3 Essential Things to Know When Teaching Your Child to Read
Reading is an essential early skill that underpins so much future learning. But what can you do if reading really isn’t as easy as ‘a b c’ for your child? How can you help get them back on track with reading, preparing them for the years of education to come?
We interviewed Kathy Nolan, a reading recovery and learning support teacher to find out exactly what you can do to support the little one in your life with learning to read.
Q: What’s the biggest barrier for children learning to read?
A: Their own belief in themselves. I find its not until they start realising ‘oh I can do that’ that they start getting anywhere. It’s a struggle until then! The hardest and most important part of teaching children to read is making them believe that they can do it.
Q: Ok, so how exactly do we make them believe they can do it?
A: Three things!
1. Start with a roadmap
If you are going on a long journey you must look at a map first. Reading is the same, tell them where the story will go, and what will happen. Take time to sound out tricky words and practise new or difficult phrases. After all that you can start trying to read the book.
Because the child knows what the story is about ahead of time they can comprehend what it is happening, and when reading they do some visual comprehension of the letters as well as guesswork to figure things out.
Q: So, guesswork is ok?
A: Yes, its encouraged! We want them to guess because this is building vital inferential skills. They can use the pictures or storyline to interpret what is going on. It makes them active, rather than passive learners because they are searching for the answer themselves.
‘It also helps link the visual information of the shape of the words to pictures and knowledge the child already has.’
Learning is all about making mental connections and linking new information to things you already know. As you learn your brain literally builds new pathways between pieces of knowledge so making those connections between ideas is so important! To read more click here.
2. Start with what they know
You must always start with what they already know, no matter what level they are at.
At the most basic level a child may only know their own name, but you can work with that!
Have fun creating a short book with them; photograph them skipping, jumping, running, playing, and print out some pages with the words “John is running, John is skipping” in large print.
It is very simple, but some kids need that first stepping stone to get the confidence to try slightly harder things. This is part of building that belief that they CAN read. Give them material that is accessible, which also brings me to…
3. Never let them struggle
If the child really can’t work out a word – help them straight away. If you let them struggle all the time that tells them that they can’t do it, which we want to avoid!
You also don’t want to just give them the answer, then they aren’t doing any mental work at all. Instead give hints and prompts – getting progressively easier – until they get it. The challenge is figuring out exactly why they are struggling, what they know already, and what hints will get them to the right answer while making them do a lot of the thinking work themselves.
Hints like; “rhymes with star” or “what was the blue thing we drew earlier? That’s right a car!” have the added benefit of creating those oh-so-important connections between bits of knowledge. The more connections, the more neural pathways are built, and the more likely the child will remember the idea and how to read that word later.
Eventually with patience children will start to realise “I can read!” Once they have that confidence their learning will accelerate and soon they will be keen reader.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Children are world class mimickers. Point at the words as you read them one by one when reading to very young children; eventually you want to encourage them to mimic this behaviour when they start trying to read.
Exposure is everything. Expose kids to many objects, words, shapes, images, ideas, and environments. Speak to them often and speak in front of them complexly. The more language and ideas they are exposed to, the more they will absorb and the more connections between ideas can be made.
Increasingly, tutors are fulfilling the role of ‘mentor’ for young people. As well as teaching the skills and knowledge students may need in a tailored one-on-one setting, tutors can provide mentoring support – helping students build study skills, test skills, organisational skills, as well as encouraging and supporting students who may be managing anxiety or other issues that present in the transition between childhood and adulthood.
So, what makes a good mentor? How do tutors fulfil this role?
A good mentor is invested in the success of the mentee;
The best teachers are the best learners. This is a motto I stand by. Tutors are almost always people who themselves LOVE learning and will often have a rich and varied educational background. Tutors are people who are passionate about education, who have transformed that passion into a desire to teach others, so that they can experience that same love of learning. For this reason, tutors are extremely invested in the success of their students, they want nothing more than for students to learn – and learn to love learning!
When a mentor (tutor) is invested in the success of their student, they give their absolute best knowledge, tips, advice, and encouragement, which is just what students need to succeed.
