Top 10 Reasons Why Kids Can't Read
The Not-So-Shocking Reading and Literacy Statistics
Did you know that 67% of all grade 4 students in the US cannot read at a proficient level? According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 34% cannot even achieve the lowest basic level of reading skills. Unfortunately, it's not just the Americans that have reading problems - this is really a global issue, at least in all major English speaking countries:
- 42% of Canadians are considered semi-illiterate
- 42% of students in the UK leave school without achieving a basic level of functional English
- 33% of year 5 students in Australia do not meet the benchmark literacy skills
As you can see, the lack of reading skills development has become "epidemic" in all major English speaking countries.
Why is that?
Is English that difficult to learn? Or perhaps it's just being taught using the WRONG methods!
These are shocking statistics, and at the same time, it's not so shocking because this is what you would expect from an education system that teaches reading using improper teaching methods, and I'm going to share the top 10 reasons of why our kids can't read.
Why Can't Our Kids Read - Top 10
The list provided here is in no particular order, with the exception of #1-3, which are the worst of the bunch.
1. The education system prefers to "teach" reading using whole language learning methods, and children are encouraged to "read for meaning" and words are taught to be recognized as "whole pieces".
a) English words should NOT be taught as "whole pieces" - they have small, individual sound units (phonemes) that combine to make words sound the way they do.
b) You can't read for meaning if you can't read the text properly! Let's not put the cart before the horse.
2. Children are encouraged to "guess" and "predict" what words are based on visual clues. Teachers should stop encouraging students to guess and predict what words are, because this is precisely what leads to reading problems.
Case in point: In my son's Kinder class, he brought home an "info sheet" for suggestions to help parents help their children to learn to read. The "info sheet" specifically recommended parents to encourage their children to look at the pictures in storybooks to "guess" and "predict" unfamiliar words. In the full kindergarten report card, the very first item for grading is this:
"predicts and confirms unknown words by using picture clues and text"
I have no worries for my son, he reads at a 5th grade level, but what about all the other students that do not know how to read? What sort of message are we sending these students when they are encouraged to make "guesses" for words they do not know - perhaps we can make guesses for math problems too, if we do not know how to calculate the answer; shouldn't there be a more systematic and logical way of learning reading and figuring out what words are; and how are students supposed to "guess" their way through an entire book, or through an entire lifetime? By the time students reach higher grade levels, they are no longer learning to read, but are expected to read to learn, and at that stage, there aren't a whole lot of "pictures" for them to gather clues to "guess" at words!
3. Students are taught to read by learning and memorizing "sight words", and through learning "sight words" they develop a habitual pattern recognition to look at words as entire "pictures", and do not understand the real mechanics of decoding and reading the English language.
#1-3 are really at the top of the list of why so many children can't read. They do more harm than good, and is largely responsible for producing poor readers. The remaining items on the list are in no particular order.
4. Having a low level or no phonemic awareness (PA) skills leads to poor reading skills. Countless studies have demonstrated the incredible benefits in helping children (and adults) develop PA skills. Based on a large and comprehensive metastudy, the National Reading Panel (NRP) concluded that teaching PA significantly improves children's reading and spelling skills.
5. Many students have poor phonics knowledge due to implicit phonics teaching methods. While well intentioned, the teaching of implicit phonics just CANNOT get the job done! This is a "whole-to-part" approach where students are taught to recognize words by its "shape". There really isn't a set plan of teaching phonics in a systematic manner. This approach expects the learner to "intuitively" learn about the sound-spelling relationships, and it can work for brighter students and students with a certain level of PA; however, this method will not work for poor readers.
6. Children are being taught the incorrect pronunciations of phonics sounds. I discuss that in more detail here.
7. When a child has not been taught the proper reading skills in early grades, he/she will lack the confidence to read, and will find reading laborious, and becomes disengaged from reading activities.
8. Lacks reading stamina - children must be guided to build reading stamina through reading level appropriate print material. Reading appropriate level material not only builds confidence, but also builds reading stamina to enable the reading and processing of more challenging and higher level material in later grades.
9. Many teachers not equipped to teach English and reading. A study done at the Texas A&M University found that many teachers are not knowledgeable in the basic concepts of English, and do not know how to address the basic building blocks of reading. 
10. Lacking support and lacking a literacy rich environment at home. Parents really must stop relying solely on schools and teachers to teach their children to read. Educating our children is a joint responsibility. Literacy and reading skills development must start early on at home, and studies have found that having a supportive home environment is one of the strongest predictors of children's language and early literacy skills development. Parents need to become much more proactive and involved with their children's early literacy development, and the incredible thing is that with proper knowledge and proper teaching methods, all parents, regardless of background or experience, can teach their children to read.
>> Click here to learn more about our Children Learning Reading program that teaches through a unique combination of synthetic phonics & Phonemic awareness development. Our program will teach children of all ages to become fluent, phonetic readers.
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Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute,The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 27599-8180, USA.