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Providing Reading Help to a Teen
Q: I have a 13-year-old son who has difficulty in reading. He retains half of what he reads. He has a problem with understanding what he reads. What can I do?
A: While parents can suddenly realize that their child has difficulty reading, the problem has probably been building for years due to a failure to pick up certain basic skills. Many children can't understand what they read because they have problems looking at words and being able to say them. This happens because the child doesn't know how to use their phonics skills, syllabication rules, knowledge of prefixes or suffixes, or the context to determine what the words are. They are so bogged down in the task of determining what individual words mean that they lose track of the meaning of the passage. Another problem is having an insufficient sight vocabulary and being unable to recognize a large number of words at a glance. Other children are overanalytical readers who analyze all words even those they know by sight while some have sloppy reading habits such as backtracking and rereading material and losing their places. All of these problems, whether severe or slight, slow reading down and impair comprehension.
Not being able to understand material can be blamed on the previously mentioned difficulties. It can also be caused by a failure to learn good comprehension skills (how to read for meaning). In the worst case scenario, it could be a combination of poor basic reading and comprehension skills. In order to discover exactly what your son's reading problems are, his reading will need to be assessed carefully by a reading teacher or a reading specialist. However, by listening to your son read appropriate material for his age, you will be able to hear how fluently he reads. Then by asking him questions about what he has read, you'll get an idea of how well he understands what he reads.
You can improve your son's comprehension by asking him what he expects to learn before he reads a short passage and then asking him what he has learned after reading the passage. Once he becomes familiar with these questions, he needs to start asking and answering his own questions. Then he will be interacting with what he reads and reading for meaning.
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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.