Why bright kids often find learning to read hard

Many parents are shocked to find how tough learning to read can be for one or more of their children. I certainly was.

Who Finds Reading Hard

As a rule of thumb, around 15% of children find learning to read miraculously easy. You have probably come across them at primary school, with the mother saying “I just turned around one day and found her reading!”

Another 25% learn fairly easily and quickly, without too much effort. The next 56% find reading hard or very hard. And the final 4% have substantial barriers to ever learning to read. That is over half the population struggling with the most essential part of their education.

Just 2 Main Reasons Why They Do

There are just two main reasons why children have difficulty. Neither have anything to do with intelligence.

The first thing to note is that, while it becomes totally natural and “invisible” to us, the reading process is a complex one. It involves focusing on the page, controlling the eye movement, interpreting the shapes of the letters, translating the letter groups into the sounds within each word, grouping those sounds into words, processing the sound of the word into meaning, grouping the meaning of individual words into phrases and following the meaning of sequential phrases while also doing all of the above…! It is amazing that it seems so easy once you can do it. If any part of that process fails, you cannot read.

There are extraordinary examples of this. For instance, some people can read some text out loud without a problem, but cannot understand what they have read. And yet they will understand it fully if you read the text out loud to them instead. Quite bizarre, until you understand the different processes involved.
So there are all sorts of possible causes for reading difficulty. But most of us struggle for just two simple reasons.

Visual Difficulties

The less common reason relates to eye function. A small number of children find it hard to focus on the text on the page. This can be through poor balance and motor control of their eyes, or through contrast sensitivity to the black text on the white paper. They complain about “the text floating around”.

There are simple treatments for both of these problems. Treatment for Dyspraxia will help with a child’s coordination and eye control. And you can get coloured film to reduce the contrast of the text on the page. That is all quite easy to achieve.

Auditory Difficulties

But the more common problem is not visual but auditory. Words are groups of individual sounds. The individual sounds act like building blocks. And text is a code representing those individual sounds.
If you cannot hear the individual sounds, it makes the text code very hard to crack.

Some people are lucky. They have a very good “phonic” ear. These sounds are as clear as day to them. And when they are introduced to text, they quickly see the relationship between the letter groupings and these little sounds.

For those of us without that, picking up these sounds is much harder.

In fact, without substantial guidance, we would never get to notice them. And this is what a good “phonic” reading system is all about. The technical word for each individual sound in a word is a “phoneme” (pronounced foeneem). For instance, in the word “phoneme”, there are 7 letters, 5 phonemes and 2 syllables.

The Difference Between Letters and Phonemes

Let me show you a little exercise to demonstrate the tricky relationship between letters and phonemes and how they are processed in your brain.

Please read the following sentence:
“The film was set in Finland, with quite a few shots of craggy hillsides, fiords and lots of blue-eyed folk rowing boats about.”

How often is the letter f in it? Did you see five? Most people do. If you spotted all seven, you are very unusual. Do you see how your brain saw the “f” in “of” but interpreted it as a “v”? Even though you were actively looking for f’s. Interesting, don’t you think? You can see how quite complex computation is going on the whole time as you read.

For Most Children, Hearing Practice is the Key to Easier Reading

So the key to reading is all about your hearing. And the wonderful thing about the body is… the more you exercise any part of it, the stronger it gets. And your brain is probably the most able part of the body at doing this.

Did you know that the average IQ of the population has risen 20% over the last 100 years? We aren’t any more naturally intelligent than we were. We just exercise our brains more than we did then. Our brains are so much more stimulated that an average person in 1900 tested now would be viewed as having mild learning difficulties! So much for the IQ test being independent of environment.

Anyhow, it is easy to see that this reading difficulty can be fixed if we can exercise this key faculty of the brain.

Well, if you have a child learning to read, right now we are running free trials of an online system, designed to do exactly that. You will find more information at www.easyreadtrial.co.uk

A Simple Game You Can Play

There is a little game you can play while out and about with your child, that will also make a huge difference.

Do you know the game “I Spy”? If not, you spot something that everyone can see, say “I spy something that begins with X” where X is the first letter of the name of the object. Everyone else then has to try and spot what you have seen.

Well play that game, but with a small change. Instead of using the first letter, use the first sound of the word (ie “I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound XXX”). Whatever the sound is, try to get as close to is as possible. For instance, if you have spotted a flower, the sound is a “fffff” sound (like air escaping) rather than “fuh” like someone being punched.

This little change will have a miraculous effect on your child’s phonic ear.

And then, when you get good at that, you can play it with rhymes (“I spy something that rhymes with XXXXX”).

It is a very simple little game, but it will be building the foundation to your child’s reading.

Just 43 Sounds to Create Every Word in English

There are only 43 individual sounds used in English words. You will hear them all if you sign up for our trials programme at www.easyreadtrial.co.uk

If your child can master those 43 sounds, reading will become much easier.

A Major Fork in a Child’s Life

I hope that this has been a help, because I feel passionately about the impact this has on children. Almost all young children set out with energy and optimism. But then, at the age of just 6, you can find yourself feeling stupid, and for no reason at all. That can change the direction of your entire life.

If you turn against reading, all sorts of opportunities can pass you by, even if you eventually do develop reasonable literacy.

Sometimes life can turn into a slow train wreck. I am a Trustee of The Shannon Trust. We run a coaching system in prisons across the UK, with literate prisoners teaching their fellow inmates how to read. The change it makes in the character and attitude of the individuals involved is stunning. If you want to see more information on that, go to www.theshannontrust.org.uk Sometimes it is the first thing that has gone well for them since arriving at school.

So I very much believe that you want your child to learn to read quickly and easily, so that he or she can go to school full of the self-confidence and optimism that that creates.

Article by David Morgan, MD Oxford Learning Solutions. March 2007.

Oxford Learning Solutions has an online reading scheme, which delivers a daily reading exercise every day for six months. They guarantee the results of the course for any child taking it. For more information go to www.easyreadtrial.co.uk

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