23 Tips for Reading Success


The most important part of any reading program is the enriched time we spend with our kids, helping them understand that life really is worth living and that academic success is for them. 

Tip #1: What do you do with children who have experienced massive reading failure and are one or more years behind grade level? You get them on a success contract and flood them with fifteen to thirty minutes of reading success 5 days a week.

Tip #2: I am in agreement with E.D. Hirsch, Jr. when he emphasizes that reading and literacy are not neutral and technical skills, best served by contemporary pop fiction. It is fair to compare reading to watching television, and few would equate watching the current flood of violence, sex and degrading humor with watching a show on history, culture, science or biography.

"To miss the opportunity of teaching children the traditional materials of literate culture is a tragically wasteful mistake that deprives them of information they would continue to find useful in later life. The inevitable effect of this fundamental educational mistake has been the gradual disintegration of cultural memory, causing a gradual decline in our ability to communicate. This mistake is a chief cause of our illiteracy." (E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy, p.113)

The tragedy of poor literacy cannot be addressed by school policy alone. It must also be addressed by lives at home — lives that expose children to the wealth of traditional and factual material currently available in every library and bookstore in America; lives that visit museums, factories, historical parks, wilderness areas and national monuments; lives that break out of the mean streets of popular culture into the richness of all that has gone before.

Tip #3: There is no one skill in our society more important than the ability to read. The question remains, "What should we do with our low readers?"

Our children have often been taught such good sight reading skills at school, and are often so good at sounding out words, that if asked simply to "read out-loud," many of our children sound as though they have quite strong skills. Many are fooling us and leading us into a sense of false complacency.

When asked, "Tell me about what you just read. Tell me who the story is about. When did it happen? Where?" students often draw a blank and are often able to say little. They find their inability embarrassing, and they shut down rather than risk additional shame. Their "voices" have been lost.

Should they attempt to speak, should they mistakenly stutter, they will almost always be interrupted by "helpful" questions and comments from parents, teachers or friends. These questions will typically abort the child's attempt, reducing him or her to silence once again.

If not interrupting with "helpful" questions, well-meaning adults often interrupt with corrections and suggestions for improvement. The problem with corrections and suggestions for improvement? They rarely change behavior.

Tip #4: The problem with television, video and computer games can not be over stated. Television, and all other screens, is a more serious problem than was once believed. They result in too much passive activity that curtails imagination and involvement. The passive viewer of a television show (a description of virtually 100% of any audience) is not able to remember virtually anything seen. Test after test have demonstrated that computer screens are, for all practical purposes, the absolute worst teaching medium available. Visual data is simply too rich to be remembered. What is learned one second is overwritten with new information almost immediately.

Millions of dollars have been spent on technology of all kinds for the classroom and our children are still very poor readers, writers, listeners, speakers and thinkers. Over 50% have virtually no math and science skills and report "hating" books – and nearly everything else associated with school or education. As the old song goes, "No more reading, no more books, no more teachers dirty looks." Too many kids have learned to associate school with failure and dirty looks.

Tip #5: Living in the "Information Age," we sometimes hear that we are entering a post-literate society — that is, being able to read, write and succeed with math isn't as important as it once was. This is a dangerous and self-deluding prophecy that dooms poor readers to second-class lives at a time when they must be reaching for the top.

People and societies that can effectively communicate, who are highly literate, will prosper and comprise what Robert Riesch, former Secretary of Labor, calls the "Fortunate Fifth," that 20% of the population who will increasingly reap the benefits of our highly complex and demanding future. According to Riesch, there will be this "fortunate fifth" and everyone else , who will be relegated to low-paying service jobs and sluggish upward mobility.

Tip #6: The single best predictor we have about a person's success in later life is his or her ability to read. How a student performs in Kindergarten is an excellent predictor of things to come. Is learning to read an "age appropriate" activity for Kindergartners? Absolutely,

If one were to make a very short list of the skills required for success, the list would have to include: reading, writing, speaking, listening, information organization, critical thinking, study skills and math. This list will not change during anyone's lifetime, soon.

Tip #7: Successful communication depends upon shared background information. The teacher or parent who takes the time to "frame" an experience (answering the questions who, what, why, when, where, how, introducing new vocabulary) before the information is presented, will experience significant increases in understanding. With a "frame" the student has a place to hang new information.

Tip #8: The belief that you can succeed with reading and math releases ideas and energy — to move with speed and focus towards involvement. According to Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, in the 21st Century the competitive advantage is speed — the ability to see reality fast and to act on it quickly. We are required to impose our own meaning and organization on reality. This requires reading.

Tip #9: The parents of children who are falling behind need big guns, fast! Their children cannot be allowed to avoid reading. Beginning on day-one of school, children who can read are rewarded by being moved to the head of the class. Children with poor reading skills are shunned, embarrassed, humiliated, shamed and relegated to second-class citizenry in the back of the bus. The lives of these children are at risk.

