Struggling to Read: The Domino Effect

by | Dec 22, 2017


Reading is required to function in our society today. However, there are many adults who can read just barely enough to get by. Reading and writing skills are vital to finding a good job and helping us grow to our fullest potential. It’s a must-have for attending college, expanding our minds, improving our imagination, giving us a positive image of ourselves, and allowing us to have deeper, more meaningful relationships with others.

Can you put yourself in the shoes of someone who cannot read well? If you are not a strong reader today, you most certainly had reading challenges in elementary school, probably as far back as kindergarten. There is a definite domino effect that can be seen. If you weren’t a fluent reader then, you most likely aren’t a fluent reader now. Unless someone intervened and provided specialized instruction, a chain reaction of struggling to learn to read can cause a domino effect of reading failures to occur.

Where Reading Begins

Learning to read begins with the alphabet, phonological skills, knowing basic letter sounds, blending, and making distinctions between individual sounds. Teaching then progresses to sight word-reading skills, knowing a word without having to sound it out, knowing the word by simply looking at it. Then, we move on to vocabulary growth, expanding the number of words known along with reading faster and more complex words.

As you might imagine, if one step (or one domino) is missed, there is a very visible effect on the outcome, and the process as a whole is disrupted. Getting back on track can be overwhelming, frustrating, and downright hard. Not to mention, after we experience reading failures, our attitude and motivation wanes. Another fact working against us is the older we grow, the fewer opportunities we have to practice reading in front of others. Take a moment to think, when is the last time you, as an adult, read aloud for your peers?

Children who are poor readers at the end of first grade almost never acquire average-level reading skills by the end of elementary school (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, and Fletcher, 1996; Juel, 1988; Shaywitz et al., 1999; Torgesen and Burgess, 1998).

Two Groups, Two Reading Programs

Initially, when presenting with a reading deficit, children are separated into two groups. One group has oral language ability, but their weaknesses are in phonics, accuracy, and fluency. The other group has oral AND phonological weaknesses. As you can imagine, each group requires a different learning program.

An article by the American Federation of Teachers isolates three main ways to change the way reading is being taught.

  1. Ensure that the core classroom instruction (K-3) is skillfully delivered with a balanced emphasis on reading and comprehension.
  2. Have procedures in place to identify children who fall behind in early reading growth.
  3. Provide children who are behind with more intensive reading instructions that are explicit and supportive, as early as kindergarten.

These three proposed changes would provide differentiated instruction for children who are high-risk for reading failure versus those that are low-risk. If you would like to read more in-depth on each of the three insights, you can do so here:

Is it worth it, all the extra investments of time, money, and energy, to help a child improve their reading ability? Most definitely! Reading is a lifelong investment that repays us 100 fold. Schools must focus on preventing early reading weaknesses WHILE they provide intensive interventions with older students struggling to read. It will take work. It will take resources, including time and money. But in the end, even just one more success story is enough of a return on the investment! Share if you agree.