Reading: Help children from a young age

2008-04-10 00:00

THE results of a study carried out by the Progress in International Reading Literacy in 2006 made sad reading for both educators and parents. The findings of this research showed that most Grade 4 and 5 pupils in South Africa have not developed basic reading skills and are not reading according to the required levels.

In my view, this state of affairs stems from the way reading is introduced at the foundation phase of education.

Poor reading skills are supposed to be diagnosed and corrected in earlier grades. Teachers and parents should be in a position to identify initial symptoms of reading problems such as reversals, poor oral communication or a lack of interest in books and provide the necessary remedial measures to correct problems.

One of the early signs of poor reading is reversals. This is more complicated when a child is left-handed. When a teacher writes a “b” the child might write a “d”. This condition needs an urgent remedial programme and the child can be retained in grade R or grade 1.

It is inadequate to make an analysis of children’s reading problems without making reference to reading readiness and maturation. What reading readiness skills do children need? How can teachers and parents work together to promote them?

The terms “readiness” and “maturation” are crucial to educators because they help to determine the appropriateness of what is taught in school in relation to the child’s ability to benefit from it, his/her maturity, background experiences and the child’s possession of the needed related skills. Reading readiness skills are not necessarily supposed to be taught to every child but to those diagnosed and found lacking in these skills.

At the initial reading level teachers and parents should employ the following simple diagnostic steps to determine reading readiness.

• Development of oral language. Has your child developed enough oral language to facilitate communication?

• Interest in books. Has your child developed sufficient interest in books and stories and an awareness of the purpose they serve?

• Discrimination of words. This is not word recognition. Is your child able to distinguish between two different words or more according to their configurations?

• Is he/she able to distinguish letters of the alphabet according to their configurations?

• Is your child able to answer critical questions? (Why? How? etc)

• Is your child able to classify objects according to colours, shapes and sizes?

• Is your child able to recognise sequence in stories and narratives? Has your child developed directionality, that is, knowing that books are read from left to right and from the top to the bottom?

• Has your child developed the ability to concentrate on a single task for a reasonable period of time?

What must teachers and parents do to accelerate reading readiness in young children?

They should not push children before they have developed oral communication skills. There is a need to set up a social environment that is conducive to oral communication. Such an environment should encourage the child to want to talk, ask or answer questions.

Before parents and teachers expect their children to read, they should help the children to notice word configurations. Children should be asked to describe different shapes. They should recognise colours, shapes and objects of different sizes.

It is important for teachers and parents to encourage children to answer questions and to think critically as they listen to stories and narratives. Parents and/or teachers should also help children to sequence stories and narratives. You may tell them a story that is not sequenced and ask them to rearrange the story in a logical sequence.

When you tell them stories, you should ask them to answer oral comprehension questions. This builds their listening comprehension. Your children should learn to sit still and listen. This skill is important when children learn to read, because it is not easy to teach reading to children who are hyperactive.

• Alois Nzembe has several years of teaching experience at both Primary and High School levels. He is currently teaching geography at Icesa College.

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