What do children’s reading levels mean?

Reading levels are one of my least favorite things about elementary school. They are a quick way for teachers to decide what books to read with which students but they don’t do much for students. But knowing your children’s reading levels can help you select books to read with them at home, as well as give you a little bit of information about whether they are meeting the targets for their grade level.

Different systems, different data

Lexile Levels

Lexile levels are assigned to a book or article. A student gets a Lexile score on certain literacy assessments, like the MAP Growth assessment. A Lexile score is a 3 or 4-digit number. This chart shows Lexile levels for the average (50th percentile) and high achieving (90th percentile) reader by grade level.

Guided Reading Levels

Guided Reading scores are letters of the alphabet from A (beginning of kindergarten) to Z (usually around 5th or 6th grade). A child’s reading level is determined by the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (BAS). In this assessment, a child is asked to read out loud from a leveled book and then answer questions about the story. This assessment has several large flaws. First, the score doesn’t tell us whether the child is having trouble reading the words on the page, remembering what happened, or communicating his answers. Second, these assessments are very subjective and a child’s score can vary greatly depending on who assesses them.

Developmental Reading Assessment

The Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) is another common assessment used in elementary schools. DRA scores are numbers from 1 to 70. Students are usually given the DRA once or twice a school year. This chart compares DRA levels to grade levels.  

Once you know the level, what’s next?

If your child’s reading level is on-target, according to their teachers or according to one of the charts linked above, that’s good news. If you don’t notice any problems with your child’s reading, and the scores are as expected, keep doing what you’re doing!

If they haven’t met the goal on their reading assessments, it’s time to gather some more information. What do you see and hear when you ask your child to read? What other assessments have the teachers done that might give a fuller picture? Check out this blog post for more info about what to do if a child is not reading at grade level.

How to help kids build a reading habit

Affiliate Statement: This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

A habit is a behavior that we do consistently, without consciously thinking about whether to do it, over time. It can be good (saving money, eating vegetables), bad (smoking, staying up too late), or neutral (walking the dog around the block clockwise). Wondering how to build a reading habit for your kids?

At first, even the best and most desirable habits can feel uncomfortable and it’s easy to forget to do them. But if we set the right conditions, they get easier with time! Here are some ways to help your child build a reading habit. 

How to build a reading habit

BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, says every habit has a cue, a behavior (that’s what we think of when we say “habit,”) and the reward.

Cues

Cues are things in the environment that prompt you to start a habit. Snacking because you walk by the candy dish, starting the coffee maker because it’s 7am, running home when the street lights come on. Here are some cues for reading to think about in your child’s environment.

Place

Designate a reading spot that is comfy, well-lit, and quiet. Keep needed supplies (a book basket, pencil and sticky notes, a reading log) nearby. Minimize distractions like toys, screens, and people who aren’t reading quietly.

Time 

Pick a time for reading when kids are quiet but not sleepy. Make sure they aren’t hungry or in a rush to get outside with their friends. 

At my house, there’s a quiet period on weekend afternoons that make for great reading time! We fit in reading on other days but on weekends it’s a really nice experience. Other families read while waiting for siblings to finish practice or lessons. That has the advantage of keeping siblings and their distractions away for better focus. I could never read in the car without feeling sick, but some kids are able to read while their parents are driving. 

Reading behavior 

When you say you want your kids to read more, what do you mean? To help kids build a reading habit, you have to make the reading itself as enjoyable as possible. If you start them off with books that are too hard and frustrating (or too easy and boring), they are less likely to stick with it. Some thoughts about keeping reading engaging and appropriately challenging:

Choosing books

Some teachers are firm about expecting kids to read books “at their level,” but when we’re talking about building a habit of reading, there’s a big place for books that make kids happy! If that’s a dense book of sports stats, great! If it’s a comfy favorite picture book, great!

If your kids have finished a favorite book or series and you want to keep the momentum going, try searching online for “books like _” for recommendations. You can also ask your child’s teacher or your children’s librarian for books that are popular with kids that age. 

Fixing errors

Reading isn’t fun when you can’t read the words on the page. If a book has too many words your child can’t decode yet, reading will be slow and frustrating. They will have trouble understanding the story because all their bandwidth will be used up just to figure out the words. 

You can help your child with challenging books by

  • Choose easier books – ok, this one isn’t quite fair but one way to make reading more enjoyable is to choose books at an easier level.
  • Offer to take turns – when you read every other page, they hear your fluent model. Plus it helps them move along through the story, which can improve their comprehension.
  • Get the audiobook – audiobooks are a great resource for letting kids enjoy stories they can’t decode effectively yet. For some readers, it builds confidence to hear a book that’s a little challenging first, and then read it again on their own. 
  • Talking about it with them – ask questions or point out things that’s surprises you or made you laugh. 

Thinking about the story

Some kids race through the pages of a book, trying to get through as many pages as they can. Others flip through a book randomly and don’t get much of the story. Knowing that you’re going to ask them about it later sometimes motivates kids to pat attention to the details. At the same time, don’t interrogate your kids about their reading. Think book club chitchat, not Final Jeopardy! 

For some kids, writing a quick note on their bookmark when they stop reading, or sketching a picture at the end of the chapter to make a little comic strip of the story, can help them remember what they read. 

Make these a small part of your child’s reading time, though. When I was a kid, a journal entry was required at the end of each chapter. I had a hard time writing a succinct summary, so I would get stuck on a book for weeks because I fell behind in my journal. The strategy of having us write about our reading backfired for me! 

Reward

It’s tempting to offer prizes and praise and rewards to get kids to do things they don’t want to do. Mini M&M’s saved my sanity while potty training! But giving kids rewards for reading can backfire, according to some research. 

Reading that lasts

So focus on rewards like learning interesting facts, being entertained, and having cozy quiet time with a parent. Making reading an inherently enjoyable experience is the goal. That’s the best way to help kids build a reading habit that lasts a lifetime!

If your child is struggling with reading, we can help! Contact us today to talk about how we can help your child become a capable, confident reader.

My child’s teacher says he is not reading at grade level

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

Wait, what do you mean he’s not at grade level?

Many parents watch and worry as their children learn to read, making sure that everything is going as expected. Others trust the school’s process and believe that their children are doing fine as long as they do the homework the teacher gives and go to school each day. 

At this time of year, some parents receive the surprising (or maybe not totally surprising) news that their child isn’t progressing in reading like we hoped. Now what?

