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Teaching a child with specific reading difficulty to read

The first step in teaching a child with specific reading difficulty to read is to recognize that he has special problems. A study at three centres in England demonstrated that children who were identified as having specific reading difficulty improved dramatically once they received appropriate help. These children gained an average of nearly two years of reading progress over a one-year period, compared with six months progress per year before this.

Each child must be individually assessed and the assessment team, in conjunction with the child’s teacher, should plan a method that suits the child best.

Most children with specific learning difficulty have great difficulties with phonological skills—they are unable to pick up phonological skills with the same natural ease as other children. Reading methods that do not approach these skills in an organized way are, therefore, generally inappropriate for children with specific reading difficulty. The ‘Look and say’ and language experience methods rely on the good phonological skills of ordinary children, and are not appropriate for children in whom such skills are lacking. Even the basic phonic method may not approach phonological skills in a way that is structured enough for many children with specific reading difficulty. The embellished alphabets mean that the child will have to learn the proper alphabet later, which may confuse him and add to his problems.

There is, therefore, general agreement that for most children with specific reading difficulty, a carefully structured linguistic (phonetic) scheme works best. Examples of two such schemes are the Multilit and Spalding methods. These schemes teach reading and spelling together. They avoid whole words initially; they teach sounds first and work up to chunks of words. They emphasize the need to revise continually what the child has learned, to compensate for the poor retention of many children with specific reading difficulty.

Whichever method is used, a flexible approach should be adopted, with regular practice of the skills being taught.

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