Q: My child is bright, so why is he having problems learning to read? Why is reading
so hard for my daughter? She just seems to not get it. Why does my child struggle
learning how to read? Why is reading so difficult for some students?
Reading problems have nothing to do with intelligence or ability but rather with
how the person processes the print. Many extremely intelligent students struggle
with reading. Reading difficulties are common because reading is not a natural biological
process. Reading is a complex learned skill. Consequently children do not naturally
develop reading skills. For additional information read the article Students Who
Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia
Q: My first grader seems to be having trouble learning to read. Do I need to do anything
or should I just wait and see if he picks it up when he gets a little older? My child
is 7 and still not reading; do I need to do anything to help him? If a student is
not acquiring reading skills, do I need to take action or will they grow into reading
when they are ready?
Do not wait! Begin an effective intervention program immediately. The earlier you
help your child learn to read proficiently the better. The impression that reading
is a natural developmental process and kids will grow into proficient reading is
false. Most struggling readers never ‘catch up’ or ‘pick it up’ on their own.
The evidence proves children who struggle with reading difficulties early on often
continue to struggle with reading. If appropriate direct intervention does not occur,
most these students do not ‘catch up’ with their peers. The frequent misconceptions
the child or student “will pick it up later”, “will grow into reading” and “just
needs a little more time” are not supported by fact. The facts are students who
are behind at the end of first grade usually remain behind. The statistics clearly
show the vast majority of the children who were poor readers in first grade were
poor readers later on. Approximately 75% of students identified with reading problems
in 3rd grade were still disabled readers in 9th grade. Look at the information under
‘The Scope of Reading Difficulties in America’ in the University of Oregon’s Big
Ideas in Beginning Reading website.
In addition to the reading performance research data, we now have neurobiologic proof
reading difficulties do not ‘go away’. The brain imaging research shows the ‘incorrect’
dyslexic neural pathways first develop in beginning readers. Reading problems persist
because struggling readers are literally reading the wrong way. To correct reading
problems it is critical to directly intervene and teach your child with an effective
direct systematic phonics program that intentionally develops necessary phonologic
processing pathways. See Direct Systematic Phonics Instruction is Proven Effective:
Why Parents and Teachers Should Use Direct Systematic Phonics Effective intervention
is critical and the earlier the better. Do not wait!
Sometimes students ‘get by’ with incorrect processing in the lowest grades (K, 1st).
The easy reading material, illustrations, context clues, oral directions and limited
depth of content can disguise their difficulty decoding print. For example, if the
child looks at the picture or memorizes repetitive text it appears he can ‘read’.
However, students who have not developed necessary phonologic processing rapidly
run into problems as vocabulary expands. The incorrect strategies of ‘whole word’
visual memorization, word guessing, context clues and predictable text fail as reading
level advances. This is often why ‘reading problems’ often become evident in 2nd
or 3rd grade. In reality, the ‘difficulty’ processing print already existed. To
read proficiently, the student must process print phonetically. Students who don’t
develop phonologic processing pathways face persistent difficulty reading.
Q: My 1st grader is not learning to read. Because of his difficulty reading, the
school would like for him to repeat 1st grade next year. Socially and maturity wise
he is ready to move on. Should he repeat 1st grade just to improve his reading skills?
If a young child is facing difficulty reading, you need to step in and directly help
him develop necessary reading skills. Sometimes there are valid maturity or other
reasons for keeping a child from advancing to a higher grade. HOWEVER, if the only
reason for holding a child back is failure to learn to read you need to directly
address the reading skills instead of just holding him back. Unfortunately, repeating
the same program of instruction that failed the child the first time around will
frequently not help the child improve their reading abilities. Repeating a grade
does not necessarily build necessary skills. The child needs direct effective reading
intervention; the sooner the better. Immediately step in and help the child develop
necessary reading skills with an effective direct systematic phonics program. The
solution to helping a struggling student overcome reading difficulty is direct and
I tutored a child in this exact situation. The school highly recommended having this
bright and energetic boy repeat 1st grade because of his extremely low reading ability.
The mother was concerned and opposed to retaining him because socially he was in
the proper group. She contacted me and I tutored him over the summer. I tutored
him 29 ½-hour sessions (approximately 15 hours total). He quickly learned his foundational
reading skills. When he first re-entered school in the fall he tested at high 2nd
grade reading level. In a relatively short time period (15 hours of instructional
time) he went from critically low reading level to the high end for his grade. In
this case, the student’s reading difficulties were resolved with effective direct
systematic phonics instruction.
Q: My 4th grader is making quite a few mistakes when he reads. I think he needs some
instruction but he is above the beginning level. What can I do to help him without
starting over or making him think he needs a ‘baby’ program? My 5th grader is reading
but he makes lots of mistakes and struggles with the longer words and complex text.