What does it mean to “read on grade level?”

Different measurements, different conclusions

Schools complete some kind of screening and progress monitoring assessments in reading throughout the early grades. Schools usually commit to one system of measuring reading success, such as the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment, with numerical scores) or the Guided Reading system (with levels from A-Z) or another system such as Lexiles, which assigns a 3 or 4 digit number to text based on its difficulty.

In addition, schools often measure reading fluency wit a tool like DIBELS or AIMSweb, designed to let teachers know how quickly and accurately students read text, compared to other students in the same grade, across the US. These scores can alert teachers that a child is not progressing as quickly as peers, but they don’t tell teachers why, or what to do about it. For example, one child might read beautifully and quickly with poor comprehension, while another reads slowly, stumbles over words, but understands the subtle points of a story. Both migh score below grade level, but they have different learning needs. 

So a reading score that’s “below grade level” should be the beginning of a process that helps us learn more about the student and figure out how to help. This should include additional assessments, trying out some interventions (like small group fluency practice or phonics lessons) and measuring progress, and conversations with parents about concerns and next steps.

Why is my child struggling with reading?

“OK, so that’s all good and well that the school has a process, but why is my child struggling with reading?” Fair question.

The short answer is they haven’t yet received enough of the reading instruction that they need, at a time they were ready to benefit from it.

Reading is a complex process that involves the development of oral language (speaking and listening), phonological knowledge (hearing the individual sounds /c/a/t/ in the spoken word cat), letter-sound knowledge, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. Dr. Hollis Scarborough developed the model of “The Reading Rope.” to show how all these strands are woven together and develop alongside each other to contribute to skilled reading. 

If there is a gap or a breakdown in any of these areas, students might not be able to meet grade level reading expectations, until they get some support and practice. 

Another popular model, Nancy Young’s Ladder of Reading and Writing shows that while about half of young children develop reading skills pretty easily with decent teaching, the other half need “code-based, systematic and explicit” reading instruction. And not all schools offer that. In fact, a great number of schools in the US are still teaching what’s called the Guided Reading model, which promotes having children read leveled books, often with predictable patterns (I see a cat. I see a dog. I see a capybara) that rely on children looking at the pictures instead of mastering the spelling patterns and decoding the words. 

Some readers learn to read this way and it does not appear to harm them (though many have difficulty with spelling down the road because they haven’t learned letter-sound relationships in a systematic way). Lots of other children get stuck and need better instruction, with more careful assessment, and more explicit phonics teaching, to be successful.

For many readers, high-quality phonics instruction over a relatively short period of time is enough to get them over this barrier and they catch up rapidly. Other readers need specific instruction and extra practice to build fluency, or grow their vocabularies, or develop their oral language skills. 

How to help your child read at grade level

The best thing you can do for your struggling reader is make sure they get a solid grounding in phonics and that they can sound out words and break words into meaningful chunks (think-ing or un-think-able). This can important but not easy. One option is to advocate for your child at school. Learn about what program they are using and advocate for curriculum choices that are consistent with Science of Reading research about how kids learn to read. Ultimately, getting schools to improve thier instruction is what will make a long-term difference in reading outcomes for your community, but it’s overwhelming to take on on your own, whether you advocate for services as part of an IEP or for better classroom instruction.

If you want a reasonable way to supplement poor instruction at school, consider working through a book like Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Even if you feel like you don’t know a lot about phonics, there are some great videos on YouTube to explain different phonics concepts.

If your child is able to sound out words and chunk them into syllables (most kids who struggle to read struggle with that part), you can help them work on fluency by taking turns reading, either reading the same text or alteranting pages in a book. Poems can be fun texts to do this with.

If your child’s reading sounds nice, but they have trouble remembering and explaining what they read, you can help them develop their oral vocabularies by talking about the story together. Ask questions like, “What was surprising in this chapter?” or “Where do you think they will look first for the lost dog?” Practice summarizing what you read. A great time to do this is when you pick up a book to read the next chapter. You can say, “I remember that when we left off yesterday, the robot had just rescued the bear cub but her foot came off. Let’s see how they solve that problem.” Asking and answering questions and summarizing are powerful ways to help a child think through what they read and understand it better. 

Don’t Panic, but Take Action

If conversations with your child’s teacher, or your own observations, have you wondering how to get your child to read better, the task can feel overwhelming. The good news is that almost every child (many models say 95% of kids) can learn to read if they get the right instruction. The bad news is getting the right instruction can be a major undertaking. 

But remember this: Reading ability does not correlate with intelligence. Even your smart, hard-working, creative child can struggle with reading if the teaching isn’t meeting their needs. But with the right instruction and resources, they can thrive!

If you are concerned about your child’s reading, contact us today to find out how we can help, with online structured literacy instruction using the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Managing at home reading expectations

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

Does your school have reading logs? Journal assignments? Charts? Graphs? Do you have to swear a blood oath that your child read books this week? If your family is struggling with managing at home reading expectations, here are some tips for how to get your child to read better and how to manage the school’s reading homework assignments for your family.

Create Reading Habits

A lifelong habit of reading will give your child the opportunity to move into careers, hobbies, and community opportunities that make their lives better. The power of fluent, wide, eager reading cannot be overestimated. Ultimately, if you’re trying to figure out “What can help my child read better?” you’re probably taking a shorter-term view, trying to get this week’s assignment done and end the argument about reading. Here are some ideas to take the pain out of at-home reading assignments and begin to bring the joy of books to your household.

Choose the right books

How to help a struggling reader at home
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Teachers are big on reading levels. Those letters or numbers on stickers on the book cover, or inside the front cover, are there to help teachers choose the right books for their classroom, but they are often misused for gate-keeping purposes. Teachers will enforce a rule that kids have to have “just right” books and that the book can be neither too easy, nor too hard, and use the book’s level as a way to decide. 

Reading levels have their place. One use is that they help you find other similar books to try. If you ask your child’s teacher what his “instructional reading level” is, you will likely get a Guided Reading level (a letter) or a Lexile (a number) that tells you the difficulty of text they are reading at school. You can find plenty of books online organized by level. Flip through one and get a feel for it. How many sentences are on a page? How many paragraphs? How often are there pictures? Use those clues to help you find other books that your child might find comfortable. 

