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Child Reading Development

One of the first reading skills young children need to develop is phonemic awareness--the understanding that spoken language is made up of building blocks of sound.  Many of the activities engaged in by preschoolers, such as rhyming and rhythm play, are ideal for helping children become aware of these building blocks, or phonemes.  Phonemic awareness is just one of the skills underlying successful child reading development.  Another is phonemic decoding--translating groups of letters back into the sounds that they represent in order to link them to one's verbal vocabulary and access their meaning. Vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension skills are also critical in learning how to read proficiently.  Children who master these five foundational reading skills and become successful readers will be well equipped to succeed in school.

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What’s on Your Kids’ Summer Reading List?

kids’ summer reading listAre your kids making progress with their summer reading list? Are they having fun with it? The following books are highly recommended to kids who are still looking for a compelling recreational read.

Pre-K – Kindergarten

Wolf’s Coming (Joe Kulka)

Wolf is coming and all the forest animals go into hiding. But things are not what they seem, and there’s a surprise ending that kids love.

One (Kathryn Otoshi)

Red picks on Blue, but Orange, Green, and Purple are afraid to stand up for their friend. Then One comes along and shows all the colors how to band together against a bully.

If I Built a House (Chris Van Dusen)

A young boy designs a marvelously imaginative dream house for himself and his family in this beautifully illustrated picture book.

Early Grades

Galaxy Zack Hello, Nebulon!(Ray O'Ryan and Colin Jack )

When Zack moves from Earth to Nebulon, he’s sad about leaving his best friend behind and nervous about starting a new school. It turns out that Sprockets Academy isn’t as bad as he’d expected, but there’s still a lot he has to get used to on Nebulon.

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa (Erica Silverman)

Set on a cattle-ranch, this chapter book for beginning readers tells four stories of the friendship between Cowgirl Kate and her talking horse-friend, Cocoa.

Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs (Katherine Applegate)

Roscoe means well when he tries using superglue to solve a problem and save his class’ performance at the school open house, but things don’t turn out quite the way he planned.

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown: Lunch Lady #4 (Jarrett J. Krosoczka)

When Lunch Lady and the Breakfast Bunch gear up for fun at Camp Fun Times, what could possibly go wrong? Well, there’s the legendary swamp monster, for one thing. Fortunately, the Breakfast Bunch has a track record of helping Lunch Lady defeat the bad guys—with the aid of cool cafeteria-tech like Taco-vision night goggles, of course.

Middle Grades

One Crazy Summer (Rita Williams-Garcia)

Three sisters are sent by their father from New York to California to spend a month with the mother who abandoned them. A bittersweet tale set in urban Oakland in 1968 during a turbulent moment in history.

The One and Only Ivan (Katherine Applegate)

Ivan the gorilla, who lives in at the local mall, tells the story of his captivity. This book appears on many “Best of” lists for 2012.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin (Liesl Shurtliff)
Finally, Rumpelstiltskin (aka Rump) tells his own story—and it’s not the story you know. Rump is a page-turning adventure with magic, fairytale creatures, a scrappy hero, and a clever ending.

Mockingbird (Kathryn Erskine)

A middle school girl with Asperger’s syndrome must come to terms with her beloved brother’s death in a school shooting.

Young Adults

I’ll Be There (Holly Goldberg Sloan)

Brothers Sam and Riddle have spent most of their lives acting invisible. Trapped in a transient life with an unstable father, they live around the margins of society until one day music-loving Sam wanders into a church to hear the music and meets a girl named Emily, and their lives begin to change.

Eleanor and Park

Park, son of a veteran, and Eleanor, a misfit with a difficult home life, bond over comic books and punk rock. Not surprisingly, the budding romance begins to falter when their very different worlds intersect.

Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)

A young female spy is captured in Nazi-occupied France, making for an exciting adventure story about courage and friendship.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)

Hazel is sixteen and living with terminal cancer. When her doctor sends her to a support group for kids, she meets Augustus—also a cancer survivor—and together they contemplate the meaning of life and death.

