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Q: My seven-year-old grandson was in transitional first grade and is in first grade this year; however, he is having much difficulty learning to read. My daughter had him evaluated, and the conclusion was that he does not have a learning disability, but he is a sight reader. What exactly does this mean? And will he continue to have a difficult time with reading? He is doing just fine in his other subjects. He wants very much to learn to read. The school he attends does not teach him to read with phonics. We're very concerned. Do you have any suggestions?
A: Learning to read is the most important skill that your grandson will learn in the elementary grades. If a child falls behind in reading during the first few grades in school, it is very difficult to catch up.
The debate on the best way to teach children to read has kept educators stirred up for years. However, parents and grandparents need to keep in mind that the best method for a particular child is the one that helps him or her master the skills of reading.
It sounds like your grandson is learning to read using the whole language approach which means that the teacher will not be emphasizing phonics. Instead, he is being taught to read naturally. The teacher will select reading material that is interesting to the students and then just get them started reading. They will learn to recognize new words and sound-letter relationships as they come across them in the reading material.
Good readers are both able to recognize most words immediately at sight and work out the identification of unfamiliar words. As a sight reader, your grandson is memorizing the words he reads. When he forgets a word or meets a new word, he runs into problems. He needs basic training in learning to recognize, figure out, and recall printed words.
Before school ends, talk with the teacher and find out if the school has a reading specialist who can pinpoint your grandson's exact reading problems. Then work with the reading specialist and/or the teacher to devise a plan to get your grandson's reading skills on track this summer. He needs special help from summer school, a learning center, or a tutor to improve his reading. Try some of the following activities to help your grandson become a better reader:
- Read to him, and listen to him read.
- Ask questions about what you have read together, but don't make it a "right or wrong" answer session.
- Know his attention span. Don't read beyond it.
- Read aloud with your grandchild, putting your finger under each word as it is read.
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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.