Have you been told your child has a poor working memory and that is the reason she cannot read? I do not believe a good working memory is essential in this context, and I am going to show you why poor memory is not that important for reading!
‘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 state in their reports, that a child’s poor ‘working memory’ is contributing to her reading problems. I notice too, that my students are unable to remember their phonics lessons from school.
I agree that a working memory is very important generally, but recognition is more important in the process of learning to read. Good reading tuition does not require children to memorise anything.
What is Reading?
Reading is the recognition of sounds in words, and words embedded in sentences. A child requires the ability to recognise sounds and words, but does not require a good ‘working memory’ to be able to learn to read.
What is Recognition?
When we recognise a face or a place, we identify a ‘picture’ that we have seen before. Your child will be able to recognise most of her class mates, after one day in a new school. She will not, however, be able to recall all their names.
What about you? Do you write down a difficult word, to check the spelling? If so, you are using recognition. You know when a word looks right, because you have seen it many times before. I is more difficult to spell it out loud.
That’s how useful recognition is.
Memory is laid down in the brain, in pictures, not in words and the brain is really efficient at recognising these pictures. As letters are merely ‘pictures’ or ‘symbols’ for sounds, I think it is important to harness this ability, when we help 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, then reading can be made easy, by taking advantage of a child’s ability to recognise pictures. Yes – it really can be easy!! 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. Your child probably goes to great lengths to avoid reading practice though, because she can’t do it. Her struggle is the reason you are reading this blog post!
Does your child refuse to read with you, says she hates reading or just acts out whenever you try to help her? Then find another way! 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?
Be creative in the way you repeatedly expose your child to the sounds and words in our written language. This maximizes her ability to recognise sound symbols (letter combinations) she has seen before. Initially, this is best 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.
Helping Your Child’s Recognition
Remember: your child will only recognise words and sounds she has seen before. When you introduce a new symbol for a sound, e.g. ‘ie‘ (field) present this symbol in a word. Did you notice, the symbol could have been sound /ie/ as in ‘pie‘. Introduce and new symbol frequently in a word. This enables her to recognise it, when she is reading her book.
Context Plays a Key Role in Recognition
You know how hard it is to recognise someone out of context? The nurse at your doctor’s surgery is someone you will immediately recognise as familiar, seen in the supermarket. However, initially you may not be able to recall where you have seen her before. If your daughter’s teacher walks into a Coffee Shop, 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
It is really important to introduce the symbols for sounds (letter combinations) within words. This gives the symbols a context and make them easily recognisable. e.g. Children recognise ‘ea‘ on its own, as sound /ee/, because it is so frequently used. But letter combination ‘ea‘ is a symbol for sound /e/ in ‘bread’. It is impossible to know that, if it appears on its own. Again, words are more easily recognised and predictable when they appear in sentences, just like a face in a familiar surrounding. Take advantage of this and your child will benefit.
When you introduce a new sound eg /c/, tell your child it is the first sound in cat. Sound /m/ is introduced as the first sound in mat or the last sound in ham. These can be written on colourful sticky notelets with colourful pens. Stick them on the wall, and point them out frequently. Ask you child to work with a sound in context in this way, and it increases recognition of both sound and word. (For more details, see my book ‘Please Help Me! I Really Can’t Read!).
Harness your Child’s Senses to aid recognition
When you practise words with your child, ask her to sound them out, and write them. This provides repeated exposure. Ask her to say the sounds as she writes them as well, then she is seeing the sounds, hearing them, feeling them and ‘tasting’ them: all her senses working together to enable her to recognise them in written text.
If your child has to learn a list of spellings, make sure you use a similar method. Ask her to read, write and say each word. Writing them on sticky notelets is fun and really helps. 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 the sound 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 closely at the word.
Reading a Book with your Child
Before you ask your child to read a page of text from a book, pick out the difficult words. Ask her to write these words on sticky notelets, (see above), before she reads the page. Again, she will recognise the words when she is reading, if she has worked with them first. More importantly, none of these tasks is difficult.
If she still struggles to read a page, read it to her first, ensuring that she follows the words as you read them. Now ask her to read it back to you. Is that cheating? If you are testing her – yes! Alternatively, if you are trying to help her – definitely not!
Reading is an essential skill and I am sure you want your child to read well. Work on her recognition skills, play with sounds written on sticky notelets and tell her what the tricky words are, when she is reading. You can write them on sticky notelets later!
Enjoy reading with your child!