Worried about how many words per minute your child can read?  Don't be.  That's really not the most important thing when deciding how good of a reader your child is (or isn't).  While a basic level of fluency is important, reading a "zillion words per minute" is not.  Just as some kids will run faster than others, eat faster than others, and make friends faster than others, some kids will READ faster than others.  It's really not that big of a deal.  What IS a big deal is whether or not your child can read ACCURATELY as well as whether or not your child can UNDERSTAND what he or she is reading.  If your child is having trouble in either of these two areas, you need to jump in and help him or her right away!

Tips for Improving Accuracy:

1.  Make sure your child is looking all the way through words, from the very first letter to the very last one.  A lot of kids who misread words tend to look at the words as a whole rather than at their individual parts, from left to right.  Oftentimes, this will lead to their calling out a similar-looking word rather than the right one.  You might hear your child say, "very" instead of "every," "handed" instead of "handled," or "commented" instead of "complimented."  If your child is making mistakes like these, slow him or her down and have have him or her carefully sound out any miscalled words.  If needed, cover up all but one part at a time until your child gets through the whole word.  If the problem doesn't resolve itself with your help, you might consider getting your child's eyes checked for convergence issues as well.

2.  Make sure your child knows how to sound out words effectively.  Just because your child can read a bunch of words doesn't mean your child understands how to read.  Unfortunately, many kids who have been asked to learn one "sight word" list after another have simply acquired a bunch of "sight words" over the years.  These kids can read what they can read, but often struggle with anything beyond what they have managed to memorize.  If your child falls into this category, you will have to teach him or her how to look at a word, break it up into smaller parts, and figure out what it says.  Otherwise, asking him or her to sound out a word will be fruitless.

3.  Make sure your child knows the "tricks."  Even if your child understands how to break up a word, sound it out one part at a time, and blend it back together efficiently, he or she can STILL struggle to do so if he or she isn't aware of the many "tricks" in the English language.  What are "tricks?"  Tricks are letters and/or letter combinations that create new sounds when they appear together or in certain positions in words -- sh, ch, th, ar, er, oo, ook, ou, ow, a endings, ed endings, and tion are just a few examples.  For a much more comprehensive list of "tricks" (as well as practice words that contain them), click HERE!  It's crucial that your child become aware of each "trick" on the list if he or she isn't already.

4.  Make sure your child is reading for understanding.  If your child is reading for understanding, he or she should be able to catch many of his or her own errors.  After all, when you miscall a word, it usually doesn't make much sense!  Urge your child to pay close attention to what he or she is reading.  Tell him or her to reread any sentences that don't seem right.   

5.  Make sure your child gets enough PRACTICE reading books of ALL SORTS out loud TO YOU!  For your child to become good at reading all sorts of new words accurately and confidently, he or she will need to
get a lot of practice doing so!  Make sure you sit with your child and have him or her read aloud to you as often as possible.  Look at the words as your child reads to make sure he or she is reading the words correctly.  Gently redirect your child when a mistake is made.  This will help keep him or her from incorrectly memorizing that word as something else!  Also, while there is nothing wrong with rereading favorite books on occasion, it's important that you make sure your child is reading lots of new, unfamiliar books during this time as well.  Otherwise, your child will only become familiar with certain words and certain topics.  For best results, vary what your child reads and expose him or her to as many types of literature as possible.  Increase the difficulty as you do so!

Tips for Improving Understanding:

1.  Ask your child to make a "mental movie" of what he or she is reading! 
Children who can read the words accurately but who aren't understanding what they are reading often struggle because they are "reading but not thinking."  By asking them to make a "mental movie" out of what they are reading, you can often get their attention on the words and help them to plug into the meaning more effectively.

Make sure your child is starting with the title!  Many of the kids who have come to me for reading help initially skip right over the title when asked to read a story or passage.  If your child is doing this, remind him or her to start with the title and think about it for a second.  It can give your child a "heads up" about what to expect.

3.  Make sure your child is STOPPING at periods, PAUSING at commas, and PAYING ATTENTION to all of the other little symbols that come up!  Flying through punctuation marks can have extremely detrimental affects on one's ability to comprehend what is being read.  Make sure your child understands what each mark means and
uses it to correctly read the sentence at hand.

4. If your child is flying through the text, tell him or her to S-L-O-W down!
  Although some kids can fly through text and still understand every word of it, others need to read it much more slowly and methodically to fully digest what it says.  If this seems to be the case with your child, slow him or her down and remind him or her that it's more important to understand what he or she is reading than to read it at super-fast speeds!

