Reading is freedom. It opens the world.
In my daily work as an educational researcher, I know that too many children never learn to read well. Children who do not learn to read fluently at age 3rd the quality will struggle as the material becomes more complex.
This fact hit me this spring when I noticed that my 8-year-old son had picked up a bad reading habit in school. When he came to a word he didn’t recognize, he to guess.
Rather than saying the word and breaking it down into parts, it looks at the first letter or considers other contextual clues and then tries to guess. Sometimes he looks at me for confirmation and takes his eyes off the page. If I intervene to tell him he was wrong, he will try again, without even lowering his eyes.
As a parent, this process drives me crazy. You can’t read without looking at the words! I also know that this guessing strategy will not serve him well as he encounters more difficult texts.
My wife and I are working with my son to slow down, speak unfamiliar words, and use his finger to track his reading. He’s getting better.
But these problems are not unique to my child or his neighborhood school in suburban Virginia. Many schools across the country continue to rely on literacy programs that encourage these practices. Meanwhile, reading scores were dropping even before COVID-19 hit, and school closures only made matters worse.
All of this led me to launch a new initiative to help parents establish positive reading habits early on, before bad habits have time to take root. I call it Read Not Guess.
Read Not Guess will begin with a 30-day challenge to help parents prepare their children to start the next school year strong. It’s free and open to everyone, and parents who sign up will receive a daily email with a short lesson. The lessons, which run from July 18 to August 19, are aimed at busy families and should only take five to ten minutes.
I designed the Read Not Guess summer learning challenge to serve parents who want to help their children but don’t know how or just need some extra guidance. It will combine the best of a good phonetic instruction manual with friendly nudges and regular encouragement, delivered in short lessons via email.
By the end of the challenge, children will understand that English is read from left to right, be able to identify and pronounce the most common phonemes (letter sounds), begin to mix these sounds into words, and start reading complete sentences. Parents will gain a deeper understanding of phonetics; practice talking to their child about reading; and learn tools, games and assessments to track their child’s reading progress in the future.
Why should parents do all this work? Can’t they just rely on schools to teach their children to read? It’s been tough parenting during the pandemic, and it might be tempting for parents to take it easy this summer.
But with many schools still in various stages of upgrading their reading curriculum, some classrooms may still be teaching legacy curricula that encourage guesswork, even though evidence suggests good readers can pronounce difficult words. Parents don’t have to shoulder all the burden, but they can take an active role in building good habits and monitoring their child’s progress. Even relatively mild parenting interventions can lead to significant literacy gains for children, especially the most disadvantaged. Skill-based parenting supports — like what Read Not Guess will offer — have even more promising results.
Summer is the time for barbecues and swimming pools. But while school is closed and kids are at home, summer also provides an opportunity for parents to step in and help their children learn to read — not guess. It’s too important to leave to chance.