Students 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. They often use inefficient visual strategies, such as guessing using the first letter, overall appearance of the word, or use picture cues. For children with learning difficulties (such as dyslexia), their reading skills do not improve automatically through maturation or repeated exposure to print. They need to be explicitly taught decoding and encoding skills using a phonics-based program that is intensive, structured, systematic, and multisensory, in order to achieve an adequate level of reading fluency.
Developing Phonics Knowledge and Reading Accuracy/Decoding Skills
In order to develop children’s phonic knowledge, a structured and systematic program focusing on synthetic phonics is highly recommended. Some examples of highly structured, synthetic phonics programs include Sounds~Write, Letters and Sounds, Jolly Phonics, and MultiLit.
- Any program will be most effective when it is undertaken on a regular basis (4-5 days per week) for a limited time (15 -30 minutes).
- A trained specialist teacher or tutor is the best person to deliver remediation. DSF has a register of trained and recommended tutors. On-line tutoring over the internet is also available for children who are outside the metropolitan area. See tutoring for more information.
- Instruction in underlying phonological awareness skills should be included in any reading intervention (see info page on Phonological Awareness).
Useful Resources to Support Reading Development
Decodable readers are essential components of an effective structured phonics program as they allow children to apply their skills to passages of text.
- The Dandelion Readers are a series of highly engaging readers that follows a well-defined phonic sequence and links in with the Sounds~Write sequence. The series starts with Dandelion Launchers (suitable for Pre-Primary), moves into the Initial Phonic Code (suitable for Pre-Primary and Year 1), and then into the Extended Phonic Code (suitable for Year 1, 2 and 3). Workbooks and games are also available to accompany each set of the Dandelion readers.
- The Totem Series (an extension of the Dandelion readers) is designed to build reading skills for struggling children in Year 4 and above, starting right back at the CVC level. This series also includes a workbook of segmenting, blending, writing and comprehension activities.
- The Magic Belt Series is another series of decodable readers designed for older “catch-up” children who would benefit from starting a phonic program from the beginning (CVC/CVCC level).
Computer-based programs are useful and motivating resources for children to reinforce and consolidate their learning. Both Wordshark and the Nessy Learning Program are effective highly-structured, games-based computer programs aimed at improving reading and spelling skills.
There are a number of fun and engaging games available that allow children to practice, revise, apply and consolidate their phonic knowledge.
- Trugs (Teaching Reading Using Games) is a fun and engaging set of decodable card games that allow children to practice, reinforce, and consolidate their knowledge of phonics and high frequency words in a multi-sensory and entertaining manner.
- Football Phonics card games are a fun way of learning about letter-to-sound associations (for reading and spelling) and can be borrowed from the DSF Library.
- The Letters and Sounds program includes a range of games, such as Buried Treasure, Picture Caption Matching, and Picture Sentence Matching that allow children to build their decoding skills and phonics knowledge in a fun and motivating way. A number of the games are available through the DSF Bookshop and Library.
The DSF Phonics Activity Pack is an ideal resource for phonics-based intervention at any level. It includes a small magnetic whiteboard with a full set of 78 magnetic alphabet letters, digraphs, trigraphs, and vowel teams.
Programs and Activities to Support the Development of Reading Fluency
- Heather Harvey’s Intensive Reading Program is a useful resource focusing on fluency training and has a range of activity and work books for children of different ages and levels of reading development.
- Repeated reading is a useful approach to help improve reading fluency. It is important to start with text passages that are easy, then the difficulty level can be slowly increased. The focus should be on accuracy rather than speed.
- Tracking activities are also useful to assist in building alphabet knowledge and improving fluency. They are timed to create motivation for children to beat their own record with regular use. A number of tracking activity books are available through DSF Library.
The above and more can be found in the publication Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide (DSF 2014)