There’s no better time than summer to help kids discover the pleasure of a lazy afternoon immersed in a book that they can’t bear to put down. What must-read books would you add to this list?

Drop by our Facebook page and share your favorites!

Related reading:

18 Ways to Encourage Students to Read This Summer

Antidotes to Summer Brain Drain (Part 1): Tips and Tools for Fun Math Skills Practice

Antidotes to Summer Brain Drain (Part 2): 5 Ways to Pull the Plug on Learning Loss


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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

language-based learning disabilities

For decades, most child language scientists have believed that human beings possess an innate capacity to learn the language spoken to them during the first few years of life. Indeed, the vast majority of children worldwide are never “taught” their mother tongue; rather, they acquire it naturally, just by living in a world where people are speaking the language. 

Parsing Speech Sounds

Child language specialists have a word for the ability to tease out the sounds within words—they call it “parsing”. When children are first learning their native language they must also “parse” words into sounds so that they can figure out all the sounds in a word as well as the sequence of those sounds. All children have to learn to do this.

Children’s speech errors, like saying “top” for stop or “aminal” for animal, often reflect trouble children have with parsing. Language learning also requires parsing to learn grammatical forms like plural or verb tenses. The difference between the words rock, rocked and rocks necessitates the ability to distinguish all the sounds in each word. But for children with language-learning disabilities, it turns out that this problem parsing words into sounds is particularly difficult, and it affects not only language learning, but also reading and other school achievement.

Audiologists (hearing specialists) and brain researchers have long been interested in how the brain is able to parse words into relevant speech sounds and why some children struggle so much with that task. New research centering on the electrical brain signals picked up by electroencephalogram (EEG) is clarifying the relationship between auditory processing—specifically the ability to parse sounds in words—and language learning.

Brain wave oscillation bands—sometimes thought of as differing brain wave patterns—appear to be a major mechanism coordinating billions of nerves across different brain regions to perform even basic cognitive tasks such as paying attention to someone who is talking and understanding what they are saying. These bands are grouped by their frequency; so-called alpha bands, beta bands, gamma bands and theta bands all refer to brain oscillations of different frequencies. 

Brain scientists have discovered ways to use features of these oscillations bands to “see” how different parts of the brain work together. Katia Lehongre and colleagues have found that in humans, gamma bands are especially important for parsing words into sounds. Significantly, in children with language-based learning disabilities (including dyslexia) and children with aspects of language learning disabilities—poor auditory working memory and rapid naming—language and reading problems appear to be related to specific differences in brain oscillation patterns in the areas of the brain important for learning language. 

New Research Questions

Scientists postulate that some children’s brains may be inefficient for learning language, but very efficient for certain other aspects of learning—perhaps visual processing or even aspects of sound processing important for musical learning. What might cause differences in brain oscillation patterns is largely unknown and open to speculation, but for parents and teachers who work with struggling learners, the question to ask is:

Does remediation of the brain wave patterns improve language skills in children with language problems?

A study published in January 2013, addressed that question and found that the answer is “yes”.

Sabime Heim and colleagues at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, examined whether oscillations in the gamma band range of the auditory cortex of children with specific language impairments (SLI) change after a specific kind of audio-visual training (Fast ForWord Language), and if that change resulted in improved gamma band efficiency as well as language skills among those children. Study details:

  • Twenty-one elementary school students diagnosed with language learning impairment (LLI) underwent the intervention for an average of 32 days.
  • Pre- and post-training assessments included standardized language/literacy tests and EEG recordings.
  • A control group of twelve children with no language difficulties received the same testing, but no intervention was given.


The ability to efficiently perceive and sequence two non-speech sounds presented as quickly as speech sounds are in words is often referred to as Rapid Auditory Processing (RAP).