But beyond that, the sky is the limit. For example, I worked with a second grader reading books about Minecraft at the fourth or fifth grade level because it is his favorite game, and a tenth grader struggling with non-fiction at an eighth grade level because he didn’t have a lot of background knowledge about American history. If there is a topic your child is passionate about, don’t be surprised if he can read books that are “above his level.” 

On the other hand, if your child is struggling with reading the books that come home, try decodable books like the Simple Words series or Bob Books that match the words they have learned to sound out. Core Knowledge Language Arts also offers free “Skills” units that have great decodable readers you can print. Flyleaf Publishing is a great source of decodable books, which are offered for free online (through the end of the 2021-2022 school year).

Choose the time and place

There are good times to schedule reading time for your child, and then there are times that don’t work as well.

Times not to fit in reading:

  • While the rest of the family is watching TV
  • Right before dinner
  • In the car on the way to school

Times that work better:

  • After a snack
  • While younger siblings are napping or not home yet
  • At a “family reading time,” where every available person in the house sits down with a book – maybe in the hour before bed or after lunch on the weekend.
  • In the waiting room at dance class or in the bleachers at a sibling’s practice – if the environment is quiet

Finding the right place for reading homework

Some kids love to curl up in a quiet corner of the house and read until you make them stop. Those aren’t the kids you are reading this for, I don’t think. Kids who are struggling or who avoid reading need the support and attention of a whole adult (or responsible older child) while they work through their reading. 

This is easiest to accomplish when you sit beside your child, at the table or on the couch, or in bed if no one is too sleepy. Have good lighting, a comfy seat, and minimal background noise. 

Looking for fun ways to fit more reading into your family’s life? Check out our free Winter Reading Bingo Board!


.

Make it a habit

In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg breaks down all habits into three parts: a trigger (he calls them “anchor moments”), a habit, and a reward. If getting your child to read every day sounds totally out of reach for you and your family right now, try these tiny steps towards your goal.

  1. Pick a trigger – “We will take out a book right after the table is clear from dinner.” or “As soon as her big sister starts basketball practice, we’ll sit in the bleachers and read.”
  2. Set a tiny reading goal – A page, a paragraph, a sentence, a word. It might seem ridiculously small, but start with the next step – one more increment of reading than you’re doing now. If reading at home right now just isn’t happening, the only way to get started is to start, so start tiny!
  3. Decide on a reward – BJ Fogg makes a very important distinction between the reward we get for something we do successfully (I cook breakfast so I get to eat a delicious English muffin) and the long-term payoff (if I go to work all week, I get a paycheck on the 15th). We’re looking for those tiny, in the moment rewards for reaching our first reading goals. How will you and your child celebrate the success of sitting down with a book together? A hug? A little dance? A high five?

And Don’t Worry!

Be patient with yourself and with your child. A teacher has literally no idea what your family situation is, in most cases, and you have to decide what success looks like for your family. Even if teachers have some control over assignments like reading homework, they are planning for a whole class and not taking into account that in your house, the adults work different shifts or the baby wakes up a couple of times a night or the babysitter doesn’t read fluent English or each kid is on a different schedule for sports practice. So while the school’s expectation may be what brought you here, keep the big picture in mind. You are raising your children to be happy, whole people, thoughtful and well-educated. The long game of teaching them to love reading and to look to books for inspiration, knowledge, and comfort, counts for a lot more than the number of pages in their reading log. 

Managing at-home reading expectations
Reading is a homework assignment for many kids, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. Here’s how to build routines to get your child reading more at home.
Grab your FREE Winter Reading Bingo Board here.


.

What is Vision Therapy for Dyslexia?

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

Last month in my post “Bad News About Dyslexia,” I addressed some scammy or misguided quick-fix “diagnoses” and “cures” that are being marketed to parents of struggling readers. Next on my list is the idea of vision therapy as a fix for dyslexia. 

I’ll be up front. Here’s the problem some will find with my post: I’m not going to say something absolute like “IGNORE ANYONE WHO RECOMMENDS VISION THERAPY FOR DYSLEXIA!”

Is it possible that some readers struggle due to vision problems? Yes. 

Is it possible that some young children who couldn’t see well until vision intervention were mislabeled as learning disabled or dyslexic? Yup. 

Is it possible that those same children received vision therapy and their reading got better? Sure. 

And finally, could some kids have two kinds of problems (a vision one and a reading one) at the same time? Of course.

But I can say: If vision therapy fixes your child’s reading problem, it was not dyslexia, not ever.

If vision therapy fixes your child’s reading problem, it was not dyslexia, not ever. Click To Tweet

According to the International Dyslexia Association, “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Readers with dyslexia can find reading very uncomfortable, even exhausting! Children with dyslexia may complain of headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, or other physical symptoms. That doesn’t mean that dyslexia is a stomach problem, or a vision problem. These physical symptoms often speak to the enormous stress children experience when their needs for instruction and accommodations are not being met. 

Children with dyslexia might also have behavioral problems, including defiance, off-task behavior, or fooling around when faced with tasks they can’t do. That doesn’t mean dyslexia is a behavioral disorder! 

Do you see what I’m getting at? The effects might present differently for different students at different times, but dyslexia is a reading problem, and the right intervention is appropriate reading instruction. It’s not a vision problem, so there is no effective vision therapy for dyslexia.

Is it dyslexia or a vision problem?

If you have concerns about your child’s reading or their performance in school, the first step is to get a thorough evaluation. If your child is school-aged in the U.S., you can request an evaluation at no cost from your local public school. They may or may not use the term dyslexia, depending on the qualifications and knowledge of the school-based team. Schools often identify a “specific learning disability in the area of reading” without specifically naming dyslexia. Evaluation is also available through educational psychologists or neuropsychologists. 

If an academic evaluation doesn’t resolve the questions about why your child struggles to read, further evaluation by an ophthalmologist may be one possible route. Vision therapy, which includes exercises with a therapist and at home to improve eye tracking abilities, may be prescribed. However, a 2010 policy statement from the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, the American Optometric Association, and the American Academy of Optometry clarifies that this therapy does not directly address dyslexia or other learning disabilities. I know some families that have found this type of therapy beneficial, but it is often costly and may not be covered by insurance. 

Another type of vision therapy for dyslexia that is often recommended, but has little scientific evidence, is colored lenses or colored overlays. A set of symptoms called Irlen Syndrome is often used as the basis for prescribing colored overlays or filters, but the data on the existence of Irlen Syndrome is, well, not great.

