ERIC Identifier: ED344190
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Smith, Carl B. - Sensenbaugh, Roger
Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Bloomington IN.
Helping Children Overcome Reading Difficulties. ERIC Digest.
Almost everyone knows a story about the nice little youngster (or sometimes,
a grownup) who works hard but can't seem to learn to read and to write. The
child's mother works with him or her at home, reading to the child and reading
with the child. The child has a tutor at school. The youngster tries with all
his/her might, even to the point of tears, but the symbols and the words won't
stick. Though apparently learned today at great pain, tomorrow they will be
gone. The question is: what do we know about problem readers that will help us
guide them? This digest will discuss children with reading difficulties and how
these children can be helped to read and learn more effectively.
Most children begin reading and writing by the
first, second, or third grade. By the time they are adults, most can't recall or
can't remember what it was like not to be able to read and write, or how
difficult it was to figure out how to translate patterns on a page into words,
thoughts, and ideas. These same adults usually cannot understand why some
children have not yet begun to read and write by the third grade. They have even
more difficulty understanding how adults can function in our society with only
the most rudimentary literacy skills.
Dyslexia is perhaps the learning disability that is most widely known,
primarily because of Barbara Bush's efforts to make adults aware of the problem
of children with this and other learning disabilities. Stories about children
(and adults) trying to overcome their learning disabilities appear in the mass
media with some regularity. Despite the relative familiarity of the word
"dyslexia," there is no clear-cut, widely accepted definition for dyslexia. In
the broadest sense, dyslexia refers to the overwhelming difficulty in learning
to read and write by normally intelligent children exposed to suitable
educational opportunities in school and at home. These often very verbal
children's reading levels fall far below what would have been predicted for
their quick and alert intelligence (Bryant and Bradley, 1985).
Just as educators and researchers cannot agree on a specific and precise
definition of dyslexia, they do not agree on the cause or causes. Recent
research (Vellutino, 1987) has challenged many commonly held beliefs about
dyslexia: dyslexia results in reversal of letters; dyslexics show uncertain hand
preference; children whose first language is alphabetic rather than ideographic
are more likely to have dyslexia; and dyslexia is correctable by developing
strategies to strengthen the child's visual-spatial system. Instead, DYSLEXIA
APPEARS TO BE A COMPLEX LINGUISTIC DEFICIENCY MARKED BY THE INABILITY TO REPRESENT AND ACCESS THE SOUND OF A WORD IN ORDER TO HELP REMEMBER THE WORD AND THE INABILITY TO BREAK WORDS INTO COMPONENT SOUNDS.
It does appear that there might be a
hereditary factor in dyslexia. In one study of 82 average children with reading
problems, the children were divided into two groups, "specifics" (reading and
spelling were their only difficult school subjects) and "generals" (problems
with arithmetic as well as with literacy). When the families of the children in
both groups were scanned for a history of reading problems, 40% of the families
of the "specifics" showed problems among relatives, while among the "generals," only 25% showed problems. Thus, the specific disorder does seem to run in
families more than the general disorder--a plus for the hereditary factor in
dyslexia (Crowder and Wagner, 1992). More research is testing this factor.
It is important to remember that not all individuals who have problems with
reading are dyslexic. And the diagnosis of dyslexia should only be made by a
qualified reading professional. Many slow readers who are not dyslexic, however,
can be helped with a variety of reading experiences to improve fluency.
HELPING THE PROBLEM READER
There is growing evidence that
it might be more appropriate to refer to the amount of time a learner takes to
complete a reading task rather than using qualitative labels, such as good,
best, or poor reader (Smith, 1990). If we accept the premise that all
individuals are capable of learning to read but some need to stretch their
learning time, then we can search for adjustments. Slow readers could read
shorter passages. In this way, they could finish a story and experience the
success of sharing it with a parent or friend.
Let's examine some other conditions that will help improve comprehension for
those learners sometimes labeled reading disabled. Besides reading more slowly,
the person with reading difficulties can be asked to find specific kinds of
information in a story, or can be paired with a more capable reader who will
help in summarizing the essential points of the reading or in identifying the
main ideas of a story.
One of the reasons that these learners read more slowly is that they seem
less able to identify the organization of a passage of text (Wong and Wilson,
1984). Since efficient comprehension relies on the reader's ability to see the
pattern or the direction that the writer is taking, parents and teachers can
help these readers by spending more time on building background for the reading
selection, both in the general sense of concept building and in the specific
sense of creating a mental scheme for the text organization. Many times, drawing
a simple diagram can help these readers greatly.