How can I help him? My child struggles with reading, how can I help her improve
her reading? How do I find an effective reading remediation program for my struggling
The first step is to look closely at your child’s reading and evaluate where he/she
is at and they type of mistakes he is making. The types of errors are helpful in
indicating what types of skills the student lacks. An informal reading evaluation
can provide valuable information to help you identify where specific deficiencies
may exist and determine possible gaps in necessary reading skills. After you identify
missing skills you can then target instruction to directly help your student build
necessary skills. For information on reading evaluations and how to evaluate your
student, see the article The Importance of Evaluations in Reading Remediation and
the article Actual Reading Errors Made by Struggling Readers.
In other cases, the student is coming along with phonologic processing and may just
be missing knowledge in some of the complexities or need skill development in handling
multisyllable words. If your believe your student is processing print phonetically
and just needs work on some of the higher level skills you can use the advanced sections
of Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons to help develop the higher skills. Quickly
review the vowel combinations to ensure he knows all the complexities and then directly
work on the multisyllable words.
Q: Can I use the Right Track Reading Lessons program with my child who is struggling
with reading? Can the program be used to improve reading skills in students who are
having difficulty reading?
Yes! Effective direct systematic phonics instruction can have dramatic results, especially
with students who are struggling with reading. The research reveals that direct
systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten
through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The new brain
imaging research shows that effective instruction using direct phonological based
reading programs not only improves reading skills but actually develops the neural
pathways for proficient reading. While it is best to get children reading proficiently
early, older students can definitely be remediated. For additional background information,
see the articles:
The validated research results show the effectiveness of direct systematic phonics
programs. However, it was my actual experience tutoring struggling children that
has made me so passionate about the importance of teaching students with effective
direct systematic phonics programs. Time after time, I have seen struggling students
who made dramatic improvements and quickly learned to read simply because they were
taught with effective direct systematic phonics. I will share a few actual examples
that show that by simply using effective direct systematic phonics we can make a
difference in reading proficiency, one student at a time!
The 2nd grader who could not read the word ‘at’: This bright boy had been in school
2 years and did not know how to read. He came in telling me he could not read and
he hated school. After only 6 tutoring sessions he read me a list of over 100 words!
More importantly, in a matter of weeks he made a 180 degree change in his attitude.
He suddenly loved school, was excited about reading. His proud grin when he told
me “I’m a good reader!” proved beyond a doubt the effectiveness of this program.
By the end of the year he completed the entire program and was reading grade level
with his classmates!
Another 2nd grader who transferred in mid-year from Canada speaking but not reading
any English: He came in with a negative attitude telling me he could not read and
did not want to read! Once again in a short time, he was learning to read. (In approximately
20 total hours of instruction (40 ½- hour sessions) he went from not being able to
read anything (he said ‘ham’ for every word he saw) to accurately reading over 500
words and two pages of decodable sentences in one short session. While he still needed
to learn the vowel combinations and r-controlled vowel combinations he was on his
way to reading success.
The kindergartener who did not knowing any sounds or even the difference between
letters and numbers: This sweet child also had some speech difficulties. It took
extra time to get started, as we had to spend time on phonemic awareness and on initial
alphabetic awareness. After 15 hours of instruction (30 ½-hour sessions) he had developed
phonemic awareness, knew over 20 basic sounds and was able to blend these sounds
and accurately read simple decodable words made from these sounds. On his last session
he accurately read 110 decodable words in a list and a dozen simple sentences! Although
he was still in the beginning stages, he was learning how to read!
The 5th grader who had been struggling with reading and spelling since 1st grade:
She was having difficulty reading grade level text and was flunking most of her spelling
tests. Her reading difficulties also created problems in all other subjects. In only
28 tutoring sessions (less than 20 hours of instruction) she completed the program.
She could read out loud in class with few errors, was able to read her classroom
and homework material on her own, and had improved success spelling.
The 7th grader who faced serious reading problems: This student faced significant
difficulty reading all grade level material and consequently struggled in all subjects.
When I first evaluated this student, he had >20 errors on one short page of grade
level text and could not achieve necessary comprehension because of the high level
of effort and frequency of errors. After only approximately 14 hours of instruction
time (14 1-hour sessions condensed into a 4 week time period), this cooperative and
hard working student completed the program and demonstrated dramatic improvement
in reading ability. A few months after I finished tutoring him, his mother told
me she came home from work to find him voluntarily reading a book. Something he had
never done before.
These questions were answered by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching
children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful
reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading
Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons.The purpose of this article
is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read.
We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time! More information is located
at www.righttrackreading.com ~ Copyright 2004-2010 Miscese R. Gagen