Heim et al wanted to know:

  1. In children with language learning problems who have problems parsing words into sounds, could their difficulty with RAP be seen in the efficiency measure of the gamma band oscillations?
  2. Does intervention with the Fast ForWord Language program, designed in part to improve RAP, improve gamma band efficiency measures and if so…
  3. Does an improvement in gamma band efficiency correlate with improvements in language?


EEG measures made by the authors before Fast ForWord Language showed what they expected— reduced efficiency components of the oscillations in the gamma-band range (29–52 Hz) among the children with LLI. The reductions occurred where the scientists expected, on the second of two rapidly presented tones. Some answers to the questions above:

  1. In short, the answer is yes. The children with language-based learning disabilities did in fact have a reduction in brain activity associated with sounds that occur as rapidly as speech sounds do during normal talking.
  2. In answer to the second question—do the brain efficiency measures and language skills improve after training?—the authors found that yes, there was an improvement in gamma band efficiency. Amplitude, one of the two efficiency measures, was no longer reduced on the second tone after Fast ForWord training.
  3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, improvements in gamma band efficiency did – in the majority of cases- correlate with language improvements on standardized tests. The children with language-based learning disabilities who had used Fast ForWord Language showed improvements in core language skills, expressive language skills, and receptive language skills (as measured by the CELF-4).

The authors concluded that measures of brain wave efficiency are not only correlated with auditory processing problems in children with language-based learning disabilities, but that the Fast ForWord Language program improves at least one measure of the brain wave efficiency and that is in turn correlated with improvements both in RAP accuracy and also language skills.


Heim, S., Keil, A., Choudhury, N., Thomas Friedman, J. & Benasich, A. (2013). Early gamma oscillations during rapid auditory processing in children with a language-learning impairment: Changes in neural mass activity after training. Neuropsychologia, 51, 990-1001.

Lehongre, K., Ramus, F., Villiermet, N., Schwartz, D., & Giraud, A. (2011) Altered Low-Gamma Sampling in Auditory Cortex Accounts for the Three Main Facets of Dyslexia. Neuron, 72, 1080–1090.

Siegel, M., Donner, T., & Engel, A. (2012) Spectral fingerprints of large-scale neuronal interactions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 121-131.

Related reading:

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

Language Skills Increase 1.8 Years After 30 Days Using Fast ForWord



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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Underachieving Students: Why They Struggle and How Educators Can Help

student underachievementHow early does environment begin to shape children into successful students or underachieving students? The answer has to do, in part, with how early babies start acquiring the skills needed to learn to read.

Watching Beth Connelly’s recent webinar, Breaking the Cycle of Underachievement, I was surprised to learn that children as young as four days old can distinguish the vowel sounds of the language in their natural environment. Four days old.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of that timeframe. Suppose one child grows up in an enriched (typically high-SES) environment with a lot of stimulation and adult interaction, while another child grows up in a low-stimulation, low-interaction (typically low-SES) environment.

As Hart and Risley noted in their landmark study, the first child will be exposed to 42 million more words than the second child by age four. That difference in language exposure plays a big role in establishing the achievement gap that—without effective intervention—continues to widen as learners progress through school and then out into the world.

When I think about how babies as young as four days old are extracting information from the words they hear—distinguishing sounds and learning the building blocks of language—it is easy to understand how a child’s ability to learn can increase or decrease depending on the degree of stimulation in the learning environment.

It’s not just the richness of the learning interactions that influences learning ability, however; babies with frequent ear infections or fluid in their ears can also have trouble extracting accurate information about language sounds, as can babies and toddlers growing up in environments with a lot of background noise.

In her webinar, Connelly covers a wide range of research that often surprises. For example:

  • When babies are only six months old, what can researchers predict about their future reading ability?
  • What are the greatest differences in ability between low- and high-SES learners, and what is the connection to brain differences?
  • To what extent do our genes determine our academic destiny?
  • How do educators transform students’ ability to succeed?

That last point is especially important, because—as Connelly discusses—educator impact can be huge, influencing the actual biological processes that determine how successful learners are in the classroom.

