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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It Takes a Village of Skills to Become a Reader!

Reading!  It sounds easy but it is anything but to a great many students.  In order to understand why your child struggles to read well or with facility, it is essential to have working knowledge of the primary elements that form the all-important foundation for reading.  A gap in any of these skills will produce problems in reading, evident not only in slow skill development but also the frustration, upset, and dislike of reading with which you, as the parent of a struggling reader, is probably all too familiar. 

Here is a sampling of the skills and abilities your child must use when she reads:
  1. Word Recognition:  This consists of two factors.  The first is sight vocabulary—these are the words a child recognizes on sight with automaticity and without effort. The other is decoding or the ability to use phonetic analysis skills (which we have talked about in earlier blogs) to sound out unfamiliar words.
  2. Fluency: Oral fluency includes the ability to use expression, adhere to punctuation, and read words with ease.
  3. Word Knowledge: the ability to recognize various meanings of words. Parents typically refer to this as vocabulary.
  4. Background (or factual) knowledge: so much of what we read is understood in the context of what we know about the world.  When a child is familiar with the subject of a book his understanding of it is far richer than it is when material is utterly novel.  For example, imagine your fourth grader reading about the legend of King Arthur without any understanding of a knight and his coat of armor, medieval times and the structure of a town and city being built around a fortified castle, all money having once been in coin form, adoption or foster parenting, wizardry or magic. Without such knowledge and vocabulary he would be lost, confused by the words on the page rather than able to picture them in his imagination.  For an adult, this would be akin to the experience a lay person would have in reading a medical journal, perhaps in Russian! 
  5. Language Structure: your child must not only know the meaning of the individual words, but must also be able to integrate them into the sentences she reads, understand the sentence structure, and make sense of the transitions from one sentence to the other.
  6. Language Processing, Critical Thinking, and Memory: He must grasp the core idea, remember facts and details, apply background knowledge to new information, make associations, draw conclusions, anticipate outcomes, form concepts, and think critically.
  7. Working Memory: the ability to hold information in one's mind for just a few seconds until it can be used; after its use, it is discarded or forgotten.
  8. Attention: it is essential to both reading fluency and comprehension that your child be able to sustain attention to material as he reads.
As you can see, Comprehension, the ultimate goal of reading, depends on proficiency with a variety of skills.  So in supporting your child’s reading development books are, of course, important. But so is conversation, exposure to broad vocabulary and background knowledge, and experiences of the world at large.
Now go read with your kid!

Be well,   Jennifer
Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. www.centerpsych.com

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