A good mentor shares their knowledge willingly;
And this goes double for tutors! As well as subject knowledge tutors can share their knowledge of the experience of school, exam taking, the HSC, and tertiary preparation.
This insight and guidance from someone who has experience as a learner, who themselves has overcome struggles and triumphs on the way to their own education is invaluable.
Tutors can develop a rapport with students and provide the encouragement and advice they need, which sometimes counts for so much more than academic knowledge alone.
A good mentor sees an individual’s needs for support, and provides for them;
Whether its medicine, fashion, finance or education – culturally all over we are adopting a more individualistic approach to life, and this goes equally for education.
Every student has different learning needs, passions, likes, dislikes, and drives and these factors will all effect a student’s ability to learn a given subject. Traditional learning environments in increasingly large classrooms can not cater for individual needs, and this is where a tutor comes in.
At Nepean Tutoring we have tutors that have specialist training in teaching students with dyslexia, autism, brain injury, and other learning needs. We have qualified school teachers and university students in a range of fields, who can fulfil a variety of learning or support needs. We have tutors qualified at masters and doctorate levels, who can assist students who are academic high achievers and want to pursue an academic trajectory. We pride ourselves on matching tutors for each students’ individual needs, because we know that a tutor’s role is more than just a teacher – they are a mentor to our students as they make the important journey through their education years.
Mathematics anxiety is the apprehension and crippling fear of doing maths, whether it be in a maths classroom or taking a test. Like many anxieties, the central problematic behaviour is avoidance. Anxiety itself is an adaptive trait to protect us from possible harms. Our past experiences teach us about dangers, and we do everything in our power to avoid them.
Anxiety helps us perceive future threats and avoid them, an adaptive trait often misapplied in our modern world.
We often feel anxious about things that can’t actually harm us, and the avoidance that occurs because of the anxiety can, ironically, often lead to the bad outcome we originally feared.
In the case of maths anxiety, the fear of failure, or public embarrassment due to getting a question wrong, is self-fulfilled by the avoidance of maths learning situations. Students avoid maths by ‘turning off’ in class, ignoring their teacher, avoiding homework, or even truanting. The natural outcome of avoiding learning maths is to weaken their ability and miss out on learning new content, furthering their original problem and reinforcing their own beliefs in their lack of mathematical ability. The anxiety associated with maths increases. Maths anxiety is a crippling, cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy
So, what can you we about it? If you, your child or your students are suffering from maths anxiety, how can we break that cycle of negative self-belief, which leads to poor performance, in turn reinforcing the negative self-beliefs and associated anxiety?
Stop it at the start
Of course, in an ideal world we would aim to prevent children from developing maths anxiety in the first place. For this to occur, maths education from an early age should be fun, applicable to real life, and full of encouragement of successes – avoiding negative criticism. Often the ‘absolute wrongness’ of a big red cross on a maths question feels so serious and permanent. Children should be encouraged that it’s ok to make mistakes and that they should focus on what they got right. Getting a question wrong in maths doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just that you haven’t mastered that specific skill YET.
This line of thinking stems from ‘growth mindset’ education. Read more.
Un-learn permanency beliefs
Central to maths anxiety is a permanency belief; that is, a belief that your ability to do mathematics is innate, it is part of who you are and a permanent quality you possess. And its no wonder some students can feel that way; as a society we often push this belief. How often have you heard; “I’m just not a maths person”, “It’s in my genes”, “My brain just doesn’t work in a maths way”? This is the very thinking that leads to beliefs in permanency of ability.
If you believe maths ability is genetic, innate, or a part of who you are, then of course you will believe that no amount of hard work will change your ability.
Change your language, and the way you think about maths. Encourage your children to do the same. Break free from the belief that your ability is innate, or a permanent part of you.
