Updated: Jul 23, 2018
There is a natural transition towards silent reading, as young readers develop in their proficiency and this is strongly encouraged at school.
Research supports this in an effort to have children ‘own’ their reading and it might also be helpful for teachers trying to maintain a learning environment in their ‘quiet’ classrooms.
There is a consequence to silent reading though.
Children entering the silent reading phase of their development are also entering the period where acquisition of new vocabulary accelerates. This is a fantastic opportunity for reading to progress and if done well can really make a difference, but conversely, if done poorly can have consequences.
A recent case that highlighted this was a teenager in Year 10. We will call her Ruby. At 14 years old, when school should have been exciting, Ruby was floundering.
Looking at Ruby’s history, it showed that at the normal age of about 8 years old, she stopped reading out loud to her parents and continued with silent reading. Being a bright young lady, she did well at school in those early years but with each passing grade there was a steady decline, until it was obvious that something was wrong.
Our first step at the Tyquin Reading Clinic was to thoroughly assess Ruby in order to identify any underlying causes to explain with her reading difficulties.
The testing revealed numerous weaknesses.
In order to assist Ruby, we commenced with a two week computer-based intensive intervention and then moved onto Behavioural Reading, a newly developed technique, whereby the skill and technique ‘set’, typically exhibited by all proficient readers, is formally instructed to the student.
It was at this point that the relationship between misreading new words and them being incorrectly imprinted in association with the target word, could be seen.
When listening to Ruby read out loud, it was quite apparent that she would frequently read a different word from what was on the page. Delving further showed that she could spell the word, could define the meaning and place the word in a sentence. Yet with all these abilities, she would still misread the same word, substituting a viable alternative in its place. Such examples would be seeing the word excited and saying exciting or seeing exist and saying excite.
These errors are very easy to identify when the child is reading out loud, but when children are reading silently, parents can be blissfully unaware of the errors the child is making over and over again.
As with icebergs, what we see on the surface and what lies beneath are often very different. If Ruby is misreading such words, is it the fault of how she is seeing the whole word, how she works at the sound level, how she sees the chunks within words, how she initially imprinted it or how her language is interpreting the semantics?
Any of these could be quite significant in compounding Ruby’s reading and learning problems, as it seems that incorrect imprinting appears to render the brain less efficient. Using an analogy of the kitchen cutlery drawer, where each item is placed in the wrong place, like the ‘spoons’ are in the tray marked ‘knife’, extra effort would be needed to retrieve these items. Confusion, fatigue and indecision would all be consequences of incorrect storage.
In Ruby’s early years, hundreds of such errors were imprinted. As a teenager, she now has poor association between the actual word and reading it correctly, but a very strong association between some words and their errors.
The home solution is very simple. Simply take time to hear your children read out loud, no matter their age. Even if they are doing some Maths, have them do it out loud also. It is remarkable. Just like putting a window to their brain, you can really hear and see into the inner workings of their thinking, reasoning, calculating, retrieving and reading.