Watch the full webinar and discover the critical importance of classroom teachers and technology in preparing all of our students—and especially our most vulnerable students—for life after K-12.


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Student Engagement Strategies That Can Help Your Learners Read Better

help your students read betterHow can we build better readers? What should we be doing to ensure each student leaves the classroom able to read better than they did when they arrived? Teachers are plagued by these questions. Even when teachers are highly prepared and expertly understand the strategies for reading improvement, learners may disengage. With limited instructional time and the added pressures of today’s classrooms, teachers need effective student engagement strategies along with appropriate instructional strategies for reading improvement.

Guided oral reading, for example, is a highly effective instructional strategy for improving reading. But engaging all students with sufficient guided oral reading opportunities is a daunting and difficult thing to do. Students who do not read well are often clever enough to find ways to avoid reading in front of their peers. I know from personal experience that students paired together may sometimes “cheat,” letting the stronger reader do all of the reading while the struggling reader listens. Too often, the students who need it most simply do not get the daily reading practice they need to grow their skills.

Reading comprehension—the entire aim of reading—requires active engagement. Too often students read a text purely with the intent of moving through it and completing the assignment. The purpose of reading for learning and discovery is lost to them. Students need to be drawn into the text. They need to use their background knowledge, to make predictions, to concentrate on details and hold information in their minds. The reading practice needed to realize improvement cannot be a passive activity.

Picture for a moment an engaged classroom working on a reading lesson. We would see every student participating, each one of them focused on learning. We’d see body language reflecting their mental participation and physical responses as they learn. We would also hear them asking questions and getting excited about what they were reading. A zealous vibe would be palpable. When we feel that excitement in a classroom we know that our instructional strategies are working to help students learn. 

So what can we do, as teachers, to help our students engage?

  • Make the challenge manageable. It’s important for us to assess student ability and find the right balance of challenge and success. Appropriate challenge is motivational. 
  • Make the learning meaningful. Students engage when their learning is made relevant to their lives and they are able to feel connected to what they are doing.
  • Provide feedback in the moment. When students get the feedback they need as they need it, they can compete against themselves and see growth.

Self-esteem is built through engaged, dedicated effort that yields results.  Our focus needs to be on ensuring participation, motivation, and excitement around reading for every student.      



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Auditory Processing Skills & Reading Disorders in Children

reading disorders in childrenIt’s not exactly news that there’s a relationship between auditory processing skills and reading disorders in children. But with research by scientists such as Elise Temple and Nadine Gaab helping to establish and confirm the connection, the mounting evidence points to just how strong the correlation is—especially for children with dyslexia.

In a recent study by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors set out to determine whether inconsistency in the brain’s response to speech sounds is correlated with poor reading skills. The study evaluated 100 normal-hearing children from 6 to 12 years of age who were divided into 3 groups—good readers, average readers, and poor readers—based on their fluency scores.

The researchers asked the children to listen to the syllables “ba” and “ga” while measuring the children’s auditory brainstem response. They also measured the children’s brainstem response to a simple clicking sound for comparison.

The authors found that the auditory brainstem response was considerably more variable for poor readers than for good readers, but only when listening to the relatively complex speech sounds—not when listening to the simple click sound. They also found that the inconsistencies in brainstem response were more closely associated with the consonant portion of the syllable than the vowel portion.

The variability in brainstem response occurred intermittently throughout the testing rather than building over time, and was primarily seen among the poor readers rather than all three groups, indicating that neural fatigue was likely not a factor. The authors note that the more likely explanation for the intermittent variability is poor encoding of speech sounds in the brains of the struggling readers.

According to Kraus, it’s this inconsistency of brain response that prevents some children from making the crucial connection of sound to meaning that is the foundation of language and reading skills. Strong readers, on the other hand, typically make the connection with ease. The relationship between reading ability and auditory processing skills, she says, is “a highly significant relationship.”

