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.
The Science of Reading by Lianne Bantjes
Literacy & Reading Intervention by Lianne Bantjes
10 Ways to Encourage your High-schooler to Read by Louise Baigelman, MEd (Understood)
What is Literacy? by Lianne Bantjes
Why I read aloud to my teenagers by Guilia Rhodes (The Guardian)