Top Tips for Improving Reading Skills

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Guest Article by Tracey Hand of Optimise Learning.

Co-founder of Optimise Learning, Tracey Hand, is a former teaching colleague and she is one of the most outstanding teachers I have ever seen in a classroom. In fact I respect her wisdom on all things reading so very much that I asked her to write part of the chapter ‘Reading Difficulties and Differences’ in my book, ‘Raising Readers’. I’ve asked Tracey to have a chat with us about her tips for improving reading development. This post is not sponsored; one of the thing readers of my appreciate about Children’s Books Daily is that I rarely recommend a product or service. Optimise Learning simply works, and I regularly ask Tracey to share her wisdom over here on CBD. Thanks Tracey!

Did you realise that your child’s brain is not ‘hardwired’ for reading? Research undertaken by neuroscientists has revealed that reading is possibly the most challenging task educators expect the ‘young brain’ to undertake.  Whilst the act of reading involves two main processes-decoding and comprehension, reading can, unfortunately, be a difficult task for many young children.

As an experienced classroom teacher, I have had the privilege of teaching and observing literally hundreds of young students as they begin to learn and understand how to read. During that time, I have encountered children who find learning to read quite easy, and others who found learning to read extremely difficult.

My training in Reading Recovery provided me with many insights into why some children find learning to read difficult. This specialised training also taught me how to analyse the errors students make and observe what reading strategies students are neglecting to use whilst reading. This knowledge, combined with my teaching experience has enabled me to effectively teach many students how to read, how to improve a student’s reading ability and their reading confidence, and to also develop a love of reading.

Whilst it is commonly understood that students who find reading difficult do so for a range of different reasons, what may be less understood is that there is a number of ways parents can assist their child’s reading development.  Some ideas that can be easily and cheaply implemented at home are listed below.

Learn the Letters of the Alphabet

To decode words, students need to be able to recognise the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they commonly represent. Students usually learn the letters of the alphabet in their first year of school. Parents can assist by helping their child identify items around the home that start with the letter their child is studying at school (practise saying and listening for the sound), by asking their child to find the letter on a page in a picture book or on a sign (practise identifying the letter in text) or by writing the letter on a whiteboard/in the sand/with paint/with play doh (practise ‘writing’ the letter using correct formation).

Practice High Frequency Words

High frequency words can also be referred to as sight words, magic words or commonly used words. Whatever these words are called at your child’s school, it is important for your child to learn to recognise these words quickly and easily. High frequency words are those words that students encounter frequently in written and spoken text. Some high frequency words can be easily decoded, however many cannot which is why students are taught to ‘memorise’ these words to they can recognise and read them easily and quickly.

If your child is finding learning to recognise high frequency words challenging, help them to practise learning to read and write high frequency words-a few at a time. Select a high frequency word; ask your child to practise chanting the letters in sequence, ask them to write the same word over and over again until they find it easy to do so and ask them to find the word in different texts.

I find challenging students to a race to write or find/read the high frequency word being practised is an effective way to motivate them to repeatedly write or read the word until it is learned.  Another enjoyable activity I have used is to write the words being practiced on card/paper then hide them around the house. Ask your child to find the word ‘out’ for example and applaud them when they do. You could ask your child to hide the word/s from you, and then you try to find the word they ask you to. Playing card games with your child such as snap and memory, is other great way to help them practise learning to read their high frequency words. Once your child can quickly and easily read and write the high frequency word being practised, celebrate their success and move on to another word.

Read Aloud OFTEN

This might seem obvious but by reading aloud to your child every day you are exposing them to a richer vocabulary than they would hear in a typical day, you are assisting them to enjoy books they might not be able to read themselves, plus you are being a wonderful ‘reading role model’ for your child. Also, research has revealed that by reading aloud to your child you are advancing their literacy skills. If you are pressed for time, audio books are great option.

Listen to Your Child Read

Parents are busy, and finding time to listen to your child read, particularly if they are reluctant can prove difficult.

 Young students need to read aloud regularly to consolidate and advance their reading and comprehension skills. Also, to develop their reading stamina it is very important for your child to read aloud often. Even reading the same book over and over again can also be beneficial, and great for their confidence.

Once your child has finished reading their book to you ask them to tell you what happened at the start, in the middle and at the end. This assists your child with their comprehension skills, and also ensures that they have understood what they have read and that they are not just decoding the words.

To mix it up, children can read aloud online via Skype or Zoom to their grandparents or a family friend. Many young students I know also read their books to their family pet-or even their teddy.

Read Books at the Correct Level for YOUR Child

If your child is in their first or second year of school, they are reading levelled books that increase in complexity, as their reading skills develop. Whilst it is very important for your child’s reading development to read books at their ‘instructional’ level (an ‘instructional level’ refers to books that are ideal for a young student to read because the books are not too easy or too difficult for them to read, and should therefore advance their reading skills), it is also vitally important for your child to regularly read books that are 2 to 3 levels below their instructional level.

Reading books that are ‘easy’ for them to read, will enable young students to develop and practise their phrasing, reading expression and fluency skills as they do not need to focus so intensely on decoding the words. Reading books with phrasing, expression and fluency assists students to gain a deeper understanding of what they read, and adds to their reading enjoyment.

Make it Playful!

‘I Spy’, ‘Hangman’, ‘I went shopping and bought a ….’ are just some enjoyable literacy-based games you can play at home with your child without going to a lot of trouble or expense. Maybe your child could write and perform a puppet play for you or create a treasure hunt for the family that involved them creating and writing clues. Any activity that involves writing, listening, spelling, reading or speaking can develop your child’s literacy skills and understandings.

Focus on Strengths

Remind your child of their successes, their strengths and the progress they have made in reading. Help your child to start an ‘I can….’ journal, that highlights the reading skills, high frequency words and understandings they have mastered. Encourage your child to add items to their journal as they progress.

If your child is finding reading difficult, it is very important for you to discuss your observations and concerns with their teacher.

Ruby Olive Megan Pink Jacket and Who Am I Book

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