5.  Make sure your child has the background knowledge and/or vocabulary necessary to understand the story and/or passage at hand. 
If your child is reading a story and/or passage about the Civil War, but has no idea what the Civil War was, what "north" and "south" are referring to, and/or what life was like during that time period, he or she is likely to struggle to understand what he or she is really reading about.  To help with this, talk to your child as much as possible about EVERYTHING you can.  Make sure you discuss topics you see coming home from school as well.  The more your child knows about history and the world around him or her, the better he or she is likely to do when it comes to comprehending texts of all sorts.  I really can't emphasize this enough -- TALK, TALK, TALK to your kids about EVERYTHING you know about and/or run into!!!  Make sure your kids are acquiring lots of new vocabulary and background knowledge each and every day!

When your child is able to read through a passage and understand it, your child is a "good reader."  Don't be fooled by numbers, grades, or anything else!  Speed will come with practice.
  At least for most kids.  If it doesn't with your child, don't worry.  Just make sure he or she can read the text, understand the text, and, hopefully, ENJOY the text.  That's what's really important!  

All the best and much success,
Katy Huller

Author of Kinders Can! READ and WRITE!, Get Your Kids READING and WRITING! 2 and 3 Letter Words!, Tricks Practice Cards, and Alphabasics!

To read more literacy posts by Katy Huller, click HERE!

01/19/2014 7:21am

I am mystified that traditional methods for "teaching" reading are still promoted. One of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, activity of a human brain from birth is to see (distinguish) and compare patterns, especially visual. Every printed or written word is a distinct and discreet visual pattern. The word "very" is different from "every", and even two-year-olds would notice the difference if someone showed them the words (and if they also said the words at the same time as showing them, they would also be beginning a very enjoyable way of learning to read). All it takes is for a child to associate the audible "very" with the visual pattern "very", and this happens automatically upon some repetition. Audible words are not nearly as distinct and discreet as visual words, but most children by age three have audible vocabularies in the tens of thousands (?) (I'm guessing here), learned organically (?) without breaking the sounds of the words into small pieces first. Why young children do not learn visual words (reading) in the same way and at the same time is that they are not initially exposed to the written words along with the spoken words, and then, when they are, they are taught and come to believe that reading a word is a process of dividing the word into sounds according to "rules" of phonics (and we know how inconsistent that is) and then putting them together. This would be like taking a picture of all the things we have around us and breaking them into pieces, handing them over to our child, and then give them a set of inconsistent rules and asking them to put everything back together. The amazing thing is that many of us succeed! And now add to that: a grading system which punishes students, whether they are making great progress in the methodology or not (grades, stars, grouping) and removes individual autonomy, a critical factor in the motivation to learn about something.

Isn't the fact that our schools are very unsuccessful at producing grade-level reading in so many schools? If parents and teachers were to just say, "If you see a word and you don't know what it is, ask." Finally, once a child has a diverse reading vocabulary, s/he will also automatic become great phoneticists. We forget (or were not aware) that every child is a scientist, and both spoken and written language is both fascinating and extremely useful. If only we (via schooling) didn't treat our children as products rather than amazing beings. If only we trusted them, trusted that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have resulted in the most amazing learning machine that ever existed. If only we showed them how much we love them even when they don't meet our behavioral and cognitive expectations.

01/19/2014 7:32am

Sorry for the long diatribe. Here is a short version of what I want to say, and my previous post is how and why I have come to think about reading, teaching reading, and the pitfalls that are promoted to parents.

I know that we parents want to do the right thing for our children in every way, including learning to read. The list in the article of what parents should be sure their children do is what set me off. I think that advice will add to the frustration of parenting, add to the concern for doing the right thing or not doing enough, and worse, will turn children off to reading with a parent.

Katy Huller
01/19/2014 9:31am

I appreciate your taking the time to read my article and post your comments and concerns. :)

Unfortunately, not everyone's kids learn to read and write so easily. In fact, many kids struggle to make sense of the written word DESPITE being shown tons of words and being told which word is which over and over again. They simply don't have the type of brain which enables them to memorize so many words and/or figure out the code on their own. As a result, they just grab onto a familiar part of the word to "learn" it. This might be a beginning letter, an ending letter, a mixture, or something in between. Regardless, this partial grasp of the word causes an incomplete representation of it, and often leads to their confusing it with other similar-looking words ("very" for every, "gave" for have, "take" for like, etc.). I've even seen many kids trained in this way confuse the word "I" for the word "A!" (All they see is a single "stand up image;" they don't see the letters themselves.) As these confused kids continue to mistake one word for another similar-looking one, they often mistrain their brains, suffer when it comes to comprehension, and lose confidence as readers and writers. By second and/or third grade, their reading and writing grades tend to drop significantly, as they are unable to keep up with the growing number of words they are expected to somehow just "know" and/or tell apart. This often makes them dread the reading and writing process even more, causing them to say they "hate" reading and writing, and propelling them to do everything they can to avoid both.

Thankfully, these same confused and often angry kids usually flourish as soon as someone shows them WHY words say what they do, enabling them to stop memorizing everything (something they are generally not so great at) and begin figuring out the words before them instead (something they are generally much better at once taught how to do it effectively). This is when they can finally understand why very says "very," every says "every," etc. This is when they tend to begin to feel good about themselves and their abilities, and begin to let go of their fears concerning reading and writing. This is also when they begin to read and write more, enabling their brains to begin memorizing what used to seem so difficult. As they do so, they are finally able to become readers and writers like their peers.