Distinguishing between consonants can be particularly difficult for children with dyslexia, as this study shows, because they are spoken so much more rapidly than vowels. But consonants typically give meaning to words (think “cat” vs. “bat”), so that missing bit of information can make learning to read enormously difficult. The takeaway is that when children with normal hearing experience reading difficulty, auditory processing plays a role.

Fortunately, our students’ brains are highly adaptable and responsive, enabling dramatic improvements with appropriate intervention. When the auditory processing issues are corrected, children are then able to make the critical sound-to-meaning connections that lead to proficient reading and improved learning all around.

Related reading:

Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, and the Road to College: Maria’s Story

What Educators May Not Know about the Neuroscience of Learning


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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Why Dr. Timothy Rasinski Thinks Reading Fluency Should Be “Hot!”

reading fluency

Tim Rasinski is on a mission to change minds and he shares that mission with us in his webinar, “Keys to Increasing Reading Comprehension in the Age of Common Core.”

What’s Hot, What’s Not

Rasinski laments the fact that reading fluency has been ranked “Not Hot” for years in the annual “What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey” in Reading Today. Worse, he says, is the fact that the reading experts surveyed said that fluency should not be hot.

Fluency is one of the key skills, says Rasinski, that increases comprehension, the real goal of reading. So he wrote an article called “Why Reading Fluency Should Be Hot!,” which was featured in last May’s Reading Teacher magazine.

Building a Bridge to Reading Comprehension

Rasinski likens reading fluency to a bridge that connects accuracy in word study (phonics, decoding, spelling, and vocabulary) to comprehension. When students do not pick up the connection intuitively, educators have to teach it. But, if educators do not see fluency as an important component of reading instruction, the bridge to comprehension may never be built.

Teaching fluency means developing automaticity in word recognition, so learners can devote their available cognitive energy to comprehension. When that limited energy is spent on word recognition, there’s often not enough left over for the difficult task of deriving meaning from the words that have been read.

Ways to Develop Fluency That Really Work

Rasinski outlines what he calls “the essentials” of developing reading fluency:

    1. Reading real literature
    2. Getting real-time word recognition support
    3. Reading with expression
    4. Participating in assisted reading activities
    5. Practicing both “deep” and “wide” reading

Anyone interested in helping students become eager and capable readers should take the time to watch the full webinar and hear Rasinski’s thoughts on these points in his own words. It’s a topic he’s thoroughly studied, and he brings his extensive knowledge and passion to the discussion.

The online Reading Assistant program, as Rasinski points out, supports classroom teachers by delivering these five essentials—including real-time corrective feedback—to any number of students simultaneously.

Reading comprehension all comes down to meaning, says Rasinski, and teaching reading fluency ultimately helps learners get better at deriving meaning from any text.

Doesn’t that sound “Hot!” to you?

Related reading:

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Print Exposure and Reading Fluency: Building a Foundation for Academic Success


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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, and the Road to College: Maria’s Story


I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.

Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment. 

For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams. 

By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”

At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.

Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges.  She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs.  Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels.   Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.  

Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.

Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.

And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.

Related reading:

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency


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Categories: Brain Fitness, Education Trends, Family Focus, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Reading and Riding: How Learning to Read is Like Learning to Ride a Bike

reading acquisition

As spring begins to overtake winter, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children riding their bicycles in my neighborhood.   

Seeing one father helping his daughter with her new two-wheeler reminded me of my own initial experience with my first bicycle. The bike I received for my birthday had no training wheels on it and so I floundered on my first attempts to ride it. 

A Wobbly Start

My dad came home from his factory job one spring afternoon and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode. Getting out of the car, he walked over to me and had me get on the bike while he steadied it by grasping the seat.  

As I pedaled and steered my bike, he ran next to me holding me up. When I turned, I usually leaned too much or too little into the curve; my dad gave me feedback (he’d say “lean the other way”) and supported me by tilting the bike in the opposite direction. 

