Answers to common questions about literacy learning

Answers to Common Questions about Your Child’s Reading

Everyone at some point in life!

  • Children learning to read and write.
  • Students who have learned the basics and now need to learn how to think critically about difficult text.
  • Adults who had other priorities as they grew up and now want to be better readers or writers.
  • Parents who would like to help their children with homework.

It’s never too late.  Unless there is a significant intellectual or learning disability, most people will improve their reading and writing skills with the right instruction and the right motivation.

Sometimes a child will stumble over words or read very slowly. Sometimes the child can’t answer questions about reading or is unable to write a complete sentence or a coherent paragraph.  These are obvious signs of a problem.  Other times, the signs are not so obvious.  Behavior problems in school or refusal to do homework might be the child’s way of avoiding reading and writing tasks that are too difficult.  Talk with the teacher who should have a good sense of whether or not your child’s reading and writing performance is within normal limits.

This is the hardest question of all. That’s because there are many different answers and there are no answers all at the same time!  In general, people tend to be more motivated to do anything when the task is interesting and relevant and they are provided with choices and opportunities to interact with other people in the learning context.  But by themselves, these ideas may be insufficient.  To really understand someone’s motivation to do anything, you have to understand that individual within a larger context where lots of factors are interacting and changing.  Follow my blog because this is one of the topics that I will explore often.

Yes and no.  Teachers are trained to teach and assess literacy and most do so quite effectively but teachers’ time is limited and a thorough diagnostic literacy assessment takes time.  At times, a child’s learning difficulties may be puzzling and parents are dissatisfied with the child’s progress in school.  Or sometimes a child works at a slower than average pace and falls too far behind to keep up.  For these reasons, many parents seek an independent evaluation and/or tutoring for their child outside of school.

The best course of action is always to work in cooperation with the teacher.  He/she knows your child and has experience with children at the grade level.   Be open to the teacher’s opinion.  At the same time, ask the teacher to explain anything you don’t understand.  Ask the teacher for work samples that demonstrate your child’s work and grades.  If you feel you need more information, ask the teacher if your child can be evaluated by the school’s reading specialist.  If you still aren’t satisfied that you have received thorough, accurate information, consider seeking the help of an independent literacy consultant.

Testing for the purpose of identifying a disability that interferes with learning usually includes norm-referenced, standardized tests of intelligence and achievement.  These tests typically result in standard scores like percentiles and stanines that indicate where the child scored in relation to other students who have taken the tests.  This type of information provides a sense of whether or not the child’s performance is within an expected range.

Although standardized tests serve a specific purpose, knowing that a child is reading at the 34th percentile doesn’t tell a teacher what to teach or a parent how to help with homework.  A thorough diagnostic literacy assessment is an individual administration of authentic reading and writing tasks that are closely observed by a specialist.  Every aspect of the individual’s reading and writing is examined, for example the focus might be the influence of vocabulary knowledge on comprehension of informational text, the effect of high frequency sight vocabulary on oral reading fluency, or the ability to apply phonics knowledge to word identification.  The most important result of a diagnostic literacy assessment is the determination of the individual’s strengths and instructional needs.  This type of thorough assessment leads to specific, practical, targeted instructional recommendations.

Simply put, comprehension means understanding.  Sometimes the things we read are simple and straightforward and easy to understand.  Other times, they are complicated and we have to figure out what the author is implying or we have to have certain background knowledge to get the full meaning.

The most common way that teachers check comprehension is through questioning.  If a child can’t answer questions about his reading or he is unable to discuss the reading, a comprehension problem may be the cause.

The first step is to talk with the teacher or reading specialist and ask for a thorough literacy assessment.  The results will indicate what the child’s needs are and an instructional plan can be devised.  There are many strategies that readers can learn to strengthen comprehension.

Phonics is a strategy for figuring out unknown words that requires knowledge of the alphabet and its related sounds and an understanding of how to blend sounds together.

No.  Phonics is a strategy for figuring out words but it isn’t the only word identification strategy.

No.  Each letter has one or more associated sounds.  When words are made up of these sounds, the word can be sounded out using phonics.  However, there are many words that cannot be sounded out using phonics because their spelling is irregular.  For example, the word cat can be sounded out easily.  The word their cannot because the letters represent unconventional sounds.

Maybe.  If the word is one that can be sounded out and the child has learned the associated sounds, yes.  If the word has an unusual spelling, no.

writing-in-the-gallery_webYes.  Sometimes it is wise to simply tell a child the word so that reading can continue smoothly and without frustration.  This makes reading practice easier and more pleasant.  If you notice that your child is unable to read many words, talk to the teacher to decide if some type of intervention is necessary.

Yes.  In early stages, children are developing an awareness of the sounds in language (called phonemic awareness) and they are gradually learning the alphabet and letter sounds. If a four-year-old writes kt for cat, it shows that she hears the first and last sound in the word.  As she learns more about letters and sounds, she will learn that c sometimes sounds like k and she will start including the sounds in the middle of words. When children are encouraged to use invented spelling without fear of being “wrong”, writing becomes a natural way to express themselves and they will write naturally and without limitations.