We all hope it is going to be a fun time together on the sofa, but frankly it can be quite the reverse. Reading practice can become a battleground! It certainly was with my two boys. I can remember getting exasperated and saying “…but we had that word on the last page… how can you not read it on this page?! Are you really trying?”
Of course, that tended to stress them, which made it harder still for them to succeed. Stress causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol, which shut down the higher brain function. Stress pushes you towards “fight or flight”. You may have seen that. The flight option tends to appear as sullen silence.
All of our focus should be on keeping stress levels down.
Easier said than done? Well the first step is to understand a bit more about why reading is so hard. The more you understand that, the less stressed you will feel, which is definitely a good start. The second step is to know how to make reading easier. And the third step is to help in the right way.
OK! Let’s get started on Step Number One. Have a look at this bit of text in Greek characters:
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
That is what text looks like when you can’t read it! Not so nice.
In addition, English text is very inconsistent. The sound of a letter pattern changes between words, which is very confusing. Just look at the words ‘gas’, ‘has’ and ‘was’. Why don’t they rhyme?
A lot of very bright children get into difficulties reading because their solution is just to memorize whole words. In an early reader book that can work quite well. But once you are into more complex text it leads to more and more guessing. Have you seen that? It is very common.
Also, we see a lot of quite subtle vision issues causing difficulty. This is not stuff a standard optometrist will check for. But the big clue is when someone is horrified by a page of text, even though single words are OK. You will see them skipping words, having trouble with word endings, losing their place and sometimes skipping whole lines.
We need to make things as easy as possible. Well, as soon as you have a clue as to what the text is, it gets a lot easier. So, if I tell you that the Greek text above is “Jack and Jill went up the hill”, the rest of it should now seem a lot easier to work out. In fact, what seemed like chaos quite quickly starts to take shape. Can you feel your emotions towards the text changing? Can you perhaps imagine learning to read it now, with a bit of guided practice like that?
Well what we need to do is achieve the same thing for your child with English text. By way of example, the way we do that in Easyread is to use “Trainertext”. We put images above the text that indicate the sounds in each word. Take that tricky word ‘was’ for instance. We have the “Octopus who Knocked a Puss” above the letter A, rather than the “Ant in Pink Pants” who is above the letter A in ‘gas’.
How can you do the same thing on the sofa, without Trainertext? We strongly recommend helping a child far more quickly than seems natural. As soon as your child hesitates on a word, say the sounds in the word. Your child can then blend them together and carry on. That will help your child and will be far less stressful than endless guessing. You will see far quicker progress.
I recommend you devise games as much as you can too. For instance, you can play pelmanism with a set of cards that have either a picture or a word on each card. A game will always take the focus away from the reading and towards the challenge of the game.
What about the eye-tracking issues? Well there is a whole area of speciality amongst optometrists for this. You need to go and see a “behavioral” or “developmental” optometrist. He or she can then investigate things in more detail and suggest some vision therapy (exercises) and perhaps some prism glasses.
A fully functional vision system is essential for comfortable reading. Obvious really… but only when you know what the patterns of difficulty are and how to recognize them.
We all really want to help in the right way, but it is easy to do the reverse, like I did with my children!
Whenever you are coaching someone you have to correct their mistakes and reading is no different. But people can easily take that as criticism and that raises their stress levels, which we don’t want.
So there are two parts to helping in the right way:
First, aim for the Rule of Five. You must praise five times for every correction you give. When I read with a child nowadays I normally affirm every word they get right. Sounds weird, but actually it works fine and has a fantastic impact. I am just going “good… yes… well done… great… “ all the time quietly.
If they cannot read words yet, I will affirm every sound they get right.
Second, when you do have to correct a mistake, empathize with the difficulty rather than criticizing the mistake. People are often silent and until a mistake is made and then say “No!” rather abruptly. By contrast I am constantly murmuring support and then I say things like “hang on, let’s check that one again. It’s a bit tricky” or just “ooops… have another look”. I try to presume someone is trying their hardest.
If a child is perhaps not, then rather than getting cross I try to reason with them, with a little speech like “OK, I know it is tempting to rush through, just to get to the end of this, but if we go slowly and carefully, you will learn much more quickly. So let’s see if we can get to the end of this page without a mistake, together as a team, and we will then call it a day.”
Once someone has got the feeling for doing a page, or a paragraph or even a single sentence right, it is a base you can grow from. It is better to do a very short session well than a long one badly.
David Morgan is CEO of Morgan Learning Solutions and creator of the Easyread System, an online course based on Guided Phonetic Reading that helps kids with highly visual learning styles, dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and more by providing support for spelling and reading problems.
Visit MorganLearning.com for more on Taking the Stress Out of Reading.