habit slip, reacquaint yourself with the print world.

Read aloud to your infant.  Your reading material might be a medical journal or Dr. Seuss.  The content doesn’t matter to an infant.  What does matter is that you make eye contact with your child, use voice inflection, and read in the normal rhythms of your language.  If the baby responds with baby sounds, respond in kind.

Read aloud to your toddler.  Encourage your child to link the sound of your voice reading to him with strong, positive emotions.  Read at bedtime and during daytime too.  Offer your child variety in picture books, but respect his or her preferences, even if that means reading “Go, Dog, Go” night after night.  When the child interrupts, that shows he is engaged.  Stop and respond.  Finishing a book isn’t all that important at this age nor is reading every word.

Continue to read aloud to your emerging reader.  Once your child shows interest in letters and words, keep reading to him or her.  Encourage her to join in, but don’t pull back now.  She shouldn’t think of reading as work.  She should think of it as fun.  Allow your child to develop reading skills at her own pace, but if you suspect problems, follow through with her teacher.

Continue to read aloud to your early reader.  Take him or her to the library or book store.  Expand his selections from fiction to nonfiction.  Ask him and his friends what they are reading and discuss their preferences.  Let your child stay up a bit later if she reads in bed.  If your child prefers comic books or graphic novels, or if he wants to read about his favorite video game, be thrilled.  He’s reading.

Stash reading materials throughout the house. On the coffee table, in the bathroom, or in the bedroom, show off books, magazines and other reading materials to encourage reading.

Help your child build a personal library.  Make a bookcase part of the child’s bedroom or a children’s section of books part of your home library.  Give books as gifts and rewards.  Bring home armloads of books from the library.  Celebrate your child’s first library card with family stories of other first library cards.

This wonderful New York Times article goes on to describe the kinds of books children are ready for at different times in their lives.  Enjoy.

 

My son’s kindergarten reading teacher says he won’t talk. He talks at home, but he is really shy. What’s going on?

It helps to know the reason for the speechlessness so that your son’s teacher will know how to modify her teaching style to make the student and teacher comfortable.  Since he has normal speech at home, perhaps he is selectively mute.

EPSON MFP image

Selectively mute children might be speechless all the time or only in social situations which make them afraid.  They might show anxiety, excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment and withdrawal.  Symptoms* include

  • “consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, such as at school) continues despite speaking in other situations.
  • “not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication.
  • “not speaking lasts at least one month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • “failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language required in the social situation
  • “not speaking is not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering).”

Ask that your son be evaluated by a speech pathologist.  But also have his hearing tested.  Sometimes persistent middle ear infections can make hearing hard.

After you have pinpointed the problem as much as possible, then you can plan how to make your son verbal in school.  This may take several professionals working together—the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, his teacher, you and possibly his pediatrician.

In the meantime, inform his reading teacher that you are following up on her observation.  Ask her to accept that this behavior is normal for him right now.  Ask her to find nonverbal ways for him to respond and participate in group activities until an intervention plan gets underway.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.

 

How to test for kindergarten readiness

Checking that a child can touch his ear with the opposite hand is one test for kindergarten readiness.  But if you are looking for specific proof that your child is ready, here are some of the abilities which Kentucky looks for in each child:

young child attempting to touch his ear with opposite hand

  • Stating his or her name, age, birthday and phone number
  • Naming body parts as they are pointed to
  • Standing on one leg with eyes open and then closed
  • Identifying shapes such as triangles and squares
  • Printing his or her name
  • Saying (not singing) the ABC’s
  • Naming letters pointed to
  • Counting into the twenties
  • Sorting items by shape
  • Separating a certain number of blocks from a group of blocks
  • Identifying the front and back of a book
  • Identifying in what order words are read

The test used by Kentucky looks at five broad areas:  academic / cognitive; language development; physical development; self-help; and social-emotional.

Not all states test incoming kindergarteners, yet all are looking for  kindergarten-ready skills in children.  You can use this information to prepare your child for a great start to school.

 

 

Should my kindergarten son read aloud to me? How about my third grade daughter?

Reading aloud to a parent or teacher has two purposes:  to show that the child can decode words properly and to show that the child can read with fluency.  If the child is learning English as a second language, showing proper pronunciation is also a purpose.

child with adult helping to read

First decoding.  Probably your kindergarten son is at the decoding stage, that is, learning how to link language sounds with letters to form words.  If he is at this stage, then yes, he should read aloud.  That way you can tell what he knows, what he needs more practice on, and what he needs instruction on.

If you know from previous reading aloud that your third grader has mastered decoding, then your daughter needn’t read aloud for that purpose.  You might sit next to her as she reads.  If she has questions about pronouncing an unfamiliar word or if she asks about the meaning of a new word, you can help.  Occasionally you might ask her to tell you what she has read to be sure she has understood.

If your older child comes to English from a second language, she might be able to pronounce words perfectly yet have no idea what they mean.  If so, ask her to underline words she doesn’t know so you can talk about them.  If there are context clues, you might help her identify them.  With such a child, you should work on vocabulary development.

As for fluency (reading at a normal speed with voice inflection, pauses for punctuation and emotion in the voice) the kindergartener and ESL child should read aloud.  Some readers who are at the decoding stage spend so much energy on decoding that they miss the meaning.  By listening to how you say a line and then mimicking the way you say it, the child can pull together decoding and fluency.

Your third grader should be able to read fluently within her head.  However, if you notice that your child has trouble with comprehension even though she can decode well, then her reading aloud could help you to figure out why.  Is she ignoring punctuation and lumping parts of one sentence with another?  Is she sliding over longer words without decoding them because she is lazy or in a hurry?  Does she have short term memory problems, allowing her to forget the beginning of a sentence or paragraph before she gets to the end?  Is her emotional voice flat?  Is she missing inferences?  Some of this you can tell by listening to her read aloud, and some by asking her about what she has read.

In general, newer readers should read aloud with instruction and monitoring while experienced readers should read silently.