March 7th, 2019
I had the pleasure of presenting to some engaged and eager parents recently, and one of them asked me a question that I hear variations of often:
When my first grader reads aloud, she often skips over words and substitutes one word for another. For example, she will say the character’s name when the text just reads “he.”
Should I stop her and call attention to what she’s doing? How should I respond?
First of all, it’s a great question. I’m always impressed when a family member notices how a child is reading, and tries to figure out if specific miscues matter.
It is super hard to stop a child and correct her when she is eagerly showing what she thinks is a great new skill done well. It feels bad and counterproductive to be critical. But if the same errors keep happening, there is reason to ask questions. The long-term goal of a child feeling great about reading will never happen if the child struggles to read words. Thus the mom’s quandary.
But here’s what we know from the science: accurately and automatically reading words is critical to being a strong reader, and first graders need to get confident with word reading skills. That means that this excited new reader should start to master these skills as soon as she can. So when noticing this kind of problem with reading words, I would lovingly point out what you notice so she recognizes what she’s doing and knows that accurately reading individual words is important. If she can’t go back and read the words correctly, or if she gets defensive or upset, then what?
At home, every learning-to-read moment should be a happy moment. Parents can and should support letter and sound skills, but the real goal at home is just to get some practice with these mechanical skills, while keeping interest in reading high. Given that families need to work on the other skills that are critical to reading success — skills that need to build up over the years — word skills can be left to schools, assuming that schools appropriately take on the task.
It is the role of a trained teacher or specialist to use assessments to figure out a child’s specific literacy needs. If Letters & Sounds skills are not strong enough, the child needs systematic instruction that is intensive enough to make a difference.
Even with trained specialists engaged, however, it makes sense for parents to monitor progress at home and check back in with the educators regularly. And everyone involved should remember that time is precious: a struggling reader should not go weeks and months without instructional attention. Remember: your 6-7 year old child only gets one first grade year, and all children need to be proficient readers by third grade.
Kudos to this mom and others like her who are noticing, supporting, asking questions, and working together with teachers to move children along. When parents know what it takes to read well, they are better able to support their children at home, and work collectively with teachers, too. I was so very appreciative of the opportunity to discuss this topic.