WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT . . . . How Children Learn to Read
Learn and understand the different components of reading to help your students become effective and enthusiastic readers.
Being able to read is one of the most valuable things a person should possess in life. Apart from enjoying stories, feeding your mind, and getting through school, you need reading for many other everyday activities such as navigating your way around different places, finding out what is going on around you, and getting information when there is no one to ask.
Learning how to read, however, is not as spontaneous as learning how to chew. It is more like learning how to ride a bicycle or learning a sport. Someone needs to teach you how to do it, guide you when things get difficult, and support you when you make mistakes or feel defeated.
Some children learn to read without a lot of difficulty. Others need a bit more effort.
Parents and teachers have varied approaches in teaching children how to read. To be effective, you need to know what the components of reading are and comprehend how it takes place. It is also very important to know when to start teaching reading.
What is reading and when do you start teaching this?
Essentially, reading is making sense of written words. According to Reena Ermitano, a reading specialist, “Text is speech translated into print using a set of symbols or coded language. And when we read, we do the opposite. We are actually translating print back into speech.”
The initial groundwork for reading actually starts from infancy. By now it has already been established that babies are not blank slates, but in fact, are already beginning to learn even while they are still in the womb. When babies are constantly talked to, read to, and allowed to listen to nursery songs and rhymes, they begin to learn language. As they grow older, they realize that the words spoken to them actually have meanings and they try to say them. When they start talking, they learn new words rapidly and may sing or chant along to nursery rhymes or repeat familiar words learned from a favorite book. When they reach elementary school age, they become able to read words from memory or to join together letter sounds to form a word. Eventually they will progress from reading simple books to chapter books and novels.
Teaching someone how to read words is best done by age six or seven when children are developmentally ready. For the longest time, children have been taught to read either by phonics (sounding out the letters of a word based on a series of rules) or the whole language system (whole word recognition and memorization and connecting them together). The use of one method over the other has not really shown great results. However, the use of these two methods together, yields better results.
In addition, providing aural exercises to prepare the ears to recognize and differentiate letter sounds is also a big help. Because the written word is a representation, in print, of the spoken word, it makes sense that, before you are able to identify and make sense of it, first you must be able to understand the spoken word.
The Three-Pronged Technique to Teaching Reading
The good thing about using this three-pronged technique to teach reading is that it can be used for anyone at any age:
Technique 1: Aural Training
Listen to nursery rhymes, read rhyming books and poems, and play rhyming games. Most children’s books and songs are written as rhymes. These are extremely fun because of their sing-song nature and the repetition of sounds. Older children might appreciate rap music, carefully chosen to reject those with inappropriate lyrics, of course.
Some rhyming games that you can play are the following:
- Body Parts RhymingGame – Point to a body part and say a word that rhymes with it (e.g., point to head and say bed). The child then has to name that body part. Other examples are ulo = dulo, kamay = hanay, ilong = gulong.
- Fill in the blanks – Use a familiar or favorite song, chant, or poem. Highlight the words that rhyme and cover the second word. Present children with two words and ask them to choose which one rhymes with the highlighted word to complete the line. An example,
Sampung mga daliri, kamay at paa
Dalawang tainga, dalwang mata
Ilong na maganda = highlighted and covered
Words to choose from: matangos/maganda
Technique 2: Phonics Component
Teach the alphabet and the alphabet letter sounds. One must be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and differentiate them from numbers, shapes, or other symbols. Once letters can be identified, the corresponding letter sounds can be taught and then combining sounds together to make words will follow. It would be important to remember to teach the correct phonics rules, otherwise, children will not be able to correctly decode new words and gains in reading will never be achieved.
Below are some exercises to make sure that children know their letters, letter’s sound, and how to blend sounds together:
- Make a chart of the alphabet; one with pictures and one with just letters. Go through the picture alphabet one by one to review letters and their sounds. When the child is able to do this easily, take out the letter chart only. Ask the child to tell you the sound of each letter. Because there are no pictures, the child has to count on his memory. You can also find out which letters/sounds the child has difficulty remembering.
- Make an Alphabet Book for each child or one for the whole class. If children are able, they can draw pictures of things that start with each letter. If not, you can look for pictures from magazines together and cut them out to paste in the book. This can be used like the alphabet picture chart for review.
