Why slow and steady wins the race – especially with reading!

September 21, 2020
Why slow and steady wins the race – especially with reading!
Written by Speech Pathologist Alexandra Crea

Awards should be given to parents who have added ‘teacher’ to their list of credentials during remote-learning this year. On top of supporting children with classroom learning, parents are being encouraged to keep up the daily reading (for a break from electronics, if nothing else). Even though everyone is aware of the positives of reading, sometimes at the end of a long day, listening to your child labour over words in a story seems like a mountain too high to climb. 

To hopefully refresh your patience and motivation in keeping up the practice, we have broken down the individual skills involved in reading, to highlight exactly why practice is so important! Three measures of reading used by Speech Pathologists to find out more about each child’s underlying skills for reading include; 

1. Reading accuracy 

This looks at how accurately children can read (or decode) words or translate the scramble of letters into English words that represent meaning. While fluent readers make this look quick and easy, decoding words is a skill that is made of many individual steps. First, children have to recognise the letter and then recall the sound that letter represents. They might have to think about any English sound rules we have that affect the letter (like our trusty silent e), or think about all of the sounds this 1 letter could represent (after all, most letters in the English alphabet can represent more than 1 sound! Just think of the letter in happy, yell, or cry).  Once they’ve done those two steps for each letter of a word, they must retain the sounds and blend them together. They’ve then translated the pattern of individual letters into a word.  

2. Reading comprehension  

Once children have identified the word, they need to search through the dictionary in their brain to find the meaning of the word. Again, they interpret the meaning of each word individually, then have to combine them together, where things like context come into play. On top of understanding the literal meaning and relationships between words, they might also have to decipher similies, metaphors, idioms and the like, where the words really don’t mean what they’re meant to mean! Reading also requires inferring information that is not explicitly written, which can be challenging for our children with social communication difficulties.  

3. Reading rate  

Finally, we look at how quickly children are able to read connected text. A slow rate might reflect the amount of effort needed to decode and may impact reading comprehension, as it’s tricky to remember what you read way back at the start of the sentence a whole 30 seconds ago. What we often find in children with reading difficulties is that their reading rate is within the average range, but, their reading accuracy and comprehension fall behind. This often indicates that their reading rate is too fast for them to accurately decode what they are reading and to then derive meaning from the words. 

While it may take a long time, and might feel like pulling teeth, helping our children to go slow while reading and to take the time to ensure they can read the words correctly and interpret the meaning will help them to develop their skills. Once their decoding and comprehension become easier and automatic, their reading rate will naturally speed up too! If it’s challenging for you, it’s probably because it’s challenging for your child too. So remember, quality over quantity, less is more, and slow and steady wins the race!