There is much research supporting the idea that there is great benefit in reading aloud to your teenagers. For some reason, parents still seem to think that this is something you need only do with younger children. The benefits listed below may change your mind, especially if your child is not yet an avid reader.
Reading aloud to teens has the following benefits:
Positive modeling of word pronunciation
Modeling the usage of tone, intonation and expression
Improves comprehension skills
Improves listening skills
It is bonding time
It helps with discussions around difficult issues
It sparks curiosity
It contributes to a thirst for learning
It is a way to work through the classics with older kids & introduce different genres
It is enjoyable and relaxing for both parent and child
If more parents read aloud to their children there would be less need for services such as reading therapy and literacy / language support.
The signs listed below can be informative for parents who want to stay on top of their child’s reading and literacy development, as well as for those parents who suspect that there may be reasons for concern. This list will give you an idea of what to look for or to take note of.
Does your child…
have difficulty recognizing rhyming words?
struggle to identify words that start with the same sound?
struggle with associations between letters and their sounds?
still confuse vowel sounds?
have difficulty manipulating the sounds in words?
guess words based on the first letter rather than sounding them out?
leave out/skip words in a sentence?
add words that are not there?
struggle to recognize repeated words, sounding out the same words repeatedly?
constantly reread words or parts of a sentence even when they are familiar with the words or have read them correctly?
occasionally read words in reverse? E.g. ‘saw’ is read as ‘was’
make visual errors where they confuse letters such as b, d, v, w, f, t, m, u and n?
leave off the endings of some words? E.g. ‘games’ becomes ‘game’
add endings that are not there? E.g. ‘play’ becomes ‘playing’
struggle to segment the sounds in words? (Segment means to break words up into sounds = spelling)
struggle to blend the sounds in words? (Blending means to push the sounds together to form words = reading)
make no attempt to self-correct?
show signs of resisting or avoiding reading activities?
read excruciatingly slowly, one word at a time, sounding out each and every word to the point that all meaning in the sentence is lost?
read words in isolation with inappropriately long pauses between each word in a sentence?
making advanced phonic errors because they do not know the language code? E.g. Reads
The good news
The good news is that there is no need to panic if your child is showing signs of difficulty in learning to read. Most children can overcome any difficulties they experience with relative ease, especially if caught early on. With the right intervention – in the form of direct, systematic, explicit instruction – your child can be reading at grade level in a relatively short period of time. Responding early to your concerns is key to making sure that there is minimal disruption to your child’s education.
Reading in the Foundation Phase
It is worthwhile keeping in mind that ‘learning to read’ is one of the most important learning outcome of the Foundation Phase. From Grade 4 onwards, children need to be able to ‘read to learn’. Reading is the foundation for all other mainstream education. Therefore, if intervention is required it should ideally take place during the Foundation Phase. If a child can read with ease, every other aspect of their education journey is going to be easier for them. Ideally, intervention should take place in grade 1.
Reading in the Intersen Phase and above
For those parents with older children who still struggle, you’ll be pleased to know that they can still be helped to overcome their reading challenges. Intervention may take more time and require more effort than it would with a younger child, but they can be helped. It can be life-changing for a young person who struggles daily. The intervention process may take longer because with older children the reading therapist would most likely be dealing with additional issues such as a lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and hopelessness.
There is a knock-on effect of falling behind in reading, which leads to academic delays in other subjects. Learners who find reading difficult and who avoid reading based activities have weaker vocabulary and comprehensions skills, as they are exposed to significantly less text and have less repeated exposure to words in a variety of contexts. They often end up with a language deficit in comparison to their peers. This young person would then have to catch up in reading and literacy as well as all their other subjects, making their academic burden that much greater.
As I stated earlier, it is always advisable to respond as early as possible to any signs of difficulty with learning to read. If your child is in grade 1, this is a good time to keep tabs on the development of their reading skills and if you have any doubts to put in place remedial intervention.
Is it ever too late to step in and help them learn to read?
Imagine how a 13 to 18 year old child feels at school if they are still unable to read fluently? Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how it must feel to have to go on with your academic schooling even though you do not have adequate knowledge and skills in place to cope? The one most important skill, reading, is one of your biggest daily challenges. You duck and dive to avoid doing it.
The minute the teacher starts calling on students to read aloud in class your anxiety skyrocket. You start to sweat. Your eyes water as your heart rate increases. You are so focused on your fear that you cannot listen to the lesson. You can only think about what would happen if the teacher calls your name. It is fear-inducing. It is distracting. It is debilitating. Each year gets harder and harder for you.
This person may feel…
These types of emotions are a burden. These are all very negative emotions and when felt continuously, on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time, they could have a damaging effect on a child’s sense of self-worth, their confidence levels, their dreams for the future as well as their sense of social standing. More importantly, it also makes it more difficult for a child to stay the course and remain in school until their final year.