According to Helen Irlen’s website, this syndrome can impact reading accuracy, math calculation, concentration, behavior, motivation and sports performance. While some people find relief from using colored overlays on white printed material, there is little evidence that there is a “best” color for readers, or even that one color is “better” for a particular reader. 

The right teaching

If colored lenses and vision therapy cannot help dyslexia, what does a child with dyslexia need to read better?

They need good reading instruction. A structured literacy program, such as Orton-Gillingham, which is prescriptive and diagnostic, and addresses all the main components of reading, is needed for struggling readers to make progress.

Instruction should be based on assessments and include explicit instruction in phonemic awareness (the sounds heard in words), phonics (the way those sounds are represented in print), vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, depending on the student’s needs.

Depending on how far behind the student is, and how severe their dyslexia is, teaching these skills can take several years of hard work on the part of the student and their teachers. 

The right accommodations

While students work through the process of learning how to read and write efficiently, life marches on. They will move from grade to grade and be expected to learn and express more and more complex ideas. Having the right accommodations in place can make it possible for dyslexic students to more easily keep up with the curriculum and demonstrate their learning alongside their peers who read more easily.

Effective accommodations for reading and writing are essential. While their reading skills grow, students need access to age-appropriate texts through audiobooks, read alouds, and other technological options to continue to grow their comprehension, vocabulary and knowledge. They may need additional time to complete assignments, tools for writing like speech-to-text, copies of class notes, or other accommodations to help them work more efficiently.

Social-emotional support is also incredibly important. Dyslexia is a lifelong condition. Students can make great strides in improving their skills and becoming more accurate and fluent readers, but they may always find some tasks more challenging than their peers do. Students need to be supported in their areas of weakness and celebrated in their areas of strength.

Don’t buy in to quick fixes like vision therapy for dyslexia

Parenting a child whose needs are not being met at school due to a learning disability is incredibly difficult. Parents who aren’t educators or experts in reading get a crash course in the human brain, curriculum and special education law all at once, whether they want it or not.

It’s easy to feel like “nothing is working” when your child is struggling to read. We get tempted by “out-of-the-box” solutions like vision therapy, colored filters, or other non-reading interventions because they make a kind of superficial sense and because there are often glowing testimonials from people who found success when they were struggling, too. 

Make sure that the therapies and interventions you are investing your family’s time and money in are well-regarded and evidence-based. Get multiple opinions from trusted sources, including people both in and out of your child’s school system. Whatever other approaches you try, remember that explicit, systematic reading instruction is the chief recommendation for teaching students with dyslexia. Trading that out for anything else is not worth the risk.

If your child needs structured literacy tutoring, using Orton-Gillingham, to make progress in reading, contact us today to learn how we can help.

Picking Books for your Children to Read at Home

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

We have books here. We have way too many books here. Between the collection my father-in-law saved from my husband’s childhood, the ones I own myself and those we’ve received as gifts, not to mention my years teaching in schools, we have more than we could possibly need. But it is still so hard to get my son to pick a book and sit down and read. So if you’re like me, wondering how to get your child to read on grade level, or read books that hold their attention, read on! 

Every Reader His/Her Book

In 1931, S. R. Ranganathan proposed the Five Laws of Library Science and “Every Reader His/Her Book” is number two. But finding the right book for your young reader is not always an easy feat. Here are some tips for finding a book that will keep your children reading.

Consider their interests

Whether your kids are into Minecraft, sports, princess or pets, there is a book out there for them. You can find lots of blog posts on this topic with internet searches like “Books for kids who love__.” For one student who loved Minecraft, I found a series by Mark Cheverton that takes place inside the game. My student found a lot of joy in picking apart the things that couldn’t really happen in the game, and in predicting what was going to happen next. 

Another tool I love for finding similar books is the website What Should I Read Next? It doesn’t always have some of the newer series for kids but it’s a great starting point for a search. 

Help my child read for free
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

For early readers, there are a wide variety of stories featuring their favorite characters from TV and movies. My son read these Marvel Meet the Superheroes books over and over. For quick read-alouds and more independent readers, the 5-Minute Stories series has many books with favorite Disney characters. This Pixar collection is terrific, and there are also Disney Princesses, Avengers, and many others. My library has many options.

Some kids prefer non-fiction books. I always did. Don’t give up on stories for them, but definitely indulge their interests, whether it’s cookbooks, Guinness World Records or creepy animals! Try to encourage their interests in narrative by introducing them to the biographies of people in these fields, or stories featuring chefs or animals. 

Consider their skills

If your child is reading at the same level as his or her peers, it’s a lot easier for them to grab any old book off the classroom bookshelf and get into it. If your child is an advanced or struggling reader, it can be harder to find a match between their maturity and interest level and their ability to read the words on the page. 

Graphic novels are one option for getting more complex stories in the hands of reluctant or struggling readers. Even classic literature, like 1984, is now available in graphic novel form, which can make it accessible to kids who have a difficult time sitting down and paging through a novel. 

How to get your child to read on grade level
girl reading a book on a red couch

If you’re looking for another idea for how to help a struggling reader at home, consider audiobooks. Many are available for download through the public library (Overdrive and Hoopla are two commonly-used services). Amazon’s Audible.com is a paid services that offers audiobooks, if you prefer to buy them. 

If you’re struggling to get your child to sit down and read, grab our free Winter Reading Bingo board to get them excited about all the ways they can enjoy books!


.

Read to them (even when they are “too big”)

As your child’s reading skill grows, reading out loud to them is still a powerful way to enrich their vocabulary and build their comprehension skills for more complex stories. It’s tempting to tell your child to go read on their own all the time once you know they can but make some time for reading aloud in your week.

Reading out loud to big kids can even feel awkward, once they are too big to beg you for a story. Let them pick books that are too hard or too long to read alone. Or offer to take turns reading their book, especially at the beginning, to help build some reading momentum. You can even read them short selections of your own reading – things that made you laugh, or made you think, or news articles that made you think of them.

Audiobooks, especially at bedtime or in the car, can be a relaxing way to enjoy a story together. The Harry Potter and Narnia series’ are great audiobook experiences. Listening to books is a valuable experience on its own. Beyond that, the hope is that once you have introduced them to a book, or a series, kids will feel more confident picking those books up on their own a little down the road.

