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Why is reading so hard for some kids?

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This is not an easy question to answer, as there could be MANY factors at play for why a child is struggling to read. It truly depends on your child’s past education, age, and individual needs. 

As a child, I struggled greatly with reading. Despite my love for reading, it was quite challenging! Reading in class caused quite a bit of stress for me because I had no idea how to go about reading new words. As a student, it was mind-boggling to hear my classmates read words like “democracy” and I was left wondering, “Where did they get that from? How did they do that? I can’t read that word.”

Here are four reasons why your child may be struggling.

(Note: These do not include learning disabilities like dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorders, or language processing disorders.)


Reason #1: Reading is not a natural thing

For starters, reading is NOT a natural thing, it’s NOT a natural process. We were not born to understand written language the way we were born to understand oral language!

You may have heard that most of the words in English just don’t make sense, so you just have to memorize the way they are spelled. That is not entirely true!!!

Roughly 84% of English words are phonetic, which means that they follow predictable spelling patterns!!!

Yes, some kids can begin reading with no problem. The majority of students, however, must explicitly learn the rules of written language.

I was a student that HAD to have direct instruction in how to decode words. I never received this instruction and thus struggled during my entire educational experience. I ended up getting my master’s degree as a Reading Specialist, so I could best support my students. 

I kept thinking, why wasn’t I taught this???? 

And that leads me to my next reason…


Reason #2: Lack of Proper Instruction

Unfortunately, a huge reason many students struggle is that they do not receive this direct phonics instruction. They are never shown the WHY of reading and spelling.

I taught first grade for 5 years at a Title 1 school and most of my students came in with little to no foundational reading skills. In all my years of college, I never learned HOW to teach kids to read! YIKES! Sadly, this is the case for many teachers. The Science of Reading (the way the brain acquires English) is not a topic that is taught in most teaching programs. 

Also, most parents and educators grew up at a time when schools employed a whole language approach. This involves memorizing the WHOLE word. Research has shown that this approach does not work! 

In most cases, reading is still taught by using a whole language approach and this is a major reason why our nation has so many reading difficulties. This makes reading very frustrating for many kids because they are not taught how to understand the rules! 

I am 100% guilty of this. During my first years of teaching, I believed that reading was about memorizing every word and relied on flashcards to help my students memorize words. I cringe! Not good! 


Why do flashcards not work? 

It’s because English isn’t a visual language. To actually be able to decode (read) unknown words, children need to understand the rules and patterns of the English language!


Reason #3: They have developed detrimental reading habits

As mentioned above, many teachers fail (not on purpose) to teach reading effectively, and unknowingly instill detrimental reading habits in their students. 

Learners who struggle tend to rely on pictures to provide clues or simply guess what would make sense based on the first letter. Students cannot become readers with these kinds of strategies! 

Instead, they do the complete opposite!

 Young readers, especially those who are struggling, MUST receive explicit instruction in phonics (decoding) as well as phonological awareness (sounds).

With many of the students I work with (as young as 6! ), I retrain their brains and help them eliminate these poor reading habits. 


Reason #4: Lack of Individualized Support

The learning needs of each child are unique! Humans are beautiful in that way! A classroom with 25+ students offers little opportunity to work individually with a teacher. 

Teachers are managing 25+ kids with 25+ different unique needs. In most cases, students receive only large/small group instruction. As a result, teachers have to gear their instruction to address the whole group’s needs in a large classroom and thus miss the individual needs of struggling students. This is very frustrating, and I speak from years of classroom experience! Being unable to give every child what they need 100% of the time is very defeating. 

Even if your child receives intervention services, these are usually delivered in small groups of 3-6 students. As an interventionist, my smallest group consisted of two students. It sounds awesome, but these two students have completely different needs! 


Final Note

It is never too late to provide your learner with strong reading skills.

By teaching students how our language works, they not only acquire the skills to read but also the confidence to read. Reading will become part of their lives! I have a passion for equipping all readers with the skills they need to be successful readers and never have to feel embarrassed or confused about reading again! 

Every child is capable of learning how to read. We just have to provide them with the right tools!!!!


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