Category Archives: Literacy

Everyone who strives to help beginning readers wants to use beneficial practices.  Sometimes, the intuitive response to an unknown word is not helpful and can even be damaging.  Often, repeated practice with oral reading only makes matters worse. What can be done to help the child who sounds good when reading aloud but lacks understanding and recall? Should we stress phonics or flash cards? These questions and others will be addressed in the Literacy section.

Helping Parents Understand Learning Disabilities

A funny, curious little guy I love very much has a learning disability. Although I remind myself that each challenge in life brings its own blessings, my heart aches for him. My heart also suffers for his parents who care deeply and have already taken many steps to help him succeed.

I write this message for all parents who have been told their child has a learning disability. Although either gender can be affected, I will use the masculine pronoun. Most of all, I want parents to understand that a learning disability does not relate to lack of intelligence, laziness, or attitude. You might prefer to think that your child does not work hard, plays too much, or doesn’t care. Your child may even pretend not to care. He cares. As a former special education teacher, I do not believe young children do not care about learning. Only if your child gives up will he stop caring.

So, what is a learning disability? When one or more of the central nervous system processes do not work properly, we apply the term learning disability. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the disorder manifests in one of the following areas: attention, reasoning, processing, memory, communication, reading, writing, spelling, calculation, coordination, social competence, and emotional maturity.

Your child with learning disabilities does not lack the ability to learn and must be taught concepts at his thinking ability instead of his reading level. Although conventional teaching methods often do not work, with accommodations, your child can succeed — even through college. Without appropriate adaptations, your child may face a very painful educational experience. Continue reading

Blend “Right and Wrong” with Self-Expression and Adventure

Imagine if you as a parent, grandparent or teacher, could enhance confidence and creativity in a child you love by altering one of your small behaviors. Good news! You can do this without stress, strain, or extra money. The key involves allowing the child to work freely in the area of creative expression instead of trying to control the child’s artistic attempts.

The ideas I share today come from courses, books, and most of all — personal experiences. Through the years, I feared that —

  1. When I gave a coloring book to a child, I sent a subtle negative message. The child determined that drawings in a coloring book far surpassed the child’s artistic ability.
  1. With a coloring book, the issue became about coloring within the lines. As a pre-writing activity this promised some benefits toward eye-hand coordination. In the area of creativity, a coloring book became a giant put-down. When I urged a child to accomplish a feat that did not fit the child’s developmental level, I promoted insecurity.

Continue reading

How to Promote Reading Comprehension

Ana BookImagine my surprise years ago when a child who read a passage beautifully, could not paraphrase the meaning or answer a single question. Not only did I question myself, I wondered if some kind of distraction hampered understanding. Years later, I learned that a few children suffer from a condition that some call Direct Dyslexia. Regardless of the name used, the child fails to gain meaning. 

Direct Dyslexia

A child with Direct Dyslexia easily decodes any word that fits the rules of the English language, identifies irregular words, and sounds fluent and comfortable when reading orally. All of the reading skills work well except understanding and recall. What can be done about lack of comprehension?

Comprehension always involves thinking and means the same as understanding. True reading requires the brain to decode the squiggles we call letters and to also bring meaning to the task. Both skills must be in place for true reading to occur. When a child struggles to understand reading, try the steps listed below. Continue reading

How TV Recall Improves Comprehension

What is Comprehension?

Comprehension always involves thinking and is synonymous with understanding. Comprehension always focuses on gaining the message intended by the author.

Visualization to Help Comprehension

While working with a fifth grader, I encouraged him to “see pictures” and “run movies” while reading. To which the young boy replied with astonishment, “You mean I’m supposed to think about what I am reading?” Visualizing does not come intuitively to all children. The good news is that visualization—comprehension can be taught.

Ways to Explain Visualizing

One method begins by sharing colorful objects that can be handled as well as seen. After allowing children to see, touch and describe the items, ask children to close their eyes and “see” items on the “magic screens behind their eyes.” Most children will be able to recall and describe what they “see” with eyes closed. If more clarity is needed, ask children, “Do you remember what you saw? Can you remember how it looked?” When teaching visualization, use words related to vision and seeing. Continue reading

Why Reading Is More Important Than Tennis

When I was a young mother in my thirties, I had a dear friend who offered to teach the game of tennis to me. I didn’t have a cute tennis outfit so I showed up in jeans and hiking boots, which I imagined looked similar to tennis shoes. After klutzy attempts and many missed balls, my friend pulled me off the courts and said, “Barbara, you don’t even dress right for this game.” Thus ended my budding tennis career.

Through the years, I wished that I could play tennis. My husband plays and it would be great if we could share this sport. Yet, my life has gone well even without tennis. I raised the children, got a job, and functioned in society. No real trauma evolved over my lack of tennis.

Most of us know at least one child who does not read well. We send five year olds to school with the anticipation that they will learn to read. Most show up with eager and excited little faces. Unfortunately, for some, it does not happen or it does not happen easily. It’s as though they don’t dress right for the game of reading. Continue reading

Teaching Phonics

Previous posts about literacy focused on oral reading.  Today’s entry suggests ways to guide children to match the symbols of letters to their “short” sounds.  All ideas in this post come from Project Read.  After taking numerous workshops on various ways to teach phonics, I decided Project Read provided one of the most user-friendly methods to present this aspect of reading.   Continue reading

Scaffolding Oral Fluency

One of the worst mistakes I made as a young teacher was to ask children to read “challenging” texts before they were ready. Struggling painfully while reading aloud links reading with misery, which is the opposite of what we want. The strategies below provide support (like the scaffolding used when building a house). Today, when I read with a child, I do everything possible to make the event pleasant and successful. Nothing motivates like success! Continue reading

Grounding for Word Recognition

Often, a student can read words in isolation better than words in lines of print. Usually when this occurs, the student has an eye-tracking problem. Grounding prepares the student to read by breaking the reading task down. In effect, you are providing the foundation for successful reading. Continue reading

Fluency and Emerging Readers

 The “What is This Word?” Question

When a child is reading orally, the emphasis should remain on fluency and comprehension. Save phonics, vocabulary, and spelling for separate times. The important question is, “What do I do in the middle of reading if a child doesn’t know a word or if the child asks for help?” Continue reading

Choosing a More Resourceful Response

Everyone who strives to help beginning readers wants to use beneficial practices.  Sometimes, the intuitive response to an unknown word is not helpful and can even be damaging.  After reading the post above that is focused on helping a child with unknown words, please consider the rationale below.  

A typical, and less helpful response is to ask the child to sound out the unknown word. Whether to ask the child to sound out the word or not depends on the lesson objective. During skill lessons, your objective is about the skill being taught—not about fluency. If smooth fluency is the objective, maintain focus on supporting fluid reading with an appropriate rate. When comprehension is the major objective, ask questions to direct thinking about text. You may ask the child to look at the initial letter of the unknown word and plan to get the mouth ready to make the first sound when the child re-reads the sentence.

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