Wednesday, 28 March 2012

4 Things Parents and Teachers are Worried About When it Comes to Their Kids' Reading Skills

One of the most important skills students should master as early as possible in their life is reading. On average, children have their first literacy breakthrough (the moment they could read independently) by the age of  7 or 8 but there are also some exceptional cases of earlier literacy breakthroughs.

There are 4 main reading issues that often cause worries to parents and teachers.
1. Children show no interest at all in reading.
The parents or teachers might be avid readers themselves or they might put a lot of emphasis on reading so when their children do not seem to show the expected level of interests in reading they start to feel worried that this "attitude" will grow into a "life-time habit" of not reading.

This fear is totally acceptable and understandable. However, we might want to consider the fact that most children love books and love reading unless there are unseen problems i.e reading disabilities or motivation issue.

Reading disabilities are real and serious issues that parents and teachers need to be aware of. There are ways to diagnose the disabilities and there are also ways to help the students build up their reading abilities. There are many books on ways to help children overcome reading disabilities that can guide us to help our children or students.

Motivation issue is also a real threat even though it often happens to a small number of students. Some of the students with this issue might feel intimidated by certain approaches; they might feel discouraged from reading or feel intimidated to read in a large group. It is best to handle students who have this problem on a one to one basis allowing them to express what it is that is holding them back from reading; the fear, apprehension and anxieties and then to slowly introduce them to materials that will slowly build up their interests in reading.

2. Children can't read at all even though they are at the age when they (theoretically) should be able to read.

Once again, most parents place high expectation on their children so when their children can't read, let say at the age of 8, they start to panic. Or, when secondary school students still display reading problems at the age where they should no longer grapple with basic reading skills the teachers start to panic.

One thing that I  discovered after my eldest child has started Primary school was that most schools have programs for all levels of students. Students nowadays are streamed according to their abilities in certain core subjects so that the best intervention can be provided to suit their needs.Remedial programs are carried out to help students develop basic reading skills.

However, for younger students (primary school), parents play a very important role in instilling the love for reading and also in developing reading skills in their children. Students learn by imitating the behaviors of adult figures in their lives. Making reading a shared family activity goes a long way at familiarizing a child to the act and habit of reading (at the very least).

3. Children can read but they are reading words inaccurately without any self-correction efforts or without seeking guidance from teachers or parents.

This issue is the trickiest one to handle. Young children love reading their books aloud to their parents and teachers. Some children can read fluently but most kids tend make a lot of mistakes when reading. Some kids pause, retrace, ask questions and self-correct their readings while others just ignore the mistakes and move on to the next parts of the book.

This shouldn't worry us too much and we shouldn't over react when kids  ignore their reading mistakes. What we can do is to avail ourselves to them whenever they read or to allocate a specific time for shared reading time so that they can turn to us whenever they encounter any problems with reading. At the age of 7 to 8, most kids needs prompt feed backs from teachers and parents on their reading especially on pronunciation, meaning and etc. However, when they are older, they will be able to refer to dictionary and to read independently.

4. Children can read but they can't make sense of what they are reading .

I hear this a lot from my students but strange enough, not from my children. But I think I know the reasons. My students are forced to read and to comprehend long general passages without any visual stimulus whereas my students usually read short texts with a lot of visual stimulus in school and also at home. In school,my children use text books that contain colorful images and at home they have their educational comic books subscribed for them.

Initially I was not a very strong advocate of using comic books as a way to develop literacy skills in children. But when my children started kindergarten I asked some friends and colleagues about ways to help children with literacy development. Some friends with early childhood education background suggested comic books. At the same time, the kindergarten also started to send home some book subscription brochures via my children. I took a long look at the list and after selecting some of them I sent the forms back to confirm my subscription. So, my children have been receiving their subscription on a monthly basis ever since.

There are various other techniques that we can use to help students make sense of reading materials but these depends on their age.

At Primary School level, using large picture books, audio books, comic and video narrative together with reading might help the students understand the books they are reading.

At Lower Secondary School level, using guided reading techniques might help as the teacher will break the texts into smaller more digestible parts to make it easier for the students to understand them as a whole. The students may use dictionaries and internet key words search to understand texts they are reading.

At Upper Secondary School level , when reading long general passages, the students can start by underlining the thesis statements and the topics sentences of each paragraphs. Then they can discuss the background of the texts and how it relates to other issues. Then they can find the meanings of  words or expressions used in the text before talking about the main ideas and the supporting ideas. After that they can look at the tone of text, the styles used to develop the text, the intention of the writer and etc.

Do you have any worries about your child's or your student's reading abilities? Please share your experiences if you like.