Questions on reading difficulty, effective reading remediation, overcoming dyslexia, helping struggling reader achieve success

Q: My child is bright, so why is he having problems learning to read? Why is reading so hard for my daughter? She just seems to not get it.  Why does my child struggle learning how to read? Why is reading so difficult for some students?

Reading problems have nothing to do with intelligence or ability but rather with how the person processes the print.  Many extremely intelligent students struggle with reading.  Reading difficulties are common because reading is not a natural biological process. Reading is a complex learned skill.  Consequently children do not naturally develop reading skills. For additional information read the article Students Who Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia

Q: My first grader seems to be having trouble learning to read. Do I need to do anything or should I just wait and see if he picks it up when he gets a little older? My child is 7 and still not reading; do I need to do anything to help him? If a student is not acquiring reading skills, do I need to take action or will they grow into reading when they are ready?

Do not wait! Begin an effective intervention program immediately. The earlier you help your child learn to read proficiently the better. The impression that reading is a natural developmental process and kids will grow into proficient reading is false.  Most struggling readers never ‘catch up’ or ‘pick it up’ on their own.

The evidence proves children who struggle with reading difficulties early on often continue to struggle with reading. If appropriate direct intervention does not occur, most these students do not ‘catch up’ with their peers. The frequent misconceptions the child or student “will pick it up later”, “will grow into reading” and “just needs a little more time” are not supported by fact.  The facts are students who are behind at the end of first grade usually remain behind. The statistics clearly show the vast majority of the children who were poor readers in first grade were poor readers later on. Approximately 75% of students identified with reading problems in 3rd grade were still disabled readers in 9th grade. Look at the information under ‘The Scope of Reading Difficulties in America’ in the University of Oregon’s Big Ideas in Beginning Reading website.

In addition to the reading performance research data, we now have neurobiologic proof reading difficulties do not ‘go away’. The brain imaging research shows the ‘incorrect’ dyslexic neural pathways first develop in beginning readers. Reading problems persist because struggling readers are literally reading the wrong way. To correct reading problems it is critical to directly intervene and teach your child with an effective direct systematic phonics program that intentionally develops necessary phonologic processing pathways. See Direct Systematic Phonics Instruction is Proven Effective: Why Parents and Teachers Should Use Direct Systematic Phonics Effective intervention is critical and the earlier the better. Do not wait!  

Sometimes students ‘get by’ with incorrect processing in the lowest grades (K, 1st). The easy reading material, illustrations, context clues, oral directions and limited depth of content can disguise their difficulty decoding print. For example, if the child looks at the picture or memorizes repetitive text it appears he can ‘read’.  However, students who have not developed necessary phonologic processing rapidly run into problems as vocabulary expands. The incorrect strategies of ‘whole word’ visual memorization, word guessing, context clues and predictable text fail as reading level advances. This is often why ‘reading problems’ often become evident in 2nd or 3rd grade. In reality, the ‘difficulty’ processing print already existed.  To read proficiently, the student must process print phonetically. Students who don’t develop phonologic processing pathways face persistent difficulty reading.

For more information, see Students Who Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia   

The good news is that effective phonologic based intervention programs not only improve reading skills but actually develop the neural processing pathways used by proficient readers.  You can teach your child to read proficiently with a direct systematic phonics program. The earlier you help your child learn how to read proficiently the better. See the article How to Help a Child or Student Who Struggles With Reading Overcome Their Reading Difficulties and Achieve Reading Success  and Elements of an Effective Reading Remediation Program.

Q: My 1st grader is not learning to read. Because of his difficulty reading, the school would like for him to repeat 1st grade next year. Socially and maturity wise he is ready to move on. Should he repeat 1st grade just to improve his reading skills?

If a young child is facing difficulty reading, you need to step in and directly help him develop necessary reading skills. Sometimes there are valid maturity or other reasons for keeping a child from advancing to a higher grade. HOWEVER, if the only reason for holding a child back is failure to learn to read you need to directly address the reading skills instead of just holding him back. Unfortunately, repeating the same program of instruction that failed the child the first time around will frequently not help the child improve their reading abilities. Repeating a grade does not necessarily build necessary skills. The child needs direct effective reading intervention; the sooner the better.  Immediately step in and help the child develop necessary reading skills with an effective direct systematic phonics program. The solution to helping a struggling student overcome reading difficulty is direct and effective intervention.