Good books matter

The volume of information we all have available to us can feel like drinking from a firehose. TV, YouTube, billboards, podcasts, video games and Instagram all scream for our attention. It takes deliberate planning to make sure we’re all digging in to quality literature, and not just snacking on whatever junk media comes our way. For our kids, sometimes getting them to read books means meeting them halfway, with graphic novels, audiobooks, or characters from popular media to help them develop the patience readers need to tackle bigger, more challenging, more rewarding reading.

What are the best books for my child to read at home?
We all hear that reading at home is important for children. But what should they be reading? Here are some ideas for kids of all ages.

Don’t forget to grab your Winter Reading Bingo Board!


.

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

If you buy something from a link in this post, we may get a small commission on your purchase.

What is up with schools and their weird dyslexia myths?

Even though dyslexia is listed by name in IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lots of public schools in the US get really weird when a parent asks for evaluation for dyslexia, or when a student receives a dyslexia diagnosis from a provider outside of the school. Teachers, even special educators, are quietly asking each other, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?” And the answers are totally inconsistent! It shouldn’t be this way.

IDEA has been a US law since 1975, and it was amended in 1990 and reauthorized in 2004 and 2015. Along with the laws in individual states, IDEA governs the whole system of special education for children with disabilities, including requiring that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). While states have their own varying laws about education, including serving children with disabilities, no one is allowed to do less than is outlined in the IDEA.

OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about how some schools handle requests around dyslexia services and what approaches are effective.

What IDEA actually says about dyslexia

The IDEA identifies a “specific learning disability” as “a disorder in 1 or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” and goes on to say “Such term includes such conditions as dyslexia.” It’s right there in the law. 

IDEA also includes a component referred to as “Child Find” that requires “All children with disabilities residing in the State … regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated.

This seems pretty straightforward, right? But school districts, including many I have worked in, absolutely refused to bring up dyslexia in IEP meetings. Teachers received little to no training in identifying or supporting students with dyslexia. Even as a graduate student in special education in the early 2000s, I learned about dyslexia only in the most general way, certainly not enough to meet my students’ needs. And I had plenty of students who fit the dyslexia profile over the years, with and without diagnoses.

In fact, there was so much confusion and contention about dyslexia in public education that in 2015, Michael Yudin, the assistant secretary of the US Department of Education, published what is known as the “Dear Colleague letter.” In the letter, Yudin highlights the definition of specific learning disability under the law and reinforces the requirement that schools evaluate students for these conditions. He also clarifies that, while districts or states may use RTI (Response to Intervention) to teach students at risk for “poor learning outcomes,” the process cannot be used to delay a formal evaluation. Parents can also request an evaluation at any time, even if the child is participating in the RTI process. Further, Yudin encourages schools to consider the use of the specific terms “dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia” to describe children’s needs in evaluations and IEPs.  

Can schools diagnose dyslexia?

Many parents are being told by school special education teams the school “doesn’t diagnose dyslexia” or, even worse, that the school “doesn’t recognize dyslexia.” Um, there are lots of people I wouldn’t recognize if I saw them on the street, but they do continue to exist, and so does dyslexia! Unfortunately, whether there is someone in the school qualified to actually diagnose dyslexia varies by state, and even by district.

According to the International Dyslexia Association, a thorough dyslexia evaluation should include assessments of: 

  • Oral language skills: speaking, listening, following directions, making inferences from spoken language, etc.
  • Word recognition: reading words in lists
  • Decoding: sounding out words, particularly nonsense words that can’t be memorized
  • Spelling: this counterpart to decoding involves writing words using knowledge about letter-sound relationships and spelling conventions (like dropping the e to change bake to baking.)
  • Phonological processing: identifying and manipulating sounds in spoken words. 
  • Fluency: reading accurately, smoothly, and automatically.
  • Comprehension: understanding what is read
  • Vocabulary: understanding and defining individual words both in written and spoken forms

A thorough assessment will also discuss the child’s performance in the classroom and background information about educational and family history. A cognitive assessment is often part of an evaluation for dyslexia, but more recent research shows that intelligence is not directly tied to success in reading and writing, so an intelligence test is not the best way to show that a student is underperforming.

OK, but can a school provide that? It depends. Different states have different guidelines about who is qualified to provide those assessments and to provide a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. A school-based team, which may include a school psychologist, special educator, speech-language pathologist, or others, can evaluate in all these areas, but may not be permitted in the state to give the dyslexia diagnosis. In other states, school-based professionals with expertise in dyslexia and/or formal assessment tools may be able to diagnose dyslexia in-house.

Where should we go for an evaluation for dyslexia?

If the school won’t address your child’s dyslexia, you may need the support of another assessor. If you have formally, in writing, asked the school for a special education evaluation, and you are not satisfied with the results, find out about your state’s Procedural Safeguards. These guidelines (states are required by IDEA to have them) explain what steps parents can take if the school does not provide special educatoin evaluation and services as required by law. 

In many cases, parents choose to seek the support of a special education advocate or an attorney to help them navigate these challenges. A lot of the experience a family can expect in this process depends on the school district and its administration, unfortunately. 

If you do choose to get a private evaluation, rather than pursuing an independent evaluation through the school district, a neuropsychologist or, in some cases, an educational psychologist can provide a formal diagnosis. This process can be lengthy, expensive, and frustrating. Check your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter or network with local parents to get recommendations for evaluations in your local area. It can be difficult to tell if someone will be a fit for your child’s needs just by looking at their website. Neuropsychologists and psychologists are humans. Some are great with kids and terrible with paperwork. Others are less pleasant to meet with but write detailed reports. And some are all-around fabulous. If you find one of those, don’t lose their card! You may need more testing down the road.

What if my child's school doesn't "recognize" dyslexia?
Dyslexia could not be any more real, but schools have the strange (and wrong) idea that they can’t or don’t have to talk about it. Here’s what to do if your child won’t recognize dyslexia and support your child.


.

What kinds of services should a student with dyslexia have?

Another disturbing lie that some school districts have told parents is “We don’t give IEPs for dyslexia.” I’ve heard repeatedly from parents that they were told they could get a 504 (a different federal law governs this program and provides accommodations to help students access the curriculum but doesn’t provide any specialized instruction in the areas of need) but not an IEP. 

can schools diagnose dyslexia
Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

Students with dyslexia, or other specific learning disabilities, should have services that constitute a Free and Appropriate Public Education, according to IDEA. Students with dyslexia, in particular, need a structured literacy approach to learn to decode and spell words, work with the sounds of spoken language, and read fluently and with comprehension. Evidence-based approaches (also referred to as the Science of Reading) are based on research findings that support their effectiveness. Orton-Gillingham is one widespread approach under the structured literacy umbrella, and OG, in turn, has informed and influenced many different programs and curricula. 

