For most of us reading is akin to breathing. It’s something we do almost unconsciously all day long automatically recognising sight words wherever we go.

From reading road signs, to labels on food packaging, advertising etc. reading is a natural part of life.

And yet, the science behind how our brains are actually able to perform this highly complex task is absolutely breathtaking.

South Africans Need to Get Reading

According to Statista the South African literacy rate as of 2015 was at 93.75% which seems like an impressive number. Sadly, this is merely indicative of very basic reading skills for the purpose of menial daily reading tasks. Minister of Education, Angie Motshekga, urges parents to help children in their educational journey by encouraging reading in the home.

South Africa needs to foster a greater culture of reading if we want to uplift our literacy levels. Kids learn by example and this means it’s up to parents to get reading. If you want to help your child to excel in their Matric exams you can’t expect that to happen with mediocre reading skills.

An adult with limited literacy skills is destined to struggle financially as the options for employment are severely limited for individuals with poor reading abilities. This merely perpetuates a cycle of low income families and it’s time we intervene and change the patterns of the past.

It’s difficult to determine the exact literacy rate worldwide, but it’s to be expected that the numbers are still decreasing. For this reason it’s imperative that reading programmes are introduced all around the world to promote early literacy. It has been proven that learning to read at a young age produces more proficient readers.

young girl reading book
It's vital to promote early literacy. ⎢Source: Unsplash

For older learners with reading difficulties there is still opportunity to intervene through the implementation of a reading programme or reading workshop. There are so many options for the teaching of reading to adults, such as night classes, online language arts courses and even private tutors, where possible.

The truth is that it’s never too late to learn how to read or improve one’s reading. The real battle is convincing the masses that reading is the key to success.

Understanding What It Means to Read

The act of reading and comprehending is a series of intricate actions almost simultaneously taking place within our brains. We have to decode symbols (alphabetical letters) and gather meaning from them according to the pattern in which they appear before us. The majority of us are not even vaguely aware that we are multitasking at the highest level every time we read.

The fact of the matter is that as we read we combine the task of word recognition, comprehension and reading fluency all at once. And if we do all this successfully reading a simple piece of text it’s incredible to think at what capacity our brains are performing when we are reading more complex literature.

We don’t merely read the facts but we interpret style, mood and read between the lines. Never mind the fact that a lot of what we read is committed to memory, especially during study sessions!

Teaching preschoolers (or beginners of any age) how to read is best done when approached with the correct methods. We will proceed to unpack some basic guidelines for educators/tutors to follow on how best to do this.

Teach Reading by Inspiring

A learner lacking in confidence is already at a disadvantage when it comes to tackling new concepts.

Start by motivating your students and building them up. And never stop encouraging your learners to read well and write as much as possible.

For some learners, staying focused on a reading task is challenge despite their best intentions. This means that as an educator you must be aware of these challenges and make sure to set goals that can be achieved. The last thing you want to do is discourage kids by expecting unreasonable results.

Children need to be pushed to read but not to the point of pushing them away from reading all together!

Joining a book club could be a fun way to expand the reading curriculum. You could even get kids to start a book club of their own. Book clubs are a wonderful way of exploring the fact that reading is such a unique experience for every individual and discussing books in a group setting is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to learners on every reading level how differently everyone interprets written language.

group of people reading and writing
Students can really benefit from group discussions in book clubs. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Another great feature about a book club is that you end up reading books that other people have chosen, and many times this will mean being exposed to writing you wouldn’t have considered out of your own.

Learners will also have the chance to discuss things they didn’t understand and get to know one another on a deeper level.

Lead by example. Youngsters are extremely impressionable and your enthusiasm and energy towards books and reading can go a long way to motivating even struggling readers.

Avid readers will tell you that not much can surpass the satisfaction of reading a great book. Have you ever felt the conflict of not being able to put a book down while at the same time knowing how sad you will feel when it finally comes to an end? Find a book that does this to a child and you will have them hooked on reading forever.

man reading amongst flowers
It's never too late to learn! ⎢Source: Unsplash

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

Getting Ready for a Successful Reading Session

Much the way an athlete stretches his muscles and warms up before a race so too must the reader warm up the mind.

Take a bit of time before getting into reading activities with your students and talk about the task at hand. Consider going over unfamiliar words to improve vocabulary and providing some background knowledge before starting a guided reading session. Perhaps you could revise the previous chapters by re reading some paragraphs to get back on track for any stragglers.

Very importantly, discuss the objectives you wish to achieve by reading the book, poem, short story etc. Explain to your learners what you expect from them at the end of the reading session. Allow them to prepare mentally if it is going to involve some kind of reading comprehension or language skills quiz.

Being mentally prepared is always very important.

And finally, when all the discussion and motivation is out of the way, help your learners to quiet their minds and bodies and be fully prepared to focus. Try to ensure that there is no unnecessary background noise and make certain that all electronic devices are packed away or on silent mode.

Readers who suffer from dyslexia struggle to focus on one point of attention, unlike those who read fluently. Helping children learn new ways to get focused has the potential to enhance reading abilities tremendously. Perhaps you could try some visualisation exercises, such as the tangerine technique, just to give scattered readers an extra boost.

Get Learners to Write

Students need to be empowered with the skills needed for successful writing. This means that children need to be taught the correct steps and methods for tackling all kinds of writing projects because for many of us writing is a skill that doesn’t come easily and can be very overwhelming.

children writing at school
Writing can be such a positive experience when learners are equipped with the correct methods. ⎢Source: Unsplash

An exercise you could try pitching to your class is asking them to come up with various stories that would appeal to a wide range of readers.

Reading and writing skills really go hand in hand.

This is a great way of showing them how much effort and detail goes into writing in order for it to be appropriate for a certain audience. The object of these kinds of assignments is to stimulate the imagination and for teaching kids how to paint a picture with words.

Motivate Learners to Expand Their Reading Taste

When students are exposed to number of different genres and writing styles, it is not only beneficial for enhancing reading skills but also a good way of teaching children how writing can be used for so many different purposes. They will realise that the correct use of tone and grammar among other things is necessary for conveying the right message.

It’s normal for students to be hesitant about trying unfamiliar kinds of reading material but it’s so important to encourage beginner readers to take risks. Gently nudge them in a new direction because, if you don’t, they may miss out on a lifetime of a rich reading experience.

What we want is a new generation of keen readers and it’s up to us, the educators and parents, to help kids by offering quality reading instruction and protecting every learner's hunger for learning.

We must be the positive reading role models they need and continuously guide and encourage every attempt at reading, whether big or small.

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Kyla