My mission is to help parents teach their kids to read and write. I have used these methods with all types of kids and have seen them work time and time again, whether their kids were initially struggling or not. I want all parents to be able to do this with their kids. I want all parents to experience that huge feeling of relief, knowing their kids will be able to do well in school and in life. Once you have witnessed the relief in both parent and child as they finally see progress and hope where before there was only tension and tears, it is hard not to want this for them. That is why I write what I write. Not to confuse parents or turn kids off of reading and writing, but to HELP both parent and child find the relief they seek and to turn what once was a struggling, angry kid ON to reading and writing. I truly hope this article helps at least one parent or teacher do that. Actually, I hope it helps a TON of parents and teachers do that! :)

Wishing you all the best and much success,
Katy Huller

01/19/2014 12:50pm

Katy, thank you for your full and generous reply. I do know and value your mission to help parents and children with reading, and I felt that my post didn't acknowledge that ... and that I am still learning myself. And I sincerely hope we all help tons of parents and children too. I think our common ground w/r to children and reading is to clear out the confusion for them :)

01/21/2014 8:37am

Agreed! :) Again, thanks for taking the time to read my post and comment on it!

Wishing you (and everyone else working to clear out the confusion) great success,
Katy Huller

Deborah Lynam
01/25/2014 6:33am

Hi Katy, Thanks for the article! I just wanted to offer that the use of the word "tricks" to describe common consonant digraphs, vowel diphthongs, suffixes and morphemes is a bit confusing. The structure of the English language is complex and it is very important to teach struggling readers its specific components in an explicit, systematic way. It is important that they learn what conventions they can count on and know how to make good educated decisions when faced with multiple choices for decoding or encoding. A better application of the term "tricks" may apply when talking about words that don't follow convention, such as SAID (that AI is tricky) or SAYS (tricky because we would expect AY to say the long a sound). The examples you cited actually all have a specific sound or sounds attached to them based on their position within a word or syllable.

01/27/2014 8:47pm

Thanks for your comments, Deborah! I totally agree that it is important to teach struggling readers the specific components of the English language in an explicit, systematic way. That's exactly what I do, and I have seen it work wonders for most kids! :) I started using the word "tricks" years ago to describe consonant digraphs, vowel diphthongs, suffixes, and morphemes because I found parents and kids could relate better! I refer to words like SAID or SAYS as "outlaws" (because they don't follow the "rules"/"tricks"). So, in the end, it sounds like we are on the same page! Thanks again for your comments!

01/27/2014 8:05am

Though word reading speed isn't more important than accuracy and understanding, accuracy and understanding depend on sufficient word recognition speed. Slow word recognition is most often symptomatic of poor decoding (code disambiguation) and that undermines both accuracy and understanding. Like your computer's microprocessor, when the processing becomes more efficient (improved software) the user's experience of speed improves. And, if you upgrade to a faster processor it improves the efficiency of processing. We need to do both. Work to improve processing efficiency and boost speed.

01/27/2014 9:20pm

Thanks for commenting, David! Yes, I agree that speed is an important part of the reading equation. Unfortunately, I have seen many elevate the importance of speed over that of accuracy and understanding -- or at least push speed so much that the other categories suffer greatly, thus affecting every part of the reading equation in a very negative manner. Personally, I would rather see kids read accurately and slowly than inaccurately but with great speed -- or with great speed but with little to no understanding. After all, with the right tools and the proper amount of practice time, kids naturally speed up. It's human nature. We get faster and faster at the things we do repeatedly. Still, some kids (and adults) will always need to read at a slower pace to fully understand the words on a page. For whatever reason, some are simply born with slower processors. I don't know if that can ever truly be changed. In any case, I think the emphasis should be on helping kids get the right tools and the proper amount of practice so that they can become as proficient as possible with regard to speed, accuracy, and understanding. Do you agree?

Robbi Cooper
01/27/2014 2:49pm

DYSLEXIA, the missing word in the conversation!

01/27/2014 9:23pm

I'm interested in hearing more! :)


Thanks for the great article. The points you mention are all important. I will just add that to help your student practice, practice, practice, and help your student to gain confidence by focusing on what he/she knows, and building from there. Many students who struggle get discouraged and don't have confidence while reading. If you can focus on what a student knows and introduce something new slowly, and practice, practice, practice more.. it helps in making reading more successful and fun for the child. Thanks again for the great article. Students can learn to read for free at http://www.sightandsoundreading.com

01/27/2014 9:26pm

Yes, practice plays such a crucial role in the development of fluency (given students have been taught what they need to know to accurately decode the words first)! So important! Love your remarks on helping to build confidence, too! Thanks! :)


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