My child’s school is doing it wrong. Now what?

I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. With all the many things we know about the brain and how we learn to read, it is so frustrating and disappointing that parents have to beg and fight for the things their children need in school. There is no reason that there are so many different answers to the question, “Can schools diagnose dyslexia?”

Here are some tools and resources that can help empower you to push for informed educational decisions for your children:

  • Get connected: Join your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter (find them on Facebook) and look for groups connected to The Reading League and “Science of Reading.” The first one is more parent and education-focused and the second and third are great resources to educate yourself on how we learn to read and what the best practices are.
  • Get educated: There are many, many, excellent books that explain dyslexia. Some that I highly recommend are:
    • Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz – a researcher at Yale, Shaywitz has written an incredible book describing the science of dyslexia and shedding light on the experience of people with dyslexia. A new edition came out a year or two ago, with lots of excellent updates.
    • The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss – I had the opportunity to see Foss speak a few years ago and it was memorable. He is an adult with dyslexia and hearing him speak about his experience of growing up and attending school, as well as hearing about his strengths and needs as an adult, was eye-opening and encouraging.
    • Reversed: A Memoir  by Lois Letchford – the parent of a child with dyslexia, Letchford educated herself so she could help her son who (spoiler alert!) went on to complete his PhD. It’s an incredible story.
  • Get support: Connect with an educational advocate or attorney if possible, and connect with local parent groups who can give insight into how things work in your local school district (which is often very different from how things should work according to state and federal law). 
  • Look into reading instruction outside of school: There are non-profits like the Children’s Dyslexia Center, as well as other local organizations that provide less expensive or no-cost tutoring to students with dyslexia. You can also look for tutors who are completing a practicum in Orton-Gillingham or Wilson Reading who need students to tutor as part of their training. And, of course you can also find help through a tutor trained to help students with dyslexia.

If you’re ready to get your child some individual reading support and you’re wondering if online Orton-Gillingham tutoring is the way to go, contact us for a consultation today!

8 Realistic Ways to Conquer Backpack Clutter

It’s the middle of winter. All my dreams and ideals about how my kids will come in, greet me warmly and gently place their bags on hooks by the door are gone. Sometimes there are math papers between the couch cushions. Both children want to keep every precious scrap they bring home from school. It’s time for some new ideas for organizing school papers.

What doesn’t work

I speak from experience when I say the following systems do not work for everyone, and if it’s not your jam, you’re flirting with disaster by trying to live with a system that doesn’t fit your family.

  • Pinterest-perfect baskets – some people need to see what they have. Tucking it away in a basket means it gets forgotten
  • Deal with it later – putting everything in one place and promising that you will get to it is a recipe for missed deadlines and forgotten forms.
  • Keeping everything – in my opinion, this is as bad as keeping nothing. Original artwork buried between half-finished math worksheets doesn’t help anyone.
How to organize kids school papers at home
Table covered in paper and other clutter

How to Organize School Papers at Home

1. Notice where papers naturally collect

You know how, in a giant open parking lot, the fall leaves or drifting trash all tend to end up pooled in the same corner against a building or tree? We have those places in our homes, too. It’s often the first flat surface inside the door. For us it’s the dining room table, but other houses have counters or shelves or chairs that are magnets for everything that doesn’t belong on them. 

This is where your system belongs! Sorry, you’re not getting your whole dining room table back today, but we ARE going to make it less scary. You want everyone in the house to use this system, and if you tuck it away in the closet where “it belongs,” they’ll never think of it again!

2. Pick the best tools for your family

If you have one kid bringing home papers, you may be able to use a single basket or accordion file. For a larger family, consider a desktop inbox tray or a paper sorter. A file box seems tempting but it takes more effort for each person to find their name and put their papers in a folder, so this can backfire.

3. Be there

Prepare to stand between the after-school stampede and the snack cabinet and talk them through the process. Some children may be fine with a written list but others need the loving, annoying presence of a real, live parent.

I found that if my son gets past me to the kitchen, or even the bathroom, it’s ten times harder to get him to organize his school papers than if I catch him at the door. 

4. Write down the plan

Write a checklist of unpacking steps. Try to keep it down to 5 or fewer. Use pictures, even if your kids are readers. I count them off on my fingers when we walk through the door: 

  1. Unpack folder and lunch bag
  2. Wash hands
  3. Snack
  4. Homework
  5. Freedom!
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but we need more than a checklist. What if the papers don’t even make it home?” then you might need our free email course, “Academic Planners for Success.” This 7-email series will help you get your children and teens organized for school.


.

But What Do we DO with All This Paper? 

Organizing the papers by child is a good start, but what do you do with it all? There are things that need to be signed, read, and returned. Some are for your child and others are for you. And there’s homework to complete and return. 

5. Sort the papers every day

When papers come home from school, they need to be sorted into three groups:

  1. Keep at home (finished work and art projects, notices, etc.)
  2. Child needs to complete and return (homework)
  3. Parent needs to complete and return (forms, etc.)

6. Assign a folder

If your child didn’t get one at school, provide them with a home-school folder and label the sides “Keep at Home” and “Return to School.” 

  • The “Keep at Home” pocket contents go in the kid’s bin or box.
  • Sort the “Return to School” pocket into 2 piles:
    • Homework goes back in the folder and moved to the homework area
    • Parent paperwork goes in the parent bin for you to go through.

Weekly Routines for Organizing School Papers

If you follow this system, you’ll end the week with a pile of papers for each child and maybe some odds and ends for parents to do over the weekend. This is your opportunity to teach them how to organize school papers at home. 

7. Go through it once a week

Set aside time with each child to help them go through the pile once a week and decide if they want to:

  • Keep forever (like special art projects)
  • Take a picture and let it go (drawings, some writing, great grades, etc.)
  • Recycle it now (worksheets and odds and ends)

8. Designate a (limited) space for the keep forever stuff

I have a file box for each child. They can add whatever they want but when it’s full, it’s full. My parents gave me one under-bed storage box and it has everything I wanted to save from about third grade through high school. Other parents designate a bin per year. This will depend on your available space and your personal philosophy about paper keepsakes. 