Instead of, “I’m just not a maths person”, how about, “I have struggled with maths in the past”. If you hear your child say “I just don’t have the brain for maths” encourage them to say, “I don’t know how to do certain maths problems yet”. If we allow for the possibility that mathematical skill can be acquired with hard work and good instruction, we allow for learning to occur. Which brings us to;
Provide access to success
Mathematical ability is a learnt skill that can be acquired. Often what is missing is a learning environment where children can experience success and feel self-efficacious. Self-efficacy is the belief in your own ability in a certain area, and building this belief through success is central to breaking down maths anxiety and building maths ability.
All maths skills are learnt through a series of progressive steps, students can progress through their mathematical education if those steps are presented in order, with enough time and revision to allow the student to master each skill.
This is an effect well researched in psychology. Children (and adults for that matter) can learn if they are given access to content that adequately challenges them without overwhelming them, allowing them to experience success. This experience builds self-efficacy and the belief that you can do maths. This is the great challenge of teaching maths, especially in a class of 30 where every student is learning at a different rate and in different styles. Teachers need to provide content carefully titrated to a student’s ability to allow them to experience success rather than constant failure.
This is where a tutor can be of great benefit. Working one on one with a student, a tutor can carefully assess their ability and provide content that is appropriate and achievable. Once the child starts to experience success, they will build self-efficacy, and this can launch them forward into future successes.
You can replace the negative self-belief cycle with a positive one.
- Adopt a growth mindset, it is possible to learn!
- Change your language around ability – maths ability is not innate.
- Provide opportunities for success.
During the past month, there has been a media focus on the drop in Literacy and Numeracy standards in Australian compared to the global community. To arrive at a reason for this phenomenon would be too broad to address in this short article except to say that we either don’t have a rigorous enough curriculum or students are just not being taught within their own learning styles for success in the changing climate of 21st century educational needs.
It does beg the question as to what the education community as a whole needs to do to return our Aussie system to its former glory of being consistently in the top eight on the world stage in all learning areas until very recent times. To arrive at solutions often means looking back and analysing the way we deliver education to our students. Do we truly whet their imaginations to know how to be critically thinking “learners” or are we simply in a state of flux where no one seems to know the way forward in a world where the goal posts are shifting as I write.
Sir Ken Robinson image credit: https://blog.simonassociates.net
Recently I was reminded of a clever TED talk from Sir Ken Robinson called Changing Education Paradigms. It was an engaging expose on this topic and makes for essential viewing as this man’s brilliance and insightful. https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms
It was delivered 18 years ago and at the time when I thought he had really nailed the problem. However accurate I feel he was, and still is, we just didn’t heed his advice and continue to miss the mark. This was reinforced by a more recent video by Prince Ea https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqTTojTija8
Prince Ea rocks in his opinions on a variety of topics but what struck me was that this young man, from a different time and background saw exactly what Sir Ken Sir 18 years ago. Yet “the system” continues to haggle with the idea of change and how to make it relevant to our children. They are lost between the old formal way of learning and struggling to keep pace with how to implement changes that would seriously challenge the status quo as we know it. Innovations such as open classrooms, a return to project based learning and injections of funding into school based reading programs demonstrate the intention to find solutions, but are we missing the mark?
Why am I bringing this to the attention of our readers? Well I tend to agree with both Sir Ken and Prince Ea. I am always trying to work on making education relevant to students and to ensure we have a diverse range of tutors to teach them. I know it is am imperative to give our children opportunities to reach their potential in a world that is ever changing. The sameness of the last century is just not reaching the mark!
Although the luxury of my stance as a tutoring business cannot be emulated in a busy classroom, we can really benefit from the wisdom of Sir Ken and Prince Ea – that time has stood still in the broader education arena for far too long and it is time to change the way we deliver education as a nation for the sake of our children and the future of our world.
Children’s inherent appetite for books should be encouraged through activities that build a passion for reading. This can be achieved through active participation in literature that whet’s their imagination and interests. Whilst technology, for a time, reigned in favour against the tactile “book in the hand” there is a current resurgence for the presence of a book with pages to turn. We can perhaps envisage and hope for a complete return to the earlier pursuit of children being curled up in their favourite place whilst reading for pleasure.
