Teaching Reading for Older Students & Adults

Individuals who experience difficulties with reading may struggle to accurately decode words, read at a slow and labored pace, skip or add words when reading, and/or have difficulty adequately comprehending what they have read. For those with underlying learning difficulties, their reading skills do not improve automatically through maturation or repeated exposure to print. They will require a structured, systematic, and intensive program in order to build up their reading fluency.

Reading fluency is comprised of two main components:

  • Accuracy of word decoding –the ability to correctly sound out a word through the use of a sound-based decoding strategy (e.g., breaking up a word into sound/syllable chunks and orally blending the chunks together).
  • Automaticity of word recognition – the ability to quickly recognize words, with little mental effort or attention. Automaticity is gained through practice to the point where previously effortful tasks, such as word decoding, become fast and effortless and free up mental resources for other tasks, such as comprehension.

It is important that any literacy intervention undertaken focuses on the development of both reading and spelling skills.

Developing Phonics Knowledge and Reading Accuracy/Decoding Skills

  • A specialist teacher or tutor would be the best approach here (if it is possible). DSF has a list of trained and recommended tutors should you wish to use them. Further details are available via our website www.dsf.net.au/tutoring
  • Remember that any program is most effective when it is undertaken on a regular basis (4-5 days per week) for a limited time (15 -30 minutes).
  • As an older student or adult, you will want your course of remediation to be targeted to your specific needs. However, many people with Dyslexia have “gaps” in the foundations of the reading process, often involving a difficulty with transcribing the sounds in words to letters on paper. Most tutors will suggest that you start a program from the beginning, even if you move through the early stages very rapidly. Some examples of highly structured, evidence-based programs include Sounds~Write, Alpha to Omega, the Phonics Handbook (Tom Nicholson), and The Complete Phonic Handbook (Diana Hope) (See Examples of Phonics Programs tip sheet for more details regarding specific programs).

Useful Resources to Further Support Reading Development

  • Decodable readers are essential components of an effective structured phonics program as they allow readers to apply their skills to passages of text.
  • The Moon Dog Series is a catch-up phonic reading series for older, struggling readers who would benefit from starting at the very beginning. It is aimed at older students and adults who are struggling with reading in mainstream and special needs settings.
  • Computer-based programs are useful resources for students and adults to reinforce and consolidate their learning. Examples include WordShark to improve reading and spelling and Earobics to support phonological processing skills.
  • Knowledge of word families increases reading vocabulary by building on root words, which is useful for both spelling and reading. A useful resource available through the DSF Library is a series of workbooks called Word Families: High Interest Activities to Develop Reading Skills.

Reading Strategies

  • Prioritise your reading. Ask your teacher/lecturer what is most important to read.
  • If possible, ask teachers/lecturers for reading lists before each semester or term starts and begin your reading early.
  • Work out how long you can comfortably read and understand before tiring. Break your reading up into chunks of an appropriate size so that your time is spent efficiently and so that you are not overwhelmed by the amount you have to read.
  • Before you start reading, clarify why you are reading. Look in the index or at the headings and subheadings to find the section where your question is most likely to be answered. Write out the questions you want answered so you can keep them in mind as you read.
  • Study pictures, diagrams and graphs for information about the material.
  • It is a myth that good readers only need to read something once. At upper secondary/tertiary level, most students need to re–read complex books and papers, sometimes several times, to understand them well.
  • If an article or passage is vital for understanding or learning, read slowly, carefully and reflectively until you fully understand it. Reread sections as necessary. Read aloud to yourself. When you do this you are more likely to pick up misread words.
  • Explaining what you have read or learned to someone else will help you clarify the gaps in your own understanding. If no-one is available, explaining to a pet or inanimate object (even though there is no critical response) is sometimes enough to help you clarify what you do not know. This turns the passive act of reading into an active one, which helps with understanding and remembering.
  • It is not always necessary to read every word, sentence and paragraph. If you are reading for a general understanding, or to answer a specific question, be selective and read only the relevant or critical sections. The introductory and summary sections provide sufficient information for many purposes. Skim or omit other sections.
  • To skim for main ideas:
    • Read titles carefully to find out what to expect.
    • Look at the headings and subheadings for clues about the main ideas.
    • Words in italics or bold print are usually important terms or definitions.
    • If ideas are repeated they are usually important.
    • In each paragraph the first sentence usually introduces the topic and the lasT sentence summarises the paragraph. Sometimes just reading the first and last sentences in each paragraph is sufficient.
  • Underlining or highlighting key words or points can help you focus and understand.
  • If you have trouble reading unfamiliar words, put time into learning critical words for each new topic so that these become automatic for you.

If your reading problem is severe, talk to your Learning Support Co-ordinator or Disability Services Officer about getting subject texts on tape, disc or CD-ROM and use screen reader software to listen to materials. A number of these strategies were accessed through the Opening All Options website

The above and more can be found in the publication Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide (DSF 2014)