by Dee Tadlock, Ph.D.
Founder & Director of Development
Read Right Systems
One out of three children have significant reading problems. These children cannot easily and comfortably get information through reading, they certainly don’t find pleasure in it, and they struggle in school. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, if the reading problem persists until the age of 9, there is a 75 percent chance that it will persist forever.
This alarming situation is not confined to children who are limited in life experiences, come from dysfunctional families, or who come from parents who struggle with reading themselves. Chances are, if you talk to parents in your neighborhood, you will find several families whose children cannot read very well, even though loving parents have spent years reading to them, and nurturing their love of books.
Today, most early reading instruction focuses on systematic, explicit instruction in decoding–or, using sound-symbol information to sound out words. That’s because reading experts view individual word identification–including decoding, word attack, and sight-word recognition–as the all-important foundation of reading ability.
The idea seems like common sense. From history, however, we know that lots of seemingly common sense ideas turn out to be untrue: it would “seem” that the Earth is flat; it would “seem” as if the sun revolves around the Earth. Galileo was arrested and excommunicated from his church for suggesting otherwise! The following paragraph challenges the idea that we have to decode words in order to read:
“Aoccdrnig to rscheearch, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr teh ltteers in a wrod aer prseetend. Teh olny iprmoatnt tihng si taht frist adn lsat ltteres aer ta teh rghit pclae. Teh rset cna be a toatl mses adn yuo cna sitll raed ti wouthit a porbelm.”
— Modified from the website: languagehat.com
To learn to read excellently (proficient and above), developing readers must learn sound-symbol associations for the 15 stable letters of the alphabet (b, d, f, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, and w) and must then figure out how to plan, integrate, and coordinate information and systems from all over the brain to make it possible to anticipate the author’s intended meaning. This may sound intimidating, but, quite wonderfully, children are equipped to figure out how to do it. Evidence that this true: Thousands of children across America (approximately 1 percent of children ages 4, 5, and 6) each year figure out how to do this on their own, before starting kindergarten or first grade. The number would increase if we all stopped asking children to “sound out” words in text.
You may be asking, “Is it really that simple?” Yes and no. The brain is wonderfully adept at figuring out all kinds of complex things (crawling, walking, speaking in meaningful sentences, swimming, bicycle riding, etc). Unfortunately, the brain can also be easily misled to believe that looking at one–word—at—a–time–and–figuring–out–each–word is the right path to reading excellence. It isn’t. It can’t be. The idea violates too many fundamental aspects of brain science.
For more information, order the book Read RIght! Coaching Your Child to Excellence in Reading (by Dee Tadlock, Ph.D., New York: McGraw-Hill from the Read Right Store. The entire “brain system theory” theory of reading development is laid out there.