A Few Words of Caution

This system is something you will do with your children, not to your children. If you’re the one with your hands on all the papers, they will learn that their job is to bring you their backpack so you can unpack it. It is so much harder sometimes to stick around and give them reminders and ideas for organizing school papers. But when you start this system, you are committing to letting them make decisions and trusting that, with your guidance, their decisions will get better with time!

Decluttering backpacks and homework
Even if you have a place for homework, kids’ backpacks tend to get cluttered over time. Here’s a routine for organizing backpacks and homework areas.

For my free 7-part email course, “Academic Planners for School Success,” and periodic tips and updates for helping your child learn, sign up here.


.

How much should my child be writing?

As a parent, trying to figure out if your child is meeting grade-level standards at school is a little like looking through a peephole. You get a tiny, distorted picture of progress from the work your child brings home, paired with grades and feedback from the teacher. But how do you know what “good” writing looks like in, say, third grade?

Signs your child is struggling with writing

Handwriting, Spelling and Mechanics – Oh my!

Messy handwriting – There seems to be this bell-shaped curve with handwriting. Early writers are learning to form the letters. They come out backwards, all different sizes, wobbly and not on the lines. Around the end of first grade, many students hit their groove. They have fully learned letter formation and have developed firm habits about how they write (for better or for worse!) Later, many stop being as careful with their daily handwriting and, while they may be able to write neatly for forms and Christmas cards, their grocery lists are a scrawl that is readable only to them. If your child is young, make sure they have appropriate lined paper, short pencils (not fat ones!) and opportunities for practice and feedback. If they are older and handwriting continues to be a barrier, consider using speech-to-text or typing to help them get their ideas out.

Indecipherable spelling – Early writers use what’s often called “invented spelling.” They go from scribbling random shapes to mixing in some real letters to beginning to represent the sounds in words, like “gmu” for grandma. In kindergarten and first grade, students are encouraged to “write what they hear” but they should be held accountable for including any spelling rules or patterns they have been taught. If your child isn’t writing letters that match the sounds in the word by first grade, or if they continue to use phonetic spelling into third grade (such as misspellings like sed and wuz for common words like “said” and “was,”) they may need some help in writing.

Incomplete thoughts – You may feel like you need a secret decoder ring to read children’s writing sometimes. If your child’s writing is vague, “We went there after the other time…” or if they never pause to end a sentence, “We had popcorn and we saw the previews and the movie came on but it was too loud and we watched the robots and we got pizza that was my favorite part,” they may need some explicit instruction in choosing descriptive words or identifying a complete thought/sentence.

Why there’s no easy answer

Whether a child’s writing is deemed “good” depends completely on the situation. Based on my experience in public schools, there seems to be much less consistency and money invested in writing curriculum than there are in math and English materials and planning. As a result, writing instruction in different schools, or even in neighboring classrooms, can be all over the map. 

Even looking at state learning standards can make the issue cloudier instead of more clear. The Common Core Standards don’t say how long a piece of writing should be in any particular grade. It gives broader goals that, while important and true, don’t give us enough information to evaluate our children and see if they are on track. 

For example, a fourth grader should “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.” Cool. But within that, there’s a huge difference between “Koalas are the best animals because they are furry and smell like eucalyptus,” and “The bird in Horton Hatches a Who treated Horton unfairly because she left him to sit on her eggs while she went on vacation.” They both have opinions, reasons, and information, but one shows knowledge about koalas (I made up that eucalyptus thing, but I’m using my imagination here) and the other shows understanding about character relationships and connections to a book. 

How to help child with spelling
Students writing at a table in a classroom

Some schools or individual teachers use rubrics to take some of the guesswork out of evaluating writing. A rubric is a grid that specifies the expected parts of a piece of work and gives a number of points for each item. Sometimes, a rubric can serve as a checklist for completing the assignment:

  • The cover page should have the title, author’s name, and date.

Other times, a rubric can be almost as vague as the Common Core Standards. What is “adequate support,” anyway?

Would an editing checklist help? Download our free writing checklists by signing up right here!


.

OK, but really, how long should the writing be?

For what it’s worth (I unfortunately don’t have any power over schools’ curriculum), here are some general benchmarks I like to see students meet. When I see these things, I am pretty comfortable that they are on their way to becoming competent writers.

By the end of Kindergarten: 

  • Form all 26 letters (some reversed b/d/p/q m/w g/q is still developmentally very appropriate at this stage)
  • Write words phonetically by sounding them out or spell them correctly by using resources (for example, looking at the school lunch calendar to spell the word school)
  • Produce simple sentences. Many (maybe most) kindergarten graduates can write a sentence of 4-8 words themselves. Others are still using an adult scribe to capture their whole thought before they forget. It won’t be spelled correctly, but it should be a complete thought and most of the words should be there.
  • Express themselves verbally in complete thoughts, given a model. So if you say, “I think we should have spaghetti for dinner because it’s delicious. What do you think?” they can say, “I think we should get pizza because it’s fast.” 

By the end of first grade:

  • Write a series of 3-6 sentences about a single topic. They may begin to have a main idea/topic sentence, like “I’m going to tell you about my dog.” The writing might be repetitive: She has fur. She loves me. She likes walks.
  • Spell words in a way that makes sense, even if they pick the wrong option for some sounds, like writing trane for train

By the end of third grade:

  • Here’s where things start to vary more, both in school expectations and individual development. Sometime between the beginning of second grade and the end of third, children should learn to write a paragraph with a topic sentence and an appropriate number of details. 
  • In a narrative/story, they should have a clear beginning (where a character has a problem), middle, and end (where the problem is solved.) 
  • Most of their writing is often based on personal experience or general knowledge.

By the end of elementary school:

  • Write a paragraph that refers to specific facts from something they have learned and comments on those facts. 
  • Write a narrative that is several paragraphs long and talks about characters’ feelings and motivations. Children should be using conventions like quotation marks and punctuation to make their story clear.

Middle School: 

  • In middle school, students should be writing more and more about what they are learning in class. 
  • They should understand at least 3 kinds of writing (narrative, persuasive and expository) and be able to identify differences between the types.
  • Before high school, students should be able to string together at least 3 good paragraphs, with specific details and quotes from text they ahve read, into a coherent essay. They might need guidance to do this, with graphic organizers or sample papers to get them going.
  • Understand that they are writing for reader and that there are things writers do – like explaining their thoughts in detail – that we might not do in a spoken conversation.

