What every teacher should know
Reading 101: A Guide to Teaching Reading and Writing
Portrait of a Struggling Reader: Aaron
Aaron is a serious and quiet little boy. He sits at the kitchen table with a book from school looking like he's ready to go into battle. He hunches down over the page, pointing to each word so with such force that his index finger is white at the tip. It's painful for his mom, Rona, to listen to him as he labors over each sound:
"Iiiii aaaa aaaa, aaaa, aaaannnn ssss ssssuuu – I mean, ssss ssss uuuu ttttt. Tttt. Tttt."
As he incorrectly reads the first sentence, "I am so tired," his voice trails off in frustration, and he sounds indeed, like he is tired — tired of working so hard.
Rona says gently, "Just five more minutes, O.K.?"
Aaron's shoulders slump as he turns the page and tackles the next set of words with the same intensity, and unfortunately, the same trouble. Rona comes over to try to help on the word bed.
"Sound it out, Aaron."
"Bbbbbb, bbbb, bbbb, aaaa, aaaa. Bbbb, bbbb, aaaa, bbbb. Bant. Ban. Bbbb, aaaa…."
Rona doesn't know how to help him, because it seems like he works so hard. She's always believed that effort was what made the difference — and Aaron's two older sisters could achieve anything they put their minds to — but reading just wasn't coming for Aaron. In fact, Rona was pretty sure this was the same book he brought home yesterday. Why did it seem like every word was a new battle all over again? And what could she do to help him?
What is Aaron struggling with?
Aaron's primary struggle is with alphabetics
Alphabetics includes phonemic awareness, knowledge of letter/sound relationships, and the ability to apply knowledge of sounds to decode unfamiliar words.
Aaron doesn't know his letter/sound relationships, which means that he struggles when he tries to sound out words. For example, he makes the /n/ sound when he sees the letter m in am, and the /a/ sound when he sees the letter e in bed. Struggling with alphabetics is the most common reason for reading difficulties, and can cause problems in other areas. For example, you can already see from Aaron's case that although he works hard, he doesn't enjoy reading. More frustrating experiences will add up to a problem with motivation for Aaron.
When children struggle with alphabetics, they often benefit from phonological training and/or phonics instruction.