Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning to Read: Why It is Crucial to a Child's Future

"The National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) considers that teaching
and learning in today’s schools reflect not only significant educational concerns, but public health
concerns as well." Children who do not learn to read or understand language, cannot verbalize an opinion or thought, solve problems and cannot calculate and reason mathematically may find that the opportunity for leading a rewarding and fulfilling life are seriously compromised. School failure may have devastating consequences for children and may hinder their ability to interact successfully in society. Since reading forms the basics fundamental for all academic learning it is paramount children learn and become proficient at this skill. Children who experience difficulties may crush the child's excitement for life long learning and pursuits.

Many young people have vocalized their embarassment when asked to read in front of their peers with the knowledge that they are lacking the skills to do so. This perpetuates the feelings of failure even at a very young age if asked day after day to perform this skill in front of the class. They begin to feel less positive about their abilities in school and may start to exhibit behaviour that is negative in order to "escape" a task so are not perceived as incompetent at this task. Once these feelings become entrenched learning becomes more difficult as the child grows older and self-esteem and motivation continue to decline.

G. Reid Lyon, Ph.D., states that poor readers lag far behind in vocabulary development and in the acquisition of strategies for understanding what they read, and they frequently avoid reading and other assignments that require reading. By high school, the potential of these students to enter college has decreased substantially. Students who have stayed in school long enough to reach high school tell us they hate to read because it is so difficult and it makes them feel “dumb.”

This is extremely important to be aware of as it is an indicator for young people who drop out of school as they experience more difficulty in high school. Dropping out of education decreases the adolescents ability to acquire a job and sustain a positive lifestyle. Not learning to read and express themselves puts children at risk as they grow into adults.

Dr. Lyon has found that children who receive stimulating oral language and literacy experiences from birth onward appear to have an edge when it comes to vocabulary development, developing a general aware-ness of print and literacy concepts, understanding and the goals of reading. If young children are read to, they become exposed, in interesting and entertaining ways, to the sounds of our language. Oral language and literacy interactions open the doors to the concepts of rhyming and alliteration, and to word and language play that builds the foundation for phonemic awareness – the critical understanding that the syllables and words that are spoken are made up of small segments of sound (phonemes). Vocabulary and oral comprehension abilities are facilitated substantially by rich oral language inter-actions with adults that might occur spontaneously in conversations and in shared picture book reading.

Dr. Lyon also believes that ultimately, children’s ability to comprehend what they listen to and what they read is inextricably linked to the depth of their background knowledge. Very young children who are provided opportunities to learn, think, and talk about new areas of knowledge will gain much more from the reading process. With understanding comes the desire to read more. Thus, ensuring that reading practice and the development of new vocabulary takes place.
Children that practice reading develop fluency, automaticity, and the ability to read with
expression, and to apply comprehension strategies to what they are reading to facilitate
understanding. It all starts very early, with those initial language and literacy interactions that
expose the child to the structure of our language and how print works (Lyon, 2003).

Substantial research supported by NICHD shows clearly that without systematic, focused, and intensive interventions, the majority of children rarely “catch up.” Failure to develop basic reading skills by age nine predicts a lifetime of illiteracy. Unless these children receive the appropriate instruction, more than 74% of the children entering first grade who are at-risk for reading failure will continue to have reading problems into adulthood. On the other hand, the early identification of children atrisk for reading failure coupled with the provision of comprehensive early reading interventions can reduce the percentage of children reading below the basic level in the fourth grade (i.e., 38%) to six percent or less. (Lyon, 2003).

Lyon state that The National Reading Panel (NRP), convened by the NICHD and the Department of Education, found that instructional programs that provided systematic instruction in phonemic aware-ness, phonics, guided repeated reading to improve reading fluency, and direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies were significantly more effective than approaches that were less explicit and less focused on the reading skills to be taught (e.g.,approaches that emphasize incidental learning of basic reading skills).

The challenge now is to integrate research and study with appropriate strategies for learning to read. Identifying children at a young age is crucial to intervention and promoting an ability to read, comprehend and express through language and the written word. Children who experience difficulties need comprehensive strategies from a young age but many do not receive the extra help they require. The future for these children may become very bleak if difficultires are not rectified early in their lives.


Rhonda said...

This is an excellent article. My heart breaks for children who struggle with reading but sometimes despite my best efforts and the child's best efforts progress is slow at best. This is especially true of children with significant learning disabilities accompanied by ADHD. I think I am providing an intense, systematic approach but always wonder if there is not more that I could do. I long for a magic wand.

Colleen said...

I agree totally. There are so many interventions that we try and sometimes we don't seem to make any progress. The one thing we forget is where the kids start from. They may have come so far but we miss that because they are still behind their peers. Celebrate all their successes.

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