Young children face many hurdles that they need to overcome. They come in succession. Getting over one leads to another. Some hurdles are more important than others and are not all equal in their level of importance.
One particular hurdle I have been consistently focused on with children is what I call the “decoding hurdle.”
By the end of first grade going into second grade, most have gotten over this hurdle. You read Dr. Seuss, complete some phonics worksheets and it all starts to make sense.
It’s a smooth ride.
Once getting over this hurdle there is a sort of clicking in, an experience of, “aha, so that’s how reading works.”
For these lucky children, learning to read is no big deal.
From that point forward, these kids who are over the hurdle 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 challenge creates a bottleneck, frustrating all aspects of academic development, impacting the child’s basic sense of confidence and self-esteem.
What should you do if your child is not getting over the decoding hurdle?
First, have the child tested. It is important to remember, though, that school testing is not concerned with the “decoding hurdle.” That is not their job or their purpose. Their purpose is determine “eligibility” or classification for special education. Many children who are not yet over the “hurdle” are not viewed as eligible for special education. So, you may need to seek private testing.
Following that testing, the likely next step is to have your child individually tutored by someone who knows how to teach decoding. Most good decoding teachers know some version of the “Orton-Gillingham” related methodologies (e.g., Wilson Reading System, Barton Reading Program, SPIRE and others).
Typically, the child needs at least twice a week of the individual instruction over a significant period of time for the skills to start to be internalized and mastered..
If your child is not yet over the “decoding hurdle,” all bets are off.
Don’t waste time worrying about other skills until you’re your child makes progress in this essential developmental task.
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Teaching 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.
Phonological and phonemic awareness is a huge hurtle in the decoding progess.
Hi Dr. Gwen:
They certainly are huge hurdles and they need to be addressed, no doubt.