The Power of Supported Practice

After a few trips up and down the block he gave me a push, let go of the seat, and before I knew it, I was riding without his help. I could ride my bike! Later that afternoon my father gave me a few more tips on bike safety and expressed how proud he was of my accomplishment.

The experience of learning to ride my bike reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback.  

The Importance of Feedback in Learning to Read

A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tell us that the foundational skills in reading (in the Common Core Standards, phonics, word recognition, and fluency) are best developed through instruction followed by practice with support and feedback. 

When a struggling or developing reader reads a text while simultaneously hearing it read to them (either with a partner, a group, or a recorded reading) the developing reader will eventually be able to read that text (and others) without assistance. 

An essential key to the assist, however, is to provide formative feedback to the reader in the same way that my father gave feedback to me. That feedback can take a variety of forms—emphasizing a word that was mispronounced, providing the definition to a word or phrase, or briefly discussing the reading after the reading and focusing on an area of need or areas in which the reader has improved.  

Most learning, it seems, is facilitated by an assist, scaffold, or support provided by another.  Learning to read and learning to ride a bike are no exception.   

The Teacher’s Touch

As teachers, our role in reading acquisition is to find ways to support our students in their reading while providing formative feedback during and after their reading. When we do so we will find our students not only making great progress in their reading but also viewing themselves as competent and independent readers.

Related reading:

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Goodnight Room: Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes



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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Instilling a Love of Reading: What Every Teacher and Parent Should Know

As an educator I spend a considerable amount of time providing advice to parents whose children are finding it difficult to be inspired with reading! Parents will describe their child as  “struggling,” “disinterested,” or ”anxious” about reading and are searching for ways to instill the love of reading, when it is such a tedious task for their child.

It’s really quite simple: Children who do not read well will not be inspired to read, or to practice reading more. So, how do we get our reluctant readers to find reading fun?

As the director of a school that specializes in working with students with reading disorders—and a parent of a youngster who was diagnosed with dyslexia in 3rd grade—I see this issue from both sides.  Some suggestions that I share with our parents (and that I used with my own son) can create a safe haven for reading for the emerging reader, gifted reader, or a student who needs more direct instruction to improve reading skills.

The Practice of Reading Skills

Keep the work of developing reading skills separate from pleasure reading. Students who require reinforcement in their decoding or vocabulary should practice those tasks for a short time (15-20 minutes) several times per week. Use some of these ideas to make the reading fun!

  • Play Scrabble using real or nonsense words! Get the real game board! Let students use a dictionary to look up words that they can create with their tiles. Or, play a game with nonsense words, but everyone should be able to read their words! Non-word reading is a good way to practice decoding.
  • Word of the day: Have the whole family select a “word of the day” and keep a tally on how many times that word is read, or spoken throughout the day. At dinnertime, share the results of the family “survey” and select a new word for the next day.
  • Matching game: Have your child use index cards to write their words for practice on one card and the definition on the other. Play this game like the Memory card game (also known as Concentration), encouraging the student to read the word and the definition for every card turned over. (My son and I both did this when we were studying—he used his 5th grade spelling words and vocabulary, and I had my “deck of cards” on education law terms and definitions for my Master’s degree coursework).
  • Use Unique Materials! Change it up! Have your child practice by writing spelling words on the sidewalk with colored chalk. Put shaving cream on the kitchen counter and let your child write their spelling words in foam! Put a piece of screen material in an open picture frame. Have your child place a piece of paper over it and write their words on the paper with crayon. This approach provides practice and highlights the individual letters with a unique, textured surface. See some examples here:  
  • Create your own storybook: Children, by nature, will be more involved and interested in practicing oral reading if they are excited about a topic. Using some of the newest technologies, such as the camera feature on your phone, have the child take photos of a favorite activity that the child or the whole family enjoys doing, or take pictures that match the vocabulary list!  Put those photos into a PowerPoint and have the child tell or type the words, match vocabulary or create a story to go with the photos. With PowerPoint you can add motion, sound, or music—so be creative! You can even print the pages and bind them into a book, and you have some great stories for practicing oral reading. The book can also make a great gift for a relative for a birthday or holiday.

