Why do some kids struggle to read and spell?


Good readers are:

  • phonemically aware (can sound the letters)
  • knows die letters of the alphabet
  • possess strong vocabularies (knows appropriate words for their age)
  • knows syntactical and grammatical skills e.g. spelling rules

It is vital that visual perceptual skills (the building blocks for reading and writing) are intact:

  • Discrimination
  • Memory
  • Sequential memory
  • Form constancy
  • Closure
  • Foreground-background
  • Spatial relations
  • Position in space

Have your child’s vision and eye-muscle functioning tested when they are in Gr. R and again in Gr. 2.If your child struggles with reading, dyslexia may be present. Dyslexia can only be tested and diagnosed in Gr. 3 the 3rd term.

Possible warning signs of reading difficulties:

1.  Comprehension difficulties

Children who battle with comprehension have difficulties remembering what they just read (details in the story, sequence of events, characters, etc.) The skills needed for comprehension are decoding what has been read, making connections between what they read and what they already know, and thinking deeply about what they read.  It is important that they understand the meanings of enough words (have a good vocabulary) too.

Signs of difficulty with comprehension:

  • Take a long time to read and seem confused at the end of the story
  • Battle to answer questions about what they just read
  • Are not sure what parts of the story were important
  • Can’t create an image in their minds about what was going on
  • Focus on specific details but miss the point of the story as a whole

2.  Slow reading speed

Children who read slowly all have one thing in common: they battle to recognise words. They get stuck on words they can’t read or go back to re-read sentences when they don’t understand what they just read.

Signs of a slow reader

  • Often stop to try and sound out words
  • Don’t recognise words they should know
  • Repeat sentences
  • Reading seems laboured
  • Skip words altogether
  • Read without expression
  • Read below their grade level in terms of speed (chart below)

3.  Spelling difficulties

One of the biggest reading nightmares for parents is when their children battle to spell.  Even good readers sometimes battle with spelling, because very often words aren’t spelt the way they sound.
To spell well you need to have a good visual memory, know how to break words up into syllables and have loads of practice.

Sign of difficulties:

  • Spelling the same word incorrectly each time (incorrectly learned words)
  • Swopping letters around
  • Spelling words the way they sound, not the way they look
  • Writing too fast so that entire syllables are missed
  • Writing letters of the words in the wrong order
  • Battling to break words into syllables

4.  General signs of reading difficulties

  • Short attention span
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Inability to distinguish between letters, numbers and sounds
  • Difficulty sounding words out
  • Inability to re-tell a story
  • Avoiding reading out loud
  • Struggling to spell
  • Reversal of letters after age 7
  • Poor eye-hand coordination
  • What is your child’s attitude towards reading?  Does your child start complaining that his eyes or tummy hurts when it’s time to read?
  • Does your child exhibit behavioural problems when it’s time to read?  They do this to draw attention away from reading.

What to do if you anticipate that there is a problem?

  • Talk to your child’s teacher
  • Have your child’s hearing and eyes tested
  • Take your child for an evaluation at an occupational therapist
  • If there is a problem, accept it.  The younger your child is, the easier it is to improve the problem area

What can you as parent do to improve reading and spelling skills in your child?

  • If your child cannot read yet, set aside time every day to read to your child.  If your child is able to read, make time for your child to read out loud to you
  • Surround your child with reading material
  • Use a variety of aids to help your child:  books, computer programs, etc.
  • Show enthusiasm for your child reading
  • Enrol them in a stimulation program e.g. Tina Cowley

Expected reading speed for each grade (in words per minute):

  • Gr. 1          –           75
  • Gr. 2          –           100      
  • Gr. 3          –           120      
  • Gr. 4          –           150
  • Gr. 5          –           170
  • Gr. 6          –           185
  • Gr. 7          –           195
  • Gr. 8          –           205
  • Gr. 9          –           215
  • Gr. 10        –           225
  • Gr. 11        –           235
  • Gr. 12        –           250
  • Adult         –           280
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