August 30, 2010

5 Warning Signs That a Student Is Struggling With Reading

Tags: Teaching Reading Tips

signs a student struggles with reading

When a student is struggling with reading there are certain signs or symptoms that show up consistently. Everyone can struggle over unfamiliar words at times, so we are looking for repeating patterns that show up every time a student encounters text.

Sign 1: Reading for those that struggle is a slow, belabored process.

It will take these students much longer to read a passage than a student who isn’t struggling. Because it takes more effort, they will often look away and take breaks. Reading will be choppy and lack fluency and flow. 

Sign 2: Those who struggle will handle the page very differently. 

Because they tend to lack sufficient decoding skills to use with unfamiliar words, they look at the page overall and find words that they recognize as ones they have previously memorized. They will ‘read’ those words while often skipping over sight words and stumbling through unfamiliar words. Guessing and skipping will be common compensation strategies they apply when reading.

Sign 3: It is not uncommon to have them appear to ‘read’ (automatically recognize) a word one line and when the same word appears a few lines later, act like they have never seen that word. 

Struggling readers need to encounter a word 30 more times than an automatic reader before it is stored in their memory. It takes a lot longer to build a sight vocabulary base. (This is why decoding strategies are so important for these readers; there are only so many words they can memorize in this fashion.)

Sign 4: When students are assessed for fluency, their scores will only improve within a particular reading passage and then drop back down when a new passage is presented to them. 

True fluency is only accomplished when the student is phonologically processing the words from part-to-whole (left-to-right) and storing them in their memories phonetically, not as a memorized whole word. What happens with repeated fluency practice on the same passage is that students will increase their speed and decrease error rate because they encounter the passage enough time to memorize the words. This is why when given a new passage with unfamiliar words, their fluency score drops back down. 

Sign 5: Those who struggle with reading will avoid reading like the plague.

None of us like to do things that we are uncomfortable with or that take extreme effort. We all avoid things we are not good at. Struggling readers are the same way.


Struggling readers hurt. Their self-esteem is damaged and they lack hope in themselves and in ever being successful in reading.  Whatever we do to offer them hope and positive results will be more than worth our efforts.

Learn how Reading Horizons structured literacy framework helps struggling readers build their reading skills and their self-esteem in our elementary reading program and reading intervention curriculum

1 Comment

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student learning said

These are very true. Well-done article especially for parents who have children struggling with reading.

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