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Learning to Read - Research Informs Us

Learn what skills are necessary to learn to read and what kind of instruction he should have.

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

Most kids learn to read no matter what method of instruction is used. But 20 percent of school age kids are poor readers and remain that way through their lifetime. You may have heard that letter reversals are an early indicator of reading problems. Actually, many young kids exhibit some reversals as they're learning to form letters and sequence from left to right. The scientific, independent research results tell us that reading is a language-based skill. This means that delays in early language development are better predictors of reading problems.

What Should I Look For?

The best way to tell how kids in kindergarten and first grade will develop reading skills is to look at their ability to break up spoken words into the individual sounds, or phonemes. They have to be able to isolate sounds and manipulate them in words.

  • Can your child tell you if two sounds are the same or different, e.g., /p/ /b/?
  • Does he enjoy stories that rhyme? Does he play with rhyming?
  • Can he name words that begin with the same sound?
  • Can he hear that the words "ash," "so," and "it" each have two phonemes?

Our language is based on the alphabetic principle. Written words are made up of letters that represent sounds. Kids need to learn that certain sounds go with certain letters.

  • Can your child say the alphabet?
  • Can he tell you the names of letters?
  • Can he match a letter sound with the symbol?

Reading comprehension depends on quick and automatic reading of single words. If kids read slowly and struggle with words that should be familiar, they won't remember or understand what they've read.

  • Does he remember words he's read before?
  • Can he sound out new words quickly?
  • Does he decode new words correctly?
  • Can he tell you what he has just read?

If problems with reading have existed over a period of time, he has average or above average intelligence, has received basic instruction in reading, and has no physical or emotional disabilities that might affect learning, he may have a reading disability. Talk to his teacher, and make sure that he's receiving effective, research-based instruction. If necessary, consider having him assessed.

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.

Comments from readers

"I have a daughter who struggles with reading. Her understanding of alphabetic principles and phoneme awareness is good, but she does not decode new words well and forgets words she just read in a previous sentence. Finally she had to repeat 2nd grade even though she has no problem with material in other subjects - because she could not read independently with comprehension. She was evaluated but did not meet criteria for an IEP. How can a school be allowed to let a child get so far behind in reading without intervention? Every child develops at different rates but you shouldn't wait until 2nd grade to provide extra reading help. "
"My son has difficulties spelling word and differentiating between b or d m and m."
"I found this information very helpful and informative. I will use this information throught out the period of my childs Kinergarten year. As i read the information it bothered me that the information only focused on if he enjoys stories, if he can sound out words clearly, and so on and so on. I have a five year old daughter not a son, does this pertain to her also. Who ever published this article seems a little one sided on their approach to this article. So this article doesn't seem so biased, i would appriciate it if this article could be revised to include male and female students. I thank you for reviewing and taking my thoughts an feelings into consideration. I hope to hear from you soon."