High school:

  • Write a paper of 3-8 pages, with structure and guidance from a teacher.
  • Use specific evidence quoted from multiple sources to support their points in writing.
  • Use “writerly” academic language, including words like however, meanwhile, and on the other hand to show the relationship between their ideas.
  • Understand themselves as writers and use their knowledge to plan their writing process. For example, do they prefer to write a detailed outline or just start with a draft? What tools do they need to organize their notes or to keep their draft on track? How long does it take them to write a page?

But what if they aren’t?

Not everyone is going to choose a career or an education option that requires a lot of daily writing, but all students need and deserve to be able to communicate clearly in writing. Especially in a world of texts and emails, being able to write your message effectively can make an enormous difference. 

Not everyone is going to choose a career or an education option that requires a lot of daily writing, but all students need and deserve to be able to communicate clearly in writing. Click To Tweet

While every child’s development as a writer will vary, and my list above is only a rough guideline, children also sometimes need more than they are getting in the classroom. Without a strong writing curriculum, many teachers give students “inspiration” and “time to write,” which may not be enough structure for a child who just plain doesn’t know how to write. Other students need direct teaching about spelling or building sentences in order to do it successfully. If you have concerns about your child’s writing progress, or if they are avoiding writing or melting down, ask their teacher about writing expectations for the year. 

If your child is struggling with writing at school, whether it’s expressing themselves completely or spelling so others understand them, we can help! Contact us for a consultation and no-cost demo lesson today.

How much should my child be writing?
Writing expectations change a lot as your child moves through school. How do you know if they are meeting the expectations for their class?

My child is Guessing Words When Reading!

If you’re the parent of a young reader, you may have caught wind of terms like “The Reading Wars” and “The Science of Reading.” The issues always boil down to, “What is the best way to turn children into capable and eager readers?” Like everything, the questions and answers get oversimplified and misrepresented in media. But if you have a school-age child, varying approaches to reading instruction can make a huge difference. Especially if you’re wondering, “Why does my child guess words when reading?”

If a child guesses words while reading…

The (Vastly Oversimplified) Process of Reading

To read written English, we need to:

  • Connect the right sounds to the symbols (letters) printed on the page and blend them together to “hear” a word
  • Read quickly enough to not get exhausted and not run out of attention
  • Recognize a real word and understand what it means in this sentence
  • Read a whole story, remember it, and understand things about the story

One philosophy of teaching reading, called balanced literacy, advocates encouraging children to “use context clues,” including pictures, to figure out “what would make sense.” The problem with that approach is that, eventually, the books they read have fewer and fewer pictures to help them figure out hard words. Kids who rely on this coping strategy end up stranded because they don’t know how to say multisyllabic words. These kids have often been very successful in the classroom until third or fourth grade, but by fifth, they start to struggle. They can’t keep up with grade-level science texts, or lessons that require them to read for information. 

How to help children who guess words when reading
Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

The worst part is that this is not what mature readers (like adults) do. Efficient readers quickly recognize whole words or chunks of words and combine them to read words they might never have seen before. By encouraging children to check the pictures, or by letting them fall back on this strategy, you’re promoting a reading habit that will become less and less effective as they progress as readers and eventually, it will leave them stranded. 

This parent noticed the problem when she tested her daughter on a predictable book with pictures to provide support. With the pictures, it sounds like beautiful early grades reading. But when the pictures are removed, the child stumbles and gets stuck. Think about the last 10 books you read. How many had pictures to help you read the words? Relying on the text alone is what reading really is!

How to Help Your Child Avoid Guessing

If you’re trying to figure out how to stop your child from guessing, first you need to understand “why does my child guess words when reading.”

Use decodable text – “Decodable text” is the term for stories that follow a sequence of introduction for different phonetic spelling patterns. The exact sequence is different for every set of decodable books, but generally “easy” books include one or more short vowel sounds and short words in short sentences. Think “Val sat on the mat.”

Text becomes “decodable” when students have learned the spelling patterns included in it. This doesn’t always match grade level or any other commonly used book leveling system. To know what decodable books your child needs, you have to know what patterns she has been taught: short vowels, silent e, vowel teams, etc.

Give “hard” words to them for free – Readers guess when they don’t know a word and don’t have the tools to figure it out. Once you have picked appropriate books, it helps to anticipate the tricky words and warn your child when they come up. It can feel awkward to interrupt their reading, but remember that you’re trying to stop the guessing behavior before it starts.

Even if they can read almost every word in the book, they might need help with character names. I know I’m not the only one who read Harry Potter without knowing how to pronounce “Hermione” until the movies came out!

Instead of “What would make sense?” – In the guided reading philosophy, teachers cue children when they get stuck on a word by asking “What would make sense here?” It leads them to say horse when they can’t read pony or hat when they can’t read helmet. Sometimes those substitutions are OK in early stories, and so kids over rely on that strategy. Then they get to more challenging texts. What would make sense in this sentence from the Wikipedia entry on electricity?

“The ____ of this force is given by Coulomb’s law.”

You didn’t guess magnitude? Me neither. That’s why having a strategy for breaking down unfamiliar words is so important.

One way to make reading more fun is to use our Winter Reading Bingo Board. Download it here.


.

Why is this still happening?

I heard the statistic that actual classroom instruction in public schools lags about 20 years behind educational research. It makes sense. If a teacher works in the schools for 30 years, it has probably been at least 20 years since she was a grad student. And administrators and curriculum coaches are likely at least a few years out of school. Not to mention, college teacher preparation programs are still teaching this approach to reading instruction and churning out new teachers who teach the same ineffective strategies. 

Is there hope?

Lots of people are asking their school districts hard questions, bringing effective, evidence-based, strategies into the classroom, and moving towards better curriculum. As a parent, finding these people (or becoming these people!) is one of the most powerful ways you can help your child and all the children in your district.

Look into local Decoding Dyslexia or Reading League chapters. 

For your own child, consider whether your current public school is the right place for them to learn to read. I taught my own son to decode because he attended kindergarten via distance learning, in a balanced literacy district, to boot. If your child is struggling with guessing and avoiding reading, it may be the best approach to choose a home instruction program or find a tutor who can teach your child using structured literacy so they have the skills and confidence required to sound out words without guessing. 

If it’s time to get some highly trained, 1-on-1 help to teach your child to read, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson.

What should I do if my child is using the pictures to guess words when reading?
Some children learn to use the picture or other clues to guess words that are hard to read. Here is how to help your children move away from using pictures and rely on the words printed on the page.