It’s worth examining who benefits from specific and explicit reading instruction.  Our minds immediately picture the students with dyslexia – we imagine them trying to make sense of the letters moving around on the page, or seeing the letters and words backwards (this is actually a misconception, by the way).  However, there are many ways that we might conceptualize a “struggling” reader.  Many students need to re-read a word or a sentence several times before they can accurately decode it.  Others pick up the gist and comprehend the big picture, but miss important details.  Others pick up the salient details but miss the big picture.  Others have the basic skills but fail to develop the fluency and automaticity that is required to read above a Gr. 6 level.

 reading disability CalgaryResearch indicates that approximately half of children will pick up reading from exposure to language and print, and with some basic instruction.  As for the other half?  This is where a case can be made for more efficient instruction.  Up to half of children may require explicit, systematic instruction in order to be able to read to their full potential.

If we think about it conceptually, even as adults we continue to enhance our literacy skills.  We continue to acquire new vocabulary, especially specific terminology around our work and hobbies.  And many adults spend time and money increasing their fluency with speed reading courses.  Fact is, anyone can benefit from literacy instruction to increase their fluency, focus, or comprehension.

It is challenging to know when a child “needs” extra help with reading.  Professionals typically rely on assessment and measure components of reading.  They compare the scores in those components to the scores of children of the same age.  The challenge here is that reading is not always a sum of its parts; the components that are assessed are predictive, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Typically, schools will use grade-norms and students will be assigned a “level”.  Parents are told that their child is reading at “a mid-Gr. 2 level”.  The challenge here is that a child is being compared against an expectation of ability for children of approximately the same age, but it doesn’t account for that child’s individual skill set.

While both of these measures are valuable, we also want to look at a student’s learning profile.  One of the early signs of a learning disability that is often missed is a discrepancy in that profile.  For example, I often see children that have high oral language skills, but then have lower scores in decoding, spelling, and writing.

As an example of why this is concerning, I may encounter an 8-year-old who has the verbal skills of a 12-year-old.  Upon testing, oral language scores come out in the high average or above average level.  The teacher reports that the child has literacy skills in the low Gr. 3 level.  And so, their performance from these two assessment pieces is reported as grade and age appropriate.  What is missed here is that reading and writing are language tasks, and there is a massive gap or discrepancy between the high average oral language and the low average written language.  In that gap is where the intervention is needed; in that gap is where the learning disability exists.  It may take years, but it will manifest over time and cause problems in later grades, in high school, or in university.

Reading Help Calgary

The take-away is that I believe all learners can benefit from explicit and systematic literacy instruction to maximize and reach their potential.  This may mean increased fluency, increased automaticity, or increased comprehension.  Bear in mind that a Speech – Language Pathologist can maximize the development of the speech processing and speech production systems; expand foundational language skills such as structure, vocabulary, and association skills to deepen comprehension; and can then leverage speech and language skills into reading, writing, and spelling development.  Think of the value of students who are learning English as an Acquired Language; for those who are experiencing delays or disorders of learning; or for those who don’t seem to be meeting their potential.  Beyond the value of assessment to discover hidden language disorders or early identification of learning disabilities, the importance of customized, tailored, explicit and systematic instruction cannot be overstated.

It is time to broaden our perspective of what it means to be a “struggling” reader and expand our expectations for what is possible in our children.

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