Have you been told your child has a poor working memory? Psychologists often comment on memory in their reports, on struggling readers. I’m not sure a good memory is essential for reading, and would like to show you that a ‘poor working memory’ doesn’t have to impact on reading tuition!
‘I am worried about my child’s working memory!’
Parents and teachers alike, tell me frequently, that a particular child has a poor working memory. Educational Psychologists sometimes comment in their reports, that a child’s ‘poor working memory’ is contributing to her problems with reading. I notice too, that my students appear to remember little from their phonics lessons in school.
However, although a good working memory is very important generally, I would like to show you that in the initial stages of reading tuition, recognition is more important. Good reading tuition does not require children to memorise anything.
What is Reading?
The recognition of sounds in words, and words embedded in sentences is the essence of reading. It is not essential to have a good ‘working memory’ for effective recognition.
What is Recognition?
When we recognise a face, a place, or a picture for example, we identify ‘pictures’ that we have seen before. Your child might spend just one day in a new school, but be able to recognise most of her class mates. She will not, however, be able to recall all their names.
What about you? Do you sometimes write down a difficult word, if you want to check how it is spelt? If so, you are using recognition. You know when a word looks right, because you have seen it many times before. But asked to spell it out loud, you will struggle? That’s how useful recognition can be.
Memory is laid down in the brain, in pictures, not in words and research has shown that the brain is really efficient at recognising pictures. As letters are merely ‘pictures’ or ‘symbols’ for sounds, I think it is important to harness this ability, when we help our children with their reading.
Why are some Children Good Readers?
I do not know the answer to this question, but my experience tells me that some children find recognition very simple, and having once seen a word, they will remember it. Great!
This explains why children who read a lot, read a lot and are very good readers! They can also spell huge numbers of words. Of course they can: they have seen them so many times already!
Let’s Harness Recognition
If reading is the recognition of words, and recognition is easy, it follows that reading can be made easy. Yes – it can!! I do it all the time!
The most obvious way to aid recognition is to ensure your child sees written text frequently. That is why reading practice forms a part of any Reading Tuition. But, I hear you cry, your child goes to great lengths to avoid reading practice, because she can’t do it. Surely, her struggle is the reason you are reading this!
And so you have to find another way! Does your child refuse to read with you, says she hates reading or just acts out whenever you try to help her, you need to exploit her ability to recognise pictures (letters and words) she has seen before. This is the key to helping her.
How do you Develop your Child’s Recognition Skills?
You have to be creative in the way you repeatedly expose your child to the individual sounds and words in our language, to make recognition happen. Initially, this has to be done, without putting your child in front of a lot of written text.
I remember how daunting large chunks of black and white text were, when I was a poor reader; They still are: I read large text much more effectively, and would recommend using eBooks, with any reluctant reader, so that the font can be made large.
Helping Your Child’s Recognition
Remember: your child will only recognise something she has seen before. Whether you are introducing a new symbol for a sound, or a new word, you need a system that presents these sounds or words frequently. This will enable her to recognise them, when she is reading from a book.
Context Plays a Key Role in Recognition
Have you noticed how hard it is to recognise someone out of context? The nurse at your doctor’s surgery is a face you recognise in the supermarket, but initially you will not be able to recall where you have seen her before. Your daughter’s teacher walks into a Coffee Shop and you are confused for a moment. You cannot think who she is, because you encounter her in a different setting.
Harness Context to Help Recognition
The symbols for sounds (letters) are easily recognisable in words. Words are more easily recognised and predicted in sentences, just like a face in a familiar surrounding. Your child will benefit, if you take advantage of this.
When you introduce a new sound eg /c/, tell your child it is the first sound in cat. Sound /m/ can be introduced as the first sound in mat or the last sound in ham. These can be written on colourful Sticky Notelets with colourful pens. Stuck on the wall, they can be pointed out frequently. Asking you child to work with a sound in context in this way: within a word, increases recognition of both sound and word. (For more details, see my free book ‘Please Help Me! I Really Can’t Read!).
Harness your Child’s Senses to aid recognition
When you practise words with your child, encourage her to sound them out, and write them. This provides repeated exposure. If your child says the sounds as she writes them as well, she is seeing the sounds, hearing them, feeling them and ‘tasting’ them: all her senses working together to help her to recognise them in written text.
If your child has to learn a list of spellings, make sure you use a similar method, encouraging her to read, write and say the words. Writing on sticky notelets can be a real benefit. E.g. if your child has to learn the word awkward, use five notelets and ask her to write one sound on each notelet, saying it as she writes it:
Point out that there are two different symbols for sound or in this word: aw and ar (ar is sound or after w – war, ward, warn). This encourages your child to look more closely at the word.
Reading a Book with your Child
If you are going to ask your child to read a page of text from a book, pick out the words she will find difficult. Before she reads the page, ask her to write each word, one sound on each Sticky Notelet, (see above). Again, she is then more likely to recognise the words when she is reading, if she has worked with them first.
If you think she will still struggle to read a page, read it to her first, ensuring she follows the words as you read them. She can then read it back to you. Is that cheating? If you are testing her – yes! What if you are trying to help her – definitely not!
I have tried to set out my methodology in my book:
Please Help Me? I Really Can’t Read!
This is the book I have written, to try to make it easier for you to help your child with reading. You might like to download a free copy, from this website. I watched my child struggle many years ago, and couldn’t help him, because I didn’t know how. I have learnt a lot from this miserable experience.