(This is a guest post by Chad Alderman, NYC dad and the creator of ReadNotGuess.com, a program that sends short email lessons to help parents support and monitor their child’s early reading progress.)
My 3rd grade son was reading to me recently when he came to the word “gargoyle.” Except he didn’t read it correctly. He read it as “ghost” and kept going. I stopped him and made him go back until he got it right.
Sometimes he’ll skip words entirely or add or subtract letters in ways that change the word’s meaning. Later on the same page, for example, he changed “county” to “country,” and it took him multiple tries to spot the issue.
These might sound like small or silly examples, except that they’re signs of larger problems. My son has a colorful vocabulary, and his teachers like having him in class. But at an age when he should be starting to learn from what he’s reading, his bad reading habits lead him into mistakes.
It’s frustrating to look back and realize he picked up these bad habits at school. I distinctly remember going into his kindergarten classroom and seeing the class celebrate their reading “superpowers” like “picture power.” Aka, look at the picture and guess the word. Similarly, another one had students sound out the first letter of the word and guess the rest of it.
I was naïve at the time and was just happy to see my son get enjoyment out of books. My wife and I are both avid readers, and our older daughter seemed to learn to read without too much explicit instruction from us. But in hindsight, I wish we had tracked my son’s progress more closely and ensured he mastered basic phonics skills when he was first learning to read.
My wife and I are now working with my son to slow down, sound out unfamiliar words, and use his finger to track his progress. We’re trying to enforce nightly read alouds, and he seems to be getting better. But fixing his guessing habit will be much harder than it would have been to instill good ones in the first place.
Schools all around the country are revising their teaching practices to place a heavier emphasis on phonics and incorporate more elements of the “science of reading.” In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is pushing to require schools to use a “phonics-based literacy curriculum that’s proven to help children read.”
These are steps in the right direction, but parents and other caregivers also have a role to play to make sure their child is learning to read. There are a lot of programs and apps out there, but I’d recommend parents start with free diagnostic tools to see what their child might need. For example, to test or monitor your child’s progress, try the very short “Readiness Check” from Learning Heroes. For a more detailed assessment of your child’s grade-level performance, see the age-specific Literacy Assessment Toolkits from Literacy Resources, Inc. Or, parents can watch the Great Schools “Milestones” videos, a free online collection showing what success looks like at different grade levels.
This might sound like a lot to ask of parents. But research suggests that even relatively simple parent interventions can lead to big gains for children, especially the most disadvantaged one.
Not every kid will need the same level of reading instruction. But a child’s reading progress is too important to leave to chance, and every parent should know how their child is doing and be ready to support them when they need it.