- Another fun game to use when joining sounds together is connecting three sounds to form a word: you sound out words in three parts and children have to say the whole word, e.g., d-o-g, pa-la-yok, d-e-sk.
Technique 3: Whole Language component
Help children recognize whole words by constantly exposing them to words in charts, books, and signs (such as STOP, EXIT, PUSH). Always place them in context so that it will be easier to comprehend and remember. Knowledge of phonics is still necessary to decode new and difficult words, but, for the most part, this technique helps develop sight-reading.
Helpful exercises for this are:
- Read alouds
- Quiet reading
- Frequent guided reading in small groups
Identifying delayed or challenged readers
It is very easy to label children who have problems with reading as lazy or slow. This, however, does not help them get better. What happens instead is that the parent or teacher becomes less motivated to teach or indifferent to the children’s learning.
If learning how to read has not happened by the time a child is in 4th grade, all is not lost. First, the problem must be recognized so that intervention can be specific and helpful. Even older children and adults can still be taught how to read with patience, the proper mindset, and the appropriate methodology.
Tips for fun and enjoyable teaching moments
Below are some things that Ermitano suggests to make reading pleasurable and fulfilling.
- Practice makes perfect. Have children read more frequently and extensively to enhance comprehension, the ultimate goal of reading.
- Set a regular reading time so children can read aloud daily or alternately with a supervising adult. Older children are never too old to appreciate picture books. By the same token, preschoolers are neither too young to listen to chapter books. Older children could engage in sustained silent reading as well.
- Choose reading material that is of high-interest to the child, such as those that cater to their hobbies and interests. Some parents take issue with having their kids read magazines, comic books or graphic novels, but in my opinion, anything to get them started reading is a big step in getting them hooked on it. Books with a lot of humor are a hit (e.g. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, and Sweet Farts series by Raymond Bean).
- Have them read literature that consists of words they can mostly read and understand. Children lose motivation to read when they read material that is too difficult for them. For struggling readers, they could even begin with books that are much easier than their instructional level just to build self-confidence and feelings of self-efficacy. As they say, success breeds success.
- Allow children to simply read for pleasure. While it is important that adults ask questions about what students read or require them to monitor their comprehension, sometimes children just need to read for enjoyment without the pressure of being quizzed or having to come up with a book report or a project about it.
- Immerse children in award-winning books and high-quality literature and educate them on how to choose books on their own.
Regulate television and video or computer gaming, particularly if the child has attention issues.
Identifying areas of difficulty
To determine what level a child should be starting from; it is necessary to identify the student’s instructional reading level. The idea is for the child to be able to comfortably read the words in a passage, but also have an adequate understanding of what they are reading. Students should recognize at least 90% of the words on a page, and at least understand 75% of what they are reading. Because when a child is reading material that is too easy (independent level) or way too difficult (frustration level), learning is not optimal. A well-experienced reading teacher in school trained in administering informal reading assessments can determine the appropriate starting point for reading instruction.
Ideally, however, the evaluation and management of reading delays is best carried out using a multi-disciplinary approach, in which a team of professionals from various backgrounds get involved (e.g. developmental pediatrician, psychologist, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, reading specialist, special education teacher) because reading problems are also usually accompanied by other conditions such as speech and language delays, attention difficulties, and socio-emotional issues which also need to be addressed if the child is to achieve his/her full learning potential.
Stages of Reading Development
According to Jean Chall, a world-renowned reading expert and psychologist, there are 6 Stages of Reading Development. Stages 1 and 2 are stages where children learn to read while Stage 3 is when they read to learn.
Stage O: Pre-Reading Stage (Up to age 6)
Oral language development
Develops phonological awareness skills (e.g. rhyming, alliteration, blending, segmenting)
Stage 1: Initial Reading or Decoding Stage (Grade 1)
Learns letters of the alphabet and that letters represent sounds
Recognizes sight words
Uses sound-spelling relationships
Stage 2: Confirmation and Fluency (Grades 2 to 3)
Develops decoding skills
Fluency: Reading becomes accurate, automatic, and effortless
Stage 3: Reading for Learning New Information (Grades 4 to 8 )
Builds background and world knowledge
Develops strategic habits to make meaning from texts
Stage 4: Multiple Viewpoints (High School)
Analyzes texts critically
Understands multiple points of view
Stage 5: Construction and Reconstruction (Post Secondary)
Construct understanding based on analysis and synthesis