Identifying reading problems early

Lee (standing in front of the class) says the eventual goal is reading comprehension.

WHEN dealing with students who may have a special reading disability, it is vital that teachers and parents start early and not wait.

Working together as advocates of early intervention, they can help children meet their full potential.

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak seniior lecturer (cognitive science programme) Dr Julia Lee Ai Cheng said it was important to provide high quality instruction and intervention.

“Prevention is better than cure so catch them before they fall.

“The eventual goal is reading comprehension and this takes a lot of patience, perseverance and passion,” she said when facilitating a talk on “Reading Difficulties Among Primary School Pupils” to a group of English language teachers, teacher trainees, lecturers and those from the School Improvement Specialist Coach (SISC) at Institut Pendidikan Guru Kampus Tun Abdul Razak in Kota Samarahan, Sarawak.

The talk was divided into several parts. The first part touched on the introduction to reading difficulties and its causes; a definition of learning disabilities; indicators of learning disabilities; a definition of dyslexia or special reading disability and its characteristics.

“The research on identifying reading difficulties was discussed as well as the reason why labelling is harmful.

“If you are not sure what the problem is, it is better to say that a child has a difficulty than to use the term ‘disability’,” she said.

Lee spoke on how teachers can help students to cope with reading difficulties, the intervention to be carried out and its challenges.

“Early identification and intervention is extremely crucial as reading problems that are not identified early can lead to motivational problems, frustration and anxiety,” she added.

Based on meta-analysis by the National Reading Panel, Lee said younger children who are at-risk of developing reading difficulties demonstrate statistically significant improvements than older children.

Phonics instruction, she added, made a larger contribution to younger children’s growth as readers than to older children’s growth.

The difficulties become intractable and intervention becomes less effective in later years, she added.

“Most young children entering kindergarten and primary school at risk for reading failure have the potential to learn to read at average or above-average levels.

“This is if they are identified early and given appropriate ‘systematic, intensive instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies’,” she said.

She spent the rest of the session talking about tips and strategies for teaching children with reading difficulties how to become successful readers.
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