I tutored a child in this exact situation. The school highly recommended having this bright and energetic boy repeat 1st grade because of his extremely low reading ability. The mother was concerned and opposed to retaining him because socially he was in the proper group. She contacted me and I tutored him over the summer.  I tutored him 29 ½-hour sessions (approximately 15 hours total). He quickly learned his foundational reading skills. When he first re-entered school in the fall he tested at high 2nd grade reading level. In a relatively short time period (15 hours of instructional time) he went from critically low reading level to the high end for his grade. In this case, the student’s reading difficulties were resolved with effective direct systematic phonics instruction.

Note: If you have a child who struggles with reading, you need to provide direct effective remediation. If you continue to promote a child who struggles with reading and do not directly build necessary reading skills they tend to get farther and farther behind in all subjects. The key to helping a child succeed is direct intervention with an effective direct systematic phonics program. See Direct Systematic Phonics Instruction is Proven Effective: Why Parents and Teachers Should Use Direct Systematic Phonics  and the article Elements of an Effective Beginning Reading Program: How to Help Children Establish a Strong Foundation of Correct Phonologic Processing .  The earlier you help a child develop necessary reading skills the better. See the answer to the previous question about early intervention.   

Q: My 4th grader is making quite a few mistakes when he reads. I think he needs some instruction but he is above the beginning level. What can I do to help him without starting over or making him think he needs a ‘baby’ program? My 5th grader is reading but he makes lots of mistakes and struggles with the longer words and complex text. How can I help him?  My child struggles with reading, how can I help her improve her reading? How do I find an effective reading remediation program for my struggling student?

Students have problems reading because they lack specific skills necessary for proficient reading. If your child struggles with reading, in almost all cases you can help your student become a proficient reader. To help a student overcome their reading difficulty you need to directly help him develop all skills necessary for proficient reading. See the article How to Help a Struggling Reader Overcome Reading Difficulties and Develop Necessary Proficient Reader Skills

The first step is to look closely at your child’s reading and evaluate where he/she is at and they type of mistakes he is making. The types of errors are helpful in indicating what types of skills the student lacks. An informal reading evaluation can provide valuable information to help you identify where specific deficiencies may exist and determine possible gaps in necessary reading skills. After you identify missing skills you can then target instruction to directly help your student build necessary skills. For information on reading evaluations and how to evaluate your student, see the article The Importance of Evaluations in Reading Remediation and the article Actual Reading Errors Made by Struggling Readers.

Sometimes the student is lacking necessary foundational phonologic processing skills. These students would need a complete direct systematic phonics program to establish necessary proficient reading pathways.  For more information, see the article Students Who Face Difficulties Learning to Read: Information on Reading Problems and Dyslexia

In other cases, the student is coming along with phonologic processing and may just be missing knowledge in some of the complexities or need skill development in handling multisyllable words. If your believe your student is processing print phonetically and just needs work on some of the higher level skills you can use the advanced sections of Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons to help develop the higher skills. Quickly review the vowel combinations to ensure he knows all the complexities and then directly work on the multisyllable words.

Q: Can I use the Right Track Reading Lessons program with my child who is struggling with reading? Can the program be used to improve reading skills in students who are having difficulty reading?

Yes! Effective direct systematic phonics instruction can have dramatic results, especially with students who are struggling with reading.  The research reveals that direct systematic phonics instruction produces significant benefits for students in kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The new brain imaging research shows that effective instruction using direct phonological based reading programs not only improves reading skills but actually develops the neural pathways for proficient reading. While it is best to get children reading proficiently early, older students can definitely be remediated. For additional background information, see the articles:

Right Track Reading Lessons is targeted to the needs of young children who are learning to read. Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons is specifically targeted to the needs of older students who struggle with reading. See the answer to the question “Which program should I use” to help determine which program would be best for your child or student. Both of the Right Track Reading Lessons Programs are guaranteed effective.

The validated research results show the effectiveness of direct systematic phonics programs. However, it was my actual experience tutoring struggling children that has made me so passionate about the importance of teaching students with effective direct systematic phonics programs.  Time after time, I have seen struggling students who made dramatic improvements and quickly learned to read simply because they were taught with effective direct systematic phonics. I will share a few actual examples that show that by simply using effective direct systematic phonics we can make a difference in reading proficiency, one student at a time!

BACK to Frequently Asked Questions Page

These questions were answered by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~  Copyright 2004-2013 Miscese R. Gagen