It is never too late to learn to read
By the time a child reaches high school, it seems that everyone, including themselves, has given up on them ever being able to improve their reading skills or to catch up with their peers. They often get unfairly labeled as someone who can’t be helped. The beliefs behind giving up are …
it’s too late to learn to read in high school
he/she is slow / stupid / not the brightest
if he/she was capable of reading they would have learned to read already
if everyone else managed to learn to read why couldn’t they do the same
primary school is when you learn to read, not high school
there isn’t time to focus on developing reading skills now
In contrast to these beliefs, I believe that it is never too late to learn to read. I have taught several adults and teens to read or improve their reading and it has completely transformed their lives. Their image of themselves and their sense of place in this world transformed too. In the same way, improved reading fluency can change the trajectory of a child’s life.
Ensuring that a child is literate and fluent in reading is worth every moment of time spent teaching them and every cent spent in getting them there. It is an invaluable gift that can never be taken away from them. It opens doors, creates choice and possibility and completely changes the learner’s perspective.
How to help a teenager that cannot yet read at grade level?
Be sensitive to their self-consciousness around reading.
Be honest with them about what their inability to read means for their future.
Brainstorm ideas with them about how increased reading fluency can make life easier for them and open doors in the future.
Connect reading with their dreams, passions and interests to motivate them.
Find examples for them of role models who have dyslexia and have managed to overcome it (Baigelman, L.)
Stress the fact that, as their parent, you believe that with the right help they will be able to improve their reading fluency.
Knowing that someone sees potential in you is very powerful and motivating.
Hire a reading specialist/reading therapist whose work is based on the science of learning to read and who will focus on building their self-confidence.
Ensure that the lessons are one-to-one and not as part of a group.
Read aloud to your teen and ensure that this time is bonding time, relaxing and fun. There is evidence that reading aloud to teens has many benefits.
Never criticize their reading. This way they’ll know that you’re on their side.
Never give up on them – everyone can learn to read.
References to ‘The Science of Reading’ are popping up all over the place. Globally there is a push to have the science behind learning to read brought into teacher training, classroom practices and professional development. This is because on an international scale we seem to be failing children in developing their literacy skills at a time when it has become more important than ever. READ MORE about how literacy is defined today and why it is even more essential than before by clicking HERE.
Reading fluency and strong literacy skills are developed in a child when there is cooperation between the school and home environment. For things to be optimal, both places have to play their part. Being able to read does not happen as a result of 30 minutes of phonics instruction per day. It takes much more than that – it takes exposure to books, storytelling and people reading in a child’s everyday environment as well as the opportunity to practice and access to reading material.
If a family shows an interest in books and reading then their children get the message that reading is important and not solely a school-based activity with little practical application in the real world. This message is very powerful to a young learner who may be struggling to learn to read.
The Science of Reading involves not just regular phonics instruction but instruction in all the types of knowledge that forms the foundation of skilled reading. It also advocates for exposure to language and text in a multitude of ways, both at home and at school.
Written language is a code
It is generally accepted that written language is a code for the sounds that we make when speaking a language. Letters, or letter combinations, represent our spoken sounds – they are pictures or symbols that represent these sounds. Mastering this code allows learners to read words. Reading words, however, is not enough as the reason for reading is to seek meaning. Therefore, the process of reading to learn goes beyond this. The Science of Reading stresses five keys to learning to read effectively.
The Five Keys to Reading
It is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words.
Phonics is knowledge of the relationship between sounds and letters.
Phonics instruction requires a good foundation in phonemic awareness.
Phonics instruction, without sufficient phonemic awareness in place, results in slow progress, frustration and ultimately a disinterest in reading because it becomes too difficult.
If children cannot decode what they see on the page, they cannot become fluent readers.
Fluency is when they move beyond decoding and are able to recognize words automatically, accurately and quickly.
When recognition and understanding connect it results in fluency.
Children need to gain meaning from the words they read otherwise it is pointless.
Reading vocabulary refers to the words that can be read AND understood.
This refers to reading comprehension
Reading comprehension is the sum of a child’s decoding ability, their vocabulary knowledge as well as their language comprehension.
There are two essential components of reading instruction:
Instruction must be explicit
Clear and straightforward instruction is necessary when exposing learners to the code.
Direct modeling of skills making use of ‘I do’, ‘We do’, ‘You do’ practice to move towards mastery.
Instruction must be systematic and sequential
The presentation of sounds must be in a logical order.
Easier skills must be mastered before moving on to more difficult ones.
New learning must build on prior learning.
While learning phonics children make use of their working memory. This is a higher order skill and forms part of our executive function. Phonological memory is essential for learning phonics and decoding skills. Children need to be encouraged to expand the use of their working memory.
Children who cannot distinguish small changes in sounds tend to struggle with phonics instruction. When teaching reading it is often assumed that auditory processing skills are fully developed. However, this is not true for all children, especially those that are learning English as a second or third language. This often means that they have not yet had enough exposure to the English language and therefore their brains are not wired to process these sounds. In mixed classrooms, it would be wise to build in compensatory activities giving additional exposure based on the use of numerous information processing techniques.
Two sides of the same coin
When reading you decode and when writing you encode. They are two sides of the same coin using the same code. Improvement in one of these two skills usually has a positive effect on the other.