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Early Intervention: Why it’s a must for children with reading difficulties

Teacher helping young girl to readIn this article, Tanya Rivka Dy-Peque, an educational therapist who has worked closely with children with learning difficulties for several years, explores why early intervention in reading is so crucial to children’s future literacy.

If your child doesn’t learn to read, they are more likely to have social problems, develop a poor self-image, and earn less than their peers as adults.

Hearing this shouldn’t come as any great shock. After all, reading is central to daily life for most of us. Even if we don’t consider ourselves big “readers,” we still read bills, ads, emails, websites, and correspondence at work.

But for people who never learned to read, or who can only read a little, everyday life is a constant battle of faking their way through a literate world, hoping they don’t slip up. To combat this problem, a number of adult literacy programs have sprung up, but most research shows that it’s much more difficult – and time-consuming – for adults to become literate. In fact, even high school and middle school programs for slower learners seem to be a case of too little, too late.

Now, that’s not to say that older kids and adults can’t learn – quite the opposite. But the job does get tougher the more time passes and the more we struggle. This kind of failure – without proper help and guidance – makes us withdraw further and try less because we’d rather fake our way through than endure ridicule – real or perceived.

Luckily, the answer is right in front of us, because many students have shown marked improvement – so long as they have that proper help and guidance we mentioned, and provided they get it early enough.

How early?

By some estimates, students who find themselves struggling may begin to withdraw by as early as the middle of first grade! That’s why the most successful early intervention programs in schools tend to start before primary school and work to catch issues as they’re developing rather than discovering them after the fact and attempting to fix them.

So what are some common features of successful early intervention programs?

Everyday help

In the same way that going to a foreign country can help you to learn the language by immersing you in it, students having difficulties with reading and writing need to be receiving extra help as often as possible – preferably every school day. Moreover, these daily sessions should last at least 20 to 30 minutes, and at-risk kids need to be given an ample number of sessions to improve (several programs recommend around 100 extra sessions).

Small group and individual learning in combination with full classroom sessions

The tendency when dealing with at-risk students is to isolate them into smaller units and even one-on-one tutoring so that educators can give them their full focus. That kind of strategy is helpful in increasing literacy, but studies have shown that it should not replace full-classroom learning. Something about the communal power of learning to read and write together appears to enhance the process.

Meaning over memorization

With our increasing focus on test scores as a means of measuring aptitude, too many teachers expect students to learn from simple repetition, assuming that they either already know or will catch on to the meaning of the word over time. Unfortunately, this is not always true for at-risk students, so successful early prevention programs put a focus on making sure that the meaning of each word is clearly understood before moving on. This helps to create context and a real-world connection for many words.

A concentration on words

Too often, kids experiencing reading difficulties are asked to put words together into sentences before they understand the words themselves. Early prevention programs start from the bottom up, concentrating on words as the building blocks of sentences and slowly grouping them together to form simple phrases.

Writing as a means of word identification

To reinforce word recognition, successful early prevention programs often have students write out and spell words. Teacher assistance is provided, but only to the extent that students need it to spell words correctly.

Building confidence through re-reading

One of the best ways to increase reading confidence is to encourage students to read books over and over. This allows them to become comfortable with the words and meaning of the story, instead of forcing them to struggle through something new too quickly.

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Working as an ELT Consultant

Smart smiling woman talking with manHave you ever wondered what it would be like to travel the country visiting schools and speaking to teachers? Laura Austin, an ELT Consultant for Oxford University Press in the United Kingdom and Ireland, gives an insight into her daily life.

Are you passionate about ELT and everything digital? Like meeting new people? Love to travel? If you’re not averse to hotel rooms, service stations, book bags, waiting rooms, sales reports… then this might be the role for you…

ELT Consultants are employed to visit schools on behalf of a publishing house. Directors of Studies are busy – there is a lot of ‘fire-fighting’ which takes place in a school environment  – there’s a whole whirlwind of events which results in materials being left to the end of the agenda in the busiest of schools. Which is where we come in!

When a Consultant visits a school it gives staff the opportunity to sit back and analyse material. To think about what works and why; to give suggestions for the publisher and to explore various other opportunities. Now, how useful is that?

It’s a really exciting time to be meeting up with schools in the UK as many are on the digital bandwagon and are keen to explore new ways of exploiting new technology. It gives us, as Consultants, a double-edged role. Not only are we providing a service of promoting to customers on their very own doorsteps, but we are also helping to train teachers to feel at ease with new teaching tools.

I cover schools on the South Coast of England, as well as in Wales and Ireland. On average I visit between 12 and 15 schools a week. A visit can range from a ‘meeting’ with an academic board, to running a book display in a staff room or providing a teacher training event to groups. It’s extremely varied and most customers are more than happy to meet up and discuss resources.

Then there are a number of regional conferences where we run a stand, and often provide a well-known speaker. We have the opportunity to meet regular customers as well as to get to know new ones. These conferences become more enjoyable as time passes, as people become more familiar, and it’s a great opportunity to meet your entire customer base on one occasion – away from the all too familiar routine of the workplace.

The people you meet are generally really welcoming and interested in what’s new in the ‘book bag’. In fact, at a school in Hastings recently, I was given hot chocolate and an array of delicious chocolate biscuits, whilst we looked at the books in question. A great counterbalance to the hotel rooms, service stations, book bags, waiting rooms, sales reports…

Have you been visited by an ELT Consultant? How was it? Are there other services that we could provide to keep you up-to-date with new resources?

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