If we go to any elementary school and ask the teachers if the 7 and 8-year-old children can read, they will most likely say yes. If we were to do a reading test we would definitely see children who read well and pronounce words correctly. However, we would also find children who read slowly, struggle and make mistakes. There are children who read slowly and make fewer mistakes while others read quickly and make many mistakes.
Advantages for Good Readers
It’s true that they all know how to read if reading was simply converting letters into sounds. But the reality is that not all children master reading in the same way, and this has important implications with school performance. Children who read fluently often better understand what they are reading. This is because their reading is more automatic and allows them to focus more on the meaning of the text, giving them an advantage over their peers. We need to keep in mind that the majority of knowledge in school is acquired through written text. Therefore, students that do not read well have more difficulties processing written material. Consequently, this results in lower academic performance.
The problem is that these small, and sometimes not so small, differences between schoolchildren in earlier grades become larger over the years. The good readers continue to get better because they read more. As a result, their comprehension and acquisition of knowledge are more efficient. On the other hand, the students that struggle with reading have more difficulty. This is because written texts become longer and more complex. Just like the aphorism, ”the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” The rich in this case being the good readers which really is a shame because it would be very easy to change the situation.
Reading, Just Like Any Other Skill, Needs Practice
With a little help, students can significantly improve their reading fluency. Since reading is a skill, like all other skills it just requires practice. Generally, when children are able to read words aloud we think that they don’t need much help. But this kind of thinking is a mistake because that is only the beginning of a long learning process that requires years of practice.
Once a child knows how to convert letters into sounds in an accurate way, the process should become fairly automatic without them having to stop and think about how to pronounce the word that they are reading. They also need to form mental representations of the words they are reading in order to read and understand them immediately, without having to go letter by letter. They also have to know the relationship between punctuation and intonation of a sentence. These processes, among others, need to be done almost automatically so that their cognitive resources can be dedicated to comprehending sentences and written text. Until these processes are automated, students will not be able to understand written texts well. The only way this happens is with practice.
At Eight Years Old There Is Still a Lot Left to Do
The problem is that reading isn’t practiced as much as it should be. Not at home because there aren’t always interesting books around. Not at school because once students are 8 years old teachers think that they know how to read. As a result, they dedicate class time to other activities – mainly knowledge acquisition. This is another mistake because the more reading is practiced, the more automatic, precise and faster it becomes.
How to Facilitate Learning to Read
Due to the importance of reading well, it is essential to facilitate learning to read and automation. Every student, each and every one, can improve. Those who make mistakes, by improving their precision. Those who read slowly, by improving speed and intonation. The greater their reading fluency, the better they will understand written texts. This article gives a few guidelines about how to facilitate learning how to read.