Reading instruction is often abandoned about the time a child finishes elementary school. This is a mistake. Reading instruction is so fundamental to continuing success it should be maintained at least through grade 16. Far too many adults lead second-class lives because they continue to read below a 5th grade level. This low-level skill translates into poor speaking, poor writing, limited vocabulary, a poor ability to organize information, and a deficit of background information. Poor readers make very poor choices about education. Poor readers spend their lives watching television.

Tip #10: BRAINSAREFUN READING can be adapted to the pre-reading requirements of Kindergartners who need additional practice with their ABCs. It can be adapted to high-school students who need advanced skills for college placement. It can be adapted to students who find themselves a year or two behind. It also works with children who are reading above grade level and who need extra acceleration. Yes, it works with the Learning Disabled and the Learning Challenged too. Yes, it also works with students who are learning English as a Second Language (ESL).

Tip #11: Is there a guarantee that your child can be one of the good readers? I don't know, but I do know that 20 hours of focused instruction does wonders.

Tip #12: A reluctance to read-out-loud, shyness, embarrassment about previous failure, low and stumbling voices, are all rooted in a fear of failure, ridicule and criticism.

Tip #13: Fearful of additional humiliation and exposure in front of peers, parents and teachers, children shut down, "No more embarrassment for me." They become sick to death of being corrected by others, and choose the path of least resistance — withdrawal, and a wide range of inappropriate behaviors designed to win peer acceptance and social approval.

Tip #14: What makes a good reader? What allows some children to decipher and comprehend the words on a page while others struggle?

Reading is not an isolated skill. Rather, it is made up of a variety of skills that must be mastered without the fear of failure or embarrassment:

  1. Being able to see the word
  2. Being able to hear the word
  3. Being able to say the word
  4. Being able to place the word in a literate context
  5. Being able to write the word
  6. Being able to sub-vocalize the word (saying the word in the throat while copying)
  7. Being able to repeat the word
  8. Being able to test without fear and anxiety
  9. Being able to associate reading and speaking with success

Tip #15: Additional strategies that improve reading skills:

  • Let the child take you to the library.
  • Take a bag (you will need it to carry home all the books you are going to get).
  • Speak to the librarian (one of our greatest underutilized natural resources). Tell him/her that you have a child who is looking for some books that other children have enjoyed. Ask for some assistance in finding them.
  • Take out ten books on traditional and factual subjects — any type, any subject.
  • Find out where the audio books are, check out four or five.
  • Until the age of 18, read aloud to your children 15 minutes a night, 4 or 5 nights a week. Remember, for the time being, YOU do all the reading.
  • Encourage your children earn points for copying.
  • Do more chorusing.
  • Attack books, read in them only as long as they are interesting. Don't ever worry about completing a book. The more you read, the more you will find that many books aren't worth finishing. Move on.

Tip #16: Ideally, children who are one or more years behind in reading should be reading 50 minutes a day, five days a week until the deficit is overcome. This will require very well developed contracts that lead to success, a motivating reward system and consistency (see "Contracts" that put your child in charge of winning www.brainsarefun.com). There is no substitute for quantity, blended with quality.

Tip #17: Where do you find the time? There is no doubt that lack of time is a very difficult problem to solve. By the time the child tackles a bag full of homework, it will be almost impossible to find the time and energy to add additional reading practice.

Remediation must take priority over sports and other outside activities. Sporadic tutoring classes are not enough.

Tip #18: Speak to the school about arranging early release time for your child, perhaps an hour or two early every day. Explain the program. Show them what you are going to do. This early release will allow your child to have some energy left for the task at hand. There is no point in your children being in school if they can't read. For some children with a severe reading deficit, home schooling may be a viable alternative.

Tip #19: It's time to bring out the big guns. Your child needs a lot of help, and needs it fast. The good news is that 90% of poor readers will make significant progress. Will it make all the difference in the world? Yes!

Tip #20: Do you know that the tests you take to get into college are called the Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs)? Do you know that if you have a good vocabulary you can significantly increase your score on these tests?

Good vocabulary scores predict good life scores. Exposure to a wide range of words is the first step toward improving your child's vocabulary.

Tip #21: Self-correction is far more effective than being corrected by another. Self-correction is an example of exercising control over one's life and a personal success. Allow the child to experience success without criticism. Reward immediately. If, on a particular day, instruction isn't going well say, "I look forward to trying this again tomorrow." Don't keep going until the child is exhausted and everyone starts to fight.

Tip #22: Yes, explicit phonics instruction is essential. Are your children receiving effective phonics instruction? They are when individual sounds are drilled to proficiency.

Tip #23: You can do it. Your child can do it. Your child can learn to read and succeed in school. Your daily involvement makes all the difference. Don't ever, ever, ever give up.

Final Tip: If you believe that the problem of poor reading will take care of itself, then you must set up a quantifiable measure against which you can keep score. You must set up some early-warning flags that will begin to wave if the problem, in fact, continues to get worse. A similar set of green flags need to wave when there is improvement. The Daily Report Card and Ledger provide a visual picture of behavior that will aid in early detection.

And one more:  Have Fun! The time you spend with your kids now is guaranteed to pay off in spades immediately.

Thank you.