Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to Begin Choosing the Right Books For a Struggling Reader

Toddler in chiar with book.
Toddler with book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Margo Emrich

Perhaps you have asked yourself these important questions:

"How do I go about choosing the right books for my struggling reader?"
"Why is it so difficult to find books for a struggling reader to read?"
"Is my child reading the right books for him or her?"

In working with dyslexic and struggling readers for twenty-plus years, one thing I've noticed is that parents often encourage their children to read books that are too difficult for them.

While it's understandable that parents want their child to read grade-level books - it's counterproductive - because when the struggling reader becomes frustrated, he or she will not want to read at all.

I realized that I had to be very clear about exactly what books my students could comfortably read right now. These books are called independent reading level books.

How to Know When a Book is at the Right Level?

If your child misses too many words on a page, the story won't make sense and the child will just be frustrated. There is a "rule of thumb," that if the reader misses more than five words on a page, that is too many. But, you of course have to take this with a "grain of salt," because on a page that has only twelve words, even four words would clearly be too many.

One of the problems with finding the right book for your child is that even books that are purported to be "easy readers" are clearly not easy for a struggling reader. Easy reader books may include all kinds of things that the reader doesn't yet know.

For example, they may mix in multi-syllable words and past tense words. The struggling reader may not yet know that past tense is written as /ed/ regardless of whether it sounds like: d/t/ed. For example words such as "learned," "cooked," and "painted." The child needs to be taught this.

A small percentage of children learn to read regardless of how they are taught, or seemingly by "osmosis;" in other words just "out of the blue." But, struggling readers need to be taught explicitly. Struggling and dyslexic readers also benefit from being taught in a multi-sensory way.

Don't get me wrong, this certainly doesn't mean these children are less bright; it just means they need to be taught in a way that makes sense to them. It appears their brains are wired a little differently than your average child. Realistically speaking, though, I believe almost all children ought to be taught in an explicit, multi-sensory way.

As the parent of a struggling reader, you need to be aware of what your child presently knows. If you don't have the time for learning more about the reading process, then you need to find a good teacher/tutor for your child.

If he or she is struggling now, it is not likely to fix itself. Often by about grade 2 or 3, parents begin to realize their child needs additional help. A couple of my other articles will give you some initial information about how to begin teaching your child to read.

If Your Child is Guessing at Many of the Words, It Is Not the Right Book!

What you don't want is for your child to guess at words when reading. This is clearly not a good strategy for at least two reasons:

1. Most often the reader makes a wrong guess. This messes up the rest of the sentence and slows the reader down.
2. When the reader guesses, it reinforces the idea that there is no strategy for reading words. Guessing most often makes no sense and therefore the reader is left with the idea that reading makes no sense. 

Finding the Right Book at the Right Time is Not Easy

I'd like to give you easy ways to find the right book at the right time for your struggling reader. Unfortunately there are no really easy ways. I have spent years and years trying to perfect this for my students. But a few things to think about are:

Check in with your local children's librarian; they are often a great resource.

Get to know certain authors that seem to be writing for struggling readers, or certain series that may be just the ticket for your struggling reader to begin to develop reading fluency. The early reader will at some point benefit from reading the Frog and Toad series of books, as well as others by Arnold Lobel.

A little later some of the Red Feather chapter books like one of my favorites Max Malone Makes a Million and The Boxcar Children will be wonderful reading additions. These later two, however, are out of print and may only be available at your local library. Nate the Great is a particularly good series for boys just getting into chapter books.

If you're looking for a reading specialist in southern Oregon (I live in Ashland), check out my Wise on Reading website, and give me a call to schedule a free consultation. Email or call me with any questions (see website below).

If you want to teach your child to read, see my web site to read the first of eighteen stories in my Wise on Reading Program. Unlike many phonics programs, my stories are written in an accumulative fashion. Each story teaches a new skill, while also reinforcing and building upon all the previously-learned skills.

My eighteen Wise on Reading stories will be available for sale soon. Please respond or ask me a question below and leave your email address to be notified when they are available.

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