There is no absolute or ‘correct’ method of teaching school-age children to read but there are ways of helping to develop reading by encouraging the essential skills necessary for fluency. These will include:
- Phonic knowledge: This is the ability to understand the relationship between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (the symbols that represent these sounds). For younger children this will begin with learning the alphabet and the phonic ‘sounds’ they represent, to include long and short vowel sounds and syllables, both open and closed. As the child develops, the more complex ‘phoneme/grapheme’ relationships will be introduced gradually.
- Phonemic awareness: Many dyslexic children have difficulties in recognising rhyme and may also be unable easily to identify and isolate the beginning, middle and ending of even short words. This awareness and ability to identify and breakdown sounds into small units can be encouraged in younger children by repeating simple rhyming poems and songs and by playing word games – ‘cat-hat-sat-mat’ , ‘hot-pot-lot-dot’ and so on.
- Sequencing: Sequencing skills are essential to all aspects of literacy including reading, spelling and the expression of ideas in writing. Dyslexic individuals can find this difficult. They need lots of practice to encourage orderly sequencing by playing visual picture games, by learning how to plan their ideas, by recognising structure in words, sentences, paragraphs and stories, (beginning, middle and end’).
- Memory: The ability to hold and manipulate multiple ideas in working memory is hard for dyslexic individuals. In reading there is the need to decode words when they have yet to become automatic; there is the need to understand what is being read and to remember what already has been read. Memory skills need therefore to be practised continually, in short ‘spurts’, often using games – ‘I went to the shops and bought two apples….’
- Comprehension: This is the ability to understand what has been read and the ability also (in older children) to ‘read between the lines’, recognising inferential ‘markers’ within the text. Reading should be a pleasure and parents can help by introducing attractive books at a young age and encouraging paired reading on a regular basis, stopping to ask ‘Why did he say that, do you think?’ or ‘What do you think will happen next?”, for example.
- Vocabulary: A wide vocabulary is acquired by the varied use of the spoken word and by the reading of varied, interesting and extended written material over time. Promoting the use of dictionaries is to be encouraged (though if a child is severely dyslexic normal dictionaries are not very helpful as the child cannot begin to spell the word). In this case, a phonetic dictionary is recommended. A developing knowledge of prefixing and suffixing rules is very useful, both for vocabulary extension and for spelling rules.
- Fluency: Reading aloud is helpful here, as is paired reading, the re-telling of stories that have been read, the explanation of difficult parts of a piece of writing -‘What does that mean exactly?’. Fluency and comprehension of course also follow accuracy so an accurate reader is also more likely to be fluent with good comprehension skills.
- Attention: Many dyslexics have poor attention spans. This will inhibit them in a number of ways. They will be easily distracted (though not necessarily if they are extremely interested in what they are doing). They will not be focused on the task at hand. They are likely to loose interest quickly. They should be encouraged to work (at homework for example) in a quiet room with no other distractions. Initially, any work should be split into short ‘bursts’ which are gradually extended over time thereby increasing attention span.
Importantly, a positive attitude to reading within the home or at school is essential to success. Quiet encouragement without stress and an assumption that though reading is a necessity it is also one of life’s (attainable) pleasures – these are important attitudes to promote.
Let me know what you think or what your own experiences have been.