Tag Archives: reluctant reader

How to make your child a confident, competent reader

If you want your child to become a good soccer player, what should your child do?child kicking soccer ball

  • Read the life of soccer great, Pele?
  • Watch reruns of great World Cup games?
  • Practice, practice, practice running, blocking, swiveling, interfering, kicking and scoring?

If you want your child to become a good piano player, what should your child do?child playing violin

  • Prowl through Mozart’s haunts in Vienna?
  • Listen to Erroll Garner perform multiple versions of the same tune?
  • Practice scales, practice chords, practice phrases, practice, practice, practice?

And if you want your child to become a good reader, what should he or she do? boy reading on the floorRead, read, read.  Becoming a good reader, like becoming a good athlete or musician, is a skill.  It  needs to be honed by thousands of hours of practice. There’s no shortcut.

Parents pay me to tutor their children in reading, yet between our lessons, many children do no reading. Would you pay a coach to work with your son in a batting cage for an hour a week and then expect the boy not to wait a week to hit the ball again?  Would you pay an art teacher to work with your child an hour a week and then allow the child not to pick up charcoal until the next lesson?

If you want your child to improve his reading, then he needs to practice daily. Few classroom teachers allocate a half hour or an hour of class time daily to active reading instruction. If you want your child to improve as a reader, it’s up to you to provide reading time for him and for you.

How? Find books, magazines, online information or other kinds of reading that will interest your child. Lists of books by grade and topic abound on the internet. Have him read aloud to you. Notice what his strengths are and what his weaknesses are. Does he have trouble pronouncing words or knowing what they mean? Does he skip punctuation? Does he slur over big words? Does he skip whole lines of type as he reads? Does he miss inferences? Does he read without emotion, without inflection?  Does he mispronounce certain letters?  Then these are areas he needs to practice with you to help him.

Even if you are not an English teacher, you are a reader and can offer your child feedback on his reading. Model how reading is done. Don’t let him read off by himself. You need to be involved, to hear how he reads so that you can offer help.
Good readers self-monitor, stopping when they realize they aren’t getting it, but poor readers don’t. Help your child to get over the notion that one read through is enough.

If you want your child to be a confident and competent reader, you cannot depend on the schools. You must get involved. Even if you hire a tutor like me, you must get involved to be sure your child practices between his lessons. Practice is the only sure way to learn a skill.

What’s choral reading?

Choral reading is reading aloud as a group, much like a choir reads the words and sings them together aloud. It is commonly done in lower grades and in ESL classes for several reasons:group of students reading together from a single book

  • Children who are less skilled readers can listen to the more skilled readers beside them, and can model their reading after their classmates’ reading. In particular, less skilled readers can hear fluency (emphasis of certain words or syllables, pauses for punctuation, speeding up and slowing down) which less skilled readers might read too slowly to use correctly.
  • Children who stumble over sight words can hear them pronounced and can say them aloud without drawing attention to themselves. ESL students can hear correct inflections and can practice copying them.
  • Less skilled readers can practice aloud with anonymity, their mistakes or hesitancies masked by the reading of the larger group.
  • Children who are poky readers, who stumble while trying to decode words, will gain comprehension which they sometimes miss.
  • Choral reading is fun for children.

Certain kinds of books or readings work well for choral reading.

  • If a book has a rhyme pattern, or a predictable rhythm, it can be a good choice. A poem or nursery rhyme makes a good choral reading selection.
  • If the book is short, so that it can be repeated several times in a few minutes, it can be a good choice.
  • If the book is at the reading level of the less skilled students, it can be a good choice.
  • If less skilled readers are familiar with the rhyme or story, it can be a good choice.

Working one-on-one with a student, the parent and student can read aloud together from the same page. If the choral reading happens in a classroom, each student should have a copy of the text or be able to see a Big Book which everyone can use. Usually the adult reads first while the students follow along, pointing their fingers at the spoken words. Then the student joins in. The student might feel more comfortable if the adult reads with gusto, drowning out the mistakes of the beginning reader. As the selection is reread, the adult can read less loudly, allowing the child’s voice to be heard. Rereading the selection several times over several days is a good way to help the less skilled reader to remember the words or to figure them out quickly.