Direct intervention of parent or teacher or tutor in the comprehension
process increases reading comprehension in slower readers (Bos, 1982). These
readers often need help with vocabulary and need reminders to summarize as they
proceed. They also need to ask themselves questions about what they are reading.
The parent can prompt thinking or can provide an insight into the language that
may otherwise elude the reader.
One effective strategy for slower readers is to generate visual images of
what is being read (Carnine and Kinder, 1985). For the reader to generate
images, he or she must first be able to recognize the word. Assuming the reader
knows how to recognize words, he or she needs concepts to visualize the flow of
action represented on the page. The same kind of concept building techniques
that work for average readers also work for slower readers. The slower reader,
however, gains more from concrete experiences and images than from abstract
discussions. It is not enough for the parent to simply tell the slower reader to
use visual images--the parent has to describe the images that occur in his or
her own mind as he or she reads a particular passage, thus giving the child a
concrete sense of what visual imagery means. Pictures, physical action,
demonstrations, practice using words in interviews or in an exchange of views
among peers are only a few of the ways that parents, tutors, or teachers can
make the key vocabulary take root in the reader's mind.
HELPFUL READING MATERIALS
As is the case with most
learners, slower readers learn most comfortably with materials that are written
on their ability level (Clark et al., 1984). The reading level is of primary
concern, but parents can help their reader select helpful materials in other
ways. Choose stories or books with (1) a reduced number of difficult words; (2)
direct, non-convoluted syntax; (3) short passages that deliver clear messages;
(4) subheads that organize the flow of ideas; and (5) helpful illustrations.
Older problem readers often find that the newspaper is a good choice for
improving reading comprehension (Monda, et al., 1988). Slow readers can succeed
with the same frequency as faster readers as long as the parent or tutor
maintains a positive attitude and selects materials and approaches that
accommodate the child's learning speeds.
IMPORTANCE OF A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
A positive attitude on
the part of the child is also crucial to the treatment of difficulties in
reading and learning. Tutors who have worked consistently with problem learners
are very aware of the role of the self in energizing learning, and the potential
damage to the sense of self-worth that comes from labeling. Teachers and parents
should appreciate children's thinking as the foundation of their language
abilities, and maintain some flexibility in their expectations regarding their
children's development of decoding skills such as reading. For children to feel
successful, they need to become aware of their unique learning strengths, so
that they may apply them effectively while working to strengthen the lagging
areas (Webb, 1992). The child needs to feel loved and appreciated as an
individual, whatever his or her difficulties in school.
Bos, Candace S. (1982). "Getting Past Decoding:
Assisted and Repeated Readings as Remedial Methods for Learning Disabled
Students," Topics in Learning and Learning Disabilities, 1, 51-57.
Bryant, Peter and Lynette Bradley (1985). Children's Reading Problems.
London: Basil Blackwell.
Carnine, Douglas and Diane Kinder (1985). "Teaching Low Performing Students
to Apply Generative and Schema Strategies to Narrative and Expository
Materials," Remedial and Special Education, 6(1), 20-30. [EJ 316 930]
Clark, Frances L., et al. (1984). "Visual Imagery and Self-Questioning:
Strategies to Improve Comprehension of Written Material," Journal of Learning
Disabilities, 17(3), 145-49. [EJ 301 444]
Crowder, Robert G. and Richard K. Wagner (1992). The Psychology of Reading:
An Introduction. Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. [ED
Monda, Lisa E., et al. (1988). "Use the News: Newspapers and LD Students,"
Journal of Reading, 31(7), 678-79. [EJ 368 687]
Smith, Carl B. (1990). "Helping Slow Readers (ERIC/RCS)," Reading Teacher,
43(6), 416. [EJ 405 105]
Vellutino, Frank R. (1987). "Dyslexia," Scientific American, 256(3), 34-41.
[EJ 354 650]
Webb, Gertrude M. (1992). "Needless Battles on Dyslexia," Education Week,
February 19, 1992, 32.
Wong, Bernice Y. L. and Megan Wilson (1984). "Investigating Awareness of a
Teaching Passage Organization in Learning Disabled Children," Journal of
Learning Disabilities, 17(8), 77-82. [EJ 308 339]