Image credit: Pixabay
Taking children beyond the classroom, to read for pleasure at home, will provide them with tools that ensure their writing and comprehension skills soar. This naturally occurs as they are confronted with a wider use of vocabulary whilst reading and they concurrently learn to read in a way that teaches them the basic conventions of writing and the structure of language. As a result their ability to be “literacy smart” becomes evident. Their writing appears more complex, they are able to write with more detail, they use descriptive tools to enhance their texts with more fluidity and are less prone to the age old problem of “writers block”.
Children who make reading a habitual part of their journey in life employ higher order thinking skills. Their tendency to become critical thinkers, learners who comprehend at an inferential level and students who can make connections from their readings with other contexts are more inclined to find purpose in reading for pleasure. They become engaged readers and learners who look for deeper meanings in what they read and are more often creative writers and problem solvers. As an outcome, they emerge more confident in their ability to tackle complex tasks that require these skills across all areas of their school work and personal learning journeys.
Reading for pleasure is feeding their imaginations
In addition, reading for pleasure is really all about feeding their imaginations. Books take children on a journey of discovery that is often far beyond their own realisation at the time. The connection with place, people and context enriches their cognitive development by enticing a multi sensory experience as they engage their imaginations by forming images in their minds and turn words into conversations they can hear as they lose themselves in the text.
At the basic level, we all remember the aroma of a new book, the feeling of turning the page, the way words speak to us and that feeling at the end of the book that begs us for more as we look for the next book to read from the shelf.
Books are one of the key cornerstones to a child’s language development and more. Their ability to create language through their own writing and the way in which reading for leisure offers lifelong skills beyond the act of reading should not be overlooked.
Tutor-Student Matching: How does it work?
It is a well-known fact that as social beings, humans, especially children, learn from those they interact with closely on a daily basis. Children spend an average of 30 hours a week in school, and with other commitments like work, sporting activities and social activities, it is reported that many families now spend less than 40 minutes a day together! (The Digital Hub, 2016)
With the busyness of contemporary lifestyles, it is more important than ever that the role models in students’ lives are positive ones, demonstrating outstanding values, great study ethics, and everything that lies between.
Tutors, in the very privileged role of being educators who spend time one-on-one with their students, need to be the right match. This is the reason tutor-student matching is taken so seriously at Nepean Tutoring.
From the moment you pick up the phone, you may be wondering what the process is behind the scenes as your student’s tutor is arranged. While all of our tutors here at Nepean Tutoring are skilled and experienced, we consider the little things that make every lesson a success:
Location – where is your student based? Are there local tutors who provide the service your student needs? (Yes! We have tutors throughout Nepean and surrounding regions).
Age and experience – what year level is your student in, and what experiences would they most benefit from in a tutor?
Special considerations – does your student hate a certain subject? Or do they struggle with particular areas of school work, like reading? Can we find a tutor who is passionate and really experienced in those areas to motivate your student? (Yes, we can!)
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. – Albert Einstein
When a tutor and student – or mentor and mentee – sit together to work on anything, be it English or Geography, an exchange of knowledge, values and study ethic goes on. To have maximum potential, and make for a more engaging and memorable learning experience, there needs to be some degree of chemistry. We’ve all had those teachers who just aren’t interesting. Or that head teacher with years of experience who natters on at a level, speed and tone that their young students just do not relate to…
“Students shouldn’t be sharing these things,” the teacher said.
“What things?” A student asked.
“The things that if you have them, you want to share them. But if you share them, you don’t have them.”
The student looks confused. “What’s that?” She asks her teacher.
“It’s a secret!” The teacher replies.
Learning essays or Pythagoras’ theorem doesn’t have to be a riddle. It is the role of a personalised tutor to turn abstract theories into accessible content grounded in students’ real-world experiences. Otherwise, students are alienated by unnecessarily complex explanations. As Albert Eistein once said, ‘Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’ Having a tutor who relates to a student’s experiences and individual personality makes all the difference.
Friends are the family you choose, and so are tutors!