If my child reads slowly, he can pronounce almost all the words correctly, but he understands almost nothing. If he reads faster, he mispronounces many words but he seems to understand a bit. Which do I go for—accuracy or comprehension?

Accuracy. But let’s backtrack a little.

At what stage of reading is your son? Is he reading passages matched to his reading level? If a child is plodding laboriously through text, the text is too difficult for his reading level. He is not achieving fluency. I suggest you go back to easy readers which he can read accurately and with understanding in order to give him confidence.boy reading book

If he is in third grade, for example, you might find some first grade reading for him. Ask your librarian for help. If he can read sight words and CVC words at a good pace, with word accuracy and with overall comprehension, you know he is reading at least at an early first grade level. Gradually increase the reading difficulty. You want to maintain the child’s confidence, so increasing the difficulty level should not happen in a matter of days but rather over weeks or months.

Some problems to listen for:

  • If a child is stumbling, word to word, he is not phrasing within sentences.  For example, all the words in a prepositional phrase go together and should be said as a unit; the subject and it’s modifiers should be said as a unit.  Practice reading aloud with you modeling how to say a given sentence, and ask your son to phrase words so that they make sense.
  • If a child is reading in a flat monotone, his reading lacks inflection.  Some languages lack inflection (Korean, for example), and children from that background might feel foolish saying some words louder and some words softer, or saying part of a word louder than the rest of a word.  If you can read with inflection, let the child listen to you and then ask him to repeat the words the same way.  If you cannot read with inflection, a child can listen and read along to books on tape.
  • If a child is bulldozing longer words rather than sounding them out, he could have problems with phonics, or be dyslexic,  or  be an impatient personality.  Cover suffixes and prefixes, discuss the root word’s meaning and the meaning of the suffixes and prefixes, and then reassemble the word.  Reread the sentence and ask the student what the word means in the context of that sentence.

Some manufacturers have a reading level on the back cover of children’s books. “RL 2.2” for example means reading level second grade, second month. Other books are color coded by the library, and still others show reading level with a lexile score. In my public library, one long wall of books contains easy readers for children learning to read. You might find an author whom your child likes. Ask your librarian for help so that your child is reading at the correct reading level and gaining confidence.

As your child progresses to higher reading levels, he will probably read with less accuracy and at a slower speed unless you actively intervene. Ask him to read aloud. When he pauses or stumbles, let him try to figure out the difficulty himself, but if he can’t, stop him and help him. Perhaps you will notice he doesn’t understand a concept in phonics; or that prefixes or suffixes confuse him; or that he doesn’t know where to make the break in multi-syllable words so he pronounces words wrong; or that a secondary meaning of a common word baffles him. Teach him how to solve his problem. Then let him continue reading that sentence or that paragraph. Now ask him to reread it. If he continues to stumble at the same spot, you know that he needs stronger intervention on a particular skill.

At the end of paragraphs or chapters, it’s important to ask your child what happened (in fiction) or what is the main idea (in nonfiction). If he talks around the idea but cannot nail it, he was focusing on individual words and missing the meaning of sentences or paragraphs. The reading was too hard. If he can retell the story or explain the main idea, he is comfortable at that reading level, and should try a slightly higher reading level.

What I see with many of my students is that they begin to have difficulty with reading once they have mastered the basic rules of phonics. It’s not a decoding problem; it’s a vocabulary problem.  As the reading level increases, so do the number of words they don’t understand. It’s not a matter of pronunciation usually; it’s a matter of having no idea what a given word or an idiom means. This is particularly true for ESL students.

That is why I say accuracy is important. If a child cannot read a given word accurately and know what it means, then understanding a sentence or a paragraph—with lots of unknown words—becomes impossible.

I haven’t read to my child at bedtime. How do I start?

Dad reading to children in bedIf you haven’t been reading to your child at bedtime, but you want to establish that tradition in your family, here are some ways to begin.

