Sue Scheff: Kids Who Hide Their Illiteracy



Kids Who Hide Their Illiteracy

“You always found a way to get out of it, and you got further and further behind 'cause you weren't understanding what you were reading.”

– Chad, 18 years old

One in 7 American ... 32 million ... can't read according to a new study released by the U.S. Department of Education. And some among those millions are hiding their illiteracy from their family, friends and their teachers.

They can't read, but they're brilliant at keeping it a secret.

Chad, 18, was one of them. He remembers the embarrassment he felt in the 5th grade. "When I had to stand up in front of class or read out loud, for like, English, I couldn't do it," he says.

Chad was reading at a 2nd grade level. Yet, year after year, he was promoted to the next grade. How did he do it?

"[I] kind of, like, disappeared," he explains. "Went into the corner, I always kept my head down when we had to read."

Experts say kids are brilliant at hiding their illiteracy. Some poor readers will memorize stories that have been read to them. Others will be disruptive in class - or even simply ask to leave.

"Things like asking to get water, or asking to go to the bathroom, just things like that, because it's difficult for them," explains reading specialist LaSauna Johnson.

She says tactics like these are common in kids who can't read very well. "It's almost a strength that way, that they've gotten that far," she says. "It's a strength because they've been able to adapt and they've been able to use their strengths to apparently mask their deficiencies. But it's by all means an injustice, because it hasn't been caught by somebody in the educational system."
Experts say the single most effective way to find out if you child is having trouble reading is to have them read out loud. "Read to them, have them read to you, alternate, you know," says Johnson. "As a parent, you read a paragraph, they read a paragraph, and all those are ways to figure out, 'hey, I don't think my child is reading this very well.'"

Chad says the pain and embarrassment of not being able to read is what finally made him get help.

"It put me in like a cocoon, until I started to realize that I had to get out of it. I had to break the little shield that I had made for myself and go out there."

Research has shown that reading aloud to your baby as he or she grows helps him/her get used to the rhythmic sound of your voice and associate it with a peaceful and secure time. In other words, your baby is learning to correlate words, language and reading with pleasure.

The average kindergarten student has seen more than 5,000 hours of television and has spent more time in front of the television than it takes to earn a bachelor's degree. Preschool children whose parents read to them are better prepared to start school and perform significantly better in school than those who have not been exposed to reading. Many studies also link a child's literacy development and school success to parental involvement and the child's home literacy environment.

Between the ages of four and nine, your child will have to master some 100 phonics rules, learn to recognize 3,000 words with just a glance, and develop a comfortable reading speed approaching 100 words a minute. He/she must also learn to combine the words on the page with punctuation marks, creating a voice or image in his/her mind that gives back meaning.

When parents and children read together, an important bond is formed, one that can lead to a love of learning and reading that will last a lifetime. When a family literacy program is incorporated in activities in the home, a child will show improved skills — with up to three times the normal developmental gains — in language, literacy, creativity, social relations and initiative. As parents become more comfortable in their role as their child's first teacher, it's important to foster skills to support education in the home.

Youngsters with functionally illiterate parents are twice as likely as their peers to become functionally illiterate adults. If you feel your reading skills are sub-par, there are still ways to initiate a family literacy program at home:

■Look at books with your child — the pictures in children's books help tell the story. As you and your child practice reading simple words and phrases, you're building your own reading skills as well as your child's.
■Recite nursery rhymes or make up your own. Children need to hear the rhyming sounds in words.
■Sing songs. Most songs are really poems set to music, and they can help build reading skills.
■Tell stories from your family, neighborhood or childhood.
■Ask questions that your child can't answer with just a "yes" or "no," such as "Why do you think that dog is barking" or "What do you see when you look out the window?" Talking with your child is one of the best ways to build language skills.
■Talk about colors and shapes.
■Draw and color pictures and "write" together.
■Remember to make these activities fun!
Tips for Parents

Experts say reading aloud with your child is one of the best ways you can help him/her grow into a successful reader. When you make reading a joyful, fun activity, kids will keep coming back for more.

As you discover adventures between the covers of a book, you discover things about each other as well. And with every turn of the page, your child expands his or her vocabulary, comprehension, reasoning and grammar skills. To maximize the benefit your child gains from reading:

■Create a "Reading Ritual" by reading together every day at the same time in a special place.
■Cuddle with your child while reading together so your child will associate reading with a sense of security. Children learn better when they feel safe.
■Use silly voices and sound effects to peak your child's interest.
■Follow along with your finger as you read to show how text moves from left to right. This will help your child connect to the text you are reading.
■Point out the pictures in the book and talk about what you see.
■Point out different kinds of words around you like shopping lists, store signs and labels.
■Ask open-ended questions about the stories you read together.
■Children like and need to hear favorite stories over and over. It helps them recognize and remember words and gives them confidence about reading.
■Let your child touch and hold the book. Ask him or her to help you turn the pages.
■Don't push your child to read beyond his ability. Choose age-appropriate books and congratulate any progress he or she makes with his or her reading skills.

References
■Facts on Illiteracy in America
■Literacy Statistics for the United States
■National Adult Literacy Database
■National Center for Family Literacy
■Reading Rockets
■Simple Things You Can Do To Help All Children Read Well
■University of Ottawa
■U.S. Department of Education

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