Reading for Pleasure

Children who are behind in their reading abilities, such as decoding, vocabulary, or comprehension, may not always select independent reading material that “matches” their age and grade. In fact, many children who struggle with the mechanics of reading may be interested in topics that are way above their independent reading level. To meet their intellectual interests and instill the “habit” of reading for pleasure, consider these ideas:

  • Read aloud for evening wind-down: What child doesn’t want to delay bedtime? This is a perfect time to read a chapter or two and discuss the elements of a read-aloud story. Ask questions about the characters and setting and inquire if they can predict what will happen next. Let your child select a book that they have an interest in, regardless of the reading level, and read it to them before bedtime. For those youngsters who are gifted, be sure that the topic is not above their maturity level. You may want to read the selection before you read it together, as some authors do include more mature themes than some of our learners are ready to handle.
  • Books on tape in the car: Face it—we are a mobile society! I have parents who report spending many hours in the car for errands, driving kids to practice for sports, and waiting on our busy roads to make it home in the late afternoon hours. Audio books can be a great way for everyone to enjoy a good mystery or listen to a story that will soon be featured in film at the local movie theatres. Use of an audiobook is also a great way to keep a youngster connected to current trends in literary work. Students who are behind in their reading abilities may still have an interest in the latest chapter book that will be featured in an upcoming movie, such as Hunger Games. Although your child may not be able to wade through the actual printed version, listening to the audio series will permit them to understand the content and will encourage their discussions with their peers about the latest chapter of a popular series.
  • Model reading activities! In our busy lives we sometimes forget that our children and students need to see us reading! Some schools still include a specific reading time where everyone in the school reads a book or magazine for 15 minutes.  As parents, we should practice what we want our children to do, so they can see our enjoyment of literature! Every summer, I would take a stack of paperback books with me to the beach, and my children would know that I was enjoying my “junk novels”. Now, when we get together for our annual beach week, my young adult children break out their Kindles and read too!
  • Don’t get concerned if your child has selected something to read independently that is not at their grade level. Nothing concerns me more than when I hear a parent or teacher indicate that the “child” is selecting a storybook, chapter book or series to read that is “not at their grade level”. Reading for pleasure should be just that, for pleasure. Allow and encourage reading for entertainment value. I often remind my students’ parents that “eyes on print” is a good thing, and not to get concerned over the level of the material that a child reads for pleasure. I don’t look at the back of the book I am purchasing for my annual beach trip to see what grade level it is before I purchase it. I select books that I am interested in reading for fun! I enjoy books that have a mystery and involve law, written by authors such as John Grisham. What I don’t do is determine the Lexile Score, or Independent Reading Level of the text or content. So, allow your child a choice in what they wish to read independently and encourage them to develop the habit of reading!

Above all, BE PATIENT and ENCOURAGING with your child as they develop independent reading habits. The “art” of reading is quite complex. Some children will require more support, individualized instruction, and continued practice, and may benefit from the services of a reading specialist. Your positive influence, patience, and support can make your child feel safe to take the “risk” of reading new words or selecting more challenging material. Celebrate the small steps, and keep positive so your child will become more confident!

Related reading:

18 Ways to Encourage Students to Read This Summer

5 Reasons Why Your Students Should Write Every Day


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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Daily Reading Practice: More Important Than You Would Ever Imagine

Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact. 

Why Modeled Reading Matters

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”  - Emilie Buchwald

Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event.  In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read. 

Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.

Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.

Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)

“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000

The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.

It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.

*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM).  Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students.  As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.

For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.

A Deep and Continuing Need

One final note on quality.  To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.
”  - Maya Angelou

I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers.  As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.

“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.”  - Katherine Patterson

Related reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

After Just 24 Days, Summer School Students Significantly Improve Reading Scores


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