You might gain your child’s approval by saying she is going to be allowed to stay up 15 minutes later every night while you read together.

You might let her choose the reading material. You needn’t read a book together. If she is into fashion, read a fashion magazine or newspaper. If he is into making things with his hands, read Popular Mechanics. The idea is to make the reading experience pleasurable for your child.

Help your child to vary the reading material. Go to the library together and poke into the nonfiction section about animals, stars, and history. Show her the biography section and read some names of famous people she might know a bit about. Let her choose so she has have a stake in the reading.

If electronic equipment will entice your child, use it. If comic books will entice your child, use them. If graphic novels will entice your child, use them.

Many children are ignorant of world news, but an evening read of a news story can make children aware of the wider world. With you there to interpret, the child can become more sophisticated.

If your child is reading too, and he is a reluctant reader, suggest that he read one page and you read another, or he read one paragraph and you read another. But at first you might want to do the reading yourself, to attract your child to the idea of bedtime reading. If he thinks he has to work, he will balk.

If you read a book for which there is a film, suggest that you watch it together after you finish the book. Heidi, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer and so many more children’s books have been turned into films. You can discuss how the book and movie differ, and which she likes better.

If there is a special TV show one night or you are on vacation, you might suggest skipping the evening read for that special event. You might be surprised to see disappointment on your child’s face. If so, suggest that you could read, but just a bit later or during the baby’s nap. For the chance to cuddle up with Mom or Dad, most children will want to read.

Keep this time stress free. If your child is relaxed, she might raise questions about matters she is tossing around in her mind. Let that be her choice though.

Stick to the time you set—15 minutes, 20 minutes or whatever you decide on. If necessary, set a timer. The child must learn that this is a limited happy experience that she can look forward to again tomorrow evening.

Good luck!

Do you read stories to your children at bedtime?

Dad reading to children in bedIf you do, you are one of a small group of parents. An online survey of more than 1000 US parents shows that one-third of parents read to their young children every night. Half the parents said that their children prefer watching video games or watching TV to reading.

Another survey of 2000 mothers in Britain showed that about 2/3 of mothers read to their children, but only 13% read to their children every night. Parents say stress at the end of the day and lack of time are reasons that they don’t read to their kids. But TV, video games and other distractions also are factors.

Yet reading to children at bedtime can offer so many advantages.

  • Establishing a bedtime ritual—a bath, brushing teeth, kissing family members good-night, a prayer, and a snuggle with Mom or Dad while they read—is a time-honored way to settle children down and prepare them for sleep.
  • Children learn fluency by hearing an adult read. They learn to slow down for commas and periods. They learn to change their tone for direct quotes. They learn that certain parts should be read faster or slower, louder or softer, or in a high squeaky voice or a low threatening voice.
  • In the privacy of the bedroom, parents might feel more inclined to “act” out the words of the book—to be silly or gruff, whiny or sugary. Children sometimes see a different side of their parents during bedtime reading. This can be a great ice breaker between a child and a usually distant parent.
  • Children learn vocabulary. They can ask, “What does that mean?” and get an immediate answer.
  • Children learn about setting, plot, character, tension and happy endings. They learn about culture. Especially as children get older, parents can read books to a child which the child isn’t ready to read yet but which the child is quite able to understand.
  • Children often reveal what they are thinking and feeling during a nighttime read. Snuggled safely with Mom or Dad’s arm around her, a child might open up about her hopes and fears. This is a time for the child to feel protected.

In our next blog we’ll talk about how you can establish bedtime reading if you don’t already do it, or how to improve the experience for you and your child.

The American study was conducted by Macy’s and Reading Is Fundamental in 2013. The British study was conducted by Littlewoods, also in 2013

How to help a child frontload information before he reads

Frontloading means preparing a child to read new material by loading his mind ahead of time with information which will help him understand the new material.

Good readers either consciously or subconsciously do this before they read something new, but many poor readers do not. For new readers and poor readers, parents and teachers need to model this activity until the child makes it his own.

