Tips for Preventing Early Reading Failure

By NCLD Editorial Staff

In this online chat with NCLD, Dr. Joseph Torgesen highlights the importance of identifying young children as early as possible who are at risk for developing difficulties with reading. Dr. Torgesen is a Professor of Psychology and Education at Florida State University and is nationally known for research on both the prevention and remediation of reading difficulties in young children.

Dr. Torgesen made the important point that there is enormous diversity in children's preparation and talent for learning to read. Children can struggle either because they had limited pre-school literacy experiences, or because they simply learn the important knowledge and skills necessary for early reading growth more slowly than other children. No matter the cause of their struggles in learning to read, these children need instruction that is both more skillfully delivered and more intensive than most other students.

Children who lag behind from the start, Torgesen says, "miss out on the kind of critical early reading practice that helps students become fluent and accurate readers by second and third grades." The key is to make sure that schools provide 'immediate and intensive interventions' when they notice that any student is lagging behind in the development of early reading skills.

Advice for Parents

Young children who are "late talkers," have trouble expressing themselves with words, or have a family history of difficulties with reading, should be observed carefully for signs of early problems with reading. Dr. Torgesen feels strongly that if parents notice something that concerns them, they should seek help and advice from someone who has experience in working with children who have reading disabilities, such as a teacher or a psychologist/diagnostician. Here are some "big ideas" about learning to read that parents should be aware of:

When children struggle learning to "sound out" words, it interferes with their ability to read accurately and independently.

Children who find reading difficult," Torgesen writes, "do not read very much, causing them to miss out on increasingly significant amounts of reading practice. It is only by reading a lot, and reading accurately, that children become fluent readers who are able to think about the meaning of what they are reading at the same time they are reading the words."

Often, these children come to school less well prepared than their classmates in skills such as phonological awareness (understanding that words are made up of sounds) and knowledge about print.

If children enter school with limited vocabularies (knowledge of the meanings of words), it makes it more difficult for them to learn new vocabulary words. As they get older, their limited vocabularies begin to interfere more and more with their ability to understand what they are reading.

Parents should do all they can to help young children learn new and interesting words. Young children learn new words through meaningful and interesting discussions with adults who take the time to explain new things to them.

The more children read, the better readers they become.

Parents should read with their children as often as they can. Even a few minutes a day can make a difference." Children may come to school with limited understanding of the value of learning to read, or they don't develop an interest in reading while in school. After the beginning stages of learning to read, motivation to read plays a very large role in determining continued expansion of reading skill."

Parents who would like to learn more about what they can do to help their child in the early years of learning to read might a enjoy a book called, Straight Talk About Reading by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D.

Advice for Teachers

Dr. Torgesen emphasized the importance of providing effective early literacy instruction in the classroom, and has lots of good advice for teachers, especially those who teach children who are struggling with early reading skills.

Instruction should be systematic, explicit and motivating.

It should include areas like phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency building, and comprehension strategies. "Explicit and systematic instruction is particularly helpful for students who are 'at risk' for reading difficulties for one reason or another."

It is important to create a "rich literacy environment in which there are lots of books to read, lots of reading going on, lots of discussion and excitement about what is read, and lots of writing."

Discussion and writing should be about both what children have read themselves and what has been read to them by others.

Teachers should always monitor student progress.

"If teachers notice that a student is falling behind in any of the critical areas of early reading growth," Dr. Torgesen writes, "that would be an indication that perhaps they should be taught in a smaller group, for longer periods, more frequently, or by a more skillful teacher."

Earlier is Better

Dr. Torgesen's overwhelming message is that with the right tools and approach in early childhood and early elementary school classrooms, teachers can identify children headed toward reading difficulties"and prevent those difficulties"as early as kindergarten.

"Current scientific research indicates that we can, indeed, provide effective instruction in three of the major content areas that have been shown to be most predictive of later success in learning to read," Dr. Torgesen writes. "These areas are phonemic awareness, knowledge about print (i.e. the alphabet, letters, letter/sounds), and oral language, particularly vocabulary."

The attention of parents and early childhood educators should be focused on doing all they can to stimulate early growth in these areas. "The good news is that very few children are likely to remain poor readers if they receive instruction that is properly targeted, and skillfully delivered." And, of course, this should be done as early as possible along the journey of learning how to read.


Suggested Tip!

Read Books New Ways

Does it feel like you’ve read the same story 100 times? Read it a new way: Ask the child questions about what they think will happen next and encourage them to tell you what they see in the illustrations.
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