How to recognize difficulties and improve reading comprehension
About 25% of children have reading delays caused by cognitive skill gaps. These gaps need to be addressed before you can expect to improve reading comprehension.
Reading is a miraculous skill. It requires proficiency in many areas – phonemic awareness, vocabulary, working memory, attention, logic and critical thinking. It’s no wonder so many struggle. Children cannot be considered “good” readers” until they are reading at an 8th grade level, with comprehension and metacognition. The steps to 8th grade reading proficiency are:
- Letter sound knowledge (K to 2nd grade)
- Automatic decoding, fluency (2nd to 4th grade)
- Reading comprehension — literal (3rd to 5th grade)
- Reading comprehension with critical thinking (6th to 8th grade)
Early Intervention Requires Early Detection
Separating a slow start from a more enduring reading problem is that not easy. Children want to please parents and teachers and so many are able to disguise a phonemic awareness or decoding difficulty early on. However, generally their difficulties become obvious in 4th or 5th grade when reading requires a level of comprehension that’s hard to cover up.
Finding the glitch early will not only help your child enjoy school more and help self-esteem, it is also the period in a child’s life where there is time. Elementary school is the “learning to read” period — there is time to invest in an intervention to improve reading comprehension without your child falling behind.
- If your child does not learn to decode with automaticity, reading will be a lifelong challenge.
- Love of reading. An extended struggle with reading develops a negative connection to reading that may linger.
- Self-esteem. Struggling when others find it easy erodes self esteem, confidence, leading to avoidance behavior and frustration.
Look Outside Reading
How do parents tell the difference between a slow start and a cognitive delay? While temporary delays will resolve, deep-seated delays will need reading remediation or an intervention. One way to tell the difference early on is to look for signs of difficulty away from the reading. Look at your child’s language. Are there warning signs? Are there attention issues at play here?
For instance, did your child have language delays (speaking and/or listening to directions) in early life? If so, he is an at-risk reader — weak auditory processing language cause language processing delays that are essential for reading.
Did your child have an unusual number of ear infections that might have affected early language development? Was your child born listening to English? Is there a history of dyslexia or reading difficulty in your family? Is your child’s reading out of line — is reading progress slower than in other areas, math for instance? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, and your child is a struggling reader, then you should not assume these difficulties will resolve themselves.
Again, if there are no apparent language issues, but reading is an issue early on, we would recommend giving your child a chance to mature. Sometimes a year or so of added instruction can make the difference.
However, if your child has some of the symptoms above and the reading problems persist, and if progress is slow despite extra reading help at school, then there are almost certainly cognitive skill delays impacting reading progress. These skills need to improve before your child can become a confident reader.
Three Paths to Improve Reading Comprehension
And so, what to do? You have three options, three ways to improve reading skills:
- Nature — hope and expect your child to improve without intervention
- Instruction – rely on school or tutors
- Intervention – exercise the underlying skills required for reading
Leaving It To Nature
Having said that, many children eventually acquire the phonological awareness and vocabulary needed for reading through daily language interactions, listening.
If word memory maps properly, i.e., spoken words and the corresponding text are accurately connected in the brain, then reading is relatively easily. All they need to do is learn a few spelling conventions and they are on their way to lifelong reading.
If however your child does not have the phonological processing skills to always pick out the sounds inside those words (the phonemes), then the learning to read experience will be very different.
Leaving it to nature is a reasonable strategy up to the age of 7 as long as your child had no language issues in early life. If there were speech or language issues however, your child is an at risk reader. If she is struggling with reading the chances are she will not improve reading skills without outside help.
Instruction – What Schools (and Tutors) Can’t Do
Schools focus on instruction – phonics, vocabulary, etc. However, they work with students “as is.” If there is a cognitive delay holding back reading, they work around it. Their focus is teaching the fundamentals of reading, not addressing the underlying cause of reading difficulty, the cognitive delays.
Tutors mimic what goes on at school.
You have probably noticed also that the reading instruction window is shrinking. As curriculum pushes into lower grades, less time is available for mastering the reading fundamentals. If your child still has a reading problem in 5th grade, you may need to look elsewhere for help.
A Reading Intervention
A reading intervention as any program that addresses the cognitive skill gaps that making it hard to improve reading comprehension.
Most interventions work on cognitive skills, expecting those skill gains to transfer into improvements in reading fluency and comprehension. Because they target underlying delays, the gains from interventions tend to be lasting. Furthermore, interventions are often fast-acting. The fastest way to solve a problem is to find the cause and then act. Reading is no different. If you can improve language processing skills and therefore improve phonemic awareness, reading skills can accelerate quickly.
They are not everyone’s first choice however, because they typically require a reasonable investment – finances and time. This comes down to making a calculation — forgoing activities near term for longer term ease of learning. The younger a child is, the easier that decision is to make.
Good, bad or ugly, parents should understand, the only chance to make a profound and lasting change in your child’s reading trajectory is with an intervention. The missing cognitive & language skills holding back your child’s reading are not taught at school and are not addressed by tutors.
Your Next Step
There are early signs of reading difficulty to look for. In addition, as a precaution, be aware of the symptoms of dyslexia. But most of all, parents should know the appropriate reading milestones and where their child stands. The school can help you out with this if you have any concerns at all. At home, understanding what the common reading problems look like is also helpful.
Helping guide your child through this all important learning to read phase can be scary. The long-term stakes are high.
Gemm Learning Is A Reading Intervention
The choice to remediate reading with an intervention is not an easy one. And the timing will vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. However, if you are concerned about your child, there is help available. To get started, call Gemm Learning for a free consultation and to find out if your child is a candidate for one of our programs.
Cognitive skills are like physical skills — they improve with exercise. This is how Gemm Learning can improve reading skills, from the foundations of reading up. Our adaptive reading software addresses the underlying language processing and cognitive difficulties first, and then trains fluency, vocabulary, spelling and reading comprehension.
Most Gemm Learning students are able to make 1-2 years of reading gain in 4-6 months, 30 minutes a day, 3-5 days a week. Our gains are measured using the RPI, a Woodcock-Johnson aligned online reading test. For more info on how Gemm Learning can help reading skills, watch this video.