But how should a parent or teacher model frontloading?

• For a work of fiction, many teachers discuss ahead of time the setting, characters, plot, and problem the students are about to read about. If any parts of it are familiar to the students, the teacher will point them out, connecting the new with what the student already knows.

Students shouting I Know to teacher

• Some teachers prepare a list of vocabulary words the child will encounter in the new reading. Often, the children write down definitions of the words and use those words in sentences so when they see them in the text, the words will be familiar.

• For stories in reading textbooks or for nonfiction information in textbooks, teachers sometimes discuss what the title could mean and what the subheadings could mean. If there are illustrations, the teacher asks the students to describe what is happening or what information is shown in the table, diagram, map or political cartoon.

According to Kylene Beers, a long-time reading teacher and author of When Kids Can’t Read; What Teachers Can Do, these prereading techniques often work with skilled readers but not with struggling or passive readers. She offers other prereading strategies to reach them.

• Because struggling readers often skip reading titles, captions, and subheadings, and rarely page through a reading assignment to see if there is any nontextual information, they need to be assigned to do what good readers do naturally, often with a teacher’s direct instruction.

• One kind of direct instruction in prereading is using an “Anticipation Guide.” Before a reading assignment is given to a student, the teacher—or parent of a young child—reads the selection and composes a short list of ideas from the reading for the child to respond to. For example, if the child is reading or being read Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, the list could include ideas like, If a child gets lost, does the mother and father stop thinking about that child? Or, Is there such a thing as a magic stone that can make people invisible? Together the adult and child can talk about these ideas which the child will encounter later in the book.

• Struggling readers often begin reading as if every reading—for school or for pleasure—is a cold read. While they are reading, they do almost no predicting what might happen next. Yet good readers do this all the time. One thing a parent can do is to pause as she is reading and to ask the child, “What do you think is going to happen next?” If the child shrugs, the parent might model some options—“Well, I think Sylvester will never come back to his family,” or “Well, maybe Sylvester will find a different magic pebble while he is invisible.” Gently encourage the child to respond, discussing the possible outcomes of those predictions.

For more ideas on prereading activities that can activate a child’s prior knowledge, see Beers, K., When Kids Can’t Read; What Teachers Can Do, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003. This book, by the way, is one of the best I have read about how to teach reading—useful ideas that have been tested by teachers.

Use frontloading to prepare a student to read unfamiliar material

Good reading material for young children should include a wide variety of sources—nursery rhymes, the National Geographic Magazine and Laura Ingles Wilder’s stories of her childhood on the prairie, for example. But as unfamiliar subject matter is introduced—a good thing—children might have no previous knowledge with which to understand it—a bad thing.

The solution is for parents and teachers to prepare children for what they are about to read (or have read to them). Sometimes this prereading preparation is called “frontloading.”

The diagram below shows a child’s understanding of new knowledge without any frontloading. The first circle—prior knowledge—represents what the child already knows about a given subject. The second circle shows new knowledge—what the child is about to learn about the subject. If the two circles do not intersect, that means the child is making no connections between his knowledge and new information.  The child is likely to struggle to learn the new information, and without connections to what he already knows, the child is likely to forget the new information quickly.

without frontloading

With no overlap of information, the child has no way to “attach” new information to what he already knows. Little learning occurs.

Now compare the above diagram to the diagram below which shows a child’s understanding of new knowledge with frontloading. The intersection shows the overlap of what the child knows and the new knowledge. The larger this intersection is, the larger is the mental scaffold to which the child can attach the new information. The larger the intersection, the easier it is for the child to learn new information.

with frontloading

The green overlap shows frontloaded information–information which the child can use to remember new information.

 

Many poor readers don’t think about what they already know before they try to learn more. Sometimes they were never taught this skill in preschool or at home, and then later, teachers assume students know they should do this and the teachers don’t teach this skill. Yet rehearsing what one already knows about a topic it is an essential skill that good readers use all the time to prepare themselves for acquiring new information.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about how to help a child to frontload.