No Nonsense Educator

When Reading Just isn’t Happening

Every classroom in the country has a couple of students who are just not making progress in reading or whose progress is so slow that it is painful for all concerned, particularly the student.  You make sure that their parents are reading to them every night and that they are taking home their home reader regularly.  You give them extra sight word practice with a classroom assistant who also listens to them read. Your student may even attend an intervention program in your school. Yet still, the student’s reading does not progress.  There are two questions: Why is the student’s reading not progressing and what can be done about it? 

As teachers we do our absolute best to support our students and yet sometimes things just do not work out as they should.

We know from the simple view of reading that efficient reading occurs when strong word reading meets strong language comprehension. 

We can also see from the Reading Rope graphic that there are many factors that comprise these two areas.

What might it look like if a student is struggling in these areas?

It is far more likely that student will have difficulties in word recognition than in comprehension.   If a child has a reasonable grip on oral comprehension and sufficient vocabulary then reading comprehension shouldn’t be far behind. 

In terms of word recognition a child with difficulties or delays may exhibit the following:

  • Slow and stilted reading
  • Appears to guess from looking at the first letter of the word
  • When stuck on a word will spend time looking at the pictures
  • Gets the first part of the word but not the rest
  • Inserts letters when reading words
  • Misreads even simple  words
  • Incorrectly reads words even after they have correctly read them on a previous page or reads them differently each time they are encountered
  • Can read simple words but not words with vowel digraphs (ow, oo, ay, ar, air etc)
  • Trouble with multi-syllable words

We can all identify students who read as described above.  But how do we help them?

Let us consider the skills necessary for efficient word level reading.

  1. Students must recognise a range of representations of all 44 phonemes automatically (without conscious thought or efforts to remember)

2. Students must have sufficiently developed phonemic skills to orally blend words when presented with spoken sounds – you say s-t-a-n-d and the student can say ‘stand’

3. They must be able to quickly blend the sounds together themselves when they see the graphemes – this should be an automatic process.

Once students can perform these skills at word level, they need to be able to do this at sentence and then text level.

In order to help your student’s reading develop, you need to consider their profile of skills and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  Each of these must be addressed in order to support the student’s reading development.   The very best way to support each student’s word level reading is to provide quality Tier 1 instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics and (when appropriate) text level reading.   Then, when students are identified as requiring extra assistance they are provided with that assistance promptly until they no longer require it.

You can learn more about quality Tier 1 reading instruction through my 5 part series “Top 5 Tips to Maximise Reading Success.

When we provide children with quality instruction in all 6 areas of reading instruction, we give them the gift of early, swift and effective teaching so that they can get on with the business of learning at their age appropriate level.

The most important thing to know is that classroom teachers can have an enormous positive effect on the progress of struggling readers. Challenges now do not have to define a student forever. By intentionally focusing on your students’ skills in the above areas, you can absolutely help them to experience reading success.

Very soon I will be running my Supporting Struggling Readers Teach Along. To find out more, click here.

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10 thoughts on “When Reading Just isn’t Happening”

  1. Hi Jocelyn,
    Thank you for such a great blog post. I’m interested in the Term 4 Teach Along. I wonder if you’re able to give me an idea of content / concepts covered etc.
    My team and I are implementing a Reading Block for explicit teaching of reading aligned to the Big 6 of Reading and I’m currently sourcing supports for Phonological Awareness.


    1. Hi! Thank you for your question. If word recognition is good then turn your thoughts to the top part of the reading rope. How’s the vocabulary, background knowledge, verbal reasoning, language structures and literacy knowledge? I’d also throw in memory as a consideration. Best of Luck. Jocelyn.

  2. I posted a comment on your facebook page and was called names and insulted by two people. This totally shuts down rational discourse, and crtitcal thought. Pedagogists must be able to discuss the merits of methods without reducing the conversation to vitriol.

  3. “Once students can perform these tasks at the word level they need to be able to do this at sentence and then text level.” Can you explain more about this? How to intervene with a student who can read the words when presented individually, but misidentifies and skips words when they are in text. Thanks.

    1. Hi Mel. This is a really common problem. When you say that the student can read at word level, does that mean that they are fluent (just read words without sounding out) is still sounding out. It’s hard to say without asking you a whole range of questions but my general recommendation is to keep this student on decodable texts that ONLY contain sounds and high frequency words that they are familiar with. Giving them books with sounds they don’t know will result in the skipping and misreading. I would also recommend assessing the students phonics knowledge. There’s a very good chance that they are wobbly on individual sounds as is often the case. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any further questions you may have. All the best, Jocelyn.

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