How to Help Struggling Readers Boost Their Confidence

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Chris (Parent) asks:

What’s one way you help struggling readers boost their confidence?

Dr. Marion Blank (Founder of Reading Kingdom) answers:

When a child is struggling, adults feel a strong pull to shore up their confidence by providing lots of praise (e.g., “you really tried,that was great” etc.) In general, those attempts backfire. Children know very well when they are handling things well and when they are not. “Unearned praise” often leads to even a greater loss of self-esteem e.g., the child thinks, “I must be pretty bad if she has to keep saying how good I am.”). At the same time, there are techniques that can be of great help. One is to not permit a child to get mired in failure. For example, when a child does not know a word, parents and teachers automatically say “Well, sound it out.” But the reason the child does not know the word is that the sounding out process has already failed them. It is far more effective to simply tell the child the word in question. That stops the failure. That is only the first step.

Next, it is vital to make the child responsible for the information that was offered so he or she is required to process it. This can be done by having the child write the word and then saying, for example, “Now read the whole sentence again.” In so doing, the child now has to use the information that the adult supplied. Although this technique seems relatively simple, it, and others like it, are significant because it changes the teaching dynamic dramatically. It basically tells the child that the adult is there to offer whatever assistance is needed and the child need no longer fear failure. At the same time, it makes the child responsible for the information. If the child does not “get it” the first time, the process is repeated until the child is correct. This leads to a level of rigor and discipline that is invaluable in enhancing the teaching-learning interaction.