The Decoding Hurdle

November 24, 2016


Young children face many hurdles that they need to overcome.  Getting over one leads to another.  The hurdles come in succession, one after another.  Some hurdles are more important than others.  They are not all equal in their level of importance.

One particular hurdle I have been consistently focused on I call the “decoding hurdle.”

Most kids get over the decoding hurdle some time toward the end of first grade heading into second grade.  For them it’s a smooth ride.  You read Dr. Seuss, complete some phonics worksheets and it all starts to make sense.   Once getting over this hurdle there is a sort of clicking, an experience of, “aha, so that’s how reading works.”

Learning to read is no big deal.

From that point forward these kids who click in with decoding enjoy reading and are eager to start reading easy chapter books.  (As an aside this eagerness ends for the boys in the upper elementary grades where they shut –off to reading, but that’s another discussion.)

If you don’t get over the decoding hurdle within a reasonable timetable (like by the end of first grade or so), this difficulty creates a bottleneck, frustrating all aspects of schooling and academic development.

What should you do if your child is not getting over the decoding hurdle/?

First, have the child tested.  Remember that school testing is not concerned with the “decoding hurdle.”  That is not their job or their mission.  They are asked to determine “eligibility” for special education.  Many who do not get over the hurdle are not seen as eligible for special education.  So, you may need to seek private testing.

Next, get your child to be seen by someone who knows how to teach decoding.  Most good decoding teachers know some version of Orton Gillingham or its many spin-off programs.  Typically, the child needs at least twice a week of individual instruction or very small group using the decoding methods that have been shown to be successful.

Takeaway Point

All bets are off if your child is not yet over the “decoding hurdle.”

Don’t waste time worrying about other skills until you’re your child makes progress in this essential developmental task.

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  • Brenda Larson
    December 15, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Teaching letter names is a huge contributor to the decoding hurdle. Children typically learn letter names first. The Principle of Primacy (we remember […] Read MoreTeaching letter names is a huge contributor to the decoding hurdle. Children typically learn letter names first. The Principle of Primacy (we remember best what we learn first) comes into play and instead of using letter sounds, children attempt to decode with the letter names they are more familiar with. "ham' becomes 'ehch'. 'ay', 'em' and they encounter frustration rather than that 'aha' moment. To eliminate this hurdle at the early levels, always teach LETTER SOUNDS first, refer to letters by their SOUND and require students to do so as well. There are only 8 letter names that remind students of the sound (b, d, j, k, p, t, v, z). The remaining 18 letter names serve only to confuse children. Read Less


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