What is reading?
Reading is the process of using sight or touch to gain meaning from letters or symbols. It is something that many of us take for granted, but is actually a very complicated skill. Nobody is born knowing how to read, everyone has to learn how to do it!
Take the letter ‘b’ for example. To read the letter ‘b’ first you have to understand that it is a symbol with a meaning. Then you have to look at or feel its shape and understand that it is the letter b, with a sound that matches. You then need to look at the other symbols around it, understand they are also meaningful symbols and put them together to make the words, sentences, or paragraphs. Once you have achieved that, you have to interpret what those words, sentences, phrases or paragraphs are telling you. There is a lot going on.
Text that is too small, that does not fit on the page, or that is unclear, can interrupt that process. These things make reading even more difficult, even if we are expert readers! However, if you are not good at reading, then these are things that can stop you from understanding even simple sentences and lead to a dislike and possibly a fear of reading.
Reading is a key life skill.
If you can’t read, you are not able to fill out a form and apply for a job. You cannot read the invitation to a friend’s birthday party. You won’t be able to read the ingredients on a food packet, or place names in the street. You may not be able to choose your candidate in an election. Most importantly, you will not know what is written on a medicine bottle or a doctor’s prescription.
Reading is a life skill that can impact a person’s physical, social and emotional wellbeing. A good reader can feel proud and actively participate in the world around them. A poor reader may get left behind as they cannot understand, have to keep asking for help and find their confidence damaged.
When someone struggles to read
There can be many reasons why a person may not be able to read. A person’s physical, developmental, behavioural, emotional and sensory needs all impact a person’s ability to read text. Even tiredness or a simple headache can impact on a person’s ability to read something.
You may not be aware that pupils are struggling to read. You might notice that a pupil is reluctant to read out loud, never offers to answer comprehension questions in class, fails to hand in homework on time, submits unfinished homework, or displays bad or avoidance behaviour in academic subjects. You might put some of this down to bad manners, carelessness or laziness. However, a student who struggles read, and who is embarrassed or afraid to admit that, will also be behaving in this way. Text and the way it is displayed is a vital first step in helping or hindering someone’s ability to read.
When do you find it difficult to read?