Choose Remedial Reading
Programs Wisely

Many remedial reading programs run throughout the world. But are they good? It can be complicated finding effective methods to use with at-risk students. What is taught must meet the different needs of individual learners. Some will have learning difficulties and some will come from different ethnic backgrounds.  One size certainly doesn’t fit all.

Deadline for Early Reading Problems

 It’s a sad fact that if children are struggling with literacy at Grade 3, they may never meet the grade level average. So it's imperative they're identified early. That way they receive appropriate help. Otherwise they risk developing major literacy problems.

As a teacher of literacy (for both children and adults) I have seen the devastating fallout of these problems. You can read about it in my article Phonics for Adults.

You'll find more in my article Phonics vs Whole Language.

International Remedial Reading  Program

One of the largest  remedial reading programs in the world is Reading Recovery, an early intervention program, run since the 1970s.

Schools throughout the UK, USA, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have sung its praises and used it for decades. In one state of Australia, alone, more than 10,000 students are expected to take part in the program in 2013.

Here’s how it works. Children who reach the end of their first year of school and who are the lowest achieving in literacy are enrolled. They may be struggling to read the simplest of books and unable to write their own names.  So for 30 minutes a day, in Grade 2, they are taught one-to-one by a specially trained teacher. This is in addition to the child's normal classroom literacy work. The remedial reading program lasts between 12-20 weeks.

 Reading Recovery was the brain child of a legendary New Zealand educational specialist, the late Dame Marie Clay. Her intention was to bring the level of reading and writing in these children up to their peers.

Shock for Parents

Recently, however, a blistering report was released concerning the program's previously-acclaimed success. It was the result of a longitudinal study carried out by Massey University’s Institute of Education in New Zealand.

In a story written for “The Australian” newspaper (Aug 8, 2013), award winning Justine Ferrari (National Education Correspondent) reported : “Reading Recovery, used to help thousands of young Australians struggling to learn to read at a cost of millions of dollars a year, has been blamed for a lack of improvement in skills in New Zealand, where the program was created.”

As far as remedial reading programs go Massey University discovered that the program had “little or no impact” on reducing the gap between the best and poorest readers.

“Both countries are dealing with a 'long tail' of underachievement in literacy and a lack of improvement in reading skills over the last decade,” it was claimed.

According to the  newspaper article, Australian educators had been “shocked”  by the results of a test of Year 4 students. They found  Australian children scored lower than any English-speaking nation.

The Problem

They claimed that New Zealand’s approach to literacy education in the past 25 years had “little or no explicit systematic teaching of phonemic awareness  and alphabetic coding skills." Both of these aspects of literacy were “essential for learning to read successfully.”

To understand these processes check out the following articles on this site

 Instead of using the phonics method, children had been taught the “multiple cues” approach to reading. This means they'd learned to attempt each new word by considering

  • its shape
  • where it sits in a sentence
  • the meaning of text immediately before it
  • ·the picture on the page

Parents who have children with reading problems would be shocked by the results of this report. They would naturally have assumed such programs, if offered by the education system, would be effective. After all they had been used extensively throughout the world for at least 20 years.

What Now?

For years, I have been forced to take many of my adult students back to the beginning … to the level of a 5 year old … and teach them systematic phonics, starting with the sounds alphabet letters make. They don't have to relearn everything but that's where their problems begin so we start there. This happens time and time again.  Once they are taught in a systematic way (which they don't mind at all) their progress is astounding. They change from being withdrawn, deeply frustrated people to lively, enthusiastic students with self-esteem and a love of learning. 

Phonics provides them with the building blocks they need. Without them (and this is common with children) their progress will slow,  stop then go backwards.

The Solution

Remedial reading programs must contain a large dollop of phonics to give the reader a tool kit for decoding words. What happens otherwise (and I see this frequently in both children and adults) is that they make wild guesses at words and completely lose sense of what they're reading. Then they lose their desire to read. It's just too confusing for them.

 To help you understand what phonics is all about, take a look around my website. You’ll find lots of free information on how it works and how to teach it to your child, if that's what you want to do. It’s first hand material based on my own experience with children and adults.

Just a word of warning, however. It's sometimes tricky teaching your own child. They know you too well. I am also a mother!  

If you're concerned, find an excellent tutor, with a sound understanding of phonics, to work one-to-one with your child. The right tutor will make the experience fun and not a chore. They'll teach your child a mixture of phonics, as well as comprehension, so that your child develops the life-long skill of being able to easily decode any word they come across.

Without  phonics there is no comprehension.

 My experience has taught me that if children could begin reading with the skills you'll find here, there would be very little need for remedial reading programs.  

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